Friday, May 26, 2006

Busboys and Poets event with Anthony, Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg and Garett Reppenhagen

No matter how many of these we do, I am always surprised by how different they are. I guess I shouldn't be since events in the world keep changing and there are different special guests on each stop.

Last night we were really fortunate to have two. About 80 people packed the Langston Hughes room. Elizabeth, who lived in DC when she was editing the book 10 Excellent Reasons Not to Join the Military, has since relocated to Jersey, but came down for the event.

Elizabeth began with comments on military recruitment and her experiences as a journalist investigating the military's recruitment practices. She provided a comprehensive overview of the conditions that lead young people to join up, and what they are expected to do once they are in. She spoke pointedly about her own muckraking experience as a recent grad student approaching the military to witness their practices herself. And she raised important points about what the military recruiters don't tell people as well.
The book does a great service to the antiwar movement and to all those who work with young people who are wooed by a deceitful and bankrupt military.

Garett gave a powerful first-person account of being one of those young people. He talked about joining up while he was working multiple jobs and became a father. He was first stationed in Germany, then in the former Balkans. He trained to be a sniper and spent two of his four years as one in Iraq, in and around the city of Baquba. He mentioned being against the war, even when he didn't know of any other antiwar soldiers or groups like IVAW. And he described going through a process of self-education about the history of US intervention and the real reasons the US went into Iraq. Apparently, he decided to read as much about and learn as much about this suppressed history as he could, bringing to Iraq to read critical books by Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn. So it was a combination of his experiences as an active duty soldier and the development of an analysis of the world that brought him to the point of speaking out against the war and becoming an active organizer. Amazing. I hadn't yet heard any of the IVAWers talk so matter-of-factly about killing, but of course, this is one of the the things soldiers, especially snipers, are in Iraq to do.

Garett also read his poem, "Dirt" (very apropos since we were at Busboys and Poets!).

I'm posting it here with his permission

Iraqi dirt is everywhere

in my boots and in my hair

the dark clay that soldiers keep

where they march and where they sleep

to prevent the ache in a mothers heart

white sand becomes penned pure art

we exaggerate and bring to light

when the gravel grains are colored bright

under wheels and under track

dirty bombs reality lacks

stuck to sweat under trigger finger nails

that itches and stings when a child wails

dirt so heavy that one can't hide

inside sand bags that divide the sides

turning to grime when it begins to rain

American pride turned to pain

Scandalous chit chat in day to day gossip

"those veterans are insane they really lost it"

closed minds, mass destruction of innocence

and truth gets a purple heart amidst all the ignorance

red white and blue covered in dust

the color of money, oil, and lust

soiled uniforms brown with taint

breathe uranium air contaminate

Jesus pimps our children like whores

like Uncle Sam's hate crimes that the family ignores

under patriot makeup is the garbage and filth

body bags filled with love, swept under the rug is guilt

scum put on sale, but they put us on trial

it's in our teeth when we bite and we smile

grease fed to the masses on the daily news

if the war never ends we'll never lose

we dig and dig, but they cover the hole

when we discover the truth we pay the toll

an unknown soldier in a shallow grave

burdened and battered and buried alive

As I'm writing this, I notice a New York Times piece about "Military Expected to Report Marines Killed Iraqi Civilians." It begins:

A military investigation into the deaths of two dozen Iraqis last November is expected to find that a small number of marines in western Iraq carried out extensive, unprovoked killings of civilians, Congressional, military and Pentagon officials said Thursday.

This is not a surprise for anyone who's followed the course of the war and occupation of Iraq. It's just one glimpse of the wholescale brutality that takes place every day against Iraqis. Yet, it seems important that this story is emerging–the military seems to do everything it can to cover up "incidents" like this, because our fearless leaders know that if stories such as these were consistently uncovered and reported, they might lead a public that is already overwhemingly against the war to become active once again, in an active and sustained movement against it. Yet, we need more of these stories, more images and more activists like Garett. Remember that the image of the young naked Vietnamese girl running down a road galvanized many people to deepen their commitment to stopping that war.

Special thanks to Andy Shallal, owner of Busboys and Poets as well as Don and Pam for helping to make the event possible. Also, thanks to the DC ISO for organizing and publicizing the event.

Here's a shot of all three together at the bookstore after the event. I got a new cell phone, so the picture quality is still lo-fi, but slightly better!


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