I did see my oncologist on Monday. She said my favorite words, “Everything is perfect, perfect, perfect. See you in six months.”
I did see my oncologist on Monday. She said my favorite words, “Everything is perfect, perfect, perfect. See you in six months.”
I am a colon cancer survivor.
I am fortunate to be alive. I, too, had all of my colon removed as a result of my cancer at age 49, and I also had to go through six months of chemotherapy. I haven’t had a recurrence after 5-1/2 years. Last year, though, I had a scare–so I went through all of the dread. But I was lucky that it was a mistake, and I’m fine. I am truly sorry that this wasn’t the case with you.
Tony, our politics couldn’t be farther apart, but that just isn’t important when it comes to human issues like the one that you are facing now. My prayers are with you, because I know that they help–because I had people praying for me, and they helped me through that very rough time in my life.
Bless you, Elizabeth.
I am a 55 year old female 5-1/2 year colon cancer survivor.
I see my oncologist on Monday for a “routine” follow-up appointment, which I have every six months. I have a blood draw a week or so before my appointment, and then I go to see her. I spent the week with all of this internal high level of anxiety and dread–while pretending that everything is “routine” on the outside.
So far, so good.
But I know that things could be different at any time.
And you have gotten the news that I most fear.
Here is my unsolicited advice: Don’t listen to anything that the naysayers have to say. No one can live one person’s life except the person living it. They don’t know what you’re going through. And it’s none of their business.
May your treatment go well.
As Lance Armstrong says,
God bless you.
I think that I’m happy to learn that This American Life is going to be on television. Then, on the other hand, maybe I’m not. Maybe listening to the program stretches my imagination–and that’s a good thing; and maybe watching it on television will stifle my imagination. I’ll keep listening, certainly. Maybe I’ll watch on an ongoing basis… I’ll give it a try, anyway. It starts tonight on Showtime. Maybe that in itself is wrong: for a public radio program to transition to a premium cable-and-satellite network. I’ll let you know what I think after I watch it.
I wish I could like Hillary Clinton as a candidate for president… or as a senator, for that matter. But I don’t. I don’t find her to be a leader. I don’t find her to be honest (and not exactly DIShonest–just somewhere less than fortright on the continuum, in her own way). I hated that she didn’t just LEAP out of her seat to stand up to condemn the statement that General Peter Pace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made regarding the morality of homosexuality.* And, of course, there is her whole thing about wanting to prove how “strong” she is on defense, how a woman can be macho, how Democrats don’t have to be cowardly. Consequently, her support for the war in Iraq–and for other things military–are not only unsatisfactory to me, they are absolutely unacceptable.
Hillary Clinton used to be strongly for the right things, and now she’s not: now she’s just a candidate for the presidency, searching for that middle ground that will satisfy everyone while satisfying no one. The bottom line is that she’s a political opportunist.
I agree with what Anne Lamott said in a recent interview:
Q: How are you feeling about the Hillary-Obama-Edwards, etc. question?
I’m not crazy about Hillary.
Because I think she’s been too hawkish about the war for too long. She really strikes me as being an opportunist. But the main thing, actually, the truth is, I hate how she’s been about abortion rights. She has found, what she thinks, is a centrist and evangelical position. You know, Jim Wallis and the progressive Evangelicals, their position is that you can be pro-life and still be in favor of legal abortion, but that the actual solution would be for a lot fewer girls and women to need abortions. And that just doesn’t cut it for me. Obama, I like him, I like that he didn’t vote for the war. I really like John Edwards a lot. And I really like Al Gore.
With all the potential to be the best candidate, to be a great president… Hillary Clinton instead is showing herself to be mediocre.
Hillary Clinton, stop listening to your strategists and advisors. Listen to your heart and your guts–and to the American people! We need and deserve the best.
>*In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, when asked about the “don’t ask, don’t tell policy” of the Armed Services said, “I believe homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts. I do not believe the United States is well served by a policy that says it is OK to be immoral in any way.”
I was unable to go to Washington last weekend.
At one point in my life, though, I was one of the young people like the ones in the article below. After high school, I spent a couple of years as a peaceworker to end the war in Vietnam and then as a campaign worker for George McGovern. No matter what shape the church is to take in the future, as Rick says, these young people are doing the work of the church–BEING Christ in the world–right now. The older people are too!
* * * * *
March 20, 2007
by Eva Stimson
Whitworth College students, from left, Nicola Crawford, Zach Dahmen, Michael Vander Giessen, and 2006 graduate Eric Colby, drove 2,700 miles across the country to participate in the March 16 Christian Peace Witness for Iraq. Photo by Eva Stimson.
WASHINGTON — Nicola Crawford, a student at Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)-related Whitworth College in Spokane, WA, says that when she got an email earlier this year about the March 16 Christian Peace Witness for Iraq, she “decided it’s something I believe in.”
And that’s about all it took to convince her and a couple of other Whitworth students, Zach Dahmen and Michael Vander Giessen, to commit to driving 2,700 miles to Washington, DC, the week before mid-term exams. They hooked up with Eric Colby, a 2006 graduate of the college now working as youth director at Spokane’s Knox Presbyterian Church, who offered his 2001 Toyota Camry for the cross-country trip.
The four almost didn’t make it.
After driving for 34 hours straight they ran into icy conditions on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, just above Maryland. With Michael at the wheel, the car hit a patch of slush and slid into the next lane. The Camry bounced off the tire of a semi-truck and ploughed into a ditch in the median.
Because the car didn’t flip over or veer into oncoming traffic or get pulled under the wheels of the tractor-trailer, the young passengers came through with barely a scratch.
“Any other scenario that could have happened, we’d probably be dead,” Colby said in an interview later.
The car was another story. Not sure it could even be repaired, the four left it at an auto-repair shop in the tiny town of Warfordsburg, PA. They hitchhiked the rest of the way to Washington (about 100 miles), and headed straight to the National Cathedral for worship.
They were among the 222 people arrested in front of the White House later that evening.
“After everything, I have to say [the trip] was definitely worth it,” Dahmen said in an interview the next day. He said members of his congregation, Colbert (WA) Presbyterian Church, held an all-night prayer vigil the same night as the Washington, DC, event.
Colby said the young people decided taking part in an act of civil disobedience would give them “a chance to be heard.”
It was also a way of putting their faith into action, Dahmen said. “I want people to understand that following Christ is a lot more than going to church.”
“We believe in peace,” said Vander Giessen. “We felt the need to participate with our brothers and sisters.”
Rick Ufford-Chase, executive director of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and a key organizer of the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq, says the Whitworth students are examples of what he calls the “remarkable” participation of young people in the event.
“This thing was going out on [youth-oriented Web sites] Facebook and MySpace,” he said. College and seminary students flocked to Washington, and a number of them were involved in planning the service and march.
For Ufford-Chase, their enthusiasm confirmed something he has long believed: “When young people are given a clear, grounded way to connect their faith to what’s going on in the world, a way that has integrity, they will step up. This is the way to attract the next generation.”
Katie Anderson, left, an intern working with the National Network of Presbyterian College Women, and Jen Ross, a Rhodes College student from Naples, Fla., helped out in the kitchen at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. They were among more than 100 Presbyterians who participated in a networking event the day after the March 16 peace witness. Photo by Eva Stimson.
Jen Ross, a student at PCUSA-related Rhodes College, in Memphis, TN, attended the event with four other students affiliated with the National Network of Presbyterian College Women. They were among the last group of people arrested after a long, cold wait in front of the White House, returning to their hotel about 6 a.m.
“I’m not tired at all,” Ross remarked the next morning, smiling brightly while chopping tomatoes in the kitchen at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in downtown Washington. She was helping prepare lunch for a networking event at the church, co-sponsored by the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, the Presbyterian Washington Office and the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.
“It was my first time doing anything like this,” Ross said, adding that she was scheduled to report on her experience in a “minute for mission” at her home church, Vanderbilt Presbyterian in Naples, FL.
The Rev. Clay Thomas, associate pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Sarasota, FL, and retired Presbyterian minister the Rev. Gene Lefebvre, from Tucson, AZ, forged a cross-generational friendship while waiting to be arrested in front of the White House. Photo by Eva Stimson.
The peace witness in Washington brought together Presbyterians across a wide spectrum of ages and from far-flung geographical locations. Among them was young pastor and reccnt Columbia Theological Seminary graduate, the Rev. Clay Thomas. Six months into his job as associate pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Sarasota, FL, he felt compelled to come to Washington to “take a stand” for peace.
“Just being against the war is not enough,” he said. “A physical witness is one way of living out my faith.”
While he was making his “physical witness” in front of the White House, he met the Rev. Gene Lefebvre, a retired Presbyterian minister from Tucson, AZ. Lefebvre said the two got acquainted while waiting to be arrested: “I was standing in line and there was this strange guy reading from a Bible …”
The “strange guy” turned out to be Thomas, who read from Isaiah 58, then passed his Bible to a Quaker man next to him who read from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. As events unfolded, Thomas and Lefebvre looked out for each other and a cross-generational friendship blossomed.
Jackie Rocha, 83, came to Washington, DC, with a group from Palo Cristi Presbyterian Church in Paradise Valley, AZ. Photo by Eva Stimson.
One of the oldest participants in the weekend events was 83-year-old Jackie Rocha, who came with a group of eight from Palo Cristi Presbyterian Church in Paradise Valley, AZ. Rocha, who walks with a cane after breaking her hip a year ago, is a veteran marcher for civil rights and other causes. She walked part of the way from the National Cathedral to the White House, then caught a bus to Lafayette Park because of the slick streets.
She gave two reasons for taking part in the Washington events: “I would really like to see peace” and “I hate to stay home and dust.”
Two ministers who recently fled Colombia because of death threats were impressed by the peacefulness of the Washington events. The Rev. Milton Mejia, former executive secretary of the Presbyterian Church of Colombia, and his wife, the Rev. Adelaida Jimenez, flew up from San Angelo, TX, where they are now living, to attend the service and march.
The Rev. Milton Mejia, former executive secretary of the Presbyterian Church of Colombia, and his wife, the Rev. Adelaida Jimenez, who fled Colombia last year because of death threats, marveled that even the people who got arrested during the march in Washington were “calm and secure.” Photo by Eva Stimson.
In Colombia, people who speak out for justice and human rights risk kidnapping, torture and murder by government or paramilitary troops, they said. But participants in the Washington march “were calm and secure,” Jimenez said. “Even people who were arrested knew they would be OK.”
Mejia said he hopes Christians who oppose the war in Iraq will also oppose the civil war that is ripping apart Colombia. “That is why we wanted to be here,” he explained.
A lively buzz filled the fellowship hall at New York Avenue Church as Mejia, Jimenez, Rocha and more than 100 others at the March 17 networking event chatted in small groups, sharing their experiences and ideas for achieving peace.
From one end of the room Whitworthian Dahmen surveyed the scene, then smiled and commented wisely: “This is what the church should be — people of all ages, from all walks of life, coming together for a cause that’s bigger than they are.”
(and for the next 672 days, unless…)
Government by the least qualified or most unprincipled citizens.
On the morning of March 8 in Sioux Center, Iowa, a bus parked outside a hotel was found covered with anti-gay slurs, along with a hate-filled message on a piece of cardboard reading: “God does not love feary fags.”
The bus was one of two that were transporting some 50 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, along with supporters, on the start of a two-month trip to 32 Christian colleges with policies that discriminate against those who are not heterosexuals. The Equality Ride, as it is known, organized by Soulforce, had first traveled to Sioux Center to visit Dordt College, a school that counts “sexual activity with someone of the same gender” as possible grounds for “an employee’s discharge or a student’s dismissal.”
The harassment is not new. During a similar series of protests last year, someone in Cleveland, Tenn., scrawled “fags-mobile” on the side of the bus. Members of the Equality Ride have been arrested for trespassing, at the West Point military academy and elsewhere, and greeted at many of their stops with active hostility. The night before the buses were spray-painted with hateful slogans, three vehicles circled the hotel where the activists were staying to harass those inside.
The website has more on the ride, including pictures of the bus graffiti. But what is important is not this specific incident, or any other recent examples of public intolerance, but the seismic shift in public mood in much of the United States, a shift largely engineered by the radical Christian right. The Christian right has begun to strip gays and lesbians of their constitutional rights and render them second-class citizens. The gay rights movement, which made many gains over the past couple of decades, is reeling backward. And the mounting persecution of gays and lesbians is ominous not only for them but for the rest of society.
I spent two years reporting and writing “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.” At the numerous gatherings I attended around the country, one of the driving forces and most effective mobilizing agents was the issue of sexuality. This mass movement, led by figures such as James Dobson, claims that tolerance of “alternative lifestyles” is eroding the American family. They describe “same-sex attraction” as a disease that can be cured. And they condemn all sexual love that is not heterosexual as an abomination in the eyes of God.
Gays and lesbians still within the church, seeking desperately to deny their sexuality and remain in the Christian collective, often suffer severe depression and blows to their self-esteem. The U.S. surgeon general’s office has published data indicating that those who are young and gay are two to three times more likely to commit suicide. Those who conform, no matter what the personal cost, will find acceptance. Those who remain militant, who stand up for another way of being, must be silenced. The methods that will finally sever them and their supporters from a Christian America are often left unmentioned, but the rhetoric makes clear that there will not be a place for them. Gays and lesbians, like other enemies of Christ, are not fully human. They are “unnatural.” And preachers in the movement argue that if America does not act soon to eradicate homosexual behavior, God will punish the nation.
These attacks mask a sinister agenda that has nothing to do with sexuality. It has to do with power. The radical Christian right — the most dangerous mass movement in American history — has built a binary worldview of command and submission wherein male leaders, who cannot be questioned and claim to speak for God, are in control and all others must follow. Any lifestyle outside the traditional model of male and female is a threat to this hierarchical male power structure. Women who do not depend on men for their identity and their sexuality, who live outside a male power relationship, challenge this pervasive cult of masculinity, as do men who find tenderness and love with other men as equals. The lifestyle of gays and lesbians is intolerable to the Christian right because its existence is a threat to the movement’s chain of command, one they insist was ordained by God.
This hypermasculinity, which crushes the independence and self-expression of women, is a way for men in the movement to compensate for the curtailing of their own independence, their blind obedience to church authorities and the calls for sexual restraint. The images of Jesus often show him with thick muscles, clutching a sword. Christian men are portrayed as powerful warriors. Jesus’ stoic endurance of the brutal whippings in Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ” presages the brutal, masculine world of this ideology, a world that knows little of tenderness, personal freedom, nurturing and even pleasure. Jerry Falwell, in a New Yorker interview, said Christ was not a gentle-looking, willowy man: “Christ was a man with muscles,” he insisted. Falwell and Gibson see real men, godly men, as powerful, able to endure physical pain and suffering without complaint. Jesus, like God, has to be a real man, a man who dominates through force. The language of the movement is filled with metaphors about the use of excessive force and violence against God’s enemies.
The unspoken truth is that Christian men are required to have a personal, loving relationship with a male deity and surrender their will to a male-dominated authoritarian church. The submission to church authority is a potent form of emasculation. It entails a surrendering of conscience and personal control and deadens emotions and feelings. Glorified acts of force and violence against outsiders, against nonbelievers, compensate for this unquestioning submission. The domination that men are encouraged to practice in the home over women and children becomes a reflection of the domination they are taught to endure outside the home.
This cult of masculinity keeps all ambiguity, especially sexual ambiguity, in check. It fosters this world of binary opposites: God and man, the saved and the unsaved, the church and the world, Christianity and secular humanism, and male and female. There runs through this radical belief system a dread of disorder and chaos. The belief in a binary universe helps believers avoid confronting the confusion of human existence. Reality, when it is defined in these absolutes, is made predictable and understandable. All configurations of human life that do not conform to the rigid Christian model, such as homosexuality, are forms of disorder and tools of Satan and must be abolished. A world that can be predicted and understood, a world that has clear markers, can be managed and controlled. This petrified world of fixed, immutable and established roles is a world where people, many of them damaged by bouts with failure and despair, can bury their chaotic and fragmented personalities. They can live with the illusion that they are strong, whole and protected. Those who do not fit into these rigid categories, who are not subservient to dominant Christian males, must be proselytized, converted and “cured” through quack therapy.
The Christian right believes the decline of male prowess has caused the decline of America, which has led to weakness and moral decay. This decline has resulted in a bewildering human and social complexity that, often seen as feminine, is the work of Satan. By submitting to the Christian leader, and to a powerful male God who will destroy those who misbehave, followers avoid dealing with life. The movement seeks, above all, to banish mystery, the very essence of faith. Not only is the binary world knowable and predictable, but finally God is knowable and predictable. This parallel reality creates a world where unconscious motives, lusts, passions, sexual yearnings, deep longings and fears are buried and denied. The capacity we all have for evil is no longer something that torments the human soul, something that must be confronted and acknowledged, but instead evil is transformed into a purely external force that can be eradicated. The cut-and-dry absolute truth, the division of the world into us and them, allows followers to surrender their consciences and moral responsibility to male demagogues. It also makes them very dangerous.
The Rev. Mel White, who founded Soulforce and is one of our country’s most important if unacknowledged civil rights leaders, has spent most of his life, since coming out as a gay man, mounting nonviolent protests against these “Christian” bigots. But he and most gays and lesbians who resist usually resist alone.
“They [the Christian right] want to end homosexuality in America,” White told me, “and by doing that one step at a time, first the federal marriage amendment and then comes no adoption, no service in the military, the restatement of the sodomy laws and driving us back into our closets, or worse. They do not want to compromise, but they begin with compromise, after compromise, after compromise.”
The advance, White says, is demoralizing the gay community, which he warns “is losing the will to fight.”
“It’s safer back in the closet anyway, and since we can pass, or the gay leaders can pass, the ones who wear suits and have good jobs and have plenty of money, they will go underground,” he said. “It is the gay people out there in the hinterlands who have no options. They are being rejected by their families, discarded by their parents, kicked out of their jobs, harassed, ‘outed’ and killed. The gay leaders don’t have a clue about this suffering.”
“There are no fountains or cafeterias or bus stations we can integrate,” White continued. “There are no symbols that we can attack. Marriage, the one great act of defiance, in San Francisco and Massachusetts showed to the country gay couples lined up to get married. This is something they [right-wing Christians] didn’t like. The faces looked normal. They had children. These pictures were killing the caricatures. That for me is one of the great things we’ve done, just go to get married no matter what.”
“What frightens me most are gay people who don’t understand what’s happening and who are unwilling to take a stand,” he said. “Once they take away our rights they’re going to start wanting to register us because we’re the ones who have the most sexually transmitted diseases. They’re going to say ‘we want to register you so we can give you special medical attention.’ Quarantine comes next, along with taking away our children, the children we’ve adopted. They will take away the partnership rights the corporations put in place, because they can put pressure on the corporations. My bleakest description is that we’ll not only be driven back into our closets, but we’ll have to leave the country. Right now, we have to leave the state of Virginia, because of the law that says we can’t have any agreements, or any contracts, or any powers of attorney that represent marriage. So every gay person who has a business here lives in fear.”
My ethics professor at Harvard Divinity School, Dr. James Luther Adams, told us to watch closely what the Christian right did to homosexuals. He had seen the same tactic in Nazi Germany, where he spent 1935 and 1936 working with the underground anti-Nazi church known as the Confessing Church. The Nazis also used “values” to launch state repression of opponents. Hitler, days after he took power in 1933, imposed a ban on all homosexual organizations. He ordered raids on places where homosexuals gathered, culminating in the ransacking of the Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin and the permanent exile of its director, Magnus Hirschfeld. Thousands of volumes from the institute’s library were tossed into a bonfire. The stripping of these Germans’ civil rights was largely cheered by the public and the German churches. But it legitimated tactics, outside the law, that would soon be employed against others. Adams said homosexuals would also be the first “social deviants” singled out and disempowered by the Christian right, but not the last.
Should another catastrophic attack such as 9/11 occur, should we enter into a period of prolonged instability and fear, what will prevent these preachers from calling for the punishment, detention and quarantining of gays and lesbians, as well as abortionists and Muslims and other nonbelievers to safeguard the nation? What will staunch hate crimes and physical attacks against those deemed immoral by fearful and angry Christians, against those whom these preachers have condemned as responsible for the nation’s abandonment by God? How will the nation function rationally if homeland security depends on an elusive piety as it is interpreted by the Christian right? And most ominously, the fringe groups of the Christian right believe “Bible-believing Christians” have been mandated by God to carry out Christian terrorism, to murder doctors who perform abortions and godless Muslims. In a time of anxiety and chaos, of overwhelming fear and uncertainty, how many more will be prodded by this talk of terror and divine vengeance to join the ranks of these Christian extremists?
Chris Hedges is the former Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times and the author of “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America” and “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning.”
I’m certainly not denying the grace of God… just the amazing and incredible lack of grace on the part of some of God’s children. Here we are, “celebrating” the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in England. But the facts are clear: slavery not only exists, it is on the rise. And slavery may not be something that we have lots of here in the US (although, from time to time, incidents of slave workers’ existence rears its ugly head–like the story of the garment workers imprisoned in a house in nearby El Monte a few years ago), our condoning of slavery around the world makes us culpable. Whether we are Christians or “secular humanists”–or if we identify refuse labels, identifying ourselves only as members of the human race, it is our responsibility to stand up and do something about this reprehensible practice. Slavery is an economic practice, and we–as the largest consumer society–have an obligation to insist that there be morality in economics.
David Batstone has written a new book on this, and the following is an excerpt from that book:
By David Batstone, Sojourners
Posted on March 15, 2007, Printed on March 16, 2007
This article is an excerpt from David Batstone’s new book, Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade — and How We Can Fight It. Learn more about the book and the campaign it has launched.
Twenty-seven million slaves exist in our world today. Girls and boys, women and men of all ages are forced to toil in the rug loom sheds of Nepal, sell their bodies in the brothels of Rome, break rocks in the quarries of Pakistan, and fight wars in the jungles of Africa.
Go behind the façade in any major town or city in the world today and you are likely to find a thriving commerce in human beings. You may even find slavery in your own backyard. For several years my wife and I dined regularly at an Indian restaurant located near our home in the San Francisco Bay area. Unbeknownst to us, the staff at Pasand Madras Indian Cuisine who cooked our curries, delivered them to our table, and washed our dishes were slaves. Restaurant owner Lakireddy Reddy and several members of his family had used fake visas and false identities to traffic perhaps hundreds of adults and children into the United States from India. He forced the laborers to work long hours for minimal wages, money that they returned to him as rent to live in one of his apartments. Reddy threatened to turn them into the authorities as illegal aliens if they tried to escape.
The Reddy case is not an anomaly. As many as 800,000 are trafficked across international borders annually, and up to 17,500 new victims are trafficked across our borders each year, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. More than 30,000 additional slaves are trans-ported through the U.S. on their way to other international destinations. Attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice have prosecuted 91 slave-trade cases in cities across the United States and in nearly every state of the nation.
Like the slaves who came to America’s shores 200 years ago, today’s slaves are not free to pursue their own destinies. They are coerced to perform work for the personal gain of those who subjugate them. If they try to escape the clutches of their masters, modern slaves risk personal violence or reprisals to their families.
President George W. Bush spoke of the global crisis of the slave trade before the United Nations General Assembly in September 2003. “Each year 800,000 to 900,000 human beings are bought, sold, or forced across the world’s borders,” he said. “The trade in human beings for any purpose must not be allowed to thrive in our time.” Of those individuals extracted out of impoverished countries and trafficked across international borders, 80 percent are female and 50 percent are children, according to the U.S. Department of State’s “2005 Trafficking in Persons Report.”
The commerce in human beings today rivals drug trafficking and the illegal arms trade for the top criminal activity on the planet. The slave trade sits at number three on the list but is closing the gap. The FBI projects that the slave trade generates $9.5 billion in revenue each year, according to the U.S. Department of State’s “2004 Trafficking in Persons Report.” The International Labour Office, in the 2005 report “A Global Alliance Against Forced Labor,” estimates that figure to be closer to a whopping $32 billion annually.
“Ten Million Children Exploited for Domestic Labor” — this title for a 2004 U.N. study hardly needs explaining. The U.N.’s surveys found 700,000 children forced into domestic labor in Indonesia alone, with staggering numbers as well in Brazil (559,000), Pakistan (264,000), Haiti (250,000), and Kenya (200,000). The U.N. report indicates that children remain in servitude for long stretches of time because no one identifies their enslavement: “These youngsters are usually ‘invisible’ to their communities, toiling for long hours with little or no pay and regularly deprived of the chance to play or go to school.” UNICEF estimates that 1 million children are forced today to sell their bodies to sexual exploiters. In a single country, Uganda, nearly 40,000 children have been kidnapped and violently turned into child soldiers or sex slaves.
We may not even realize how each one of us drives the demand during the course of a normal day. Kevin Bales, a pioneer in the fight against modern slavery, expresses well those commercial connections: “Slaves in Pakistan may have made the shoes you are wearing and the carpet you stand on. Slaves in the Caribbean may have put sugar in your kitchen and toys in the hands of your children. In India they may have sewn the shirt on your back and polished the ring on your finger.”
Widespread poverty and social inequality ensure a pool of recruits as deep as the ocean. Parents in desperate straits may sell their children or at least be susceptible to scams that will allow the slave trader to take control over the lives of their sons and daughters. Young women in vulnerable communities are more likely to take a risk on a job offer in a faraway location. The poor are apt to accept a loan that the slave trader can later manipulate to steal their freedom. All of these paths carry unsuspecting recruits into the supply chains of slavery.
“The supply side of the equation is particularly bleak,” says Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas. “While there are 100,000 places in the developed world for refugee resettlement per year, 50 million refugees and displaced persons exist worldwide today. This ready reservoir of the stateless presents an opportunity rife for exploitation by human traffickers.”
During the era of the American plantation economy, the slaveholder considered slave ownership an investment. The supply of new recruits was limited. The cost of extracting and transporting the slave, and ensuring that they would be serviceable by the time they reached their destination, was considerable. In the modern slave trade, the glut of slaves and the capacity to move them great distances in a relatively short period of time drastically alters the economics of slave ownership. Kevin Bales’ description of modern slaves as “disposable people” profoundly fits: Just like used batteries, once the slave exhausts his or her usefulness, another can be procured at no great expense.
Notwithstanding these emerging trends in global markets, traditional modes of slavery also persist. Bonded labor has existed for centuries and continues to be the most common form of slavery in the world today. In a typical scenario, an individual falls under the control of a wealthy patron after taking a small loan. The patron adds egregious rates of interest and inflated expenses to the original principal so that the laborer finds it impossible to repay. Debt slaves may spend their entire lives in service to a single slaveholder, and their “obligation” may be passed on to their children. Of the 27 million people worldwide held captive and exploited for profit today, the Free the Slaves organization estimates that at least 15 million are bonded slaves in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal.
In my journey to monitor the rise of modern global slavery, I had prepared myself to end up in the depths of depression. To be honest, I made some unpleasant stops there. But my journey did not end at despair. The prime reason: I met a heroic ensemble of abolitionists who simply refuse to relent. I felt like I had gone back in time and had the great privilege of sharing a meal with a Harriet Tubman or a William Wilberforce or a Frederick Douglass. Like the abolitionists of old, these modern heroes do not expend their energy handicapping the odds stacked against the antislavery movement. They simply refuse to accept a world where one individual can be held as the property of another.
Kru Nam is one of those abolitionists who operate on the front lines in the fight against sex slavery. She is a painter with a university degree in art who launched a project to reach street kids in Chiang Mai, the second largest town in northern Thailand. Once she turned the kids loose with paintbrushes, they created a series of disturbing images that added up to a horror story.
Kru Nam soon realized that most of the kids did not come from Thailand. Most came from Burma, with a sprinkling of Laotians, Vietnamese, and Cambodians tossed in the mix. The Burmese boys spoke of a well-dressed Thai gentleman who had visited their village in the south of Burma. Accompanying him was a 14-year-old Burmese boy who wore fine-tailored clothes and spoke Thai fluently. The man told parents that he was offering scholarships for young boys to attend school back in Thailand. “Look how well this child from your region is doing,” he said, pointing to his young companion. “If you let me take your son back to Chiang Mai, I will do the same for him.” Many families agreed to let their sons go with the Thai man. Once they reached Chiang Mai, the Thai man immediately sold them to owners of sex bars and brothels.
The boys living on the streets were the lucky ones; they had escaped. They told Kru Nam that many more boys remained captive. Her blood boiled. She could not stand by and do nothing.
Kru Nam did not exactly have a plan when she marched into the sex bar for her first raid. Only her mission was clear: rescue as many of the young boys as she could find. One by one she approached a table where a boy sat and calmly said, “Let’s go, I’m taking you out of here.” Several moments later, she was leading six little boys out the door and to her safe house in Chiang Mai.
Kru Nam made several more impromptu raids. Eventually, owners put the word out that they would kill her if she walked into their bars. Deploying a fresh strategy, she organized street teams to scour the night market of Chiang Mai and connect with young children recently off the bus from the northern Thai-Burmese border. Recruiters for the sex bars also trolled the streets on the hunt for vulnerable kids. It became a life-and-death contest to find them first.
One day it struck Kru Nam that if she moved upstream before the kids hit Chiang Mai she would have an edge over the recruiters. So she moved about 40 miles north to the border town of Mae Sai, a major thoroughfare for foot traffic between Burma and Thailand.
In Mae Sai she set up a shelter to take in kids on the run. Nearly 60 boys and girls today find safe refuge each night at Kru Nam’s shelter. She has had to move her safe house several times. Neighbors on each occasion have forced her out; they do not want “these dirty kids” living on their block. So Kru Nam purchased a block of land some 15 miles outside of Mae Sai. She does not have the money she needs to buy a proper residence, so for the time being Kru Nam and the children will live on the land in temporary shelters.
Kru Nam is irrepressible. She does not have a large organization standing behind her — a skeletal staff of three assists her and she receives modest funding from a tiny nongovernmental agency based in Thailand. What she does have is a burning passion to rescue young boys and girls so that they do not fall into the treacherous control of slaveholders. Her passage from a single act of kindness to fighting for justice on a grander scale is the quintessential story of the abolitionist.
The abolitionists working today are truly extraordinary, but they cannot win the fight alone. They are overwhelmed and beleaguered. The size and scope of Kru Nam’s project is about the norm for abolitionist organizations. They sorely need reinforcements, a new wave of abolitionists, to join them in the struggle.
All of us wonder how we would have acted in the epic struggles of human history. Imagine we lived in rural Tennessee in 1855 and Harriet Tubman came to our door, asking us to join the Underground Railroad. Would we have stood up and been counted among the just?
There are times to read history, and there are times to make history. We live right now at one of those epic moments in the fight for human freedom. We no longer have to wonder how we might respond to our moment of truth. Future generations will look back and judge our choices, and be inspired or disappointed.
This article is adapted from David Batsone’s new book Not For Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade — and How We Can Fight It (HarperSanFrancisco, © 2007).
David Batstone is a Sojourners contributing editor.
Gay graduate of seminary leaves denomination to pursue ministry.
Sunday, March 11, 2007
She earned the seminary degree, cleared more hurdles than she expected and won support and encouragement from Presbyterians across the country. But with the ministry still unattainable because of her lesbian relationship, Karen Thompson has decided to leave the Presbyterian Church.
She will say goodbye tonight at a service at Central Presbyterian, the downtown Austin church that sponsored her quest for the ministry, and then focus her energy on the Metropolitan Community Church in South Austin, where she works and hopes to be ordained in the fall.
The Metropolitan Community Church is a denomination founded to serve and champion believers who are gay.
“God has led me to be here at this time,” Thompson said last week. “I don’t have any regrets.”
But Central’s pastor, the Rev. Greg McDonnell, said he regrets his denomination’s position on homosexual clergy.
“It makes me very sad that our church is losing such a gifted, called woman,” McDonnell said.
McDonnell will celebrate the service with Thompson and local clergy, exploring the themes of lamentation, justice, forgiveness, hope and reconciliation.
The service will also feature a symbol of the church’s ongoing debate over sexuality: a collection of colorful stoles traditionally worn by ordained ministers.
The stoles, part of a traveling collection, were made for gay and lesbian people who could never wear them because their denominations barred them from ministry.
Members of Faith Presbyterian Church, where Thompson interned as a seminarian, gave her a stole last summer.
Thompson will add it to the collection.
Thompson’s sexuality triggered an ongoing debate on moral standards for ministers as she pursued the ordination track at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary over the past four years.
A key moment came in 2005, when the regional governing body, or presbytery, named her a candidate for ministry, the step that precedes ordination.
Thompson, 45, knew that she would probably not move beyond that step because she has a female partner, but she wanted to stay with her denomination and hoped to open a path for future seminarians who are gay.
Noncelibate homosexuals are banned from ordained ministry in the Presbyterian Church.
Last year, a retired minister filed a complaint against the San Antonio-based presbytery, arguing that church leaders violated the rules when they made Thompson a candidate.
A church tribunal ended in a deadlocked decision, meaning that Thompson could remain a candidate, and the ministers supporting the complaint appealed to the national church body to intervene.
Thompson said she learned last week that the appeal will probably be dropped.
The Rev. Toby Brown, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Cuero, said he thinks the church needs to address the question of gay candidates. Thompson may change denominations, he said, but “the people who wanted her ordained will still work to do that. . . . The disagreement continues.”
Brown said that although he opposed Thompson’s decision to continue in what he views as a sinful lifestyle, he thinks she made a mature decision.
In her resignation letter, Thompson said she felt her presence in the denomination had become “more divisive than unifying.”
Ultimately, she said, she wanted to answer God’s call to minister and decided the Metropolitan Community Church offered that chance. She’s currently leading a Saturday evening service geared toward gay people who have been rejected from church life in the past.
Thompson said she is sad that the Presbyterian Church is locked in this struggle over sexuality but that she’s not bitter.
“If it were not for the Presbyterian church,” she said, “Karen Thompson would not have gone to seminary.”
A Service of Hope and Reconciliation
When: 6 p.m. today
Where: Central Presbyterian Church, 200 E. Eighth St. Open to the public
Information: 472-2445 or www.cpcaustin.org
Message To West Point
November 29, 2006
This is an excerpt from the Sol Feinstone Lecture on The Meaning of Freedom delivered by Bill Moyers at the United States Military Academy on November 15, 2006.
Many of you will be heading for Iraq. I have never been a soldier myself, never been tested under fire, never faced hard choices between duty and feeling, or duty and conscience, under deadly circumstances. I will never know if I have the courage to be shot at, or to shoot back, or the discipline to do my duty knowing the people who dispatched me to kill—or be killed—had no idea of the moral abyss into which they were plunging me.
I have tried to learn about war from those who know it best: veterans, the real experts. But they have been such reluctant reporters of the experience. My father-in-law, Joe Davidson, was 37 years old with two young daughters when war came in 1941; he enlisted and served in the Pacific but I never succeeded in getting him to describe what it was like to be in harm’s way. My uncle came home from the Pacific after his ship had been sunk, taking many friends down with it, and he would look away and change the subject when I asked him about it. One of my dearest friends, who died this year at 90, returned from combat in Europe as if he had taken a vow of silence about the dark and terrifying things that came home with him, uninvited.
Curious about this, some years ago I produced for PBS a documentary called “D-Day to the Rhine.” With a camera crew I accompanied several veterans of World War II who for the first time were returning together to the path of combat that carried them from the landing at Normandy in 1944 into the heart of Germany. Members of their families were along this time—wives, grown sons and daughters—and they told me that until now, on this trip—45 years after D-Day—their husbands and fathers rarely talked about their combat experiences. They had come home, locked their memories in their mind’s attic, and hung a “no trespassing” sign on it. Even as they retraced their steps almost half a century later, I would find these aging GIs, standing alone and silent on the very spot where a buddy had been killed, or they themselves had killed, or where they had been taken prisoner, a German soldier standing over them with a Mauser pointed right between their eyes, saying: “For you, the war is over.” As they tried to tell the story, the words choked in their throats. The stench, the vomit, the blood, the fear: What outsider—journalist or kin—could imagine the demons still at war in their heads?
What I remember most vividly from that trip is the opening scene of the film: Jose Lopez— the father of two, who had lied about his age to get into the Army (he was too old), went ashore at Normandy, fought his way across France and Belgium with a water-cooled machine gun, rose to the rank of sergeant, and received the Congressional Medal of Honor after single-handedly killing 100 German troops in the Battle of the Bulge—Jose Lopez, back on Omaha Beach at age 79, quietly saying to me: “I was really very, very afraid. That I want to scream. I want to cry and we see other people was laying wounded and screaming and everything and it’s nothing you could do. We could see them groaning in the water and we keep walking”—and then, moving away from the camera, dropping to his knees, his hands clasped, his eyes wet, as it all came back, memories so excruciating there were no words for them.
The Poetry Of War
Over the year I turned to the poets for help in understanding the realities of war; it is from the poets we outsiders most often learn what you soldiers experience. I admired your former superintendent, General William Lennox, who held a doctorate in literature and taught poetry classes here because, he said, “poetry is a great vehicle to teach cadets as much as anyone can what combat is like.” So it is. From the opening lines of the Iliad:
Rage, Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ Son Achilles…hurling down to the House of Death so many souls, great fighters’ souls, but made their bodies carrion for the dogs and birds….
to Wilfred Owen’s pained cry from the trenches of France:
I am the enemy you killed, my friend…
to W. D. Ehrhart’s staccato recitation of the
Barely tolerable conglomeration of mud, heat, sweat, dirt, rain, pain, fear…we march grinding under the weight of heavy packs, feet dialed to the ground…we wonder…
Poets with their empathy and evocation open to bystanders what lies buried in the soldier’s soul. Those of you soon to be leading others in combat may wish to take a metaphorical detour to the Hindenburg Line of World War I, where the officer and poet Wilfred Owen, a man of extraordinary courage who was killed a week before the Armistice, wrote:
“I came out in order to help these boys—directly by leading them as well as an officer can; indirectly, by watching their sufferings that I may speak of them as well as a pleader can.”
People in power should be required to take classes in the poetry of war. As a presidential assistant during the early escalation of the war in Vietnam, I remember how the President blanched when the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said it would take one million fighting men and 10 years really to win in Vietnam, but even then the talk of war was about policy, strategy, numbers and budgets, not severed limbs and eviscerated bodies.
That experience, and the experience 40 years later of watching another White House go to war, also relying on inadequate intelligence, exaggerated claims and premature judgments, keeping Congress in the dark while wooing a gullible press, cheered on by partisans, pundits, and editorial writers safely divorced from realities on the ground, ended any tolerance I might have had for those who advocate war from the loftiness of the pulpit, the safety of a laptop, the comfort of a think tank, or the glamour of a television studio. Watching one day on C-Span as one member of Congress after another took to the floor to praise our troops in Iraq, I was reminded that I could only name three members of Congress who have a son or daughter in the military. How often we hear the most vigorous argument for war from those who count on others of valor to fight it. As General William Tecumseh Sherman said after the Civil War: “It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation.”
Remembering Emily Perez
Rupert Murdoch comes to mind—only because he was in the news last week talking about Iraq. In the months leading up to the invasion Murdoch turned the dogs of war loose in the corridors of his media empire, and they howled for blood, although not their own. Murdoch himself said, just weeks before the invasion, that: “The greatest thing to come of this to the world economy, if you could put it that way [as you can, if you are a media mogul], would be $20 a barrel for oil.” Once the war is behind us, Rupert Murdoch said: “The whole world will benefit from cheaper oil which will be a bigger stimulus than anything else.”
Today Murdoch says he has no regrets, that he still believes it was right “to go in there,” and that “from a historical perspective” the U.S. death toll in Iraq was “minute.”
The word richoted in my head when I heard it. I had just been reading about Emily Perez. Your Emily Perez: Second Lieutenant Perez, the first woman of color to become a command sergeant major in the history of the Academy, and the first woman graduate to die in Iraq. I had been in Washington when word of her death made the news, and because she had lived there before coming to West Point, the Washington press told us a lot about her. People remembered her as “a little superwoman”—straight A’s, choir member, charismatic, optimistic, a friend to so many; she had joined the medical service because she wanted to help people. The obituary in the Washington Post said she had been a ball of fire at the Peace Baptist Church, where she helped start an HIV-AIDS ministry after some of her own family members contracted the virus. Now accounts of her funeral here at West Point were reporting that some of you wept as you contemplated the loss of so vibrant an officer.
“Minute?” I don’t think so. Historical perspective or no. So when I arrived today I asked the Academy’s historian, Steve Grove, to take me where Emily Perez is buried, in Section 36 of your cemetery, below Storm King Mountain, overlooking the Hudson River. Standing there, on sacred American soil hallowed all the more by the likes of Lieutenant Perez so recently returned, I thought that to describe their loss as “minute”—even from a historical perspective—is to underscore the great divide that has opened in America between those who advocate war while avoiding it and those who have the courage to fight it without ever knowing what it’s all about.
We were warned of this by our founders. They had put themselves in jeopardy by signing the Declaration of Independence; if they had lost, that parchment could have been their death warrant, for they were traitors to the Crown and likely to be hanged. In the fight for freedom they had put themselves on the line—not just their fortunes and sacred honor but their very persons, their lives. After the war, forming a government and understanding both the nature of war and human nature, they determined to make it hard to go to war except to defend freedom; war for reasons save preserving the lives and liberty of your citizens should be made difficult to achieve, they argued. Here is John Jay’s passage in Federalist No. 4:
It is too true, however disgraceful it may be to human nature, that nations in general will make war whenever they have a prospect of getting anything by it; nay, absolute monarchs will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it, but for the purposes and objects merely personal, such as thirst for military glory, revenge for personal affronts, ambition, or private compacts to aggrandize or support their particular families or partisans. These and a variety of other motives, which affect only the mind of the sovereign, often lead him to engage in wars not sanctified by justice or the voice and interests of his people.
And here, a few years later, is James Madison, perhaps the most deliberative mind of that generation in assaying the dangers of an unfettered executive prone to war:
In war, a physical force is to be created, and it is the executive will which is to direct it. In war, the public treasures are to be unlocked, and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them. In war, the honors and emoluments of office are to be multiplied; and it is the executive patronage under which they are to be enjoyed. It is in war, finally, that laurels are to be gathered; and it is the executive brow they are to encircle. The strongest passions and most dangerous weaknesses of the human breast; ambition, avarice, vanity, the honorable or venial love of fame, are all in conspiracy against the desire and duty of peace.
I want to be clear on this: Vietnam did not make me a dove. Nor has Iraq; I am no pacifist. But they have made me study the Constitution more rigorously, both as journalist and citizen. Again, James Madison:
In no part of the Constitution is more wisdom to be found, than in the clause which confides the question of war and peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department. Beside the objection to such a mixture to heterogeneous powers, the trust and the temptation would be too great for any one man.
Twice in 40 years we have now gone to war paying only lip service to those warnings; the first war we lost, the second is a bloody debacle, and both rank among the great blunders in our history. It is impossible for soldiers to sustain in the field what cannot be justified in the Constitution; asking them to do so puts America at war with itself. So when the Vice President of the United States says it doesn’t matter what the people think, he and the President intend to prosecute the war anyway, he is committing heresy against the fundamental tenets of the American political order.
An Army Born In Revolution
This is a tough subject to address when so many of you may be heading for Iraq. I would prefer to speak of sweeter things. But I also know that 20 or 30 years from now any one of you may be the Chief of Staff or the National Security Adviser or even the President—after all, two of your boys, Grant and Eisenhower, did make it from West Point to the White House. And that being the case, it’s more important than ever that citizens and soldiers—and citizen-soldiers—honestly discuss and frankly consider the kind of country you are serving and the kind of organization to which you are dedicating your lives. You are, after all, the heirs of an army born in the American Revolution, whose radicalism we consistently underestimate.
No one understood this radicalism—no one in uniform did more to help us define freedom in a profoundly American way—than the man whose monument here at West Point I also asked to visit today—Thaddeus Kosciuszko. I first became intrigued by him over 40 years ago when I arrived in Washington. Lafayette Park, on Pennsylvania Avenue, across from the White House, hosts several statues of military heroes who came to fight for our independence in the American Revolution. For seven years, either looking down on these figures from my office at the Peace Corps, or walking across Lafayette Park to my office in the White House, I was reminded of these men who came voluntarily to fight for American independence from the monarchy. The most compelling, for me, was the depiction of Kosciuszko. On one side of the statue he is directing a soldier back to the battlefield, and on the other side, wearing an American uniform, he is freeing a bound soldier, representing America’s revolutionaries.
Kosciuszko had been born in Lithuania-Poland, where he was trained as an engineer and artillery officer. Arriving in the 13 colonies in 1776, he broke down in tears when he read the Declaration of Independence. The next year, he helped engineer the Battle of Saratoga, organizing the river and land fortifications that put Americans in the stronger position. George Washington then commissioned him to build the original fortifications for West Point. Since his monument dominates the point here at the Academy, this part of the story you must know well.
But what many don’t realize about Kosciuszko is the depth of his commitment to republican ideals and human equality. One historian called him “a mystical visionary of human rights.” Thomas Jefferson wrote that Kosciuszko was “as pure a son of liberty as I have ever known.” That phrase of Jefferson’s is often quoted, but if you read the actual letter, Jefferson goes on to say: “And of that liberty which is to go to all, and not to the few and the rich alone.”
There is the clue to the meaning of freedom as Thaddeus Kosciuszko saw it.
After the American Revolution, he returned to his homeland, what was then the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In 1791 the Poles adopted their celebrated May Constitution—Europe’s first codified national constitution (and the second oldest in the world, after our own.) The May Constitution established political equality between the middle class and the nobility and also partially abolished serfdom by giving civil rights to the peasants, including the right to state protection from landlord abuses. The autocrats and nobles of Russia feared such reforms, and in 1794, when the Russians sought to prevent their spread by partitioning the Commonwealth, Kosciuszko led an insurrection. His untrained peasant forces were armed mostly with single-blade sickles, but they won several early battles in fierce hand-to-hand fighting, until they were finally overwhelmed. Badly injured, Kosciuszko was taken prisoner and held for two years in St. Petersburg, and that was the end of the Polish Commonwealth, which had stood, by the way, as one of Europe’s leading centers of religious liberty.
Upon his release from prison, Kosciuszko came back to the United States and began a lasting friendship with Jefferson, who called him his “most intimate and beloved friend.” In 1798, he wrote a will leaving his American estate to Jefferson, urging him to use it to purchase the freedom and education of his [Jefferson’s] own slaves, or, as Jefferson interpreted it, of “as many of the children as bondage in this country as it should be adequate to.” For this émigré, as for so many who would come later, the meaning of freedom included a passion for universal justice. In his Act of Insurrection at the outset of the 1794 uprising, Kosciuszko wrote of the people’s “sacred rights to liberty, personal security and property.” Note the term property here. For Jefferson’s “pursuit of happiness” Kosciuszko substituted Locke’s notion of property rights. But it’s not what you think: The goal was not simply to protect “private property” from public interference (as it is taught today), but rather to secure productive property for all as a right to citizenship. It’s easy to forget the difference when huge agglomerations of personal wealth are defended as a sacred right of liberty, as they are today with the gap between the rich and poor in America greater than it’s been in almost one hundred years. Kosciuszko—General Kosciuszko, from tip to toe a military man—was talking about investing the people with productive resources. Yes, freedom had to be won on the battlefield, but if freedom did not lead to political, social and economic opportunity for all citizens, freedom’s meaning could not be truly realized.
Think about it: A Polish general from the old world, infusing the new nation with what would become the marrow of the American Dream. Small wonder that Kosciuszko was often called a “hero of two worlds” or that just 25 years ago, in 1981, when Polish farmers, supported by the Roman Catholic Church, won the right to form an independent union, sending shockwaves across the Communist empire, Kosciuszko’s name was heard in the victory speeches—his egalitarian soul present at yet another revolution for human freedom and equal rights.
After Jefferson won the presidency in l800, Kosciuszko wrote him a touching letter advising him to be true to his principles: “do not forget in your post be always a virtuous Republican with justice and probity, without pomp and ambition—in a word be Jefferson and my friend.” Two years later, Jefferson signed into being this professional officers school, on the site first laid out as a fortress by his friend, the general from Poland.
A Paradox Of Liberty
Every turn in American history confronts us with paradox, and this one is no exception. Here was Jefferson, known for his vigorous and eloquent opposition to professional armies, presiding over the establishment of West Point. It’s a paradox that suits you cadets to a T, because you yourselves represent a paradox of liberty. You are free men and women who of your own free choice have joined an institution dedicated to protecting a free nation, but in the process you have voluntarily agreed to give up, for a specific time, a part of your own liberty. An army is not a debating society and neither in the field or in headquarters does it ask for a show of hands on whether orders should be obeyed. That is undoubtedly a necessary idea, but for you it complicates the already tricky question of “the meaning of freedom.”
I said earlier that our founders did not want the power of war to reside in a single man. Many were also dubious about having any kind of regular, or as they called it, “standing” army at all. Standing armies were hired supporters of absolute monarchs and imperial tyrants. The men drafting the Constitution were steeped in classical and historical learning. They recalled how Caesar in ancient times and Oliver Cromwell in more recent times had used the conquering armies they had led to make themselves dictators. They knew how the Roman legions had made and unmade emperors, and how Ottoman rulers of the Turkish Empire had supported their tyrannies on the shoulders of formidable elite warriors. Wherever they looked in history, they saw an alliance between enemies of freedom in palaces and in officer corps drawn from the ranks of nobility, bound by a warrior code that stressed honor and bravery—but also dedication to the sovereign and the sovereign’s god, and distrust amounting to contempt for the ordinary run of the sovereign’s subjects.
The colonial experience with British regulars, first as allies in the French and Indian Wars, and then as enemies, did not increase American respect for the old system of military leadership. Officers were chosen and promoted on the basis of aristocratic connections, commissions were bought, and ineptitude was too often tolerated. The lower ranks were often rootless alumni of jails and workhouses, lured or coerced into service by the paltry pay and chance of adventure—brutally hard types, kept in line by brutally harsh discipline.
Not exactly your model for the army of a republic of free citizens.
What the framers came up with was another novelty. The first battles of the Revolution were fought mainly by volunteer militia from the states, such as Vermont’s Green Mountain Boys, the most famous militia then. They were gung-ho for revolution and flushed with a fighting spirit. But in the end they were no substitute for the better-trained regiments of the Continental line and the French regulars sent over by France’s king after the alliance of 1778. The view nonetheless persisted that in times of peace, only a small permanent army would be needed to repel invasions—unlikely except from Canada—and deal with the frontier Indians. When and if a real crisis came, it was believed, volunteers would flock to the colors like the armed men of Greek mythology who sprang from dragon’s teeth planted in the ground by a divinely approved hero. The real safety of the nation in any hour of crisis would rest with men who spent most of their working lives behind the plow or in the workshop. And this was long before the huge conscript armies of the 19th and 20th centuries made that a commonplace fact.
And who would be in the top command of both that regular force and of volunteer forces when actually called into federal service? None other than the top elected civil official of the government, the President. Think about that for a moment. The professional army fought hard and long to create a system of selecting and keeping officers on the basis of proven competence, not popularity. But the highest commander of all served strictly at the pleasure of the people and had to submit his contract for renewal every four years.
And what of the need for trained and expert leadership at all the levels of command which quickly became apparent as the tools and tactics of warfare grew more sophisticated in a modernizing world? That’s where West Point came in, filling a need that could no longer be ignored. But what a special military academy it was! We tend to forget that the West Point curriculum was heavily tilted toward engineering; in fact, it was one of the nation’s first engineering colleges and it was publicly supported and free. That’s what made it attractive to young men like Hiram Ulysses Grant, familiarly known as “Sam,” who wasn’t anxious to be a soldier but wanted to get somewhere more promising than his father’s Ohio farm. Hundreds like Grant came to West Point and left to use their civil engineering skills in a country badly needing them, some in civil life after serving out an enlistment, but many right there in uniform. It was the army that explored, mapped and surveyed the wagon and railroad routes to the west, starting with the Corps of Exploration under Lewis and Clark sent out by the protean Mr. Jefferson. It was the army that had a hand in clearing rivers of snags and brush and building dams that allowed steamboats to avoid rapids. It was the army that put up lighthouses in the harbors and whose exhaustive geologic and topographic surveys were important contributions to publicly supported scientific research—AND to economic development—in the young republic.
All of this would surely have pleased General Kosciuszko, who believed in a society that leaves no one out. Indeed, add all these facts together and what you come up with is a portrait of something new under the sun—a peacetime army working directly with and for the civil society in improving the nation so as to guarantee the greater opportunities for individual success inherent in the promise of democracy. And a wartime army in which temporary citizen-solders were and still are led by long-term professional citizen-soldiers who were molded out of the same clay as those they command. And all of them led from the top by the one political figure chosen by the entire national electorate. This arrangement—this bargain between the men with the guns and the citizens who provide the guns—is the heritage passed on to you by the revolutionaries who fought and won America’s independence and then swore fidelity to a civil compact that survives today, despite tumultuous moments and perilous passages.
West Point’s Importance
Once again we encounter a paradox: Not all our wars were on the side of freedom. The first that seriously engaged the alumni of West Point was the Mexican War, which was not a war to protect our freedoms but to grab land—facts are facts—and was not only bitterly criticized by part of the civilian population, but even looked on with skepticism by some graduates like Grant himself. Still, he not only fought well in it, but it was for him, as well as for most of the generals on both sides in the impending Civil War, an unequalled training school and rehearsal stage.
When the Civil War itself came, it offered an illustration of how the meaning of freedom isn’t always easy to pin down. From the point of view of the North, the hundreds of Southern West Pointers who resigned to fight for the Confederacy—Robert E. Lee included—were turning against the people’s government that had educated and supported them. They were traitors. But from the Southern point of view, they were fighting for the freedom of their local governments to leave the Union when, as they saw it, it threatened their way of life. Their way of life tragically included the right to hold other men in slavery.
The Civil War, nonetheless, confirmed the importance of West Point training. European military observers were amazed at the skill with which the better generals on both sides, meaning for the most part West Pointers and not political appointees, maneuvered huge armies of men over vast areas of difficult terrain, used modern technologies like the railroad and the telegraph to coordinate movements and accumulate supplies, and made the best use of newly developed weapons. The North had more of these advantages, and when the final victory came, adulation and admiration were showered on Grant and Sherman, who had come to a realistic and unromantic understanding of modern war, precisely because they had not been steeped in the mythologies of a warrior caste. Their triumph was seen as vindication of how well the army of a democracy could work. Just as Lincoln, the self-educated rail-splitter, had provided a civilian leadership that also proved him the equal of any potentate on the globe.
After 1865 the army shrank as its chief engagement was now in wiping out the last vestiges of Indian resistance to their dispossession and subjugation: One people’s advance became another’s annihilation and one of the most shameful episodes of our history. In 1898 the army was briefly used for the first effort in exporting democracy—an idea that does not travel well in military transports—when it warred with Spain to help the Cubans complete a war for independence that had been in progress for three years. The Cubans found their liberation somewhat illusory, however, when the United States made the island a virtual protectorate and allowed it to be ruled by a corrupt dictator.
Americans also lifted the yoke of Spain from the Filipinos, only to learn that they did not want to exchange it for one stamped ‘Made in the USA.’ It took a three-year war, during which the army killed several thousand so-called “insurgents” before their leader was captured and the Filipinos were cured of the illusion that independence meant…well, independence. I bring up these reminders not to defame the troops. Their actions were supported by a majority of the American people even in a progressive phase of our political history (though there was some principled and stiff opposition.) Nonetheless, we have to remind ourselves that the armed forces can’t be expected to be morally much better than the people who send them into action, and that when honorable behavior comes into conflict with racism, honor is usually the loser unless people such as yourself fight to maintain it.
Our brief participation in the First World War temporarily expanded the army, helped by a draft that had also proven necessary in the Civil War. But rapid demobilization was followed by a long period of ever-shrinking military budgets, especially for the land forces.
Not until World War II did the Army again take part in such a long, bloody, and fateful conflict as the Civil War had been, and like the Civil War it opened an entirely new period in American history. The incredibly gigantic mobilization of the entire nation, the victory it produced, and the ensuing 60 years of wars, quasi-wars, mini-wars, secret wars, and a virtually permanent crisis created a superpower and forever changed the nation’s relationship to its armed forces, confronting us with problems we have to address, no matter how unsettling it may be to do so in the midst of yet another war.
The Armed Services are no longer stepchildren in budgetary terms. Appropriations for defense and defense-related activities (like veterans’ care, pensions, and debt service) remind us that the costs of war continue long after the fighting ends. Objections to ever-swelling defensive expenditures are, except in rare cases, a greased slide to political suicide. It should be troublesome to you as professional soldiers that elevation to the pantheon of untouchable icons —right there alongside motherhood, apple pie and the flag—permits a great deal of political lip service to replace genuine efforts to improve the lives and working conditions—in combat and out—of those who serve.
Let me cut closer to the bone. The chickenhawks in Washington, who at this very moment are busily defending you against supposed “insults” or betrayals by the opponents of the war in Iraq, are likewise those who have cut budgets for medical and psychiatric care; who have been so skimpy and late with pay and with provision of necessities that military families in the United States have had to apply for food stamps; who sent the men and women whom you may soon be commanding into Iraq understrength, underequipped, and unprepared for dealing with a kind of war fought in streets and homes full of civilians against enemies undistinguishable from non-combatants; who have time and again broken promises to the civilian National Guardsmen bearing much of the burden by canceling their redeployment orders and extending their tours.
You may or may not agree on the justice and necessity of the war itself, but I hope that you will agree that flattery and adulation are no substitute for genuine support. Much of the money that could be directed to that support has gone into high-tech weapons systems that were supposed to produce a new, mobile, compact “professional” army that could easily defeat the armies of any other two nations combined, but is useless in a war against nationalist or religious guerrilla uprisings that, like it or not, have some support, coerced or otherwise, among the local population. We learned this lesson in Vietnam, only to see it forgotten or ignored by the time this administration invaded Iraq, creating the conditions for a savage sectarian and civil war with our soldiers trapped in the middle, unable to discern civilian from combatant, where it is impossible to kill your enemy faster than rage makes new ones.
And who has been the real beneficiary of creating this high-tech army called to fight a war conceived and commissioned and cheered on by politicians and pundits not one of whom ever entered a combat zone? One of your boys answered that: Dwight Eisenhower, class of 1915, who told us that the real winners of the anything at any price philosophy would be “the military-industrial complex.”
I want to contend that the American military systems that evolved in the early days of this republic rested on a bargain between the civilian authorities and the armed services, and that the army has, for the most part, kept its part of the bargain and that, at this moment, the civilian authorities whom you loyally obey, are shirking theirs. And before you assume that I am calling for an insurrection against the civilian deciders of your destinies, hear me out, for that is the last thing on my mind.
You have kept your end of the bargain by fighting well when called upon, by refusing to become a praetorian guard for a reigning administration at any time, and for respecting civil control at all times. For the most part, our military leaders have made no serious efforts to meddle in politics. The two most notable cases were General George McClellan, who endorsed a pro-Southern and pro-slavery policy in the first year of the war and was openly contemptuous of Lincoln. But Lincoln fired him in 1862, and when McClellan ran for President two years later, the voting public handed him his hat. Douglas MacArthur’s attempt to dictate his own China policy in 1951 ran head-on into the resolve of Harry Truman, who, surviving a firestorm of hostility, happily watched a MacArthur boomlet for the Republican nomination for the Presidency fizzle out in 1952.
On the other side of the ledger, however, I believe that the bargain has not been kept. The last time Congress declared war was in 1941. Since then presidents of the United States, including the one I served, have gotten Congress, occasionally under demonstrably false pretenses, to suspend Constitutional provisions that required them to get the consent of the people’s representatives in order to conduct a war. They have been handed a blank check to send the armed forces into action at their personal discretion and on dubious Constitutional grounds.
Furthermore, the current President has made extra-Constitutional claims of authority by repeatedly acting as if he were Commander-in-Chief of the entire nation and not merely of the armed forces. Most dangerously to our moral honor and to your own welfare in the event of capture, he has likewise ordered the armed forces to violate clear mandates of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Conventions by claiming a right to interpret them at his pleasure, so as to allow indefinite and secret detentions and torture. These claims contravene a basic principle usually made clear to recruits from their first day in service—that they may not obey an unlawful order. The President is attempting to have them violate that longstanding rule by personal definitions of what the law says and means.
There is yet another way the chickenhawks are failing you. In the October issue of the magazine of the California Nurses Association, you can read a long report on “The Battle at Home.” In veterans’ hospitals across the country—and in a growing number of ill-prepared, under-funded psych and primary care clinics as well—the report says that nurses “have witnessed the guilt, rage, emotional numbness, and tormented flashbacks of GIs just back from Iraq.” Yet “a returning vet must wait an average of 165 days for a VA decision on initial disability benefits,” and an appeal can take up to three years. Just in the first quarter of this year, the VA treated 20,638 Iraq veterans for post-traumatic stress disorder, and faces a backlog of 400,000 cases. This is reprehensible.
I repeat: These are not palatable topics for soldiers about to go to war; I would like to speak of sweeter things. But freedom means we must face reality: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” Free enough, surely, to think for yourselves about these breaches of contract that crudely undercut the traditions of an army of free men and women who have bound themselves voluntarily to serve the nation even unto death.
The Voice Of Conscience
What, then, can you do about it if disobedience to the chain of command is ruled out?
For one, you didn’t give up your freedom to vote, nor did you totally quit your membership in civil society, when you put on the uniform, even though, as Eisenhower said, you did accept “certain inhibitions” at the time. He said that when questioned about MacArthur’s dismissal, and he made sure his own uniform was back in the trunk before his campaign in 1952. It has been most encouraging, by the way, to see veterans of Iraq on the campaign trail in our recent elections.
Second, remember that there are limitations to what military power can do. Despite the valor and skills of our fighting forces, some objectives are not obtainable at a human, diplomatic, and financial cost that is acceptable. Our casualties in Iraq are not “minute” and the cost of the war has been projected by some sources to reach $2 trillion dollars. Sometimes, in the real world, a truce is the most honorable solution to conflict. Dwight Eisenhower—who is a candidate for my favorite West Point graduate of the 20th century—knew that when, in 1953, he went to Korea and accepted a stalemate rather than carrying out his bluff of using nuclear weapons. That was the best that could be done and it saved more years of stalemate and casualties. Douglas MacArthur announced in 1951 that “there was no substitute for victory.” But in the wars of the 21st century there are alternative meanings to victory and alternative ways to achieve them. Especially in tracking down and eliminating terrorists, we need to change our metaphor from a “war on terror”—what, pray tell, exactly is that?—to the mindset of Interpol tracking down master criminals through intense global cooperation among nations, or the FBI stalking the Mafia, or local police determined to quell street gangs without leveling the entire neighborhood in the process. Help us to think beyond a “war on terror”—which politicians could wage without end, with no measurable way to judge its effectiveness, against stateless enemies who hope we will destroy the neighborhood, creating recruits for their side—to counter-terrorism modeled on extraordinary police work.
Third, don’t let your natural and commendable loyalty to comrades-in-arms lead you into thinking that criticism of the mission you are on spells lack of patriotism. Not every politician who flatters you is your ally. Not every one who believes that war is the wrong choice to some problems is your enemy. Blind faith in bad leadership is not patriotism. In the words of G.K. Chesterton: “To say my country right or wrong is something no patriot would utter except in dire circumstance; it is like saying my mother drunk or sober.” Patriotism means insisting on our political leaders being sober, strong, and certain about what they are doing when they put you in harm’s way.
Fourth, be more prepared to accept the credibility and integrity of those who disagree about the war even if you do not agree with their positions. I say this as a journalist, knowing it is tempting in the field to denounce or despise reporters who ask nosy questions or file critical reports. But their first duty as reporters is to get as close as possible to the verifiable truth and report it to the American people—for your sake. If there is mismanagement and incompetence, exposing it is more helpful to you than paeans to candy given to the locals. I trust you are familiar with the study done for the Army in 1989 by the historian, William Hammond. He examined press coverage in Korea and Vietnam and found that it was not the cause of disaffection at home; what disturbed people at home was the death toll; when casualties jumped, public support dropped. Over time, he said, the reporting was vindicated. In fact, “the press reports were often more accurate than the public statements of the administration in portraying the situation in Vietnam.” Take note: The American people want the truth about how their sons and daughters are doing in Iraq and what they’re up against, and that is a good thing.
Finally, and this above all—a lesson I wish I had learned earlier. If you rise in the ranks to important positions—or even if you don’t—speak the truth as you see it, even if the questioner is a higher authority with a clear preference for one and only one answer. It may not be the way to promote your career; it can in fact harm it. Among my military heroes of this war are the generals who frankly told the President and his advisers that their information and their plans were both incomplete and misleading—and who paid the price of being ignored and bypassed and possibly frozen forever in their existing ranks: men like General Eric K. Shinseki, another son of West Point. It is not easy to be honest—and fair—in a bureaucratic system. But it is what free men and women have to do. Be true to your principles, General Kosciuszko reminded Thomas Jefferson. If doing so exposes the ignorance and arrogance of power, you may be doing more to save the nation than exploits in combat can achieve.
I know the final rule of the military Code of Conduct is already written in your hearts: “I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free…” The meaning of freedom begins with the still, small voice of conscience, when each of us decides what we will live, or die, for.
I salute your dedication to America and I wish all of you good luck.
Bill Moyers is deeply grateful to his colleagues Bernard A Weisberger, Professor Emeritus of History at The University of Chicago, and Lew Daly, Senior Fellow of the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy, for their contributions to this speech.
Former Senator Thomas Eagleton, who died March 4 at age 77, wrote in a farewell letter distributed at the end of his memorial service to
“Go forth in love and peace — be kind to dogs — and vote Democratic.”
I might be a bit more mundane, asking people to be kind to one another, but I certainly can’t argue overall!
On March 6, a federal jury found former vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby guilty on charges of perjury, obstruction of justice, and lying to federal investigators. In the wake of this decision, conservatives and others media figures can be expected to revive and advance numerous myths and falsehoods regarding the CIA leak case that have circulated throughout the media since Libby’s indictment in October 2005.
In anticipation of this misinformation, Media Matters for America has listed those baseless and false claims likely to surface in the coming days and weeks:
Posted to the web on Tuesday March 6, 2007 at 12:03 PM EST