Of Hoisting and Petards
BY Stan Goff
“I have learned from first hand experience that war is the destroyer of everything that is good in the world, it turns our young into soulless killers and we tell them that they are heroes when they master the ‘art’ of killing.”
“I cannot tell anyone else how to live his or her life but I have determined how I want to live mine–by not participating in war any longer…”
“Quit saying that U.S. troops died for a noble cause in Iraq, unless you say, â€˜well, except for Casey Sheehan.â€™ Donâ€™t you dare spill any more blood in Caseyâ€™s name. You do not have permission to use my sonâ€™s name.” (To President George W. Bush)
On July 29th, Sergeant Kevin Benderman was sent to prison for 15 months for filing a conscientious objector application with the Army. This did not come out in his court martial because the court ruled early on that not one word was to be spoken in his defense that relied on his moral objection to the war in Iraq and â€“ for Benderman â€“ all wars of aggression. Because the court could not convict Benderman directly for conscientious objection, a right guaranteed by federal law, they rejected his application without showing adequate cause and forced him to refuse â€“ in accordance with his stated moral objection to the war â€“ redeployment to Iraq. They then multiply charged him with preposterous accusations â€“ including larceny and desertion â€“ in an attempt to intimidate him with the possibility of seven years in prison. At the end of the day on July 29th, only one charge stuck â€“ intentionally missing movement â€“ for which they gave him a stiff 15 months at the Fort Lewis, Washington stockade. The missing movement charge itself had to be trumped up with a series of shifting statements from a senior NCO about the verbal content of a 45-minute meeting. Even the normally timid Amnesty International has publicly acknowledged that Kevin Benderman is â€œa prisoner of conscience.â€
Monica Benderman, Kevinâ€™s life-partner, has been an active and articulate political-partner throughout this drama â€“ a drama that, despite the Pentagonâ€™s efforts to spin, conceal, and minimize, has only served to highlight the dignity of exercising real freedom from within a cell and the utter decadence of those who never cease talking about freedom as an abstraction while they try to bomb and imprison their way out of another resistance.
Neither the administration nor the Pentagon wants anyone to understand this paradox of freedom â€“ real freedom, the existential kind, not that bombast flowing out of Roveâ€™s beleaguered office like an overflowing toilet.
Soldiers and soldierâ€™s families are constantly instructed on something called courage. People can only hear that word so many times before they begin to actually reflect on what it means; and the briefest reflection reveals something much deeper than the pumped-up physical bravado required to engage in gunfights with strangers.
This administration knows now that the very training and indoctrination that prepares troops for battle can slip the leash and provide the will to face first the truth, and then themselves, and then even prison.
That really sucks for them, for Bush and Rumsfeld, who can never understand anything but the bravado of the rich bully. Because history will be far kinder to Kevin and Monica Benderman than it will be to George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld.
Back when warfare was not digital, and not even mechanized, there was a weapon used to blow holes in walls â€“ an explosive device called a petard. From that era we get the chestnut about being â€œhoisted on his own petard.â€ Itâ€™s when one gets blown up by his own bombâ€¦ a kind of grim poetic justice. In Iraq, as in Vietnam, the people themselves are the potentially faithless weapons.
It was Brecht who wrote:
General, your tank is a powerful vehicle
It smashes down forests and crushes a hundred men.
But it has one defect:
It needs a driver.
General, your bomber is powerful.
It flies faster than a storm and carries more than an elephant.
But it has one defect:
It needs a mechanic.
General, man is very useful.
He can fly and he can kill.
But he has one defect:
He can think.
Perhaps this is why Donald Rumsfeld is hell-bent on building robot armies; but even still, as an Iraqi man tells a US infantry lieutenant in the upcoming (an d highly recommended) film Occupation: Dreamland, â€œAmerica is very powerful. It can build nuclear rockets and put people on the moon. But we are the people. America cannot make the people. Only we can make the people.â€
So Rumsfeld and Cheneyâ€™s ventriloquist dummy Bush are now looking at their nasty little petard and beginning to realize that it is made with an unstable explosive.
Benderman is the latest in a series of military resisters to face prison, both from the ranks and from the families â€“ because we have to point out that a Monica Benderman is engaging in the same resistance as a Kevin Benderman, and her sacrifice is shared with Kevinâ€™s. The families, unlike during the GI resistance of the Vietnam era, are far more directly and aggressively involved in this resistance.
The one time that the sacrifice is not shared between family member and soldier is when the soldier is killed. Then only those who most loved the soldier are left behind with that terrible irreversible absence. The Bush administration doesnâ€™t want to talk about that either.
On the back of my old Veterans for Peace tee-shirt, there is a poem by Vietnam Veteran George Swiers:
If we do not
speak of it others
will surely rewrite
the script. Each
of the body bags
all of the mass
graves will be
opened and their
into a noble cause.
Thus are the powerful now trapped in the starched and coiffed, securitized and scripted abracadabra of trying to make their war a noble cause, while Benderman sits in prison a free man because there is nothing they can take away from those who learn to walk past their fear.
The administration cannot talk about Kevin and Monica Bendermanâ€™s sacrifice without putting Bendermanâ€™s freedom on display â€“ emboldening others to do the same â€“ and they cannot talk with the aggrieved who have lost their flesh and blood in Iraq â€“ like Cindy Sheehan.
Cindy Sheehanâ€™s son Casey was killed on April 4, 2004, during the Sadr rebellion â€“ a rebellion provoked by the Coalition Provisional Authorityâ€™s decision to bring democracy to the slums of Baghdad by closing their most popular newspaper, al Hawza. When demonstrators protested, American troops opened fire, killing several unarmed people and sparking the armed rebellion that killed Casey Sheehan.
Six days after Kevin Benderman went to prison and Monica started to look for a place in Washington State, Cindy Sheehan, who had come to Dallas for the Veterans for Peace Annual Convention, decided to interdict George W. Bushâ€™s vacation at the Crawford â€œRanchâ€ two and a half hours away.
She and about 50 conventioneers, including a squad of newly joined Iraq Veterans Against the War, loaded up an â€œImpeachmentâ€ bus and deposited Cindy in a tent adjacent to the Crawford snake and gopher ranch. Cindy said she will stay there until the police drag away a bereaved mother, until the President answers her one question face-to-face, or until Bush leaves Crawford:
â€œWhy did my son die? What was the noble cause that he died for?â€
Cindy Sheehan and Kevin Benderman and Monica Benderman, and the host of other Gold Star families and military resisters â€“ many of whom were with us at the VFP Convention in Dallas last week, may not be able to wear the expensive clothes, or sport the expensive coifs, or ride in the armored and body-guarded limousines of those powerful men who are trapped in their abracadabra scripts and their tail-spinning agendas, but when you look at them you can see the straight line from freedom to dignity, how something real is inside these ordinary people who have discovered courage in extraordinary circumstancesâ€¦ people like the Bendermans and Cindy Sheehan. Alongside them compare the Bushes and the Rumsfelds and the Cheneys and the Roves â€“ buffoons made dangerous with power, the C-Team of a ruling class in an epoch when their power is hemorrhaging through the wounds being opened by resistance from Baghdad to La Paz, men (and a few women) encircled by the demands of governance and fearful of even the tiniest truths.
Abracadabraâ€¦ who is nobler than the nobles now?