Saturday, November 14, 2009


Yesterday, an op-ed in the Austin American-Statesman from the LA Times, "Military must guard its ranks" warned about people in the military belonging to hate groups. The editorial stated, "A long-standing Defense Department directive decrees that 'military personnel must reject participation in organizations that espouse supremacist causes...advocate the use of force and violence, or otherwise engage in efforts to deprive individuals of their civil rights.'"

Really? Soldiers can be kicked out of the military for participating in the military? Well, let's do it. Let's invite those young people back into the community doing what a community needs done. Growing food, building homes, fixing plumbing, teaching kids, making sick people better and making the sick planet better. That's what will make me feel more secure for sure. Afghanistan badly needs its young people to do the same there. Iraq desperately needs its people back from exile to rebuild homes and unbuild walls. Stop piling war on war. As President Obama said at Ft. Hood last week, killing people to show that killing people is wrong is and always has been twisted logic.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Letter handed to President Obama today on behalf of Iraq Veterans Against the War

I hope that President Obama will read the following letter that was presented to him today by Michael Kern of the Ft. Hood chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War. A friend wrote that Michael handed President Obama this letter as the President shook the hands of soldiers in Michael's barracks. The letter was accepted by the President's security detail, apparently.

Here is the letter, straightforward and sincere.

President Obama:

In your recent comments on the Fort Hood tragedy, you stated "These are men and women who have made the selfless and courageous decision to risk and at times give their lives to protect the rest of us on a daily basis. It's difficult enough when we lose these brave Americans in battles overseas. It is horrifying that they should come under fire at an Army base on American soil." Sir, we have been losing these brave Americans on American soil for years, due to the mental health problems that come after deployment, which include post-traumatic stress disorder, and often, suicide.

You also said that "We will continue to support the community with the full resources of the federal government". Sir, we appreciate that-but what we need is not more FBI or Homeland Security personnel swarming Fort Hood. What we need is full mental healthcare for all soldiers serving in the Army. What happened at Fort Hood has made it abundantly clear that the military mental health system, and our soldiers, are broken.

You said "We will make sure that we will get answers to every single question about this terrible incident." Sir, one of the answers is self evident: that a strained military cannot continue without better mental healthcare for all soldiers.

You stated that "As Commander-in-Chief, there's no greater honor but also no greater responsibility for me than to make sure that the extraordinary men and women in uniform are properly cared for." Sir, we urge you to carry out your promise and ensure that our servicemembers indeed have access to quality mental health care. The Army has only 408 psychiatrists — military, civilian and contractors — serving about 553,000 active-duty troops around the world. This is far too few, and the providers that exist are often not competent professionals, as this incident shows. Military wages cannot attract the quality psychiatrists we need to care for these returning soldiers.

We ask that:

1. Each soldier about to be deployed and returning from deployment be assigned a mental health provider who will reach out to them, rather than requiring them to initiate the search for help.
2. Ensure that the stigma of seeking care for mental health issues is removed for soldiers at all levels-from junior enlisted to senior enlisted and officers alike.
3. Ensure that if mental health care is not available from military facilities, soldiers can seek mental health care with civilian providers of their choice
4. Ensure that soldiers are prevented from deploying with mental health problems and issues.
5. Stop multiple redeployments of the same troops.
6. Ensure full background checks for all mental health providers and periodic check ups for them to decompress from the stresses they shoulder from the soldiers they counsel to the workload they endure.

Sir, we hope that you will make the decision not to deploy one single Fort Hood troop without ensuring that all have had access to fair and impartial mental health screening and treatment.

You have stated on a number of occasions, starting during your campaign, how important our military and veterans are to this nation. The best way to safeguard the soldiers of this nation is to provide ALL soldiers with immediate, personal and professional mental health resources.

-Iraq Veterans Against the War

Monday, November 9, 2009

One of the lessons of Killeen: cover the news of nonviolent resistance

There certainly has been a lot of commentary and speculation about the motives of the perpetrator of the Ft. Hood shootings. When I first heard the news and read that Major Hasan had, at some point before the shootings, expressed his objections to the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, my first thought was to fervently wish he had pursued his objection through the nonviolent means available to him, as many other enlisted persons have done. I wondered what prevented him from doing that. What were the barriers? Did he simply not know about the avenues of nonviolent resistance that exist? Had he never read or heard about enlisted people, including officers, who have refused deployment on moral, legal or religious grounds? It seemed to me that, given his age and education level, he must have known that such options existed.

Or did he? Hasan apparently was working at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington DC at the time when the Winter Soldier hearings were being held near there by Iraq Veterans Against the War. This would have been an excellent place to hear from veterans and military personnel who were questioning the wars and speaking openly about their own experiences. Hasan might have realized he was not alone in his doubt and pain. He might have been moved to become a GI resister himself, to refuse deployment and to accept the consequences. Yes, he would have incurred personal risks -- of losing a well-paid job, being ridiculed or harassed by others or facing a court-martial and possible prison time. Did he consider these risks? Did he know he would be supported by others on this path?

The thing is, it's quite likely that Hasan never knew about Winter Soldier or about the GI Rights Hotline counselors who are available to discuss options and consequences. He might not have known about these things because the major news media in the US passed on the Winter Soldier hearings and have generally ignored or minimized news about nonviolent GI resistance.

Investigators will want to ask Hasan many things about his motives and his actions.

If I could question him, this is what I would ask: If you were opposed to deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan, why didn't you resist nonviolently? Were you aware of those options or not? Why did you ruthlessly murder people instead?

If I could speak to the major media, this is what I would continue to say: Cover the stories of those who pursue nonviolent resistance to war and militarism. Because if you do, more people will know what to do with their turmoil rather than lashing out through family violence, suicide and murder.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The rest is commentary

I've set aside blogging in recent weeks. The hiatus was occasioned, in part, by reading this passage from a shabbat service I attended in early October.

"If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
But if I am only for myself, what am I?
And if not now, when?

Do not say, 'I shall study when I have leisure.'
You may never find the leisure.

Do not separate yourself from the community.
Judge not another until you are in his or her place.

The world is sustained by three things:
By truth, by justice, and by peace.

What is hateful to you
Do not do to your neighbor.
This is the heart of the Torah.
The rest is commentary."

The shabbat service was the first I had ever attended. It was the occasion of my partner's nephew's bar mitzfah. I was impressed with the coming-of-age tradition, the idea that teachings and responsibilities are passed from one generation to the next in this way. It's a serious rite of passage that seems timely for 13 year-olds -- who need that special combination of belonging to a strong community while also establishing their own identity.

So, being part of an adult community passing along our common wisdom to the next generation, I found the advice applicable also to myself. Blogging is commentary, and I've been doing that for some time. Behind all the commentary stands the principle that undergirds all faith traditions, as stated above: "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor." This most basic piece of practical and moral guidance could hardly be more clear or more universal. Living it is the challenge -- and the perennial opportunity. If not now, when?