Sunday, August 12, 2007

2 Books, 20 minutes

Jim: This week, we're taking a look at two books on resisting illegal war. Participating are The Third Estate Sunday Review's Dona, Jess, Ty, Ava and, me, Jim, Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude, Betty of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man, C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review, Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills), Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix, Mike of Mikey Likes It!, Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz, and Wally of The Daily Jot. The way this is set up, we're asking that if you comment on either book at length, you give others the shot at the other book. Mike wanted to kick things off with a personal remark or two.

Mike: If you're not happy with how regular the book discussions now appear, you can blame me. I'm usually the last one to finish a book. But it's also true that we're all busy and there aren't a lot of books worth noting if we're talking Iraq. This week we have two books worth noting and maybe International Socialist Review or The Progressive will note them but that's generally been it despite all the pages spent on books at periodicals such as The Nation. First up is Aidan Delgado's The Sutras Of Abu Ghraib: Notes From A Conscientious Objector In Iraq. This book came out this month, put out by The Beacon Press, it retails for $24.95 and is 224 pages of text. The back of the book cover contains praise from Howard Zinn, Janis Karpinksi and Bob Herbert, the front contains a blurb from Amy Goodman: "Aidan Delgado is a powerful, eloquent writer. His description of how he was transformed by the horrors of Iraq is unforgettable. He is a diamond in the rough, sandblasted by the deserts of Iraq." He's got a prologue and an epilogue, as well as pages of notes, and I really enjoyed that. The first chapter kicks things off in March 2003 where he's landing in Kuwait City. He's soon on the border between Iraq and Kuwait and the thing I really want to point out is that his descriptions really make it come alive and he's a really strong writer.


Rebecca: Yes, he is. And one of the things you get used to early on is reading, "Get your sh*t together, we're under attack" in one form or another. I think the book is a more "You are there" approach than a reflection.

Elaine: Absolutely. Maybe because of his comments in the opening, but I kept coming back to Lillian Helman's Pentimento and that's meant as a compliment. I've never been in league with Nation scold Mary McCarthy and her attacks on Hellman. Or, for that matter, her attacks on pretty much every female writer. He has a very good eye for physical detail but he also is very strong in zooming in on the telling incident. A little over a third of the way into the book, he realizes he is CO and begins attempting to win CO status, conscientious objector status.

Cedric: That was the section of the book I really enjoyed. It's a great book but I do find religion an interesting topic. Delgado was exploring Buddhism already. But it's on the ground in Iraq that he really finds out what it means to him. I'm just naturally interested in the topic of religion and awakenings and expansions so I would've been hooked by it anyway but when you start adding in the whole torture you've got to go through just for attempting CO status, I thought this was very powerful reading.

Elaine: Right, because he's got a superior saying things about Buddhists can carry guns or they can do this or that.

Mike: Or telling him he can't be a Buddhist because he reads "violent" books. Lord of the Rings, etc. qualifies for violent books, if you can believe it.

Cedric: And we supposedly have freedom of religion but for CO's claiming religious reasons, they suddenly have to do this song and dance and jump through hoops.

Ava: And religious reasons are not required to be granted CO status, we should note that.

Cedric: True. That was Delgado's basis, though, and he has to prove it. And, sorry, Ava, I just got your point. In the book, he talks about how he learns of CO status. Ava'a valid point is that there's so little information out there we should be clear that religions is not a requirement. Correct?

Ava: Right. And Cedric's right that it is Delgado's basis. I think we also need to talk, specifically, about what happens to him after he turns in his CO papers. I assume that any other features on Delgado's book will run right to Abu Ghraib and many readers will flip right to that as well.

Cedric: But we've got an obligation, since so few cover resistance, to explore this in depth and I agree with you completely. So Delgado works for hours filling in his packet.

Mike: And then he turns in it and quickly it is known not because he's told everyone but because orders have come down to make sure it is clear to everyone what's going on. He's pressured by three superiors. He's questioned by a commander.

Rebecca: A commander who doesn't really know him, won't even look him in the eye when he speaks, and I love it when Delgado tells him that he (Delgado) is a better judge of his own moral character than the commander his. It's a shake down, pure and simple. You have disappointed Daddy and all the Daddys line up to treat him like a wayward son and hopefully pressure him into pulling his CO application.

Elaine: And there is also the pressure from those serving along side, pressure Delgado accurately identifies as the pack mentality. "Peer counseling".

Jim: Which is evident in more than the shunning of Delgado, it's evident in the knocking into him when he's walking, the threats of "wall to wall counseling" meaning an ass kicking. He's isolated, attempts are made to make him feel he's letting down Daddy and betraying the so-called brotherhood and when those don't work, it escalates to physical violence against Delgado. And I absolutely agree with Ava and Cedric that if there's one thing we need to do while discussing the book it is to note that. You're looking at approximately thirty pages continuously on that. It's a very important aspect of the story and it's one aspect that anyone considering applying for CO status needs to be aware of. I hear someone flipping pages.

Mike: Me. I'm looking for the thing with "peer counseling" to make it our excerpt.

C.I.: Middle of page 114.

Mike: Hold on. Okay, got it. This is Delgado on page 114:

Of course, this was precisely what the command had intended: to make me a pariah, to strip me of my friendships and social status until I became so lonely and desperate that I would recant my CO packet and beg to be let back into the club. "Peer counseling" is what I believe they call it. The result was that every young soldier who was still onboard with the Army and the unit felt it was their personal mission to make me unwelcome.

Elaine: That's really important because the socialization of the military is supposed to kick in here. It's supposed to allow the pack mentality to run free as they pick on the designated scapegoat but it's also suppose to instill a sense of "Let me back in, guys, I'm still part of the unit." Knowing what will follow a CO application won't make going through it any easier for anyone who tries to get CO status; however, it will mean they'll be less surprised.

Ava: And if I can grab a moment here to make a point that should be obvious but apparently isn't obvious to all. Aidan Delgado is Latino. He is very much a part of the peace movement and he is very much a visible part of the peace movement. In light of lies that the peace movement is all "White," I think we need to note that.

Jim: True. This is a really strong book with an involving story that we all recommend. Ava, Elaine, Rebecca, Cedric, Mike and I spoke on this one so the next book will be left to Kat, C.I., Betty, Dona, Ty, Jess and Wally. I'm going to toss to Wally for the set up.

Wally: This book is Army of None. The authors are Aimee Allison and David Solnit. It's a trade paperback put out by Seven Stories Press and available also at Courage to Resist -- as well as bookstores. It's cover price is $14.95. Not counting end notes, it's 187 pages. C.I.'s going to do some sort of wrap at the end. We roughly figured out how we were going to divide this ahead of time.

armyof none

Kat: First of all, like Mike was saying, we're all busy. In addition, we're all reading way more than we usually do. The point in terms of Army of None is this: There is no starting point. If you feel like picking up one more book that you have to read in order from page one to the final page will make you scream, pick up this book and determine the order you want to go in.

Dona: Right. Some of my favorite non-fiction books are that way. Susan Faludi's Backlash, for example. You can figure out what section most interests you and then read that part and pretty much construct your entire reading on your own. I know what Kat's talking about. We're all getting burned out on the reading. There are three sections to this book and, within each section, there are subsections. This book is your own journey. You can read it start to finish or you can skip around and make up your own order. This isn't Agatha Christie, you won't start with one chapter and think, "Now I know who the murderer is!" It all flows together for a tight book.

Ty: And Wally noted the illustrations. Thank you to the authors for those. There are times when we wonder if we should have any illustrations here because they take so much time. Then we come across that book that really breathes because of its illustrations. Those include photos, such as one of war resister Kyle Snyder, and drawings that are really too amazing to put into words. In fact, I want an illustration from the book to be our illustration for the book.

Kat: Which one? The poster art on page 24?

Ty: That's good, they all are, but I like the one on page 23: "WARNING: CHILD PREDATORS OPERATE HERE" which is about military recruiters.

Wally: That's a great one. If you've seen them on your campuses, you'll enjoy that one especially. And the book has a lot of information on that topic. It tells you about the recruitment and it tells you about efforts to fight it.

Ty: And going into the schools with information to explain to students about how there are other opportunites.

Dona: The lie is students are apathetic. The reality is that they aren't and have been working their butts off with little praise or attention for some time. Army of None gets that across. That alone should make everyone who is a student or recently was one want to pick up the book, to say, "Thank you for exploding the myths."

Betty: I have to take a moment to drop back and note the illustrations. Whether it's a classroom where counter-recruiting is going on or whether it's a drawing or poster, I was really impressed. In fact, I wish it were a huge coffee book just so we could enjoy the artwork. I know that if it were, that would put it out of the range of most book buyers they are trying to reach so I'm not complaining but I am saying, you're not going to say, "Oh, illustration, what's next." You are really going to enjoy studying these illustrations. The Pittsburgh Organization Group's brochure is just amazing. And shortly before that you have "High School Soldiers," a poem by Ryan Harvey. I'll note the first verse from it:

A child from my high school
Was sent off to Iraq
He got shot in the head
He's never coming back
I didn't really know him
But I know a lotta kids
Who sold themselves as soldiers
Whose fate may be like his

Betty (con't): I really loved how illustrations, poetry, etc. was used to add to the narrative and also to give a bit of relief to it. There are times when I do feel like, "I can't read another word." Usually, that's when I have to read a Thomas Friedman column to write a chapter. But this book, in what ever order you read it in, is just a joy to read.

Jess: Dona, Ty, Ava, Jim, Kat and I usually go on at least one speaking road trip with C.I. a month, at least one. And the thing we were noticing especially is that a lot of questions that come up when we're speaking with high schoolers about the illegal war are here in the book. We've all noticed the shift, especially on college campuses, of students no longer waiting for leadership and becoming their own leaders. If you're in high school or even middle school and you're wanting to start leading, this is the book to pick up. It's practicial and common sense in terms of advise. It isn't a cut and dry book. It's not a boring one. But if you're reading this and have been thinking, "I want to really get involved but I don't know how" -- and we've heard that on the road before -- pick up this book. It's not telling you how to stage a march on a DC, it's not telling you how to go pawn your CDs to make air fare for a trip to a national march, it's telling you the power and rights you have in the community you are living in.

Dona: Exactly. The week before last, two weeks ago, when I was on the road with C.I. and Ava, I was making that same point. This book needs attention because it is coming out at the right time. Students across the country have gotten tired of leadership that they feel has been less than forthcoming more often than not. They're also very tired of the "let's all go to DC!" aspect to a lot of the better known activism --

Jess: And tired of scraping together money to participate in those actions.

Ty: Or missing work to participate because a lot of students are also holding down jobs and those jobs are not professional jobs that have paid leave or Monday through Friday, nine to five hours.

Dona: Right. And Jess and Ty's point, before I get back to my own, is an important one. It builds on points that Ava, Jess and C.I. have long made here about who can pick up and travel and who can't. And all of that goes back to the point that what we've heard overwhelmingly on campuses and from student groups since March, when the Dems were caving in Congress but no one was supposed to notice, is how do I do something in my area?

Kat: Well, if I can, let me just point out that local actions are very important and that this rise in interest in local actions came about as certain elements of the peace movement -- not all -- were seen going along with the March proposal which was about continuing the illegal war. What students are talking about is having some control over the actions and being sure that these are actions to end the illegal war and not "Let's get cozy in DC! Yee-haw!" This book really provides that. It provides you with your rights as a student.

Jess: And to do what they did early, to highlight what needs to be highlighted but might get passed over elsewhere, if you've got recruiters coming on to your campus, you've got the right to invite counter-recruiters to speak to counteract the sales pitch from the military. And schools are staring up and one thing we're trying to get across with parents and students is that they have to request in writing that their child's information not be passed on to military recruiters. You have to do that in writing, you have to do that at the start of each fall semester. If you did it in fall of 2006, you aren't covered for this school year by that.

Wally: I passed my copy onto a ninth grader who lives next to my grandfather. He's against the illegal war and he's always wishing he could go to a demonstration. It's mainly older people on my grandfather's block and really young kids, like five and six-years-old. So whenever I go over there the kid is always coming over just to have someone to talk to. So I was mowing my grandfather's yard and the kid comes running over all "Hey, Wally!" and I've got to get back to mowing after a few minutes so I tell him to hold on, run over to my car and grab the book, then pass it on to him. He says he's getting "millions" of ideas from it and is holding onto it, which is fine, until the school year starts so he can share it with his friends. We're talking about how the book's coming out at the right time, and it is, but that, to me, is the perfect example. C.I.?

C.I.: This is a really strong book that won't just be read and put aside. It's the whole Gloria Steinem "Just add water" approach. When we're out speaking, I usually have one backpack with me that is nothing but give aways. There's usually one person who will come up after it's over, wait until everyone else has gotten to share --

Jim: Like me! That's how this site started.

C.I.: Like Jim, and they're often feeling depressed. I'll reach in grab a magazine -- although that happens less and less these days to the lack of magazine coverage of Iraq -- or a CD of something like Law and Disorder or Democracy Now! or a book. That used to be one or so person a gathering. That number has grown hugely because students -- of all ages -- feel they are being hyped, feel Democrats are being provided cover to prolong the illegal war, and feel like getting honest information is almost impossible. This book is really amazing. I'm not a student and it spoke to me. But I do think it will be especially well received by students in college, high school and middle school because they are having to confront liars a lot sooner due to the fact that so many they might listen to are now providing cover and it's equally true that in terms of their lifespans, this illegal war has been going on forever. The book covers war resisters as well and it needs to be noted this isn't a "The illegal war could have been won if only . . ." It's not garbage. This is a book for people serious about ending the illegal war. But, in terms of both books, this one and Delgado's, I wanted to note this:

Well, because of them, I found out about the movement. I found -- we found Jeremy Hinzman's site before I went AWOL. And one of our first thoughts was to go to Canada, and we found the G.I. Rights hotline, and we were looking at that. Then we found stuff on Camilo Mejia, Aidan Delgado, and, you know, it kind of inspired me that people were doing this. It let me know that there were other people like me that weren’t wanting to go to the war and that there’s people just trying to get it out there to, you know, soldiers and civilians alike, letting them know that they're not the only ones that don't believe in it.

C.I. (con't): That's war resister Ryan Johnson speaking to Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! back on June 7, 2005. These stories matter. They do make a difference. We're seeing that more and more currently. Or the effects of it. And that will only grow. We all know the point of planting seeds. But you don't stop planting them. Resistance to the illegal war is not one crop that you harvest and then move on. Both books are important. You should be aware of them, even if you don't read them. If you want to read them and can't afford them, remember that public libraries are a great resource not just in terms of what they have on their shelves but also via loan agreements they have with other libraries which will allow you to request from others in their systems.

Jim: You took my whole "Use your public library speech!" away from me. Seriously, we don't have time for nonsense. We know most of you don't have time for nonsense. Reading either or both books will not be a waste of your time. Both books are about getting serious about ending the illegal war. Delgado's book will give you his account of serving in Iraq and why he concluded he could no longer participate in the illegal war. Aimee Allison and David Solnit's book will give you ways to combat the illegal war including starving it off at the source: recruiting.
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