I’m very pleased to have two new poems published in Tuck Magazine. Both poems, Patriotic Amnesia, and Dying In The Land Of The Free, address the deeply flawed narrative of American patriotism and its celebration of militarism.
Archive for Militarism
Many thanks to Indolent Books for publishing my poem, Beautiful Children as part of their What Rough Beasts series. The poem was written in response to our fearless leader’s statement that he bombed Syria because of the alleged chemical weapons attacks on “beautiful children”. If saving beautiful children is our litmus test for bombing attacks, we might want to start at home. Read the poem.
It is a most difficult task to make sense of violence, particularly when it often seems unceasing. There have been numerous horrific acts of murder recently, and in trying to write about them, it feels important to see these events not only as individual incidents but to also make the connections between them, both in why they happen and how we process them. The following is a poem I wrote in response to the bloody and heartbreaking first week in July, 2016.
The Killing Fields Of Home
On July 4th,
when I was trying to make sense
of the bombings in Medina and Baghdad
on the very same day that the not so United States of America
was ritually celebrating what we call independence,
with colorful bombs bursting in air,
it seemed really important to remember that
the children who saw real bombs were shouting not with glee
but with fear before bleeding to death,
so I wrote haikus about that,
little poems like the children who died–
one for Medina,
Bombs bursting in air,
bodies explode, people die–
and one for Baghdad,
Car bomb in Baghdad,
the twenty five kids who died
did not like fireworks
and I thought I had done my duty as a poet,
but then I read that dozens of people were shot
in Chicago over the holiday weekend
for who knows what reasons and they were bleeding too
and we haven’t even caught our breath since Orlando
and it occurred to me that maybe I needed to write a longer poem,
then Alton Sterling and Philando Castile
were gunned down by the police
because the color of their skin was a crime
and Melissa Harris-Perry wrote about how that feels
as a suicide note that I can’t stop reading
on the heels of the Chilcot Inquiry that minces no words
blaming Tony Blair for lying to his country about the Iraq war
while in this country we turn endless battle into
an anthem and Bush and Cheney just smirk
as a veteran of war, taught to kill in defense of our country,
shoots at the police in Dallas and more blood is spilt
and they send in a robot to take him out
which prompts Donald Trump to want a photo op with the NYPD
and I’m wondering if a sonnet is adequate
when my morning paper tells me that there have been
ten gang killings in ten months in the county where I live
and they have a column too about the child
of a woman who was killed by her boyfriend
and someone says we should all remember that
sometimes the police help and he tells a story
about a police officer who helped a lady repair her mailbox
and that was mighty nice of her, and I mean that sincerely,
but I’m thinking that sounds like a bandaid story
when we need a tourniquet because
a GOP Congressman says there are a lot more steps to be taken
before they will vote on gun control legislation
and I’m wondering how many steps there could really be
from his office to the floor to take a vote and when are we going to
quit playing six degrees of separation and take action
and in the time I have been writing this,
more people have been killed,
and I cannot type fast enough to keep up,
or even pause long enough
to pretty up this poem that cannot find its end.
–Lucinda Marshall, © 2016
Deeply grateful for this quote from the Washington Nuclear Museum and Educational Center (although I’m not quite sure where they got the birthdate, but close enough :-).
I am not a big fan of patriotism or the holidays that glorify it (although admittedly I’m a sucker for marching band music). I’ve never quite understood the sense of arbitrary national boundaries which then seem to need to be defended just because they are there. Neither am I a fan of wars fought in the name of those boundaries because when you strip away the rhetoric, they essentially boil down to exercises in asserting dominion and power over a perceived adversary that cost a lot of money, do a lot of damage, and ruin a lot of lives.
But yet we insist on glorifying war and honoring those that fight while at the same time doing everything we can to minimize the carnage of those battles in our histories and memories.
A few months ago, I started taking a Tai Chi class which is taught by a nice woman named Nancy. For those of you not familiar with Tai Chi, it involves moving through a series of movements in a very prescribed manner. It is both an exercise and a meditation. Nancy tells us during class that if we practice enough, we will develop what she calls muscle memory, that the time will come when we will not need to be told how to move through the movements, at some point, we will just remember.
Unfortunately, the same can be said for war–we’ve gone there so many times that it has become politically reflexive. When it comes to peace, however, we’ve had far too little practice.
In my Tai Chi class, we are learning what is called
24 form Tai Chi, which means that there are 24 movements to learn. There are other versions of Tai Chi that have more than 100 movements, obviously it takes a great deal longer to learn and develop the muscle memory of the longer form.
When it comes to talking about war, our politicians and media are quite adept at simplifying the talking points they want us to remember. They would never think of pitching 100 talking points, we would never learn that. But their simplified narrative is all too easy to remember and accept. Unlike Tai Chi however, where a simplified version of the practice can be done without sacrificing the benefit, when we talk about war and leave out a significant part of the story, it is very damaging. And if we are ever to practice peace, we need to tell the full narrative of war.
not of the soldiers of war
who bear the false flag of patriotism,
the defenders of empire’s entitlement,
but of the ones
our narrative wants to forget,
the collateral damage of battle
for whom there is no holiday,
no brass band,
no wreaths solemnly laid,
these are the ones we must remember.
Only then will we understand
that we must not to go to war.
–Lucinda Marshall, © 2014
Some people have fantasy football teams. I have fantasy Sunday morning talk show guest panels that are made up entirely of women. These are my picks for my fantasy panel, Syria edition.
As U.S. posturing on Syria has escalated, the media has trotted out old white guy after old white guy as “experts”, never mind many of them are the same men who lied to us about chemical weapons in Iraq and then commenced to bomb the Iraqis with all manner of chemical weapons which left a horrifying epidemic of cancer, birth defects and death in that country and have backed U.S. policies that have contributed to the current situation in Syria and Middle East unrest in general.
I think most of us are supremely tired of listening to these guys and of a media that simply parrots the talking points of U.S. military domination.
Imagine if instead they presented a balanced view that brought in people who articulate alternative visions and oh what the heck, how about we just kick all the men out and listen to women for a change.
So for the benefit of the media, here are some voices you ought to be including as commentators in your coverage of Syria:
1. Sarah Van Gelder writes in Yes! Magazine that, “there are at least six strategies that could hold wrongdoers to account, deter war crimes of all sorts, and build peace”:
- Bring those guilty of atrocities to justice
- Call for a United Nations embargo on arms, military supplies, and logistical support for both Damascus and opposition forces
- The U.N. Security Council should hold an international peace conference
- Offer aid and support to the nonviolent movements within Syria
- Provide the humanitarian aid desperately needed by the millions of displaced people
- Force the hand of Russia and China in the Security Council
2. The women’s human rights organization MADRE similarly calls for the Obama Administration to:
- Stop the flow of weapons into Syria
- Renew focus on diplomacy to end the conflict
- Increase humanitarian aid to the region
3. The Nobel Women’s Initiative (who unlike President Obama, are using their status as Nobel Peace Prize winners to promote peaceful solutions) has put out a statement that reads:
The use of chemical weapons in Syria is a crime that cannot be ignored but bombing Syria is not the answer. Military intervention in Syria can only lead to more death and destruction, and further fuel the volatile situation in the region.
We applaud the vote of the UK’s Parliament against endorsing British involvement in attacks on Syria, and call upon the United States to step back from the brink of attacking yet another country in the Middle East/North Africa region. Such a move can only result in more hatred, more violence and more retaliation.
We call upon the UN Security Council to accept its responsibility to act in response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria instead of the ongoing posturing of its members based on their own self-interest instead of concern about the people of Syria.
We urge the Security Council to ensure the nonviolent resolution of this crisis within the ongoing crisis of the civil war in Syria. We call upon the Security Council to refer the matter to the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
We also call on the International Community to urgently convene the Syria Peace Conference, known as Geneva II, and to ensure women meaningfully participate. (emphasis mine)
4. Sonali Kolhatkar of KPKF’s Uprising radio program and Co-Director of the Afghan Women’s Mission writes,
Students of American imperial history do not have to look too far back to see the disastrous consequences of bombing dictatorial governments. As the debate over a US military strike on Syria heats up in Congress, American antiwar activists are clear in their opposition to the push for war. And they are correct to oppose any sort of military strikes if the long arc of destructive US foreign policy is to be trusted to remain the same.
5. Medea Benjamin points out that most Americans do not support the idea of bombing Syria.
6. Amnesty International looks at the problems of sexual harassment and forced marriages faced by Syrian women refugees.
7. The Women’s Media Center’s Women Under Siege has run a number of pieces about women in Syria.
The U.S. media owes its audience a fair and balanced representation of the issues, not just pro-war talking points and they need to include women’s voices and concerns as part of that discussion.
Postscript–As several readers have pointed out, I left out the crucial voice of Phyllis Benis.
As the flags are waved and the parades marched this 4th of July, we would do well to consider the freedom and independence we claim to cherish and defend. In decidedly different ways, Edward Snowden’s leaking of NSA documents and Texas State Senator Wendy Davis’ filibuster have challenged us to think about what it means to stand up for what we believe in, in ways that don’t involve spending billions of dollars fortifying our borders, stopping and frisking without cause, arresting people for expressing their First Amendment rights in washable chalk, perpetually attacking other countries, the highest rate of incarceration in the world, and the highest per capita rate of gun ownership.
In just the six months since the Newtown killings there have been more Americans murdered by guns than the 4,409 United States armed forces killed in the Iraq war.
Aside from the fact that fighting spurious wars against other nations most decidedly makes us more vulnerable rather than safe, on our own streets and in our own homes, every day, we are waging war against ourselves.
Our military meanwhile censors news in defense of free speech and insists that maintaining the chain of command and good order trump legitimate prosecution of sexual assaults within the ranks, completely missing the point that the epidemic of personal violence being perpetrated by those who have sworn to protect us completely belies any semblance of a functional chain of command or good order.
At the same time, we have ignored both our own complicity in and the consequences of global warming. How is it that the President just got around to making a major speech on that subject?
Last week there was an insert in my PEPCO bill that informed me that 41% of my power came from coal, 18.6% came from gas, 34% came from nuclear and only 5.7% came from renewable sources. Meanwhile we are told that we must frack, never mind that it causes water to catch on fire and earthquakes, and we still don’t have a clue how to store nuclear waste (because the truth is it can’t be safely done) and we build tar sands pipelines through our farmland, wilderness and suburbs, and commit mountaintop mastectomies. Our air and land and water are polluted, wildfires rage and entire cities flood.
And too, we cut education spending, close schools and fire teachers, and saddle our college students with impossible debt. Even with “Obamacare” there will still be those who do not have insurance. In our legislatures and in Congress, a war is being waged against women’s reproductive rights. And retirement? Don’t even go there. And Wall Steet? Well it’s doing just fine.
That is the nitty gritty of the democracy for which we wave our flags. As Team America put it so eloquently, America, fuck yeah.
Josh Marshall (no relation) of Talking Points Memo makes the point that American democracy is dependent on secrecy as an integral part of its defense and questions whether breaking that secrecy (even when it exposes the abuse of that mandate) is acceptable,
Let me put my cards on the table. At the end of the day, for all its faults, the US military is the armed force of a political community I identify with and a government I support. I’m not a bystander to it. I’m implicated in what it does and I feel I have a responsibility and a right to a say, albeit just a minuscule one, in what it does. I think a military force requires a substantial amount of secrecy to operate in any reasonable way. (emphasis mine) So when someone on the inside breaks those rules, I need to see a really, really good reason. And even then I’m not sure that means you get off scott free. It may just mean you did the right thing…
…And I’m very skeptical of the notion that what Snowden did is awesome just because leaking state secrets is always a heroic act.
No question, America does indeed depend on secrecy. But as The New Yorker points out,
Snowden took classified documents from his employer, which surely broke the law. But his real crime was confirming that the intelligence agencies, despite their strenuous public denials, have been accumulating vast amounts of personal data from the American public.
Yes, precisely. And ask yourself this–Can you defend democracy with secrecy and spying or do those acts in fact completely undermine what you claim to hold dear?
Patriotism is a dangerous notion. It assumes the supremacy of the state that requires the constant exertion of ‘power over’ to maintain and the sanctity of borders that imply a damaging assumption of dominion and ownership which destroy any possibility of real freedom or democracy.
It’s time, past time, to reconsider what that flag we so proudly wave really represents and to stand up for the values that we hold dear.
The Sandy Hook massacre isn’t just about the need for gun control laws, it is about a culture that condones the killing of children and teaches children that killing is okay.
It is about a country addicted to violence on television and movie screens.
It is about cuts in education spending.
It is about giving the military free access to our schools where they regale our children with romanticized delusions of military righteousness.
It is about environmental and health policies that expose our children to all manner of toxins in the air, land and water.
It is about thinking we have the right to kill children with drones or by dropping toxic munitions on their countries that cause birth defects and miscarriages.
It is about saddling our children with crippling education debt and no prospect for jobs.
It is about telling boys (and men) they have to be tough and to fight and kill for what they want or think is right.
It is about a national policy that denies children basic rights and systemically teaches them that violence is okay.
And it is about a media so insensitive that it thinks it is okay to shove a microphone in the face of young victims in the name of sensationalized 24/7 cable “news” while under-reporting the root causes of this tragedy.
Sandy Hook did not happen because of a lone, disturbed young man and it is not an isolated incident. It is an epidemic and we are all to blame. And today (and tomorrow and every day after that) is the time to confront this self-inflicted tragedy.
Of all the searing images in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the one that I find most disturbing is this picture of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier which remained throughout the storm at great personal danger. That we must honor our military dead even at the risk of completely unnecessary loss of life speaks volumes about our priorities in this country.
I rarely watch cable news, but I found myself obsessively switching between a local news channel, CNN and The Weather Channel for much of the storm. There was much valuable and urgent information shared although much of it looked like a contest between reporters to see who could report while standing in the deepest water and stay standing (and I absolutely need to say that throughout the storm, I consistently found critical information being disseminated on Twitter well before I saw it on television). But not once did I hear any mention of the many nuclear power plants in the storm’s path, or a discussion of what to do if your house is flooded with toxic waste or the lack of plans to protect oil and gas facilities. No analysis of what climate change denial and inaction has cost us.
Nor was there mention of the fact that we’ve known that storms like this have been an event waiting to happen. Instead, as I pointed out a few days ago, we have continued to beat the drum in the fight against “terrorism”, pouring billions of dollars into destroying other countries, killing innocent civilians and creating conditions in which terrorism ferments and while we’re at it doing an ace job of brainwashing ourselves into being perpetually paranoid and terrified while at the same time allowing the infrastructure of our own country to go to hell.
As Chris Mooney pointed out in Grist, NASA warned about an event like Sandy in 2006:
Scientists at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York have been studying that city’s vulnerability to hurricane impacts in a changing world, and calculated that with 1.5 feet of sea level rise, a worst-case-scenario Category 3 hurricane could submerge “the Rockaways, Coney Island, much of southern Brooklyn and Queens, portions of Long Island City, Astoria, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens, lower Manhattan, and eastern Staten Island from Great Kills Harbor north to the Verrazano Bridge.
And of course, that wasn’t the only warning. WE KNEW IT COULD HAPPEN. And we did nothing. As a result we are now contending with this:
The New York system, although there are some components that have been upgraded over the years, has a lot of antique components where the vendor has been out of business for 50 years. (emphasis mine)
Under the Clean Water Act, there is something called the Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) rule which includes requirements for oil spill prevention, preparedness, and response to prevent oil discharges to navigable waters and adjoining shorelines…Sounds like a no-brainer. But in Fiscal Year 2011, EPA officials visited 120 sites oil and gas development sites and found 105 were out of compliance– 87.5%…Almost every single oil and gas site inspected lacked a mandatory spill prevention plan meant to protect our rivers and streams. (emphasis mine)
Internet, cable and phone services were also significantly disrupted and yet two days later with thousands of people still without access, I heard a report of a FEMA official telling people to file claims on the internet. And he expects people who are stranded in flooded buildings to do that how?
…The best officials could do was urge residents to steer clear of the contaminated waters.
Incidentally, they sent that warning out by email. To people who obviously were going to have trouble accessing their email.
The storm also precipitated numerous problems at various nuclear power plants, all of which are aging quickly past the lifespans they were designed for and some of which are the same design as the Fukushima facility in Japan,
Storm-related complications were blamed this week for forcing three nuclear reactors offline – Nine Mile Point Unit 1 northwest of Syracuse, N.Y., Indian Point Unit 3 about 25 miles north of New York City and the Salem plant’s Unit 1 on the Delaware River in New Jersey.
Meanwhile, rising waters along the Barnegat Bay prompted officials to declare an “alert,” the second-lowest in a four-tiered warning system, at Oyster Creek in New Jersey…
…NRC officials reported that other plants continued operating but reduced their electrical output as a precaution, including the Millstone plant’s Unit 3 reactor in Waterford, Conn., Vermont Yankee south of Brattleboro, Vt., and both reactors at the Limerick nuclear plant about 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia. The storm also appeared to knock out emergency sirens used to notify residents who live near the Oyster Creek and Peach Bottom plants in Pennsylvania, according to NRC reports. (emphasis mine)
These are the kinds of issues we need to confront if we are to stand a prayer of survival. They aren’t theoretical or in the future. They are real and they are right now. We need to see this as literally the moment for a sea-change in attitude. It is not acceptable for the media to continue to ignore climate change,
Last year at least 7,140 journalists and opinion writers published some 19,000 stories on climate change, compared to more than 11,100 reporters who filed 32,400 stories in 2009, according to DailyClimate.org…
…Particularly noticeable was the silence from the nation’s editorial boards: In 2009, newspapers published 1,229 editorials on the topic. Last year, they published less than 580 – half as many, according to DailyClimate.org’s archives.
And it is not acceptable for our politicians to continue to chest thump the drums of war while maintaining a deafening silence on climate change. Protecting symbols of military prowess while our cities drown isn’t honorable, it is an act of national suicide.
The Day Before The Day After Tomorrow–Meditations On A Storm And A Young Friend Who Wants To Serve His Country
In the pre-hurricane calm before Sandy hits, I am sitting by a window (where I probably don’t want to sit tomorrow), watching the skies darken and thinking of a young man that I’ve known since he was in diapers. After high school, he joined the army and last week, he left to serve in a war zone. All we can do now is pray that he comes back alive, hopefully without his body or mind broken.
They are now saying that 10 million people could lose power from Hurricane Sandy. One of the reasons that may happen is that for decades now, we have done far less than we should to protect our utility grids. Water may be compromised and communications systems too. Some of that would be inevitable with a storm this size, but proper upgrading and maintenance along the way might well have mitigated that.
What few are talking about and which may be a far larger worry is the potential danger to the 16 nuclear power plants that are in harms way. After Fukushima, we should have no illusions that these plants can withstand catastrophic weather. And we should be mindful of the massive amounts of toxic materials that may blow into our water and onto our shores as the storm blows through.
I began by mentioned the young family friend now serving in the military, in a continuing war that serves only to continue to destabilize the world. Yes, there will always be a few that will want to bomb and destroy us, and perhaps they will get away with killing some of us. But no terrorist can ever hope to accomplish what climate changed weather has and most certainly will continue to do when it comes to wreaking havoc and destruction.
Yet throughout this presidential campaign, it has been business as usual with the war talk–why we must use drones and must fight terrorists without even a peep about climate change or the environment.
My young friend is a patriot. He wants to defend the country. Imagine if instead of fighting wars of empire that serve only to destroy and bankrupt, we brought our soldiers home and asked them to help secure our aging and dangerous nuclear plants as best we can? What if we asked them to install solar and wind installations? What if we asked them to help trim trees off power lines and replace aging water pipes and roads. What if we put the formidable force that is the U.S. military to work doing things that would actually protect the country? And if we still wanted to send some of our troops overseas, we could help other nations do the same, making them safer and less likely to hate us.
It is too late for this storm, but how many more times does this need to happen before we finally say no more to business as usual and start using our resources to address the real needs of climate change and stop the destructive foreign policy that drains us of our economic resources, destroys other countries and puts our troops in harms way?