Wednesday, January 31, 2007

In Memory of Private Slovik

Today is Wednesday, 31 January 2007.

On this day in 1945, Private Edward Donald “Eddie” Slovik became the only American soldier executed for desertion since the Civil War.

Slovik had informed his commanding officer that he was “too scared” to serve in a rifle company, and requested duty behind the lines. The request was denied, he deserted, was court-martialed, sentenced to death, and murdered by firing squad.

General Dwight Eisenhower could have commuted the sentence, but refused, since desertion had become a problem. President Franklin D. Roosevelt could have commuted the sentence, but did not.

The practice of murdering soldiers is known in French as --- I can’t recall the French, but it translates as “for the encouragement of others”.

Courage, indeed.

Slovik’s story is told in a book by William Bradford Huie, The Execution of Private Slovik, and in an excellent 1974 TV movie of the same name, starring Martin Sheen as Slovik.

I am reminded of a poster I plastered up around New York City in 1990: “Wars can never be ended, only never begun”.

A light snow fell this morning on Tulsa. This afternoon, I will lay an iris bloom at the foot of one of the trees on our property, naming it "The Slovik Tree".

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

In Memory of Gandhi

Today is Tuesday, 30 January 2007.

On this day in 1948, Mahatma Gandhi was murdered.

I think often of Gandhi. I’ve believed in the power of nonviolence as an engine of positive, fundamental social change all my conscious political-ethical life.
Not that nonviolence seems to have worked very well, but … the alternative of violence has worked not very well at all.

Seems to me, or so I hope, that the fault lies not in nonviolence itself, but in us, that too few of us have put enough of our energies and lives into it.

For the sake of humanity, for the sake of the planet, I hope against hope that the situation will change. “All” that it will take is a firm, continuing commitment on the part of all of us, most essentially those of us in the developed world, to humaneness instead of greed.

In Memory

Today is Monday, 29 January 2007.

Well, for the moment, it seems Blogger likes moi, so I'll post yesterday's column.

One friend suggested the reason I had a recurrence of my bleeding ulcer on Wednesday morning last was watching most of the State of the Union address the previous evening. As that may be, the meds are clearing up the situation and I feel up to writing again.

Saturday last, 27 January, was the 34th anniversary of the 1973 ceasefire between the USA/USE/USSA and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the National Liberation Front, which ended most direct combat by Americans in South Vietnam.

Sadly, the terms of the ceasefire were virtually identical to the terms which the Nixon regime was offered when it seized power in January 1969. Nixon’s megalomania (“I won’t be the first President to lose a war”) led to the senseless deaths of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, primarily civilians, and the deaths of thousands of American military. Some 1.7 million Cambodians also died, as a result of the American-sponsored coup which paved the way for the Khmer Rouge dictatorship.

We can only hope that the megalomania of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfailed, etc. will not lead to tragedy on a similar scale.

Yesterday a staunch opponent of the war, Rev. Robert Drinan, S.J., died at 86. A law school dean and human rights activist, he became in 1970 the first and only Roman Catholic priest to become a voting member of Congress, leaving that post only when forced to by John Paul II.

JP2 decreed that priests shouldn’t be involved in electoral politics as legislators. JP2 didn’t mind reactionary and brutal lay Catholic involvement, as when he endorsed, as “good Catholics”, the dictators Pinochet in Chile and Baby Doc Duvalier in Haiti.

As for today, it is the anniversary of the release, in 1964, of the greatest Cold War film satire, Doctor Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

In Memory of Art Buchwald

Today is Thursday, 18 January 2007.

Yesterday, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the hands of its Doomsday Clock from 7 minutes to midnight to 5 minutes to midnight. I was writing a column about this when news came of the death last night of the great political satirist, Art Buchwald (1925-2007).

How eagerly did I, growing up back in the 1960s in the intellect-hating and viciously reactionary province of Oklahoma, look forward to the mornings when his column appeared in a local newspaper.

Buchwald struggled for much of his life with bipolar issues. Kidney problems forced the amputation of one leg. He chose to forego dialysis, and entered a hospice last February, but remarkably improved and went home in July. He wrote, “Instead of going straight upstairs, I’m going to Martha’s Vineyard”.

After one of his book parties had been upstaged by news of the death of the dictator Pinochet, he enjoyed strategizing with friends on how to achieve a great newspaper obituary. Among his final words: “I just don’t want to die on the same day as Castro”.

The Museum of the Bourgeois extends deepest sympathy to his family and friends. It is of great sorrow that, while his words will endure, his voice will no longer grace the vivid air.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Spitting on Graves?

Today is Tuesday, 16 January 2007.

In reaction to my comments on the death of Gerald Ford, “Whatever” wrote: “You sure like spitting on graves. There’s a pattern here.”

Let’s belabor the point. In point of historical fact, Gerald Ford did enter into a conspiracy with the Indonesian military dictatorship to conduct a war of aggression against East Timor. Since 1946, the latter has been a hanging offense for heads of government. That the dictatorship had committed genocide, and would have no compunction about doing so again, only compounds Ford’s crime.

I didn’t spit on Ford’s grave. Ford did that when he entered into a criminal conspiracy. More importantly, Ford spat on the graves of his victims, then, like, e.g., Idi Amin, blithely retired to a life of wealth and leisure.

The pattern here is telling the truth and honoring victims, not criminals.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Alas: What Goes Around ...

Today is Saturday, 13 January 2007.

Gloriosky, Sandy: Blogger unexpectedly works for me at this moment!

Make hay while the sun is down, as my grandfather liked to say.

Here in Tulsa, OKLA, it's 23 degrees at 4.28 am CST as I begin, with perhaps an inch of sleet and frozen rain on the ground. (From actual observation: the cocker needed to go out.) No reports yet of widespread power outages, so children can awaken to the fun of frozen water resting like grace upon the ground.

(One might look up Pasternak's great poem, "Winter Night", and the image of the candle burning, at this juncture.)

The orchid Ms. HH bought in November is about to shed a final peach-tinged bloom, but another dozen buds are coming on. It resides in the window above/over over/above [I can't decide which word; feel free to weigh in] the kitchen sink.

Okay. That's our homage to the Princess of the Far and Farm Realms, and others who like it when HH talks about happy things.

Now: To business.

The Bush-Cheney Junta has recently attacked, through the American military, Iranian diplomats and diplomatic posts in Iraq. Why is this a problem?

What goes around, comes around.

For centuries, by custom, tradition, treaty, and international law, diplomats have been held to have immunity from every kind of assault by foreign governments, so as to be able to conduct, with some sense of assurance, the affairs of nations. The conduct of the affairs of nations are seldom pretty, but, at their best, avert such less pretty things as war and death.

When the lone superpower in the world, as so poorly represented by the Bush-Cheney Junta, declares open season on the diplomats of another nation, it says, in effect, to all the world: it's hunting season on everyone's diplomats. It's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre time: "We don't need no stinkin' badges": we are the law unto ourselves. Which grants everyone license to think and act: Okay, we're the law unto ourselves as well.

Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

All civility, between individuals and nations, rests on a fragile covenant of mutual self-interest, trust, and, on occasion, affection. When a bully, such as the Bush-Cheney Junta, tears asunder that delicate fabric ... well, my fellow Americans, it means the Bush-Cheney Junta has torn down even more rules, and declared open season on American diplomats (and, come to think of it, why not tourists as well).

(Yes, yes, this delicate fabric has been torn asunder countless times. But who can argue that tearing such a large gap, in something already so fragile, is helpful?)

Alas, why should the Junta not? Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rove, etc., travel in armored bubbles, insulated from the cares of commoners like thee and me. The safety of "the little people" is once again forfeit to the mad schemes of the powerful.

Alas, what goes around, comes around.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Gerald Ford and Genocide in East Timor

Today is Wednesday, 3 January 2007.


"Blogger" has been experiencing difficulties in migrating blogs from one system to another. Some days I can post a column, some not. Hopefully, balance will soon return to the universe, and I'll add columns distributed by alternate means.

In December 1975, President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger visited Indonesia for consultations with the head of the military dictatorship, General Suharto. A primary topic was the island of Timor. Indonesia owned West Timor, while East Timor was a Dutch colony. Suharto asked for USA’s blessing, if after independence, Indonesia were to conquer and annex East Timor.

(This was crucial, since Indonesia received millions of dollars in USA military aid, which by treaty could not be used for crimes, including wars of conquest.)

As Indonesia was a firm USA ally, and the people of East Timor counted for less than nothing to Ford and Kissinger, the blessing was given. East Timor was duly invaded on 7 December 1975.

During a war which lasted until 1999, some 1/3rd of the East Timorese population was exterminated by the Indonesian military. This is ca. 250,000 human beings.

Some would argue that Ford and Kissinger had no reason to suspect that their blessing of a war of aggression would result in genocide. This position is untenable.

Ford and Kissinger knew quite well that, when the Indonesian military staged a coup in 1965, it exterminated 1.5 to 2 million of its citizens in consolidating control.

Perhaps Gerald Ford was a jolly good fellow in person (so long as one was not East Timorese).

However, in pardoning Richard Nixon, Ford acted on the principle that USA presidents are uniquely exempt from obeying the law or otherwise suffering the consequences.

In the case of East Timor, Ford facilitated and sanctioned genocide, a capital crime. No amount of ordinary guy, hail-good-fellow-well-met, nor any postumous sanctification can expuge such a crime.

I own a fawning biography of Suharto, The Smiling General. Gerald Ford is being buried today.

In the case of Gerald Ford: as Hamlet said, “ … one may smile, and smile, and be a villain”.