Sunday, March 18, 2007

2 Books, 10 Minutes

Jim: We're doing another book discussion. The two books are Peter Laufer's Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq, and Joshua Key's "as told to Lawrence Hill"'s The Deserter's Tale. Participating in the discussion 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. Mike, get us started.


Mike: Okay, Peter Laufer's Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq, is a softcover book that retails for $14 in the United States, it has an introduction written by Norman Solomon and it's 190 pages of text. Cindy Sheehan, Michael Ratner and Jim Hightower all have praise for the book on the back cover. Laufer is a journalist and, I didn't know this part until I read the book, a war resister during Vietnam. The book is about the resistance within the military as well as the resistance to the military. On the last half, resistance outside the military, there's Josh Sonnenfield's story. He does counter-recruiting and learned a lot about how to be effective when recruiters invade your campus. One thing is that you're table needs to be near their table and another thing is that if you're taking up their time talking to them, that's time they don't have to sign up someone else.

Wally: Yeah, on page 90, he says, "I would spend the whole lunch period talking to them so that they wouldn't be talking to anyone else."

Dona: I enjoyed the entire book but that section, chapter six, really deserves attention. I don't think there was much in there that I wasn't aware of in terms of recruitment scandals, but the power is the way they are presented and woven together. I think we all remember when Democracy Now! played the call from the recruiter in Houston, Texas threatening a student that if he didn't show up for a meeting, he would be breaking a federal law and he a warrant would be issued. But the power comes from the presentation of all these incidents that are being assembled.

Jess: On this section, I think it's important to use the word "salesmen" because that's what they are and, as Josh Sonnenfeld points out, they hate that word. But they're coming in and they are selling. We're trying to make sure Laufer's book gets it's own time so I won't tie it into Joshua Key's book but I will note that Sonnenfeld is a really great source of information. He didn't just set up a table near the "salesmen," he had his facts down. He knew that the contract was meaningless. It says that on the contract and he knew it well enough to explain it. That during war time anything can be changed, that all the contracts include clauses that make any promises made by recruiters worthless.

Rebecca: "I don't care what you're lousy recruiter said, Benjamin." Captain Lewis in the Goldie Hawn movie Private Benjamin. Chapter six was one of my favorite sections and it was because Laufer really does put it together in a way that makes it really powerful, the lies that are told and who gets targeted. And the fact that there's no punishment for lying. Dona was talking about the recruiter in Houston who lied to the kid and told him if he didn't show up for a meeting, a warrant would be issued for his arrest. Laufer tells you that the guy ended up promoted, two months after that, and that "the Army explained, he was an ideal boss for other recruiters since he knows the consequences of violating the Army's ethics code."

Ava: Sgt. Thomas Kelt, just to get it on the record, is the recruiter who lied about the warrant.

Kat: My favorite chapter was chapter ten which dealt with a number of things including the GI Rights Hotline and I enjoyed hearing about April Burns who says something really important, "I believe there is a culture of war and a culture of peace. We must keep the culture of peace vital and alive." And she speaks of how there is a long river connecting war resister of the past and the present.

Jess: That was a good chapter and I'd honestly forgotten about it. There's a lot in the book. Louise Zimmerman is another strong voice in that chapter. She speaks about how if, you change your mind after you've signed the papers, don't go for your second oath. Write a letter and don't show up.

C.I.: That's page 151, I belive, and she says, "Just say in the letter, 'I changed my mind.' And pretty much any reason will work. You can say you're going to school, you're getting married, you're going on vacation, whatever. It's still a volunteer army and you are not in the military until you go for the second time to take the oath." That was in response to someone who'd signed up under the delayed entry program.

Ava: So to be clear, if you're in high school, and you sign up with the intent to join after graduation, you can get out of it.

Kat: And she says after you do that, do not go down to a recruitment center, do not meet with them. They will try to strong arm you or they may try to lie to you. You're out and you're under no obligation to speak with them so don't.

Ty: You'll find a lot of names you know in the book. One is Carl Webb who readers of this site should know of. The book gives you the basic history of Webb and why he went AWOL and Carl Webb explains why he did so publicly, quote from page 167: "Most soldiers obey their orders because they are afraid of what could happen to them. They think, 'Oh, they are going to throw me in a dungeon, and put shackles on me, and I'll never see the light of day,' of they fear the isolation. . . . But just by being out there, I am going to give them ideas. I'm an example." Carl Webb is African-American and I'm tossing that out because one group we spoke with last week in Texas contained someone who'd tagged along and she honestly thought war-resisters were all White. Mike asked her, "What about Ehren Watada?" And she replied there was him and the rest were all White. That's not the case. There are a number of Latinos who've gone public as well like Camilo Mejia --

C.I.: Whose book comes out next month.

Ty (con't): Right, Aiden Delgado, Pablo Paredes and more. Stephen Funk is credited in this book, and elsewhere, with being the first known war resister of this war. I often wonder if he's overlooked, and he does get overlooked by a lot of outlets, because he's openly gay? At any rate, war resisters are all colors, all persuasions, they are everyman and everywoman.

Mike: That really was surprising, when that woman said she thought all war resisters were White. I'm not making fun of her because she really believed that so it's good that she brought it up. If she hadn't, she might still think that. She was genuine and, after, she tried to apologize for not knowing that they weren't all White. I told her that they hardly get any media coverage, big or small media, so don't sweat it. And I meant that, both that she shouldn't worry about it and, you know I meant this, that media's not overly interested in these stories.

Ava: And usually, when one person has a question, like that or on some other topic, there are a few others who do as well.

Jim: Okay, I'm going to toss it over to Betty who said she wanted to make points about this book.

Betty: Right, I said I'd shut up during Joshua Key's book as long as I got to make some points on this one. First off, there are illustrations in the book. We started doing those recently and the reason was "To put a face on it." Good illustration or bad one, it would take, for instance, the words "Kyle Snyder," and give a face to them. So I was really glad that this book had illustrations. With Joshua Key and Aiden Delgado, for instance, I could picture them because I know what they look like but there's a man known only as "Darrell" in the book and there's Ryan Johnson and one other that I really didn't have a visual on. So I really did appreciate the illustrations, by Kate Gridley. That said, I did think the Aiden Delgado drawing was a poor one. I'm not throwing stones here, our first illustration of Ehren Wataada was something we all regretted because one side of the face is higher than the other. But I did think, "I've never seen Delgado look so heavy." When we were in Houston, I mentioned the book and, as you know, one of the women asked, "What's with the drawing of Delgado?" I knew just what she meant so I wanted to note that. But as with our really bad Ehren illustration, a bad illustration is better than no illustration.

Jim: We really did hate that illustration. It was like, if I remember right, the paper moved while we were doing it and we didn't have time redo it so we ended up stuck with it and then all the community sites were stuck with it. I know Rebecca ended up photo shopping it and giving it a neon poster look to make it more presentatable, so thank you to Rebecca for that. I figured that was what Betty was going to bring up.

Betty: And the other illustrations, at least of the ones I already knew, captured them quite well. I'm not insulting her talent. Gridley has a lot of talent. That illustration of Aiden Delgado just didn't fit for me.

Jim: And let's note too that people are aware of this book. In Texas, that was one of the big things, they'd heard of it more than they'd seen it. That's why Mike emphasized that it's soft cover. This isn't a hardcover book that's going to set you back nearly thirty bucks so if you've heard of it and thought of reading it and can't get it through your library system, it's $14.00.

Kat: And there were people who had read it. I'll sum up the book by noting that what I enjoyed about it was summed up by the culture of peace quote earlier. You've got people sharing stories of Iraq, you've got tales of resistance within the military and outside, you've got people working for peace. We've talked about the power of the counter-recruiting chapter, how it assembles various things we mainly already knew in terms of horror stories but it does so in such a way that it grabs you and gives you this sense of perspective that you're not going to get if you hear one day about one and then a week or a month later about another. That's true of that chapter and it's really true of the whole book. I think we all enjoyed this one.

Jim: Next up, Joshua Key's The Deserter's Tale. Wally?


Wally: This book came out this year and is available in hardcover. The list price is $23.00 but we're using for the link because a member suggested that to C.I. and it's a lot less expensive there. But, as Dona would say, we support public libraries so also check your local library and remember that you can request that they borrow it from another library if it's not in their system. Also remember your college libraries. This is Joshua Key's story as told to Lawrence Hill who is a Canadian journalist. Joshua Key is one of the war resisters covered in Peter Laufer's book. Now he's telling his story of how he ended up in the military, how he ended up self-checking out and how he ended up in Canada.

Elaine: I put myself down for this book. We all noted ahead of time, since we're trying to do this edition in a reasonable amount of time --

Kat: Ha-ha-ha.

Elaine: Yeah, ha-ha, that'll happen. But I noted that this was the book I wanted to discuss. The reason for that is I wanted to make one point. Brandi Key is Joshua's wife and she is very much a part of this story. I think he and Hill do a wonderful job on that aspect. The decision for him to leave the military effected her life, and their children's, as well and I really got a strong sense of her, Brandi Key, in the book. That was one of the things I enjoyed most.

Cedric: I agree with that and think it's obvious that, if his wife had been someone else with another point of view, Joshua Key's life would be very different now. He and his family wouldn't be starting over in Canada. He might not ever get to see his kids. If her reaction was like some members of his family, that would be the case. I thought he did a strong job there and with his kids because his being a father really does effect how he sees Iraq. At one point, a guy he's serving with, who is married, takes a rifle butt and smashes an Iraqi woman's face with it. With Josh, each day he's in Iraq, more and more, it seems like he's seeing the children and thinking of his own. That's why the "thrill" is less and less for him. He writes about the first home search, in the middle of night, and setting up the explosives at the door and the rush from all of that but then he's seeing this young Iraqi girl and, this really happens over and over, he's connecting it to his own children.

Ty: And his own country. He makes that point several times, that if America was invaded and this was going on here, how would we feel?

Rebecca: I'm glad you made that point because I did have an excerpt I wanted to share. I'm going to read a paragraph from the book, this is from page 153:

That got me thinking. How would I react if foreigners invaded the United States and did just a tenth of the things that we had to the Iraqi people? I would be right up there with the rebels and insurgents, using every bit of my cleverness to blow up the occupiers. I would dig a hole in my hometown in Oklahoma and rig mines in the trees and set them to blow up when the enemy passed below. I would lob all the mortars and rocket-propelled grenades I could buy. No doubt about it. If somebody blasted into my home and terrorized my family, I would become a force to be reckoned with. I would invent my own booby traps and come up with the most unexpected methods of mayhem. I would give the occupiers hell and keep at it until I was dead and gone, twice over.

Ty: And that's a good point, a good connection. The book is full of them. I liked this book a lot and wondered about the missions he was sent out on.

Jim: In what way?

Ty: Well sometimes, like when he sees the US service member kicking an Iraqi's decapitated head like it's a soccer ball, they're called to that area because there was gunfire and the mistaken belief is that American troops are under attack. But at other times, the missions just seemed pointless.

C.I.: That's a good point and Cedric talked about that first home search. You have to wonder if some missions weren't about their stated purpose at all but to get the heart pumped up and build team cohesion and those Iraqis ended up being used for that reason. By superior officers. He's made the point, in an interview, that some of the missions seemed to be about keeping them off kilter and that's probably true as well. If your off balance, your response is going to be more of an attack mode. And, like Ty points out, so much of it seemed pointless. Whether it's when they're sent to search the home of two mentally impaired men or when they're sent into a home that's all women, you have to wonder was it bad information, which it could very well have been, or if superiors weren't using those homes to build an even more warlike response in the troops?

Kat: I'm glad you made that point because I had the same thought reading the book. I could picture some old man, puffing on a cigar, stroking his own ego and saying, "This'll make men out of them."

Ava: The home searches . . . I found those stories very descriptive. I wondered what happened, for instance, when his squad was sent out of a home that contained only women, and higher ranking US troops were in there and, from inside the house, women could be heard screaming. I was very glad about the descriptions of the home searches because that's a complaint that, if it makes it into the media, is usually treated as a claim: "Iraqi claims home was destroyed." But that's what happened on search after search in Key's books. And we know from others who've shared their own stories that it is indeed how those searches went. US troops find something they like, they can, and some do, snatch it up and keep it, send it home as a gift. They tear apart mattresses, couches, they bash in wooden floors, they rip through everything. It's the sort of 'search' that, when the FBI does it in this country and it gets publicity, there's a moment or two of outrage, of, "How can they destroy someone's home?"

Jess: And we should note that all men and any boy over 5 feet tall was zip-cuffed and taken away. At one point, a teenage Iraqi girl who speaks English wants to know where her male relatives are being taken and Key can't tell her because he doesn't know. That and the home searches are one way the resentment built among Iraqis.

Kat: But did the people in charge of planning ever care? I don't think they did. And I think you can see that in the book when anyone gets into trouble for 'fratenizing' with the enemy. That's someone who's come to claim a corpse, that's a doctor at a hospital being guarded, that's the young eight-year-old girl who ends up getting shot down. They're all the "enemy" according to military procedure and Key's going in during April of 2003. I think that says a great deal that all the service members are repeatedly told that. I think that, more than anything, demonstrates this wasn't about democracy because, from the beginning, all Iraqis were to be seen as "enemies."

Ava: I love that point and I wish I had made it. Kat's exactly right, everyone's supposed to be seen as an enemy and the only exception in the book is the young boy who's working for them as a translator. He's told, by high ranking officials, from the beginning that he's going to be taken to the United States as a result of all the help he's providing. And of course he's not. He's lied to. When, many, many months later, he's finally told the truth, he quits. He's gone from being able to move freely off the base to being confined to the base because of death threats. So put yourself in his shoes and think about that, think about how you're helping as a translator and, no matter how bad it gets, you tell yourself, "It's worth it because they're going to send me to the United States." Then you find out that they've lied to you all along and all you've gotten was a lousy twenty dollars a week -- talk about sweat shops -- and no chance of reintigrating into Iraqi society because you're now seen as a collaborator.

Jim: There are a lot of other things in the book and we're planning to use some of it from time to time over the next few weeks. So, with Dona signaling that this needs to wind down and with her saying that Cedric and Wally have spoken the least, I'll toss to them.

Cedric: I'll say, quickly, that I recommend the book strongly, I recommend both books, and that Key's story really should be read. There's so much more in the book than what we've touched on and Elaine's point about Brandi being a figure in this story is important. This isn't just about what happened over in Iraq because Brandi and the kids are very much a part of the story even when he's over there.

Wally: I'll just add that he's someone who started out with a very strong sense of right and wrong because of his childhood. He didn't know what he was getting into when he shipped to Iraq but when he's over there, his sense of right and wrong isn't something he can shake. Even if he tries. We didn't touch on the time when he leaves the military and he's in the United States but that's a strong section as well. The whole book's strong and highly recommended.

Jim: Okay. And Dona just noted that Elaine might want to say something.

Elaine: No, as long as I got in the point about Brandi, I was fine. Thanks.

Jim: Alright. So two books. Joshua Key's The Deserter's Tale provides the low down on what happens when one person's principles come into conflict with reality and Peter Laufer's Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq provides you with stories of resistance. Both are very powerful and both are recommended.
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