Tuesday, January 4, 2011

“Imagine!” The Military Industrial Complex Extolled in Upstate New York

        Driving down the mountain to town New Year’s Eve from my house outside Oneonta, I had no idea I would encounter the war machine’s cheerleaders.  I had no idea those cheerleaders included those I consider my ‘liberal’ friends from the local Unitarian Universalist church.   I had merely planned to give my newly adopted guard dog a needed exposure to the non-alcoholic revelers of “First Night.”  I wanted to test his ability to assess threats.  
As I approached an organizational table,  the dog was pulling at his lead less and less often.  Good.  I picked up a printed program.  The event’s admission button logo was at the top. It was pretty.  I couldn’t afford the 15 dollar price tag, so I decided to just hang around the free Main Street area.  The logo was:  2011 Imagine! Oneonta.”  Below that title  was the heading,”REASONS TO BELIEVE:  12 Reasons to Celebrate 2010.”  
But, off to the side, where I’d expected to see the lyrics for John Lennon’s anti-war song, “Imagine”--was something quite incongruent with the event’s title.  In a box was a 1950s cereal box style ‘hero’ article about the event’s Grand Marshal, a young lad named ‘Sergeant Richard McVinney’ who works, it said, in something antiseptically labeled  ‘military intelligence’.  
An unrepentant spy for the U.S. attack on the people of Afghanistan was headlining for an event named for a song written by the murdered husband of local resident Yoko Ono.  He had already served as a role model for the youngsters during the parade that kicked off at 5 p.m..
This event, near as I can tell, was put together chiefly by Korean War veterans and their non-military age cohorts.  The organizer is a friend from my local Unitarian Universalist Church, within which I used to sing in the choir.  Near as I can tell, the organizers are, unfortunately, ignorant of the relatively recent coalescing of anti-war “Winter Soldiers” from the Vietnam and Oil War eras.  
I will detail my conversations with these friends, while juxtasposing the  difference between the missing “Imagine” lyrics with what those who attended Oneonta’s First Night read in the event’s program.  The program’s information will, no doubt, be printed in the local newspaper, which sports a far-right, pro-war, anti-Palestinian, yet award-winning editorialist perspective that increasingly outplays the liberal, anti-war, anti-Zionist perspective you might expect to find in a college town like Oneonta.
The failure to acknowledge John Lennon’s song lyrics at an event which played upon that song’s name as we head into the lame duck period of the Obama presidency is significant:  We live in an empire that is failing due to the quiet acceptance of what former President Dwight Eisenhower called the Military Industrial Complex.  The failure to acknowledge this in a town whose mayor is a former local college president is similarly profound.  But, consider this:  Yoko Ono has a place nearby and is seen periodically frequenting downtown businesses.  The tragedy of this omission becomes more apparent, I believe if we parse out the difference between “Imagine” the song and “Imagine” the First Night program.
Lennon’s “Imagine” lyrics:  
Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today
Autobiography of Sgt. Richard McVinney:
I graduated from Oneonta High School in 2002 and the State University at Albany in 2006 with dual Bachelor’s degrees in Sociology and U.S. History.  
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
Sgt. Richard McVinney:
I enlisted in the Army in October 2008, after graduating from Basic Combat Training at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma and Advanced Individual Training at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas.  
I don’t know if Sgt. McVinney got to know the locals in either of the places he listed in the program there.  I know both places, having worked as a television journalist and weekend news director in Lawton, Oklahoma--home to Ft. Sill--and having participated in a Houston Police fundraising bike-ride to San Angelo while news director and morning anchor at a radio station in Houston.  Both Lawton and San Angelo town leaders had long ago surrendered their entire souls to the Military Industrial Complex.  If you’re not a military officer, or doing work for the military installation brass, you don’t have a very high standard of living or very much status in either town.  The lesson to up-and-coming soldiers--go-along-to-get-along in both towns.  I suspect it was much the same on base for Sgt. McVinney.  
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
Sgt.  Richard McVinney:
I am stationed at Charlie Company, 224th Military Intelligence Battalion (Aerial Exploitation) at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, GA.  
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one 
Sgt. Richard McVinney:
I was the Battalion Soldier of the Quarter runner-up for the 2nd and 3rd quarters of 2010 before being promoted to the rank of Sergeant on May 1, 2010.
Let me interrupt this little exercise to note:  McVinney ENLISTED, he was not DRAFTED into the military machine after it became widespread knowledge, to those actively seeking such information, that the military was killing and torturing civilians for the LIE that Iraq had anything at all to do with the attacks on the World Trade Center that killed a fraction of the civilians we had, by that point killed in Iraq.  I have not spoken with the young man.  I choose to hope that perhaps he’d bought then-candidate Barack Obama’s promise to close Guantanamo and restore ‘honor’ to our armed forces’ efforts.  I don’t blame him for being ignorant about how he’s being manipulated.  When I worked in the towns that trained him in military ways, he was not yet born.  This was before the FCC’s requirement for nearly hourly radio news in the U.S. was ended,. Before 5,000 local radio news jobs were lost--people who may have played snippets of “Imagine” in newscasts covering anti-war demonstrators that are all but ignored these days.
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
Sgt. Richard McVinney:  
On May, 2010 I deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan.  
Apologies for another interruption.  Perhaps Sgt. McVinney was also unaware, when he deployed two years after enlisting, of the fact that military people have an obligation to disobey unlawful orders.  Perhaps he did not know that, two years earlier, soldiers of conscience from the Iraq invasions and occupations had coalesced with Vietnam era “Winter Soldiers” to speak out against the atrocities that were and remain the U.S. military’s standard operating procedures.  These are not shrill ‘anti-veteran‘ peace activists my friend imagined.  The words of my friend, and formerly frequent anti-war source Scott Camil of Gainesville’s Veterans for Peace regarding the Winter Soldier renaissance (available at http://www.vetspeak.org/Article-Camil.html) address this phenomenon most accurately:
“...I was one of the Vietnam Veterans who testified at the first WSI.  I went there supporting the war but believing the public had a right to the truth.   During the course of 3 days, the environment allowed me to grow personally and politically.  During my interviews with the filmmakers, I was asked questions in a non-threatening manner that I had never been asked and had never thought about before.  The process of thinking about the questions and giving honest answers allowed me to come to the realization that the war was wrong. I also made the decision to join with the other veterans there to help turn VVAW into a national organization known as VVAW, Inc. and to work against the war...."  
For 24 years, Camil and the Gainesville VFP chapter have staged a sort of religious event, an anti-war, pro-holiday Winter Solstice Fundraiser.  This year it was at Gainesville’s First Unitarian Universalist Church.  It is, for many of us, a profound, perhaps religious experience.
Sgt. Richard McVinney:  
I was a member of Task Force Odin/Task Force Destiny of the 101st Airborne division, as the Kandahar Intelligence Fusion Center ‘Guardrail‘  Noncommissioned Officer in charge.  
 No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Sgt. Richard McVinney:
The mission of Task Force Odin/Task Force Destiny is “ISR”-Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance.
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world
Sgt. Richard McVinney:
I returned from my 6-month deployment on November 10, 2010 and was recognized as (t)he 224th Military Intelligence Battalion (Aerial Exploitation) Noncommissioned Officer of the quarter for the 1st quarter of fiscal year 2011.
Again, let’s stop.  McVinney seems like an honest young lad.  These are honest words.   “Aerial Exploitation” says it all about an illegal war of aggression.  The troubling part is that it’s said without apology.  Also, the fact that the military is taking the fiscal year into account when passing out awards reinforces, for me, the notion that this war,  in particular, is really all about money.  The fact that McVinney graduated at all from Oneonta High during a time of record dropouts tells me he was an achiever at an early age.  I’m thinking Babbit in military fatigues.  I’m wondering if he’ll soon have any regrets.
Lennon:  You may say I'm a dreamer
Sgt. Richard McVinney:
I was also recently nominated for the command Sergeant Major Douglas Russell Award which recognizes outstanding achievement by junior Noncommissioned Officers within the Military Intelligence branch.
Okay, now that little auto-biographical nugget gave me what Ry Cooder calls ‘chicken skin’, because it reminded me of the Washington Post series “Top Secret America.”  If you haven’t read the Dana Priest/Richard Arkin series published this summer, then put it on your New Year’s list of must-reads.  They detail how nearly a million non-government employees have acquired clearance to top secret documents in a time of unprecedented and deep spying upon their fellow Americans.  It’s reminiscent of Sara Diamond’s dissertation turned best-seller of 1989, "Spiritual Warfare: The Politics of the Christian Right."
Before noticing the program or it’s theme, I’d unwittingly committed a gaffe by forgetting that my friend had supported Oneonta’s new ‘military monument walkway’ that, to my mind, limited traffic, parking, and therefore access to the formerly very public, very pro-union, pro-immigration messages in Oneonta’s Neahwa Park.  It’s even more difficult now to get near the replica of the statue of liberty placed by some no-doubt very anxious Italian immigrants.  And it’s even harder than ever to get near the plexi-glass encased little red caboose where the International Brotherhood of Brakemen--forerunner to all train unions had organized in the Oneonta yards.
“Veterans like it, Lisa.  We need to be supportive of them even if we’re against the war.”  Was that my friend talking--a person who’d attended at least two School of the Americas protests?  After praising all the effort her husband had given to First Night, I excused myself for a walk down the cozily closed off Main Street with my dog.  Later, I noticed the program, and gently asked my friend, “Doesn’t this glorify war?  Aren’t we all disgusted and opposed to this mess by now?”  
My friend smiled and reminded me that her husband was a veteran (of Korea).  I objected to being put on the defensive like that.  I smiled back.  “This man,”  I said, pointing to McVinney’s uniformed, beret-wearing, smiling photo, “he’s responsible for the deaths of perhaps untold numbers of Afghanistan residents.”  “Yes,” she said, smiling.  “But, you need to be careful with that, Lisa,”  she said.  I was told that one of the volunteers has a husband ‘hovering’ near death due to shrapnel injuries incurred in--you guessed it--Afghanistan.
But I'm not the only one
I put my dog back in the car and wandered back to the main stage.  I felt less lonely, and less confused in the crowd that gathered to watch a group of fire-dancing gymnasts.  I offered my phone to a father whose young daughter wanted to stay--she needed to tell her mother they wouldn’t be home before midnight and lacked a cellphone.  Oneonta’s Cosmic Karma fire performers, are, according to their business cards, “fully insured” and, by all appearances, incredibly physically fit.  They dress as anarchist travelling waifs (yet without the politics).  They were quite a contrast to their fleshy, stupid-looking age-cohorts from Job Corps.  The fire workers had the crowd’s attention, but it was the Job Corps kids who were in charge.  
I apparently was the only person alarmed at seeing people monitoring the crowd while wearing army fatigues draped with reflective vests.  My liberal, Korean war era friends and neighbors had organized a superb event.  No doubt the Job Corps ‘police’  had saved the town some dough by freeing up Oneonta’s finest for other tasks.
Cosmic Karma interrupted their show to let a bagpipe and drum troop bumped from a different venue hold forth.   
After the Hobart Fire Department Scottish Band ended a military standard, I hid behind some revelers and yelled, “End the War in Iraq!  End the War in Afghanistan!”   A few people turned around.  No one objected.  But, the current mayor, the former President of Hartwick College (which is where the Harvard crowd sends under-achieving off-spring for a nearly guaranteed degree), moved over to where the noise had erupted.  I briefly adjuncted once at Hartwick when Dick Miller had been in charge.  His honor now looked me up and down.   Yes, I  was the loudmouth.  I later noticed the Korean war era Job Corps supervisor eyeing me.  Hell, I thought, someone needed to speak for peace.  Did the job corps guy suspect it was me?  It was time to get my dog home.   The fireworks were about to start at 10:11 p.m. --nice timing for baby boomers and WW2 babies who love their rack time.  I needed to tell my friends that I’d seen the former Vets for Peace President they know from Sharon Springs, New York.  Maybe then my complaints would resonate and I’d seem less ‘radical’ to them.   Elliot Adams had chained himself by the neck to the White House fence two weeks earlier.  National Public Radio didn’t mention the protest in any cohesive manner.  Scott Camil had called the coverage “a news blackout.”  The ignored event had at least five irresistibly easy news angles :
*Angle 1:  The same Vietnam War medal of honor winners who’d thrown their medals back at Richard Nixon’s White House were now peppering the White House fence with postcards showing a faceless U.S. soldier holding a gun near the face of a screaming little girl.  The toddler was covered in blood.  A caption read:  “This little girl’s family was just killed by U.S. forces.”  A red headline labeled the scene “Peace on Earth?”  and a slight smaller headline, also blood red, said, “This is what your wars do.”  
*Angle 2:  An Afghanistan War report promised by Obama for release later in the day would be other than reality-based.  Veterans for Peace national President Michael Ferner said Obama’s report should be balanced with comments from an IVAW Winter Soldier.  Michael Prysner, who served in Iraq, said that active-duty military in all branches should refuse their orders in these illlegal wars.  He said the real enemy of soldiers is not poor people living in deserts and caves but rich people in America who deny citizens jobs, health care, and education.
The group marched one half block in silent formation after hearing speakers, mainly veterans from the Iraq/Afghanistan Wars and the Vietnam Wars explain how the wars are hurting Afghanistan, American, and Iraq citizens.  
*Angle 3:  Pentagon Papers whistleblower and former Marine Daniel Ellsberg told a crowd of 500 anti-war veterans and their supporters outside the White House that Julian Assange and Bradley Manning should be treated as heroes, not criminals.  Ellsberg joined a group of over 130 people, mainly veterans, but including former FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley and retired CIA analyst and whistleblower Ray McGovern in being arrested for civil disobedience outside the White House fence.
*Angle 4:  At least twenty of the 500 anti-war veterans and supporters outside the White House were from peace groups targeted by what United for Anti-War Coalition (UNAC) organizer Joe Lombardo called a return to McCarthyism by the Obama Justice Department.  Lombardo noted that the number of grand jury subpoenas issued to peaceful anti-war activists in Minneapolis and Chicago is increasing.   He said that Muslim groups UNAC works with have already been told they will also be called before grand juries, and said, the Muslims need protection and support from peace activists.
*Angle 5:  Amid a campaign to persuade President Obama to pardon political prisoner and native people’s activist Leonard Peltier, a spokesman for Friends of Peltier  noted the snowstorm descending upon the anti-war veterans and said that in Indian way, the snow means a time to make new tracks.  “It’s time for Obama to make new tracks, said Delaney Bruce.  She read a statement from Leonard Peltier which called the U.S. Constitution these days just another broken treaty to accompany the 500 plus treaties the U.S. broke with native peoples.
My Oneonta friends hadn’t known about the protest.  How could they--it received no coverage of any length.  CNN gave it 500 words focusing upon Daniel Ellsberg and the Julian Assange ‘debate’ and the Washington Post offered up a photo and a blogger’s opinion piece a day later.  I told him that anti-war veterans from the Vietnam and Iraq/Afghanistan eras said we need to take to the streets to end these wars.  He smiled.  What could he say--in the middle of an event which, like it or not--glorified these wars?  
Perhaps this was an event that the community needed to get its First Night back.  But, did it need to so in such a pro-war manner?  I don’t believe my friends understand the full ramifications of what they did.  After all, there were no anti-Korean war songs allowed on U.S. radio.  In fact, the only anti-Korean War song I’m aware of is David Rovics’ Korea, written in 2004.  I wondered how my friends would receive its lyrics:
Fifty years ago today we stood in rubble
The sun rose each morning through the smoke
Your planes flew above us looking for something left to bomb
Our factories, our schools lied ravaged and broke
And now you wonder why there is this anger
As we remember all too clearly a time that we once knew
When every home and every dam and so many, many people
Were flattened to the ground by the things you had to do
When Korea was just another name
For bombs falling from the sky
And home was just another word
For this place where people die
Fifty years ago today you killed my mother
I've lived my whole life and I never knew
The love she might have given, the joy she might have felt
To sit in the garden where her grandchildren grew
And now you wonder why we might feel attacked
You wonder at the stand our leaders take
But it was you, I remember, who gave us this lesson
Of the sound of a city when it breaks
Fifty years ago today you killed my father
He was shooting at your planes when he died
Just one of how many million dead soldiers
Fighting and falling side by side
And now you wonder at what you call an evil axis
You throw words that someday will explode
We remember the last time you said these things
When crater was another word for road
My friend was never approached by anti war activists in the gentle manner Scott Camil noted was key to his epiphany.  I wondered whether it is too late to approach the Korean war generation--a group which, I’ve noticed in New York and Illinois college towns reflexively accuses today’s anti-war activists of being ‘anti-veteran’ in their first breath.  
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one
Later, as I lay in bed, the year became 2011.  I reflected upon this year’s Veterans For Peace concert in Gainesville-- ending as it traditionally does with a group-sing of Lennon’s “Imagine.”  That couldn’t happen in Oneonta right now.  I don’t think it could happen in Macomb, Illinois, either.  But, I wondered about another of the more popular songs at the Solstice concert.  It concerns a group of WWI soldiers who realized, during the holiday season, that they were being used as pawns for empire to savage people who were not their enemy for any good reason.  The real enemy was the people who called and supported the war.   
The difference between the Gainesville event produced by Vietnam War era veterans and the one produced by the Oneonta Korean War veterans strikes me as a wide chasm that I am unable to cross right now.  Perhaps this video of “Christmas in the Trenches” will help explain that the ‘enemy’ of the U.S. warrior  and bureaucrat is not the  anti-war activist, but the Military Industrial Complex decried by the man who was president when the cereal boxes extolled ‘manly’ heroes.  I pick this song to highlight, because Imagine came at a time of the evening when voices weren’t their best.  And, the same notion that Lennon wrote and sang about predates him. 
I wish my friends who resurrected First Night peace.  I’ll no doubt lose their friendship and a few others in Oneonta after this is published.
           But, I’ll gain some new ones, I imagine.
This is the link to the Winter Solstice Video: