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Hooray for Hollywood
Imagine a Country Life in â€¦
Resistance, Humanitarian Aid, & the â€¦
Corporations, Law, & Democracy
Bush's Multiplex Wars Iraq, “terrorism,” â€¦
Preventing Iraqi Self-Determination
World Challenges GMOs
Syria: The Next Domino? Will â€¦
Iraq is a Trial Run â€¦
Supporting the Troops A code â€¦
Press the Press
Direct Action at Boeing
Boycott Azteca Tortillas
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Supporting the Troops A code word for “support the war”
I t is the images of the people at home that I have the hardest time watching on television. The mothers, children, brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles of soldiers who’ve been wounded, killed, or taken prisoner in the war against Iraq. Of course, this is the soft side of news, the personal stories that “put a face on the war” and touch us in ways that pyrotechnic images of the intense bombardment of Baghdad can’t. There is nothing sentimental about these images, nothing false, nothing insincere: they are immediate, real, and true. But they also illustrate and epitomize the idea that we must “support our troops.”
It is such a stupid, banal statement: Presumably, very few people in America want to see them hurt or killed. Yet when I hear the phase “support our troops”—whether it be from Bill O’Reilly, Larry King, or the resolution passed by Congress last week that was an “official” support of the troops—I begin to go crazy. The phrase “support our troops,” as it’s currently used, is nothing more than not-very-veiled code for supporting the war and the administration’s ill-considered policy in Iraq. In my most cynical moments, “support our troops” sounds like “shut up.”
Of course, it’s more complicated than that. As are my own feelings about U.S. foreign policy, the military, and the soldiers—both past and present, living and dead. I spent most of the 1980s being emotionally and sexually involved with two men who were Vietnam veterans. Both are now dead of AIDS. But during that time I saw, repeatedly and vividly, the effects of the war on them. How they continued to suffer, how they were emotionally damaged, how they lived in pain, and how the mantra “support our troops”—even more ubiquitous during the late 1960s and the 1970s than it is now—was a pathetic lie in terms of its application to soldiers’ lives after the war. When I see grieving family members on TV desperately struggling to make sense of their losses in Iraq in a world-spun-out-of-control, I think of my lovers Jim and Derrick desperately grappling to make sense of their time in Vietnam and their deeply conflicted feelings of being American in a country that had all but deserted them.
I am an unrepentent child of the 1960s and its counterculture. I was going on civil rights marches as early as 1964, when I was 15 years old. My politics were fueled by the liberal Catholicism taught in my working class, all-boys parochial high school. By my last years in high school, I was speaking out and writing articles against the Vietnam War. I was an unabashed hippie and by 1967 I had come out as gay. I spent college protesting the war in Vietnam and as a member of Students for a Democratic Society I worked with social-change groups in neighborhoods close to my inner-city college. When I was called for my draft physical, I proudly told the induction physician that I was a homosexual—I even verified it with a letter from my therapist—and so successfully rebelled against the draft. Far from wanting to serve, I was convinced the war was illegal and immoral and I was determined to resist it any way I could. As far as I’m concerned, my resistance was a display of fierce patriotism. I wanted to support the troops—as the bumper stickers said—but I wanted to do it by bringing them home.
Far from alienating either Jim or Derrick, who did not know each other during their time in Vietnam, my anti-war, anti-establishment history attracted them to me. In each of these relationships—the first, with Jim, lasted from 1979 to 1984; I was involved with Derrick from 1984 to 1987—my past was not the issue; theirs was. For both of them, their time “in country” was a nightmare. How they survived the stresses of jungle warfare while living as closeted gay men is unimaginable. Both men hated the military. Each had been drafted because neither could find a way to dodge it. Jim was a just-out-of-med-school Marine. Derrick was a college dropout who had no other options. Both men hated what they did in Vietnam. They hated the policies they had been sent there to enforce. They had, pretty much across the board, almost no respect left for the U.S. government after what they saw—and did—there. These feelings were unthinkable for them, since both had been raised devout, conservative Catholics who, before Vietnam, saw themselves as intensely law-abiding and deeply patriotic.
When I began dating Jim, I had absolutely no idea of the intensity of his feelings about the war. On one of our first dates, we were at his apartment. I asked him about Vietnam and as he began talking he started to cry. At first I thought some specific memory had been triggered, but it soon became clear that he was overwhelmed with anger. He could barely talk, although he began telling a few stories—disconnected, but filled with vivid images of wounded or dead soldiers upon whom he had operated. His grief was overwhelming, not only for him, but also for me. I had no illusions about the war, but I had never come this close to the pain it caused. Over the next five years, Jim—especially if he were drunk or stoned—would describe, or rather try to describe, his feelings about the war. Sometimes he would try to tell ironic or funny stories. Sometimes he would talk about the sex he had had with the mostly heterosexual soldiers. Sometimes he would tell gruesome tales about medical procedures practiced in the jungle brush. But whenever and however he talked about Vietnam, he would invariably be consumed with rage.
Once he asked me if I thought of him as a murderer because of his actions in Vietnam. I said I didn’t—what was I going to say? But there was an unspoken chasm between us: he knew that I considered the policies and actions of the U.S. government murderous, and he had implemented them. I later realized that, in many ways, he considered himself a murderer and was looking to me for some kind of validation. It was true; during the war there were times when I did think of “our” troops as the murderers of innocent Vietnamese or of people who were defending their homeland.
After we broke up, I began dating Derrick and discovered that he was a Vietnam vet as well. I avoided the topic as much as possible. But it was, of course, unavoidable. Derrick was far less troubled than Jim about his time in Vietnam. He didn’t experience the trauma of being a doctor who couldn’t heal the wounded and dying. He saw his time there as something to get through. But there was damage. He would often describe his wartime experiences in caustic, funny terms that would turn bitter and rancorous. On some level, for him the entire experience was one of betrayal—both of his ideals and of his own sense of well-being. It became clear to me that sex for him was often some strange, disturbing playing out of the erotic and emotional stresses he had experienced in Vietnam. I asked him about this once and he became furious. He told me I had no idea what he had been through. He said that he respected my actions during the war and wished he had done the same—or even fled to Canada, which at the time didn’t feel like an option. He said I really had no way of even beginning to understand what he had experienced. His time in the war rose between us like a vaporous cloud that silenced his pain and obscured my ability to understand it.
The pain Jim and Derrick carried with them—as do many Vietnam veterans—was central to their lives. It was a formative spectral presence that never completely manifested itself, but also never disappeared. They didn’t speak to their families about it. They showed me their anger because there was no one else to give it to at the time. My anti-war history made me a safe harbor, not an enemy. But there was another reason these men could turn to me. So much of their experience in Vietnam was wrapped up with their sexuality: they were—by dire necessity—closeted in Vietnam. The anxiety surrounding their hidden sexuality was completely entangled with having to control and manage the death, the pain, the ripped-open, bleeding bodies they encountered. The men they were attracted to, close to, even emotionally dependent on, were men who were dying in their arms, on the operating table, at their sides, or a few steps behind them, decimated by exploding landmines.
In many ways I was smug in my politics. I knew I was right—and still do—but I was unprepared to deal with the hurt and pain caused by the war. Especially in men I loved and cared about. I could hold them and comfort them and have sex with them when they were upset. I could be a whole body that replaced their haunting mental images of dismemberment and ripped-apart flesh, but it was complicated, hard, and distressing. After Jim died his sister and her husband —also a former Marine, from a military family—insisted that he be given a military funeral. They were both proud of the fact that he had served in Vietnam. There was a five gun salute and an American flag draped his casket. I was sickened by it, as well as the fact that his sister and her husband asked Jim’s new lover and his gay friends to stand apart from the family. AIDS was never mentioned and it was only on my way home after the service that the hatefullness of this charade finally hit me: in the two years Jim was dying his sister never came to visit him. So much for familial, as well as national, support.
Watching the war in Iraq on television these past weeks, I am reminded of Jim and Derrick. All the “support the troops” rhetoric reminds me, particularly, of how much support Jim and Derrick needed after the war, but didn’t get. It is common knowledge now that America treated Vietnam veterans—after their homecoming parades were over—like the country’s dirty little secret. They were a political and cultural embarrassment. What we never really talk about in America is that—except for the benefits given to returning soldiers after World War II—the U.S. has always treated its returning veterans horribly. Even after World War II there were horrendous abuses:
- Many lesbian and gay soldiers were dishonorably discharged at the end of the war, a common ploy to avoid giving them costly benefits.
- African-American soldiers, while covered under the GI Bill, were routinely denied many of its benefits due to discriminatory banking and housing polices.
- Men returning from the American Revolution found they had lost their farms and homes to debt. (A situation remedied, to some degree, by Daniel Shays’s Rebellion in 1780.)
- Veterans of the Civil War, who were meagerly compensated to begin with, left the service only to be trapped in the economic crises of the Gilded Age, during which government policy rewarded bankers and industrialists (many of whom were war profiteers), and attacked the newly forming labor unions joined by many former soldiers.
After World War I, the plight of veterans was so bad that in 1932, 20,000 veterans—the “Bonus Army”—marched on Washington, DC, to demand relief from destitution and joblessness by insisting the government make good on the “bonus certificates” it had issued after World War I. They camped out in Washington with their wives and children because they had nowhere else to go. While the House passed a bill to pay the bonuses, the Senate did not. President Herbert Hoover decided this was lawless behavior, and called on the army to clear them out with a “shock and awe” type operation—the U.S. army burned the temporary homes of the homeless veterans and tear-gassed them. Several thousand veterans were injured by the gas; two were killed.
We know that there are thousands and thousands of veterans who are suffering from mysterious illnesses they contracted during the Gulf War—illnesses the U.S. government, for the most part, claims do not exist (shades of Vietnam’s Agent Orange). Now, as we engage in the ill-conceived, illegal war on Iraq, the Republican-controlled Congress is proposing massive cuts to veterans’ benefits, among other things, to support the sky-high cost of this war (along with Bush’s tax cuts).
Again and again, the U.S. has valorized war and each time, citizens are told it is their duty to support the troops. Yet the U.S., far more often than not, has betrayed these men and women when they come back home from war. Indeed, “support the troops” is, for the most part, empty rhetoric born of fear, anger, and an inability to really consider the needs and realities of people’s lives. I watch families on the television holding back their tears because their loved ones are in Iraq—possibly dead, actually dead, or missing—and I think about Jim crying in my arms about what happened in Vietnam. I think about Derrick’s inarticulate anger. I think about how they suffered in Vietnam—and caused the suffering and deaths of others. I think about how little support they had when they came home. I can’t help but think it’s happening all over again as I watch the war on TV.
Michael Bronski's latest book is the recently released Pulp Friction: Uncovering the Golden Age of Gay Male Pulps.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: email@example.com; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; email@example.com; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; email@example.com; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; email@example.com http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; email@example.com; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; firstname.lastname@example.org.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.