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Jan 15 1991 - "Letter from Greene County Jail when this 20 Year War on the People of Iraq Began!"
anti-war / imperialism |
Friday January 07, 2011 22:48 by Ciaron O'Reilly - "ANZUS/ B52 Plowshares" 'USA 91/ "Giuseppe Conlon House" London 2011
...a letter written at the start of this 20 year ongoing war on the people of Iraq.
On New Year's Day 1991, I was arrested with Moana Cole, Sue Frankel and Bill Streit, "the ANZUS Plowshares" on Griffiss Air Force Base, upstate New York. We had closed the runway and disabled a scramble alert B52 Bomber putting it out of action for the length of the Gulf War.
On January 15th., the war commenced at 7 pm with B52 Bombers dleivering air launched cruise missiles at high priority targets. The attack was timed for prime time televion. Bill and I were in a county jail in Catskill, Moana and Sue were in a county jail in Syracuse.
Bill and I were at Greene County Jail, Catskill, a week before Desert Storm hit. We were getting our bearings, establishing a rhythym to the day and getting use to life in a fish tank where eight cells opened to an enclosed day room with a non-stop TV and seven other lives Discovering the art of living in a barren and restricted area with people who don't want to be there: an institutional setting of humiliation and vengeance, unexpected human beauty and warmth, flashes of anger and despair, the whole box and dice, stripped down and compressed. In C block we are a non-intentional community thrown together with without much rhyme or reason - two brothers from Brooklyn, a gun enthusiast from the 82nd. Airborne, a Navy guy from the U.S.S. Enterprise, a Jamaican in the wrong place at th wrong time, a Mexican who dodged the Border Patrol to wash dishes in the U.S.A., rappers with walkmans whose unaccompanied voices scream long after lights out.
Bill and I are in separate tanks - we communicate through an air vent and on a shared recreation hour, when a few of us from C and D tanks head down to s small room with a ping pong table. Bill laps the room 150 times with Gomez, while I refine my topspin. Twice the weather as permitted us to venture into a small outside area with a basketball hoop.
I ran in circles waving my arms wildly, while eight brothers from New York, whizzed pirouetted, faded and slam dunked past me. Bill does a lot better, touching the ball and occasionally getting it through the hoop.
Morning is quiet as folks hibernate until midday, which makes it a good time for prayer and reflection. Afternoons drag with the drone of sitcom re-runs, evenings are quite lively with a lot of socialising as the movies roll on. Chuck Norris, Charles Bronson, Sly Stallone and "cop-as-hero" movies dominate - one wonders if Greene County is a re-education camp for pacifists.
The town of Catskill is three hours from Syracuse and is relatively back-woodsy. But even here a society mobilised for war is in evidence. From the jail staff wearing yellow ribbons of patriotic fervor to the other side of the bars populated by draft age kids programmed for war, kids raised on the movies mentioned, who accept professional wrestling as reality, who have been conditioned to believe in the corporate news media as the definers of social reality and the ruling class consensus for carnage. These are the people who die in America's wars, the people who are sent as cannon fodder by Corporate America. Bill and I try to practise a gentle evangelism amidst the media madness. We also try to explore the monastic life
*************** ********************* ********************** ****************
It was days after Bush's announced deadline (and 16 days after we had thrown our plowshares lifeline) that Marlin Fitzwater announced the unleashing of war. Kuber-Rossa always seems to make sense when death is coming down the road. DENIAL that the war would actually occur. ANGER followed quickly and as Marlin scurried from the press conference, I jumped on to the table and screamed down the air vent "Run you yuppie Nazi!" My thoughts raced around in a BATTERING mode...."If only we had hit the streets earlier en masse...." By midnight, Bill, Sue, Moana and I were in separate cells deep in grief. ACCEPTANCE and faith dawn slowly as we deepen our prison witness and brothers and sisters on he outside continue to resist.
Meanwhile the corporate denial machine is running overtime..."short war", "smart weapons", "liberation" and today's gem, "a beautiful day for bombing!" The Prince of Lies has gone cable,and it's as scary as hell!
Media lessons learnt in Vietnam and refined in Grenada and Panama are showcased in the first of the Third World wars to establish George's "new world order." Forget the pretence of objectivity, journalists display enthusiastic self-censorship and proudly utilise "we" and "our" in press briefings in relation to the latest military atrocities. The press is reined in tight in the military pool system with most embracing the cheerleader for carnage role with a passion.
From the outset, the military conflict has been presented as a Nintendo Game, free of serious consequence. Forty-four thousand bombing missions flown with no casualties shown, very cynical, very slick, very marketable. As death and destruction is reduced to blips on a video screen, dialogue is reduced to a discussion of technique: "how we will win?" rather than "why are we there?" The conflict is stripped of history, politics, economics with pivotal issues ignored and forgotten....Who armed Saddam Hussein? Who supported him, in the eight year war with Iran? Who created Kuwait and why? Does anyone remember the Shah? What is the U.S. doing in Panama?, the British in Ireland? Syria in Lebanon? Israel in Palestine? Turkey in Cyprus? Russia in Lithuania? China in Tibet? France in the Pacific? Nice coalition you've got there George!
After three days of reported mass protests and 3,000 arrests, Vice President Dan Quayle announces that such reporting is irresponsible. All the television networks step into line; military expert after military expert are wheeled out of retirement to explain the latest nuance of warfare technique. Bush gives speeches smiling deliriously in a state of blood lust and wargasm. Wimp factor conquered, place in history assured, he grasps for immortality on the growing pile of Arab corpses.
War churns on. Casualties aren't reported. George wants to keep it on a Nintendo level, and Saddam has his own illusions to sustain. Every aspect of American life has mobilised for war. The Super Bowl and other televised sporting events have been transformed into electronic Nuremburg Rallies of collective patriotic mania, blank cheques of support for the military.
Hulk Hogan strangles an Arab wrestler with an Iraqi flag. American flag production and sales go through the roof - the commercialisation of this war is rampant, peaking with a cemetery advertising plots as "the ones veterans prefer". CNN's morning war coverage is cut with feeding frenzies from Wall Street, but few seem to make the connection.
The American Music Awards prove to be anything but a hotbed of social criticism. This collection of "keep-your-head-down-and butt-covered" millionaires of questionable talent trip over each other to cheer on the boys and girls in Saudi to kill and be killed. They at least have the self-awareness to realise for whose privilege these soldiers are going to kill and die. Just when the celebrity cheer-leading for carnage seems complete, who should come skipping across the stage with a huge "WAR SUCKS!" t-shirt but the lead singer of "New Kids on the Block". Yahoo! --- it's like the Bay City Rollers with politics --it made my night. The French Defense Minister resigns the next day, so maybe he got the message! Kevin Costener and Whoopi Goldberg join in cutting a USO single in support of the troops. No liberals near foxholes, I guess.
The peace movement is cited as the reason Vietnam Veterans have been committing suicide in droves. Apparently it was the peace movement and not the nature of the war that destroyed their lives. Blaming the victim has been raised to an art form. Civilian death and destruction in Baghdad is blamed on the anti-aircraft fire falling to earth, not the 60,000 sorties flown thus far. Media coverage is horrifying, censorship, manufactured consent and the generation of denial --- the imposition of normalcy while state terror escalates. As Goldstein (Village Voice) writes, "What really matters is the evidence that this experience can be contained, shaped as news, delivered as info-tainment, inserted in prime-time schedule, so that one moves from 'Saturday Night Live' to 'live from Saudi Arabia' , from Sting to Stealth with a growing sense of their equivalence."
The second night of bombing, I found myself in a Bible study run by the Gideons. They open with a prayer for a great military victory, after which I question the biblical basis for slaughtering children. Their reaction was vehement, affirming the righteousness of bombing cities and slaying the children of your enemies. At the close, I pray for all children under fire: Iraqi, Kuwaiti, Palestinian, Israeli, American and Saudi.
The following week, I returned to Bible study and was met at the door by the head Gideon and the Superintendent. They said I cannot enter unless I take a vow of silence, to which I replied, "Let's reflect on scripture as adult Christians, shall we?" and proceeded past them. I was truly stunned, and everything was hitting at once: the war, the slaughter, the media censorship, the misuse of Christianity to facilitate it all. They sent for another guard and started yelling orders and threats. I turned to the other prisoners gathered and tried to speak to what was happening, but it wasn't my most articulate moment. I was so shocked. Denial moving to anger as the guards escorted me down the hallway. I offered a few insights and expletives on the relationship between Nazism and U.S. foreign policy. Admittedly this wasn't my most lucid moment. I'm sure I could have made my way down the Kuber-Ross path to grief and acceptance given time. But, alas, in this place where time usually abounds, there wasn't any.
Before Dan Quayle flicked the switch on dissent, mass protests form around the country flashed onto the screen and into the cell block. Over a thousand people were arrested at the San Francisco Federal Building within the first 24 hours of bombing. I saw John Dear and 20 other Catholics busted at the Concord Naval Weapons Base, Ariel Glenn and scores of others hauled off at the White House as a round-the-clock vigil rolled on; Jackie Allen and 95 others arrested art Westover Air Force Base, a major deployment station in Massachusetts; over a hundred students are busted at U.C.L.A. campus, 170 at the Chicago Federal Building, 20 brave souls violate sacred ground and perform a die-in on center court during a nationally televised basketball game, they are dragged off to the stadium roar of "U.S.A., U.S.A."
Even after the curtain of censorship falls, we receive news from Iowa that Fr. Frank Cordaro and friends are jailed for blockading a military recruitment center. Friends from my hometown of Brisbane, Australia throw blood and oil and blockade the downtown recruiting center. Eight L.A. Catholic Workers are held on felonies for pouring gallons of oil and pints of blood on the Federal Building. The Atlantic Life Community gathers in D.C. this week for Valentine's Day actions at the Pentagon and the White House. Friends from Australia and New York participate in a peace camp in the war zone of Iraq. Ramsey Clark goes to Baghdad during the bombing. As I write, hundreds of thousands of people against the war have hit the streets of U.S., Europe, Asia, Australia and the Arab world.
News comes through that B-52'a from Griffiss A.F.B. are doing bombing raids form England, being refuelled over France.
In comparison to the Vietnam War, where protests grew only after massive U.S. casualties, this peace movement is relatively large. Optimistic activists claim that "a national anti-war movement has sprung up, a grass roots movement that took years to build during the Vietnam War". Over 2,000 members of the military have filed for Conscientious Objection status since deployment in August. Hundreds are presently in brigs in the U.S., Germany and Saudi for resisting deployment. We feel a deep sense of solidarity with these folks.
The ANZUS Plowshares continue our resistance and prison witness. Our cells have taken on the appearance of peace offices as we continue correspondence and media work explaining the action. We are receiving active support from Syracuse where we have a staffed support office, Ithaca, New York City, Washington D.C, Baltimore, Christchurch, Brisbane and London. On the legal front we have been frustrated by our removal from Syracuse, the site of our trial and locale of our defense team. Our co-counsel are working on pre-trial motions: dismissal, continuance, access to evidence, co-defendant meetings. The Air Force has attempted to block our request to carry out an independent inspection of the scene. The F.B.I. forgot to photograph the messages on the runway. The fears of selective collection of evidence that we raised at our bail hearing have become a reality. The prosecution is reported to have said off the record, "We know we can nail these four in a speedy trial. We can't afford to let this drag on into the summer with too many body bags coming home!"
At the time of writing, we have no word on trial dates. We are in high spirits and are resolved to carrying disarmament into the courtroom.
Keep the faith
January 15th. 1991
Greene County Jail