Christmas in the Trenches — written and performed by John McCutcheon
My name is Francis Tolliver, I come from Liverpool.
Two years ago, the war was waiting for me after school.
To Belgium and to Flanders, to Germany to here,
I fought for King and country I love dear.
Last December, songwriter John McCutcheon (the man the Oakland Tribune calls “the Bruce Springsteen of folk music”) approached a microphone at Berkeley’s Freight and Salvage and announced a special song. Those who knew the song grew silent. Those who were hearing it for the first time were soon nodding their heads in quiet affirmation. Some were openly sobbing.
McCuthcheon’s soul-wrenching ballad, “Christmas in the Trenches,” retells a nearly forgotten incident from WW I that people in Europe still remember as the “Christmas Miracle.”
‘Twas Christmas in the trenches, where the frost so bitter hung,
The frozen fields of France were still, no Christmas song was sung.
It was Christmas Eve, 1914. After only four months of fighting, more than a million men had perished in bloody conflict. The bodies of dead soldiers were scattered between the trenches of Europe, frozen in the snow. The battlefield had collapsed into a mud-mired frontline with Belgian, German, French, British and Canadian troops dug-in so close that they could easily exchange shouts.
Michael JÃ¼rgs’ book, Der Kleine Frieden im Grossen Krieg (The Small Peace in the Big War), based on rediscovered battlefield diaries, recounts how Lt. Kurt Zehmisch, a schoolteacher from Leipzig, was one of the German soldiers who blew a two-fingered whistle toward the British trenches on Christmas Eve.
To the delight of Zehmisch’s Saxon regiment, the Brits whistled back. Some of the Germans who had worked in England before the war shouted greetings across the battlefield in English.
On the Allied side, the British troops watched in amazement as candle-lit Christmas trees began to appear atop German trenches. The glowing trees soon appeared along the length of the German front.
Henry Williamson, a young soldier with the London Regiment wrote in his diary: “From the German parapet, a rich baritone voice had begun to sing a song I remembered my German nurse singing to meâ€¦. The grave and tender voice rose out of the frozen mist. It was all so strangeâ€¦ like being in another world — to which one had come through a nightmare.”
The cannon rested silent, the gas clouds rolled no more, as Christmas brought us respite from the warâ€¦.
The next they sang was Stille Nacht, “‘Tis Silent Night!” says I.
And in two tongues one song filled up that sky.
“There’s someone coming towards us!” the front-line sentry cried.
All sights were fixed on one lone figure trudging from their side.
His truce flag, like a Christmas star, shone on that plain so bright
As he, bravely, strode unarmed into the night.
Soldiers rose from their mud-drenched trenches. They greeted each other in No Man’s Land, wished each other a merry Christmas and agreed not to fire their rifles the next day.
“Afterwards,” Zehmisch wrote, “we placed even more candles than before on our kilometer-long trench, as well as Christmas trees. It was the purest illumination — the British expressed their joy through whistles and clappingâ€¦ It was a wonderful, if somewhat cold, night.”
The spontaneous cease-fire eventually embraced the entire 500-mile stretch of the Western Front, from the Belgian coast to the Swiss border. On Christmas day, more than a million soldiers put down their guns, left their trenches and celebrated the birth of the Prince of Peace among the bodies of their dead.
Soon one by one on either side walked into No Man’s Land.
With neither gun nor bayonet, we met there hand to hand.
We shared some secret brandy and wished each other wellâ€¦.
The soldiers exchanged handshakes, salutes and gifts of food. Some cut badges and buttons from their uniforms to exchange. Others passed around prized photos of their wives and children. Many exchanged addresses and promised to write after the war ended.
On that Christmas day, no bullets flew. Rifles lay at rest as soldiers from both sides swapped cigarettes and stories. German troops rolled out barrels of dark beer and the men from Liverpool and London reciprocated with offerings of British plum pudding.
Some soldiers produced soccer balls, while others improvised with balls fashioned from lumps of bundled straw or simply booted empty jam boxes. Belgians, French, Brits and Germans kicked their way across the icy fields for hours as fellow soldiers shouted encouragement.
Officers on both sides, aghast at the spectacle of peace breaking out between the lower ranks, responded with shouts of “treason” and threats of courts martial. But their threats were ignored. (One British officer, Ian Calhoun, a Scot, was subsequently court-martialed for “consorting with the enemy.” Only the intervention of King George V saved him from the gallows.)
Along some stretches of the Western Front, the truce lasted for several weeks. But, slowly, under threats from their officers, the troops returned to the trenches and rifles once more began to bark. (But many soldiers took care that their bullets flew well above the heads of the “enemy.”)
Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more.
With sad farewells, we each prepared to settle back to war.
But the question haunted every heart that lived that wondrous night:
“Whose family have I fixed within my sight?”
WW I lasted another two years. In that time, another 4.4 million men would die — an average of 6,000 each day.
My name is Francis Tolliver, in Liverpool I dwell.
Each Christmas come since World War I, I’ve learned its lesson well:
That the ones who call the shots won’t be among the dead and lame,
And on each end of the rifle, we’re the same.
Christmas in the Trenches
A tribute to our troops at Christmas and a memorial of the Christmas Truce of 1914. A project for Mr. Cutler’s grade 6 class.
(December 24, 2012) — After watching the deranged, delusional National Rifle Association press conference on Friday, it was clear that the Mayan prophecy had come true. Except the only world that was ending was the NRA’s. Their bullying power to set gun policy in this country is over.
The nation is repulsed by the massacre in Connecticut, and the signs are everywhere: a basketball coach at a post-game press conference; the Republican Joe Scarborough; a pawn shop owner in Florida; a gun buy-back program in New Jersey; a singing contest show on TV, and the conservative gun-owning judge who sentenced Jared Loughner.
So here’s my little bit of holiday cheer for you:
These gun massacres aren’t going to end any time soon.
I’m sorry to say this. But deep down we both know it’s true. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep pushing forward — after all, the momentum is on our side. I know all of us — including me — would love to see the president and Congress enact stronger gun laws. We need a ban on automatic AND semiautomatic weapons and magazine clips that hold more than 7 bullets. We need better background checks and more mental health services. We need to regulate the ammo, too.
But, friends, I would like to propose that while all of the above will certainly reduce gun deaths (ask Mayor Bloomberg — it is virtually impossible to buy a handgun in New York City and the result is the number of murders per year has gone from 2,200 to under 400), it won’t really bring about an end to these mass slayings and it will not address the core problem we have. Connecticut had one of the strongest gun laws in the country. That did nothing to prevent the murders of 20 small children on December 14th.
In fact, let’s be clear about Newtown: the killer had no criminal record so he would never have shown up on a background check. All of the guns he used were legally purchased. None fit the legal description of an “assault” weapon.
The killer seemed to have mental problems and his mother had him seek help, but that was worthless. As for security measures, the Sandy Hook school was locked down and buttoned up BEFORE the killer showed up that morning. Drills had been held for just such an incident. A lot of good that did.
And here’s the dirty little fact none of us liberals want to discuss: The killer only ceased his slaughter when he saw that cops were swarming onto the school grounds — i.e, the men with the guns. When he saw the guns a-coming, he stopped the bloodshed and killed himself.
Guns on police officers prevented another 20 or 40 or 100 deaths from happening. Guns sometimes work. (Then again, there was an armed deputy sheriff at Columbine High School the day of that massacre and he couldn’t/didn’t stop it.)
I am sorry to offer this reality check on our much-needed march toward a bunch of well-intended, necessary — but ultimately, mostly cosmetic — changes to our gun laws. The sad facts are these: Other countries that have guns (like Canada, which has 7 million guns — mostly hunting guns — in their 12 million households) have a low murder rate.
Kids in Japan watch the same violent movies and kids in Australia play the same violent video games (Grand Theft Auto was created by a British company; the UK had 58 gun murders last year in a nation of 63 million people). They simply don’t kill each other at the rate that we do. Why is that? THAT is the question we should be exploring while we are banning and restricting guns: Who are we?
I’d like to try to answer that question.
We are a country whose leaders officially sanction and carry out acts of violence as a means to often an immoral end. We invade countries who didn’t attack us. We’re currently using drones in a half-dozen countries, often killing civilians.
This probably shouldn’t come as a surprise to us as we are a nation founded on genocide and built on the backs of slaves. We slaughtered 600,000 of each other in a civil war. We “tamed the Wild West with a six-shooter,” and we rape and beat and kill our women without mercy and at a staggering rate: every three hours a women is murdered in the USA (half the time by an ex or a current); every three minutes a woman is raped in the USA; and every 15 seconds a woman is beaten in the USA.
We belong to an illustrious group of nations that still have the death penalty (North Korea, Saudi Arabia, China, Iran). We think nothing of letting tens of thousands of our own citizens die each year because they are uninsured and thus don’t see a doctor until it’s too late.
Why do we do this? One theory is simply “because we can.” There is a level of arrogance in the otherwise friendly American spirit, conning ourselves into believing there’s something exceptional about us that separates us from all those “other” countries (there are indeed many good things about us; the same could also be said of Belgium, New Zealand, France, Germany, etc.).
We think we’re #1 in everything when the truth is our students are 17th in science and 25th in math, and we’re 35th in life expectancy. We believe we have the greatest democracy but we have the lowest voting turnout of any western democracy. We’re biggest and the bestest at everything and we demand and take what we want.
And sometimes we have to be violent m*****f*****s to get it. But if one of us goes off-message and shows the utterly psychotic nature and brutal results of violence in a Newtown or an Aurora or a Virginia Tech, then we get all “sad” and “our hearts go out to the families” and presidents promise to take “meaningful action.” Well, maybe this president means it this time. He’d better. An angry mob of millions is not going to let this drop.
While we are discussing and demanding what to do, may I respectfully ask that we stop and take a look at what I believe are the three extenuating factors that may answer the question of why we Americans have more violence than most anyone else:
1. POVERTY. If there’s one thing that separates us from the rest of the developed world, it’s this. 50 million of our people live in poverty. One in five Americans goes hungry at some point during the year. The majority of those who aren’t poor are living from paycheck to paycheck. There’s no doubt this creates more crime. Middle class jobs prevent crime and violence. (If you don’t believe that, ask yourself this: If your neighbor has a job and is making $50,000/year, what are the chances he’s going to break into your home, shoot you and take your TV? Nil.)
2. FEAR/RACISM. We’re an awfully fearful country considering that, unlike most nations, we’ve never been invaded. (No, 1812 wasn’t an invasion. We started it.) Why on earth would we need 300 million guns in our homes? I get why the Russians might be a little spooked (over 20 million of them died in World War II). But what’s our excuse? Worried that the Indians from the casino may go on the warpath? Concerned that the Canadians seem to be amassing too many Tim Horton’s donut shops on both sides of the border?
No. It’s because too many white people are afraid of black people. Period. The vast majority of the guns in the U.S. are sold to white people who live in the suburbs or the country. When we fantasize about being mugged or home invaded, what’s the image of the perpetrator in our heads? Is it the freckled-face kid from down the street — or is it someone who is, if not black, at least poor?
I think it would be worth it to a) do our best to eradicate poverty and re-create the middle class we used to have, and b) stop promoting the image of the black man as the boogeyman out to hurt you. Calm down, white people, and put away your guns.
3. THE “ME” SOCIETY. I think it’s the every-man-for-himself ethos of this country that has put us in this mess and I believe it’s been our undoing. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps! You’re not my problem! This is mine!
Clearly, we are no longer our brother’s and sister’s keeper. You get sick and can’t afford the operation? Not my problem. The bank has foreclosed on your home? Not my problem. Can’t afford to go to college? Not my problem.
And yet, it all sooner or later becomes our problem, doesn’t it? Take away too many safety nets and everyone starts to feel the impact. Do you want to live in that kind of society, one where you will then have a legitimate reason to be in fear? I don’t.
I’m not saying it’s perfect anywhere else, but I have noticed, in my travels, that other civilized countries see a national benefit to taking care of each other. Free medical care, free or low-cost college, mental health help. And I wonder — why can’t we do that? I think it’s because in many other countries people see each other not as separate and alone but rather together, on the path of life, with each person existing as an integral part of the whole. And you help them when they’re in need, not punish them because they’ve had some misfortune or bad break. I have to believe one of the reasons gun murders in other countries are so rare is because there’s less of the lone wolf mentality amongst their citizens. Most are raised with a sense of connection, if not outright solidarity. And that makes it harder to kill one another.
Well, there’s some food for thought as we head home for the holidays. Don’t forget to say hi to your conservative brother-in-law for me. Even he will tell you that, if you can’t nail a deer in three shots — and claim you need a clip of 30 rounds — you’re not a hunter my friend, and you have no business owning a gun.
Have a wonderful Christmas or a beautiful December 25th!
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
“Did We Just Kill a Kid?”:
Drone Operator Who Killed Afghan Child
Can’t Sleep After Waging War Miles Away
(December 17, 2012) — The human costs of the drone war the Obama administration has escalated are rarely talked about. Hundreds of civilians have been killed in Pakistan and Yemen by US drone strikes.
Now, a report in a German publication is shining a light on how drones are having an effect on the humans back home controlling the unmanned aerial vehicles–though the suffering of soldiers in comfortable locales pales in comparison to the suffering inflicted on civilians in Pakistan, Yemen and Afghanistan.â€¨â€¨
Der Spiegel, a leading German news magazine, has published an extensive report that looks into the American soldiers operating drones. The reporter, Nicola Abe, traveled across the US to profile a few of the soldiers heavily involved in operating drones. The Der Spiegel reporter focuses a lot on a soldier named Brandon Bryant, who controls drones flying over Afghanistan from the USâ€¨â€¨
Bryant “worked in an oblong, windowless container about the size of a trailer, where the air-conditioning was kept at 17 degrees Celsius (63 degrees Fahrenheit) and, for security reasons, the door couldn’t be opened,” the magazine writes. It was there that Bryant carried out a drone strike responsible for the death of a child–an incident that haunted him.â€¨â€¨
After the strike landed and killed a child, one pilot said: “Did we just kill a kid?” Another responded: “Yeah, I guess that was a kid.”â€¨â€¨
Bryant told Der Spiegel he completed over 6,000 hours of flight from his base in New Mexico. “I saw men, women and children die during that time,” he says. “I never thought I would kill that many people. In fact, I thought I couldn’t kill anyone at all.”â€¨â€¨
After clocking in all those hours, the drone killings started to affect Bryant personally. The first time he hit the button to fire a missile that struck halfway around the world, Bryant said he “felt disconnected from humanity for almost a week.” Now, “he can’t sit in one place for very long anymore”–it makes him nervous. His girlfriend broke up with him. He’s also having trouble sleeping.â€¨â€¨
Another soldier they profile is Vanessa Meyer, though that’s not her real name. Another drone operator, Meyer doesn’t have any remorse or bad feelings about her time conducting drone strikes. “When the decision had been made, and they saw that this was an enemy, a hostile person, a legal target that was worthy of being destroyed, I had no problem with taking the shot,” said Meyer.â€¨â€¨
Der Spiegel also highlights the jarring disconnect when someone wages a war thousands of miles away by remote control. “When Bryant left the container that day, he stepped directly into America: dry grasslands stretching to the horizon, fields and the smell of liquid manure. Every few seconds, a light on the radar tower at the Cannon Air Force Base flashed in the twilight. There was no war going on there,” the publication writes.â€¨â€¨
But others in the military are strong supporters of the drone program. Drones “save lives,” said Colonel William Tart, the former head of drone operations at a base in Nevada. He touted their success in Libya, in doing humanitarian work in Haiti and in saving soldiers in Afghanistan.â€¨â€¨
That’s cold comfort for Bryant. The feature ends by looking at why Bryant left the Air Force. “On uneventful days in the cockpit, he would write in his diary, jotting down lines like: â€˜On the battlefield there are no sides, just bloodshed. Total war.
Every horror witnessed. I wish my eyes would rot.'” He didn’t enjoy seeing his friends any longer, talked back to superior officers and, during one day, “collapsed at work, doubling over and spitting blood. The doctor told him to stay home, and ordered him not to return to work until he could sleep more than four hours a night for two weeks in a row.”â€¨â€¨
Bryant was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress-disorder.â€¨â€¨â€¨
Alex Kane is AlterNet’s New York-based World editor, and an assistant editor for Mondoweiss. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
LOS ANGELES (December 23, 2012) â€“ A number of high profile film premieres have been cancelled in response to Connecticut massacre. Fifty-five prominent Hollywood celebrities have participated in an online campaign with a simple message against gun violence: “Enough”. Several film and television production companies have also cancelled screenings of films and television shows which feature gunplay and killing.
The Ultimate Logic of a Society Built on Mass Murder It’s not a sudden madness, but a long history of mass murder come full circle Glen Ford / Black Agenda Report
(December 21, 2012) — As a native-born American, I grew up watching cowboy and Indian shoot-em-ups in which the highlight of the movie was when the white guys in the circled wagon train shot the Indians off their horses until all the red men were dead, and very silent. Indians didn’t do a lot of screaming in pain when they were shot; they just expired.
Same thing with buck-toothed Japanese, line after line of them, charging into US machine guns, falling instantly silent and dead. It was somehow quite clean, almost antiseptic, these cinematic rituals of death, all staged for the broadest popular consumption to demonstrate the inevitability — and cosmic justice — of ultimate white victory over the darker races.
This was mother’s milk to the white American nation — which is why Richard Pryor and kids like me rooted for the Indians. Mass murder is at the core of the American national religion, which is a celebration of a genocidal march across a continent filled with other, doomed human beings.
America’s contribution to European culture was to invite “all the nations of Europe” to come to these shores and become fellow “white” citizens, whose status was defined by the enforced inferiority of Blacks and the remnants of the Indians.
Ritual burnings of Blacks were organized as great public festivals, attended by thousands, staged in order to affirm whites’ collective right to commit murder. This monopoly on violence was what made them white Americans.
US foreign policy reflects the nation’s origins and ghastly evolution into a globe-strutting mob, that empowers itself to kill at will. A million dead Filipinos at the turn of the 20th century; aerial bombing of Haitian villages less than a generation later; the totally unwarranted nuclear annihilation of two cities at the very end of World War Two; two million dead Koreans shortly thereafter; three million dead Vietnamese in the next decade,; and, since 1996, six million Congolese — all, and many, many more, slaughtered in the name of US civilizational superiority — the ghastly opiate of the white American masses.
What kind of human beings does such a culture produce? To paraphrase the Bible, “By their massacres, ye shall know them.” The modern mass American murder is overwhelmingly a white phenomenon. Yet few whites ask the question, “What’s wrong with white America?”
It seems that white America lacks the capacity for self-examination. It cannot grasp the simple truth, that a culture that celebrates the annihilation of whole peoples, casually and without guilt or introspection, is devoid of human values at its very core. In the end, it turns against itself. That is the simple lesson of Newtown, and Columbine, and Aurora.
The same cultural deformity creates a huge market for games like the very popular Assassin’s Creed, whose latest version integrates individual and group murder with events of the American Revolutionary War. American kids can simulate mass murder all day long, and feel patriotic and smart while doing it. Assassin’s Creed features an inter-racial cast of killers — possibly in deference to the brown guy in the White House who owns the ultimate Kill List.
It’s the modern equivalent of the cowboys and Indians movies of my youth. The same sickness.
(c) 2012 Black Agenda Report
Back Agenda Report executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
In accordance with Title 17 USC. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.
Drones on domestic surveillance duties
are already deployed by police and corporations.
In time, they will likely be weaponized
(December 21, 2012) — People often ask me, in terms of my argument about “ten steps” that mark the descent to a police state or closed society, at what stage we are. I am sorry to say that with the importation of what will be tens of thousands of drones, by both US military and by commercial interests, into US airspace, with a specific mandate to engage in surveillance and with the capacity for weaponization — which is due to begin in earnest at the start of the new year — it means that the police state is now officially here.
In February of this year, Congress passed the FAA Reauthorization Act, with its provision to deploy fleets of drones domestically. Jennifer Lynch, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, notes that this followed a major lobbying effort, “a huge push by […] the defense sector” to promote the use of drones in American skies: 30,000 of them are expected to be in use by 2020, some as small as hummingbirds — meaning that you won’t necessarily see them, tracking your meeting with your fellow-activists, with your accountant or your congressman, or filming your cruising the bars or your assignation with your lover, as its video-gathering whirs.
Others will be as big as passenger planes. Business-friendly media stress their planned abundant use by corporations: police in Seattle have already deployed them.
An unclassified US air force document reported by CBS news expands on this unprecedented and unconstitutional step — one that formally brings the military into the role of controlling domestic populations on US soil, which is the bright line that separates a democracy from a military oligarchy.
(The US constitution allows for the deployment of National Guard units by governors, who are answerable to the people; but this system is intended, as is posse comitatus, to prevent the military from taking action aimed at US citizens domestically.)
The air force document explains that the air force will be overseeing the deployment of its own military surveillance drones within the borders of the US; that it may keep video and other data it collects with these drones for 90 days without a warrant — and will then, retroactively, determine if the material can be retained — which does away for good with the fourth amendment in these cases.
While the drones are not supposed to specifically “conduct non-consensual surveillance on on specifically identified US persons”, according to the document, the wording allows for domestic military surveillance of non-“specifically identified” people (that is, a group of activists or protesters) and it comes with the important caveat, also seemingly wholly unconstitutional, that it may not target individuals “unless expressly approved by the secretary of Defense”.
In other words, the Pentagon can now send a domestic drone to hover outside your apartment window, collecting footage of you and your family, if the secretary of Defense approves it. Or it may track you and your friends and pick up audio of your conversations, on your way, say, to protest or vote or talk to your representative, if you are not “specifically identified”, a determination that is so vague as to be meaningless.
What happens to those images, that audio? “Distribution of domestic imagery” can go to various other government agencies without your consent, and that imagery can, in that case, be distributed to various government agencies; it may also include your most private moments and most personal activities. The authorized “collected information may incidentally include US persons or private property without consent,” Jennifer Lynch of the Electronic Frontier Foundation told CBS:
“In some records that were released by the air force recently … under their rules, they are allowed to fly drones in public areas and record information on domestic situations.”
This document accompanies a major federal push for drone deployment this year in the United States, accompanied by federal policies to encourage law enforcement agencies to obtain and use them locally, as well as by federal support for their commercial deployment.
That is to say: now HSBC, Chase, Halliburton etc can have their very own fleets of domestic surveillance drones. The FAA recently established a more efficient process for local police departments to get permits for their own squadrons of drones.
Given the Department of Homeland Security militarization of police departments, once the circle is completed with San Francisco or New York or Chicago local cops having their own drone fleet — and with Chase, HSBC and other banks having hired local police, as I reported here last week — the meshing of military, domestic law enforcement, and commercial interests is absolute. You don’t need a messy, distressing declaration of martial law.
And drone fleets owned by private corporations means that a first amendment right of assembly is now over: if Occupy is massing outside of a bank, send the drone fleet to surveil, track and harass them. If citizens rally outside the local Capitol? Same thing.
As one of my readers put it, the scary thing about this new arrangement is deniability: bad things done to citizens by drones can be denied by private interests — “Oh, that must have been an LAPD drone” — and LAPD can insist that it must have been a private industry drone. For where, of course, will be the accountability from citizens buzzed or worse by these things?
Domestic drone use is here, and the meshing has begun: local cops in Grand Forks, North Dakota called in a DHS Predator drone — the same make that has caused hundreds of civilian casualties in Pakistan — over a dispute involving a herd of cattle.
The military rollout in process and planned, within the US, is massive: the Christian Science Monitor reports that a total of 110 military sites for drone activity are either built or will be built, in 39 states. That covers America.
We don’t need a military takeover: with these capabilities on US soil and this air force white paper authorization for data collection, the military will be effectively in control of the private lives of American citizens. And these drones are not yet weaponized.
“I don’t think it’s crazy to worry about weaponized drones. There is a real consensus that has emerged against allowing weaponized drones domestically. The International Association of Chiefs of Police has recommended against it,” warns Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst at the ACLU, noting that there is already political pressure in favor of weaponization:
“At the same time, it is inevitable that we will see [increased] pressure to allow weaponized drones. The way that it will unfold is probably this: somebody will want to put a relatively ‘soft’ nonlethal weapon on a drone for crowd control. And then things will ratchet up from there.”
And the risk of that? The New America Foundation’s report on drone use in Pakistan noted that the Guardian had confirmed 193 children’s deaths from drone attacks in seven years. It noted that for the deaths of ten militants, 1,400 civilians with no involvement in terrorism also died.
Not surprisingly, everyone in that region is traumatized: children scream when they hear drones. An NYU and Stanford Law School report notes that drones “terrorize citizens 24 hours a day”.
If US drones may first be weaponized with crowd-control features, not lethal force features, but with no risk to military or to police departments or DHS, the playing field for freedom of assembly is changed forever. So is our private life, as the ACLU’s Stanley explains:
“Our biggest concerns about the deployment of drones domestically is that they will be used to create pervasive surveillance networks. The danger would be that an ordinary individual once they step out of their house will be monitored by a drone everywhere they walk or drive. They may not be aware of it. They might monitored or tracked by some silent invisible drone everywhere they walk or drive.”
“So what? Why should they worry?” I asked.
“Your comings and goings can be very revealing of who you are and what you are doing and reveal very intrusive things about you — what houses of worship you are going to, political meetings, particular doctors, your friends’ and lovers’ houses.”
I mentioned the air force white paper. “Isn’t the military not supposed to be spying on Americans?” I asked.
“Yes, the posse comitatus act passed in the 19th century forbids a military role in law enforcement among Americans.”
What can we do if we want to oppose this? I wondered. According to Stanley, many states are passing legislation banning domestic drone use. Once again, in the fight to keep America a republic, grassroots activism is pitched in an unequal contest against a militarized federal government.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Tom Englehardt & Chris Hellman and Mattea Kramer / TomDispatch – 2012-12-22 21:41:08
How Much Does Washington Spend on “Defense”?
Tom Englehardt / TomDispatch
(May 22, 2012)– As the country’s big wars on the Eurasian continent wind down, American warmaking and war preparations fly ever more regularly under the radar. There has, for instance, been much discussion about the Obama administration’s policy “pivot” to Asia — the only warlike act in the region so far has, however, been a little noted drone strike in the Philippines.
At the same time, remarkably little attention has been paid to a massive build-up of US forces in the Persian Gulf, and — though both seem to be underway (and connected) — who talks about the “pivot” to the Western Indian Ocean or the “pivot” to Africa?
For those keeping a careful eye out, US drone (and air) bases in the region have been proliferating — in the Seychelles Islands, in Ethiopia, and at an unidentified site on the Arabian peninsula, among other places.
Recently, however, Wired’s Danger Room website reported that an Italian blogger had put the pieces together and offered impressive evidence of a larger war-making effort in the region, involving not only drones but F-15E fighter jets, possibly being used to bomb Yemen.
Meanwhile, there are US drone strikes in Yemen almost daily and at least 20 special forces operatives are reportedly now on the ground there, helping direct some of the fighting and even taking casualties.
Meanwhile, the US Africa Command (Africom), set up in 2007, has been gaining clout. In 2011, 100 special operations troops, mainly Green Berets, were moved into Central Africa, officially to aid in the hunting down of Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Recently, it was reported that a brigade of regular US combat troops will soon be assigned to the command and given training duties throughout the region.
Meanwhile, the US has been organizing a proxy war, supported by drone attacks, against al-Shabab rebels in Somalia, using Ugandan, Kenyan, and other African troops as those proxies. And more’s afoot. It’s just that, if you weren’t an obsessive news watcher, you would have next to no way of knowing that any of this was taking place.
War American-style, already long detached from the lives of most Americans, is growing more so: ever more secret, presidential, and beyond the control of, or accountability to, citizens or Congress. In only one way is this not true: we taxpayers still fork over the massive sums that make our perpetual state of war and war state possible.
As Chris Hellman and Mattea Kramer of the invaluable National Priorities Project report, the expense of all this is blowing a hole in your wallet and our treasury. To offer but one small example, if someday soon the Pakistani/Afghan border is reopened to US war supplies, you will be paying the Pakistanis $1,500-$1,800 for every truck that crosses it, at an estimated cost of at least $1 million a day (with other “fees” likely).
And yet, it’s remarkable how little Americans know about what’s coming out of their pockets when the subject is “national security,” or where exactly it’s all going. Which is why we need Hellman and Kramer (and their new book, A People’s Guide to the Federal Budget) to keep us in the loop.
War Pay â€¨
The Nearly $1 Trillion National Security Budget â€¨ Chris Hellman and Mattea Kramer
(December 21, 2012) — Recent months have seen a flurry of headlines about cuts (often called “threats”) to the US defense budget. Last week, lawmakers in the House of Representatives even passed a bill that was meant to spare national security spending from future cuts by reducing school-lunch funding and other social programs.
Here, then, is a simple question that, for some curious reason, no one bothers to ask, no less answer: How much are we spending on national security these days? With major wars winding down, has Washington already cut such spending so close to the bone that further reductions would be perilous to our safety?
In fact, with projected cuts added in, the national security budget in fiscal 2013 will be nearly $1 trillion — a staggering enough sum that it’s worth taking a walk through the maze of the national security budget to see just where that money’s lodged.
If you’ve heard a number for how much the US spends on the military, it’s probably in the neighborhood of $530 billion. That’s the Pentagon’s base budget for fiscal 2013, and represents a 2.5% cut from 2012. But that $530 billion is merely the beginning of what the US spends on national security. Let’s dig a little deeper.
The Pentagon’s base budget doesn’t include war funding, which in recent years has been well over $100 billion. With US troops withdrawn from Iraq and troop levels falling in Afghanistan, you might think that war funding would be plummeting as well. In fact, it will drop to a mere $88 billion in fiscal 2013. By way of comparison, the federal government will spend around $64 billion on education that same year.
Add in war funding, and our national security total jumps to $618 billion. And we’re still just getting started.
The US military maintains an arsenal of nuclear weapons. You might assume that we’ve already accounted for nukes in the Pentagon’s $530 billion base budget. But you’d be wrong. Funding for nuclear weapons falls under the Department of Energy (DOE), so it’s a number you rarely hear. In fiscal 2013, we’ll be spending $11.5 billion on weapons and related programs at the DOE. And disposal of nuclear waste is expensive, so add another $6.4 billion for weapons cleanup.
Now, we’re at $636 billion and counting.
How about homeland security? We’ve got to figure that in, too. There’s the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which will run taxpayers $35.5 billion for its national security activities in fiscal 2013. But there’s funding for homeland security squirreled away in just about every other federal agency as well. Think, for example, about programs to secure the food supply, funded through the US Department of Agriculture. So add another $13.5 billion for homeland security at federal agencies other than DHS.
That brings our total to $685 billion.
Then there’s the international affairs budget, another obscure corner of the federal budget that just happens to be jammed with national security funds. For fiscal 2013, $8 billion in additional war funding for Iraq and Afghanistan is hidden away there.
There’s also $14 billion for what’s called “international security assistance” — that’s part of the weapons and training Washington offers foreign militaries around the world. Plus there’s $2 billion for “peacekeeping operations,” money US taxpayers send overseas to help fund military operations handled by international organizations and our allies.
That brings our national security total up to $709 billion.
We can’t forget the cost of caring for our nation’s veterans, including those wounded in our recent wars. That’s an important as well as hefty share of national security funding. In 2013, veterans programs will cost the federal government $138 billion.
That brings us to $847 billion — and we’re not done yet.
Taxpayers also fund pensions and other retirement benefits for non-veteran military retirees, which will cost $55 billion next year. And then there are the retirement costs for civilians who worked at the Department of Defense and now draw pensions and benefits. The federal government doesn’t publish a number on this, but based on the share of the federal workforce employed at the Pentagon, we can estimate that its civilian retirees will cost taxpayers around $21 billion in 2013.
By now, we’ve made it to $923 billion — and we’re finally almost done.
Just one more thing to add in, a miscellaneous defense account that’s separate from the defense base budget. It’s called “defense-related activities,” and it’s got $8 billion in it for 2013.
That brings our grand total to an astonishing $931 billion.
And this will turn out to be a conservative figure. We won’t spend less than that, but among other things, it doesn’t include the interest we’re paying on money we borrowed to fund past military operations; nor does it include portions of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration that are dedicated to national security. And we don’t know if this number captures the entire intelligence budget or not, because parts of intelligence funding are classified.
For now, however, that whopping $931 billion for fiscal year 2013 will have to do. If our national security budget were its own economy, it would be the 19th largest in the world, roughly the size of Australia’s. Meanwhile, the country with the next largest military budget, China, spends a mere pittance by comparison. The most recent estimate puts China’s military funding at around $136 billion.
Or think of it this way: National security accounts for one quarter of every dollar the federal government is projected to spend in 2013. And if you pull trust funds for programs like Social Security out of the equation, that figure rises to more than one third of every dollar in the projected 2013 federal budget.
Yet the House recently passed legislation to spare the defense budget from cuts, arguing that the automatic spending reductions scheduled for January 2013 would compromise national security. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has said such automatic cuts, which would total around $55 billion in 2013, would be “disastrous” for the defense budget.
To avoid them, the House would instead pull money from the National School Lunch Program, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Medicaid, food stamps, and programs like the Social Services Block Grant, which funds Meals on Wheels, among other initiatives.
Yet it wouldn’t be difficult to find savings in that $931 billion. There’s plenty of low-hanging fruit, starting with various costly weapons systems left over from the Cold War, like the Virginia class submarine, the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, the missile defense program, and the most expensive weapons system on the planet, the F-35 jet fighter. Cutting back or cancelling some of these programs would save billions of dollars annually.
In fact, Congress could find much deeper savings, but it would require fundamentally redefining national security in this country. On this issue, the American public is already several steps ahead of Washington. Americans overwhelmingly think that national security funding should be cut — deeply.
If lawmakers don’t pay closer attention to their constituents, we already know the alternative: pulling school-lunch funding.
Chris Hellman and Mattea Kramer are research analysts at the National Priorities Project. They wrote the soon-to-be-published book A People’s Guide to the Federal Budget, and host weekly two-minute Budget Brief videos on YouTube.
[Note: This is the latest National Priorities Project piece on TomDispatch about the true cost of national security. In a piece last year by Chris Hellman, the total cost of national security was calculated in a slightly different manner; it included interest payments on the borrowing that funded past military operations. In the national security numbers described above, such interest payments have been omitted.
For further reading on national security spending see “US Security Spending Since 9/11,” an examination of the nearly $8 trillion the United States has spent on defense since the September 11th attacks. Also see “Debt, Deficits, and Defense: A Way Forward” by the Sustainable Defense Task Force.]
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Copyright 2012 Chris Hellman and Mattea Kramer
(c) 2012 TomDispatch. All rights reserved.
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Bolivia’s Morales Calls for New Era of ‘Peace and Unity’ to Break Greed of Capitalism
(December 21, 2012) — Bolivian President Evo Morales is marking today’s winter solstice and the much-discussed calendar date by celebrating a hopeful vision for a “new era of peace and love” in the world, one in which the spirit of community and respect for Mother Earth will win out over the greed induced by global capitalism.
In an open invitation to celebrate the day, Morales explained that “the Mayan calendar’s 21 of December is the end of the non-time and the beginning of time. It is the end of the Macha and the beginning of the Pacha, the end of selfishness and the beginning of brotherhood, it is the end of individualism and the beginning of collectivism.”
And continued, “The scientists know very well that this marks the end of an anthropocentric life and the beginning of a bio-centric life. It is the end of hatred and the beginning of love, the end of lies and beginning of truth.
“It is the end of sadness and the beginning of happiness, it is the end of division and the beginning of unity, and this is a theme to be developed. That is why we invite all of you, those of you who bet on mankind, we invite those who want to share their experiences for the benefit of mankind.”
Morales, a champion of indigenous rights and himself a descendent of the Andean Aymara people, helped supplant the idea that the 2012 winter solstice marked the “end of times” or an “apocalypse” by clarifying that the lunar happening was simply an opportunity for spiritual renewal.
Though auspicious for the Mayan people, most of the loud rhetoric clamoring about the “end of the world” is a Western invention, pushed by those who know little of the traditions or spirit of the indigenous people and their deeper history.
As The Guardian reports:
Morales will mark the day by boarding one of the largest reed ships built in modern times and join thousands of people for celebrations on the Island of the Sun on Lake Titicaca.
“According to the Mayan calendar, the 21 of December is the end of the non-time and the beginning of time,” he told the UN in September. “It is the end of hatred and the beginning of love, the end of lies and beginning of truth.”
The Bolivian government has hailed the solstice as the start of an age in which community and collectivity will prevail over capitalism and individuality. Those themes have long been present in Morales’s discourse, especially in the idea of vivir bien, or living well.
He has stressed the importance of a harmonious balance between human life and the planet, though some people question its application in Bolivia, where the economy depends heavily on mining, oil and gas industries.
A fuller excerpt from Morales’ speech announcing the celebration for the solstice is provided by the Indian Country Media Network, in which he said:
“I wish to take this opportunity to announce an invitation to an international meeting on the 21 of December this year. A meeting closing the age of non-time and receiving the new age of balance and harmony for Mother Earth.
“It would take so long to tell you about the knowledge of our indigenous brothers in Mexico, in Guatemala, in Bolivia, in Ecuador, but basically we are issuing this invitation to hold a virtual debate, and also in person, on the following topics:
Number 1: Global crisis of capitalism
Number 2: Mold of civilization, world government, capitalism, socialism, community,â€¨ culture of life
Number 3: Climate crisis, relationship of the human being with nature
Number 4: Common energy, energy of change
Number 5: Awareness of Mother Earth
Number 6: Recovery of ancestral uses and customs, natural cosmic calendar
Number 7: Living well as a solution to the global crisis, because we affirm once again that one can only live better by plundering naturalâ€¨resources. This is a profound debate that I would like to have with the world.
Number 8: Food sovereignty of course, security with food sovereignty
Number 9: Integration, brotherhood, community economy, complementarity, right to communication, community learning for life, the new holistic human, the end of patriarchy, awakening of self knowledge, and of course health which is so important.
â€œAnd I would like to say that according to the Mayan calendar the 21 of December is the end of the non-time and the beginning of time. It is the end of the Macha and the beginning of the Pacha, the end of selfishness and the beginning of brotherhood, it is the end of individualism and the beginning of collectivism — 21 of December this year.
“The scientists know very well that this marks the end of an anthropocentric life and the beginning of a bio-centric life. It is the end of hatred and the beginning of love, the end of lies and beginning of truth. It is the end of sadness and the beginning of happiness, it is the end of division and the beginning of unity, and this is a theme to be developed. That is why we invite all of you, those of you who bet on mankind, we invite those who want to share their experiences for the benefit of mankind.”
And Shankar Chautari, also from The Guardian, reports back from a recent trip to the Mayan regions of Central and South America that there is little or no sense that the day marks the end of anything in a physical sense.
Throughout our trip, we encountered many ordinary Mayans from every walk of life to check out their reaction to the supposedly doomsday prediction. Most of the Mayans we spoke to were largely baffled by the question; others flatly denied that there was any reason that the world would come to an end.
Told that a lot of conventional wisdom behind the doomsday scenario in the rest of the world supposedly derived from ancient Mayan texts, they politely replied that they were not aware of any such prediction or text.
In every place we visited, whether in a large city like Merida or a smaller town like Celestun or Uayamon, we found the local people going about their business in perfect calmness without any concern for any impending apocalypse.
Perhaps that was because no such apocalypse is foretold. David Stuart, a noted Mayan and Meso-American specialist at the University of Texas at Austin, observed in his book The Order Of Days: The Maya World and the Truth About 2012, that “no Maya text — ancient, colonial or modern — ever predicted the end of time or the end of the world.”
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NIF Report Asks for More Time to Achieve Ignition Daniel Clery / Science Magazine (VOL 338) / American Academy for the Advancement of Science
(December 21, 2012) — The National Ignition Facility (NIF) faces an uncertain future after its managers admitted to Congress this month that they need at least another 3 years to try to identify what has pre- vented the giant laser fusion lab in California from achieving ignition.
The report sharpens an ongoing debate between those who say that NIF is essential to the maintenance of the nuclear weapons stockpile and opponents who claim that NIF is a boondoggle. NIF officials believe that major cuts in the facility’s $450-million-a- year operating budget could slow progress. But obtaining enough funding could be difficult given the intense pressure to reduce domestic spending.
When NIF went into full operation in 2009, the facility’s managers confidently predicted achieving ignition — a self-sustaining fusion reaction that produces excess energy — before the end of fiscal year 2012. That didn’t happen, however, and this month’s report, mandated by Congress, doesn’t attempt to set a new goal.
“At present, it is too early to assess whether or not ignition can be achieved at the National Ignition Facility,” wrote Thomas P. D’Agostino, head of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which manages NIF at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, in the report.
That uncertainty shouldn’t count against NIF, say its supporters. “That’s the nature of science. It would be absurd to build it and not use it,” says Representative Zoe Lofgren (Dâ€“CA), whose district abuts the Liver- more lab. But Marylia Kelley, director of the Livermore-based campaign group Tri- Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment, says: “NIF is actually taking money away from good science and needs to be held accountable.”
NIF, which cost $3.5 billion to build, attempts to create a burning fusion plasma by explosively compressing a small capsule of hydrogen fuel with powerful laser beams. Ignition is achieved when the fusion burn is both self-sustaining and produces more energy than the laser pulse that sparked it. A burning fusion plasma, which powers stars and H-bombs, could in theory provide clean and virtually limitless energy.
But NIF’s primary goal is to help maintain America’s nuclear arsenal. Weapons scientists use it to verify their computer simulations of how bombs operate and to test components for blast-hardness. Ignition is crucial for both energy and weapons goals.
NIF scientists have relied heavily on work with earlier lasers and computer modeling to develop a design for the target — a peppercorn-size sphere full of frozen hydro- gen isotopes — and the shape of the laser pulse needed to implode it. Those models predicted that NIF should already be producing ignition. And while NIF’s laser, diagnostic instruments, and target fabrication have met or exceeded specifications, the physics of the implosions remains a puzzle.
“The disagreement between NIF experimental data and codes and models reflects an inadequate understanding of key physics issues,” the report says. “Mother Nature kind of won on this one,” says Mary Hockaday, deputy associate director for weapons physics at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and one of the lead authors of the report.
NNSA has proposed a 3-year program to investigate those key physics issues and develop models that are better able to predict what is actually happening. “NIF was sized to do it, and we still believe it’s possible,” says Christopher Deeney, assistant deputy administrator for stockpile stewardship at NNSA.
NNSA plans to request funding for the new program “not quite at the level in FY2013, but not down significantly,” Deeney says. But the current proposed level may not hold up. Senator Dianne Feinstein (Dâ€“CA), chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, writes in an e-mail that “the committee must be assured of substantial progress toward NIF’s goal of achieving stockpile stewardship or the $450 million annual cost of operations will be difficult to justify.”
The NNSA report says the new program should explore alternatives to the indirect drive approach now used at NIF, in which the laser beams heat a gold cylinder the size of a pencil eraser that surrounds the target. Researchers at the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics and the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., have spent decades working on the alternative approach — direct drive — in which the laser beams shine directly onto the target capsule.
“Nine times as much energy ends up on the capsule containing the fuel,” says Robert McCrory, director of the Rochester lab. The other proposed back-up is a technique devised with Sandia National Laboratory’s Z machine that uses huge electrical pulses to crush fusion fuel magnetically.
“Indirect drive is still the focus,” Deeney says. “If indirect drive encounters problems, we can change horses. But there is no evidence the other approaches won’t have the same problems.”
The NNSA report assures legislators that the failure, thus far, to achieve ignition will not undermine the safety of current weapons. It says scientists can use results from the underground testing program (which ended in 1992) as well as data from monitoring the weapons themselves.
But the current problems with models and simulations limit the extent to which weapons scientists can use them to modify existing weapons. Critics point to that fact in arguing that NIF’s true goal is to keep weapons designers usefully employed in case they are needed to develop new weapons. “You do not need a giant laser to maintain the stockpile we have,” Kelley asserts.
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Obama Preempts NRA News Conference With Video on Gun Control
The Right’s Second Amendment Lies Robert Parry / Consortium News
(December 21, 2012) — Right-wing resistance to meaningful gun control is driven, in part, by a false notion that America’s Founders adopted the Second Amendment because they wanted an armed population that could battle the US government. The opposite is the truth, but many Americans seem to have embraced this absurd, anti-historical narrative.
The reality was that the Framers wrote the Constitution and added the Second Amendment with the goal of creating a strong central government with a citizens-based military force capable of putting down insurrections, not to enable or encourage uprisings. The key Framers, after all, were mostly men of means with a huge stake in an orderly society, the likes of George Washington and James Madison.
The men who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 weren’t precursors to France’s Robespierre or Russia’s Leon Trotsky, believers in perpetual revolutions. In fact, their work on the Constitution was influenced by the experience of Shays’ Rebellion in western Massachusetts in 1786, a populist uprising that the weak federal government, under the Articles of Confederation, lacked an army to defeat.
Daniel Shays, the leader of the revolt, was a former Continental Army captain who joined with other veterans and farmers to take up arms against the government for failing to address their economic grievances.
The rebellion alarmed retired Gen. George Washington who received reports on the developments from old Revolutionary War associates in Massachusetts, such as Gen. Henry Knox and Gen. Benjamin Lincoln. Washington was particularly concerned that the disorder might serve the interests of the British, who had only recently accepted the existence of the United States.
On Oct. 22, 1786, in a letter seeking more information from a friend in Connecticut, Washington wrote: â€œI am mortified beyond expression that in the moment of our acknowledged independence we should by our conduct verify the predictions of our transatlantic foe, and render ourselves ridiculous and contemptible in the eyes of all Europe.â€
In another letter on Nov. 7, 1786, Washington questioned Gen. Lincoln about the spreading unrest. â€œWhat is the cause of all these commotions? When and how will they end?â€ Lincoln responded: â€œMany of them appear to be absolutely so [mad] if an attempt to annihilate our present constitution and dissolve the present government can be considered as evidence of insanity.â€
However, the US government lacked the means to restore order, so wealthy Bostonians financed their own force under Gen. Lincoln to crush the uprising in February 1787. Afterwards, Washington expressed satisfaction at the outcome but remained concerned the rebellion might be a sign that European predictions about American chaos were coming true.
â€œIf three years ago [at the end of the American Revolution] any person had told me that at this day, I should see such a formidable rebellion against the laws & constitutions of our own making as now appears I should have thought him a bedlamite — a fit subject for a mad house,â€ Washington wrote to Knox on Feb. 3, 1787, adding that if the government â€œshrinks, or is unable to enforce its laws â€¦ anarchy & confusion must prevail.â€
Washington’s alarm about Shays’ Rebellion was a key factor in his decision to take part in â€“ and preside over â€“ the Constitutional Convention, which was supposed to offer revisions to the Articles of Confederation but instead threw out the old structure entirely and replaced it with the US Constitution, which shifted national sovereignty from the 13 states to â€œWe the Peopleâ€ and dramatically enhanced the power of the central government.
A central point of the Constitution was to create a peaceful means for the United States to implement policies favored by the people but within a structure of checks and balances to prevent radical changes deemed too disruptive to the established society. For instance, the two-year terms of the House of Representatives were meant to reflect the popular will but the six-year terms of the Senate were designed to temper the passions of the moment.
Within this framework of a democratic Republic, the Framers criminalized taking up arms against the government. Article IV, Section 4 committed the federal government to protect each state from not only invasion but â€œdomestic Violence,â€ and treason is one of the few crimes defined in the Constitution as â€œlevying war againstâ€ the United States as well as giving â€œAid and Comfortâ€ to the enemy (Article III, Section 3).
But it was the Constitution’s drastic expansion of federal power that prompted strong opposition from some Revolutionary War figures, such as Virginia’s Patrick Henry who denounced the Constitution and rallied a movement known as the Anti-Federalists.
Prospects for the Constitution’s ratification were in such doubt that its principal architect James Madison joined in a sales campaign known as the Federalist Papers in which he tried to play down how radical his changes actually were.
To win over other skeptics, Madison agreed to support a Bill of Rights, which would be proposed as the first ten amendments to the Constitution. Madison’s political maneuvering succeeded as the Constitution narrowly won approval in key states, such as Virginia, New York and Massachusetts. The First Congress then approved the Bill of Rights which were ratified in 1791. [For details, see Robert Parry’s America’s Stolen Narrative.]
Behind the Second Amendment
The Second Amendment dealt with concerns about â€œsecurityâ€ and the need for trained militias to ensure what the Constitution called â€œdomestic Tranquility.â€ There was also hesitancy among many Framers about the costs and risks from a large standing army, thus making militias composed of citizens an attractive alternative.
So, the Second Amendment read: â€œA well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.â€ Contrary to some current right-wing fantasies about the Framers wanting to encourage popular uprisings over grievances, the language of the amendment is clearly aimed at maintaining order within the country.
That point was driven home by the actions of the Second Congress amid another uprising which erupted in 1791 in western Pennsylvania. This anti-tax revolt, known as the Whiskey Rebellion, prompted Congress in 1792 to expand on the idea of â€œa well-regulated militiaâ€ by passing the Militia Acts which required all military-age white males to obtain their own muskets and equipment for service in militias.
In 1794, President Washington, who was determined to demonstrate the young government’s resolve, led a combined force of state militias against the Whiskey rebels. Their revolt soon collapsed and order was restored, demonstrating how the Second Amendment helped serve the government in maintaining â€œsecurity,â€ as the Amendment says.
Beyond this clear historical record — that the Framers’ intent was to create security for the new Republic, not promote armed rebellions — there is also the simple logic that the Framers represented the young nation’s aristocracy. Many, like Washington, owned vast tracts of land. They recognized that a strong central government and domestic tranquility were in their economic interests.
So, it would be counterintuitive â€“ as well as anti-historical â€“ to believe that Madison and Washington wanted to arm the population so the discontented could resist the constitutionally elected government. In reality, the Framers wanted to arm the people — at least the white males â€“ so uprisings, whether economic clashes like Shays’ Rebellion, anti-tax protests like the Whiskey Rebellion, attacks by Native Americans or slave revolts, could be repulsed.
However, the Right has invested heavily during the last several decades in fabricating a different national narrative, one that ignores both logic and the historical record. In this right-wing fantasy, the Framers wanted everyone to have a gun so they could violently resist their own government. To that end, a few incendiary quotes are cherry-picked or taken out of context.
This â€œhistoryâ€ has then been amplified through the Right’s powerful propaganda apparatus — Fox News, talk radio, the Internet and ideological publications — to persuade millions of Americans that their possession of semi-automatic assault rifles and other powerful firearms is what the Framers intended, that today’s gun-owners are fulfilling some centuries-old American duty.
The mythology about the Framers and the Second Amendment is, of course, only part of the fake history that the Right has created to persuade ill-informed Tea Partiers that they should dress up in Revolutionary War costumes and channel the spirits of men like Washington and Madison.
But this gun fable is particularly insidious because it obstructs efforts by today’s government to enact commonsense gun-control laws and thus the false narrative makes possible the kinds of slaughters that erupt periodically across the United States, most recently in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 schoolchildren and six teachers were murdered in minutes by an unstable young man with a civilian version of the M-16 combat rifle.
While it’s absurd to think that the Founders could have even contemplated such an act â€“ in their 18th Century world of single-fire muskets that required time-consuming reloading — right-wing gun advocates have evaded that obvious reality by postulating that Washington, Madison and other Framers would have wanted a highly armed population to commit what the Constitution defined as treason against the United States.
Today’s American Right is drunk on some very bad history, which is as dangerous as it is false.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
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WASHINGTON, DC (December 22, 2012) — There are certain aspects to being an American that I sometimes struggle to explain to my international television audience. The entire issue of guns in this country has been particularly challenging. I do think for much of the world we are defined by the number of weapons we own and the images of violence that so often dominate our local newscasts.
I have a friend from Algeria who was warned by his mother before moving to this country, “teenagers over there carry guns, be careful.” I understand that is how the world sees America, but I donâ€™t think that is how most Americans see this country or themselves.
Donâ€™t get me wrong it is an important issue and guns are prevalent, but here it is a sensitive topic that up until now hasn’t really been talked about. I compare it to religion and politics. Many kids grow up in this country being taught it is rude to express your opinions on those delicate subjects with company.
They don’t have to be taught that lesson when it comes to gun rights or gun control. If you would have asked people last week if they talk about their views on whom should have what weapons, they probably would have said it isn’t a subject for debate.
I am a firm believer that for most, it’s all about how you grow up. If you are raised in a home with guns, you donâ€™t see anything wrong with it. If your parents teach you that guns donâ€™t belong in a home, you probably still agree.
It feels very different now. People are talking about their positions, they are debating and arguing. The question now is what will their elected leaders do with this important debate?
Weâ€™ve been here before, politicians talk of a tragedy and promise change. So far, it has been just talk. This time might be different. I donâ€™t have any scientific data to tell you why I believe this, but I do have a best friend named Kathy and she is a teacher. She now locks the door to her 2nd grade classroom. She has never done that before. Kathy is not political. She never cared who owned guns or why, but she cares now. She asked me why the politicians wonâ€™t act to get rid of assault weapons, â€œwhat are they afraid of?â€ she said.
It’s not a simple answer. The cynic would say they are afraid of the powerful National Rifle Association and their 4 million members who vote, some based solely on this issue.
It could be that they truly believe that the 2nd amendment guarantees the right to own guns, all guns without limits. I’ve heard many politicians say an armed citizenry is the best insurance against government tyranny. Which of course begs the question- what can an AR-15 accomplish when put up against a modern day fighter jet or a tank?
Still, that is their argument and their unflinching belief. Many of these Americans believe to their core that this is their right and any infringement is felt as if it is an assault on their person. I think it is important to explain this is how they feel, it isn’t a simple issue. This is modern day America.
Others believe banning any kind of guns won’t accomplish anything. There are an estimated 200 million guns in this country. The argument is that it is too late and new laws would only keep guns out of the hands of law abiding citizens, not the crazy or the criminals.
So my answer to my friend, the politicians who will fight against gun control legislation may truly believe that it shouldnâ€™t change. They might be afraid of government tyranny, over-regulation, trampling the constitution or just losing their jobs. It was my best answer.
I couldn’t tell her what our elected leaders will do on this very sensitive, emotional and important issue. I do know what Kathy will do. She is going to continue to lock 8-year-olds into her classroom. It may be irrational. If you look at the statistics, she will likely never face a masked gunman. Still while I sit in Washington uncertain about the future of gun control, there is just one thing I know without a doubt.
If Kathy was put in that terrifying situation, she would do all she could to protect her kids, sacrificing her own life if she had to, in the process leaving her own children motherless. In her words, keeping kids safe, well, it is just what adults are supposed to do.
Patty Culhane joined Al Jazeera in 2009 and is now the White House Correspondent for the Network.
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