Sunday, December 23, 2012

Mourning Murders: Newtown – Drones – U.S. Cities

I don’t for one-second question that President Obama's emotions when he spoke to the nation and then to the people of Newtown were totally heartfelt & authentic -- they were.  It also appears that the President and Congress might make some strides regarding the availability of assault weapons in our country – on that one we will see.

I just wish that the President had the same concerns and grief about children killed throughout the World by United States attacks, US drones, during his watch. Parents in each of these places, as well as in American cities where children are killed each day, surely carry the same grief, the same holes in their hearts, as the parents in Connecticut.

George Monbiot reminded us last week that:

It must follow that what applies to the children murdered there by a deranged young man also applies to the children murdered in Pakistan by a somber American president. These children are just as important, just as real, just as deserving of the world's concern. Yet there are no presidential speeches or presidential tears for them, no pictures on the front pages of the world's newspapers, no interviews with grieving relatives, no minute to minute analysis of what happened and why.

 Writing in Rolling Stone Magazine in April, Michael Hastings’ reported that:

In his first three years, Obama has unleashed 268 covert drone strikes, five times the total George W. Bush ordered during his eight years in office. All told, drones have been used to kill more than 3,000 people designated as terrorists, including at least four U.S. citizens. In the process, according to human rights groups, they have also claimed the lives of more than 800 civilians. Obama's drone program, in fact, amounts to the largest unmanned aerial offensive ever conducted in military history; never have so few killed so many by remote control.

In the United States we don’t mourn the civilians that our government kills.  We did not cry during the Bush administration when 69 children were massacred in a village in Pakistan.  We could have.  The attack became public knowledge.  Chris Woods wrote about the murders in an International Herald Tribune article.  One of the deceased was only seven-year old, three were eight, three nine, one was 10, four were 11, four were 12, eight were 13, six were 14, nine were 15 – must I say more.  Should we really believe our government and mindless devotees like Joe Klein when they tell us that these children might be future terrorists.  Within that context, I for one do not even know what terrorist means.

A recent article by Christian Rice is ominously, but accurately, titled, “Is America like Adam Lanza?” Rice uses statistics from the Stanford University Report, “Living Under Drones,” and notes that U.S. drones are killing children and terrorizing families abroad:
176 children have been killed in Pakistan alone and 4.8 children are killed each day in Afghanistan

Rice concludes:

These deaths abroad are tragic too. These deaths will also affect the loved ones of victims for years to come and their lives are no less-worthy of thoughts, prayers and government or civilian action.

For Americans, the deaths of children in Pakistan and Afghanistan, or Palestine, or even in our own cities, have no faces.  They are abstractions, but they’re not.  The Stanford Report provides portraits:

Sadaullah, for example, is a 15-year-old from Pakistan who lost both legs in a drone strike.  He talked about his life:

Before the drone strikes started, my life was very good. I used to go to school and I used to be quite busy with that, but after the drone strikes, I stopped going to school. I was happy because I thought I would become a doctor.  Two missiles were fired at our house and three people died. My cousin and I were injured. We didn’t hear the missile at all and then it was there. The last thing I remembered was that we had just broken our fast and just prayed. . . .We were having tea and just eating a bit and then there were missiles. . . . When I gained consciousness, there was a bandage on my eye. I didn’t know what had happened to my eye and I could only see from one. Before the strike my life was normal and very good because I could go anywhere and do anything. But now I am not able to do that because I have to stay inside. . . . Sometimes I have really bad headaches and if I walk too much my legs, artificial legs, hurt a lot.

And of course there are many other stories.  A recent Counterpunch article by Chris Floyd tells the story of a young boy, Naeemullah, who was also killed in what Floyd refers to as the “American Peace Laureate’s drone war.”  He asks President Obama, “Is he dead enough for you?”

And adds:

How would you feel if you saw your child ripped to shreds by flying shrapnel, in your own house? How would you feel as you rushed them to the hospital, praying every step of the way that another missile won’t hurl down on you from the sky? Your child was innocent, you had done nothing, were simply living your life in your own house — and someone thousands of miles away, in a country you had never seen, had no dealings with, had never harmed in any way, pushed a button and sent chunks of burning metal into your child’s body. How would you feel as you watched him die, watched all your hopes and dreams for him, lost forever?

So in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia as well as other countries, our government, the United States of America, kills children in the name of fighting terrorism.  In addition, black & brown children are murdered at an alarming rate in our cities.  Yes, we might speak about crime in urban America, but never do we see the compassion, officially from the President, nor through the media and our collective tears that has followed the Newtown massacre.  Children are being killed on our streets each and everyday.  In Chicago alone, 700 school children were shot in 2010 and 66 of them died.

The lives of these children as well as those we have killed with our drones are every bit as important as the children who were killed in Newtown.  But we already know that, don’t we.  It is time that the President, as well as the rest of us, builds on our mourning in Newtown.  Obama told the Newtown mourners:

Can we honestly say that we're doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm? The answer is no, we're not doing enough. And we'll have to change.

But as the President, he needs to reflect and reflect on his own words and his own deeds.  He needs to use his office to end all senseless massacres, beginning with the ones he signs off on around the World.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Book Blurbs

Below are blurbs for Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the War to End Apartheid -- amazing and humbling all in one.

“…which I find a truly remarkable work, revelatory not alone of these two people, their complexities or intellect and humanity conceived in the revolutionary struggle, but of the very nature of that aim evolving through present history. Alan Wieder shows himself as a writer equal to their life story, their inspiring bravery in action and self-analysis.”

-- Nadine Gordimer, Nobel Prize for Literature.  From the foreword.

The South African victory over apartheid quickly became the stuff of legend: the power of good triumphing over the forces of evil, the mighty Nelson Mandela offering a beacon of hope to oppressed peoples the world around. True, true, and of course much more complicated in reality. Alan Wieder’s great accomplishment here is to provide a clear window into that complex reality, and in the process to rescue the revolution from its myth-makers. Focusing on the lives of the colorful and contradictory revolutionaries Ruth First and Joe Slovo, Wieder provides detail and context, personality and character to one of the epic struggles of all time. This book is a gripping social history, a love song to the revolution, and a passionate and enlightening portrait of a partnership, a love-affair, and two extraordinary activists who cast their fates with the dreams of people everywhere for justice and freedom.

—Bill Ayers & Bernardine Dohrn

Demonized by apartheid, Joe and Ruth were revolutionary heroes for black South Africans. They were formidable opponents in word and deed. This absorbing account does them justice and illuminates the complexity and richness of their often stormy relationship and extraordinary times.

—Ronnie Kasrils, anti-apartheid leader and solidarity activist; former Minister of Intelligence in South Africa; author, The Unlikely Secret Agent

Wieder’s book enlarges and enriches our understanding of the lives of First and Slovo, their intense and turbulent relationship, their personalities and impact on others, and their various roles as lawyer, journalist, underground operative, researcher, teacher, author, political and military leader, negotiator and cabinet minister. The evocation of the Johannesburg left during the 1950s—Gillian Slovo called them her parents’ Camelot years—is vivid and well-observed. Ruth, Joe, and their circle combined commitment and camaraderie with conspiracy and concealment—and also with careless and complacency. The account of tensions between the ANC and SACP, and Joe’s efforts to reconcile African nationalism and socialism, is a nuanced and important account. The discussion of Ruth as writer-researcher and researcher-teacher makes use of earlier evaluations, but goes beyond them in an important assessment of her work as an academic engagé.

—Colin Bundy, former Principal of Green Templeton College, University of Oxford

It has been a real privilege for me to read Alan Wieder’s book. It brought me back in touch with two remarkable and complex people and activists. Ruth First and Joe Slovo emerge from this book as flesh and blood human beings facing monumentally difficult decisions. Each of them, and those dearest to them, paid a high price for their respective life choices. Yet Ruth and Joe’s integrity and full-throated commitment to a different kind of South Africa not only played an important role in doing away with the obscenity that was apartheid, they also represent a clear road not taken in post-apartheid South Africa. This book evokes a vital period which became a focus of myth-making rather than the kind of clear-eyed, honest history Ruth and Joe would each have ultimately have deemed essential.

—Dan O’Meara, author, Volkskapitalisme, and coauthor, The Struggle for South Africa

To the Movements he led, he was known by his initials. JS. His last name had become anthemic when the mostly black guerilla army belted out “Joe Slovo” in song as they marched on parade or executed sabotage missions in the secret war against apartheid. You can’t really appreciate South Africa’s transition to democracy without knowing why Nelson Mandela relied on his sense of strategy and how his bravery inspired a revolution committed to non-racialism. He was a communist known for red socks and a willingness to make compromises with capitalists that sealed the path to freedom. And just like Nelson’s relationship with Winnie made him stronger through his long years in confinement, Joe’s often tumultuous relationship with his wife and comrade Ruth First, a brilliant journalist and analyst, until her assassination, helped define the discourse of the ANC’s painful years in exile. Now Alan Wieder has plunged into their past of domestic and political struggle to share their story with the scope, context, and detail that it deserves. And we all will appreciate his commitment and style in critically respecting their contributions and bringing this dynamic duo alive as the complex, loving and caring people they were.

—Danny Schechter, Founder and Director of “South Africa Now”, Director of six films on Nelson Mandela