Tag Archives: wars

“Say Nothing” and “What You Have Heard is True”

New Orleans     Maybe we have gotten lucky and dodged widening the war in the Middle East after what seems like an impulse killing of one of Iran’s top generals and a key spymaster.  The full story is still unknown.  What were the threats that were so heinous that they moved the United States to embark on such a risky tactical strike?  Who was smart and stable enough in both the US and Iran to use the Swiss to send encrypted messages on back channels back and forth insisting that we both sides needed to deescalate?  What kind of weird global political communications system allows Trump to claim to his base, seemingly without any evidence, that he stood up, delivered a blow, and still wants to take America out of wars around the globe, and allowing Iran to throw twenty missiles at us with sufficient warning that no one was killed, even while claiming at home that they took out eighty Americans with these strikes?  This is a dangerous world!

I read two books over around the calendar turn that were extremely powerful expositions and indictments of the violence that we are capable of as people, when it is a matter of boundaries broken and hate and ideology unleashed.  Both of these books concerned civil wars.

One was Say Nothing:  A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Raddan Keefe.  He focused on the period of the “Troubles,” as the conflict in Northern Ireland between Protestants and Catholics, supporters of England versus those who wanted independence.  The other, What You Have Heard is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance by poet and professor Carolyn Forche’ looks at her time in El Salvador as a young woman during the civil war that wracked that country for so many years as well.

One of the horrors that emerges in reading these well written and researched books is the recognition that there seem to be no accepted rules in civil wars.  Civilians are not only fair game, but often the primary targets.  Torture and mutilation are as common as unmarked graves.  These were civil wars decades before the dominance of the internet, so often the hate and killing were provoked by generational prejudices, class and land divides and inequities, and simple and unconfirmed rumor, all of which deepens the fear I felt over the dry kindling that continues so easily to be set fire by social media extremists.

Say Nothing is the better history, because the book is based on the coincidence of forthright oral histories held at Boston College that became public on the death of various participants in both the project and the Troubles.  It is hard not to conclude that Gerry Adams, former political leader of the Sinn Fein, is a liar and in any other context a war criminal.  What You Have Heard is True can be annoying in some parts as Forche’ oversells her naivete, but, not surprisingly, beautifully written, as you would expect from a poet.  It is hard not be see the behind the scenes lawyer, mediator, and revolutionary, Leonel Gomez, as an unheralded hero in both the war and the peace in contrast to Adams.

These conflicts turn out to be evergreen even as they fade as a twentieth century memories, but civil wars are bloody reminders that we have to fight for peace to prevent the worst parts of our humanity from constantly resurfacing.

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Mounting Casualties of Total War on Poor and Low Wage Workers

Nemmcn9lw Orleans In wars, if we are able and willing to endure the pain and sorrow, we can read the casualty count, virtually on a daily basis of dead and injured.  As the war drags on, as we now see in Iraq and Afghanistan, the item gets smaller and moves to the back of the pages.  Importantly, that does not mean it goes away.  Something will happen, like a suicide bomber, and it will bounce back up.  The same thing seems to be going on in the full scale war against the poor and lower waged workers.  The only difference is that not many are counting, so there’s no clarity on the numbers.

Today’s papers were a full on attack.  Look at the examples:

  • Of course the on-going war against public employees throughout the Midwestern USA (and beyond!) is in open war.  An article in the New York Times covered a family in southern Ohio of married public workers, one with the sewer department and one a janitor, and the truth behind their situation, since they are able to put food on the table and hold on to a home finally, but don’t have enough money for college for the kids or any luxuries whatsoever.
  • The AP in a piece noted the devastation for lower income working families where food and gas account for 25% of their income and their inability to maintain now that gas is rising at the lowest to $3.50 and in places on the West and East Coast to $4.50 and rising.  According to the DOL 2009 Consumer Expenditures Survey here’s how the distribution squeezes and starves the bottom:  families making $15-20K/year use 19% of their net income for food; between $20-30K/year = 18% of net for food; and, families with $70K+ = 8% net.  And beyond, there’s even more gravy.  Same for gas with 6% in the lower income groups and 2% and less over $70K.
  • The AP noted that Wal-Mart, like it or not the favored LMI shopping venue nationally,  with 82% of its shoppers making less than $70K, reports that 51% of its shoppers surveyed will be driving less – and buying less – which is driving the stock down.
  • Also in the NYT 63% of students trying to rise above the mess through college since 2005 have defaulted or fallen behind in paying back their school loans.  A hard majority in for-profit 2 and 4-year schools have gone delinquent.  Of course the debt is also higher.  Students graduating from college in 2009 owed an average of $24000 in loans, up 6% over 2008 alone!

These are staggering indications of disaster for low-and-moderate income families.

And, can they catch a break.  Hell no, it seems.  A band of Senators led by Montana’s Tester, is now trying to put off the small savings won for some of them in lowering the charges for using the ubiquitous debit cards.

Come on!

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