Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Red Hand

February 12th is Red Hand Day "an annual commemoration day created to draw attention to the fate of children who are forced to serve as soldiers in wars and armed conflicts. The aim of Red Hand Day is to call for action against this practice, and support for children who suffer from this severe form of child abuse."

For an American of a certain age, February 12th is also Lincoln's Birthday, his 199th birthday. Washington and Lincoln are the two most celebrated American presidents. Both were born in February, so the government a while back decided that holidays needed to be "reformed" so they always happen on Monday--with a few exceptions--so a new holiday, President's Day--was invented. This reform safely removed politics from our veneration of presidents.

In the olden days, we children would sometimes memorize, and almost always heard recited Lincoln's Gettysburg Address on his birthday. Sometimes also older children would read or recite Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address as well.

The Lincoln Memorial is perhaps one of the most recognizable American landmarks. On the walls surrounding Daniel Chester French's sculpture of a seated Lincoln with a pensive expression are the words of the Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural.

Until the Civil Rights movement most black Americans voted for the Republican Party, because Lincoln was a Republican. That's one reason of course, but also in the industrial North the Republican party was the party of business. Being registered as a Republican was in many cases a prerequisite for a black person's employment. The move from the Republican to Democratic party coincided with the Republican party's move to embrace and expand state sponsored racial discrimination. Kevin Phillips is an author and once political strategist. He popularized what's known as the Republican's Southern Strategy; the old and often imitated political strategy of exacerbating ethnic tensions to polarize the electorate. Phillips is now a critic of the Republicans.

Republicans have spent their power during the last forty years at once disparaging government and vigorously expanding the military as the essential function of government. Lincoln's vision of a nation "dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal" ..."and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth" is inconvenient and somewhat embarrassing to the ruling ethos of the day.

Modern Republican leaders like George W. Bush, John McCain, Willard Romeny, Mike Huckabee, all celebrate a submission to "faith" and a return to racist values. That certainly does not imply that Democrats embrace individual freedom, political democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and cultural freedom, hallmarks of liberal values--hat tip Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. for the list. The evidence for the illiberal constitution of today's Democrats was on display today when 19 Democratic party senators joined without any Republican dissent in passing a surveillance bill.

The political discourse in the USA today is still colored by the War in Vietnam. In 1985 British musician Paul Hardcastle produced a innovative record called 19 (YouTube video) using samples of a television documentary on Post traumatic Stress Disorder. The statement "their average age was nineteen" is repeated throughout the song. Many have sought to declare that statistic a "myth" bumping the age up a couple of years based on casualty statistics. What seems clear from the more than 4,000 confirmed casualties by the U.S. Central Command in Afghanistan and Iraq is their average age is considerably older than 19. These pages are at Military City are worth a visit, lest the statistics blind one to the reality that there are real men and women who make up those numbers.

After the War in Vietnam the U.S. Military went to a professional force abandoning the conscription into the military. In the many arguments for the occupation of Iraq, the casualties are dismissed with: "They knew what they were getting into when they joined up." I suppose the shift to a professional military is an advance, certainly it is a change in the way we conduct war. The Iraq War has also been the impetus for an unprecedented transfer of national treasure to corporations of mercenary fighters. Crossed Crocodiles recently linked to two important papers about armies for hire. This transfer of military to globalized corporations is seems a logical extension of this professionalizing of armed combatants.

Such professionalizing really hasn't entered the public consciousness. It's still quite common to hear people talk about "our boys over there." I don't think it's an accident, or just a turn of phrase. Somehow, still in our minds is the notion that war is a ritual sacrifice of children. The American Civil War was a boys' war. So even with our professional military we still imagine soldiers as boys, just like in the Civil War, even while we condemn the barbarity of the use of children as soldiers. And even as our waring kills non-combatants, a handy way of disguising that among those we kill are children.

Tom Engelhardt wrote a piece about U.S. bombing in an agricultural city in Iraq, Arab Jabour, in January this year. Th U.S. military dropped nearly 100,000 pounds of explosives on the area. Engelhardt entitled his piece, Looking Up: Normalizing Air War from Guernica to Arab Jabour. The German's dropped 100,000 pounds of explosives on a Spanish town called Guernica. Pablo Picasso painted perhaps his most famous work to commemorate the savagery of the bombing of Guernica. A tapestry of this famous work hangs at the entrance to the Security Council room at the United Nations, a reminder of the horror of war. Yet as Englehardt points out in Iraq, in Arab Jabour, such bombardment is now routinized, so received bare mention in the press.

I was born in the one hundredth anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War. Just a couple of years after the ceasefire in the Korean War and a few years before the American fighting began in earnest in Vietnam. My boyhood was soaked in war.

Of the hundreds (probably thousands) of racist videos up at YouTube quite a few use the songs of Johnny Rebel. Johnny Rebel has staged a comeback since 9/11. As for his success he says it's all for professional reasons:
"I used to think I was prejudiced. I am not prejudiced," he continues. "If you are prejudiced, you don't like all races. Well, I don't have anything against all races ... They asked me to do it, hell, I did it. I would do anything to make a buck. Hell, I made a few bucks off of it."
From his Web site you can see how a professional makes a buck.

May 1, 2003 president Bush declared "Major Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended." Five years later it's not clear why we're occupying Iraq, or even who we're fighting. But we're assured that the "surge" worked so well that troop reductions will be delayed.

Last week Will.I.Am of the Blackeyed Peas put up a video based on a speech by Barak Obama called Yes We Can yesterday a parody using the same idea but with John McCain's speeches called john.he.is. A second effort parodied the Yes We Can video with No, You Can't. A recent comment by rapske50 on the Yes We Can video captures the moral reasoning of Americans for John McCain:
nah man, george bush is fighting terrorists, obama wants to make them friends so they can stab us in the back. fuck obama cos he hates freedom and what it means to be american. I AM PROUD OF MY COUNTRY i dont want it ruined by muslims and wanna be muslims
Frankly, I'm not so sure a president Obama will bring our occupation of Iraq to an end. But I do believe that a president Obama will be called upon to make a case for staying. I can't envision that a president Obama will be comfortable making such an explicitly racist argument for it. And I can't imagine that McCain can make his case without such arguments, oh so carefully coded.

My hands are red, as an American my hands are red.

I deplore the conscription of children into armed combat. Have you seen pictures? Have you seen pictures of children whose lips and ears were cut off with a knife. Left alive as a reminder to other kids. Or drawings made by child soldiers depicting how family members were killed and cooked in pots in front of them? The International Action Network on Small Arms has a great page with links to dozens of organizations working on the issue of child soldiers. Our collective efforts can make a difference.

But I do not see how as an American I can truly make a difference unless the unreasonable immorality of conduct of our military operations is addressed straightforwardly: That the racist ideology which animates our conduct is named and called out. War is hell, and we deceive ourselves to imagine our conduct as virtuous.

Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address was clear about the root cause of the American Civil War:
One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war.
He was also clear that neither side was pure in its intentions:
Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding.
We as a nation have yet to come to grips with the cause of the War in Iraq. Like the Civil War it has spiraled in a way we never anticipated, expecting "an easier triumph." McCain promises a war whose end is never in sight. Obama talks of hope. The choice between the two is an easy one: I'll choose hope.

But a resolution to this conflict will not come until we as a people are wiling to confront the cause of this war and to name it. We would do well to remember the words of Lincoln now:
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
Longing for peace is patriotic.


The 27th Comrade said...

I can't help seeing how nearly Stalinist America is. Kids wake up to recite old speeches, be told they live in the Greatest Country in the World, that their Freedom is better than anything, that they should be Lucky to be Americans ...
Do you spot any difference between that and George Orwell's 1984? Any whatsoever?

Why wouldn't they go to give their lives for something that good? Except it isn't good. I didn't know I'd write on brain-washing in two comments back-to-back (one at Tumwijuke's). Anyway, so they are brain-washed, and they go fight. At 19. I know that many American soldiers in the last wars were very young. Some had to lie about their ages and join the army.
It is really just like how Mao got the fire-brand late-teeners to power his Cultural Revolution. It is no different here. Young people can be very idealistic, and that is why you saw that totally blind comment by the YouTube commenter: I AM PROUD OF MY COUNTRY. It is blind loyalty, blind patriotism. It is the only thing the Nazis required, you know.

So, this brings me to my gist: I don't give a shit if we have child soldiers. I give a damn that me have war at all! I mean, Red Hand is about child soldier. What the fuck will Magenta Foot be for? Children whose mothers have been raped by soldiers? The victims of biological attacks? Children born with no parts, because someone used a Bomb? Children who have died of 100,000 pounds of explosives? Children whose fathers have been taken away to rot on some island?
No. Magenta Foot should be a drive to finance all groups that are sworn to the total extermination of the Aggressors. Whether or not they have Arab names. Kidding. :o)

Anyway, I am enraged, and I make no attempts to hide it. Meanwhile, the rest of you recite a document that yaps on about how all men are created equal, even though it was written by fuckin' slave drivers.

(You won't believe how much constraint it taxes me of to keep these from becoming personal attacks on whichever Americans may be on the other side.)

John Powers said...

Here's Tumwijuke's piece.

To annoy you about speechs, but also to affirm what I think is true, I'll quote Martin Luther King, Jr.:

"Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. So when Jesus says "Love your enemies," he is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition. ... The chain reaction of evil — hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars — must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation."

"Extermination of Aggressors" won't do it. King wrote that above in Strength to Love." I'm not so sure of Jesus, but that admonition rings true.

The 27th Comrade said...

Well, yeah. Sure, whatever. Ideals fail, John. Communists, more than roughly anybody else in the world, know that too well.

This concept of forgiving, to stop the revenge loop, is not entirely hard to figure out. And we try, we try fuckin' hard. But the ideal - this forgiving - fails almost all the time. More-importantly, I think the time is here to tame you people, so that it will have to be you to forgive us for our excesses in revenge. :o)

I'm just from reading on the Australian Natives' plight from Gay Uganda's blog. And I'm enraged even further. And let me toll you one thing I know all the time but couldn't grasp until Mahatma Gandhi got words for it:
Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong. The weak cannot forgive.

So, we've got to have all of you rounded up and locked up in a camp awaiting your turns at breathing in the Gas, or, if we are feeling particularly French, at having your heads roll down the guillotine. And then we'll forgive.When we are strong. :o)

Daisy said...

27th comrade, preach it, dude!

Hey John, I linked your blog, finally! Looks like a great day to do so, too. :) Excellent post.

John Powers said...

I agree with you that it seems fake for the strong to just say "sorry" and then imagine that's all. But forgiveness never comes from a once off "sorry" but rather requires dialog and engagement, a negotiation.

An emperor's decree can exert either happiness or grief, whereas to ask forgiveness means that acceptance cannot be assured. Forgiveness is something that has to be created together. Forgiveness as a process and product is in sense something that insists on equality of power.

The idea that the high shall be made low and the low shall be made high is an attractive notion for a world so unbalanced as ours. But I'm a small and I'm low. As attractive as the reversal of power may seem it also seems improbable. It also seems to insist on the idea of power over as the normal and appropriate distribution of power.

Empowerment, where people are creatively engaged in composing their lives seems a better way to envision power distributed.