(Not So Lite) Summer Reading
The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic
Chalmers Johnson. Metropolitan Books, 2004.
One can hardly escape noticing the rapidly increasing frequency with which imperialism
has appeared in the public discourse to describe the direction Mr.Bushs
policy planners are leading the nation. Johnsons analysis, and the clarity
of its presentation, leaves this reader with no doubt that a Rubicon has
The Roman reference is particularly appropriate since the author devotes considerable
attention to the parallels between the Roman Empire and the last century of
US history. The history of the roots of US militarism, from the warnings in
the farewell addresses of Washington and Eisenhower and the addictive way in
which a defense establishment is transformed into a militarist
establishment is clearly related to the political and economic life of
In the chapter Toward the New Rome Johnson notes that, The
intellectual heritage of Americas neoconservative triumphalists is a complex
amalgam of the military imperialism of Theodore Roosevelt and the idealistic
imperialism of Woodrow Wilson. Documentation for these trends is amply
provided in a chapter describing the growth in the use of surrogate soldiers
and private mercenaries.
Recent disclosures in the news from Iraq, as well as the longer but more obscured
history of intervention in Latin America, clearly illustrate the way domination
and exploitation is assured. With similar detail, another chapter describes
the cold war expansion to over 725 permanent US military bases spread throughout
Johnson summarizes four sorrows of empire: 1) a state of perpetual
war leading to more terrorism against US Americans everywhere, 2) a loss of
democracy and constitutional rights, 3) replacement of truthfulness with systems
of propaganda and disinformation, 4) bankruptcy, as we pour economic resources
into grandiose military projects thereby shortchanging social programs. His
suggestions as to how this dismal outlook could be changed, which comprises
the final paragraph in this excellent book, should be assigned summer reading
as we look forward to November 2.
From Yale to Jail: The Life Story of a Moral Dissenter
David Dellinger. Rose Hill Books. 1993.
Dave Dellingers passing inspired me to add his memoir to my summer reading
list (thats right, Ive only skimmed it so far). Rather than talking
about the book, Ill tell you why Dave is a great inspiration and someone
you should meet via this autobiography.
Years ago I read Revolutionary Non-Violence (1970), Daves collection
of compelling essays from World War II to 1970. His union of these two words,
which are often seen as being contradictory, was critical to me as a young pacifist.
Today, when many young activists reject nonviolence as an insufficient approach,
his work is as important as ever.
Daves writings and, more importantly, his lifes work embody the
authentic meaning of nonviolence and challenge others to live up to these high
ideals. As a child he asked his father to take him to see the Massachusetts
Governor (a family friend) so Dave could convince him to pardon Sacco and Vanzetti.
From that auspicious beginning he went on to resist World War II by rejecting
his divinity student exemption and served four years in federal prison, one
of many prison/jail stints.
Dave spent years living in communes committed to egalitarian living and social
transformation. He was involved in a series of radical pacifist publications,
of which Liberation was the most long-lived. Dave played a key organizing role
in the Viet Nam anti-war movement and is best known as the elder
of the Chicago 7.
Dave believed that the greatest failing of nonviolence was the unwillingness
of its practitioners to fully dedicate their lives to struggle.
I encourage others committed to nonviolence and revolutionary change see what
we can learn by reading From Yale to Jail.
No Surrender: Writings from
an Anti-imperialist Political Prisoner
David Gilbert. Abraham Guillen Press, 2004
David Gilbert is internationally acknowledged as a US political prisoner. He
lives with a 75 year sentence [first parole board appearance, 2056] for his
role in the tragic 1981 Brinks armored truck robbery to support the Black
Liberation Army in Nyack, NY. No Surrender includes pieces written since his
1981 imprisonment. David was known as a theoretician and organizer for the 1968
Columbia University strike and an activist in Students for a Democratic Society
and the Weather Underground Organization.
David has continued writing and organizing within the NYS prison system. Its this way:/being captured is beside the point,/the point is not to surrender, the closing lines of the poem by former Turkish political prisoner, Nazim Hikmet, which opens the book.
Our Politics in 17 Syllables
love for the people
means nonstop struggle against
David organized around the AIDS crisis at Auburn prison. In 1987 he proposed
a peer education project, which, after too many deaths and much convincing,
was accepted by the prison authorities. The project was too successful by prison
administration standards. Black men, Latinos, and whites worked together to
support HIV+ inmates, and those living with AIDS. The NYS prison authorities
encourage prisoner segregation, one of their long-standing inmate control techniques.
Thus David, the inmate administrator of the AIDS program, was transferred out.
Later, in Comstock prison he wrote an influential and informative pamphlet on
AIDS conspiracy theories.
No Surrender includes a number of book reviews written for the NYC Downtowner
newspaper. David uses these to make points on challenging male supremacy, listening
to women of color voices, fighting white supremacy and global imperialism and
the popular struggles against it.
David also delights us with his haikus, both profound and comic. In his childrens
stories we see him as the dad to Chesa, only 14-months old when his parents
At a well-attended book launching in NYC on June 10, Chesa closed with a reading
from the books Epilogue, September 11: The Terrorism That Terrorism
As Che Guevara urged decades ago, We must stand firm but without losing our tenderness, ever.
No one understands this better than David Gilbert.
elana levy <email@example.com>
For the Time Being
Anne Dillard. Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.
For the Time Being is an extremely literate book about the question
of evil, pain and suffering in a God-created world. Annie Dillard, who won the
Pulitzer Prize for her vivid recollection Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, draws on
Christian, Buddhist, Jewish and other faith traditions and, along with her own
talented eye for details and loving gift for words, grapples with the big and
small pictures that make up this dilemma.
She takes us on a journey where we visit the buried statuaries of Emperor Qin,
the Gobi desert, the steppes of Russia, the Sea of Galilee, and genetically
deformed babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. She introduces us to cloud
painters, Yosemite, AIDS clinics, tsunamis, Mexico City and Jerusalem. All this
and much more is contained in a series of vignettes that unexpectedly twist
and weave together as they pull and tug at your heart and your spirit.
My copys bindings gave out long ago. I have dog-eared a dozen pages with
particularly touching passages but then, I really should just mark the
entire book. For Example, Dillard writes Los Angeles airport has twenty-five
thousand parking spaces. This is about one space for every person who died in
1985 in Colombia when a volcano erupted. This is one space each for two years
worth of accidental killings from land mines left over from recent wars....You
could not fit Americas homeless there, however, even at eighteen or nineteen
to a car. And again, she writes We are earths organs and limbs;
we are syllables God utters from his mouth.
Dillard determinedly maintains her belief that God lives and wrestles with
the details of death, tragedy and hatred in a luminous manner. Read this book
and be profoundly disturbed and inspired.
Autobiography of Malcolm X
(as told to Alex Haley). Grove Press, 1966.
Truth be told, I was hesitant to read the Autobiography of Malcolm X. I was afraid the writing would be dry and the content inapplicable to my principles of nonviolent activism. I had bought into the medias portrayal of Malcolm as violent and filled with hate. I could not have been more wrong.
Malcolms childhood was unstable. His father was murdered
when he was six. Shortly thereafter, his mother was taken to a mental institution
and the children split up. Malcolm spent time in foster homes, a detention home
and living with his half-sister. He spent seven years hustling on the streets
of Boston and New York City. He sold and used drugs, pimped, sold numbers, and
stole property. In 1946, 20 year-old Malcolm was convicted of robbery and sent
to prison for 10 years.
In prison Malcolm educated himself and became a devoted follower
of the Nation of Islam. Malcolm spent the 12 years following his release preaching
the Nations teachings and establishing temples in over a dozen cities.
In 1963 he was excommunicated from the Nation of Islam.
He spent the next two years traveling to Mecca and Africa and
trying to establish first a Moslem organization and then a Black Nationalist
organization in the United States. Malcolm was shot and killed on February 21,
The aspect of Malcolms life that really drew me was his
firmly-held beliefs regarding racism in the US. Malcolm has been, and continues
to be, framed as a racist because the white power structure refuses
to acknowledge the institutional racism he addressed so forcefully. Malcolm
writes, unless we call one white man, by name, a devil, we
are not speaking of any individual white man. We are speaking of the collective
white mans historical record.
Throughout his adult life, Malcolm fought tirelessly for Black
freedom. He was driven by anger and frustration and the hope of a completely
This book is a must-read for anyone working for peace and justice,
especially white people. Racism is alive and flourishing, and if we hope to
effect change, we must examine all oppressive systems, including racism.
Corporate Warriors: TheRise of the Privatized Military Industry P.W. Singer Cornell University Press, 2003
Some weeks ago four US civilian contractors were killed and mutilated in Fallujah. Except via lynch mobs, etc, such mercenaries for that is what they were are subject to little oversight or accountability. Part of their value to their employer is that they can operate independent of both US law and the Geneva Conventions. Nor are such privatized soldiers included in the US troop or body count.
Somewhere in cyberspace, I recently read that the number of such
US-paid mercenaries in Iraq now exceeds that of British soldiers there. Alarmed,
I figured Id better learn more.Singers book must have been completed
before the US invasion, and so doesnt confirm or debunk the scale of mercenary
involvement in Iraq these days.
Before this book, however, I had no idea what a wide role corporations
employing professional soldiers (often retired special forces commandos trained
at US-taxpayer expense) played not only in US military adventures, but
also in those of other state and non-state entities, legal and illegal.
P.W. Singer has administered corporate mercenary contracts for
the Pentagon. Hes a National Security Fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Hes also a frequent commentator on military affairs in the mainstream
print and TV media.
His book is a weighty and well-documented 330 pages. Fortunately
Singer is an engaging and lucid writer. He has a financial analysts grasp
of the industrys dynamics. Hes a scholar steeped in military culture
and history. He has the geopolitical big picture.
Singer analyzes the trend to privatize warrior functions. He also
examines the disadvantages both practical and moral of doing so.
Over a third of the book focuses on implications.
For this anti-war activist who wants to better understand the
realities of war, the book was fascinating. Read it to better understand how
the world works.