It's Deja Vu All Over Again

Becky O'Malley
Sunday June 23, 2019 - 09:03:00 AM

The mantra for the current era should be Dorothy Parker’s rumored telephone greeting: “What fresh hell is this?”

Every day the national administration produces a new unbelievable occurrence, most often generated by the guy at the top. The last couple of days, however, have revealed, to my great surprise, that there’s someone in the White House that makes Donald Trump look sane and sober.

That would be John Bolton, who with his henchman Michael Pompeo has been ginning up a war with Iran.

How do I know? Well, it’s that same old script, always good for a remake. The first version, in my youth in the early ‘60s, was the Tonkin Gulf incident, the one where an imaginary battle between a U.S. ship and the North Vietnamese produced, per Wikipedia,“ the passage by Congress of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which granted President Lyndon B. Johnson the authority to assist any Southeast Asian country whose government was considered to be jeopardized by communist aggression. The resolution served as Johnson's legal justification for deploying U.S. conventional forces and the commencement of open warfare against North Vietnam.”

The second bigtime remake was the episode of the WMDs, the Weapons of Mass Destruction, also imaginary, which were used to justify George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. 

This history explains why some of us have been just a wee bit skeptical about the latest Gulf incident, this one in the Gulf of Oman. It’s alleged that a drone was shot down, maybe by Iran, maybe inside or perhaps outside Iranian territory. 

And since nutty John Bolton has made no secret of his desire to crush Iran by any means necessary, suspecting him of producing yet another remake of the same old script only makes sense. 

In any event, some of us who have seen the previous versions of this movie are wondering what we can do this time to change the plot. 

Do we believe that Donald Trump had a sudden attack of common sense, asking if it’s really smart to kill a hundred or so people to avenge downing a drone? And even suggesting that it might just have been a mistake? 

Will wonders never cease? 

When this latest episode first hit the small screens in Berkeley, a veteran organizer wrote to an email list of her peers, including me, that she feared imminent war with Iran, and wondered what we could do to stop it. The responses included the usual suggestions: demonstrate, march, write postcards to legislators, telephone their offices…etc. etc . 

I have the greatest respect for all the women on her list. They range in age from mid-seventies to nineties, and they’ve been opposing war in all of its manifestation for most of their long and busy lives, taking action for many years under the banner of Grandmothers Against War. 

I’ve intersected several ways with various of them, one all the way back to Ann Arbor in the 1960s, and I admire what they’ve accomplished—no, we’ve accomplished--including ending the war in Vietnam, no minor feat. Their roots go back at least to Women for Peace (aka Women Strike for Peace), a movement started in the '60s which hoped to appeal to the better instincts of the powerful, mostly men in those days. 

Sadly,most of today’s powerful, still mostly men, with one Super-Grandmother exception, appear to be utterly lacking in conscience, despite Trump’s uncharacteristic last minute halt to the assault on Iran. That’s why I was encouraged to learn what some of the Grandmothers on the email list have already started doing: stopping war from the bottom instead of at the top. 

They are working with an organization that is dedicated to “trying to make sure young people understand the realities of joining the military before they enlist.” They've created an appealing web site designed to counter all the pro-military propaganda and undelivered promises which are used to entice young people to join the services, https://www.beforeenlisting.org 

There are many reasons why young people should not sign up for military duty. One very important indicator is the high suicide rate among service members and veterans. The Planet reported on this anecdotally way back in 2004, and it’s only gotten worse since then. 

I learned about the devious tricks used to persuade the young to sign up a number of years ago, when I got an anguished call from the single mother of a Richmond high school student. His grandmother had been my close friend before she died much too young of breast cancer, and since then I’d occasionally been a stand-in advisor for her children and grandchildren. 

The mother told me that her son, who was about 17 or 18, had been sweet-talked by a glib recruiter who came to his school into agreeing to join the army. She knew, as did I, that it was very unlikely that he would get the training described, and very likely that instead he’d be tossed into whatever phase of the unending Middle East war was going on at the moment. I also knew that promises by recruiters were not enforceable. 

I did some quick legal research and made some phone calls and then called the recruiting officer, who insisted on meeting me in his office deep in the bowels of Eastmont Mall, at that time the hangout for young people in East Oakland who had no good way to spend their time. 

Without referencing my research I suggested that the boy wanted to withdraw from his enlistment and that his mother agreed. The sergeant gave me a long dishonest song and dance about how that was forbidden by a binding contract the youngster had signed. I knew better and told him so, and after some brief stonewalling he agreed to tear the contract up. 

Most kids who make bad decisions, however, don’t get much advice about their rights. That’s why the work of Before Enlisting is so important. Potential recruits need information about alternatives which will get their lives on track, and the web site offers many

My young friend has certainly found one that works for him. We’d kind of lost touch since he escaped the army, so I was delighted to get a wedding invitation from him just last week. I looked him up on Facebook (it’s not all bad!) and discovered that he’d found his way to a culinary training program and established what sounds like a great career as a chef, working alongside his intended bride. 

It’s stories like this one which emphasize that we don’t just need to stop this endless war, whichever one it is, we need to dismantle a system based on tricking young Americans into becoming cannon fodder for phantom conflicts. Marches and postcards and petitions and op-eds and all the other traditional methods of trying to change the hearts and minds of decision makers and the voting public still have their place, but one-on-one personal contact as facilitated by Before Enlisting with those who’ve been targeted by the military service is saving lives one at a time in a domain outside the reach of the Trumps, Boltons and Pompeos. 

Here’s how to reach Beyond Enlisting from their site

“If you are an educator interested in learning more about what we can bring to your school or classroom, please do not hesitate to reach out. 

“Or, If you are interested in learning more about our program as a veteran interested in presenting in schools, or as a youth or civilian volunteer, please get in touch! 

“You can reach us by email at beforeenlisting(at)gmail(dot)com, or by phone: (415) 547-0126. We would love to walk you through what we offer (classroom presentations, group discussions, assembly performances, veteran Q&A, Warrior Writers readings...) and find what would be the best fit for you. Looking forward to talking!” 

Though working with Beyond Enlisting won’t prevent war with Iran, at least not this week, you can see the results right away, and it’s a satisfying accomplishment.