Voices of Conscience from Within the Ranks

By Susan Van Haitsma

Among the pieces of good advice delivered to University of Texas graduates by US Ambassador to Mexico, Tony Garza Jr. during his recent commencement address in Austin was to pay attention to “the voice of your own conscience.”

In the same issue of the Austin American-Statesman that related this excerpt from Ambassador Garza’s presentation was a paragraph in the Central Texas Digest section reporting the court martial of UT student and Army National Guard Specialist, Katherine Jashinski, who was sentenced to jail after her conscientious objector claim was denied at Fort Benning, GA.

Jashinski, age 23, is the first woman conscientious objector known to be jailed in the current war. In November 2005, when her conscientious objector claim had been pending for 18 months, Jashinski publicly declared her refusal to participate in weapons training at Ft. Benning in preparation for deployment to Afghanistan.

In her statement, she explained, “At age 19 I enlisted in the guard as a cook because I wanted to experience military life. When I enlisted I believed that killing was immoral, but also that war was an inevitable part of life and, therefore, an exception to the rule. After enlisting, I began the slow transformation into adulthood. Like many teenagers who leave their home for the first time, I went through a period of growth and soul searching. I encountered many new people and ideas that broadly expanded my narrow experiences. . I began to see a bigger picture of the world and I started to reevaluate everything that I had been taught about war as a child. I developed the belief that taking human life was wrong and war was no exception. I was then able to clarify who I am and what it is that I stand for.”

Jashinski concluded, “I am determined to be discharged as a conscientious objector, and while undergoing the appeals process, I will continue to follow orders that do not conflict with my conscience until my status has been resolved. I am prepared to accept the consequences of adhering to my beliefs. What characterizes a conscientious objector is their willingness to face adversity and uphold their values at any cost. We do this not because it is easy or popular, but because we are unable to do otherwise.”

A motion to reconsider Jashinski’s conscientious objector claim was denied in federal district court. At her court martial on May 23, she was sentenced to 120 days confinement after pleading guilty to a charge of “refusing to obey a legal order.” Having already served about half her sentence, she is scheduled to be released in July.

Before she was ordered to Ft. Benning, Jashinski became involved with a local affiliate of the GI Rights Hotline, a national network of people trained to answer calls from GIs seeking counsel about such issues as harassment, medical problems and discharge options. The local group has been holding regular study sessions since October 2005, and is set to begin taking calls soon. Jashinski says she plans to continue her involvement with the GI Rights Hotline when she returns to Austin.

One of her colleagues in the group says of Jashinski’s tenacity, “She refused to take the easy way out.she chose to follow the process the Army has for conscientious objectors. This long, long journey has been very hard and so few pursue this difficult route. I think it testifies to Katherine’s commitment to nonviolence and her steadfast convictions.”

In his commencement address, Ambassador Garza said, “It is people – the real, human connections we make – that matter most.” The sentiment echoes a statement made by Iraq war veteran and conscientious objector, Camilo Mejia, who, like Jashinski, was incarcerated when his CO claim was denied. “I am confined to a prison, but I feel, today more than ever, connected to all humanity,” Mejia wrote in 2005. “Behind these bars I sit a free man because I listened to a higher power, the voice of my conscience.”

To prepare for and fight wars, most of the world’s societies continue to recruit teenagers, whose belief systems are still in the formation process. Students hear a lot about freedom, yet conscience is a concept that is not usually found in school curriculum. Training our young people to follow orders rather than explore and develop morally and ethically is, I believe, harmful to our society and at its root, un-American.

Young people like Katherine Jashinski and Camilo Mejia, who have listened to the voice of conscience over the orders of the most intimidating institution in the world, have demonstrated what freedom really means.

The Davinci Chick Code (Don't Shoot!)

By Greg Moses

Maybe it’s a symptom, like seeing water on a blacktop road, but something hopeful is emerging from the culture mix of Da Vinci Code and Dixie Chicks. Something related to the value of truth.

In the Da Vinci Code — at the high point in Dan Brown’s plot to uncover the profound secret of a real woman — our heroine depends upon a scholar, who has nothing but a clue, to protect her life against an imperial patriarch, who, armed with a gun and clueless, is about to kill the living truth in the name of the man-made clue.

Since the scholar cannot talk the robber into disarming, he offers up the clue in such a way that in order to grasp it, the imperial patriarch must drop the gun. As the plot literally rises to its pinnacle on this gambit, the scholar demonstrates how disarming a real clue can be.

And in fact it’s not a far toss from this London scene in kilometers or years, that we find the spot where Natalie Maines tossed a real clue into the air when she said: “Just so you know, we’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.” Only this time, the imperial patriarchs didn’t drop their guns. Instead they raised their guns to shoot at the clue and at the woman.

So it’s a fortunate stroke of luck that the Dixie Chicks return to public life the week after the Da Vinci Code hits the big screen as if to ask, what are we going to do this time with the clue, the woman, and the gun?

I like this quote from Jacques Lacan, the feisty French philosopher whose one-volume selection of essays has been finally translated into English after 40 years. I’ve made my way half through it so far. Anyway, here’s the quote:

“We cannot confine ourselves to giving a new truth its rightful place, for the point is to take up our place in it. The truth requires us to go out of our way. We cannot do so by simply getting used to it. We get used to reality. The truth we repress.”

Of course, you’d have to be from Texas in the first place to understand the shame that Natalie Maines does not repress in the fact that the President is from Texas. You’d have to grow up with Dallas and learn it from inside in order to experience it as something besides the Dallas that everyone else knows.

Ditto with Dixie. You’d have to be a Dixie Chick in order to expect something better from Dixie and take up your place within it. And this is why Natalie Maines had to say what she said when and where she said it. Otherwise we’d have a right to wonder if its the new Dixie or the old where the Chicks take up their place.

As for the rest of the F-U-T-K country music crowd, it’s too bad they got caught the second time around with their guns still in their hands, their bullets still whistlin Dixie the old fashioned way. Because we have to ask, how long has country music been nothing but the tunes we play as we pick up the gun of imperial patriarchy and get used to its reality all over again.

A Little Fascism Still Goes a Long Way

By Greg Moses

OpEdNews / CounterPunch / UrukNet / BellaCiao / DissidentVoice

On the stock-market channel Friday afternoon, just before commercial time, comes news that the Senate of the USA has declared Inglés the “national language” of state. Then comes the commercial, cutting to a Chinese couple standing in a busy airport, somewhat startled by a youngish white man who rushes up to them and says “welcome to America” in Chinese. “I practiced all morning,” says the gleamy-eyed realtor. “I hope you understand. Welcome to America!” The Century 21 realty company calls this new series of ads, “Agents of Change.” But if it’s true that the bi-lingual aspirations of the eager realtor qualify him as a change agent, where does that leave the Senate?

When the term “national language” was inserted into immigration legislation this week, it both revealed and escalated power attached to English proficiency. On the one hand, the language of the so-called compromise immigration bill already would require English proficiency as a condition of citizenship. Or as one Senator put it: “If you fail to pass the English proficiency exam, you will be deported.”

To this clear and distinct requirement was added another warning: “Unless otherwise offered or provided by law, no person has a right, entitlement, or claim to have the Government of the United States or any of its officials or representatives act, communicate, perform or provide services, or provide materials in any language other than English” (SAMDT4064). The timing and placement of that language says watch out, when it comes to communicating in languages other than English, the USA is fed up trying.

And so another pander-to-fascists week came to an end in Washington, with little remembrance of the fact that the Senate had declared 2005 “The Year of Foreign Language Study” (SR28); or that legislation is pending “to construct a language arts facility at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, New Mexico” (S2274); or that the 911 Commission said, even according to compromise co-author Sen. Kennedy, “we ought to give emphasis to other languages and that that was in our national security interest.”

The pander-to-fascist context seemed to relieve many observers from worrying overmuch that anything serious or long lasting will come from the President’s call to send National Guard troops to the Mexican border. As in: “isn’t he just pandering to fascists? Isn’t that what this troop thing is really about?” And then moving on to the next issue, as if it matters not at all that based on this week’s fascist pandering soon enough the troops will actually start moving into place.

When the President announced plans for troop deployment, his so-called target audience was only half satisfied. A “Minuteman” spokesman called it a “stop-gap” measure, which again seemed to help observers take comfort that the President was being only a little fascist. More progressive voices picked up the “stop-gap” language and therefore contributed to the impression that the President was being mostly insufficient, stupid, or crazy; when in fact sending thousands of troops to the Mexican border follows the same logic of radical excess that has motivated pre-emptive war, global strike, and torture camps. If this logic has to stop sometime, why not now? In solidarity with a rising immigrant rights movement, the Quakers seemed to get it. So did the ANSWER coalition. This time, these likely suspects are joined by enough insiders that maybe we can quietly snuff this troop deployment before it starts.

Refuting the charge that the troop deployment was merely a pandering insufficiency was none other than the Vice President himself, who came out of his bunker long enough to record an interview on a right-wing radio show that was promptly published at the White House web site. In the interview, the number two leader of the free world explained that good troops can make good fences, and of course good fences are what good neighbors are made of.

Most stunning was the sudden relevance of the New York press, headlining in a timely manner the crucial context to keep in mind: that this is the month when billion dollar bids will be submitted for a megamammoth border contract called SBInet (the Secure Border Initiative Network). Bidders will include such military-industrial behemoths as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon. Most interesting is the last-minute entry of the European-based Ericsson company, because they provide surveillance along the Russia-Finland border, matching up nicely with the ideological model of the USA-Mexico border pushed by the fascist crowd’s cold-war compulsions.

On the question of ideological models, it would be prudent to consider that the Vice President’s description of the next Mexican border sounded a lot like the Israeli border with Palestine. In this context, the Bush-Cheney troop deployment will provide free of charge to the winning bidder of border security services a cadre of perma-temp employees who are already trained, dressed for photo-ops, and security-cleared (in case you missed the simultaneous news this week that the agency in charge of security clearances was shutting down because of poor budgeting).

Sad to say during election year in the USA, it still helps to be a little fascist. Everyone seems to comprende.

The Truth Force of Sorrow

By Susan Van Haitsma


My neighbor, who is almost five, is one of my greatest teachers. For most of his life, we’ve shared weekly play dates, and I cherish this window he gives me into the fascinating, focused mind of a child living in the very present moment.

Lately, my little neighbor has been exploring the realm of weapons and combat. Following the lead of his parents, whose wisdom I trust and admire without reservation, I tend to go with the flow when he sets the stage for our imaginary battle scenarios.

Our war play provides interesting opportunities to experiment with various responses to violence. Generally, when my young friend asks me or the ‘bad guy’ Lego or Playmobile characters I represent to take up weapons against his ‘good guy’ characters, I suggest alternative means of engagement.

Are his guys hungry? Would they join my guys for lunch? Gradually, we find that the weapons and armor we or the characters are toting around impede doing things like eating imaginary lunches, and often by the time we are done playing, the weapons have been discarded due to impracticality.

Sometimes, however, his characters simply kill my characters. During our most recent play session, my surviving character said that he wanted to be alone for a minute because he was sad that his friends were dead. My young neighbor, who of course is wise to my motives, replied, “Susan, there’s no sad in this game.”

Soldiers themselves, those who have “skin in the game,” often use the same metaphor for war, according to my veteran friends. “Just play the game,” they tell each other – a game in which sadness and stress are supposed to be denied.

When my preschool friend disengaged from the imaginary world for a moment to clarify the rules, he indicated his ability to distinguish between real and pretend. Real soldiers must live in the real world, however, and when they make a game of it out of emotional necessity or peer pressure, they suffer. When politicians make a game of war, the soldier suffers further.

Because real war is not a game, the revelation of war’s costs and consequences cannot be declared against the rules. Yet US government leaders disregard or deny even the most basic human consequence as sadness, as though they have the power to will it into non-existence. In the meantime, the excruciating painfulness of war has found powerful expression through soldiers’ family members, military veterans and many allied international witnesses to war such as Women in Black and CodePink.

Recently, several members of Military Families Speak Out visited Austin following an Easter vigil at Camp Casey in Crawford, Texas. Cindy Sheehan mentioned the loneliness and pain she continues to feel even while surrounded by friends and supporters. I could see the evidence in her eyes when we spoke briefly following her presentation.

I also met Carlos Arredondo, a native of Costa Rica whose harrowing story concerning the death of his eldest son was not shared entirely from the stage, but in a few words he shared with people afterward as they were leaving.

“Look here, at my scars, where I was burned,” he said, lifting his shirt to show where, in a panic of distress, he had set himself on fire after climbing into the Marine van that had just arrived carrying the news about his 20 year-old son, Alex. It had been Carlos’ birthday, and his initial thought when the van pulled up was that Alex was making a surprise visit home from Iraq to help him celebrate.

Later, in an article by Eugene Richards in The Nation, I learned more of Arredondo’s story. As parents of dead soldiers often report, the pain and sorrow usually is felt long before the moment they are informed of their child’s death. “I see all the sadness, see how they kill, see how the Marines move through dark alleyways, kick doors, blindfold people, while afraid most of the time for snipers and bombs,” Arredondo said, referring to his distress when Alex was deployed to the Middle East over a year before his death. “It was too much, too much, too much for parents.”

For parents like Cindy Sheehan, Carlos Arredondo, and other members of Gold Star Families for Peace, sorrow has propelled them to action. When Arredondo spoke in Austin, he carried a poster-sized photograph of his uniformed son lying in his casket. As one of only a few Gold Star parents who have been able to arrange for open caskets, he felt it was important to share the image, which he held aloft when he and other members of MFSO spoke to the press and the public.

A warm, intense man who, like Sheehan, was quick to thank and embrace those who attended their presentation, Arredondo has channeled his sorrow into an outward expression of care for others, so that they will not have to endure what he has. As Sheehan often has noted, grief also can increase fearlessness. “I know how to say ‘Impeach’ in two languages,” said Arredondo, firmly.

Sorrow is the natural response to death, and, as my young neighbor seems to know instinctively, the full expression of sadness may be war’s most natural and effective deterrent. As Gandhi demonstrated by fasting and taking on suffering as a response to killing, sorrow is a truth force that says, “This is what war feels like.” To a populace whose national directive stresses the pursuit of happiness, sorrow is an important obstacle to business as usual.

On Mother’s Day weekend, many events are planned to express the acute sadness caused by invasion, war and occupation, with a special emphasis on the huge human cost to families of the dead. In the large scheme of things, we are all family, and the cost has been too much, too much, too much.