SPC SUMMER ACTIVIST READING

Compiled by Donna Mühs-McCarten

Whether you are whiling away your days at the beach or just hanging out on your porch on these warm summer days, you may enjoy turning a couple of pages for new insights in the search for peace and justice. Below are a number of interesting suggestions for reflection and inspiration. Enjoy!

Children at War
P.W. Singer, University of Berkley Press, 2006

 

Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army
Jeremy Scahill, Nation Books, 2007

War shapes the world's economy. It determines who gets to consume oil and other resources. War maintains inequity. It squanders vast wealth which otherwise could enrich human life.

Although our minds are rife with images of war, war is far more complex and obscure than most of us imagine. And it keeps mutating. If peace activists are to be effective, we need to better understand war. We need to do our war homework.

I've recently read two compelling books about little-known, but increasingly prominent, aspects of modern warfare. Children at War deals with teens and pre-teens as warriors. Blackwater profiles a US corporation that provides warriors for hire - one that does so clandestinely and on a worrisome scale. And with what seems to be a very dicey right-wing agenda.

Singer provides a wide ranging survey and analysis of the burgeoning use of child combatants in wars around the world - whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia, West Africa or any number of other areas. In calm, clear, well-documented prose Singer, a Brookings Institution scholar, deals with causes, consequences and implications.

(Singer's earlier study, Corporate Warriors: the Rise of the Privatized Military Industry (2003), provides the analytic and scholarly background for investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill's timely and disturbing new exposé.)

Blackwater is a shadowy privately-held corporation run by Erik Prince, a rightwing Catholic mega-millionaire. A former Navy Seal, Prince is well connected at the Pentagon. He's garnered hundreds of millions of dollars of classified Pentagon contracts. Blackwater even has its own arsenals and small fleet of choppers and planes.

Blackwater's personnel are highly-paid former US special forces warriors mostly trained at US taxpayer expense. It was four Blackwater mercenaries - so-called "civilian contractors" - who were lynched in Fallujah in March 2004.

Among other tasks, Blackwater provides security for US military and government VIPs in occupied Iraq. Blackwater and the tens of thousands of other armed US mercenaries helping to prop up the occupation aren't accountable to Iraqi law or to any US military chain of command. Scahill makes clear that if our democracy isn't to go further down the tubes, these paramilitaries need to be reined in.

- Ed Kinane

Here, Bullet
Brian Turner, Alice James Books, 2005

Brian Turner enlisted in the US Army after completing an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Oregon. During his seven years of service, he was deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina and served his last tour of duty in Iraq, which he chronicled in poetry. During his recent reading at the YMCA Downtown Writer's Center, Brian said that he vowed to return to share the true vision of this "unjust, illegal war," using his skill and training as a poet. Quietly, Here, Bullet reflects on the atrocities and the ordinary, the noble and the insane. Never pedantic, a skill in itself in creating political poetry, Turner sees the full picture and delivers it with grace. For those other than the 30 of us who listened to Brian bring the words to life, the book will complete an understanding we already have about war in general and this one in particular…it just has to stop. Winner of many national prizes, Here, Bullet is a thoughtful act of civil disobedience necessary to any thinking person's library.

- Georgia Popoff

Cowboy in Caracas:
A North American's Memoir of Venezuela's Democratic Revolution

Charles Hardy and James W Russell, Curbstone Press, 2007



Hugo Chavez is a figure that is so often portrayed in a negative light by the Bush administration that people in North America never hear the full story. Chavez first came to attention when a US-backed coup failed to overthrow him in April, 2002.

The title does not refer to President Chavez but to the author, a Wyoming-born priest who observed firsthand the political and social change which improved the lot of Venezuela's people, 80% of whom are poverty-stricken. Hardy follows the history of Venezuela during the last 25 years. Via personal accounts, he takes the reader on a historical journey from the Caracas riots of 1988 through the first coup by Chavez and his subsequent election as president. The interesting part is the relationship Chavez has with the common people. What we see in the media is so contrary to the real situation in Venezuela as told by Hardy, who was sent to live among the poor in 1985.

While short on statistics, the author's vivid narratives become his research and are the result of his connection with the poor through his years working as a priest. He has been an eyewitness to the changes sweeping Venezuela and due to this fact, it actually is quite easy to debunk the myths told about President Chavez in the US. I would highly recommend this to anybody who wishes to learn more about the real story of Venezuela. It is an easy read and brings the life of the ordinary Venezuelan home.

- Sam Tarbania, Fayetteville-Manlius High School student

 

1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus
Charles C. Mann, Alfred A. Knopf Publishers, 2005

In 1491, Mann's treatment of the pre-European Americas is scholarly and well-documented (endnotes and bibliography alone comprise 88 pages). He challenges the schoolbook paradigm that native peoples lived lightly off the land in small bands, and were unsophisticated in economics, science, engineering, and politics. He presents compelling arguments that this simplistic view of native history is simply incorrect. Large-scale agriculture, irrigation, landscape management, as well as horticultural and urban engineering, supported populous urban centers - some larger and more technologically advanced than the largest European cities. Populations were larger and of greater antiquity than the popular myth purports, but were decimated by diseases from European contact.

Mann concludes with an introduction to the sophisticated and progressive Haudenosaunee form of governance - the Great Law of Peace - contrasted with the oppressive, aristocratic European governments of 1491. Pertinent to today's need for a just resolution of the Onondaga's Land Rights Action, Mann reminds us that the Haudenosaunee Confederacy is one of the "oldest continuously existing representative parliaments on earth", and that "it is only a little exaggeration to claim that everywhere that liberty is cherished - Britain to Bangladesh, Sweden to Soweto - people are children of the Haudenosaunee and their neighbors."

- Dan Gefell

A Power Governments Cannot Suppress
Howard Zinn, City Lights, 2007

In 1968 Jim Morrison sang in "Five to One" that they had the guns but we had the numbers. That was true then, has always been true, and is still true today. Nixon and Ford de-escalated and eventually ended the Viet Nam War in part because they knew that if they didn't, antiwar activity would grow so much stronger that they would no longer have enough young Americans to volunteer as cannon fodder. Our sheer numbers depleted their ability to make war.

The point is that we, the people, have to use our numbers - be loud, be active, organize, agitate, and show that we mean what we say when we talk about human rights, political morality, and social justice. We have the numbers to end the Iraq War. But we are not yet loud enough, active enough, or visible enough to make the kind of impact that we finally made in the Vietnam era.

That is the main point of Howard Zinn's newest book. It is more urgent and polemical than most of his other books, because he clearly recognizes the immediate danger if we don't end the Iraq War now. In a collection of recent essays, he attempts to arouse us to antiwar action by describing the class-based nature of all imperialistic wars, their essential immorality, and their unavoidable violence against workers, women, children, and the most innocent members of each attacked society.

- Eric v.d. Luft,
author of A Socialist Manifesto