Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Under The Hood press conference coverage: Killeen Daily Herald

Good article from yesterday's Killeen Daily Herald. The online posting also includes testimony offered by visiting speaker, Dr. Dahlia Wasfi, whose joint Jewish/American/Iraqi heritage gives her a special perspective on what is happening in Iraq.

Rally for Peace
by Amanda Kim Stairrett, Killeen Daily Herald

Peace activists gathered in Killeen Monday morning to speak out against U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The event, which was hosted at Killeen's Under the Hood Café, focused on Iraq and the president's recent announcement that U.S. combat operations ended there today. Speakers also questioned the deployment of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment to Iraq. The final of several thousand of the regiment's troopers departed Fort Hood for the Middle East Friday in what military officials call an advise-and-assist mission. Those soldiers will assist Provincial Reconstruction Teams and help prepare Iraqi security forces to care for and protect their own nation.

The 1st Cavalry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team will deploy soon for the same mission.

Central Texas activists were in town Aug. 23 to protest the regiment's deployment. As buses carried soldiers from main post to West Fort Hood's Robert Gray Army Airfield, demonstrators waited on the overpass with their headlights turned off, according to information from Fort Hood and videos posted on YouTube by participants.

As the buses drove south on Clarke Road Gate at about 3:40 a.m., the demonstrators held up banners and chanted. Several blocked the buses' path for a short time.

"Acting to protect Department of Defense personnel and equipment, Fort Hood police moved the demonstrators away from the intersection to the sidewalk," read a statement from Fort Hood.

Individuals were released without incident and the bus convoy continued to the airfield, it went on to read.

Post officials did have advance knowledge about the demonstration, they said.

Monday's speakers included Cynthia Thomas, Under the Hood manager; Rep. Lon Burnam, a Democrat from Fort Worth and former director of the Dallas Peace Center; Dr. Dahlia Wasfi, a peace activist of Muslim and Jewish heritage; Larry Egly, of the Peace and Justice Support Network of Mennonite Church USA; and Leslie Cunningham, of Texas Labor Against the War.

CodePink Austin, Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans For Peace were also represented.

Monday's event was just one of two in Central Texas "aimed at peeling back the mass deception surrounding 'the end of combat operations,'" according to information from Under the Hood. The first was a talk in Austin Sunday featuring Wasfi.

Most Americans are lulled to sleep because they think the war is over, Burnam said. He attacked Presidents Bush and Obama, saying the "expansionist" war was an illegal and immoral occupation — something that was fiscally wrong to start seven years ago.

Burnam heavily criticized the Iraq war's financial burden on the country, saying it was wrong for Bush to start two "outrageous" wars while providing tax cuts. Burnam said he was tired of officials using the "financial back of us working folks" to fund conflicts, and quoted a 1953 speech by President Dwight Eisenhower: "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, those who are cold and are not clothed."

It is time for Obama to end the occupation, end tax cuts for the rich and cure a deficit that will hurt "our children and grandchildren," Burnam went on to say.

Thomas said Under the Hood started a telephone campaign to make sure non-deployable soldiers were not deployed. The organization has previously worked with soldiers and families from the regiment who said they were not fit to deploy.

The administration and command know there aren't enough soldiers to cover two wars, Thomas said, and they continue to ignore family members and soldiers instead of focusing on their well-being.

"This community is not going to be able to survive it much longer," she said.

The 1 percent of the U.S. population in uniform are the ones fighting and paying the most, Thomas said.

If people really wanted to support the troops, they would be fighting for them to come home, she added.

Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at astair@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7547. Follow her on Twitter at KDHmilitary or www.facebook.com/astairrett.

For more information

Under the Hood is located at 17 S. College St. It is open daily from 5 to 10 p.m. Visit the café online at www.underthehoodcafe.org.

For more information about Texas Labor Against the War, visit www.txlaboragainstwar.org or call (512) 470-8485.

To learn more about Wasfi and her work, visit www.liberatethis.com. To read her prepared remarks about the war's effect on the Iraqi people, visit www.kdhnews.com.
photo from Killeen Daily Herald

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Charlie Clements, Veteran for Peace

This weekend, Veterans for Peace is marking its 25th anniversary during its annual meeting, held this year in Maine, where the first VFP chapter was formed.

It was good to see this article, published today in the Maine Sunday Telegram, featuring VFP member, Charlie Clements. I remember hearing Mr. Clements speak here in Austin at the Friends Meeting House years ago -- sometime in the late 1980's, I believe. He was working at great personal risk as a medical doctor in El Salvador. He wrote about the experience in his book, Witness to War. Hearing Charlie Clements speak was part of my own awakening to the realities of US foreign policy.

Here's today's article:

Activist's personal journey stretches from battlefield to protest march

by Bill Nemitz

How does a soldier become a peace activist? For Charlie Clements, the answer lies somewhere between the lines of a 40-year-old military document that he keeps to this day.

“It says I’m 10 percent mentally disabled,” Clements said with a smile last week. “My protest was quite a silent one in some ways – I went quietly into the night.”

Clements, 64, is executive director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

He’s also one of 300 or so military veterans who will march through Portland’s Old Port this morning to mark the 25th anniversary of Veterans for Peace, which has grown to more than 6,000 members nationwide since its founding here in Maine back in 1985.

Military service does different things to different people.

Some wear it for a lifetime as a badge of honor, weaving their war stories more deeply into their very identity with each retelling.

Others tuck it away in the closet and rarely, if ever, talk about it again.

Then there are these vets, almost all decades removed from their days in uniform, who spend their gray-haired years marching not to the sound of a military band, but rather to the lyrics of anti-war protest songs.

Each, of course, has his or her own story. For Clements, once an Air Force pilot who flew more than 50 missions in Southeast Asia before deciding one day he couldn’t anymore, it begins as a 17-year-old cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy in the mid-1960s.

“The dominant thought in my class was, ‘We hope the war doesn’t end before we get there,’ ” Clements recalled as the Veterans for Peace conference got under way Thursday. “Because wars are where young men test themselves, they are where young officers make their mark, they are what we were trained for.”

Upon earning his commission as a second lieutenant, Clements enrolled with the Air Force’s blessing in a graduate astronautics program at UCLA. He could have sat out the Vietnam War with his nose in a book, but he decided eight months into the program that he had a duty to serve in Southeast Asia.

He remembers walking in uniform past protesters at UCLA in the fall of 1967 – back in those early days of the anti-war movement, the protesters would just stand silently with their signs while he and his comrades passed by.

“I remember thinking very clearly that I knew much more about the world than these people did, that this was their right to do this,” he said. “And that I would go to Vietnam and defend their right to do this because I have a better understanding of this threat that faces us.”


He also knew he didn’t want to kill anyone. So, upon graduating from flight school, he chose to pilot a C-130 transport plane rather than an assault aircraft and, with the war at full tilt, departed for Vietnam in August of 1969.

“What (the C-130) afforded me was a vast opportunity to see the war from different perspectives,” Clements said. “And with these experiences, I began to have encounters that gradually lifted the scales off my eyes.”

He once watched then-President Richard Nixon insist on the Armed Forces Network that the United States had no military presence in Laos, when he knew for a fact that C-130s just like the one he flew were ferrying personnel and supplies to secret U.S. bases there.

“Before that, it had never occurred to me before that the president would actually go on television and lie,” Clements said.

He once transported a group of 60 Viet Cong prisoners from one location to another – he was struck not just by the hatred in their eyes whenever they looked at him, but by an intensity, a sense of purpose that he rarely saw among young American GI’s.


He once showed up at a morgue to pick up the body of a soldier killed in action. “You can’t have him today,” a sergeant told him. “The body count’s not right and we have to hang onto him for a few days.”

Known for his sharp intellect, Clements once was asked by his higher-ups to write a history of the Low Altitude Parachute Extraction System by which C-130s delivered ordnance and supplies without actually touching down. The so-called LAPES procedure didn’t work well. That didn’t matter.

“I soon realized they were going to record this the way the Air Force wanted it recorded,” he said. “Not necessarily the way the pilots perceived it was happening,”

Then there was Cambodia.

In the spring of 1970, Clements flew a top-secret delegation of State Department officials to Phnom Penh – he was told at the time it was for an off-the-record meeting about securing a portion of the Ho Chi Minh Trail that passed through that country.

Only later would Clements learn the meeting was actually to plan the overthrow of Cambodia’s Prince Sihanouk – a precursor to the invasion of Cambodia launched that May. As he flew troops into Cambodia the day before the invasion began, he found himself consumed with anger.

“I’d had this rationale that I wasn’t killing anybody, that I was an innocent of sorts,” he said. “But throughout that day I began to understand that I was very much a part of the machinery of war, that I was greasing the skids of war. And I decided what I was being asked to do was immoral.”

He asked for and received an emergency medical leave home. And when he told his stateside commanding officer that he could no longer fly missions in Southeast Asia, he was sent to an Army medical facility for what he thought was a routine psychiatric examination.

Upon his arrival, a hospital nurse handed Clements a set of pajamas.

“No, you don’t understand,” he said. “I’m staying over at the officers quarters.”

“No, you’re staying here,” replied the nurse. “This is a closed psychiatric ward and you’re not leaving.”

There he remained, without visitors or telephone privileges, for weeks. And six months later, after refusing an offer to have his record sanitized if he’d just go back to Saigon and resume flying, the Air Force quietly declared him 10 percent mentally disabled and gave him an honorable discharge.


Clements would go on to become a physician and combine his medical skills with human rights work in Central America, where he spent the early 1980s treating victims of the civil war in El Salvador (many wounded by the same U.S. military aircraft in which he once trained). It was there, in 1985, that he met and joined the founders of Veterans for Peace.

He also later served as president of Physicians for Human Rights, traveling to Sweden in 1997 to accept the organization’s Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to ban land mines.

And now here he is in Maine, one of a small battalion of gray-haired veterans who emerged from war convinced that there has to be a better way.

Clements knows that some perceive Veterans for Peace as a ragtag group of radicals bent on tearing down the same country they once took an oath to protect. He also knows that perception could not be further from the truth.

Even now, he said, he has nothing but “empathy and respect” for those currently serving in the military – not to mention the families who have endured two, three, four or more deployments to Iraq or Afghanistan.

“I think our military is, more than ever in my lifetime, separated from the rest of society,” Clements said. “There’s a gulf between the ordinary civilians in our country and the military. We’re fighting two wars, but nobody (outside the military and their families) feels like they’re making any sacrifices.”

Time will tell whether the aging Vietnam veterans who now dominate Veterans for Peace will be replenished in the coming years with soldiers equally disillusioned by their service in Iraq or Afghanistan. Clements’ experience tells him the transition from the battlefield to the protest march often takes years, not weeks or months.

He’s also come to expect that as he and his comrades parade through downtown Portland this morning, some on the sidelines inevitably will call them a disgrace to the uniform they once wore.

But that piece of paper – the one that all these years later still labels him 10 percent out of step with the powers that once were – leaves him no choice.

“You don’t do this because of what people will think,” Clements said with another anything-but-angry smile. “You do this because of something inside you that compels you to speak your truth.”

photo by Derek Davis, published in the Maine Sunday Telegram

Monday, August 16, 2010

Life Stories

This past week, I traveled to Michigan for a family get-together. There were 15 of us, ranging in age from 9 to 85, and we are a family that likes to play games of various kinds. Some years ago, a friend gave me the board game, "Life Stories," which she had ordered from the Fellowship of Reconciliation bookstore. I have used this game in a number of social settings, and I've always learned something.

As my brother says, "Life Stories" is not so much a game as an 'encounter group.' Players move tokens around a board and draw cards that ask players to talk briefly about their own life experiences. On several occasions, I have brought this game along when I've done child care, just to see if children would be interested in it, and in every case, they have been -- even kids as young as 5 or 6 years old. It's a non-competitive oral history exercise that draws people together. In my experience, it even works well with just two people playing.

Here are some sample "Life Stories" cards:

Tell about one of the proudest moments in your life.

What is an activity that makes you feel ALIVE?

Tell about something you really like about where you live.

Describe one of the best decisions you made in your life.

What is a habit you picked up from a relative?

Tell about an aroma you recall from childhood.
I think the questions on the cards are phrased very well, and, as expected, they can lead to tangential discussions where others share their memories about the subject at hand.

When my family played the game this week, not all the adults wanted to play, but the children did, so even the adults who weren't "playing" stayed close by and sometimes chimed in. Even when we think we know our own family members pretty well, the game can teach us things about each other.

When my mom drew the card about an aroma from childhood, she recalled that when she was young and their family drove to Maine (from New Jersey) for vacation, they would sniff the air as they crossed into Maine and smell the sweet-fern, which, she said, always seemed to occur right at the border. She said she and her brothers would call out, "sweet-fern!" Vacation had begun.

I was thinking about the song, "From a Distance," which suggests that, as people in conflict around the world, we could learn to respect and cherish each other better if we took the long view. "From a distance, you look like my friend." For me, it begins from the other direction -- moving in, not out. The more closely I look at a person's life, the more I can understand where they are coming from. That's the premise of the "Life Stories" game, and it works for me!

The game can be ordered at this site. Check it out!

photo of sweet-fern by Dennis Curtin