Just Another Night at Café Illumination

After the talk on Operation Cast Lead
Carla Nguyen and I headed over to Café Illumination
Where we began processing what we heard

We sat outside as it was a balmy night
Odd how calm we felt
After the typical brouhaha and sparks flying

We were surprised
When an older man approached us
“Hi, the name’s Cal…|

I saw you at the Palestine speaker
Damn! — That one guy got pretty hot
And no one was there to support him”

We introduced ourselves
Carla bid him to sit with us
But he replied, “No, you are talking together

I can see that …
The thing is I’m familiar
With this kind of thing”

Carla asked, “Which thing, Cal?”
“White phosphorous
I’m a vet

Vietnam 68 & 69
As was my brother before me …
He died a few years ago …”

Nothing like being candid
In the first two minutes
Of meeting someone

Then he continued
“Anyway, I’d be the first to agree
Israel’s got a lot to answer for

But compared to what we did–
And are doing–
Israel’s in the tee-ball league

Whereas of course
We’re the major leagues
No one has held us accountable

For the shit we did to the Vietnamese
Not to mention the Laotians
And Cambodian

Ah, damn, sorry to be such a downer–”
“No, we know what that’s like!”
I said noticing how intently

Cal was looking at Carla
Then he turned to me and mentioned
“I’ve got a little group going…”

And he handed me
An old-fashioned business card
With the name of his group

“Good night, good talking with you …”
He said with a smile
“…and Free Palestine!”

And with that Cal walked out into the night
“Carla, did you see how he was looking at you?”
“Yeah, but couldn’t you tell?”

“Tell what?”
“He was practicing deep looking at me
And I was practicing deep looking at him”

“OK, now I get it”
Then I showed Carla his card which read
“Agent Orange Satyagraha”


She Should Have Won the National Book Award

But then I think
What do these awards mean
They gotta serve somebody

I’ve checked the libraries
It’s her only book
On this—or any— subject

Why should the luminaries and guardians honor her
Which is to say honor our victims
Because that’s what she did

And that is just a little too much
For our Establishment Know-It-Alls
We may make “mistakes” but we don’t commit unforgivable countless crimes

And maybe you, too, would wanna steer clear
I get that—after all,
Franz Kafka’s sensibility Is not mainstream America

But Martha Hess produced a work
That could break the sea frozen inside of us
If we would dare to turn to page one of

Then the Americans Came


The Price is Worth It*

For Brooke Adams

Large nations do what they wish, while small nations accept what they must.

Imperialism says it wants to make us happy!
–Ernesto Cardenal

One does not become revolutionary from science, but from indignation.
–Maurice Merleau-Ponty

Get rid of Moussadegh who nationalized Iran’s oil
Work with SAVAK torturers who know how to deal with trouble-makers
Support Shah’s mid-70s nuclear program aspirations
Claim the Iranian people love the Shah
We think the price is worth it

Destroy the village to save the village
Support thugs from Diem to Thieu
Blast South Vietnam to smithereens
Bomb the North (and Laos and Cambodia)
Nixon doesn’t care about civilians
Use Agent Orange, napalm, CBUs, search and destroy
General Westmoreland: Orientals don’t value life like us Westerners
Distribute 20 million bomb craters compliments of U.S. Air Force
Body counts show we’re winning
(McNamara later estimates three million Vietnamese dead from war)
We think the price is worth it

Use Saddam to bleed Iran
Chemical weapons are OK
Send Rumsfeld to Baghdad
Saddam’s a good trading partner
Don’t make a fuss about the Kurds
We think the price is worth it

Make Chile’s economy scream
Use CIA to overthrow democratically elected president
Applaud General Pinochet
Take care of the subversives in the stadium
Thousands tortured
Thousands disappear
Let the Chicago Boys take care of the economy
We think the price is worth it

The Somozas are our sons of bitches
They want oxen not citizens
They understand the needs of U.S. business
The transcendent preferential option for the rich
Throw campesinos out of helicopters
Whatever it takes to crush the Sandinistas
Contra terrorism
Target literacy & health workers
We think the price is worth it

Maintain the status quo for El Salvador’s Fourteen Families
Ignore that bishop’s letter
A million dollars a day for a decade
D’Aubuisson isn’t squeamish
Duarte will take care of things
Can’t let another one of our countries have a revolution
Tens of thousands killed
Mutilation and decapitation
Blow out Jesuit brains
We think the price is worth it

Support Israel with UN vetoes
Remember the Holocaust
Send them F-16s and Apache helicopters
Approve destruction of Lebanon (1982)
Allocate billions annually
Approve destruction of Lebanon (2006)
Watch the settlements get bigger
Watch the Palestinians ghettos get smaller
Approve destruction of Gaza (2008-2009)
Don’t talk about Israel’s nuclear weapons
We think the price is worth it

Ignore world opinion
Trash international law
Commit crime of aggression by invading Iraq
We say it’s for WMD
We say it’s because we care about those living under a brutal dictator
We say it’s for democracy
Witness destruction of culture
Erect durable military bases in the heart of the oil-rich Middle East
Construct world’s largest embassy
Generate unprecedented number of terrorist jihadis
We don’t do body counts anymore
Some estimates a million dead Iraqis
Unknown number of torture victims
Close to five million people displaced from homes and in exile
The surge “worked” it is said
Things are getting better it is said
(So now we must go on to Afghanistan and Pakistan)
We think the price is worth it

*The title is indebted to the following Q and A in 1996 between interviewer Leslie Stahl and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Madeline Albright on the subject of the U.S.-backed sanctions against Iraq:

Stahl: “We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that is more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” ‘

Albright: “I think that is a very hard choice, but the price, we think, the price is worth it.”

Thanks to Brooke & Katie & Lauren & Neil & Randa & Nima & Matt & Neeta & Adam & Sarah & Meg & Alexis & Andrew & Don & Rhoda & Lala for recent challenging conversations.


Something’s Happening to Madeleine Weil

After hearing Cal speak
Of his trips to Friendship Villages
Madeline Weil started missing classes

She’d rather read in the library
Than go to Business Law classes
She’d study the photos of the children

She checked out autobiographies and memoirs
From decades ago by people her granddad’s age
And something began to change

Without her even noticing it
Her eating habits became less compulsive
Less time-and-energy-consuming

The more she contemplated the emaciated bodies
Of the Vietnamese then and now
The less attention she paid to her own body

Something new
Something different
Was eating away at her


Dear Rokhl Balaban

So after my article on Agent Orange Day
Was published in the campus newspaper

Professor Lang
Came up to me at Fatemeh’s Cafe and said

“Why do you only talk about
How the US and South Vietnam were wrong

How come you never mention
How rotten the Viet Cong were

How they killed children
Terrorized women

How they jailed Buddhists
Made so many people flee on boats

You’re one-sided
You should show both sides!”

Even though Professor Lang
is highly esteemed in the Pol Sci department

Not even he can read everything
Worth reading

Seems he must have missed
(Or forgotten)

Those lines from George Orwell’s
“Notes on Nationalism” (1945)

The nationalist not only does not disapprove
Of atrocities committed by his own side

But he has a remarkable capacity
For not even hearing about them

Which reminds me of
Matthew’s gospel–chapter 7, verses 3 to 5

See, Jesus has been on my mind
I’ve been reading that history you gave me

On Yiddish writers’ perspectives on the Galilean sage
I’m holding it all (or trying to)

Perry Schimmel

                            Boeing’s Dr. King, Our Dr. King

You remember your Dr. King
We remember ours

You believe that in these times
Dr. King would like diversity and inclusion

You cite his “content of their character”
“rather than the color of their skin”

Diversity is alive and well at Boeing
Everybody’s welcome to work there

On bombers and bunker busters
If you’ve got the skills

You can make the big bucks
At the company that thrives on war

That makes generous contributions
To the D.C. Dr. King memorial

But others around the world and in the U.S.
Remember a Dr. King you don’t know

Like survivors of the U.S. assault on Vietnam
The people Dr. King spoke out for in 1967-1968

“I knew that I could never again raise my voice
against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos

without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence
in the world today — my own government”

“If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned
part of the autopsy must read: Vietnam”

“When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights,
are considered more important than people,

the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism,
and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

Your Dr. King would applaud
The Boeing Company

Our Dr. King spoke out against
The U.S. destruction of Vietnamese human beings

And would have spoken out against
The U.S. destruction of Iraqi human beings

And would be disturbing the peace
Because of U.S. drone attacks on Afghan human beings

Your Dr. King would pat you on the back
Our Dr. King reminds us of “the fierce urgency of now”

Your Dr. King would not raise his voice
Our Dr. King would be standing amidst the rubble of Gaza with Palestinian human beings

Your Dr. King would have nothing to say
About the ever-escalating war budget

Our Dr. King would have been on the boats bound for Gaza
With Alice Walker, Hedy Epstein and friends

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense
than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

This is a familiar story
Honor the prophets when they are safely and long dead

Build them memorials
Praise them in national liturgies

While counting all those fantastic profits
From daily dealing in the machinery of death, dismemberment, and disintegration

Your Dr. King
At home in the military-industrial-corporate complex

Our Dr. King
At home with the sanitation workers, orphaned Vietnamese children, and Iraqi refugees

Your building on
Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech

Our building on
Dr. King’s words “Our only hope today lies in our ability

To recapture the revolutionary spirit
and go out into a sometimes hostile world

declaring eternal hostility
to poverty, racism, and militarism.”


Rokhl Balaban Engages with Her Critics

“Why are you people here?
Why are you making this fuss?”

“Sir, people are suffering, that’s why.”

“But people are suffering right here, too
I’ve got buddies who were sprayed
Why don’t you think of them or lobby for them?”

“Sir, if you know of any specific actions
we can involved in to care for our veterans harmed by Agent Orange”—-
Rokhl has the most poignant conviction pervading her face—-
“Let me know and we’ll join you”

The septuagenarian stood silent
Then she continued

“It’s true that at various times
the government and the corporations
have failed the veterans
But you must know
They’ve failed and harmed the Vietnamese many times more
After all it was they who bore the brunt of it
We’re standing here —
All these decades later not to ignore our veterans—
but to remember and respond to those harmed and still hurting in Vietnam
It’s not, I think, either/or, sir”

“Hal’s my name, your name is?”

“Rokhl, Hal, um, I’m Rachel.”


Remembrance, Responsibility, Reparations

Ariel S. Garfinkel, Scofflaw: International Law and America’s Deadly Weapons in Vietnam

With the recent passing of Senator John McCain, it’s clear how hard it is for many Americans see what we’ve done in the world. It’s much easier to see what others have done to us, in this case, the Vietnamese who held McCain captive and tortured him. Despite Trump’s demurrer that McCain was no “hero,” the week-long mourning and focus on his death and life speaks otherwise.

Ariel Garfinkel can help us better see who we are and who we’ve been. In her timely, informative, and piercing book, Scofflaw: International Law and America’s Deadly Weapons in Vietnam, she brings attention to the damage the U.S. did to the Vietnamese people both during the war and since, with its unexploded ordnance (UXO), and the lethal defoliant, Agent Orange. Because of these, people continue to suffer and die in excruciating ways.

Regarding UXO, Garfinkel writes, “Children are still being maimed by cluster bombs, their parents are still dying from grenades and mines, and the full removal of remaining live ordnance at the rate of success over the past two decades will reportedly take hundreds of years more.” As for Agent Orange, it is true that the U.S. government has acknowledged the significance of Agent Orange when it comes to care for our veterans, yet the government is unable and unwilling to acknowledge its responsibility for the death and devastation its has caused the Vietnamese people. According to the author, “an estimated 400,000 Vietnamese died as a result of exposure to the chemical sprays.”

The way forward, Garfinkel contends, is for the U.S. citizenry to make use of international law to push the government to act on its obligations, including making reparations to the Vietnamese people. Garfinkel has no illusions about intentional law: “The serious lack of teeth in the body and promising framework of human rights created over the past several decades cannot be denied. Even as these words are written, people suffer misery and death because states continue to undermine their obligations to human rights.”

I was reminded by Garfinkel’s analysis of the 2004 documentary, The Corporation, based on Joel Bakan’s book. Like the corporations who manufactured Agent Orange, the U.S. government cannot, or, at least up to this point, has not admitted guilt and acted on its responsibility. Whoever occupies the Oval Office will assert that the U.S. is the indispensable world leader and champion of international law. But, as Garfinkel states, by evading the laws appropriate to U.S. use of munitions and Agent Orange, the U.S. will “[remain] an international outlaw.”

Back in 2012 President Obama inaugurated an on-going commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. In official activities, one can be sure that the issues Garfinkel examines will not be mentionable. It’s instinctive for us to think about how the U.S. military suffered in those years; it’s rare for us to try to imagine what the Vietnamese went through because of U.S. policy: the “mothers whose sons never returned; children whose fathers can no longer provide for the family; families with little or no economic means to feed themselves due to destroyed homes, burned fields, and missing family members; and the permanently impaired, particularly the families whose infants continue to be born with gruesome deformities due to the permanent alteration of their parents’ and grandparents’ DNA by exposure to chemical defoliants.”

Ariel Garfinkel helps us to remember. May her book persuade more U.S. citizens to act responsibly in a movement for cleaning up UXO and working for reparations for those harmed over several generations.


Share the Wealth with Virginia Druhe:
Vietnam 40 Years after the American War

This past April, Virginia Druhe went on a Veterans for Peace delegation to Vietnam. She will share about the vibrant society of Vietnam through the eyes of U.S. veterans working to repair ongoing destruction resulting from Agent Orange and unexploded ordnance used during the war.

Virginia has been involved in peace and solidarity work for decades and works for the national office of Veterans for Peace (VFP) here in Saint Louis.

Join us Sunday 28 June
Potluck dinner begins at 6:00 pm
Virginia begins sharing at 6:45
At the home of Marty and Jerry King
Clayton, MO 63105



Perry Schimmel and Carla Nguyen appear in my novel, Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine.


This page is part of my book, Dear Love of Comrades, which you can read here.

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