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BREAKING THE SOUND BARRIER
By AMY GOODMAN
Haymarket BooksCopyright © 2009 Amy Goodman
All right reserved.
NOVEMBER 30, 2006
THE ART OF WAR AND DECEPTION
"Every great work of art goes through messy phases while it is in transition. A lump of clay can become a sculpture; blobs of paint become paintings which inspire."
No, this is not Pablo Picasso speaking, but Major General William B. Caldwell IV, spokesman for the Multinational Force-Iraq, comparing the carnage in Iraq to a work of art in another audacious attempt to paint Iraq as anything other than a catastrophe.
The general's remarks do bring the great artist to mind. Picasso's epic painting Guernica, named after the city in Spain, captured the brutality of the bombing of that city during another civil war, the Spanish Civil War.
The painting, almost 30 feet wide, is a globally recognized depiction and artistic condemnation of war. Picasso shows the terror on the faces of people, the frightened animals. He shows the dead, the dying, the dismembered. A tapestry reproduction of it adorns the lobby outside of the United Nations Security Council.
In February 2003, before then-U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell gave his major push for war at the United Nations-a speech he would later call a "blot" on his record-a blue curtain was drawn across the tapestry so that the image would not be the backdrop for press statements on the coming war. Immediately, posters and banners of Picasso's Guernica began appearing at the antiwar demonstrations sweeping the globe.
The attempted control of imagery and propaganda, language and spin has been a high priority of the Bush administration. Yes, the Pentagon forbade photographing the flag-draped coffins of fallen soldiers. But the manipulation goes beyond the war.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed." If Eisenhower worked for the government today, he would have to revise his statement. Recently, the Bush administration stopped using the words "hunger" or "hungry" when describing the millions of Americans who can't afford to eat. Instead of suffering from hunger, the Agriculture Department now says these people are experiencing "very low food security."
While the Bush administration has had some success in covering up the truth, it seems like reality is finally beginning to outpace its efforts.
Take, for example, Hurricane Katrina. A side effect of the Bush administration not responding to that disaster in a timely fashion is that when the network reporters went to New Orleans, there were no troops to embed with. What we saw for one of the first times was the network correspondents reporting from the victims' perspective. Day after day, unspun, unfiltered. Bodies floated across our TV screens. I remember a young woman reporter interviewing a man whose wife's hand had just slipped out of his, as she told him to take care of their children. After telling his story, the man waded into the water in shock with his boy. The reporter started to cry. The reports galvanized the country. Could you imagine if for one week we saw those images in Iraq: babies dead on the ground, women with their legs blown off by cluster bombs, soldiers dead and dying. Americans are a compassionate people. They would say no-war is not an answer to conflict in the twenty-first century.
The debate now in vogue is whether Iraq is in a civil war. Sectarian violence on a mass scale is acknowledged all around: Gone are the harangues that the media are not covering the "positive stories" or the "good news"-there simply is no good news in Iraq.
The Iraqi Ministry of Health estimated that 150,000 Iraqis have died since the invasion. An October medical journal article estimated the civilian death toll as somewhere near 655,000.
The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq has now lasted longer than the U.S. involvement in World War II. Iraqis suffered the most violent day in the entire war while Americans were celebrating Thanksgiving.
Iraq, like Spain in the 1930s, is in a civil war. A civil war started by the U.S. invasion and fueled by the U.S. occupation. The shroud over the UN's Guernica tapestry is gone. Now the only shrouds worth noting are those that wrap the victims of the daily slaughter in Iraq.
FEBRUARY 1, 2007
RESISTANCE TO WAR CANNOT BE JAILED
You can jail the resisters, but you can't jail the resistance. George W. Bush, take notice as U.S. Army Lieutenant Ehren Watada is court-martialed next week. Congress, take heed. Young people in harm's way are leading the way out of Iraq. It is time you followed.
Watada was the first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to Iraq. He joined the military in March 2003. He believed President Bush's claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, connections to 9/11 and al-Qaeda, and that Iraq was an imminent threat to the United States.
After signing on, he studied intensively to be well prepared to lead troops in Iraq. His studies, and the daily news coming out of Iraq of civilian deaths and no WMDs, led him to the conclusion that the war was not only immoral, but also illegal.
On June 6, 2006, Watada said, "My moral and legal obligation is to the Constitution and not to those who would issue unlawful orders ... As the order to take part in an illegal act is ultimately unlawful as well, I must, as an officer of honor and integrity, refuse that order."
He refused to deploy. The army charged Watada with missing the troop movement, contempt toward officials, and conduct unbecoming an officer. Watada hoped that his court-martial would be a hearing on the legality of the war. He was not claiming conscientious objection; rather, he says, he simply refused an illegal order. He offered to resign his commission. He offered to serve in Afghanistan. The army refused his offers. A military judge ruled Watada cannot present evidence challenging the war's legality or explain what motivated him to resist his deployment order.
On our Democracy Now! news hour, Watada said of his upcoming February 5 court-martial, "it will be a non-trial. It will not be a fair trial or a show of justice. I think that they will simply say: 'Was he ordered to go? Yes. Did he go? No. Well, he's guilty.'"
Several journalists to whom Watada spoke were subpoenaed in order to testify, first at his pretrial hearing, then at the court-martial. The journalists fought back, and in each case, the army backed down. Sarah Olson, one of the independent journalists involved, said, "I am glad the growing number of dissenting voices within the military will retain their rights to speak with reporters."
Dissent within the military against the war in Iraq is growing. Iraq Veterans Against the War has quadrupled in size in the past year. More than 1,200 soldiers have signed on to an Appeal for Redress, with which active-duty soldiers can appeal to Congress for an end to the war with legal protections against retaliation from the military. The appeal simply reads: "As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases from Iraq. Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home."
Sergeant Ronn Cantu signed the Appeal for Redress, which soldiers can do confidentially online at appealforredress.org. In a Democracy Now! exclusive, Cantu spoke to us over a crackly cell-phone connection from the front lines in Iraq: "I'm scared out of my mind right now ... It's a belief of the soldiers I've talked to that any troop increase over here, it's just going to be more sitting ducks, more targets."
Since Watada and other active-duty resisters are facing years in military prison, I recently asked two of the most progressive members of the new Senate, Senators Bernie Sanders, I-VT, and Sherrod Brown, D-OH, what Congress could do for the soldiers facing court-martial. Both replied, "I don't know." As Congress wrangles over nonbinding resolutions condemning Bush's war-making-or as he calls it, his "surge"-these brave young patriots are making binding decisions.
Without Congress taking decisive action, these soldiers are left to fend for themselves. How many must die, how many must be sent to prison or flee to Canada, before Congress ends this war?
FEBRUARY 22, 2007
CLINTON TO ANTIWAR VOTERS: BRING 'EM ON
Hillary Clinton is a once and future warrior. Campaign events in New Hampshire suggest the majority antiwar electorate has problems with her vote for the Iraq war and with her position on Iran.
On February 10, New Hampshire resident Roger Tilton asked Senator Clinton at a town hall meeting, "I want to know if right here, right now, once and for all and without nuance, you can say that war authorization was a mistake."
Clinton responded, "Well, I have said, and I will repeat it, that knowing what I know now, I never would have voted for it ... The mistakes were made by this president who misled this country and this Congress into a war that should not have been waged."
A week later, in Dover, New Hampshire, she dug in: "If the most important thing to any of you is choosing someone who did not cast that vote or said his vote was a mistake, then there are others to choose from. But for me, the most important thing now is trying to end this war."
Her tough talk to antiwar voters is reminiscent of President Bush's taunt to the Iraqi insurgents: "Bring 'em on."
People's concerns about Clinton's Iraq war vote are of more than historical interest. History has a frightening way of repeating itself. Drop the "q," add an "n." Iran.
New Hampshire Peace Action Director Anne Miller asked Clinton about her recent comments to AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Clinton had told AIPAC, "We cannot, we should not, we must not permit Iran to build or acquire nuclear weapons. And in dealing with this threat ... no option can be taken off the table."
Miller, who has visited Iran, expressed "deep concern ... that we have a Democratic presidential candidate who is a militarist of this nature and that she isn't coming out and saying we need strong diplomatic action with Iran, which is really the only answer."
Clinton continues to invoke the now largely discredited Bush administration claim that the government of Iran is supplying high-tech weaponry to Iraqi insurgents. Even General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says there is no evidence of Iranian government involvement.
Senator Robert Byrd, D-WV, fought the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq. He said the president wants "to have the power to launch this nation into war without provocation and without clear evidence of an imminent attack on the United States, and we're going to be foolish enough to give it to him." Byrd seems to have known then what Clinton says she knows now. He called the resolution "dangerous" and a "blank check," and now, with more than 3,145 U.S. soldiers killed, and with Iraq war costs through 2008 projected at more than $1 trillion, it appears he was right.
Representatives Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey also seemed to know then what Clinton says she knows now. They were lauded by the 50 activists who, on January 30, 2007, occupied Clinton's Senate office, weaving a web with pink yarn "to symbolize the senator's web of deception and the innocent people-Americans and Iraqis-caught in it." Protesters have promised to "bird-dog" Clinton at all of her public appearances. These actions recall the student sit-in at Clinton's New York office on October 10, 2002, while Clinton stood on the Senate floor and made her case for war.
Fully a year before she died, columnist and arch Bush critic Molly Ivins wrote, "Enough. Enough triangulation, calculation and equivocation. Enough clever straddling, enough not offending anyone ... Sen. Clinton is apparently incapable of taking a clear stand on the war in Iraq, and that alone is enough to disqualify her."
And then there's Ralph Nader. He admits that there are good antiwar candidates but says that if Clinton wins the Democratic nomination, he will be more likely to run.
Senator Clinton has drawn the line in the sand over Iraq. She will not admit that her vote to authorize Bush to use military force in a unilateral, unprovoked war based on lies was a mistake. She is open to a military strike on Iran. Her latest message to voters: "There are others to choose from." Antiwar voters already know that, and are lining up behind candidates Barack Obama, John Edwards, Dennis Kucinich, and, perhaps before long, Ralph Nader.
MARCH 13, 2007
CARLOS ARREDONDO EXPLODING INTO ACTION
The United States is entering the fifth year of its violent, failed occupation of Iraq, a war that has lasted longer than the United States was involved in World War II. Through the grimly deepening quagmire, a strengthening, pervasive U.S. antiwar movement is emerging. An increasingly powerful voice comes from soldiers and their families, turning grief into action. Take the Arredondo family.
On August 25, 2004-Carlos Arredondo's 44th birthday-a U.S. Marine van arrived outside his house. He thought that his son Alex had managed to come home from his second deployment to Iraq to surprise him. Instead, the marines informed him that Alex had been killed in action in Najaf.
Carlos lost his mind. He asked, he begged, the marines to leave. He pleaded. They didn't leave, so he ran to his garage and grabbed a hammer, gasoline, and a blowtorch. He began pummeling the van. He climbed in, pouring the gasoline. His mother, distraught and wailing, tried to pull him from the van. The blowtorch accidentally sparked, and Carlos was blown from the van into the yard, in flames.
Then his wife, Melida, arrived. She saw her husband burning. Carlos' younger son, Brian, 16 years old, in Bangor, Maine, later saw the incident on television. This was the day he learned that the brother he loved and emulated was dead.
Carlos suffered burns on more than one-quarter of his body. The physical healing was the easy part. It is the emotional healing that he pursues in his tireless and remarkable odyssey to end the war. To honor Alex's memory, he has been crisscrossing the country, from Capitol Hill to Crawford, Texas, pulling a flag-draped coffin. He calls it his public mourning: "I want the caskets coming home to be very public. The government doesn't want you to see them."
Carlos stopped for a few days this week in New York. He parked outside the military recruiting station in Times Square, where activists have established what they call the Endless War Memorial. For six days ending Friday, March 16, sunrise to sunset, hundreds of people are taking turns reading the names of the Iraq war dead-all the dead whose names could be discovered. The roughly 3,200 U.S. military fatalities, the other "coalition" casualties, the journalists, and the 7,733 Iraqi names they were able to find. The organizers point out that there are 200 unnamed dead Iraqis for each of the thousands they have gathered (based on a study by the British medical journal The Lancet that estimated more than 650,000 Iraqi dead).
The scene is surreal and unforgettable. Passersby stop by the flag-draped coffin Carlos has rolled out of the back of his pickup truck. There are army boots of loved ones lost, and large photos of grieving Iraqi women and one of Alex in an open casket. This is all set against the massive video display atop the recruiting station. Among its slogans: "There is nothing on this green earth stronger than the U.S. Army." Above that, an even larger display promotes Fox News and Bill O'Reilly and flashes phrases like "Gitmo justice." The famous Dow Jones news zipper runs its endless recitation of stock quotes and the daily count of dead and injured. A video ad for sunglasses flashes the words "Never Hide."
Carlos is heading next to Washington, D.C., to lead this weekend's march on the Pentagon.
As we part, Carlos shows me the latest recruiting letter sent to his son Brian. It contains a fake red, white, and blue credit card with Brian's name on it. It says, "This is not a credit card. It is money in the bank." An earlier letter promises him a bonus of up to $20,000. "What can you do with $20,000? A new car? Pay off credit cards? Help your family? ... Remember the decisions you are making right now will have a huge impact on how the rest of your life turns out." Which is exactly why Carlos prays his surviving son will not join up.
Meanwhile, around the corner, each name read represents a once living, breathing, complex human being whose life was snuffed out as a result of this four-year-old war. Alongside the named dead are living people, like Carlos, following their consciences, making connections, building a movement, each day bringing the end of the war one day closer.
APRIL 3, 2007
HANG UP ON WAR: CLAIM YOUR TELE PHONE TAX REBATE
If you are upset that Congress won't defund the war in Iraq, there's something you can do: Stop paying taxes. Legally.
The Internal Revenue Service is giving a rebate this year on a telephone war tax. This is one of those line items at the bottom of your phone bill. The tax was instituted in 1898 to help the United States pay for the Spanish-American War. Individuals and businesses have one chance to obtain a refund on this telephone war tax, by asking for it in their 2006 income tax returns.
Excerpted from BREAKING THE SOUND BARRIER by AMY GOODMAN Copyright © 2009 by Amy Goodman. Excerpted by permission.
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