Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Be a Peacemaker

Vietnam vet Frank Wagner protesting war in Iraq
for umpteenth year  (photo/Jan Barry)

Sorry, Bob Dylan, but the times are not a-changing very much. With the US military still engaged in wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in a seemingly endless war on “radical Islamic terrorism,” consider where we were in world affairs back in the days of the previous Republican regime in Washington. Here’s the dilemma for progressives that I outlined in a talk at the Unitarian Church of Montclair, NJ on October 24, 2004.

Remember the famous military recruiting poster where Uncle Sam sternly points his finger and says “I want you!” Imagine a new updated version in which Uncle Sam says “I want you…to be a peacemaker!”

Wouldn’t that be something. Well, I’m not Uncle Sam—but I am here to ask you to join a life-and-death campaign, to reach out across the battle lines, here at home and overseas, and be a peacemaker. On this beautiful Sunday morning, America is at war, as our national leaders repeatedly remind us. Peacemaking has practically disappeared from the national radar screen and our television screens. Yes, our religious traditions proclaim “blessed are the peacemakers.” But our radio and television talk show hosts, who set the tone for national discourse, dismiss peace talk as unpatriotic, wishy-washy liberal folly. Calls to get tougher militarily have risen to such a pitch that the leading candidates for leading this country sound like rival boot camp drill instructors

War is in the saddle and riding relentlessly with the other three horsemen of apocalypse. Whatever the outcome of our presidential election, the war in Iraq will still be booming the next day. War between Israelis and Palestinians will still be exploding. Russians and Chechens will still be killing each other. Pakistan and India will still be rattling nuclear weapons at each other. Civil wars in Africa will still be destroying entire societies.

And here at home, there is a virtual civil war between patriots who support the war in Iraq and patriots who oppose the war in Iraq. Furious battles have erupted between veterans refighting the Vietnam war. One of the most startling scenes last week was a wire service photo of a burly man in Pennsylvania grabbing another burly man by the throat. “Both men Vietnam veterans seem to symbolize a nation bitterly divided over war,” the photo caption read. It’s a tough time to be a peacemaker.

When was it ever a good time? Twenty years ago, when this church was dedicated as a peace site, the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in a Cold War death-grip. Each side had thousands of nuclear missiles aimed at each other’s cities, ready to be launched at a moment’s notice. There were simmering tensions over a Soviet jet shooting down a Korean airliner whose casualty list included a US congressman, over US moves to put a new generation of nuclear missiles in Europe aimed at Moscow, over rumors and reports of spies amidst us and plots against us, over our president calling the Soviet Union the evil empire. We lived each day minutes away from potential doomsday.

This church, with other institutions in Montclair, played an historic role in helping to change that. Some of you may remember the Soviet visitors who spoke at a public meeting here in Fletcher Hall in 1987. Outside on Church Street there was a picket line of angry anticommunists, who shouted that talking with the enemy was traitorous. Where is the John Birch Society these days, any way? The citizen diplomacy campaign that arose in communities across America and the Soviet Union successfully defused the emotional landmines of the Cold War.

How’d they do that? By reaching out to people here to work together to reach out to people over there to work together to prevent nuclear war. In Montclair, peace sites were dedicated at the Religious Society of Friends, the YWCA, Glenfield Middle School, the New Jersey SANE (now Peace Action) headquarters, and at this church as symbolic and practical centers for instituting nonviolent conflict resolution. Hundreds of peace sites were dedicated across the United States and in other countries, hosting an astonishing array of activities.

Most effectively, Montclair’s peace sites helped launch a US-USSR Bridges for Peace citizen exchange project that sent a town council member, BJ Ricker, and me, representing the Essex County Office on Peace, in a New Jersey delegation to the Soviet Union in September 1986. The exchange visit in March 1987 by Soviet citizens, who were hosted by community groups from Bergen County to Cape May, sparked an amazing transformation in attitudes, which led to more exchanges. Montclair gained a sister city in Russia, Cherepovets. So many personal friendships and professional relationships grew from those citizen exchanges that we could fill this hall if there were a reunion.

So many exchange visits sprang up in so many communities between American and Soviet citizens—students, teachers, lawyers, doctors, war veterans, artists, athletes, religious groups, women’s groups, business groups, it literally thawed the Cold War era. The US State Department called the work done by the citizens’ campaign “track II diplomacy.” The head of the US Information Agency personally thanked leaders of that citizen diplomacy campaign for opening the door for President Reagan and Soviet leader Gorbachev to meet in Moscow in 1988 and officially end the hostilities that had divided the world into warring camps for most of my life.

Counter-Productive Campaign

Now we are facing another division of the world, into us vs. Islamic terrorists, a virtually holy war that Pentagon officials have predicted might last 30 years. One of our military leaders during the Cold War, General Wesley Clark, the former NATO commander, argues that we indeed need to prepare for a long engagement, but he maintains that our government is waging a counter-productive, ill-conceived campaign in Iraq based on a distorted view of the causes of the demise of the Soviet Union.

“This dream of engineering events in the Middle East to follow those of the Soviet Union has led to an almost unprecedented geostrategic blunder,” General Clark wrote in a recent article in Washington Monthly. “One crucial reason things went wrong, I believe, is that the neoconservatives misunderstood how and why the Soviet Union fell and what the West did to contribute to that fall. They radically overestimated the role of military assertiveness while underestimating the value of other, subtler measures. … The truth is this: It took four decades of patient engagement to bring down the Iron Curtain, and 10 years of deft diplomacy to turn chaotic, post-Soviet states into stable, pro-Western democracies. To achieve the same in the Middle East will require similar engagement, patience, and luck.”

Among the diplomatic actions General Clark is calling for are “broader, deeper relationships with Muslim countries through student and cultural exchange programs and organizational business development.” General Clark, meet Hassan Fahmy, a borough councilman in Prospect Park in Passaic County. Since 9/11, Fahmy, who grew up in Egypt, has been working to develop sister city ties between communities in New Jersey and the Middle East. In a recent letter to the editor in the Herald News, Fahmy wrote: “Let us respect each other as human beings. God created us not to kill each other, but to love and to cherish and to help each other in this disadvantaged world. Tolerance cries out to be heard.”

Here, I believe, is the solution to the vicious cycles of violence convulsing the Middle East that have spilled into America: teaching and sharing tolerance of people with different faiths and ways of life. One way to bolster tolerance is to bring disputing parties to live for awhile in New Jersey. We have people from all over the world living side by side in this state. We have a vibrant history of outreach to other parts of the world via student exchanges, cultural exchanges, and international business relationships. And, for good measure, this is where peace sites grew from an idea proposed by a concerned citizen, Lou Kousin of Cranford, into an international network of community centers for fostering peaceful solutions.

So consider the state of the world today and what you would like to leave as a legacy. With war being waged in our name, with the spiral of violence growing more horrendous with each tit-for-tat military maneuver, what better time than now to be a peacemaker.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Carl Douglas Rogers, RIP

Carl Douglas Rogers, cancer survivor, June 2015

My friend Carl died over the weekend at home in Los Angeles from cancer. We first met as ex-GIs protesting the war in Vietnam. As a chaplain’s assistant, Carl Douglas Rogers didn’t engage in combat in the war, but he spent the rest of his life fighting for many good causes.

As noted in The Turning: A History of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, “Upon his return to the United States, Rogers went straight to the peace movement: ‘I wanted to do whatever I could to end this war.’ ... ‘Rogers, who could step tomorrow into a Wheaties ad (he wears a crew-cut and teaches Sunday school at New York’s Presbyterian Church) has been in the news since his return from Vietnam,’ observed Commonweal magazine in 1967. He marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr., appeared on numerous radio and television programs, and became the subject of feature stories in the New York Post, the New York Times Sunday Times Magazine, Redbook, and Eye, a magazine oriented toward the nation’s youth.”

Helping launch VVAW shortly after arriving in New York City from his hometown of Chardon, Ohio to hold a press conference announcing his dissent as a veteran against the war, Carl dove into the peace movement, doing publicity work for Negotiations Now, working with Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam, founding Vietnam Veterans for McCarthy and serving on Senator Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign staff, and organizing GI-Servicemen’s Link to Peace, which provided support for antiwar GI coffee houses set up near military bases.

In later years, he helped organize events in support of numerous causes in California. When he was diagnosed 23 years ago with kidney cancer, which later spread to other organs, he became a cancer patient activist.

“I fought for life over cancer and ended up better off because of it,” Carl stated in a profile in New Beginnings: The Triumphs of 120 Cancer Survivors, published last year. “As a patient advocate, I’ve been honored to serve for several years now on a National Cancer Institute editorial board dealing with complementary and alternative medicine.”

At a reunion in Chicago in 2007 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of VVAW’s founding, Carl greeted the gathering with exuberant tales of the early days of organizing vets to protest the war we served in. In the 40th anniversary booklet, Carl recalled the April 1971 morning when hundreds of Vietnam vets threw their war medals onto the front steps of the U.S. Capitol in protest of the war that never seemed to end. “The words and emotions that poured out were the most poignant and angry words I had ever heard in opposition to that dirty stinkin’ rotten little war… I walked away from that moment in tears, but never more proud to have been a part of the founding group of brothers who created VVAW.”

During a walk through Grant Park near the VVAW reunion site at Roosevelt University, Carl was still outraged as he recalled when Chicago police officers stormed through the area in August 1968 beating bystanders with batons, as well as antiwar protesters, journalists and staff members of Senator McCarthy, who was seeking the Democratic Party convention’s nomination for president.

And in quieter moments, Carl implored me and other now-aging vets to get regular checkups for any signs of prostate cancer. He didn’t dwell on his cancer treatments, but his voice conveyed a sense of urgency.

In December 2014, Carl and his wife Debrah visited New York to see old friends while he could still get around. His cancer prognosis was grim. Even so, he was full of cheer to be back in Manhattan strolling streets in the Big Apple where we had run around together back in the day.

When I visited Carl in LA in June 2015, he was full of enthusiastic plans for the future. Another round of cancer treatment seemed to be granting him some more time. Despite his health problems, he cheerfully led the way down a steep path to one of his favorite beaches below a headland south of LA. “Let’s go to Vietnam to commemorate VVAW’s 50th anniversary!” he said. That would be in June 2017.

It was a wildly improbable, compelling vision. He had me thinking about making the trip. So when my cell phone rang on Sunday and I saw his name pop up, I thought he’s calling to tell me it’s time to start getting ready to go back to Vietnam. And then I heard Debrah’s voice.

Carl’s gone. But he sent me a message. I’m thinking about it.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Education Wars

Public education in the US is and has long been a costly political and social battleground. Now a Connecticut judge has ruled that state’s public school funding system is so flawed as to be unconstitutional and the warring parties need to start over. Across the nation, state and local governments fiercely wage budget battles over what education to provide multitudes of students who never seem to match up to hotly debated national standards.

Back in the day, when America was presumably at the peak of greatness, public school was a life lesson in sink or swim. If a boy or girl didn’t measure up by the time they were 16, they were unceremoniously pushed out into the world. Earlier generations often didn’t get into high school. My grandfather Alfred, around 1912, left school after the 8th grade to work on the family farm.

Yet he got a good education for an era when knowing how to handle horses and wagons, planting and harvesting were essential skills. His country schoolhouse teachers instilled a sturdy foundation in reading, writing and arithmetic—and a life-long sense of curiosity and civic duty. An early Boy Scout leader, he worked as a machinist and as a building custodian at Cornell University and was elected president of the local school board.

Before the 19th century American experiment in providing primary schools for farmers and workers’ children, there was the British version of schooling, which educated only the sons of the elite. Back in the time of Shakespeare and such, education was a rough and tumble sport.

“The cane cuts as precisely as the Latin declensions. I do not, will not, cry out,” wrote John Aubrey, a polished product of the 17th century British system, as recounted in a recently published book about his life and times. “Hic, haec, hoc: more brutal blows, less precisely aimed, but still the same rhythm. It is the grammar and rhetoric of violence.”

The American version in the 20th century was administered in military boot camp or military prep schools—where teenage boys who were too rambunctious were herded by judges, school administrators and families. It was a system, designed to quickly train and field an army in World War I, widely acclaimed to make boys into men.

I’m a product of that system, volunteering for Army duty at 19, when college proved too boring. In basic training, I encountered a fascinating assortment of high-spirited young men from every part of America, who were uniformly bulled by drill instructors to master the details of close order drill, field marching, rifle shooting, grenade throwing, gas mask fumbling in a closed chamber full of tear gas, and, most of all, unquestioning obedience to orders, in a six-week endurance course to become soldiers.

Bowing to complaints from politicians and parents that far too many American children don’t measure up to the demands of modern times, many school districts have been lured by the military model, turning over the education of American citizenship to ROTC programs run by the Army, Air Force, Marines and Navy.

Meanwhile, legions of young men and women who served in the US military during America’s high priority “war on terror,” over the past 15 years, have had a hard time finding decently paid civilian jobs, despite all their military training and war time experience.

Less seldom discussed in the current climate of disparaging the public school system is a model that actually works, without Common Core hype, testing hysteria or coercion.

In a recent cover story titled “Ordinary Families. Extraordinary Kids,” Time Magazine profiled nine families who raised children who’ve excelled in a number of fields, from the arts to public service. The thing that worked: these kids were encouraged by parents and teachers to engage in and learn from the world around them.

“Tan and Maya Lin grew up on a university campus” where they were allowed by their parents “to do practically anything they wanted,” Time reported of the designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, and her sister, an author of 12 books.

The Lin sisters spent a lot of time playing outdoors, writing poetry and making clay art works in the university ceramics studio; they attended “a high school with an open-module system, which meant that sometimes they went to class only two days a week,” Time noted.

Another common theme in the families profiled by Time: political activism. Many of these parents “were outspoken in their demands for reform in cities, schools and housing complexes…When they weren’t pushing for reform, they were mediating heated political debates at home.”

“If we did not go with her to a particular protest, that protest was brought home,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said of his mother, Marsha. “Just eating dinner was a test of current events.” Another son, Zeke, is a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania who helped draft the Affordable Care Act. Russell Simmons, co-founder of Def Jam Recordings, said of his father, Daniel, a New York City school-attendance supervisor and civil rights activist: “He respected what you learned in the culture in the street.”

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Thomas (Stewart) Nusbaumer, RIP

Stewart Nusbaumer on assignment in Iraq

Tom Nusbaumer, a veteran activist on numerous campaigns, died recently. And so did his restless, world-hopping writer alter ego, Stewart Nusbaumer. The activist and freelance journalist died August 12, according to family members, of health complications likely related to exposure to Agent Orange chemicals, succumbing 49 years after surviving severe wounds as a young Marine in Vietnam. He was 68.

After a long recovery in military hospitals, the native of Delaware who made New York his home devoted his life to exploring the world and writing about the hard questions of humanity’s persistent pattern of unleashing the furies of war while hoping for peace. 

“It's the ‘logic of the gun.’ You get hit and you hit them,” Stewart wrote on his Facebook page last year in response to a news article on the latest of history-laden clashes between Palestinians and Israelis. “If you don't hit back, then you lose. There are all kinds of tactics to do this but the result is always destruction and stalemate. Whine about compassion. Cry about justice. Lambaste and even regret all you want it to stop. But until the war stops it's the ‘logic of the gun.’"

As a ticked off Vietnam veteran, Tom Nusbaumer helped organize protests of the Reagan administration’s wars in Central America. Two decades later, he helped organize Veterans Against the Iraq War to protest the Bush administration’s military actions in the Middle East. As a restless writer, Stewart Nusbaumer founded and edited Intervention Magazine and covered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as a freelance journalist. He also lived in China for several years with his daughter, Margel, until he decided she should finish high school in New Jersey. In recent years, he shifted his focus from writing about wars to reviewing films. 

I first met Tom when he helped organize an art show in New York City of works by Vietnam veterans. He was a persistent organizer. Over the years, he drew me deeper and deeper into antiwar campaigns, often well beyond my comfort zone as a journalist working for daily newspapers. As a writer, largely for online publications and magazines, Stewart dug deeper and was more perceptive than most news reporters.

Tom burst in and out of my life like a hurricane. Stewart was a constant midnight goad on the Internet, cajoling me and many others into writing and editing copy—for free—on current affairs for Intervention Magazine of a caliber that drew nearly as many views, Stewart swore, as The Nation. 

My newspaper reporting was better as a result of Stewart’s influence, as well as my poetry.

And my life was better as a result of Tom’s friendship. He pulled me into adventures that, after my wife died, were healing and fun, including staying at his cabin in the Catskills and contemplating life on a forested mountainside. Tom and his wife, Tong, invited me into their life in a Morningside Heights apartment near Columbia University in New York City. Beneath his gruff exterior as a medically retired Marine who trudged through war zones on an artificial leg, Tom was a graduate of Vassar College with walls of books lining his living room.

A selection of his writing can be found at http://stewartnusbaumer.com/cms/index.php

Thursday, June 16, 2016

David Keefe: Teaching the Art of Transformation

David Keefe directing Combat Paper class

David Keefe served in the United States Marine Corps in Iraq as a riverine infantry scout from 2006-2007. When he came home from combat duty, he mobilized his leadership skills as a Marine sergeant and his talent as an artist to helping fellow veterans cope with the transition to civilian life through art.

Dave Keefe is the director of the Combat Paper NJ Program at the Printmaking Center of New Jersey, co-founder of Frontline Arts and senior assistant dean for student veteran initiatives at Columbia University. With a master of fine arts degree from Montclair State University and a bachelor of fine arts degree in painting from the University of Delaware, he teaches a course on Combat Papermaking for veterans at Montclair State University.

"Art is one of the best ways to express what exactly is going on in your head and in your heart. It can just be a way to tell stories. And stories can be a catalyst for anything after that, whether it's change or transformation,” he told a writer for the USO-Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore website. The USO sponsors Combat Paper workshops in the Washington, DC area. “We're transforming a certain element here that's a uniform that's the fibers. We're changing from a uniform into paper. That transformative act is a great process of art making."

Thanks to Dave Keefe’s vision, the creative process in these workshops, as many participants can attest, helps provide creative ideas for life transformations.

Selections of David Keefe’s art and work by many of his student-veterans at Montclair State will appear in “Combat Paper & Beyond,” an art exhibition running June 18 through July 9 at the Puffin Cultural Forum, 20 Puffin Way, Teaneck, NJ. The art show grand opening is Saturday, June 18 at 4 pm.

The exhibit explores the vision of the Combat Paper Project through innovative artwork created by veterans and non-veterans. Multi-media work by Eli Wright is featured with additional works by award-winning artists Jim Fallon, Rachel Heberling, Elisabeth Smolarz, Nate Lewis, Frank Wagner, Ron Erikson, Sarah Mess and others.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Sarah Mess: Illuminating War's Invisible Wounds

Sarah N. Mess served in the US Army with the 42nd Field Hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993. Her surgical unit handled mass casualties, hunkered down under rocket attacks, and Mess was pulled from operating room duty on occasion to carry a rifle on convoy security duty amid a UN humanitarian mission that disintegrated into full bore war.

“Coming home, I felt disconnected and invisible,” she told students at a New Jersey middle school during a classroom visit 20 years later. “Combat Paper NJ helps a community of veterans who have experienced these situations. War doesn’t leave you—it haunts you, so this program eases the burden. We all have experiences that we don’t necessarily know how to process.”

One of the first two women to be treated for PTSD at the Lyons NJ VA Combat PTSD unit, Sarah Mess is a mother, wife, Combat Paper maker and Warrior Writer. Her work is featured in Warrior Writers fourth anthology and has appeared in a number of Combat Paper gallery shows in New Jersey and at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Maine.

Selections of Sarah Mess’ art work will appear in “Combat Paper & Beyond,” an art exhibition running June 18 through July 9 at the Puffin Cultural Forum, 20 Puffin Way, Teaneck, NJ. The art show grand opening is Saturday, June 18 at 4 pm.

The exhibit explores the vision of the Combat Paper Project through innovative artwork created by veterans and non-veterans. Multi-media work by Eli Wright is featured with additional works by award-winning artists Jim Fallon, David Keefe, Rachel Heberling, Elisabeth Smolarz, Nate Lewis, Frank Wagner, Ron Erikson and others.

Combat Paper art work by Sarah Mess

Monday, June 13, 2016

Frank Wagner: Making Art out of Midnight Memories

Frank Wagner at peace vigil, Teaneck, NJ

Frank Wagner served as a radio operator with a US Army advisory team attached to a South Vietnamese infantry unit in the central Highlands of Viet Nam in 1964-65. He survived combat operations that the US government wouldn't acknowledge for 50 years. He signed up for Vietnam Veterans Against the War at a headshop on Cedar Lane, Teaneck in 1968. He's been an activist ever since.

A Bogota, NJ resident, Frank attended New York Institute of Photography and the School of Visual Arts, 1968-71. An active member of Veterans for Peace, DAV, Secaucus Vet Center art group, Warrior Writers, Combat Paper NJ and the Teaneck Community Chorus, Frank is a photographer, artist and poet.

Frank Wagner's art work has appeared in solo shows at local libraries and in Combat Paper shows in Jersey City, Morristown, Montclair and other locales. His work--ranging from photography to pen and ink drawings to wood carving--has won awards in VA art contests.

Selections of Frank Wagner's work will appear in “Combat Paper & Beyond,” an art exhibition running June 18 through July 9 at the Puffin Cultural Forum, 20 Puffin Way, Teaneck, NJ. The art show grand opening is Saturday, June 18 at 4 pm.

The exhibit explores the vision of the Combat Paper Project through innovative artwork created by veterans and non-veterans. Multi-media work by Eli Wright is featured with additional works by award-winning artists Jim Fallon, David Keefe, Rachel Heberling, Elisabeth Smolarz, Nate Lewis, Ron Erikson and others.

"Eyes" linocut on Combat Paper by Frank Wagner

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Nathan Lewis, Making Art Out of War Debris

Nathan Lewis at work

Nathan Lewis, who served in Iraq in an Army artillery unit, “is a master papermaker and writer, living in the farmland outside Trumansburg [NY]. He is one of the thousands of veterans who report symptoms of PTSD, but Lewis prefers the term ‘war trauma,’ because it’s more accurate,” noted a profile in The Ithaca Voice.

A Combat Paper and Warrior Writers instructor who helps run workshops and retreats from Maine to Virginia, Nate Lewis’ work as an organizer of art, writing and organic farming projects to assist veterans in coping with war trauma has been profiled in The New York Times, as well as in local publications in upstate New York. He is also an author of two collections of his poetry, prose and art that were handmade and published under the imprint of Combat Paper Press. His signature art work incorporates spray painted impressions of bullets, dog tags and other war artifacts.

Selections of Nate Lewis’ work will appear in “Combat Paper & Beyond,” an art exhibition running June 18 through July 9 at the Puffin Cultural Forum, 20 Puffin Way, Teaneck, NJ. The art show grand opening is Saturday, June 18 at 4 pm.

The exhibit explores the vision of the Combat Paper Project through innovative artwork created by veterans and non-veterans. Multi-media work by Eli Wright is featured with additional works by award-winning artists Jim Fallon, David Keefe, Rachel Heberling, Elisabeth Smolarz, Frank Wagner, Ron Erikson and others.

How to Make a Combat Paper Book
Inspired by Chris Arendt’s How to Make Combat Paper

By Nathan Lewis

1. Play Army in the woods
2. Put up F-14 Tomcat Jet-Fighter wallpaper above your bunk bed
3. Agree to a pizza date with the local Army recruiter
4. Graduate high school, watch the planes hit the towers, graduate basic training
5. Mix 1 part nationalism with 1 part college money, stir in ½ baked optimism
6. Train, get desert gear, deploy to Iraq
7. Arrive in Kuwait, breath fumes from oil wells
8. Drive to Baghdad, load munitions onto truck, repeat for 3 months
9. Get flat tires, stares from Iraqis and meet friendly kids
10, Forget to strap down box of hand grenades, take a turn too fast, spill onto busy street, keep driving
11. Take pictures, don’t change clothes, eat meals out of metal pouches
12. Watch traffic accidents, watch the truck in front of you burn,
watch commanders get blown off burning truck by mortar rounds
13. Return home, get drunk, grind kitty litter into oil stains in motorpool, repeat for 3 months
14. Get out of the Army, enroll in college, get a job
15. Think about steps 1-13 often
16. Start writing, in groups, alone, in public, in the basement, repeat for 6 years
17. Read WWI poets, read Vietnam War poets, read Iraq War poets,
become inspired by peers of the past and present
18. Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate
19. Start your first book with a poem about shitting in the sand
20. Send book to Harvard and your Grandparents
21. Ask for help, receive it, be grateful, live simple, speak your mind, plant seeds
22. Help others with steps 14-21, feel good again

photos: warriorwriters.org

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Odyssey of Combat Papermaker Jim Fallon

Jim Fallon

He didn’t set out to be an artist, yet Combat Papermaker Jim Fallon took 1st Place in the 2015 National Veterans Creative Arts Festival, sponsored by the US Department of Veterans Affairs and the American Legion Auxiliary. Entitled "Orphans' Opus '68," the winning work is an image from a photo Fallon took of Vietnamese orphans behind a gate merged with the strings of a grand piano. The silkscreen print is on paper made from Vietnam war uniforms.

Selections of Jim Fallon’s work will appear in “Combat Paper & Beyond,” an art exhibition running June 18 through July 9 at the Puffin Cultural Forum, 20 Puffin Way, Teaneck, NJ. The art show grand opening is Saturday, June 18 at 4 pm.

The exhibit explores the vision of the Combat Paper Project through innovative artwork created by veterans and non-veterans. Multi-media work by Eli Wright is featured with additional works by award-winning artists Jim Fallon, David Keefe, Rachel Heberling, Elisabeth Smolarz, Frank Wagner, Ron Erikson, Nate Lewis and others.

Born in Hoboken, NJ and raised in Jersey City, Fallon is retired and living in Hoboken. He served in Vietnam as a medic in an Army Reserve Medical Field Hospital Unit. During his tour in Vietnam, he also assisted a local orphanage, providing food, toys and extra medical supplies for the children.

He returned home to bartending, playing music in jazz clubs and working as a union representative. For a period of time he owned the Half Note Jazz Club in the Village in NYC. He also lived in Los Angeles, CA for 18 years working as a bartender and union representative. He’s an active member of many veterans’ organizations including Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace, Secaucus Veterans Center, Combat Paper NJ, Agent Orange Organizations and as a Service Officer for the DAV. Despite a severe arm injury from cancer due to exposure to Agent Orange chemicals, he took up art in a workshop several years ago at the Secaucus Vets Center.

Jim Fallon’s Combat Paper art has appeared in numerous exhibitions, including at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Holmdel, NJ, Gloucester County College, Brennan Gallery at the Brennan Court House in Jersey City, Jersey City Art & Studio Tour, and on display as the first place entry in the October 2015 National Veterans Creative Arts Festival in Durham, NC.

"Orphans' Opus '68" by Jim Fallon

Friday, June 3, 2016

“Combat Paper & Beyond” Art Show at Puffin Cultural Forum

Eli Wright at Combat Paper art show (photo: warriorwriters.org)

Art crafted from recycled military uniforms, bullet impressions, barbed wire, midnight memories and other artifacts of war is the centerpiece of “Combat Paper & Beyond,” an art exhibition running June 18 through July 9 at the Puffin Cultural Forum, 20 Puffin Way, Teaneck, NJ.

The art show grand opening is Saturday, June 18 at 4 pm. The event includes remarks by artists, a Warrior Writers poetry jam and music by singer/songwriter Tamra Hayden.

The exhibit explores the vision of the Combat Paper Project through innovative artwork created by veterans and non-veterans. Multi-media work by Eli Wright is featured with additional works by award-winning artists Jim Fallon, David Keefe, Rachel Heberling, Elisabeth Smolarz, Frank Wagner, Ron Erikson, Nate Lewis and others.

The exhibition is curated by Walt Nygard and Jan Barry, both of Teaneck, who served in Vietnam in the US Marine Corps and Army, respectively. They have curated previous art shows and poetry presentations by veterans at Puffin, the Brennan Galley in the Brennan Courthouse in Jersey City and other locales.

A combat medic in the US Army in Iraq, Eli Wright currently serves as co-coordinator of the Combat Paper Project at the Printmaking Center of NJ in Branchburg. He heads a team of Combat Paper and Warrior Writers instructors who provide art workshops for veterans and active duty soldiers at a number of locations in New Jersey and other East Coast states, including Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland and Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

Other artists include David Keefe, co-coordinator of Combat Paper NJ, a Marine veteran of Iraq who teaches a Combat Paper art course at Montclair State University, whose work has been displayed at Princeton University’s Bernstein Gallery, among many other galleries; Frank Wagner, of Bogota, a Vietnam veteran, whose works have won regional VA art awards; and Jim Fallon, of Hoboken, who served with the Army in Vietnam. One of Fallon’s Combat Paper art works won a national VA art award.

Paintings by Ron Erickson, a Bogota-based artist, were recently on display at an exhibit titled “Suburban Eyes” at the Edward Williams Gallery at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Rachel Heberling is the studio program manager at the Printmaking Center of NJ. Her work has been exhibited internationally, including at the National Arts Club in New York City and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC.

Nate Lewis, who served in the Army in Iraq, runs a Combat Papermaking studio on a farm near Ithaca, NY.

Among the writers participating in the Warrior Writers poetry jam: Jennifer Pacanowski, an Army veteran of Iraq, works with theater groups in New York City on dramas about the transition from war to civilian life and runs writing workshops for veterans in many locations; Everett Cox, a Vietnam veteran, coordinates Warrior Writers workshops in Orange County, NY; Kevin Basl, who served in the Army in Iraq, coordinates Warrior Writers workshops and book projects in a number of locations on the East Coast; Sarah Mess, an Army veteran of the war in Somalia whose poetry won a regional VA art award.

Warrior Writers offers writing workshops for military veterans and family members, including monthly gatherings at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation in Morristown and John Jay College in New York City, as well as in Boston, Philadelphia and a number of other cities.

Tamra Hayden, who resides in Teaneck and Denver, Colorado, is appearing between theater engagements in “Man of La Mancha” at Bristol Riverside Theatre in Pennsylvania and nightclub performances at Feinstein’s/54 Below in New York.

For more information and reservations: 201-836-3499 or www.puffinculturalforum.org

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Daniel Berrigan, R.I.P.

"The Trouble With Our State" poems by Daniel Berrigan

Peace Prayer Protest

He was the priest-poet of peace,
Daniel Berrigan was, a saintly soul
Along with his brothers Philip and Jerry
And assorted fellow religious peaceniks
Who went to jail for their beliefs,
Doing Plowshares protests of war machines.

Daniel prayed to stop deliberate destruction.
Did God ever stop and listen?
Daniel protested war and bad faith in pretenses of peace.
Did God hurl thunderbolts? Flood battlefields?
Daniel Berrigan prayed, protested, hurled poetry
At the worshipers of war.
Did God receive him into heavenly peace?

--Jan Barry

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Dioxane: Latest Hidden Health Threat

Paint sludge in stream by Ringwood State Park, 2005     (photo: Jan Barry)

Across America, government officials have a terrible track record on leveling with residents about toxic substances in our food and water. From pesticides in food to lead in drinking water, officials are generally quick to dismiss public concerns.  

Recently, a crowd of upset residents in Ringwood, NJ was assured by EPA officials that the finding of suspected cancer-causing dioxane in water in their community poses no immediate health threat.

Residents of the former iron mining community in Upper Ringwood, where Ford Motor Company dumped paint sludge and other toxic waste decades ago, were told that the latest hazardous contaminant to be found in their midst is at very low levels in a closed mine and local streams.

What federal Environmental Protection Agency officials didn’t tell the 200 or so people crammed into the Ringwood borough council chambers is that Americans are virtually swimming in this dangerous chemical—which is in soap and numerous other household products and increasingly showing up in rivers and ground water across the nation.

A plume of dioxane-tainted ground water under Ann Arbor, Michigan, for instance, forced the closure of a city well and created concerns that the contamination may reach the Huron River and threaten the city’s main drinking water source, a local news agency, Mlive, reported in January. 

Dioxane Linked to Cancer and Kidney, Liver Damage

Studies with test animals found that, over time, breathing fumes or drinking contaminated water or having skin contact with 1,4-dioxane causes liver and kidney ailments, including cancer, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry stated in a 2007 assessment of this chemical, which is used as a solvent and in the production of many household products, including food.

“Human exposure to 1,4-dioxane may occur by inhalation, ingestion, and dermal contact,” the report continued. “Because 1,4-dioxane may be found in tap water, human exposure to 1,4-dioxane may also occur during activities such as showering, bathing, and laundering.” the report added.

Besides what may be in the water, the report adds, “some cosmetics, detergents, and shampoos may contain 1,4-dioxane at levels higher than recommended by the FDA for other products.”

This synthetic industrial chemical is so widespread in American life that it is showing up in the discharge of sewage treatment plants, which often flow into rivers supplying drinking water to downstream communities. 

A North Carolina newspaper, The Courier-Tribune, reported last month that dioxane “became of interest in North Carolina after officials statewide conducted EPA-mandated tests ... Studies showed that Fayetteville and other communities along the Cape Fear River downstream of the Triad had elevated levels of 1,4 dioxane in drinking water drawn from the river.”

“Subsequent research traced much of the problem back to wastewater treatment plants in Greensboro, Asheboro and Reidsville along the Haw and Deep rivers that feed into the Cape Fear. The plants were releasing 1,4 dioxane in their treated sewage.”

The implication of such reports surfacing across the country is that the federal government has been slow to alert the public to what its health agencies have found to be a likely cause of cancer in people.

One observer at the EPA meeting in Ringwood raised an additional health risk factor.

“You’re not talking about the synergistic effect of this chemical combined with other chemicals and metals,” said Judith Zelikoff, a New York University environmental scientist who is doing a health study of area residents. “People I talk to have kidney problems,” Zelikoff added.

Previous water tests in the Ringwood Mines Superfund Site have repeatedly found elevated levels of benzene, lead and other hazardous substances. Under EPA oversight, Ford has fitfully removed tons of contaminated soil from the 500-acre site since the late 1980s. Tons more of industrial debris remain in old mine shafts and a landfill next to state parkland.

Several hundred people, many of them Ramapough Mountain Indians, live in the former mining community or moved elsewhere after growing up during the time industrial waste contaminated soil and water in the mountain area next to Ringwood State Park. Streams from the area flow to the nearby Wanaque Reservoir, the primary water supply for millions of residents in North Jersey.

EPA official assured the crowd, which included elected officials from Bergen and Passaic counties, that tests of the water at the reservoir water treatment plant had not found dioxane.

However, they reported that recent tests found dioxane in Park Brook flowing from the dump site and downstream in Sally’s Pond, a picturesque fishing spot by Ringwood Manor, an historic building in Ringwood State Park. Water from the pond flows into the reservoir.

“Our people drink from the springs, from the streams,” said Vincent Mann, a sub-chief of the Ramapough Indians, referring to the outdoors lifestyle of many Ringwood residents who grew up fishing and hunting in the forested Highlands region along the New Jersey-New York border. Mann also raised a concern with EPA officials that hikers in Ringwood State Park also visit the once-remote area.

Joe Gowers, the EPA case manager for the Ringwood Mines Superfund Site, told the crowd that “We believe the 1,4-dioxane has always been here.” It was found at the site in low levels, he said, because “There’s been a change in testing methods.”

He assured the crowd not to worry about these levels, in the range of 140 parts per billion in a mine air shaft full of water to .44 parts per billion in the pond by Ringwood Manor. The EPA has set a health advisory level of 200 parts per billion, he added.

“We have found 5,000 parts per billion in dish detergent,” he said, without elaborating on what that may mean to the average American household.

NJ Lowers Its Safety Limit for Dioxane

With little notice, some government agencies have begun to address dioxane as a health threat. New Jersey recently lowered its health advisory standard for dioxane in groundwater from 10 parts per billion to .4 parts per billion. But that change in a state regulation didn’t make the news. The information was reported to industrial contamination contractors by Cox-Colvin & Associates, a contamination cleanup consulting firm based in Ohio.

“For all active New Jersey sites where 1,4-dioxane is a known or potential contaminant of concern, the use of the new ground water remediation standard is effective immediately upon it’s posting to the NJDEP website (November 25, 2015),” Cox-Colvin noted in an industry newsletter.

“A handful of state governments including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and South Carolina have set advisory levels for 1,4-dioxane in water ranging from 70 μg/L [equivalent to parts per billion] to 0.3 μg/. Until now only Colorado had established an enforceable cleanup standard. With New Jersey and its many chlorinated solvent contaminated sites at the forefront of 1,4-dioxane investigation and remediation, expect the general awareness of this emerging contaminate to increase throughout the country.”

(An earlier version of this essay was published in The Record newspaper on 3/6/16)

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Warrior Writers: Evolving, Involving Way of Addressing War Experiences

I’ve taught journalism to scores of college students over the past several years as an adjunct professor. It’s hard to say what impact my sharing reporting tips from a decades-long journalism career has had. The newspaper business as a place for writers to work and grow took a tremendous hit in the 2007 recession and from advertising migrating to the Internet. My volunteer work since retiring from the newsroom in 2008, especially my interaction with Warrior Writers and Combat Paper, has been far more satisfying, as I see many participants grow.

Warrior Writers workshops that I help facilitate in New Jersey welcome veterans and military family members. This combination has enriched the discussions at these gatherings. Vets trying to deal with combat experiences and dismay after coming home hear mothers reveal their anguish over a child serving in a war. Parents hear about things in military life that they had no inkling of.

Everyone at these workshops--designed to provide a safe haven for sharing hard to discuss experiences—has witnessed a combat vet choke up while trying to describe something that happened long ago. 

For more than a year, Warrior Writers NJ has held writing workshops in veterans’ homes, informal gatherings that have attracted about a dozen vets and family members to monthly Sunday afternoon get-togethers. The format has also provided a support system for helping to organize poetry readings and art shows in conjunction with Combat Paper NJ, an art group for veterans that works with Warrior Writers on public events.

Since September, Warrior Writers NJ has also provided evening writing workshops once a month at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation in Morristown, NJ. This arrangement grew out of Warrior Writers poets being invited to read at the Dodge Poetry Festival in October 2014 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, NJ.

Another evolution in Warrior Writers, which started in Philadelphia, PA in 2007 with a focus on assisting veterans of the War on Terrorism, is that the workshops have also attracted many other veterans who served prior to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

“Warrior Writers saved my life,” says Sarah Mess, a New Jersey mother of two who served in a US Army field hospital in the war in Somalia in 1993. She was thrilled by an emotional meeting with another Somalia vet at a recent Warrior Writers workshop. At the same get-together were five Vietnam vets, a Gulf War I vet and the mother of a Marine who served in Iraq.

“The closest I have come to coming home has been in this community,” Sarah Mess said in a video, The Fog of War: Combat Paper and Warrior Writers, produced last year by State of the Arts NJ and shown on NJTV and other educational stations.

Under the direction of Warrior Writers founder Lovella Calica, the group has published four anthologies of writing and art by veterans who participated in workshops. The most recent is Warrior Writers: A Collection of Writing and Artwork by Veterans, published in 2014. The anthology includes the work of more than 70 veterans who served in Vietnam, Gulf War I, Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and other nations on military missions.

In a poem titled "Back to Iraq," in the Warrior Writers collection, Army veteran Nathan Lewis describes the process in Warrior Writers workshops of writing about troublesome thoughts. In the last stanza, he writes:

Take the route and go back
Back for one minute
Back for one second
Just for a thought
Just for a memory
The rubble, the smoke, the man with the shovel
I visit them in memory so they don't visit me in sleep

Finding a Creative Community

Kevin Basl, an Army vet who served in Iraq and coedited the Warrior Writers collection, wrote about learning about the program while studying for an MFA in fiction writing at Temple University: “I discovered what I had been lacking: a genuine, face-to-face community where I could share my stories honestly, a place where I could understand my new identity. I found myself surrounded by friends to encourage me both in my art and in processing my war experience, to help rekindle a sense of purpose. This was something essential that no MFA program could provide.”

The Warrior Writers workshop approach has spread across the country, with sessions hosted by art centers, colleges, VA hospitals and military bases. The workshops are run by veterans and supporters under the guidance of Lovella Calica, who periodically offers training workshops in Philadelphia and other locations.

Upcoming Warrior Writers events are scheduled in Boston, New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, and other locations. Combined workshops will be held with Combat Paper NJ at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and other locations in the Washington, DC area.

“A lot of the Combat Paper workshops include a writing element based on Warrior Writers’ free writing style. It really is an immediate way to get thoughts and feelings and expression out from your head,” David Keefe, director of Combat Paper NJ and a Marine vet of Iraq, said in The Fog of War video.

Seema Reza, a poet who runs writing workshops for active duty soldiers at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, wrote an appreciation for the Warrior Writers program as an afterword in the 2014 anthology: “I have used the work from Warrior Writers anthologies in writing groups … and every single time, I witness change and a greater sense of clarity—both in myself and in participants.”

For more information: www.warriorwriters.org


Friday, February 12, 2016

Dust Devils

Dust devil off Route 50 in Nevada, June 2015  (photo: Jan Barry)
Route 50 across Nevada,
“Loneliest highway in America,”
They say. No cars or trucks in sight
As I pull to the side for a pit stop.
A dust devil is rising to the north
Way out over Willow Creek Ranch,
As I pee on a  sage bush
Near the sign at the cattle gate.
By my feet, a rusted tin can,
Broken remains of a beer bottle,
Cigarette butts crushed in the sand.

How many times I’ve been
On some road, traveling alone.
I enjoy the silence,
The views, the timelessness,
Communing with Nature.
Soon enough I’ll be back
Amid friends and family,
The whirl of daily life.

 Water spouts swirl to the south.
A ring of magnificent mountains
Embraces the desert basin.
Generations of travelers
Have trekked through here,
Seeking something else.
I’m on the road again,
Looking for the meaning of life.

A dust devil dances
Across the desert
And across the highway,
A whirling dervish
Swirling in front of the car,
Suddenly a bronze-gray ghost
I drive through.
--Jan Barry 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Ford Cleanup in Torne Valley

Photos by Jan Barry

Just north of the New York State Thruway intersection with I-287 in Suffern, NY, a large swath of contaminated forest land is being cleaned up by Ford Motor Company. Acres of trees on a slope along Torne Brook, off Torne Valley Road, have been cut down and tons of soil tainted with lead-based paint sludge excavated. Bulldozers are now spreading clean topsoil in preparation for replanting a renewed forest in the spring.

This is the third substantial cleanup in the area of toxic waste from Ford’s former car and truck assembly plant that operated just over the border in Mahwah, NJ from 1955-1980. The current cleanup site arcs around the Ramapo Saltbox Environmental Research Center, which sits in a tiny copse of trees on a rise off Torne Valley Road. 

Just before Christmas, in conjunction with the winter solstice, a small crowd of environmental activists, environmental studies professors and students gathered at the center to celebrate the grassroots efforts that prodded Ford’s cleanup work.  

The cleanup site along Torne Brook is in a former sand and gravel pit where trees grew on top of buried paint sludge. Numerous pockets of buried sludge were identified and mapped out by Chuck Stead, a professor at Ramapo College of New Jersey who grew up in the area, with the assistance of students in classes he teaches at the state college. 

At the same time, Stead created the Ramapo Saltbox Environmental Research Center, organizing students at a number of schools and programs in the area to rebuild a 19th-century iron workers’ house that was moved to its present location. The current cleanup work is on Town of Ramapo open space lands near Harriman State Park. A municipal recreation center is a short distance downhill from the cleanup site. A long-closed municipal landfill, which was contaminated by industrial waste from numerous companies, is across the road. 

Well field site also cleaned up 

Two years ago, in response to the locally organized cleanup campaign, Ford contractors removed 42,000 tons of tainted soil from a sandy flood plain area further downstream where Torne Brook flows into the Ramapo River. The flood plain area hosts United Water Company wells that provide drinking water to much of Rockland County. 

In 2007, Ford contractors removed tons of soil contaminated from paint sludge that had been buried in another section of flood plain in a bend of the Ramapo River just north of the former assembly plant. Just downstream are wells for Mahwah’s municipal water system, which serves hundreds of homes, an array of public schools, dozens of restaurants, a number of major corporations and Ramapo College. 

Despite the threat to the area’s water supply, the toxic waste from the Ford plant was still in the ground and along streams where it was dumped decades ago, until recently. A campaign to clean it up was sparked by investigative reports by The Record of North Jersey in 2005 and 2006 that examined health concerns by residents of a former iron mining community in Ringwood, NJ where Ford contractors dumped hazardous material for years. The newspaper investigation, which I participated in and periodically updated, also raised concerns about the potential impact of toxic chemicals in the paint sludge on the nearby Wanaque Reservoir, which serves millions of New Jersey residents and businesses.

In response to renewed oversight of the Ringwood Mines Superfund Site by the US Environmental Protection Agency, Ford contractors excavated massive amounts of hazardous waste. Citing that cleanup action just over the mountain in New Jersey, officials and environmental activists in Rockland County demanded a cleanup of Ford industrial waste on the New York side of the border. Officials with the Town of Ramapo, where the bulk of Ford’s waste was dumped along the Ramapo River corridor, were particularly persistent. They gained support from county officials and the state departments of health and environmental conservation, which directed Ford to put together a comprehensive cleanup plan.

According to a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation report, paint sludge uncovered in the Torne Brook area exceeded health safety levels for Acetone, Benzene, Toluene, Ethyl Benzene, Xylene, Naphthalene, Inorganic Barium, Cadmium, Copper, Lead, Mercury, Nickel and Zinc.

For more information: