Last night I attended a screening of the veterans’ documentary WHAT I WANT YOU TO KNOW. After garnering the audience favorite award at last summer’s Maine International Film Festival the film attracted sponsors including peace organizations I belong to that worked to bring the film to more audiences here in Maine. Attendance at the November 13 screening in Brunswick was sparse — about 20 people — but an engaging discussion after the film was facilitated by veterans’ counselor Robyn Belcher.

Archival footage of the wars the U.S. waged in Afghanistan and Iraq following 9/11 was interspersed with contemporary interviews of multiple veterans of those wars. Organized loosely by chronology of the enlistees’ journeys from private citizens to imperial cannon fodder, the narrative arrived at moral injury — a final resting place where one veteran predicted he will still be dwelling decades from now.

The film’s theme is futility and the sensation that all the limbs and lives lost, plus the civilians terrorized or slaughtered, was for nothing. Several clips of a succession of U.S. presidents speaking conveyed the lies that combat veterans now believe they were told in the course of their enlistment. 

This photo and the one at the top are stills from the film’s website.

There was no clear mission and, once in country, soldiers literally drove around in circles waiting for their turn to be blasted by an IED. They arrested the wrong men, they shot blindly into crowds of civilians, and in their view absolutely nothing was gained.

Ostensible reasons for being there i.e. bringing “democracy” or advancing the rights of women were quickly exposed as fraudulent. Insurgents had the support and loyalty of the people, and woe betide those who threw in with the occupying forces as interpreters only to be cast aside as the U.S. military departed. These acts of disloyalty contributed to the moral suffering described by veterans, and to the moral decay in evidence as soldiers whoop and congratulate themselves on shooting down from helicopters onto unarmed civilians.

U.S. soldier Steven Green hung himself in prison after being among a group of soldiers convicted of rape and murder committed in Mahmoudiyah, Iraq in 2006.  Photograph: AP

The film has a tight focus but I thought there were some glaring omissions in the moral injury department. No discussion of rape except in the context of Afghan warlords and their exploitation of boys? Really? Who can forget the gang-rape and murder of 14 year old Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi by U.S. Army soldiers who then killed her entire family in order to eliminate the witnesses. 

And why was there no discussion of opium production in Afghanistan used to fund the war while driving an opioid epidemic in the West until the Taliban again eradicated it after the occupiers departed? Plenty of veterans have died of suicide by overdose in the intervening years.

Suicide was touched on as it’s well known that more active duty soldiers die in “accidents” or by their own hand than die from enemy fire. Soldiers described feeling betrayed by their leaders and demoralized by the things they both saw and did while deployed, a potent combination that eroded their will to stay alive.

Most of the audience discussion focused on damaged vets and how to help them help themselves. I have to admit that was not my focus as an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure in situations like this. Why not celebrate the fact that largely because of their suffering the will to enlist in the U.S. military is at an all time low? Even military families, traditionally the best source of volunteers, are telling their younger generations not to enlist. Decades of war for profit with dishonor have gutted what was once a proud military that believed in its mission (however deluded that notion might have been). 

The U.S. imperial mission in Ukraine and now in Israel have been spectacular failures that the government and its obedient press are still lying about today. Those in the know understand that Ukraine could not beat or even weaken Russia, and that Israel cannot win against Hamas, Hezbollah, and Resistance coalitions coming together to fight them and their U.S. sponsor. Attacks on illegal U.S. military bases in Syria and Iraq are reported almost daily. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands in the U.S. and millions across the globe continue marching to demand an end to the genocide happening right now to Palestinians.

Palestinians flee to the southern Gaza Strip on Salah al-Din Street in Bureij, Gaza Strip, Friday, Nov. 10, 2023. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

The long downfall in morale that began with the Vietnam War has proven far more enduring than freedom.

U.S. Congress, You Can’t Hide! We Charge You With Genocide

Photo credit for Golden’s office pics: Lawrence Reichard

But try to hide our “representatives” will. My representative Jared Golden was not present in his Bangor office this week when eight people were arrested trying to deliver a letter demanding he support a ceasefire in Gaza. And plans for a second group to try again were thwarted when staff closed his Bangor office early on Friday. 

Photo credit: DSA Maine

Maine’s 1st district rep Chellie Pingree was not present in her Portland office last week when Jewish organizers with If Not Now turned out 200 or so. A handful of them were led out in zip ties after office staff refused to accept the letter they were trying to deliver.

I consider several people who took part in these actions friends, and I got to speak with one of them about his experiences in Bangor. Rob Shetterly, who has worked in refugee camps in the West Bank on trips sponsored by Veterans for Peace, reported:  “We wanted to do our little piece of the international actions to support the Palestinians and stop the genocidal actions continuing in Gaza. And to encourage other people to take a stand.” 

The group failed to disperse after being blocked from delivering a message that said in part:

As residents of Maine, we are here today to demand that Rep. Jared Golden and all of Maine’s congressional delegation support House Resolution 786, a congressional resolution that calls for an immediate de-escalation and cease-fire in Israel and occupied Palestine.

Calling for a cease-fire is not support for Hamas, and criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitism. As Mainers, we can no longer stand by and idly bear witness to this slaughter of innocent civilians. 

We would no more bomb our beloved brothers and sisters in Palestine for the actions of some than we would bomb our beloved friends and neighbors in Lewiston for the actions of one man. Enough. Stop the killing. Stop it now.

Shetterly told me, 

Just before we went in we got the news about the censuring of Rashida Tlaib which affected me more strongly than Golden’s support for bombing. To pick out a Palestinian person in our Congress who’s simply speaking out on behalf of humanity reminds me of collective dehumanization like the Nazis did to Jews or like White Americans do to Black Africans or Native people.

A person in a position power has a particular responsibility to know the history of the things they talk about. A whole series of genocidal actions are taking place on the basis of wildly false information. There’s a history here of ethnic cleansing and violent military occupation that was inevitably going to lead to resistance.

He said that he plans to reach out to Tlaib to see if she will agree to be painted as he would like to add her portrait to his ongoing series Americans Who Tell The Truth

Shetterly and the others were released on their own recognizance after paying a bail bondsman $60 each to process their paperwork. If they did not pay, they were told that they would be jailed over the four day weekend. Their arraignment date is January 10.

I’m old enough to remember when our elected representatives in Maine at least pretended to hear from constituents. They held town halls and would also schedule time for constituents to call on them when they were back in district. 

These days the only way to get their attention seems to be civil disobedience. Thus more than 100 congressional staffers walked off the job last week to protest U.S. support for genocide in Gaza. Many of them are undoubtedly the young voices we hear when we call to express our opinions. I’m always courteous because the staffers are in a tough place and possibly on the verge of their own awakening from the delusion of American exceptionalism. One young woman in Sen. Angus King’s office sounded on the verge of tears as she responded to my call, “I hear you, Lisa.”

Students walked out of classes and then blocked the front entrance of the New York Public Library on Thursday Nov 9.

In related actions last week, writers occupied the New York Times demanding truthful reporting on Palestine following writer Jazmine Hughes being forced to resign after signing a letter of support for Palestine; and both Brandeis and Columbia suspended the group Students for Justice in Palestine. Columbia also suspended Jewish Voice for Peace.

Brown University in Providence had student protesters arrested.

Bottom line: the people aren’t having it, especially young Jewish people. And you cannot hide from an idea whose time has come.