Archives for posts with tag: War Crimes

An Earth Day Yarn and The Real Deal

Earth Day is a time of celebration, recounting the past, assessing the present, and pointing the way forward. Those attending the April 21, 2018 Earth Day Mayor for the Day program in Naugatuck Connecticut were subjected to an alternate – read false – story having to do with the past.

Connecticut State Assemblyman David Labriola (R) claimed that the Bush family, namely Barbara Bush, was responsible for activities that led to the first Earth Day. We all enjoyed a tall tale in our youth but to pass off such a false narrative as true was both disingenuous and dangerous.

First, let’s get to the real Earth Day story.

In the fall of 1956, there was a meeting in Saint Louis, Missouri, about milk. The connection here was to strontium-90, a “fallout” radioactive material from nuclear weapons testing out west. Was this dangerous substance making its way into cow’s milk?

Eighteen women sent a letter to the U.S. Health Department and to the Saint Louis Health Department. Edna Gellhorn was one of the women. She had earlier led a similar campaign for pure milk. The International Ladies Garment Workers Union, led by Virginia Brodine, lent organizational help. Washington University scientists, including seminal work by Barry Commoner, aided with the science. (See The Closing Circle.)

It was also Commoner who had the idea of citizens and scientists working together to inform the broader public. This gave birth to the Greater Saint Louis Citizens Committee for Nuclear Information (CNI). Two women, Gloria Gordon and Judy Baumgarten, played important roles that kept CNI rolling for the next five years.

The Cold War atmosphere made none of this work easy. To question anything the U.S. government was doing, particularly military, would quickly bring out the “communist” charge. What helped to break down some of this toxic atmosphere was the civil rights movement then gaining momentum in the south. The exposure and censure by the U.S. Senate of arch-anticommunist Senator Joe McCarthy also helped.

To help spread the message and dangers of radioactive material finding its way into ecosystems, including humans, was a group of twenty scientists. The alliance of grassroots environmentalists, union, and scientists led to the publication of the magazine, Nuclear Information. In 1964 it became Scientist and Citizen. (See New Solutions 8:1:17-25 1998.)

It was around this time that a woman scientist became the talk of the country and world. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring burst on the scene. Carson combined the skills of a seasoned writer with her science background as a government biologist.

She cautioned about pesticides via a fictional silent spring when no birds sang. Carson followed this with real data and spoke on the Audubon circuit. She immediately drew venom from chemical companies and government bureaucrats. Former Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson, said “ . . .she was probably a communist.” (Lear, Linda.   1997.   Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature. 429).

Others picked up this vicious red-baiting. Here’s a period Letter to the Editor in the The New Yorker.

Miss Rachel Carson’s reference to the selfishness of insecticide manufacturers probably reflects her Communist sympathies, like a lot of our writers these days. We can live without birds and animals, but, as the current market slump shows, we cannot live without business. As for insects, isn’t it just like a woman to be scared to death of a few little bugs! As long as we have the H-bomb everything will be O.K. (Smith, Feminist Studies 2001, 27:741).

It would take another blog to unpack the anticommunist, anti-women venom here. You have to wonder whether the writer ever ate insect pollinated fruits e.g. an apple? Rachel Carson persevered these hateful attacks and is often cited as a key contributor to the origin of Earth Day and the modern environmental movement.

In the early 1960s, President Kennedy (D) sent the first U.S. troops to Vietnam. President Lyndon Johnson (D) followed by President Richard Nixon (R) greatly expanded the U.S. War in Vietnam. Anticommunism was resulting in a bloodletting. In his 1968 famous Riverside speech, Martin Luther King, connected the devastation in Vietnam and killing of its people to the oppression of the poor and people of color at home.

Then came the revelations of the cruel and genocidal use by U.S. forces of the chemical defoliant Agent Orange. Dow Chemical and Monsanto reaped megaprofits from this chemical warfare. Uniroyal Chemical was also a producer. Environment, war, and human rights were all coming together. The demonstrations in Washington D.C in 1968, 1969 and 1971 grew in size and effectiveness.

In 1969, Scientist and Citizen changed its name to Environment and quickly became the most prestigious journal in its field.

It was at this time that Senator Gaylord Nelson (D) of Wisconsin took the initiative to pull together many of these struggles and movements. He wanted a grassroots approach similar to the anti-war “teach-ins” on college campuses. Nelson hired Denis Hayes, a former Stanford student president and now Harvard Law School student. Hayes smartly hired a team of activists steeped in civil rights, the Chicano movement, and the Robert Kennedy (1968) presidential campaign. The result was various grassroots gatherings of 20 million people on April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day.

The action didn’t stop there. In 1971, word spread that the military was planning a nuclear weapons test on Amchitka Island in part of the Aleutian Archipelago off Alaska. A group of activists set off in an old fishing boat to stop the test. While initially unsuccessful, it led to the international organization Green Peace with 2.9 million supporters in 40 countries. Amchitka Island is now has a bird sanctuary*.

  • Dozens of Amchitka workers and Aleuts have died from leaking radiation from the 3 underground nuclear tests there.

 

Landmark legislation followed the first Earth Day such as the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act.

Soon after all this activity, there gained momentum to impeach President Richard Nixon for high crimes throughout his presidency. He was driven out of office in 1974. There are many lessons here as mass actions call for the impeachment of Donald Trump.

 

The dishonesty of a false narrative of Earth Day origins by a state legislator is easy to explain but why dangerous? I say this because if we don’t paint accurate pictures of how such a momentous event as how the first Earth Day emerged in April 1970, attempts of other needed social/political changes e.g. renewable energy, will lead to dead ends. Such changes have some shared, distinguishable characteristics.

Attempts to rewrite history, and grossly distort it, are legion. The movie Rebirth of a Nation (1915) is good example. When the film came out, President Woodrow Wilson (D) had a viewing of it in the White House. It gave this racist movie an unfortunate legitimacy.

This skewed view of U.S. history included vicious stereotyping of slaves and black people generally. Wilson was also responsible for resegregating Washington D.C. and disastrously led the USA into WWI after running on a peace platform. (See Dead Wake, Larson).

President Trump is a chief follower of those who rewrite history to fit their fancy. Having a picture of President Jackson prominently displayed in the White House is symbolic of his white nationalist ways. President Jackson was a slave owner and instigator of genocide against native peoples. The promulgating of his image along with praising Jackson’s presidency speaks volumes about Trump’s ideology and the politics that follow in its train.

Trump’s policies and approach to politics is to disunite our people and country. Misogyny, male chauvinism, and anti-immigrant ideas have a present currency. Oliver North’s recent anti-youth statements pointed at the students of South Park Florida, who are leading the struggle against gun violence, are a recent example. Racism and anticommunism are often the ideological bulwarks behind disunity.

The 2020 50th anniversary of Earth day will be here in a blink of an eye. It is also a presidential election year. There is a need to bring this true history forward versus those who would rewrite it with a false narrative. Unity of people with different political persuasions and with all people regardless of color and sexual orientation is a must to win back our country of the United States of America.

 

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I almost stopped writing this blog as the awful event in Orlando, Florida emerged in the news. I decided to push forward. Militarism is part of the complex web of problems that we need to address in our country. This blog addresses a piece of that and offers a small beginning of a solution.

KILLERS AMONG US

It’s 1943. The allied invasion to wrest Italy from the grips of fascism is underway. Communist-led partisans have neutralized some of Mussolini’s minions. Germany has sent its troops to keep Italy in the fascist loop.

A Canadian infantryman encounters a German soldier who is in a sitting position in a goat hut. The infantryman hears words from the enemy combatant, at first inaudible, then clearer. The German wants vasser, water. He is wounded. Was it a rouse? What to do?

The Canadian’s head swirls with a rush of tangled thoughts. Should he whip the carbine off his back and finish what war has already done to this human being? His body shook with emotion. He slowly reaches for his canteen, chuck full of rum, and hands it to the German. In a short time, the wounds prove deadly.

Famed naturalist to-be Farley Mowat was that Canadian military man. After the war he would find himself in the far north of Canada where he would run with wolves and get to know and appreciate Inuit Native People culture. He would share with us those experiences with other beings on the tundra through many natural history books.

He had much time to reflect on his military experiences. Fortunately, he also shared the chaos and pathos of war through his little known book, And No Birds Sang.

Let’s go back even further in time. It’s March of 1780. A group of young men, mostly from the Gunntown area of the Naugatuck Valley, Connecticut, are sitting at the Whittemore Inn in Chusetown (Seymour). In the next hour they would be recruited by a secret British agent. Four days later, they would be the shock troops to raid the house of patriot Ebenezer Dayton of Bethany. They would terrorize the Dayton family and make off with a bevy of stolen goods.

The most gung-ho, to use the modern phrase, of this motley gang was the cousins, David and Henry Wooster. Along their escape route, they participated in the kidnapping of a young colonial, Chauncey Judd, who was from a patriotic family. Both cousins were from rabid loyalist families. It would be the irony.

When the Tory gang reaches the banks of the Long Meadow Brook in Gunntown, the British agent decided to kill their captive. But lo, wait; it was none other than the Wooster boys who literally put their bodies in front of the Queen’s gun. They successfully stayed the execution of the young colonial. Their humanity, in spite of their distain for the Judd family and the revolutionary movement, burst forth.

History is replete with stories, like the two above, where the courage to do the right thing bubbles to the surface amid the chaos of war and civil strife. The one I am about to relate is not one of them.

It’s February 25, 1969, Thanh Phong, Vietnam. Navy Seals are on the hunt for a Viet Cong leader. They encounter a hut occupied by three young children and their grandparents. The Seals kill them all using knives so as not to give away their position. More civilians were killed in the main village including 13 children and a pregnant woman.

The leader of this wanton killing spree was Bob Kerrey. The report would read 21 Vietcong were killed. It was a completely false report. Kerrey would be awarded a Bronze Star and the Congressional Medal of Honor. He would, in part, bounce off his participation in the U.S. War in Vietnam to become Governor of Nebraska and a U.S. Senator, now retired.

Kerrey did not divulge this atrocity until a media report was about to do so in 2001. He claimed no direct participation in the killing. That also was a lie. Two members of the Seal team revealed he was directly involved in the killing of a grandfather. Kerrey also gave the order to kill the civilians in the larger village. A survivor, Bui Thi Luom, has corroborated their entire account (NYTimes 6/3/16).

Some say this was different. It was a time of war. The Seals had very little time. They were following orders. All these excuses were debunked during the Nuremberg trails (http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/nuremberg-trials) after World War II. Nazi leaders, as well as guards of concentration camps, were sent to prison or worse. They are still being hunted down and as are those who were involved in atrocities in Serbia, Ivory Coast, and elsewhere.

There’s more. To my knowledge Navy Seals were not drafted. They volunteered. Now Bob Kerrey has been appointed Chairman of the board of Fulbright University, Vietnam. Unconscionable? That is to say the least.

Like Lieutenant Calley of the infamous My Lai massacre (http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/calley-charged-for-my-lai-massacre), Vietnam, these killers are walking among us. While former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and those of his Ilk, are culpable for the U.S. War in Vietnam, those in the field are as well. Officer’s expressions of moral injury should not let them get away with murder. Soldiers who genuinely need help with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and moral injury should get all the help they need to recover. That’s not what we are considering here.

There is an important connection to the present. For decades, George Bush Senior has been an advocate of putting the U.S. War in Vietnam behind us. He calls it the “Vietnam syndrome”, which is basically our peoples’ reluctance for military solutions at every turn. He wants a free hand for U.S. imperialism to run rough shod over countries that will not follow the dictates of the fossil fuel boys. Iraq War #1, Desert Storm, put this thesis to work. The other side of that coin is to protect killers from the past and to shield new ones being nurtured by the military.

To a certain extent, the Bushes et al have been successful. The peace movement has been mainly mute, as pictures of heads rolling off bodies have spooked young and old. The mass murders in Florida, Paris, and elsewhere have added to the paralysis. Meanwhile the civilian casualties of U.S. militarism in the Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan also pile up enraging populations there, particularly young people.

If we can’t confront these skirmishes from past, with the Bob Kerrey case an example, how can we ever stop the madness now? Are we to leave the solutions to the Trumps of the world? That would be the path of xenophobia, racism, war, and genocide abroad and repression at home. Sound familiar? (More on this in Killers Among Us – Part II)

Demand that Bob Kerrey (Here & Now – Some Vietnamese recall Bob Kerrey’s… | Facebo

be removed as chairman of the Fulbright University in Vietnam. He needs to have a fair trail with innocence presumed, as is our law. Let justice flow from there. We all need it.

Now we need the discussion to flow here. What are your thoughts?