Monday, March 31, 2008

Acts That Changed the Tide?

What kind of actions and what kind of protest would you expect to point to, while looking back after an unjust regime was toppled, and say, these were among the acts that turned the tide?

It is, of course, impossible to know what things are decisive looking forward. We only know these things for certain - or nearly for certain - in retrospect. We also know, from looking at history, that every single act of people of conscience who refuse to bow down to tyranny and the complacency of apathy matters because these acts all contribute to creating a critical mass of actions that broke the ice and marked the beginning of the tyrants' end.

Besides the righteous and powerful actions of predominately Berkeley High School students against the Berkeley recruiting center in February, I would nominate the following two events for actions that helped to turn the tide:

Posted at Revolution Newspaper's "Chicago: Easter Protest by Catholic Schoolgirls Against the War":

It was a routine Easter service in one of the most prestigious Catholic churches in Chicago. Moments into Cardinal George’s homily, voices called out, “The sixth commandment says thou shalt not kill…and yet more than a million Iraqis have been killed during the …invasion of Iraq.” In an aisle stood six young peace activists, who go under the name of Catholic Schoolgirls Against the War. Another activist shouted out, “On January 7, Cardinal George met for lunch with George W. Bush.” As they were quickly surrounded by ushers and church security, another protester let out a scream and collapsed to the floor in fake “blood,” beginning a very short-lived die-in on the church floor. They were quickly hustled out, chanting “even the pope calls for peace.” They were charged with felony destruction to property and battery, with possible jail time of up to 5 years if convicted. They are all currently out on bonds that range from $25,000 to $35,000, after funds were raised from those supporting the action.

The whole event lasted less than a minute. But as the protest was broadcast on the network news, it became a source of intense controversy in the city. The message coming through in the press was primarily a negative one. “It was shocking,” said a man whose pants and jacket had some spots of the fake blood used by the protesters. “You should all be ashamed of yourselves,” lectured one parishioner, while another accused the activists of scaring children. Cardinal George, who had first told the congregation that “we can be grateful to those who interrupted this holiday,” later denounced the action to the press as “an act of violence.” Even some anti-war activists considered the act well intentioned but counter-productive.

“Remarkable,” was how Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence and activist with Catholic Worker Movement, described the action. She told Revolution, “I’m kind of humbled by it really. I’ve been part of different groupings of people who’ve been experimenting with 30-day fasts, and cross country walks, and assembling peace teams in the war zones as the bombs were falling in various parts of Iraq, and nothing I’ve ever seen has accomplished so much outreach, if you will, and discussion as this 50-second activity inside Holy Name Cathedral.…

“I think the reason that so many people have said anything is because this is clearly something that the corporate media decided to report on. And so it’s a story that’s gone far and wide. And I think that I’ve mainly been in touch with people who’ve taken it to heart, as an occasion for some thoughtful consideration, and to ask some real questions—why are people in our country so readily disturbed by stage blood that sullies clothing and carpets and yet, really not so readily disturbed by the reality of bodies broken because of bombing and bullets, and inadequate health care now in Iraq today? Terrific bloodletting and bloodshed and suffering and bereavement and misery and impoverishment has gone on, and it hasn’t really awakened so much emotion in people, as the fact of within 50 seconds of stage blood squeezed out of a tube…by young people who felt that they simply couldn’t sit by without trying to do something, and so had decided to use the time [of] Easter Sunday, when they knew Christians would be gathering and celebrating inside the cathedral, as a time to really ask people to take a closer look at what was happening in terms of blood being shed in Iraq.”

Vets’ Testimonies Bring Home U.S. Horrors in Iraq and Afghanistan

The following letter is from Joe Urgo, a Vietnam vet:

I thought I knew about what the U.S. war and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan has meant to these countries and their people. But the real horror of this was vividly brought home to me when I attended the March 13-16 Winter Soldier Investigation: Iraq and Afghanistan, organized by the Iraq Veterans Against the War. Over four days, almost 50 American veterans testified about what they had been trained to do and what they did to the people and land of Iraq and Afghanistan. These hearings were broadcast around the world over the Internet, television and radio, and could be seen by the troops on U.S. bases and ships all over the world. Interspersed throughout the testimony were videos of Iraqi men, women, and kids describing the terror of living under American military occupation.

The audience, about 350 people at any time, were mostly American veterans, military families, and parents whose children were killed in the war.

Those testifying tried to expose how the policies and orders came from the very top levels of their military chain of command, up to Gen. Petraeus and beyond. Some of the terms will be familiar to Vietnam veterans: “Free Fire Zones,” and “Recon By Fire”—both of which give you permission to fire on anyone you please without consequences. There was testimony about policies developed for these wars today, new counterinsurgency doctrine in urban situations like the massive number of home invasions, many in the middle of the night, and whole families are terrorized, beaten, living quarters ransacked, and the young men and boys carted off to jail and worse.

Some of the starkest testimony was on the Rules of Engagement panels. Jason Washburn testified, “We were allowed to shoot whatever we wanted. We opened fire on everything. There were no rules governing the amount of force we were allowed to use. This is what we were expected to do. We were told to fuck them up.” He described several incidents of killing civilians, that they were common and were encouraged. He and other vets also described how “with a wink and a nudge we were encouraged to carry ‘drop weapons’ or shovels. In case we accidentally did shoot a civilian, toss the weapon or shovel on the body to make them look like an insurgent.”

It was also on this panel that Jon Turner began his testimony by repeating one of the Marine Corps slogans, pausing and saying, “and then there is ‘fuck the apple, eat the Corps.’” Then he ripped his medals off his chest, threw them on the and floor and said, “I don’t work for you anymore!” In half a second, the entire audience was on their feet cheering Jon’s defiance of the Marines and their medals. He then went on to describe his senior officers commending him for his first kill, what it was like doing house raids at three in the morning, “kicking in doors and terrorizing families.” Trying to hold his emotions in check, Jon ended his testimony saying, “I am no longer the monster I once was.” The post traumatic stress among many of the vets as they tried to come to grips with what they had done to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan made it necessary to have a team of therapists on call during the conference.

As you listen to or read the testimony, a picture begins to emerge: These crimes are not mistakes, “misuse” of the Rules of Engagement, or “strategic incompetence.” This is the way imperialism and its military fight their wars. Kill the people; the only valuable lives are American lives. One vet started his testimony by saying, “To the people of the world ...We need to act with the courage and determination demanded by those people of the world—to put a stop to this.”

These vets, driven by guilt, anger, and a growing sense of betrayal that they had been lied to and used to commit a great crime against humanity, made powerful statements that need to be heard by all who are not yet convinced that these occupations are wrong, by those sitting on the fence, by those who, yes, like me, think they know what’s happening over there.


In future issues, Revolution will publish transcripts of testimony from the Winter Soldier Investigation: Iraq and Afghanistan. Readers can hear testimony at:

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