Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Vietnam GI Challenged War Makers

One of the most outlandish protests of the war in Vietnam, in the eyes of minders of military tradition, was a small independent newspaper, “Vietnam GI,” published by Jeff Sharlet, a feisty veteran of the early secretive stage of the conflict. With a top secret clearance and training in translating Vietnamese, Sharlet served in Army Security Agency operations in 1963-64 that monitored radio communications by both sides in what he came to see as a civil war in which the US government was propping up a corrupt, dysfunctional regime of revolving door generals and would-be dictators.

In the tradition of Ben Franklin-style colonial-era newspapers that challenged the coercive actions of the British empire, of Frederick Douglass’ “North Star” challenge of the entrenched institution of slavery, and of numerous other examples of journalism-activism in American history, Sharlet launched an antiwar newspaper for GIs, written by active duty GIs and young veterans of the controversial war in Southeast Asia.

Starting in January 1968, copies of the “underground” newspaper were widely distributed to soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines across the US and in Vietnam via informal networks of servicemen and women willing to challenge the official rationales for waging that war. Volunteer staff and contributing editors were members and supporters of the then-fledging Viet Nam Veterans Against the War. Sharlet paid for the initial printing with funds from a Woodrow Wilson Graduate Fellowship he had won for studies at the University of Chicago. Fundraisers with an array of peace movement supporters kept the monthly publication afloat.

Sometime in the spring of 1968, my brother Ted visited me in New York City and drolly told a story about how a copy of “Vietnam GI” had set off a big commotion in an Air Force special operations unit. It seems that a copy of the paper mysteriously appeared on the commanding officer’s desk in a highly secure area of a base in Hawaii. The unit did helicopter rescue missions for air crews whose planes crashed in the Pacific Ocean. It also, secretly, retrieved capsules from satellites that took photos of the Soviet Union and other places of interest to the US military.

Spying my name among the culprits on the masthead of this antiwar rag, Air Force investigators called in the FBI and targeted Ted, a paramedic in the air-sea rescue detachment. “Whose side are you on?” the commander demanded. The agitated colonel, who had lost a brother in the war, proposed that my brother join him in a raid on North Vietnam. The FBI agents flipped out a document that they said was a psychological profile of Ted’s radical brother, who resigned from West Point after serving in Vietnam. They implied that Ted was likely in his brother’s orbit.

Ted, who professed ignorance of the newspaper’s appearance in their midst, was saved by a lieutenant who noted that the airman was a highly regarded member of his crew, who had jumped out of helicopters with rescue gear to save pilots who crash-landed in the ocean.

But the damage to military decorum was done. Somebody dropped that paper on that colonel’s desk in a top secret facility. The Air Force and FBI knew that, whoever did it, antiwar dissent now reached deep into even highly trained, highly motivated special operations units.

Jeff Sharlet came out of that milieu, working in secretive communications-intercept units in Vietnam that other GIs called “the spooks.” Working with Jeff—who abruptly died way too soon at 27 of kidney cancer in June 1969—was a big step in my education that the hidden truth of what happens in wars can be revealed by participants willing to counter the official mythologies.

Jeff Sharlet’s ripples of influence on the Vietnam-era antiwar GI movement have been memorialized in numerous books, publications for GIs challenging the war in Iraq and at least two websites. “The most dramatic tribute,” noted Jeff’s brother Bob Sharlet in a widely researched wikipedia entry,” has been the award-winning documentary, Sir! No Sir! (2005), on the Vietnam GI anti-war movement screened in theaters across the country… co-dedicated to Sharlet, as the director David Zeiger put it, ‘for starting it all.’”

Another fitting tribute is Bob’s son, Jeff Sharlet, the investigative journalist and author of The Family and C Street, among other works.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Environmental Writing 2011

From Agent Orange’s insidious grasp out of the past of the war in Vietnam to current health concerns of many residents of Ramapo River communities, to the potential future effects of global climate change, 11 student-reporters at Ramapo College of New Jersey dug into a wide array of ecological issues in the Spring 2011 Environmental Writing class.

Here are some of many insightful passages that summarize topics students chose to research and report in magazine-style final writing projects, all of which are posted on our class website, ramapolookout.blogspot.com, along with their other writing assignments throughout the semester.

“The Earth is as a storm. Violently it crashes and trumpets along its trillion year journey. Like a wildfire burning on a California horizon, the Earth surrounds itself in tapestry of both beauty and terror. In essence our planet is a hospitable destroyer. It will deny life as easily as it fosters it. Often times life will simply die off, a casualty of the constant unseen equation of nature. Still, despite the changes our planet has seen, the existence of life has always remained firmly rooted. However, our modern age has threatened life with a new villain: pollutants.”
--From Destroying our Oceans: Impact of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by John Clancey

“Beekeepers throughout the Garden State know there is something wrong. Some blame mites and pesticides but others are still puzzled as to what exactly is causing colony collapse disorder.

“’I had beehives that were full of bees and produced a great honey crop, and two weeks later were empty,’ says Joe Triemel, Corresponding Secretary at the Essex Co. Beekeepers.

“Why all the buzz? Bees are very critical to agricultural practices.”
--From New Jersey's Buzz on Colony Collapse Disorder by Courtney Leiva

“When being advised to follow a healthy diet, the one food that is indisputably on the top of the list is fish. Its Omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals keep our heart pumping and our blood pressure low. It is an easy food to cook, requiring little preparation and, in most cases, done in less than 30 minutes. It is almost impossible to make a bad dish with fish unless, of course, the fish itself has been contaminated.

“With the recent environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, which was formally known to produce quality fish, particularly shellfish, fish lovers now question the safety of the fish coming from the Gulf. Do we believe the government agencies that maintain the fish from the Gulf is safe or do we stop buying, adding to the sorry economic state of the Gulf fishermen’s woes, who are just recovering from Hurricane Katrina?”
--From Is Eating Fish as Healthy as It Used to Be? by Virginia DiBianca

“Climate change, or global warming as it is often referred to, has been a hot button issue in recent years. It has dominated the environmental arena, and has even played a role in the political spectrum, as Democrats and Republicans hold very different ideas about the phenomenon. There is a lot of conflicting information about this so-called global warming and the process of weeding through all of it to separate fact from fiction can seem overwhelming. The truth of the matter is, depending upon who you ask, you will likely get a very different interpretation of climate change, its causes, its effects, and what it ultimately means for you and me. ...

“Climate change, or global warming, is certainly a very complex issue with a myriad of facts, data, and evidence from a host of different organizations to take into account. But these are the bare-bone facts of the situation. There is evidence to support hundreds of thousands of years of constantly changing climate situations on our planet. But there is also hard proof that humans have, if nothing else, sped the process up a significant amount. It is really up to each citizen of the planet Earth to make their own decision about climate change and make their day-to-day choices accordingly.”
--From Climate Change: A Complex Issue with Clashing Points of View by Lindsey de Stefan

“Jeff Genser, a Suffern native, pleaded to the council about flood issues. He stated, ‘You're proposing to eliminate 100 acres of flood plain, and turn it from a pervious area to an impervious. And that is unacceptable, in my opinion.’ He went on to propose his own idea for what could be built on the flood plain next to the Ramapo River, a Vertical Farm. ‘A building could be constructed that could supply food to half of Bergen County...use all the water it comes into [from the river], over and over again, and have no pollution and environmental impact.’ The idea seemed to stir no interest by the council.

“Many individuals mentioned how the mall would impact the surrounding community. Some were frustrated over the idea of Stag Hill residents being stranded in an emergency situation, being that the only access road to their community would become a constant point of traffic and congestion. Retired resident Ron Whalberg asked the council, ‘At what point do we stop endangering future generations?’”
--From A Changed Mahwah by Graig Mihok

“It is a race against time for a fading era of American heroes who served their country and feel they were poisoned by their government. It is a race against time for the Vietnamese people suffering from health conditions and birth defects. The U.S. government is left with a choice. It can accept responsibility and dedicate itself to all who suffered from the Agent Orange spraying campaigns, or it can wait for the end of an era. It can hope for the best that history will forget. The natural environment and the lives it gracefully sustains are in serious danger.

“For Agent Orange investigator Fred Wilcox, justice is yet to be done. ‘The government can start by saying sorry,’ he said.”
--From War After the War: The Environmental Assault of Agent Orange by Dan Savino

“Consumers seem to be paying attention to what they eat more and more. It is too soon to prove whether GM seeds, crops and foods will hurt or help us, but staying informed and questioning claims for will help to insure our safety. Big corporations own the rights to a very crucial part of the food chain. Urging others to ask questions, voice opinions and challenge tests is incredibly important. Food and its nutrients are what help us survive. As consumers and as humans we have the right to take control over the products we use daily.”
--From Genetically Modified Food: What Does it Mean for You and Your Kitchen? by Lorraine Metz

“Some say it’s just a coincidence; that it would take years, if not decades, for us to see any change in prices if we started drilling. Experts say that the process of actually obtaining the oil, refining it, dispersing it, and using it takes an extreme amount of time and money, so that we wouldn’t see any relief in the near future. The Energy Information Association found that increased drilling would have a very small, if any, impact before 2030. They also found that even once the oil starts flowing, it would only bring in about 0.2 million barrels per day.

“Others argue that just by lifting a ban on drilling, it would influence the market to lower prices. This is what seemingly happened between 2008 and 2010 with President Bush’s decision. However, other economists argue that the oil industry is part of a global market and since the United States would only be contributing less than one million barrels per day, it wouldn’t do much for the prices. How would one explain what happened after Bush’s decision? The theory of supply and demand seems pretty fitting, which would directly benefit us in this situation.”
--From To Drill or Not to Drill? Offshore Oil Drilling and How it Can Affect You by Brittany Shann

“’Many residents have told me they don't trust DuPont or the NJ DEP. They think DuPont is covering up pollution and DEP is rubber stamping inadequate DuPont cleanup plans,’ says Bill Wolfe, former planner and policy analyst for the state Department of Environmental Protection and former policy director of Sierra Club's New Jersey Chapter.

“’They are frustrated by the slow pace of cleanup, angry for not being told about vapor intrusion, and disgusted by repeated failures by local and state officials to provide full information and allow them to have a meaningful role in cleanup decisions that affect their lives, their family’s health, and their property value,’ he says.”
--From DuPont: Pompton Lakes Site Still a Source of Conflict After 25-Year Clean Up by Deanna Dunsmuir

“Some fluctuations in the Earth's temperature are inevitable regardless of human activity, but centuries of rising temperatures and seas lie ahead if the release of emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation continues unabated, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The panel shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore for alerting the world to warming's risks.

“Over the next decade, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to regulate sources of greenhouse gases, imposing efficiency and emissions requirements. Until the UNFCCC starts taking action on a global scale, it seems that countering global warming and climate change is up to the people’s smaller actions and lifestyle changes. Maybe then those with the greater power will see that we are prepared for much bigger, even drastic changes.”
--From Global Warming: Small Steps Towards Conquering a Big Threat by Jessica Vasquez

“A tract of twenty-two acres of forest named after the former Governor of New Jersey, George Brinton McClellan, was purchased a few years ago by Seton Hall Prep School of West Orange, New Jersey. The school’s plan’s to clear the old growth forest rippled through the community and neighboring towns and has caused many concerns. For two years, town residents and students attended zoning board hearings to voice their opinion on the proposed clear cutting. …

“The Mallangas, both active members of the Sierra Club, also brought in Bruce Kershner. Kershner is a field ecologist who is also a national authority on old growth forests and took a survey of the 22 acres of trees. He identified the trees and expressed the historical and biological value of the forest. Board members attacked his testimony claiming that the use of the term ‘old growth forest’ can not be used if he cannot tell the exact age of the trees. They repeatedly interrupted him during his testimony to ask him for credentials and if he had a background in studying and observing old growth forests. Kershner has studied old growth forests for over 30 years all over the country, but that did not seem like a sufficient enough background for the zoning board members.”
--From Seton Hall Prep Clear Cuts Our Future by Amanda Nesheiwat

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Rethinking National Security at the Pentagon

“Sustainability” is the latest buzz word in academic and environmental circles. Now it is also buzzing around the halls of the Pentagon. As the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan run out of rationalizations and public patience, two staff officers working for the Joint Chiefs of Staff have developed a new twist on selling national security to the American people.

America emerged from the Twentieth Century as the most powerful nation on earth. But we failed to recognize that dominance, like fossil fuel, is not a sustainable source of energy,” assert Marine Col. Mark Mykleby and Navy Capt. Wayne Porter in an unusual, unclassified national defense report, recently published by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, entitled  “A National Strategic Narrative.”

This unofficial report by two serving officers was soon widely broadcast by The New York Times, not to mention picked up by war critics and spread around the Internet via Facebook and buzzing bloggers.

Unlike the “Pentagon Papers” and other in-depth reports on how the US got entangled in controversial military campaigns such as in Vietnam, that continued to grind on long after the loss of public support, this report offers few specific examples of why America’s armed forces need to change the current military way of life. It simply cuts to the chase and flatly states it is time to make major changes.

“It is time for America to re-focus our national interests and principles through a long lens on the global environment of tomorrow,” wrote Mykleby and Porter in a report that deliberately echoes the historic 1947 article in Foreign Affairs by Foreign Service Officer George Kennan that formed the basis of the containment strategy that guided US policy toward the Soviet Union for decades.

“It is time to move beyond a strategy of containment to a strategy of sustainment (sustainability),” the career military officers wrote in an authoritative summary of a new wave of rethinking the military’s mission apparently coursing through the Pentagon. The New York Times duly noted that the two officers are special strategic assistants to Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“We must recognize that security means more than defense, and sustaining security requires adaptation and evolution,” they continued.

What that means was spelled out in a preface to this report by Anne-Marie Slaughter, a Princeton professor of international affairs who recently stepped down as director of policy and planning at the US State Department.

Slaughter noted that Mykleby and Porter’s boss, Admiral Mullen, has stated “publicly that the U.S. deficit is our biggest national security threat. He and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have also given speeches and written articles calling for ‘demilitarizing American foreign policy’ and investing more in the tools of civilian engagements – diplomacy and defense.”

And so the staff officers came up with a way of framing the tenor of these speeches into a new national security strategy. Their mission, apparently, is to stir up public discussion of these ideas outside the usual military-oriented circles.

Porter, for instance, cowrote an op-ed published in The Washington Times in March calling for creation of a National Service Academy to train “a corps of civilian experts” to work on diplomacy and sustainable development projects around the world.  “Forging these tools to deliver credible influence worldwide, as part of a comprehensive strategy to sustain the growth of America's prosperity and to enhance our security, requires an investment in education and in Americans with a proven desire to serve. Too often, we have turned to our military to provide this service,” Porter wrote.

Mykleby meanwhile took the new strategy message on the road and addressed the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.

“Rather than focusing primarily on defense, the security we seek can only be sustained through a whole of nation approach to our domestic and foreign policies. This requires a different approach to problem solving than we have pursued previously and a hard look at the distribution of our national treasure,” the staff officers maintain. “For too long, we have underutilized sectors of our government and our citizenry writ large, focusing intensely on defense and protectionism rather than on development and diplomacy.

“We need to pursue our [new] priorities of education, security, and access to natural resources by adopting sustainability as an organizing concept for a national strategy. This will require fundamental changes in policy, law, and organization,” they state, offering a legislative proposal to Congress.

“What this calls for is a National Prosperity and Security Act, the modern day equivalent of the National Security Act of 1947,” the staff officers assert. “This National Prosperity and Security Act would: integrate policy across agencies and departments of the Federal government and provide for more effective public/private partnerships; increase the capacity of appropriate government departments and agencies; align Federal policies, taxation, research and development expenditures and regulations to coincide with the goals of sustainability; and, converge domestic and foreign policies toward a common purpose.”

In Slaughter’s translation, this brass-hat broadside is a high-ranking acknowledgement that the Pentagon budget and war-fighting mission creep around the world must dramatically shrink to help save the nation from a home-front hollowing out that is destroying American livelihoods and communities. This is a now-hear-this message the public needs to tell Congress.

“Today our security lies as much or more in our prosperity as in our military capabilities,” she wrote in the preface. “Our vocabulary, our institutions, and our assumptions must reflect that shift. ‘National security’ has become a trump card, justifying military spending even as the domestic foundations of our national strength are crumbling. … We do not want to be the sole superpower that billions of people around the world have learned to hate from fear of our military might. We seek instead to be the nation other nations listen to, rely on and emulate out of respect and admiration.”

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