Tuesday, October 21, 2003

a few notes on a conscientious objector 

"Where are you?

Where am I?

The cardinal points are lost in a heap, like four
aces shuffled in a pack of cards."
--Vicente Huidobro

last night i sat in the basement of the Philadelphia Quaker Friends School to hear Gloria Pacis, mother of the openly gay marine Stephen Eagle Funk, now in prison for being a conscientious objector to America's aggression against Iraq. one of the first things i noticed was the absence of the gay press, probably busy making rainbow posters to support Philadelphia Republican candidate for mayor Sam Katz, who is using what Betsy Piette called "the FBI's racist witch hunt" against Democrat mayor John Street, in order to gain control of the city government. but that's another story, another very ugly story.

before hearing Gloria read her son's letters from prison, and read her speech she'll be reading this saturday at the march in DC, i wasn't sure how i felt about the stand Funk has taken. the issue of gays in the military in particular has bothered me in the past, or rather the steady focus both Clinton and the press had given it in recent years. as far as i was concerned, there were far more pressing issues that the gay community needed to challenge.

but i started to hear the story of how Stephen's sister Katie (a political activist) had helped him come out of the closet. this is no small thing for a marine to do. in fact it's quite dangerous, even needing to be held in protective custody while in military prison.

in the beginning Stephen would write speeches for his sister to read for him at political rallies. but when he gained the courage to take the microphone and tell his own story, he also started talking to the chaplain on his military base. but he wasn't just talking to the chaplain about being a gay marine, he was also starting to talk about his feelings for a war we were about to begin that he felt was wrong, and immoral. the fact that the pope was very openly against the invasion of Iraq would allow any Catholic chaplain the right to also firmly declare this war immoral.

for years i've well understood poor and working class kids joining the armed services with visions of bettering themselves, getting out of poverty, seeing the world, maybe being able to go to school after they've served their time. but along with that also came a sense of duty, a sense of responsibility to defend America's shores and people. this is something that every member of my family who has served has believed themselves a part of, this sense of protection of freedom, and justice.

when i was sitting there listening to Gloria Pacis read her son's letters from prison, it became very clear that this was a young man who had once believed in the very same things my own family has believed or continues to believe. Stephen Eagle Funk is part Filipino and part Native American. to be exact, his mother said he is part Crow. and upon hearing this it further solidified my understanding of Stephen's belief in defending America. the Crow Indians were the tribe, in fact the only tribe of the west and pacific north west to aid the white settlers in the war against the tribes. when i lived for a brief time in New Mexico i heard plenty of racial slurs against the Crow from other Native Americans, as well as from the strange white New Age community, accusing them of destroying the country by turning it over to the white devils. and really, who can blame them for their anger? but when i started to read the books of Frank B. Linderman, which were interviews he conducted with the Crow Chief Plenty Coups, and their medicine woman Pretty Shield, it became clear that the Crow believed the white men to merely be another tribe who had come to aid them in their own hour of need. the Lakota in particular, according to Chief Plenty Coups, wanted to wipe the Crow off the face of the earth. genocide, in other words. the Crow fought alongside the mainly white cavalry, and provided expertise in tracking and hunting, and other forms of survival. so once the Indian wars were over and it came time to divide up the small portions set aside for reservations, the Crow of course got to pick the best locations. and for whatever judgments others may have, the Crow believed it was their duty to defend the country, even under the occupation of the white rulers.

but what's a marine to do when he hears the outcry of nearly every nation on earth that the aggression against Iraq his country was about to undertake is racist, is wrong? after all, we do now have gibbering, stammering military leaders declaring this a war against Satan, aligning with the ideas of some religious leaders in the middle east who believe that this is a Holy War. what's a marine to do? especially if he believed in his heart that his duty was to defend his country, not ruthlessly invade and occupy another.

there were several Vietnam vets in the audience who believed that the harsh punishment handed down to Stephen was a result of his speaking out at rallies, and trying to persuade other soldiers to refuse to fight this war. the truth is that the international plea for Funk's case actually awarded him a lighter sentence than was originally intended, but the military court is still wanting to shut him up and make an example of him.

he has a strong mother. Gloria Pacis is an amazing woman, speaking all over the country right now, trying to make alliances with other mothers of other service men and women who are also outraged at the war in Iraq. and with the rising toll in American casualties, Gloria's pace is picking up, and her message is being heard more than ever. she'll be speaking on stage this saturday in DC with others who want to end this war and make reparations to the people of Iraq.

the lack of any press, including the gay press, last night, didn't phase a crowd from filling the room to hear the panel who spoke with Gloria Pacis. here's to the best for another march in DC against the American occupation of Iraq, and hoping that peace will soon come for the Iraqi people.

i now want to share with you a letter we were handed:

A letter from refuser Matan Kaminer, on trial - Israeli military court, to Stephen Funk Us Marines

Dear Stephen,

Is this what they call "globalization"?

We live half a world from each other, we have led quite different lives, and yet we are both in the same situation: conscientious objectors to imperial war and occupation, we are both standing military trial this summer. Reading your statement I couldn't help but smile at the basic sameness of military logic around the world - including its inability to understand how anybody could be enough against a war to resist going to kill and die in it.

But I've been presuming you're familiar with my situation. In case you aren't, let me fill you in briefly. I was slated for induction into the Israeli army in December 2002. After a year of volunteer work in a Jewish-Arab youth movement, I had made up my mind to refuse to enlist. Together with other young people in my situation, I signed the High School Seniors' Letter to PM Sharon, and to make myself absolutely clear I sent a personal letter to the military authorities notifying them that I was going to refuse.

They let me know they weren't about to let me go: the army only exempts pacifists (at least that's what it claims) and I didn't meet their definition of a pacifist. So beginning in December I was sentenced by 'disciplinary proceedings' (do they have this ridiculous institution in the Marines too?) to 28 days in military prison - three consecutive times. After my third time in jail, I asked to join my friend Haggai Matar, who was being court-martialed, and within a few weeks three of our friends - Noam, Shimri and Adam - joined us.

Now we are on trial and stand to get up to three years in prison for refusing the order to enlist.

Sounds familiar, huh? But it's not just what they're doing to us that's similar, it's what they're doing to others: occupying a foreign land and oppressing another people in the name of preventing terror. People like you and me know that's just an excuse for furthering economic and political interests of the ruling elite. But it's not the elite that pays the price.

The people who pay the price are in Jenin and Fallujah, in Ramallah and Baghdad, in Tikrit and in Hebron. They are the Iraqi and Palestinian children, hog-tied face-down on the floor or shot at on the way to school. But they are also the Israeli and American soldiers, treated as cannon fodder by generals in air-conditioned offices, whose only way to deal with their situation is dehumanization - first of the strange-looking foreigners who want them dead, next of themselves. You can ask your Vietnam veterans or our own.

Stephen, people our age should be out learning, working and transforming the world. People our age should be going to parties and protests, meeting people, falling in love and arguing about what our world should look like. People our age should not be moving targets, denied their human and civil rights; they should not be military grunts, exposed to harm in mind and body, lugging around M-16's and guilty consciences; they should not be thrown behind bars for not wanting to kill and die.

Your trial is set to begin soon. Mine has already begun so maybe I can give you a few pointers.

Look the judges in the eyes. Use every opportunity you have to explain why you stand there. They are human just like you, but they try to deny it to themselves. Don't let them. War is shit and they know it. They should let you go and they know it.

It's likely that we'll both get thrown in prison when this all ends. There will be dark moments in prison, moments when it seems that the outside world has forgotten all about us, that what we did and refused to do was in vain. Well, I know what I'll do in those moments: I'll think of you Stephen, and I'll know that nothing we do for humanity's sake is ever in vain.

With greatest solidarity,

Matan Kaminer
'Open Detention', Tel Hashomer Camp, Israel
August 12, 2003

this letter and other information was handed out by the Global Women's Strike, and also the group calling themselves Refusing To Kill.

in solidarity with Stephen Eagle Funk, Matan Kaminer, and all others wishing peace, and an end to the disgrace of our nation's aggression,

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