Monday, September 12, 2011

A Poem Worth Reading

A Moment of Silence

Emmanuel Ortiz

Before I begin this poem, I’d like to ask you to join me in a moment of silence in honor of those who died in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11th, 2001.
I would also like to ask you to offer up a moment of silence for all of those who have been harassed, imprisoned, disappeared, tortured, raped, or killed in retaliation for those strikes, for the victims in Afghanistan, Iraq, in the U.S., and throughout the world.
And if I could just add one more thing…
A full day of silence… for the tens of thousands of Palestinians who have died at the hands of U.S.-backed Israeli forces over decades of occupation.
Six months of silence… for the million and-a-half Iraqi people, mostly children, who have died of malnourishment or starvation as a result
of a 12-year U.S. embargo against the country.
…And now, the drums of war beat again.
Before I begin this poem, two months of silence… for the Blacks under Apartheid in South Africa, where “homeland security” made them aliens in their own country
Nine months of silence… for the dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where death rained down and peeled back every layer of concrete, steel, earth and skin, and the survivors went on as if alive.
A year of silence… for the millions of dead in Viet Nam —a people, not a war—for those who know a thing or two about the scent of burning fuel, their relatives bones buried in it, their babies born of it.
Two months of silence… for the decades of dead in Colombia, whose names, like the corpses they once represented, have piled up and slipped off our tongues.
Before I begin this poem,
Seven days of silence… for El Salvador
A day of silence… for Nicaragua
Five days of silence… for the Guatemaltecos
None of whom ever knew a moment of peace in their living years.
45 seconds of silence… for the 45 dead at Acteal, Chiapas…
1,933 miles of silence… for every desperate body
That burns in the desert sun
Drowned in swollen rivers at the pearly gates to the Empire’s underbelly,
A gaping wound sutured shut by razor wire and corrugated steel.
25 years of silence… for the millions of Africans who found their graves far deeper in the ocean than any building could poke into the sky.
For those who were strung and swung from the heights of sycamore trees
In the south… the north… the east… the west…
There will be no dna testing or dental records to identify their remains.
100 years of silence… for the hundreds of millions of indigenous people
From this half of right here,
Whose land and lives were stolen,
In postcard-perfect plots like Pine Ridge, Wounded Knee, Sand Creek, Fallen Timbers, or the Trail of Tears
Names now reduced to innocuous magnetic poetry on the refrigerator of our consciousness…
From somewhere within the pillars of power
You open your mouths to invoke a moment of our silence
And we are all left speechless,
Our tongues snatched from our mouths,
Our eyes stapled shut.
A moment of silence,
And the poets are laid to rest,
The drums disintegrate into dust.
Before I begin this poem,
You want a moment of silence…
You mourn now as if the world will never be the same
And the rest of us hope to hell it won’t be.
Not like it always has been.
…Because this is not a 9-1-1 poem
This is a 9/10 poem,
It is a 9/9 poem,
A 9/8 poem,
A 9/7 poem…
This is a 1492 poem.
This is a poem about what causes poems like this to be written.
And if this is a 9/11 poem, then
This is a September 11th 1973 poem for Chile.
This is a September 12th 1977 poem for Steven Biko in South Africa.
This is a September 13th 1971 poem for the brothers at Attica Prison, New York.
This is a September 14th 1992 poem for the people of Somalia.
This is a poem for every date that falls to the ground amidst the ashes of amnesia.
This is a poem for the 110 stories that were never told,
The 110 stories that history uprooted from its textbooks
The 110 stories that that cnn, bbc, The New York Times, and Newsweek ignored.
This is a poem for interrupting this program.
This is not a peace poem,
Not a poem for forgiveness.
This is a justice poem,
A poem for never forgetting.
This is a poem to remind us
That all that glitters
Might just be broken glass.
And still you want a moment of silence for the dead?
We could give you lifetimes of empty:
The unmarked graves,
The lost languages,
The uprooted trees and histories,
The dead stares on the faces of nameless children…
Before I start this poem we could be silent forever
Or just long enough to hunger,
For the dust to bury us
And you would still ask us
For more of our silence.
So if you want a moment of silence
Then stop the oil pumps
Turn off the engines, the televisions
Sink the cruise ships
Crash the stock markets
Unplug the marquee lights
Delete the e-mails and instant messages
Derail the trains, ground the planes.
If you want a moment of silence, put a brick through the window
of Taco Bell
And pay the workers for wages lost.
Tear down the liquor stores,
The townhouses, the White Houses, the jailhouses, the Penthouses
and the Playboys.
If you want a moment of silence,
Then take it
On Super Bowl Sunday,
The Fourth of July,
During Dayton’s 13 hour sale,
The next time your white guilt fills the room where my beautiful brown people have gathered.
You want a moment of silence
Then take it
Before this poem begins.
Here, in the echo of my voice,
In the pause between goosesteps of the second hand,
In the space between bodies in embrace,
Here is your silence.
Take it.
Take it all.
But don’t cut in line.
Let your silence begin at the beginning of crime.
And we,
We will keep right on singing
For our dead.

Emmanuel Ortiz is a third-generation Chicano/Puerto Rican/Irish-American community organizer and spoken word poet. He is the author of a chapbook of poems, The Word Is a Machete (self-published, 2003), and coeditor of Under What Bandera?: Anti-War Ofrendas from Minnesota y Califas (Calaca Press, 2004). He is a founding member of Palabristas: Latin@ Word Slingers, a collective of Latin@ poets in Minnesota. Emmanuel has lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Oakland, California; and the Arizona/Mexico border. He currently lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the “buckle of the Bible Belt,” with his two dogs, Nogi and Cuca. In his spare time, he enjoys guacamole, soccer, and naps.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Another Brother Gone but Not Forgotten

Lately I have been spending a lot of time on Facebook. It has been, for the most part, a rewarding experience. It has enabled me to meet people from all over the world and has taught me much about the different people and cultures we share this globe with.

One of the men I have met is another salty old Marine named Daniel Pickens. This morning when I opened my inbox, I found this. Daniel wanted us to remember his friend and mentor, Craig Matlock, Specialist 5, Gunship Crew Chief, United States Army, so this is for him. Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.

Craig Matlock
15 June 1946 - 1 May 2008

Crew Chief
1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry
Alpha Troop
Republic of Vietnam

1966 - 1967
"Head Hunters"
(Vietnam's first reconnaissance squadron)

From Daniel:

Craig was the husband of my friend Lois and father of my friends Paul, Matt and Steven. You really had to know him to understand the kind of man he was. He always said what was on his mind and if he didn't like you, you knew about it right away.

Specialist five, Craig Matlock, was drafted, run through the training mill, and sent to Vietnam. There he discovered what it really meant to crew a gunship. At the age of twenty he learned what it was like to kill to survive, to appreciate the beauty of a gunship run, and to feel pride in a unit.

It took me a long time for him to speak to me about Vietnam. These are a few of his words....

"I don't talk much about the war because no one ever wants to hear about it. When I came back through San Francisco airport, I got spit on. I didn't know what was going on in the States. We read the 'Stars and Stripes' over there and it printed what they wanted us to read."

"I had been drafted. I didn't ask to go over to Vietnam, but I still got called a baby killer."

"Almost everybody there was eighteen to twenty years old. They did their jobs well. We were damned good at what we did. The American people should have been proud of us, instead of treating us the way they did."

"I remember that country. It was really pretty country from the air, but sometimes you would see the bomb craters where men had fought and died. Vietnam was the kind of place you always wanted to get the hell out of, and once you left, you always wanted to see it again. I have a great regard for the MIA's and POW's who are STILL over there."

"I don't have anything against the people of Vietnam, even the Viet Cong. They were doing what they thought was right, and we were doing what we were told."

"People ignored Vietnam veterans and insulted us and treated us really badly, but I believe we will have our day."-- Craig Matlock Awarded: 19 Oak Leaf Clusters, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart

I will always remember....

So will we...


Friday, December 11, 2009

Merry Christmas & Happy Chanukah to Those who Serve...

The embers glowed softly, and in their dim light,
I gazed round the room and I cherished the sight. My wife was asleep, her head on my chest,
My daughter beside me, angelic in rest.
Outside the snow fell, a blanket of white,
Transforming the yard to a winter delight.

The sparkling lights in the tree I believe,
Completed the magic that was Christmas Eve.
My eyelids were heavy, my breathing was deep,
Secure and surrounded by love I would sleep.
In perfect contentment, or so it would seem,
So I slumbered, perhaps I started to dream.

The sound wasn't loud, and it wasn't too near,
But I opened my eyes when it tickled my ear..
Perhaps just a cough, I didn't quite know, Then the
sure sound of footsteps outside in the snow.
My soul gave a tremble, I struggled to hear,
And I crept to the door just to see who was near.

Standing out in the cold and the dark of the night,
A lone figure stood, his face weary and tight.
A soldier, I puzzled, some twenty years old,
Perhaps a Marine, huddled here in the cold.
Alone in the dark, he looked up and smiled,
Standing watch over me, and my wife and my child.

"What are you doing?" I asked without fear,
"Come in this moment, it's freezing out here!
Put down your pack, brush the snow from your sleeve,
You should be at home on a cold Christmas Eve!"
For barely a moment I saw his eyes shift,
Away from the cold and the snow blown in drifts..

To the window that danced with a warm fire's light
Then he sighed and he said "Its really all right,
I'm out here by choice. I'm here every night."
"It's my duty to stand at the front of the line,
That separates you from the darkest of times.

No one had to ask or beg or implore me,
I'm proud to stand here like my fathers before me.
My Gramps died at 'Pearl on a day in December,"
Then he sighed, "That's a Christmas 'Gram always remembers."
My dad stood his watch in the jungles of 'Nam',
And now it is my turn and so, here I am.

I've not seen my own son in more than a while,
But my wife sends me pictures, he's sure got her smile.
Then he bent and he carefully pulled from his bag,
The red, white, and blue... an American flag.
I can live through the cold and the being alone,
Away from my family, my house and my home.

I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet,
I can sleep in a foxhole with little to eat.
I can carry the weight of killing another,
Or lay down my life with my sister and brother...
Who stand at the front against any and all,
To ensure for all time that this flag will not fall.."

" So go back inside," he said, "harbor no fright,
Your family is waiting and I'll be all right."
"But isn't there something I can do, at the least,
"Give you money," I asked, "or prepare you a feast?
It seems all too little for all that you've done,
For being away from your wife and your son."

Then his eye welled a tear that held no regret,
"Just tell us you love us, and never forget.
To fight for our rights back at home while we're gone,
To stand your own watch, no matter how long.
For when we come home, either standing or dead,
To know you remember we fought and we bled.
Is payment enough, and with that we will trust,
That we mattered to you as you mattered to us."

Semper Fidelis to ALL who serve...


Cross posted at deuddersun says...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Military caught on tape cheating Vets out of health care as policy

We've posted before on the military cheating Vets out of the long term care that's due them for PTSD. They've been caught at it by 'Sgt. X' and still no one's listening.


Last June, during a medical appointment, a patient named "Sgt. X" recorded an Army psychologist at Fort Carson, Colo., saying that he was under pressure not to diagnose combat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Listen to a segment of the tape here.

For more than a year he's been seeking treatment at Fort Carson for a brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, the signature injuries of the Iraq war. Sgt. X is also suffering through the Army's confusing disability payment system, handled by something called a medical evaluation board. The process of negotiating the system has been made harder by his war-damaged memory. Sgt. X's wife has to go with him to doctor's appointments so he'll remember what the doctor tells him.

But what Sgt. X wants to tell a reporter about is one doctor's appointment at Fort Carson that his wife did not witness. When she couldn't accompany him to an appointment with psychologist Douglas McNinch last June, Sgt. X tucked a recording device into his pocket and set it on voice-activation so it would capture what the doctor said. Sgt. X had no idea that the little machine in his pocket was about to capture recorded evidence of something wounded soldiers and their advocates have long suspected -- that the military does not want Iraq veterans to be diagnosed with PTSD, a condition that obligates the military to provide expensive, intensive long-term care, including the possibility of lifetime disability payments. And, as Salon will explore in a second article Thursday, after the Army became aware of the tape, the Senate Armed Services Committee declined to investigate its implications, despite prodding from a senator who is not on the committee. The Army then conducted its own internal investigation -- and cleared itself of any wrongdoing.

When [Army sawbones] McNinch learned he would be quoted in a Salon article, he cut off further questions. He also said he would deny the interview took place. Salon, however, had recorded the conversation.

A recently retired Army psychiatrist who still works for the government, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said commanders at another Army hospital instructed him to misdiagnose soldiers suffering from war-related PTSD, recommending instead that he diagnose them with other disorders that would reduce their benefits. The psychiatrist said he would be willing to say more publicly about the cases and provide specific names, but only if President Obama would protect him from retaliation.

Less money for damaged soldiers = more money for the military industrial complex and cushy post-retirement jobs for generals + hides the true cost of Bush's Imperialist Oil War.

Go read the rest, please.

If you are aware of a soldier who has served or is serving in the Iraq or Afghanistan conflicts and is having trouble getting a PTSD diagnosis or proper benefits, please contact Mark Benjamin at mbenjamin (at) salon (dot) com.

NOW on PBS did a report on a similar situation last week. See it here.

Thousands of U.S. troops are getting discharged out of the army. Many suffer from post traumatic stress disorders and brain injuries, and haven't been getting the care they need. The Army's been claiming these discharged soldiers had pre-existing mental illnesses. But health advocates say these are wrongful discharges, a way for the army to get rid of "problem" soldiers quickly, without giving them the treatment to which they're entitled.

NOW covered this issue last summer, and this week we revisit the army's controversial position and follow up with affected soldiers we met.

As a result of the media attention from our report and others, the Department of Defense revised its criteria for diagnosing pre-existing conditions and, now, fewer soldiers are receiving the diagnosis, making more of them eligible for care.

I suggest we e-mail President Obama and demand he do the following:

1) Issue an Executive Order to SecDef and the VA to knock off the cheap shit NOW. INSIST that Veterans be properly diagnosed and cared for.

2) Make retaliation against those GIs and Medical Officers who come forward and speak out a court-martial offense, and a criminal offense in the VA.

3) Review all previous diagnoses of 'pre-existing personality disorders' and 'anxiety disorders'. ALL of them.

4) By all means have the Armed Forces Committee, the JAG Corps, and DOJ investigate this, but take care of the Veterans first.

Just as a closing thought, now that Senator DOH! (Party of No - NC) has heard from every Post Commander of VFW, AL, DAV, MCL, VoteVet, and every other Vets outfit in North Carolina, he has dropped his obstruction to the appointment of Tammy Duckworth to Veterans Affairs. I think General Shinseki and Major Duckworth will do what's best for our Veterans. If they are allowed to.

Crossposted at Alternate Brain.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Unmaking of A Marine

If you are interested in Veterans Affairs as we are, go read this book review.

If Boudreau's brutally honest, devastatingly accurate, hard-hitting memoir, Packing Inferno: The Unmaking of a Marine were read by the powers that be in Washington, D.C. and by the journalists assigned to cover both military conflicts, there is absolutely no way in hell the plight of our nation's veterans would take a backseat to the issues currently dominating the evening news coverage or the topics of conversations at dinner tables throughout the country.

And therein lies one of the central themes of Boudreau's 222-page book: the images of the war he has heroically fought have been implanted inside of his mind and are on a permanent loop.

"To say I was duped is not sufficient to lighten the load," he writes. (my em)

The post-traumatic stress of the war in Iraq will forever be a part of Boudreau's identity and it will be a lifelong battle to keep it in check. For some soldiers, post-traumatic stress is the precursor to suicide, for others it leads to a life of drug abuse, alcoholism, or crime.

Boudreau said "the smallest action or phrase from a commander can influence Marines and other soldiers not to seek help."

"The pressure to prepare ourselves quickly was intense. When the first Marine came to my office and asked to see the psychiatrist about some troubling issues from our time in Iraq, I was sympathetic. I said, "No problem." When another half dozen or so Marines approached me with the same request, I was only somewhat concerned."

"But when all of them and several more returned from their appointments with recommendations for discharge, I'll admit I was alarmed. Suddenly I was not as concerned about their mental health as I was about my company's troop strength."

Boudreau said the treatment of post-traumatic stress is antithetical to the mantra of "Mission Accomplished."

"The mission will always supersede treatment," Boudreau said. "And because of that the treatment will always be dubious."

"And all the talk from bureaucrats about putting an end to multiple deployments, which has been blamed on the skyrocketing cases of post-traumatic stress and suicides, is inconceivable," Boudreau said.

"I've heard the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff say 'we have to change this ethic,'" Boudreau said. "But it's not going to happen. Why? Because the military cannot afford a 20 percent reduction in its force."

There are hundreds of thousands of known PTSD and an untold much larger number that are as yet undiagnosed or have not surfaced yet. This is a problem that will be with us until the last Veteran of Bush's Dual Clusterfuck dies eighty years from now. Or depending on how long the Iraq and Afghanistan wars continue, 150 years from now. We had better do some serious thinking as a nation about how to deal with it in a compassionate and effective manner or we are going to pay a tremendous human and societal price for Bush's criminal imperial misadventures. The cost of his entire administration in actual money so far, both current and the debt passed to two or three generations yet to come, will be as nothing compared to the cost of not doing the right thing for these Veterans.

Crossposted at Alternate Brain.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Border Region

Dan Rather has a weekly program on HDNet. Unfortunately, at the web site they only post a 38 second teaser of the hour long show. If you cannot watch it on your TV, they want you to buy a DVD of the show.

However, that takes nothing away from Dan Rather's presentation. I mention this because I think that this is extraordinary reporting. This is far more graphic than anything on the local news.

This week's show has a report from Quetta, Pakistan and from the Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

The video of fire base Restrepol in the Korengal Valley of the platoon high in the mountains, at the 6000' level, reminds me of Viet Nam. Whether one is in a remote mountain outpost or up to your neck in water in a canal with leeches on your legs and abdomen waiting to ambush a barge carrying a regional chief, the extreme similarity is that in both places one is very uncomfortable.

This show brings home the gritty reality that the vast majority of Americans have never experienced. The privations, primitive living conditions and adaptabilty of the U.S. fighting man never cease to amaze me.