Memorial Day Heroes

Rosemarie Jackowski

"Thank you for your service"...on second thought -

It is Memorial Day again. Some will celebrate. Some will drink too much. Some will march in parades. Some will rally around the flag. Some will go shopping. Some will mourn. I am among the mourners.

I mourn mostly for those we have killed ? and I mourn for those we haven’t killed yet, but will in the days ahead. I mourn for all of the mothers and fathers who put their children to bed at night and wonder if this will be the night that they are killed by a drone attack.

I mourn for the 500,000 Iraqi children - dead because of U.S. foreign policy. The official policy as described by Madeleine Albright on 60 Minutes was 'that we think the price was worth it.' Worth it to whom? Not to the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, grandmothers and grandfathers of those children.

I mourn the execution of Pvt. Eddie Slovik ? the gentle soldier who was too moral to kill. He refused to fight. On Jan. 31, 1945, the U.S. executed him before a firing squad. He is the only U.S. soldier, that we know about, who was executed during World War II. In recent years has friendly fire been used against some who refuse to kill?

I mourn for all the unarmed civilians slaughtered by U.S. troops in Korea. The massacre at No Gun Ri is one of many war crimes.

I mourn for all those being held in Guantanamo. Either put them on Trial, or release them and pay them compensation for the time they were illegally imprisoned.

The results of recent elections show that more than ninety percent of United States voters support the foreign policy of the Democratic/Republican Party. That includes support for war, torture and imprisonment without due process. More than ninety percent of the people, as evidenced by their votes, are not peace makers. Supporting crimes against humanity is not an option for people of conscience. Any vote for any Democrat or Republican candidate is a vote for war. Those voters are complicit in war crimes because they enable crimes against peace. Electing peace makers to the Congress would save lives and money.

As a nation, none can compare with the United States when it comes to the ability to slaughter innocent civilians. Remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The United States is the only nation to have used nuclear bombs to kill.

Now we can kill from the comfort of our own neighborhoods … at no risk to our own safety. Some believe that the use of drones is a cowardly approach to warfare. Some argue that the use of drones is a war crime. No matter how one feels about drones, it is certain that drone warfare has raised the killing of civilians to a new level. The slaughter of little girls walking to school is a crime against humanity.

Do the drone operators who sit at a computer thousands of miles away from any danger deserve our admiration? Their safety is not at risk. Should they be “‘thanked for their service”? Does wearing a uniform give anyone the moral or legal right to kill unarmed civilians? Does wearing a uniform make anyone a hero? Is killing by remote control really an example of heroism?

How can “heroism” be defined? Heroism is the willingness to stand alone in opposition to evil and injustice.

We have many heroes. Julian Assange, Ed Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Jeremy Hammond, John Kiriakou, Aaron Swartz are just a few of many. There are also local heroes. In one small New England town Ron Conroy, a disabled vet, stood up against the Select Board. Conroy spoke in defense of First Amendment rights for panhandlers.

Archbishop Oscar Romero took on the entire power structure in El Salvador. With grace and dignity he defended the poor and disenfranchised. He was assassinated while saying Mass.

When I think about heroes, I always think about my friend, Elliott Adams. During the ’60s, Adams volunteered for the Army. He fought in Vietnam, He was a paratrooper. He was wounded. After hospitalization, he was redeployed to Korea, and then Alaska. All of those things might make Adams seem like a hero to most people, but that is not why I think of him as a hero. Adams is a former president of Veterans for Peace, but that also is not why he is a hero to me. More than anyone I have known, Adams has dedicated his life since being discharged from the military to working for global peace. He has gone to Gaza with Physicians for Social Responsibility. In solidarity with the prisoners at Gitmo, Adams went on a hunger strike. Adams has been at the forefront of the protests against the use of drones at Hancock Air Base near Syracuse, N.Y. Adams was arrested while participating in peaceful protest.

Below is Adams’ sentencing speech as he delivered it to the court. This is one of the most articulate anti-war statements I have ever heard.

“I appreciate the bench’s effort to understand the arguments made ? arguments involving local law, international law and, even the principles of civil disobedience.

“My experience in war has taught me that in life we periodically get tested to see if we can stand up to the pressures of ‘socially acceptable procedural norms’ which push us to work within the little laws and instead comply with the requirements of International Humanitarian Law. I cannot condemn others when they fail that test for I have failed it myself. But those who do fail it are condemned to live with the horrendous cost society pays for their failure. I believe this court failed that test. The court may not have felt an unavoidable compulsion to comply with International Humanitarian Law, but it certainly was given the justifications it could have used to stand up and comply with International Humanitarian Law. But being here in DeWitt near an epicenter of war crimes couched in the humdrum of civilian life, the bench may find it is tested again … and again.

“I believe that my co-defendants and I did what is right morally, but more relevant to this court, what is required by the law, the big law, that law that deals with thousands of lives, not the little law that deals with disorderly conduct. If the court had chosen to decide on the big law it would have found us innocent. But since the court chooses to rule on the little law, the law about orderly conduct, then it must not only find me guilty but guilty to the fullest extent, with no mitigation.

“As the court stated, there will always be consequences for pursuing justice through ‘changes made by actions outside the socially acceptable procedural norms.’ Among other life experiences I have over 15 years in local elected public office and it became apparent to me that abiding by the ‘socially acceptable procedural norms’ can only lead to more of the same injustice, indeed those norms are there to prop up those injustices.

“I am proud to accept the consequences of my acts and any jail time. I do not want any suspended sentence. If you give me one, also please let me know how I can violate it before I leave the courtroom. I do not have money to pay a court; I spend what little money this old man has trying to bring about justice. My community service has been doing the duty that the courts shrink from ? calling attention to war crimes and trying to stop war crimes. Standing in this court a community service, it is the little I can do for society.”

America on Memorial Day, 2017

“Everywhere I go, every town I visit, you don’t see any industries. You don’t see any factories. You don’t see anything. We don’t make anything. We are really the poorest country on earth, but people refuse to see that. We are only surviving. We are only looking good because of our military might, because we are an empire. But this force cannot go on forever. It should be so obvious that we’re only chugging along, bullying people into lending us money and sending us stuff that we don’t deserve, that we haven’t earned. How can we survive? Hundreds of thousands of Americans have been reduced to living like savages in this self-proclaimed greatest country on earth.” - Linh Dinh, Poet

We Need Memorial Day to Obscure the Unbearable Trush About War

Jon Schwarz
The Intercept

IF YOU’RE ANYWHERE near Washington, D.C., this Memorial Day, I strongly recommend a visit to Arlington National Cemetery. There may be nowhere where American history is more highly concentrated in all its kooky cruel splendor -- and so there’s also no better place to ask questions about it.

For instance, the grounds and the mansion at the entrance of Arlington once belonged to Robert E. Lee’s wife. Did we just seize it all during the Civil War, like a normal country? Not exactly: Instead we created a transparent sham where she was required to show up in person to pay her $92.07 in property taxes for 1864, and when she didn’t it was sold off at a public auction, with the U.S. government as the only bidder.

What about John F. Kennedy’s grave: Is all of him in there? No, his brain was removed during his autopsy and his body was buried without it. (The brain then spent some time at the National Archives before vanishing in 1966.)

And are there any Wiccans buried at Arlington? Presumably there always have been. But in 2007 the military added a pentacle to its official list of religious symbols that can be engraved on headstones, so it now can be publicly recognized.

But of course if you spend time with the dead from the Civil War and the Boxer Rebellion and Iwo Jima and Apollo 1, you’ll also find yourself asking larger questions. Every time I’ve gone there, as I’ve looked out from Lee’s hilltop mansion at the hundreds of thousands of soldiers quietly feeding the freshly-mown grass, I’ve wondered why human beings just can’t stop fighting wars.

The fervent pomp of Arlington to me always exudes desperation, as though we’re trying to suppress any acknowledgement that war’s the silliest thing people do. We sort ourselves into teams based on imaginary lines, dress up in costumes, pledge allegiance to pieces of cloth, and then mercilessly slaughter total strangers.

This reality -- that waging war is both extremely unpleasant and fundamentally ridiculous, yet we keep doing it -- indicates that it must serve some important purpose.

And all the history books I’ve ever read and all the history I’ve lived through suggests what that is: Wars are less about conflicts between societies than about conflicts within societies. Every country has a militaristic right-wing, and nothing helps that right-wing triumph over their domestic enemies more than a state of war. And just like a pharmaceutical company that doesn’t want to cure diseases when managing them is so profitable, their top priority is never bringing the war to an end, but maintaining and expanding their power within the country.

Amazing enough, Donald Trump recently told the National Governors Association exactly this, even if neither he nor they understood what he was saying. “We never win. And we don’t fight to win,” Trump declared. “$6 trillion we’ve spent in the Middle East … and we’re nowhere.”

But obviously Trump himself is somewhere: He’s in the White House. And lots of that $6 trillion is somewhere too, in the bank accounts of defense contractors. So if you understand who the real “we” are, we in fact have won the war on terror and are still winning. U.S. politics have been shoved hard to the right, making Trump possible, and since 2001 the value of Lockheed Martin stock has sextupled. The real we likewise have no interest in “fighting to win” in the sense Trump means -- because that would require raising taxes on billionaires and drafting their children out of Stanford and Yale to go die in the sand, something that would quickly lead to the defeat of any president who tried it.

This perspective on the purpose of war was directly expressed by George W. Bush and his circle before he ever became president. Texas journalist and Bush family friend Mickey Herskowitz was hired to write a Bush biography for the 2000 campaign, and spent hours interviewing him. Herskowitz later said that Bush was already thinking about attacking Iraq -- because, Bush said, “One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander in chief.” According to Herskowitz, people around Bush, including Dick Cheney, hoped to “start a small war. Pick a country where there is justification you can jump on, go ahead and invade.” Why? Because, Bush told Herskowitz, that would give him “political capital” that he could use to “get everything passed that I want to get passed.”

In other words, the actual country of Iraq had little to do with the Iraq War. Its main purpose wasn’t beating Saddam Hussein, it was beating Americans who wanted to stop Bush from privatizing Social Security.

Meanwhile, the motivations of our official enemies are the same: i.e., they’re consumed with gaining power in their own societies, and from their perspective we exist mainly as bit players in that drama. A key focus of Al Qaeda when planning its 2000 attack on the USS Cole was filming it so the footage could be used in a recruitment video -- one needed, as the 9/11 Commission report put it, for “their struggle for pre-eminence among other Islamist and jihadist movements.” Unfortunately, the terrorist with the camera overslept and missed his compatriots blowing themselves up. So Al Qaeda then filmed a re-enactment and used that tape instead. Thus 17 Americans on the Cole were killed in real life, but zero Americans had to die to create what Al Qaeda truly wanted, a way to consolidate influence in their world.

The same dynamic was involved in the 9/11 operation itself. According to the commission’s report, part of Osama bin Laden’s motivation was that he believed the attack would benefit Al Qaeda “by attracting more suicide operatives, eliciting greater donations, and increasing the number of sympathizers willing to provide logistical assistance.” Just excise the word “suicide” and bin Laden sounds exactly like George W. Bush, planning to inflict spectacular ultra-violence thousands of miles away in hopes of getting bigger campaign contributions.

For Saddam Hussein’s part, all his foreign policy had one goal, keeping him in power for the next week. It’s true his 1990 invasion of Kuwait could easily have led to his overthrow and death in the medium term, and in fact it did in the long term. But that was irrelevant from his perspective, since the invasion eliminated the dire threats he faced in short term. As he explained after he was captured by the U.S., he had created an enormous military establishment during the Iran-Iraq War, something dangerous in a region with a long history of army coups. He went into Kuwait, he said, in part just to keep his generals busy.

What’s most surprising isn’t that politicians start wars to consolidate their own power, but that the people don’t always simply assume that leaders choose war for that reason. Of course, the main calculation for politicians when making decisions is whether or not those decisions will help tighten their grip on the levers of society. From prime ministers to dictators, anyone who doesn’t think about that first and foremost will be, evolutionarily speaking, selected against, and quickly find themselves outside the palace walls.

That’s why we need a Memorial Day, I believe, and so does seemingly every country on earth. At Arlington and at all the world’s solemn military cemeteries you can witness the endless ocean of young men and women who have been shot, gassed, incinerated, ripped limb from limb, shredded, driven to suicide. In the best of situations they died because of talented warmongers in other countries. In the worst it’s because we ourselves were so weak that we handed over power to killers who were delighted to see us die if it gave them a three week bump in their Gallup approval rating. We have to draw a veil of consecration across all of it, because looking at it directly is unbearable.


 Colin Kaepernick’s Message to Chicago Youth: ‘Know Your Rights’

by Dave Zirin
The Nation

NFL quarterback took his Know Your Rights Camp to the South Side of Chicago. Here is an exclusive look inside.

Colin Kaepernick
It starts with Colin Kaepernick. The free-agent NFL quarterback came to the South Side of Chicago last Saturday to hold one of his Know Your Rights Camps: full-day youth seminars that Kaepernick organizes, funds, and emcees. Already staged in New York City and the Bay Area, with more cities to come, these are not open events for sports fans, the press, or random people. Their aim is to speak directly to black, brown, and economically disadvantaged youth, invited through local community organizations, about history, nutrition, legal rights, and financial literacy. As Kaepernick said to me, “Every city has grassroots resources. Our goal is to raise awareness about those resources and help young people access them to empower themselves and the people around them.”

It might start with Colin Kaepernick, but it doesn’t end with him. There is a young multiracial network of roughly 50 Know Your Rights volunteers. They have flown in from all over country to handle logistics at the event’s site, the DuSable Museum of African American History in Hyde Park. These are people like Kerem from Orange County who said, “This message is about equal rights. Often people in underserved communities don’t understand that they have these rights and they need to claim them…. Colin has sacrificed a lot to get to this point. It shows he is passionate about this and we all feed from that.”

Another volunteer, someone just hanging out in a Know Your Rights T-shirt, was Kaepernick’s San Francisco 49ers teammate Eric Reid. “I came here to support Colin,” he said to me. “I want to show these kids that there are people who want them to succeed despite how they may feel when they go to school. But I also came here to learn.”

Reid also spoke about the last season of anthem protests, where he kneeled alongside Kaepernick. He explained in a quiet but proud voice, “All we wanted to do was expand the discussion. People were being killed by police and we wanted that recognized and discussed. And I think we accomplished that.”

The day started with breakfast: eggs, yogurt, biscuits, and fruit for the 200 young people who were at the door by 9:00 am. A 12-year-old named Daymien gave up the opening game of his baseball season to attend. “I wanted to play today, but I think this is more important,” he said. “I wanted to come here for knowledge and learn my history.” In addition to the breakfasts and lunches provided, young people were given T-shirts that read “Know Your Rights” on the front. On the back, the shirts listed the following 10 points:


The free breakfasts and the 10 points both derive, intentionally, from the political legacy of the Black Panthers. I spoke with Ameer Loggins, a young writer and PhD candidate at Cal-Berkeley who helped develop the Know Your Rights curriculum as well as the ten-point plan. “This is an extension of the Freedom Schools of the civil-rights movement, the Panther schools, and all non-institutional educational programs that go out into the communities. The only difference is that we are mobile and we are associated with Colin, and that puts it on a different kind of platform.” As this camp was in Chicago, the particulars of the city’s history and policing were central to the agenda.

After breakfast Kaepernick introduced the day, saying, “We are here to uplift each other. We also have great speakers and guests who are here for no other reason than that they love you and they want to support you.”

He then brought out “one of the great men of Chicago,” hip-hop icon Common, who flew in just for the camp and stayed the entire six-hour day. Common said, “I’m honored to be here. I’m here because last September I saw Colin Kaepernick standing up for us as a people. I thought, ‘Man that’s one of the most courageous acts I’ve seen by someone in the spotlight since Muhammad Ali.’ I’ve always said that Muhammad Ali was one of my heroes, so now I have to say that Colin Kaepernick is one of my heroes. But it’s not just Colin now. He has a team. We have a team: The Know Your Rights team speaking about how we can exist not only to fight but to elevate and reach our goals and dreams…to go out there and be the kings and queens we were created to be. I want each and every one of you to know that we care and I want you to listen, ask questions and take notes today, and as then go out onto our city and spread the message for people who aren’t here.”

The first speaker was the aforementioned Ameer Loggins, who gave a college-level seminar on Chicago history, segregation, and structural racism. Loggins said, “Chicago is the most segregated city in the United States and no one talks about the effects of that in 2017. We talk about Selma and Jim Crow and the harm of segregation in the past but not the present. It’s not just segregation of space. It’s a segregation of resources and economics, food access, and property ownership…. Even if you say, ‘We had a black mayor, and Barack lives in Chicago,’ it doesn’t trickle down. People say we made it, but if our community doesn’t collectively benefit with resources, what the hell did we make it for?”

After going through the effects of 21st-century segregation?how it puts a person in a penned-in environment where they can be policed, subjected to violence, and denied resources?he made the argument that “young people just like you” made the civil-rights movement by “contesting segregated space,” and said, “You have the same power. Turn your segregated space into contested space. Don’t just sit there and take it. You don’t need to break windows. Arm yourself with enough knowledge and you can whip ass with your brain.”

It was rousing and, by my informal polling, a highlight for the students in attendance. One young woman said to me, “I wish my social-studies teacher was here taking notes.”

After Loggins, Kaepernick returned to the stage to underline the message, saying, “We are trying to show you what you are dealing with so you can combat it.” Then he introduced the next speakers. “We are now bringing out the legal defense team so you can protect yourselves, protect your family, protect your communities.”

Out came Guillermo Gutierrez and Charles Jones from First Defense Legal Aid, with the message that “Chicago is the false-confession capital of world.” To drive the point home, these “street attorneys” educated the students about Jon Burge, the South Side police officer and now convicted felon who tortured confessions out of more than 200 suspects between 1972 and 1991.

They said that the future of some people in the room could depend on knowing their rights when approached by law enforcement, and hammered home what to say if stopped by police. “First and foremost, you always have the right to ask, ‘Am I free to go?’ That is your constitutional right. If they say ‘no,’ you have the right to say, ‘I do not consent to be searched.’ If you don’t say those words, they can and will search you.”

Then they stressed, “Always remain silent. Call us. Have an attorney present. That is your right.”

Gutierrez and Jones made the students repeat their hotline number?1 (800) Law-Rep4?as well as promise to distribute cards with the number to family and friends.

Students asked about retaliation from police if they invoked these rights, concerned that they would be pegged as uncooperative. The First Defense Legal Aid performed skits to show not only how to resist any police coercion but also how to articulate their rights to minimize conflict.

Kaepernick came out and reinforced the point, saying, “So if an officer stops you, what do you say?” The students all said as one, “Am I free to go?’”

Then Kaepernick became an organizer?or the world’s chillest public-school administrator?dividing the students into breakout sessions that would cover “holistic health” and “financial literacy,” directing them into what rooms to go to by colored wrist-bands they received upon registration. He also said, “Remember, we have snacks that you can grab between sessions. But please, no eating in the auditorium.”

Yareli Quintana, a food consultant and spirited speaker, then took the stage to speak about making intelligent eating choices and how to take “baby steps” for healthier living. She made the case that food is self-determination and to integrate fruits and vegetables into their diets to better develop their minds. She even did a PowerPoint presentation about how different foods affect the brain. Kaepernick came up afterward and said, “we will have a resource map for you so you can find community gardens that grow their own healthy foods.”

The emphasis on healthy choices was evident throughout the day. One of the more harrowing moments came when radio host Ebro Darden asked the students, “How many of you have eaten fast food three times this week?” Almost the entire room raised their hands. Then he asked, “How many of you have members of your family with cancer or diabetes?” Again, almost the entire room raised their hands.

The talk of community gardens and, in the financial-literacy section, the importance of dressing and speaking in a professional manner, also produced a robust debate about whether it was realistic for these students to even find healthy food, save money, or dress a certain way, and whether those kinds of personal choices could beat back oppression. It was the century-old debate about what is known as “respectability politics”?whether racism needs to be fought systemically or by changing individual habits. Different speakers articulated different sides of this, with the students chiming in as well.

The substance of this discussion was perhaps less important than the fact that the dialogue was open, intense, but also friendly: a display for the young people in the audience of what debate looks like and how adults can disagree without being disagreeable. The students shaped this debate by speaking about their own experiences, what was realistic for them and what was not.

Kaepernick ended the day by speaking to the students about his own journey. He talked about growing up as the adopted son in an all-white home. He said, “I love my family to death. They’re the most amazing people I know. But when I looked in the mirror, I knew I was different. Learning what it meant to be an African man in America, not a black man but an African man, was critical for me. Through this knowledge, I was able to identify myself and my community differently…

“I thought I was from Milwaukee. I thought my ancestry started at slavery and I was taught in school that we were all supposed to be grateful just because we aren’t slaves. But what I was able to do was trace my ancestry and DNA lineage back to Ghana, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, and saw my existence was more than just being a slave. It was as an African man. We had our own civilizations, and I want you to know how high the ceiling is for our people. I want you to know that our existence now is not normal. It’s oppressive. For me, identifying with Africa gave me a higher sense of who I was, knowing that we have a proud history and are all in this together.”

Then he took a deep breath and said, “This was so important for me and I want to share it with you. So when you leave, you are all getting backpacks, and inside of them are Ancestry DNA kits so you can trace your ancestry and connect with your lost relatives who may have taken this test as well.”

The students exploded with joy upon hearing this. I was told there was a similar reaction in Oakland and New York.

Then he said, “I love you guys. I appreciate you. Build with each other. Because you will be this community moving forward.”

Afterwards, I spoke to Kaepernick at some length. He is training every day for the 2017 season and, optimistic that his hard work and stellar 2016 season will be rewarded, believes that he will find an NFL home. But we kept the conversation focused on the camp.

“I thought it was amazing,” he said. “Every time we do an event, leading up to it, I’m always a little bit nervous. ‘Do we have everything in line? Are the Ts crossed and the Is dotted?’ But once the program starts running, you see the kids having fun and and absorbing what we are saying. That’s the win for us…to see them get the tools to navigate an oppressive society.”

He compared the Know Your Rights team to a football squad: “It’s the same sense of camaraderie. Building toward a common goal. And in this space we are trying to help communities that are oppressed. That’s what we want. We want to show that we can build with each other and love each other because in oppressed communities no one is going to help them but themselves. It’s so exciting to see it come together.” He then smiled so wide and looked so relaxed, I thought he would float to the ceiling. “It’s a very liberating thing to feel. It’s hard to explain.”

One thing we did not talk about was whether he was being politically blackballed by the league for his political ideas and activism. There was no need. After spending the day with Colin Kaepernick, all I could think about was a quote from Bill Russell in 1967 when he was asked about how Muhammad Ali was coping with being stripped of the heavyweight title. Russell said, “I’m not worried about Muhammad Ali. I’m worried about the rest of us.”

I’m not worried about Colin Kaepernick. As for “the rest of us,” we’ve got work to do.