Monday, April 30, 2007

“War Is Hell”

A research team at the University of Haifa has concluded that “Over the course of their military service, combat soldiers become less right wing, adopt more dovish political views and are more open to compromise on security matters.”

At first glance, this finding may appear to be counterintuitive. But on reflection, it makes sense: After all, it was Civil War Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman — and not armchair warrior Dick Cheney, who had “other priorities” than serving in the military during the Vietnam war — who said, “War is hell.”

Since there is no Web site address for the University of Haifa report, a press release digesting the study is reprinted in its entirety, below.

Adam Simms

Press Release

Research at the University of Haifa examined the influence of military service on political stance: Combat soldiers adopt dovish political views Women soldiers become more hawkish

Over the course of their military service, combat soldiers become less right wing, adopt more dovish political views and are more open to comprise on security issues - according to research completed in the School for Political Science at the University of Haifa by IDF Reserve Colonel Dr. Zvika Barkai who served as Commander of the Haifa region and head of the Operations Branch of the Home Front Command. Additional parameters that effect change in political views include the specific unit served in, gender and service as an officer. "In the opposite of what would be expected, military service does not cause adopting militaristic views," said Dr. Barkai.

The research was conducted over three and a half years, under the direction of Prof. Avraham Brichta, Dr. Daphna Canetti-Nisim and Dr. Ami Pedahzur, surveyed 490 male and female soldiers of every rank and in every branch of the IDF. Soldiers were asked to respond to the same series of questions at three different times, before induction, six months into their service and immediately following their release. The goal of the research was to evaluate whether the army is in actuality the politically neutral institution that it purports to be and whether it has any effect on soldiers' political views. "It's a problem when the public is convinced that soldiers are coerced into adapting specific political views, sometimes against their will, and to act accordingly. Such a public belief could limit the ability of the government to use the army for nationalist missions," remarked Dr. Barkai.

The research did indeed find that soldiers' political views change over the course of their service, and that the type of service, length of service, rank, and gender influence the change. The initial interviews found that a large percentage of the soldiers began their service with clear right wing views. Six months into their military service they were more right wing, but after completing their service they took on more dovish views and were more willing to compromise on security issues. In addition, these soldiers adopted more conciliatory views towards minorities in general, and more specifically towards the Arab minority, and experienced a greater change in their views about human rights than soldiers who began their service with less extreme views. Over all, when political views did change during military service, they reverted back to the original views after release, with the exception of combat soldiers who maintained more dovish views following their release.

Within the different types of army units, soldiers who served in field units underwent the greatest change in their political views. The research reveals that no only combat soldiers in these units undergo a change; all of the soldiers in field units undergo a change in their political views. Those with hawkish views adopted more moderate views and a raised consciousness for minority rights.

Those who served as officers also underwent a substantial change in their political views. Officers adopted much less right wing and more pragmatic views than enlisted soldiers. In addition, they underwent a greater change in espousing strongly democratic values, adherence to the rule of law and minority rights.

Women, on the other hand, underwent a change in political views - and became more rightwing and hawkish. At the same time, they increased their support for regulation of non-conventional weapons more than male soldiers did. Women soldiers experienced a greater change in their support of democratic values while men underwent a greater change in the attitude towards human rights and minority relations. "It is important to note that although men underwent a greater change, their values were almost identical to women's in terms of concern for human rights at the end of their service, as they began with more extreme views," explains Dr. Barkai.

While army service did not affect the level of religious observance among the soldiers, it did improve understandings between religious and non-religious soldiers and increase willingness to compromise on religious issues.

According to Dr. Barkai, the research findings demonstrate that military service does influence political views; therefore civilian authorities need to oversee the values and messages that the army espouses to ascertain that the military works to assimilate only universal, accepted values. Only then will the military be an effective agent for the integration and assimilation of positive values and an agent for bridging and narrowing existing conflicts.

The study results lead the researcher to recommend that minorities and marginalized populations be encouraged to serve in the military. He recommends a large-scale draft of Arabs, increased participation of Druze and Bedouins, ultra-orthodox Jews and religious women and designing special programs for marginalized youth (who are often excused from military service). "Even taking into account that expanding the draft to include the abovementioned groups may have a marginal or even negative effect on the country's security, the latent national gains should be weighed against the security issues - not necessarily by the military," summarized Dr. Barkai.

Amir Gilat, Ph.D.
Communication and Media Relations
University of Haifa
Tel: +972-4-8240092/4
Cell: +972-52-6178200

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Bill Moyers’ “Buying the War”

Four years ago, W. declared “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq.

And if, as I did, you missed Bill Moyers’ PBS documentary, “Buying the War,” don’t despair. You can watch the complete program online by clicking here.

Thanks to FAIR for posting this reminder. Its Web site also provides links to some of its own postings about reporters who've gotten the Iraq story right, and those who’ve played stenographers to the Bush White House and Pentagon. Click here.

Adam Simms

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“America’s Moral Menopause”

That’s the title of an article in the April 19 on-line edition of al-Ahram, Egypt’s leading daily newspaper.

The article starts off:

For almost 200 years, the US has claimed the moral high ground in world affairs. As it prospered, it looked on a wretched global scene of war, poverty, dictatorship, conquest, exploitation, colonial rule and the denial of human rights. Imbued with a new sense of global power following allied victories in World War I and World War II, the US soon changed from the acclaimed position of moral guru to that of the scion of imperial power. When the US withdraws from Iraq in defeat it will leave the Middle East/Gulf region in a state of unparalleled chaos and instability, a political vacuum remaining that not even massive US military presence in the region could fill. It has unleashed forces it cannot control and is trying to contain them by maintaining a decrepit status quo. The short-lived American empire is inexorably entering its period of political and moral menopause. It would do the US, and the turbulent world it has created, well if it retreated from its failed ideology of neo-conservatism into an era of neo- isolationism.

I never thought I’d find in al-Ahram with which to agree. But that’s what six years of George W. Bush can do to you.

The entire article is here.
David Gradis

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Jaw-Jaw — or War-War?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took a lot of heat from the Bush administration and its flaks over her visit to Syria.

Some critics took her to task for having her own foreign policy, as opposed to the “official” one set by the president.

Others decried the fact that she traveled to a country that is on the State Department’s list of countries that sponsor terrorism.

To the first set of critics, M.J. Rosenberg, director of Israel Policy Forum’s Washington Policy Center, provided a pointed rejoinder in his April 6 column:

Heaven forefend! Things are going so swimmingly in the Middle East that the last thing anyone needs is for the 3rd highest official in the United States trying to resuscitate diplomacy.
But it makes no sense to refuse categorically to talk with your “enemies.” After all, it’s your “enemies” with whom you ultimately have to make peace — not your friends.

Few of Pelosi’s critics, Rosenberg noted, can rationally have any qualms about what she reportedly said to Syria’s President Bashar Assad:
that he should stop making trouble in Iraq and Lebanon, that the Israeli government is ready for negotiations, that Israel has no bellicose intentions toward Syria and that Syria should use its influence to free Israeli prisoners.
All in all, Rosenberg concluded, Pelosi’s trip was “a gutsy move”: It “strengthened America’s position in the region, and likely helped Israel on prisoners, on Hezbollah, and in its effort to avoid another war like last summer’s.”

Claude Salhani, UPI’s international editor, stuck it to Pelosi’s second set of critics by recapping a few highlights of times when the US has deemed it necessary and useful to hold talks with nations or groups with which it was engaged in hostilities:

• At the height of the Cold War, the US and the Soviet Union established a “hot line” telephone link between Washington and Moscow so that their leaders could “communicate and ... avoid having a crisis grow into a reason for a major confrontation.”

• During the Vietnam War, US officials held talks with both North Vietnamese and Vietcong representatives.

• In Iraq, US officials have negotiated with Sunni “insurgents,” even as Sunni groups engage US troops in combat.

The Bush administration’s fixation with channeling John Wayne-like “strong, silent type” movie machismo demonstrates that it would rather have conflict than resolve conflict.

At some point, you’ve got to talk with your “enemies.” After all, it’s your “enemies” with whom you’ve got to make peace — not your friends.

Adam Simms

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut, RIP

Kurt Vonnegut, who died on April 11, at the age of 84, was a World War II U.S. Army veteran. Captured and held by the Germans as a prisoner of war in Dresden, he was one of the few survivors of the Allied carpet bombing that destroyed the city in reprisal for the German bombing of Coventry, England.

The experience marked him forever and was the basis for his novel, Slaughterhouse-Five. So far as Vonnegut was concerned, there were no “good wars.”

With his trademark wit that melded humor, perplexity and despair at human folly, Vonnegut wrote in his preface to The Franklin Library's edition of that memorable work:

The Dresden atrocity, tremendously expensive and meticulously planned, was so meaningless, finally, that only one person on the entire planet got any benefit from it. I am that person. I wrote this book, which earned a lot of money for me in royalties and made my reputation, such as it is. One way or another, I got two or three dollars for every person killed. Some business I'm in.

May Kurt Vonnegut finally rest in peace.

Adam Simms

Monday, April 9, 2007

Dissent in the Ranks

San Francisco Chronicle reporter Joe Garofoli filed an article on April 7 about active duty troops in the U.S. military who are speaking out about the war in Iraq.

In addition to his portraits of "the few, the proud, the disillusioned," Garofoli also lists two interesting ways in which the Web is being used to organize in-the-ranks dissent.

One is an on-line petition drive, called Appeal for Redress.

The petition is brief:

As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases from Iraq. Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the effort.
Appeal for Redress's Web site also cites military regulations that both provide protection for and limit the ways in which military personnel are free to express opinions on political and military matters.

More freewheeling is G.I. Special, an on-line "near-daily news bulletin for service members," with annotated reprints of newspaper clips and wire service photos dealing with the war and military experiences in Iraq.

At the end of every issue is a reminder to military personnel: "If printed out, this newsletter is your personal property and cannot legally be confiscated from you 'Possession of unauthorized material may not be prohibited.' DoD Directive 1325.6 Section"

Barnett Axelrad

Sunday, April 8, 2007

The Ides of April: “Hang Up on War”

Procrastinators — rejoice!

If you’re still waiting to file this year’s federal income tax returns, you’re just in time to strike a personal blow against funding the Iraq war.

Best of all, it’s legal — and the Internal Revenue Service will help you do it.

Amy Goodman, a columnist and host of Democracy Now!, a nationally syndicated radio news program, provides details — and a Web site link — in her April 5 posting on Click here to read it.

Briefly, the deal is this:

Back in 1898 — yes, 1898 — the federal government slapped a tax of one percent (later raised to three percent) on telephone calls as a way to fund the Spanish-American War. Say what you will about William McKinley, but he was one Republican who evidently had no compunction about taxing the wealthy — the only ones in those days who could afford telephones.

Soon after the “splendid little war” ended, the U.S. annexed Puerto Rico and the Philippines — and forgot all about the phone tax, which it kept collecting.

Then came the Vietnam War.

War tax resisters started targeting the phone tax by refusing to pay it.

The IRS, with Javert-like tenacity, prosecuted a number of tax resisters for their refusal, but eventually concluded it wasn’t worth its time and money.

And so, notes Goodman, in 2006 the IRS decided to offer a “retroactive rebate for phone taxes paid between March 1, 2003 and July 31, 2006. Typical refunds will be between $30 and $60.”

“While Congress and President Bush trade barbs over war funding,” Goodman concludes, “with a simple check mark on your tax return you can help defund the war. Claim your telephone tax rebate. Let the Pentagon hold a bake sale.”

Adam Simms

Saturday, April 7, 2007

CO Watch: Marine lance corporal wins discharge

Marine lance corporal Robert Zabala has been declared a conscientious objector by a U.S. District Court judge — four years after Zabala joined the corps, and three years after applying for CO status.

Zabala, who recently graduated from the University of California-Santa Cruz, joined the marines in 2003, hoping he would “find security” in the wake of his grandmother’s death.

Given his family tradition, that thought is not as surprising as it might seem: A grandfather served in Vietnam, his parents and uncles served in the navy, a cousin is in the air force, and another is a marine.

Boot camp training in June 2003 — especially exercises intended to desensitize recruits to violence — awakened Zabala to his ethical objection to killing other people.

Two months into boot camp, a fellow recruit committed suicide on a rifle range. The recruits’ commander, a Capt. Sanchez, derided the dead trainee, saying “f*** him, f*** his parents for raising him, and f*** the girl who dumped him.”

Two military chaplains and a clinical psychologist found Zabala’s moral objections were legitimate and recommended that he be granted a discharge.

However, the discharge was held up by his platoon commander, Maj. R. D. Doherty, who contended Zabala was “insincere,” citing that Zabala did not file for CO status until almost a year after his boot camp training.

Court papers quoted Doherty as having told Zabala: “What did you think you were joining, the Peace Corps? I don’t know how anyone who joins the Marine Corps cannot know that it involves killing.”

Nonetheless, officers who reviewed Zabala’s CO application recommended his request’s approval. It was then rejected by a general, on grounds that Zabala’s objection to war was not based on religious devotion.

(Zabala follows some Buddhist-based traditions, but was not a practicing Buddhist when he enlisted.)

In overturning the Marine Corps’ rejection of Zabala’s application, Federal District Court Judge James Ware, who served 13 years in the U.S. Army reserves, said he was convinced that Zabala was sincere when he said he had struggled to “reconcile the demands of duty with the demands of conscience.”

Santa Cruz’s Resource Center for Nonviolence, for which Zabala did volunteer work while awaiting the court’s ruling, provided legal assistance through its G.I. Rights Counseling Project.

(Our thanks to Stefan Merken for bringing this story to our attention.)

— Adam Simms