Wartime during Life/2

November 12, 2007. Smithfield, NC.


After Reading Levertov’s Poem on the 1972 Christmas Bombing

for Andrew Wimmer and Suzanne Renard

Haven’t you had a similar fantasy
Sure, a different decade
A different civilization now being destroyed
Different men (sometimes)
Same crimes
Getting away with mass murder

Mind movies of righteous payback
(But like the Vietnamese woman said:
“The Americans cannot repay this debt
Because it’s too big”)
And after the phantasm runs its course
The daily discipline remains:

Channeling rage into the work—
Memory, resistance, eutopia


The civilized have created the wretched, quite coldly and deliberately, and do not intend to change the status quo; are responsible for their slaughter and enslavement; rain down bombs on defenseless children whenever and wherever they decide that their “vital interests” are menaced, and think nothing of torturing a man to death: these people are not to be taken seriously when they speak of the “sanctity” of human life, or the “conscience” of the civilized world.
— James Baldwin, 1976

We will use every necessary weapon of war. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen.

Every nation in every region now has a decision to make. Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists. I’ve put the armed forces on alert and there is a reason: The hour is coming when America will act and you will make us proud.

This is the world’s fight, this is civilization’s fight. The great achievements of our time and great hopes of all time, now depend on us.

The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain… and we know that God is not neutral.
—George W. Bush, 9.20.2001


 A Letter

Dear Friends,

Several of us from the Center of Theology and Social Analysis participated in a nonviolent direct action this past Friday at Aero Contractors in Johnston County, North Carolina.

See a piece Andrew Wimmer and I wrote that links the Jesuit assassination anniversary to our work against “extraordinary rendition,” whereby the CIA basically kidnaps terrorism suspects and flies them to third countries where the likelihood is great that they will be tortured.

14 of us have a court date on January 5, 2006 for our charge of criminal trespass onto Aero’s property.  We will keep you posted.

It was an energizing experience to be with a community of activists from Saint Louis and North Carolina and Chicago—Kathy Kelly of Voices in the Wilderness joined us as well.  In her recent book, Other Lands Have Dreams, Kathy writes of an exchange with two activists who have inspired her:

“Don’t you ever feel afraid?”

“Oh, now, don’t let anyone ever tell you they don’t feel fear,” said Ernest, folding his arms and crossing his long legs. “Everybody feels fear,” he said. “Courage is the ability to control your fear.”

“Ernie’s right,” Mac added. “And, you see, we catch courage from one another.”

So did we.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,


Questions about the War Dead

When the statisticians in the Armed Services
Tally up the war dead—
Most recently
In Iraq and Afghanistan—
Do they include
The veterans who commit suicide
In country or back at home?

How long in meters
Would another black granite memorial wall have to be
To carry the names of all the Vietnam veterans
Who took their lives
Whether in 1976
1983 or

How many decades would it take
To raise the money
To erect such a memorial?

How many official papers
On the monthly suicide totals
Of Iraq war veterans
Will find their place
In the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Memorial?

The Chasm between Theory and Practice

Upon the death of Hugo Chavez
President Obama said:

“As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history,
The United States remains committed

To policies that promote democratic principles,
The rule of law, and respect for human rights.”

He forgot to mention:
Attempting the assassination of heads of state

Facilitating impunity
For the war criminals in the previous administration

Generating refugees
In Pakistan

Producing collateral damage
In Afghanistan

Committing crimes against peace
In Iran

Ad nauseam

What the President Said, What the First Calvary Sang

And one of the most painful chapters in our history was Vietnam –
Most particularly, how we treated our troops who served there
You were often blamed for a war you didn’t start
When you should have been commended for serving your country with valor
You were sometimes blamed for misdeeds of a few
When the honorable service of the many should have been praised
You came home and sometimes were denigrated
When you should have been celebrated
It was a national shame, a disgrace that should have never happened
And that’s why here today we resolve that it will not happen again

–President Obama, 2012 Memorial Day address to Vietnam veterans

We shoot the sick, the young, the lame,
We do our best to kill and maim,
Because the kills count all the same,
Napalm sticks to kids.
Ox cart rolling down the road,
Peasants with a heavy load,
They’re all VC when the bombs explode,
Napalm sticks to kids.

–Song composed by the 1st Calvary Division, U.S. Army, Vietnam War

I Imagine Beethoven, Smiling (Daydream #35)

for Andrew Wimmer

In the posh concert hall
The renowned symphony orchestra is going to town
Offering the rapt, elegant audience

A rousing rendition
A awesome interpretation
Of the Ninth Symphony

Lo and behold it’s the famed Fourth Movement
The chorus is about to finish
It is soaring with alle Menschen werden Brüder

Just then
At ten strategic points in the hall
20 people in pairs stand up

Facing the now distracted audience
They hold up white banners with purple lettering:
“All detainees at Guantanamo are our brothers”

“Close Guantánamo!”
“Be embraced, you hundreds of hunger-strikers”
“Brothers! Beyond the U.S. torture chamber a loving God must dwell”

The intruders’ timing is obviously calculated
Another thirty seconds to go
Before the audience will stand and applaud for five minutes

Then security guards come rushing down the aisles
Patrons look enraged or dumbfounded at being disturbed:
“Don’t they know this is the Ninth Symphony?!”

The guards seem to miss
A young man and woman holding up another sign right near the stage:
“I despise your feasts and your concerts!”

A Journey of Conscience
by Robert MacArthur

Dr. Chmiel!

I hope this letter finds you well. I have some wonderful news to share with you. After many months of waiting I found out that my application for conscientious objection was approved and I am now honorably discharged from the military.

It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks as I was given about a week to get my belongings together, process necessary paperwork and secure a job in the civilian world.

It’s only been a few weeks but each day I experience a sense of inner peace with my conscience and a semblance of freedom that are difficult to articulate. There’s a small part of me that feels like this is all a dream and I’m going to wake up. I guess it’s understandable to have these feelings given that I was in some form of military service for thirteen years.

In regards to the near future, I will be staying in Alaska working in the civilian and public health sector. I really enjoy my new job as it allows me to work with patients from all walks of life and all ranges of socioeconomic backgrounds. From homeless patients to blue & white collar workers to Native Alaskans who live out in remote areas of Alaska, my patients are a beautiful and wide array of the human family.

It’s been a long journey and I want to thank you for your time and assistance with your heartfelt letter of support and offering to be a witness for my testimony. You helped guide me as a young college student and now in middle age, you continue to assist and guide me along my life path. I only wish I could do something as meaningful and impacting for you in return. Know that I admire you greatly, think of you often, and am forever grateful for your help with this milestone in my life.

With Love and Utmost Respect,


PS – Matthew and Patrick came up last summer and we had a wonderful time exploring the great outdoors. If you ever want to come up and see the beauty of Alaska please let me know.


Photo above: Members of Stop Torture Now, a group that has been petitioning to end the CIA rendition program and monitoring planes at the Johnston Co. airport flown by Aero, a  CIA front organization.
Photographed in front of the Aero hanger at the Johnston Co. airport.


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

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