An blog by a member of the Catholic peace movement, Pax Christi, to explore the nexus between contemplation and resistance. "The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.
Monday, December 17, 2007
Memories of Good Men
Of what worth are all the consumables with which we stuff ourselves to inner and outer sickness if one human being has to be tortured to assure our access to them?
And humans that must be tortured are often ourselves:
"Somewhere on that street there’s an IED," Sgt. 1st Class Tim Ybay told 2nd Platoon on June 20, briefing them just before they patrolled the streets of Adhamiya, Iraq, as they had been doing for 10 months.
"I’ll find it!" shouted Bradley driver Spc. Ernesto Martin.
Not that day. Not that soldier. But others riding on that patrol would be among five to die the next day, when an IED flipped their 30-ton Bradley upside-down like a cheap toy and set it ablaze.
The surviving platoon members comforted each other that their friends died looking out for their brothers. They told each other they would have done the same. They cried and beat their fists into walls. They knelt in the sand and bent their heads and tried to convince themselves Iraq was worth it.
But that was hard because they no longer believed they were fighting for Iraq. They had, once, a long time ago. Before they had seen the Iraqi bodies with their heads dipped in acid, before the children tossed grenades at them. Now the locals refused even to acknowledge dead neighbors sprawled on their sidewalks." - Army Times, "Blood Brothers", http://www.armytimes.com/news/2007/11/bloodbrothers/
And so the soldiers sang:
War, it degrades the heart and poisons the mind
And we’re tossed aside by governments’ lies.
But we continue to grieve.
"Politics would soon become an issue within Charlie Company, too.
It was just another bad day to add to many — and DeNardi’s platoon had already faced misery that seemed unbearable. When five soldiers with 2nd Platoon were trapped June 21 after a deep-buried roadside bomb flipped their Bradley upside-down, several men rushed to save the gunner, Spc. Daniel Agami, pinned beneath the 30-ton vehicle. But they could only watch — and listen to him scream — as he burned alive. The Bradley was far too heavy to lift, and the flames were too high to even get close. The four others died inside the vehicle. Second Platoon already had lost four of its 45 men since deploying to Adhamiya 11 months before. June 21 shattered them.
Though their commanders moved them from the combat outpost to safer quarters, members of 2nd Platoon would stage a revolt they viewed as a life-or-death act of defiance. With all they had done and all they had seen, they now were consumed with an anger that ate at the memory of the good men they were when they arrived in Iraq."
There is something we can't face:
"But within days, he would lose five men, including a respected senior non-commissioned officer. Master Sgt. Jeffrey McKinney, Alpha Company’s first sergeant, was known as a family man and as a good leader because he was intelligent and could explain things well. But Staff Sgt. Jeremy Rausch of Charlie Company’s 1st Platoon, a good friend of McKinney’s, said McKinney told him he felt he was letting his men down in Adhamiya...
According to Charlie Company soldiers, McKinney said, I can’t take it anymore,' and fired a round. Then he pointed his M4 under his chin and killed himself in front of three of his men."
Resistance is the first sign of healing:
"They woke to the news that Alpha Company had gone on the mission instead and one of their Bradleys rolled over the 500-pound IED. The Bradley flipped. The explosion and flames killed everybody inside. Alpha Company lost four soldiers: Spc. Zachary Clouser, Spc. Richard Gilmore, Spc. Daniel Gomez and Sgt. 1st Class Luis Gutierrez-Rosales.
'There was no chance,' said Johnson, whose scouts remained at Apache and served as the quick-reaction force that day. 'It was eerily the same as June 21. You roll up on that, and it looked the same.'
The guys from Charlie Company couldn’t help but think about the similarities — and that it could have been them.
'Just the fact that there was another Bradley incident mentally screwed up 2nd Platoon,' Strickland said. 'It was almost like it had happened to them.'
The battalion gave 2nd Platoon the day to recover. Then they were scheduled to go back out on patrol in Adhamiya on July 18.
But when Strickland returned from a mission, he learned 2nd Platoon had failed to roll."
Rebellion and love are blood brothers:
"He didn’t know 2nd Platoon had gathered for a meeting and determined they could no longer function professionally in Adhamiya — that several platoon members were afraid their anger could set loose a massacre.
'We said, 'No.' If you make us go there, we’re going to light up everything,' DeNardi said. 'There’s a thousand platoons. Not us. We’re not going.'
They decided as a platoon that they were done, DeNardi and Cardenas said, as did several other members of 2nd Platoon. At mental health, guys had told the therapist, 'I’m going to murder someone.' And the therapist said, 'There comes a time when you have to stand up,' 2nd Platoon members remembered. For the sake of not going to jail, the platoon decided they had to be 'unplugged.'"
Something that won't heal:
"Ybay said he tried to persuade his men to go out, but he could see they were not ready.
'It was like a scab that wouldn’t heal up,' Ybay said. 'I couldn’t force them to go out. Listening to them in the mental health session, I could hear they’re not ready.'
At 2 a.m, Ybay said, he’d found his men sitting outside smoking cigarettes. They could not sleep. Some of them were taking as many as 10 sleeping pills and still could not rest. The images of their dead friends haunted them. The need for revenge ravaged them."
But they refused to surrender to the rage. In this, they showed themselves far greater men than those who sent them into the fire, as well as those who refused to speak when they knew how great a wrong was about to be committed. While we are encouraged by corporate media and politicians to indulge in gutter feelings of revenge, these soldiers, inured to violence by training and daily experience, pulled themselves out of that gutter and began a process of healing that may one day open infinite paths of light.
The power of this story is that it lights up the principle of hope. If these soldiers had obeyed orders, we probably would have had another Haditha or worse. And that would have been according to plan for the masters of the current empire, whose purpose is to terrorize the population of Iraq into submission. Terror and massacre are always part of the plan - all the training, psychological pressure, and planning tend toward making carnage a habitual response.
"If my guys had stayed at Adhamiya, they would have taken the gloves off," said Capt. Cecil Strickland, Charlie’s company commander. "We were afraid somebody was going to get in trouble."
Note that the commander was not afraid that innocent Iraqis would be killed and maimed. He wanted to make sure his guys didn't get into trouble. Master Sgt. Jeffrey McKinney was known to be intelligent and perceptive and he killed himself in front of his men, incapable of accepting further life on the terms given him. He refused to continue to live in a situation that demanded the loss of his humanity. It is possible that his sacrifice may have unleashed a inner power in the others to withstand the loss of their humanity as well.
When the Bradley was destroyed by a 500-pound bomb, Strickland said. "It was almost like it had happened to them." That sense of solidarity was the precipitating force of the mutiny. In that moment of awareness the platoon underwent a mental shift that compelled resistance, not resistance to orders so much as resistance to a system that had programmed them for massacre. They were trying to resist themselves, the inner rage that was driving them toward death.
The soldiers had first approached "mental health leaders", who attempted to deaden their senses by prescribing medications, and then tried to deaden their conscience by advising them to "do the right thing", to obey the order and let the chips fall where they may. But then a miracle happened.
The men decided "they could no longer function professionally in Adhamiya." They confessed they were no responsible for their actions, that they would not "set loose a massacre", would "light up everything", every living man, woman, and child in their path.
Note carefully the response of the "mental health leaders" to the platoon's decision:
At mental health, guys had told the therapist, 'I’m going to murder someone.' And the therapist said, 'There comes a time when you have to stand up,' 2nd Platoon members remembered."
"There comes a time when you have to stand up." The same advice given by every father to a son that has been bullied. The same coded license for free fire zones that has let the dogs of hatred slip from "professional control" since Roman times.
Nevertheless, "For the sake of not going to jail, the platoon decided they had to be 'unplugged.'"
The platoon pleaded to be "unplugged." They had been plugged into a war machine that was about to "light up" a village of human beings, most of whom had nothing to deserve death, but who needed to be terrorized until they released the resources which empire craved.
Conscience is indeed "like a scab that wouldn’t heal up", as Ybay put it. When McKinney made the sacrifice of his life, he loosened the forces which hold our consciences so tightly bound. Though of a different order of consciousness, it evokes the sacrifice of Nhat Chi Mai, the Vietnamese monk who burned herself between a statue of Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, and a statue of the the Virgin Mary, to demonstrate that she was "willing to endure the greatest of suffering in order to protect [her] people", according to Thich Nhat Hanh, her friend and fellow monk.
Nhat Chi Mai wrote the following on a strip of cloth before she burned:
I wish to use my body as a torch
to dissipate the darkness
to waken Love among men
and to bring peace to Vietnam.
The scab that such sacrifice awakens will never heal. But all the empire knows is that an order has been refused.
"They called it an act of mutiny," Cardenas said, still enraged that the men he considered heroes were, in his mind, slandered. "The sergeant major and the battalion commander said we were unprofessional. They said they were disappointed in us and would never forget our actions for the rest of their lives."
Truth comes alive in us when we have the courage to defy the conditioning that makes war inevitable. This awakening must at last light up the spark of conscience in those Christians who continue to justify war. "A faith in truth's power to overcome the world by love and accepted suffering is as essential to an understanding of the Gospel as it is lacking in a Christianity which continues to endorse warfare." - James W. Douglass. Can we at least open ourselves to the soldiers who have felt and acted with the spirit of life even as they seethed with desire for revenge? What better furnace in which to forge the conscience of an American Christian?
"There can be no living speech about God, under any name, except where injustice is resisted by love in witness to His presence in the suffering." - James W. Douglass
Read the whole story on these links:
And see the presentation on Democracy Now!: