War: November 2008 Archives

today we've learned to hide ideas about freedom - if any even survive

Was Obama's talk about hope and change all fake, or are his continuing conservative decisions and appointments only a cover?

Are they trying to make permanent cynics out of members of the American minority that still believes in participatory government? I've been worried for a long time, since well before the election, about whether a new administration would really give us the change we need and want - and clearly mandated on November 4.

I've tried to dismiss the evidence: Both the history and the words of the man who is now our president elect had betrayed that he has what in most times and places would be described as a pretty conservative outlook and approach. I've been telling myself that it's just Obama's way of getting through the door, and that once there he might have to continue pursuing the appearance of circumspection as a stealth device for getting people to go along with the progressive, even radical change the moment demands.

In spite of the great myth, Americans just aren't very adventurous about government.

I was also trying not to jump to conclusions too early, since the election was only three weeks ago and this kind of speculation seemed to me to be a waste of time at this point, when the new administration was still embryonic, and also because he's got to be given time to get some smart homies together before charging into Washington.

But as the concessions and appointments continue, apparently announcing a seemingly inexorable reintroduction of the polices and personnel which created the colossal messes both inside and outside our borders which we're now struggling to repair, I've become very alarmed, and I'm finding I'm not the only one. I mean, this is only the latest: Gates stays?

The letter which follows, written by a reader distressed for good reason I would say, was printed in today's NYTimes. It shares my own last desperate hope for change:

To the Editor:

Re "The Candidate of Change Chooses Experience" (news analysis, front page, Nov. 22):

President-elect Barack Obama was elected running left and is now making appointments from the center-right. He could still instruct his loyal appointees to govern from the left. That would be the change we could believe in. Otherwise, the joke will be on us, again.

Doug Karo

Durham, N.H., Nov. 22, 2008


While I'm at it, let me ask who decided we have to wait almost three months to replace an administration we already voted to get rid of? Everywhere else in the civilized world governments leave as soon as they are asked to leave. Our own government, its Executive together with its Congress, today has by far the greatest burden of responsibility of any governing authority in the entire world; why do we still have to sit so vulnerable and impotent, dead in the water until next year, waiting for the spring thaw [until 1937, described as March 4, for the convenience of delegates to the Electoral College] for the control of these two obscenely-powerful institutions to be handed over to a designated successor?

[image, a detail of an 1854 engraving by Baker & Andrew of Molly Pitcher, from teachushistory]

Ken Gonzales-Day St. James Park 2006 6" x 3.7" [from his "Erased Lynching Series"]

I always talk about three wars when I refer to the martial abominations wrought by the outgoing administration, and I'm always asked, "Three?". I answer that I'm considering the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, but also the war on terror, which is clearly distinct from the first two, especially as we've been told it will it will go on forever. It's the bogus war on terror for which it was considered necessary to suspend the Constitution and turn at least half of the citizenry into the enemy: suspected fellow-travelers, traitors or terrorists. But this is also the war in which, as we already know, U.S. government operatives and agencies have also been engaged for years in secret lynching operations around the world, as dramatized once again just today by this story: "Secret Order Lets U.S. Raid Al Qaeda in Many Countries"

WASHINGTON (Reuters) Since 2004, the Pentagon has used broad, secret authority to carry out about 12 attacks against al Qaeda and other militants in Syria, Pakistan and elsewhere, The New York Times reported on its Web site on Sunday.

Quoting what it said were more than six unnamed military and intelligence officials and senior Bush administration policy makers, the newspaper said the military operations were authorized by a classified order signed by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld with the approval of President George W. Bush.

Under the order, the military had new authority to strike the al Qaeda network anywhere in the world and a broader mandate to conduct operations in countries not at war with the United States, according to the Times.

[image from kengonzalesday]

inside the gallery the caption reads: Yuri Kozyrev Iraq 2007 US forces mark Iraqis with serial numbers to track movements in and out of village

inside the gallery the caption reads: Jared Moossy Afghanistan 2007 An [sic] wounded American soldier is airlifted by helicopter in eastern Afghanistan

I really, really would like to get away from what my grammar school teachers called "current events" and what I call "matters of life and death", and go back to posting about the fine arts, but my intentions are being confounded by both events and the art. Yesterday, after visiting the group installation "The Ballot Show", about you-know-what, at the Front Room Gallery in Williamsburg, I headed a little further west to the Sideshow Gallery's "Battlespace: Unrealities of War", and there I almost lost it.

These are images by 23 photographers "embedded" with our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Under the terms of their being allowed there they are forbidden to publish, in their regular commercial news outlets, the more violent images of injury and death hanging on the walls in this gallery. And so the wars go on, with the citizens who sustain them easily able to ignore the worst of what is being done in their name to both American troops and the "enemy".

People elsewhere in the world don't have this luxury; they've been shown such photographs since the wars began.

While in the gallery I couldn't quite bring myself to photograph the most obscene images of mutilations and carnage. I cannot explain why, even to myself, especially since broadcasting them is precisely the intent of the photographers and the purpose of this installation.

I found the Battlespace site itself only a few minutes ago, so I'm using its images rather than my own, and, hoping to redeem myself for my timidity yesterday, I've decided to upload below one of the most powerful images I saw, one which I did not capture with my camera. I should add that it is not the most grotesque: This body was still living, and being attended by medical personnel.

Inside the gallery on Bedford Street the wounded soldier on the table appears almost, literally, "life size". The scale in which it appears online can barely suggest the horror of what you are actually looking at.

inside the gallery the caption reads: Lucian Read Iraq 2006 American soldier lies on an operating table in Ramadi after being wounded in an IED blast

Visit the exhibition itself before it closes next Sunday. You will never forget it.

[all images from Battlespace]


On election day at around 6:30 in the evening I drafted some thoughts that seemed to reflect my state of mind at the time. Barry and I were going to meet Paddy Johnson a little later at the election watch party at Huffington Post headquarters, where I had hoped to come up with an image to go with the draft post. But by the time Obama's election was actually called, around 11 o'clock Eastern, I had tears in my eyes. I was home, and when I looked at my lines a little later I knew they just wouldn't fly right then (unless you were asleep that night or brain dead, you know what I mean).

Like most of the world, I am overwhelmed and overjoyed by what has happened, even more so since I will admit that ever since 2000 I thought I'd never see another real Presidential election (even blogging about my scepticism, repeatedly, beginning almost seven years ago). I had seriously underestimated the Republicans incompetence in both their ability to govern and to maintain power.

But it's now less than three days later and the questions have already begun.

Will Obama be be able to oversee our national restoration? My brother reminded me on the phone yesterday afternoon, from suburban D.C., of the price we had to pay to bring about this victory. We endured eight disastrous years of a Bush presidency, years which saw both the haughty ascendancy and the ignoble collapse of the unmourned Late Capitalist, Neoconservative and Republican regime. Nothing of importance or worth in our own Republic or in much of the rest of the world has escaped the depredations of its arrogance, its sententiousness, its dominion and its greed. I had believed for years that no fundamental political change would occur until we had sunk into a genuine economic depression, and I had gloomily predicted the change would be toward some form of Fascism.

I hadn't anticipated the confluence of the dramatic events of the last year and the exceptional capabilities of Barack Hussein Obama. I'd say we were far luckier than we deserved to be. There was certainly no inevitability in the timing of either's appearance.

But in order to rebuild institutions, restore well-being and a belief in the future, the new President will have to pull off something like a major revolution. And he's going to have to move fast. Roosevelt's entire "First New Deal" was proposed and passed by Congress within the first 100 days of his administration. I can't imagine how he and his administration managed it, but in 1933 the people were demanding immediate relief.

Today there may not yet be universal recognition of the full impact of the current economic collapse. Only a few are beginning to describe it as equivalent to the Great Depression, whose ravages were well underway as FDR assumed office (although to be sure, our 32nd President didn't also have to deal with two messy wars and Global Warming when he moved into the White House). Without that full recognition of the seriousness of our crisis, and with the continuing strength of contemporary skeptics, dinosaurs and reactionaries, including the fact that almost as many people didn't vote for him as did, Obama will almost certainly have to push through what must be, and almost certain will be, an extremely progressive agenda while not making it look too radical, and he will have to do it in a way that will disarm and even enlist on its behalf as many of its potential adversaries as possible.

It was very interesting to me when I finally looked into it, that during his campaign Roosevelt had apparently spoken to the voters of nothing remotely related to what became his extraordinarily-ambitious New Deal programs; in fact, much of what he did say suggested an agenda quite the opposite of what was later framed and passed. Not knowing this then, but because I knew something about my countrymen, it did not surprise me when I heard nothing specific about any kind of new New Deal from Obama at any time during his own extended campaign.

Obama knows he will have to be diplomatically politic. The nation is fortunate that such an approach corresponds with his own temperament, and that he brings to the task an extremely sharp mind, including the ability to think and speak on his feet, and what appears to be enormous strength of character. I have no doubt that if anyone could pull this thing off in this shaken country at this time, Barack Obama could, but he won't be able to do it alone.

I know there will be mistakes, as FDR made mistakes, but, and call me Pollyanna again, I believe he will pull it off, partly because of what I have just written, but also because he will have so much help (both enthusiastic and skilled), and because we have come to such a pass that we all really want to see him to succeed: Regardless of our diversity, and despite the vast range in our individual conditions and current fortunes, none of us can afford the cost of failure. We'll have to be in there with him.

Did I mention the awesome and "monumental" importance that our success would signify, an importance even beyond that of our decision to make a man who happens to be [described as] Black the President of the United States? More than a material recovery, success would mean the restoration of the all-but-buried idea of a free and welcoming America first invented by a wise, older world sometime in the seventeenth century.

These are the tone-deaf, and surprisingly angry lines I wrote early Tuesday evening, exactly as I had left them*:

The corporate devisers and the engine of our national disaster and disgrace have finally been repudiated. Bush and his enablers will squirm in their Pennsylvania Avenue lair for almost three more months, where they can still do a lot of damage, but the lease is up.

While it is clearly a victory for reason and common sense and what used to be called "the American way", today's vote marks only the beginning of the real recovery.

We must all immediately get to work picking up the shattered pieces of a proud republic, and it won't be easy. While we are doing so it will be equally as important to resolve and ensure that as the privileged and proud citizens of this fortunate land we will never again sell our heritage to slick con men who thrive by preying on our selfish appetites and ignorant fears.

We are a free people only if we remain actively and continuously responsible for our own governance.

Freedom ain't a tower.

I'm struck by the fact that I totally ignored mentioning the significance of race when I wrote about what I already expected would be an Obama victory. I'd like to think that what looks like my indifference to its role may turn out to be a bellwether for this country finally arriving at maturity, but I can't help mentioning that later that evening I noticed and remarked to my friends that sadly even the Huffington party presented little more than a handful of dark faces in a sea of white. I was regretting that we hadn't decided to watch the unfolding wonders from somewhere in the streets.

[image is a still of the MSNBC broadcast as seen on our home screen]

war machine [still from the video]

In 1969 14-year-old Jerry Levitan managed to get into John Lennon's hotel room in Toronto's King Edward Hotel with his reel-to-reel recorder where he interviewed his idol for the school paper. Nearly 40 years later Levitan produced an animated film documenting and illustrating what he heard and what he captured on tape in conversation with the Walrus that day.

A short excerpt of Lennon thrashing out war and change, from "I Met The Walrus":

It's up to the people . . . you can't blame it on the gov'ment and say they're doing it. Oh, they're going to put us into war. We put them there. We allow it, you know, and we can change it; if we really want to change it we can change it.

"Walrus" was written and directed by Josh Raskin, with illustrations by James Braithwaite and Alex Kurina, and animation by Josh Raskin.

[image is a screen grab from YouTube, but I first heard about it today from scatteredsisters, a site maintained by a good friend in Antwerp together with her siblings dispersed about the globe]

This page is an archive of entries in the War category from November 2008.

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