Monday, September 22, 2014

Saving the World: Where’s the Cavalry?

U.S. Cavalry in Yellowstone Park    (photo: PBS)

In 1886, a troop of U.S. Cavalry rode into Yellowstone Park in a remote corner of Wyoming to save its stunning scenic features and array of wildlife targeted for wholesale hunting and destructive commercial development. As recounted in Ken Burns’ PBS series “National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” the U.S. Army protected Yellowstone on behalf of the public for 30 years, until the creation of the National Park Service in 1916.

With our nation now threatened by industrial pollution’s impact on the world’s environment, the question is where is today’s cavalry? Where is the modern version of General Sheridan’s campaign to save a corner of the earth from the destructive forces the U.S. Army blazed the trails for and ushered into the American West?

Where is Uncle Sam’s national security plan to protect Americans from epidemic levels of cancer and other diseases from industrial toxins; from increasingly destructive floods and droughts, hurricanes and blizzards from industrially induced climate change; and from the precarious economy built on these self-destructive forces?

In the absence of such a government commitment, a citizens’ army of several hundred thousand people trooped through New York City on Sunday to send a message to national and international leaders who are scheduled to meet this week at the United Nations. Among the wide variety of environmental, animal rights, human rights and other civic groups that sent substantial delegations to march through Times Square and other major streets in New York in the People’s Climate March was a small troop of military veterans.

“U.S. Military: Largest Consumer of Oil, Largest Emitter of CO2” read the message on a giant bomb-shaped float provided by Veterans For Peace. Other groups represented in this bloc of climate marchers were Iraq Veterans Against the War, Vietnam Veterans Against the War and Military Families Speak Out.

A banner carried by the vet contingent stated: “U.S. Military: Biggest Consumer of Fossil Fuels on Earth; Stop the War on Mother Earth.”

It wasn’t as dramatic perhaps as the U.S. Cavalry riding to the rescue of Yellowstone Park, but the People’s Climate March for saving the Earth from the destructive forces that the U.S. military is too often party to was an historic occasion.

Veterans For Peace float    (photo: Jan Barry)

Vet and military family marchers  (photo: Jan Barry)


Thursday, September 18, 2014

"Soldier's Heart" Jacob George, RIP

Jacob George        (photo: Healing Path Expo)

A shock wave is crashing around numerous circles of friends and acquaintances on Facebook and elsewhere. Jacob David George, an Army veteran who survived three deployments in Afghanistan, has died. The buzz among fellow vets is he died of let's say a broken heart. 

At a meeting last month in Washington of peace activist military families and veterans with White House staff members, I read a poem to convey a message many veterans would like President Obama to hear and act on. The poem, “Support the Troops,” was written by Jacob George. 

“we just Need to support the troops"
is what they tell me

well, this is from a troop
so listen carefully

what we Need are teachers who understand the history of this country
what we Need is a decent living wage, so people ain’t cold and hungry
what we Need is bicycle infrastructure spanning this beauteous nation
what we Need are more trees and less play stations
what we Need is a justice system that seeks the truth
what we Need are more books and less boots

what we Need is love

for every woman and man
from southern Louisiana
to the mountains of Afghanistan

Now, it's true
The troops need support
the support to come home
they need treatment and jobs
and love for the soul

war ain't no good
for the human condition
I lost a piece of who I was
on every single mission
and I'm tellin’ you,
don't thank me for what I've done

give me a big hug
and let me know
we're not gonna let this happen again
because we support the troops
and we're gonna bring these wars to an end

Jacob’s poem appeared in After Action Review, a collection of writings by vets published by Warrior Writers in 2011. He also transformed it into a song that he traveled around the country singing to the thumping strings of a banjo. With other vets, he did cross-country bicycle rides for peace. He liked to call himself “a bicycle ridin, banjo pickin, peace rambling hillbilly from Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas.”

A selection of Jacob George’s songs, from a collection called “Soldier’s Heart,” that he performed with a country band in Arkansas in 2013, was recorded in “Support Your Troops: A Special Report”:  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

War Comes Home

"War Comes Home"    watercolor by Jan Barry

Some memory or anniversary or image triggered a nightmare awhile ago in which I was a Vietnam vet suddenly amid a swirling crowd of students at Kent State when a Ohio National Guard unit fired rifles to break up an antiwar demonstration on campus, killing four students, wounding and scarring many others.

I felt tore apart, physically and emotionally, in this nightmare—I was being shot at by soldiers wearing the same uniform I wore in Vietnam! Struggling out of bed, I felt embedded in May 1970. Back then, as news of the Kent State shootings spread while I was visiting with stunned and outraged vets at a campus demonstration that closed down classes at Syracuse University, I had a panic attack: my government was out to kill me for protesting the war I served in.

It took weeks this summer to work out the details of that nightmare in a watercolor. The veteran in the painting is based on Vietnam vets I met or read about who were students at Kent State at the time of the shooting. The other images are based on photos that appeared in news publications and now on Google.

While I was working on this artwork, a nightmarish military apparition was set upon civil rights demonstrators in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri: tank-like vehicles back from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, police units in military combat gear aiming rifles at outraged citizens, tear gas and stun grenades fired down an American city’s main street and into residential neighborhoods.

This is another of the horrendous consequences of  Uncle Sam’s virtually endless warmaking—Americans turning on each other, shredding the Bill of Rights and the rest of the Constitution in a blaze of official self-righteousness.

A Soldier's View of Vietnam

A Soldier’s View of Vietnam:
Presentation at Oradell Public Library

Poet and author Jan Barry will present a slideshow talk at the Oradell Public Library on Monday, Sept. 29 on “A Soldier’s View of Vietnam: Art, Poetry and War.” The 7 p.m. event at the library, 375 Kinderkamack Road in Oradell, NJ is free and open to the public.

Barry, a Teaneck resident, began jotting down notes as a soldier in Vietnam. It led to a career as a writer. Retired from The Record newspaper, where he was lead reporter on the “Toxic Legacy” investigative series, he teaches journalism at Ramapo College and St. Thomas Aquinas College. He is the author or editor of more than a dozen books, including A Citizen's Guide to Grassroots Campaigns, Life After War & Other Poems, and Winning Hearts & Minds: War Poems by Vietnam Veterans.

His poetry has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, A People and a Nation: a History of the United States, and, most recently, Warrior Writers, an anthology of works by veterans from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan created in writing workshops Barry is involved in. He has participated in and curated exhibitions of art by veterans at a number of galleries, including Puffin Cultural Forum in Teaneck and the Brennan Gallery in the Justice William J. Brennan Court House in Jersey City.