Category: Art of War

Kosovo, Syria & WW3

I see things through the eyes of a socially engaged artist. Making art is intellectual work that entails conceptual thinking and problem solving, capabilities that must also be applied to the world of politics. As a painter I believe that art is the enemy of war, the converse is also true: war is the enemy of art.

In 1999 I created the pencil drawing that appears in this post as the U.S. and NATO were bombing Serbia and Kosovo. Titled We are all Targets, my drawing was inspired by those Serbian civilians who openly defied U.S. and NATO bombers by wearing target symbols while gathering on streets or bridges spanning the Danube river. The target symbol became an international antiwar icon that spread across the globe. Sadly, my drawing continues to be relevant, simply replace Serbians with Syrians. In truth, the drawing is a portrait of a protestor I spotted at an antiwar demonstration that took place in Los Angeles during that period. The artwork was made into a poster announcing the activities of the “Peace Center” of L.A., which at the time was coordinating anti-intervention marches and teach-ins against the war in Los Angeles.

© xxx

"We are all Targets" - Mark Vallen. 1999 ©. Pencil on paper - 17" x 23" inches.

I am alarmed to read that President Obama has been studying former President Clinton’s 1999 U.S. led NATO air war against the Serbs of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as a “blueprint” for military attacks against Syria. That U.S./NATO air war lasted 78 days and reaped enormous destruction. There are many parallels between that war and the conflagration looming in Syria - so many that I have an unnerving feeling of déjà vu.

As of this writing America has moved closer to war; on Sept. 4, 2013, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 10 to 7 on a resolution to give President Obama authority to bomb Syria in response to the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians. The vote next goes to the full Senate, where the Democratic controlled chamber will most likely authorize Obama’s war. Whether or not the Republican controlled House rejects the war resolution remains to be seen. The steps towards war are being taken by the Democrats and Republicans despite the multiple polls that show Americans oppose the war in huge numbers.

All this while millions of Americans are out of work, deep in debt, or have lost their homes. Americans are looking at their communities literally falling apart. The U.S. economy has flat-lined and prospects for the near future are shaky at best. On Aug. 30, 2013 President Obama acknowledged that Americans are “war weary,” adding that “I assure you nobody ends up being more war-weary than me.” He went on to say that attacking Syria was vital “to our national security.” Yes, we are war weary alright, but we are also weary of clueless politicians sending us into unwinnable foreign wars.

Who knows what Obama’s strike against Syria will cost the U.S. taxpayer. reported “hundreds of millions of dollars” would be spent on weaponry and logistical operations. The site reported that each Tomahawk cruise missile Obama intends to launch against Syria costs around $1.4 million each, and with the president saying his attack would “not put boots on the ground,” one can assume that a great number of cruise missiles will rain down upon Syria. The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, have so far cost upwards of $3.1 trillion. Mr. Obama’s war on Libya cost $1.1 billion (more on that later). A military strike against Syria will add untold millions - if not billions of dollars - to America’s war debt. War weary indeed.

Obama has said his strike against Syria will be a “limited, narrow act.” But there are no limited acts in warfare. The huge explosions from the hundreds of cruise missiles that Obama intends to send sailing into Syria will reverberate well into the future, and given the region, a wider full-scale war could result. The Sept. 4th Senate resolution included an amendment from Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Delaware) that called for “democratic government in Syria,” in other words, regime change. The resolution also “limits” Obama’s strike to 60 days of military action, and a 30 day extension of the operation - that is 90 days of intense bombing - before having to come back to Congress for further authorization.

President Obama is on record saying that he does not need congressional authorization to strike Syria. Such an attack would violate Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 of the United States Constitution (”Congress shall have Power To declare War”) as well as the War Powers Resolution of 1973, which states that a President can only send U.S. armed forces into action abroad by a declaration of war by Congress or in “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.”

Obama is no doubt interested in how former president Clinton bypassed the U.S. Congress and the U.N. Security Council to wage the Kosovo war by executive order. It should be remembered that the U.S. House of Representatives refused to declare war against Yugoslavia in 1999, denying Clinton congressional authorization for the war. Despite not receiving approval from Congress, Clinton went ahead with the war. President Obama may well do the same.

"Targets All" - Anonymous artist. Xerox flyer. Antiwar leaflet announcing protests in Los Angeles. Collection of Mark Vallen.

"Targets All" - Anonymous artist. Xerox flyer. 1999. Antiwar leaflet announcing protests in Los Angeles. Collection of Mark Vallen.

A major difference between the period of the U.S./NATO assault on Kosovo/Serbia and the present buildup to war with Syria is today’s total collapse of the so-called “antiwar movement” in the U.S., which for all intents and purposes folded itself into the Democratic Party and the 2008 presidential campaign of Sen. Obama. It has not since regained its footing. One can only imagine how those liberals and leftists who proclaimed Obama to be an “antiwar president” would be reacting if it was President Romney that was preparing to plunge the nation into war with Syria.

As the drums of war grow louder, there is only a deafening silence from liberals and leftists. It was not so during the 1999 U.S./NATO bombing of Kosovo/Serbia, as the few artworks peppering this article illustrate.

Known as the “Kosovo War,” the 1999 conflict began as a secessionist movement, with ethnic Albanian Moslems striving to carve an independent state named Kosovo out of the Yugoslav province of the same name. By 1991 the “Kosovo Liberation Army” (KLA) launched a terror campaign against Serbian authorities, police, and villagers, precipitating a military response from the Serbian government of Slobodan Milošević. But the KLA also assassinated ethnic Albanians that opposed secession. The U.S. government had the KLA on its official list of terrorist groups, but inexplicably removed the organization from the list just before Clinton’s 1999 war. Robert Gelbard, the U.S. special envoy to the Balkans under the Clinton administration, said of the KLA in 1998, “I know a terrorist when I see one and these men are terrorists.”

The London Sunday Times ran an article on March 12, 2000 titled, CIA aided Kosovo guerilla army. The report disclosed that “American intelligence agents have admitted they helped to train the Kosovo Liberation Army before NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia” in 1999. Yugoslav army and Serbian militias within Kosovo carried out brutal reprisal attacks against the KLA, its supporters, and the general population of ethnic Albanians, killing an estimated 2,500 Kosovar Albanians in 1998.

"Stop The Bombs" - Anonymous artist. Xerox flyer. 1999. Antiwar leaflet announcing protests in Los Angeles. Collection of Mark Vallen.

"Stop The Bombs" - Anonymous artist. Xerox flyer. 1999. Antiwar leaflet announcing protests in Los Angeles. Collection of Mark Vallen.

President Clinton claimed the Serbs would commit genocide in Kosovo if the U.S. and NATO did not intervene. The U.S./NATO bombings started on March 24 and lasted until June 11, 1999. Under the bombings, Serbian forces attempted to drive ethnic Albanians from Kosovo by force, which only increased the intensity of the U.S./NATO airstrikes. Suddenly the KLA were recast as “freedom fighters” by NATO and the two began to cooperate.

At the time antiwar protests occurred across the U.S. in opposition to the Kosovo war, and demonstrations took place in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other big cities.

Liberal/left circles were however deeply divided, with many “progressives” siding with Clinton’s “humanitarian” bombing. “Laptop bombardiers” became a disparagement used by left radicals against liberal supporters of Clinton’s war. Numerous people, both left and right, mistakenly accused Clinton of launching the war in an attempt to deflect attention from “Monicagate,” the 1998 sex scandal that resulted from Clinton’s extramarital affair with the 22-year-old White House intern, Monica Lewinsky.

The 1997 film, Wag the Dog, also caught the imagination of Clinton’s opponents, and the film’s title was commonly seen on placards at antiwar protests. The basic premise of the film was that of a U.S. president getting caught in a sex scandal with an underage girl, and his staff hiring a spin doctor and a Hollywood movie producer to concoct a distraction, which turned out to be a media-spectacle sham war with Albania. The film turned out to be chillingly prescient. The scandal-plagued Clinton would two years later actually start a war, ostensibly to “protect” ethnic Albanians living in Kosovo. I have even heard recent accusations from the right that President Obama is currently engaged in a Wag the Dog scenario with Syria in order to deflect attention from the NSA surveillance, Bengazi, IRS, and Fast & Furious scandals.

"War Party" - Mark Vallen. Xerox flyer. 1999. Announcement for a May 15, 1999 antiwar protest at the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, California, where President Clinton held a $25,000 a plate fundraising dinner. Collection of Mark Vallen.

"War Party" - Mark Vallen. Xerox flyer. 1999. Announcement for a May 15, 1999 antiwar protest at the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, California, where President Clinton held a $25,000 a plate fundraising dinner. Collection of Mark Vallen.

However, the Wag the Dog movie is really about the relationship between government, the “culture industry,” and manipulating the public into supporting the unsupportable.

Despite its flaws, it is a brilliant film whose narrative is as applicable to the present as it was to events occurring in the late 90s. But let us be clear, Clinton waged war, just as Obama does, for the geopolitical interests of empire. Wars are always fought over resources, territory, and political interests - the “patriotic” and humanitarian concerns professed by leaders that instigate and conduct wars is nothing more than propaganda.

As the radical American intellectual Randolph Bourne wrote in the midst of World War I, “War is the health of the State.”

In the case of the Kosovo war the U.S. objective was controlling the strategic region and its oil flow. The region is expected to be the main route for a future central Asian pipeline that will carry oil and gas to the West. When the bombing stopped in 1999, the Pentagon constructed Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo; it is one of the largest U.S. military bases in the world. Some 7,000 U.S. soldiers are based at Bondsteel, which also provides NATO’s KFOR with equipment and headquarters. This also falls in line with the U.S. military doctrine of “full-spectrum dominance,” which according to the U.S. Department of Defense, is “the cumulative effect of dominance in the air, land, maritime, and space domains and information environment that permits the conduct of joint operations without effective opposition or prohibitive interference.” In this case the “prohibitive interference” in the region is Russia.

In Nov. 1998 the former U.S. energy secretary, Bill Richardson, perhaps put it best when talking about U.S. policy regarding Caspian sea oil: “This is about America’s energy security. It’s also about preventing strategic inroads by those who don’t share our values. We’re trying to move these newly independent countries toward the west. We would like to see them reliant on western commercial and political interests rather than going another way. We’ve made a substantial political investment in the Caspian, and it’s very important to us that both the pipeline map and the politics come out right.”

As for Obama’s interest in Syria, that should be obvious. On Sept. 4, 2013 the New York based International Business Times (IBTimes) reported that Syria possesses “the largest conventional hydrocarbon resources in the eastern Mediterranean.” The IBTimes report quoted the Oil & Gas Journal’s estimate that Syria has around “2.5 billion barrels of crude oil,” putting it in second place behind Iraq. It also possesses some 50 billion tons of oil shale resources. Russia and China play significant roles in Syria’s oil and natural gas production, and both countries are negotiating contracts with the Syrian government for offshore oil drilling rights. Removing Bashar al-Assad from power and replacing him with a puppet government, would not only give the West full access to Syria’s oil and gas, it would take Syrian oil and gas out of Russian and Chinese hands. Perhaps just as important in the West’s desire to destroy Assad is the strategy of isolating Syria’s ally, the Islamic Republic of Iran. With proven reserves of some 150 billion barrels of oil, nearly 10% of total global oil reserves, Iran is the ultimate goal.

"TARGET" - Anonymous artist. Xerox flyer. 1999. Used in global antiwar protests, the target graphic was initially created by Serbian art students and distributed over the internet. This flyer was collected at a demonstration in Los Angeles, California. Collection of Mark Vallen.

"TARGET" - Anonymous artist. Xerox flyer. 1999. Used in global antiwar protests, the target graphic was initially created by Serbian art students and distributed over the internet. This flyer was collected at a demonstration in Los Angeles, California. Collection of Mark Vallen.

In the Kosovo war U.S. and NATO bombers hit factories, oil refineries, government buildings, businesses, roads, bridges, airfields, and other civilian infrastructure targets in Yugoslavia.

On April 12, 1999, a U.S. F-15E Strike Eagle jet fired two missiles at the bridge spanning Grdelica gorge south of the Serbian capital of Belgrade. Instead of hitting the bridge, the missiles hit a passenger train, killing 14 civilians and wounding 16 others. The pilot said he did not see the train.

U.S./NATO bombers also managed to blow-up a good many ethnic Albanian civilian refugee columns attempting to flee the fighting. On April 14, a U.S. F-16 fired at a column at Đakovica, incinerating 73 non-combatants. There were many such attacks, more would come.

On April 19, 1999, the U.S. State Department claimed 500,000 Albanian Kosovars were “missing and feared dead.” Other statements from U.S. and NATO officials alluded to genocide and spoke of Serbian forces killing hundreds of thousands of Kosovars and burying them in mass graves.

On April 23, 1999, the U.S. fired four sea-launched cruise missiles at the private residence of President Milošević and his family in the Serbian capital in an obvious “decapitation” strike. The Washington Post reported that Clinton said the Serbian leader was not a target (!), and the U.S. Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder - yes, that Eric Holder, said the cruise missile barrage against Milošević was “consistent” with the U.S. prohibition on assassinating foreign leaders!

On June 5, 1999 an estimated 10,000 protestors in San Francisco, California marched from U.N. Plaza to Dolores Park in a demonstration against the bombing of Yugoslavia. Photo by Mark Vallen ©.

On June 5, 1999 an estimated 10,000 protestors in San Francisco, California marched from U.N. Plaza to Dolores Park in a demonstration against the bombing of Yugoslavia. Photo by Mark Vallen ©.

There were many egregious atrocities committed by both sides during the Kosovo war, but at the top of my list was the deliberate NATO bombing of the Belgrade headquarters of Radio Television of Serbia (RTS).

On the evening of April 23, 1999, NATO fired a cruise missile at the station while some 120 civilians were working in the building. Sixteen civilians were killed and another 16 were wounded. One young technician trapped beneath concrete slabs could only be pulled out of the rubble after rescuers amputated his legs. Hours after the bombing, Clare Short, the U.S. Secretary of State for International Development, announced that RTS was “a legitimate target” since it was “a propaganda machine.” Writing for The Independent on April 24, journalist Robert Fisk, who was stationed in Belgrade and witnessed the attack, wrote: “once you kill people because you don’t like what they say, you have changed the rules of war. And that’s what NATO did in Belgrade in the early hours of yesterday morning.”

One of many protestors to wear a target symbol at San Francisco's June 5, 1999 antiwar march. Photo by Mark Vallen ©.

One of many protestors to wear a target symbol at San Francisco's June 5, 1999 antiwar march. Photo by Mark Vallen ©.

On May 7, 1999, five U.S. “Joint Direct Attack Munition” (JDAM) smart bombs slammed into the Belgrade embassy of the People’s Republic of China, killing three Chinese citizens. The Chinese were outraged and condemned the bombing as a “barbarian act.” President Clinton said the bombing was a “mistake,” and the Pentagon attributed the error to an “outdated map.” A week later a NATO jet blasted a refugee column at Koriša, killing some 87 civilians and wounding 60. There would be dozens of such “mishaps” during the war.

Once the war was over and U.N. forensics teams of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) entered Kosovo to search for and exhume mass graves containing the bodies of ethnic Albanian Kosovars - few could be found. The ICTY’s report of Nov. 1999 listed 2,108 victims found in graves, which led to articles like the Washington Post’s, Despite Tales, the War in Kosovo Was Savage, but Wasn’t Genocide.

The hunt for mass graves has continued, both in Serbia and in Kosovo. There is little doubt that more bodies will be found. The International Committee of the Red Cross, Kosovo’s Centre for Research, Documentation and Publication, and other organizations have reported that there are still 1,754 people missing from the war. Not to sound callous, but that is a far cry from 500,000 dead civilians. It is evident that U.S./NATO claims of genocide were totally fabricated.

It should be understood that when President Obama talks about “sending a message to Assad,” or “firing a shot across the bow,” with cruise missiles… the actual results will be incidents like those presented in the above.

In Syria, immediately after the chemical weapons attack allegedly carried out by the Assad regime, the medical organization Médecins Sans Frontières reported that 355 civilians had been killed. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is opposed to the Syrian government, claimed 502 people were killed - 46 of  which were rebel fighters. The antigovernment Syrian Network for Human Rights said that 587 civilians were killed. The armed rebel group, Syrian Revolution General Commission put the civilian death toll at 635. Another opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, reported that 650 civilians had died. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said that the Obama administration “knows that at least 1,429 Syrians were killed in this attack, including at least 426 children.” Where did Kerry’s numbers come from?

On Aug. 25, 2013, upon hearing that UN weapons inspectors in Syria would be visiting the site of the chemical weapons attack to conduct an investigation and collect samples, a senior Obama administration official told the press that any findings made by the UN team would be “too late to be credible” because “the evidence available has been significantly corrupted” because of the passage of five days. On August 28, 2013, Scientific American ran an interview conducted with Charles Blair, the senior fellow on state and nonstate terrorist threats with the Federation of American Scientists. In that interview Mr. Blair discussed the scientific challenges of identifying chemical agents in the field, and said that traces of a nerve agent like sarin “should linger in the soil for up to 29 weeks.”

After ruminating over the reasons why the Assad regime might have launched the chemical weapons attack, Blair made the following point: “So then you look at the opposition - they had a lot more to gain through the use of chemical agents. From their perspective, [the opposition] likely understood that it would trigger a large-scale U.S. intervention. So you could have had a situation where they said yes, people are going to die, but more will die if we don’t do this [to] trigger U.S. intervention.”

On Aug. 28, 2013, Obama said the following about the chemical weapons attack: “We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out. And if that’s so, then there need to be international consequences. We do not believe that, given the delivery systems, using rockets, that the opposition could have carried out these attacks.” Mr. Obama did not offer any direct conclusive evidence to back up his assertion.

On Aug. 30, 2013, Obama said he had “high confidence” the Assad regime had gassed Syrian civilians; high confidence perhaps, but no confirmation. As a former professor and Senior Lecturer at the Law School of the University of Chicago, Obama knows that allegations, even ones that lawyers have “high confidence” in, do not win court battles - verifiable facts do. Obama also stated that the Syrian government has the types of munitions used in the chemical weapons attack, but UN weapons inspectors in Syria had not yet completed gathering evidence, let alone confirm what type of chemical agents were used in the attack when Obama made his statement. Moreover, on Sept. 4, 2013, regarding the U.N. inspection team’s findings, the Washington Post reported that “The Obama administration has asserted that the findings - expected in less than two weeks - no longer matter, citing its own evidence that the Syrian government was behind the chemical weapons attack last month.”

Carla Del Ponte served as the Chief Prosecutor for the ICTY from 1999 to 2007; the primary mission of the ICTY is to prosecute those responsible for war crimes. In Del Ponte’s case she prosecuted those who committed such crimes during the Kosovo war. She is currently a member of the U.N. Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic. Del Ponte stated in May of 2013 that U.N. human rights investigators suspect that Syria’s rebels have used sarin chemical weapons: “Our investigators have been in neighboring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals and, according to their report of last week which I have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated. This was use on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities.” Del Ponte’s statement casts reasonable doubt upon the Obama administration’s “high confidence” that the attacks were carried out by Assad.

Just who are the Syrian rebels?

Reuters reported that in August of 2012, President Obama signed a secret order that authorized $25 million in “non-lethal” covert aid to the Syrian rebels. Much of that aid went to the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA), the main group of fighters backed by the U.S. and its allies; the Obama administration has also found other ways to support the FSA, like allowing U.S. based “support groups” to provide direct financial aid to the fighters. One of the major units of the FSA is the Farouq Brigades, which has some 20,000 men under arms. In May of 2013, Abu Sakkar, a commander of the Farouq Brigade, was video-taped cutting open the chest of a dead pro-government soldier and extracting the heart, Sakkar took a bite of the organ as he ranted, “I swear to God we will eat your hearts and your livers, you soldiers of Bashar the dog.” U.S. intelligence analysts view the Farouq Brigade as “moderately Islamist.”

In an Aug. 27, 2013 interview with The Hill, former Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) said “So what, we’re about to become Al Qaeda’s air force now? This is a very, very serious matter that has broad implications internationally. And to try to minimize it by saying we’re just going to have a ‘targeted strike’ - that’s an act of war. It’s not anything to be trifled with.”

On Sept. 2, 2013, President Obama touted that he had won support for bombing Syria from Republican Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina). The two were among the first U.S. Senators to express open support for Obama’s war plans against Syria. One should recall that Sen. McCain traveled to Syria in May of 2013 to meet with the anti-government “Free Syrian Army.” After promising more support for their cause, McCain was photographed with FSA soldiers. Not long after it was noticed that two of the gunman posing with the Senator had been part of a kidnapping ring that seized and held Shia religious pilgrims for ransom in order to finance the war against the Assad regime. McCain’s office responded that the Senator had no idea the FSA men were hostage takers, but this only reveals the fatal flaw in U.S. government support for the Syrian rebels… which ones are “moderates” and which ones are religious fanatics, and how exactly does one tell them apart?

At congressional hearings during the week of Sept. 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry made a remarkable statement in response to a question from Representative Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican. McCaul asked, “Who are the rebel forces? Who are they? I ask that in my briefings all the time. And every time I get briefed on this it gets worse and worse, because the majority now of these rebel forces - and I say majority now - are radical Islamists pouring in from all over the world.” Mr. Kerry replied:

“I just don’t agree that a majority are al Qaeda and the bad guys. That’s not true. There are about 70,000 to 100,000 oppositionists … Maybe 15 percent to 25 percent might be in one group or another who are what we would deem to be bad guys.”

The U.S. government has made it its business to hunt down al Qaeda terrorists and kill them wherever they are found - or so we have been told. Is that not what the “war on terror” has supposedly been all about? The Bush and Obama administrations have spent trillions of dollars mobilizing the military to destroy al Qaeda in Iraq and Afghanistan - occupying those countries for years in the process. The two administrations have pursued individuals and small groups of what were said to be al Qaeda operatives, in remote areas of Yemen, Pakistan, Sudan, and Afghanistan and killed them with Hellfire missiles fired from Predator drones. Even an American citizen, Anwar Al-Awlaki, was killed in a drone strike carried out in Southern Yemen, though charges were never made against him. But now the U.S. government is pushing to support and arm an insurgency that al Qaeda is fighting in?

Kerry made his remark only a few days before the 12th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001. Remember the sentiment, “Never Forget 9/11.” Now the U.S. government says that only 25 percent of an insurgent movement it supports in Syria is composed of al Qaeda fanatics! At the congressional hearings Kerry went on to say that “moderate” opposition groups in Syria are gaining in strength and influence, but U.S. intelligence sources are saying that the al Qaeda affiliate, the Nusra Front, is the strongest and most effective fighting force. What happens if the Assad regime is toppled and the al Qaeda affiliated armies take control? What then Mr. President? Perhaps we can see Syria’s future in Libya.

In his build-up to war against Libya, President Obama told members of the U.S. Congress that military action would last for “days, not weeks.” The president refused to call it a war, instead dubbing it a “kinetic military action.” Obama conducted his war on Libya without authorization from Congress. He ignored the War Powers Resolution, arguing that it did not apply since military operations were “limited in their nature, duration, and scope” and did not involve U.S. combat troops on the ground. The U.S./NATO attack began on March 19, 2011 and continued until October 20, 2011, when NATO bombers attacked Maummar Gaddafi’s convoy as it fled the city of Sirte. The wounded Gaddafi was seized by Libya’s “rebels,” who ran a knife up his anus before killing him.

And what are the fruits of Obama’s “liberation” of Libya? It is a nation now overrun by Islamic militias; the militants that Obama and NATO armed in their war against Gaddafi attacked the U.S. diplomatic mission at Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, killing the U.S. Ambassador and three other Americans; Libya’s dysfunctional U.S. backed government is controlled by the ruling “Justice and Construction party” - formed by the Muslim Brotherhood in March of 2012, and the country has become al Qaeda’s headquarters in the region. A war that topples Syria’s President Assad will likely end with the same results.

Contact your representatives in Congress and tell them you do not support U.S. military strikes against Syria.

Hibakusha - Inferno

August 6th, 2013 marks the 68th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan.

Activists continue to protest against nuclear weaponry, and nations continue to build and possess them. I have written about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on a number of occasions, and I have created artworks that express my opposition to nuclear weapons. I will continue to do so.

But this post is not about the big picture so much as it is a personal remembrance. Of all the punk music I listened to from late 1970s to the end of the 1980s, one of the songs that left a lasting impression upon me was, Hibakusha. Recorded by a young German band that went by the name of Inferno, the harsh discordant song warned of impending nuclear conflagration. The song came from the group’s second album, which was released in 1986 and also titled Hibakusha, the Japanese word for atom bomb survivor.

Album cover art for the "Hibakusha" album by German punk band, Inferno. 1986. Copyright © Rise & Fall Productions.

Cover art for the "Hibakusha" album by German punk band, Inferno. © Rise & Fall Productions.

The album cover artwork pictured the youthful black-clad punks on a hillside outside of the Bavarian City of Augsburg, from whence they hailed; the cover art however was a manipulated photograph that showed an atomic fireball and mushroom cloud engulfing the city. I somehow lost the album’s German/English lyric sheet included with the record, and my German is not good enough to translate the guttural shouts, shrieks, and screams found in the song, but hey - the medium is the message.

I am haunted by the song to this day. The cacophonous noise included the growl, “Hi-baku-sha… alle!” (Hibakusha… all!), bellowed like a modern day curse. The song finishes with the singer alternately whispering and screeching the word Hibakusha until the aural assault concludes. It was not an aberration that a German punk band would record such a declamatory song - it was a provocation that lived up to the punk ideal of “noise not music.” Of course, the band was not alone in reacting to the possibility of nuclear war; German society as a whole was in an uproar.

Reacting to the deployment of Soviet SS-20 nuclear missiles in Warsaw Pact countries, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and the West German Parliament approved the deployment of U.S. Pershing II nuclear missiles in Germany on November 22, 1983; the U.S. military began delivering the missiles the next day.

By late 1986 some 108 Pershing II missiles were deployed around Germany at various launching sites - all were aimed at targets in the Soviet Union. Once launched the missiles would reach their targets within 10 minutes. Each missile was equipped with the maneuverable reentry vehicle (MARV) system, which allowed the missiles to make course corrections while in flight. Each Pershing II was armed with a single 880 pound W85 thermonuclear nuclear warhead that had an explosive capacity equal to the atomic bomb that obliterated Hiroshima. The heat from a W85 blast would cause fatal burns to people 2.1 miles from the explosion, and lethal doses of radiation would kill 90% of those within 1.1 miles of the blast.

Because of the Pershing II’s pin-point accuracy and close proximity to Moscow, the Soviets viewed the missiles as part of a “first strike” decapitation strategy being employed by President Reagan, who at the time was railing against the Soviet “Evil Empire.” The U.S. and Soviet governments were on the verge of atomic warfare. The Pershing II missiles were only deployed in West Germany, so it should come as no surprise that many Germans were diametrically opposed to their homeland becoming a new Hiroshima.

In Germany massive demonstrations against atomic weaponry began in 1981, when religious activists involved in the German Protestant Church Congress in Hamburg helped to organize a protest against nuclear war; over 300,000 people filled the streets of Hamburg in response to the call. When U.S. President Reagan visited Bonn on June 10, 1982, he was met by over 400,000 protestors in opposition to the atomic arms race. On October 22, 1983, to protest NATO “upgrading” nuclear missiles in Europe, around 1.3 million Germans formed a “human chain” by joining hands from the city of Stuttgart to the city of Ulm.  Also in 1983 over four million Germans signed the “Krefeld Appeal” petition that called for the withdrawal of U.S. atomic weapons from Germany and Europe.

But that was yesterday… where is the present day anti-war movement? The U.S. possesses an estimated 7,650 nuclear warheads and the Obama administration’s 2013 “Nuclear Employment Strategy” still relies upon atomic weaponry to “maintain strategic stability.” Russia, the U.K., France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel possess nuclear warheads. Some Western nations suspect that Iran is attempting to join their nuclear bomb club.

Today people are memorializing the dead of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I can still hear Inferno singing, “Hi-baku-sha… alle!”

Artists Call: Teach at Gitmo!

"Bagram" - Mark Vallen. Oil on masonite. 2009. © 17.5 x 24 inches.

"Bagram" - Mark Vallen. Oil on masonite. 2009. © 17.5 x 24 inches.

The Joint Task Force U.S. military authorities at Guantánamo Bay have announced employment opportunities at the famed Guantánamo Bay detention and interrogation camp located inside the luxurious Guantánamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba. The facility, commonly known as Gitmo (but called the “gulag of our times” by Amnesty International), is interested in contractors that can provide seminars in Art, Literacy, Science, Horticulture, Nutrition, and “life skills” to those 166 internees currently being held indefinitely in the camp. Most of the prisoners have not been charged with a crime or have been cleared of any wrongdoing.

Since my web log is dedicated to art and social change, I will focus on the art teaching position now being offered at Guantánamo. The Detainee Library and Seminar Services Contract offers the following job description for the camp art teacher:

“The contractor shall develop, implement and teach an Art seminar. At a minimum, the Art seminar shall include water color painting, charcoal sketching, Arabic calligraphy, acrylic painting and pastel painting. Additional topics may be added with the [Contracting Officer Representative] COR written approval.”

While everyone, even President Obama himself, seems to have forgotten that Senator Obama campaigned for president in 2008 with his Platform In Support Of The Arts, I have not failed to recall that not a single promise in that document has been kept. If artists are given teaching jobs at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp, that might come closest to fulfilling the Promote Cultural Diplomacy plank, which reads as follows:

“American artists, performers and thinkers – representing our values and ideals – can inspire people both at home and all over the world. Through efforts like that of the United States Information Agency, America’s cultural leaders were deployed around the world during the Cold War as artistic ambassadors and helped win the war of ideas by demonstrating to the world the promise of America.

Artists can be utilized again to help us win the war of ideas against Islamic extremism. Unfortunately, our resources for cultural diplomacy are at their lowest level in a decade. Barack Obama will work to reverse this trend and improve and expand public-private partnerships to expand cultural and arts exchanges throughout the world.”

While appreciating that many qualified female art instructors will be interested in the job, the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo regrets to announce that “Due to cultural and religious considerations, seminars shall be given by a male instructor.”

As of this writing, 103 of the 166 detainees are on a protest hunger strike, and four have been hospitalized. 41 detainees are currently being force fed. Twice a day the 41 are strapped to a chair, a tube is run through the nose and into the stomach so that liquid nutritional supplements may be administered. Those applying for the artist position need not be concerned by this minor inconvenience, the Obama administration has stated that the forced feedings are humane and do not constitute torture. There will no doubt be sufficient time after the forced feedings to conduct art classes.

Only serious, qualified applicants need apply for the artist position. As the Obama administration is now conducting surveillance on hundreds of millions of Americans on a daily basis by forcing telecommunications giant Verizon - through a secret court order - to turn over client records to the National Security Agency, weeding out frivolous applicants has become a breeze. Artists interested in the position can also rest at ease knowing that, without even applying for the job, background checks are expedited through the Obama administration’s PRISM program! The Top Secret operation directly taps into the servers of Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, AOL, and Apple, enabling spying upon nearly the entire U.S. population and completely eliminating the need to fill out lengthy federal job applicant forms - the government already knows everything about you!

Of course, these are hard economic times, and applying for a new job is serious business. Artists are weary of part-time, low-paying, short-term employment, and many art teachers have lost their jobs because of arts education being severely cut or eliminated from public schools in the U.S. But while the attractive pay scale for the Guantánamo art teacher position cannot be revealed for national security reasons, the Joint Task Force authorities at Guantánamo Bay can promise applicants a secure, long-term position.

Despite President Obama having made promises to close the prison camp at Guantánamo since early 2009, the United States Southern Command headed by Obama appointee Lt. Gen. John F. Kelly, has requested of Congress $49 million to build a new prison building at Guantánamo for special detainees, bringing the overall cost of renovating the prison camp to $195.7 million (the federal government’s appropriation to the National Endowment for the Arts in 2012 was $146 million). According to the New York Times, in making the case for the refurbishment of the camp, General Kelly told a Congressional hearing that the “renovations were necessary if the prison was to remain open for the indefinite future.” So, for art teachers looking for job security, Gitmo is it!

If you wish to apply for the artist position at Guantánamo Bay, please visit the Federal Business Opportunities website, and click on the May 28, 2013 “See Solicitation” link located in the right column. Good luck!

Meanwhile… in Guatemala

"Meanwhile... in Guatemala" - Mark Vallen. 1988. © Pencil on paper 10" x 14". The U.S.-backed Guatemalan military tortured and murdered tens of thousands of civilians during that Central American nation's 36-year long civil war. When the fighting ended in 1996, over 200,000 civilians - 83% of them Maya Indian farmers - had been slain.

"Meanwhile... in Guatemala" - Mark Vallen. 1988. © Pencil on paper 10" x 14". The U.S.-backed Guatemalan military tortured and murdered tens of thousands of civilians during that Central American nation's 36-year long civil war. When the fighting ended in 1996, over 200,000 civilians - 83% of them Maya Indian farmers - had been slain.

On May 10, 2013, former Guatemalan tyrant Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity by a Guatemalan court. Specifically, he was found guilty of the murder of 1,771 indigenous Maya civilians. The 86-year-old Montt was sentenced to 80 years in prison, 50 years for genocide and 30 years for crimes against humanity. When I received word of Montt’s conviction I cried aloud, “Oh my God!”, hardly believing that justice had at last prevailed… at least, in part.

In the 1980’s I met a number of Guatemalan refugees that had fled the terror in their country for the relative safety of Los Angeles, and I was profoundly disturbed by the harrowing tales they told me of their homeland - stories regarding the torture, mutilation, and murder of friends, family, and associates back home. As a result, I spent a good portion of the 80s creating posters, flyers, and drawings that were opposed to the bloodbath then occurring in Guatemala and the rest of Central America; my artworks were circulated all across L.A. and beyond. The drawing pictured above, “Meanwhile… in Guatemala“, was one such artwork (view a larger version).

"ENOUGH!" - Mark Vallen. 1988. ©

"ENOUGH!" - Mark Vallen. 1988. © Offset flyer. 11"x14" inches. One of many street flyers designed and published by the artist that announced antiwar protests in Los Angeles during the 1980s.

While hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens joined me in protesting the wars in Central America, it was not a popular thing to do. The Cold War hysteria of Ronald Reagan’s America designated such activists “un-American” and “un-patriotic”. In short, making art in solidarity with the Guatemalans was not a path to career success. Now that Ríos Montt has been found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity, I feel vindicated and joyful.

Montt was not the first nor last military despot to brutalize the people of Guatemala; he was from a long line of murderous thugs and assassins that throttled civil society and butchered Ixil Maya communities with impunity.

One could say it all began in 1954 when the U.S. government and the C.I.A. engineered a coup d’etat that overthrew Guatemala’s democratically elected government of President Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán (1950-54), but that is another story.

In announcing the Guatemalan court’s decision, Judge Yasmin Barrios stated that “The defendant is responsible for masterminding the crime of genocide”, and that “We are convinced that the acts the Ixil suffered constitute the crime of genocide… Rios Montt knew everything that was going on, and he didn’t stop it, even though he had the power to do so.” Barrios added, “We the judges are totally convinced that the goal was the physical destruction of the Ixil area.”

In March of 1982 Montt staged a coup d’etat that toppled the brutal dictatorship of President Lucas García, and Montt ruled until the next totalitarian goon - General Óscar Humberto Mejía Victores - overthrew him in a 1983 military coup. It was simply a falling out among thieves. Being a faithful servant to Guatemala’s oligarchs and Uncle Sam (he was a graduate of the U.S. Army School of the Americas), Montt came to no harm after being overthrown, in fact he was “elected” to the nation’s congress in 2007.

All the same, Montt’s 14 month military rule became infamous for the most vile abuses, including widespread torture and rape conducted by state forces. Montt launched a scorched earth military campaign meant to destroy the rural support base of the country’s left-wing guerilla movement. Making no distinction between the Maya civilian population and combatants, Montt’s campaign obliterated over 600 Maya villages and took the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent peasant farmers.

Montt’s counter-insurgency policies did have its supporters. On December 4, 1982, President Reagan met with Gen. Montt at San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Reagan gave his assessment of the fascist dictator to the gathered international press:

“I know that President Ríos Montt is a man of great personal integrity and commitment. His country is confronting a brutal challenge from guerrillas armed and supported by others outside Guatemala. I have assured the President that the United States is committed to support his efforts to restore democracy and to address the root causes of this violent insurgency. I know he wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice. My administration will do all it can to support his progressive efforts.”

Only two days after Reagan made his statement, U.S. armed and trained Guatemalan special forces, the Kaibiles, raided the Mayan hamlet of Dos Esses, where they massacred nearly 300 villagers… mostly women and children. It was not an isolated incident; the slaughter of innocents had become government policy for Guatemala’s generals, and yet the U.S. government continued to pour millions of dollars worth of lethal military aid into their hands.

While the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other corporate newspapers have all mentioned the Ríos Montt conviction, few if any made mention of Montt’s crimes being facilitated by the extensive military, economic, and political backing of the U.S. government. In his 2003 book, Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, William Blum noted that the Reagan administration supplied Montt with “$3.1 million of jeeps and trucks, $4 million of helicopter spare parts, $6.3 million of other military supplies.”

What doubt is there that U.S. military aid was used by Montt and his death squads to slaughter Maya peasants by the tens of thousands? Blum also noted in his book how covert U.S. military aid was provided to the Montt dictatorship; “the United States was using Cuban exiles to train security forces in Guatemala”. In a October 21, 1982 Washington Post article, journalist Jack Anderson reported that “Green Berets had been instructing Guatemalan Army officers for over two years in the finer points of warfare”.

The question remains, if the former Guatemalan tyrant Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt is guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity, what can be said of those in Washington D.C. who willfully supplied the dictator with the means to carry out his butchery?


UPDATE: Guatemala’s highest court overturned the guilty conviction against Rios Montt on May 20, 2013, only ten days after the former military dictator was sentenced to 80 years in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity. Guatemala’s “Constitutional Court” cited procedural errors for canceling the verdict. Montt is to be “retried”. It is uncertain when that might occur. Have the good people of Guatemala not suffered enough torment? Where is justice?

Guantánamo Gulag 10th Anniversary

January 11, 2011 marks the 10th anniversary of the U.S. detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The prison was authorized by former president George W. Bush as part of his “war on terror”. In 2005 Amnesty International called Guantánamo the “Gulag of our time“.

Bagram - Vallen. Oil on masonite. 2009. 17.5 x 24 inches.

"Bagram" - Mark Vallen. Oil on masonite. 2009. 17.5 x 24 inches.

While running for the presidency, Senator Obama said during a CNN televised debate broadcast on 6-03-07; “Our legitimacy is reduced when we’ve got a Guantánamo that is open, when we suspend Habeas Corpus, those kind of things erode our moral claims that we are acting on behalf of broader universal principals, and that’s one of the reasons those kinds of issues are so important.”

In an interview conducted by 60 Minutes and broadcast on 11-16-08, President Obama proclaimed; “I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantánamo and I will follow through on that, I’ve said repeatedly that America doesn’t torture and I’m going to make sure that we don’t torture. Those are part and parcel of an effort to regain America’s moral stature in the world.”

Kinetic Military Action Against Libya’s Archeological Sites?

Reports circulated on June 15, 2011 that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) would not rule out bombing ancient Roman ruins in Libya if it knew Muammar Gaddafi’s soldiers were hiding military equipment in them. For those who appreciate the importance of Libya’s Roman archeological sites, the most well preserved in all the Mediterranean, this is worrying news. The gravity of the situation is perhaps best summed up by an online TIME Magazine photo essay originally titled, “See Libya’s Roman Ruins Before Nato Bombs Them“, but apparently quickly changed by the magazine’s editors to the less provocative, “Libya’s Roman Ruins.”

The ancient Roman city of Leptis Magna, 81 miles from the Libyan capital of Tripoli, is identified as an important World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO, has called on the warring parties to “respect the Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict” and to “keep military operations away from cultural sites.” Ms. Bokova reminded NATO that of the ten countries involved in the NATO bombing of Libya, eight of them “are party to the Convention” - the United Kingdom is noticeably absent as a signatory nation.

Fighting between Libyan government soldiers and rebel forces has occurred near Leptis Magna, and the insurgents have accused Gaddafi of hiding military equipment, munitions, and troops among the ruins. Oddly, NATO has not verified rebel claims, a simple thing to do with aerial surveillance photography, instead NATO seems to have placed archeological sites in their crosshairs. An unnamed NATO official responded to the rebel allegations by saying “We will strike military vehicles, military forces, military equipment or military infrastructure that threaten Libyan civilians as necessary.”

Located on the Mediterranean coast, Leptis Magna was initially a Phoenician port city and trading center. It eventually grew to be part of the Roman Empire in 146 BC, but attained distinction when Septimius Severus became Emperor in 193 BC. Born in Leptis Magna, Severus developed his home city using all the power and resources available to him as Emperor of Rome, the result was the transformation of Leptis into one of the most important cities in all of Africa, it certainly turned out to be the most significant and beautiful of all Roman cities in Africa. You can get a glimpse of the magnificence of this ancient wonder by viewing this short video. No rational person would dare think of dropping bombs on Leptis Magna, for any possible reason, any more than they would consider dropping high explosives on Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza or India’s Taj Mahal - both of which are also UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Perhaps concerns that war will irrevocably damage or obliterate Libya’s ancient Roman ruins are overheated, after all, President Obama insists he is not conducting a “war” on Libya, just a “kinetic military action.” Accordingly, if Leptis Magna is reduced to nothing by NATO bombs, the history books may read that it was a consequence of an intermittent kinetic military action.

Article I of the U.S. Constitution states that Congress is solely responsible for declaring war, but Congress never authorized military action against Libya, and President Obama never asked Congress to do so. Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon plunged the United States into a catastrophic land war in Vietnam without congressional authorization; each president escalated the conflict, despite the war’s staggering unpopularity and the absence of a formal declaration of war. The U.S. Congress responded by passing the War Powers Act in 1973. Largely thought of as a means to prevent future Vietnam-like wars, the act requires a president to obtain congressional approval for armed intervention within 60 days of a conflict being initiated, and if such approval is not obtained a president then has an additional 30 days to cease fighting.

On June 15 President Obama sent a 38-page report to Congress arguing that U.S. involvement in Libya falls short of “full-blown hostilities.” Mr. Obama insists he can go on attacking Libya without Congressional approval since what the U.S. military is doing there does “not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve U.S. ground troops.” Mr. Obama contends that he is only “supporting” operations being carried out by NATO, and his actions are not in violation of the War Powers Act. These are simply weasel words from the president.

On June 9, 2011 the Financial Times obtained and published a U.S. Defense Department memo having to do with U.S. contributions to NATO’s “Operation Unified Protector” military operations against Libya. The document stated U.S. military action in Libya is costing approximately $2 million per day. The Financial Times article also revealed the U.S. as the largest single contributor to NATO military operations in Libya, having conducted “70 per cent of the reconnaissance missions, over 75 per cent of the refuelling flights and 27 per cent of all air sorties.” Moreover, “the U.S. has about 75 aircraft, including drones, involved in the operations and since the end of March has conducted about 2,600 aircraft sorties and about 600 combat sorties.” In his final address before retiring this month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates noted the U.S. pays 75 percent of NATO defense spending. I would also add that U.S. Navy four-star admiral James G. Stavridis, is the Commander of NATO central command.

Mr. Obama’s kinetic military action in Libya certainly looks like a U.S. war to me.

In his report to Congress contending the U.S. is not at war with Libya, Mr. Obama conceded that the first two months of military operations against Libya have cost the Pentagon $716 million. By the end of September U.S. military operations will have cost the U.S. taxpayer at least $1.1 billion - at the “current scale of operations.” What the cost of military operations will continue to be after September is anyone’s guess, but I am reminded of former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell quoting the so-called pottery barn rule when advising former President George W. Bush in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq - “You break it, you own it.

In all fairness, President Obama does have his supporters when it comes to flaunting the U.S. Constitution and the War Powers Act. The former Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Bush administration, John Yoo, author of the infamous memos that determined waterboarding was not torture but a legal form of interrogation, expressed praise for President Obama’s Libya war strategy. In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece titled “Antiwar Senator, War-Powers President“, Mr. Yoo wrote:

“President Barack Obama has again flip-flopped on national security—and we can all be grateful. Having kept Guantanamo Bay open, resumed military commission trials for terrorists, and expanded the use of drones, the president has now ordered the U.S. military into action without Congress’s blessing. Imagine the uproar if President Bush had unilaterally launched air attacks against Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi. But since it’s Mr. Obama’s finger on the trigger, Democratic leaders in Congress have kept quiet—demonstrating that their opposition to presidential power during the Bush years was political, not principled.”

While it is uncertain whether or not President Obama is pleased to have Mr. Yoo’s backing, there is little doubt that he has disdain for the views of Dan Simpson, a former career U.S. diplomat. Simpson was the Ambassador to the Central African Republic (1990-92), Special Envoy to Somalia (1995-98), and Deputy Commandant of the United States Army War College (1993-1994). Now an associate editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he characterized Mr. Obama’s war on Libya in the following manner; “We as a people are acting in Libya like some maddened pit bull that just has to attack something. It is shameful.” Simpson went on to say:

“Mr. Obama is moving ahead even though he is in clear violation of the terms of the U.S. War Powers Act. So what is behind his adherence to a policy of pounding Libya? It is oil, to a degree. Even though Libya produces only 2 percent of the world’s oil, the companies that Libya nationalized after Mr. Gadhafi took power in 1969 were owned in part by British and American companies with long memories and a lot of lobbying clout in Washington due to their political contributions to parties and congressmen. France, the United Kingdom and the United States would just love to get their concessions back.”

On March 18, 2011, the day before ordering U.S. military forces to attack Gaddafi’s Libya, President Obama told a select group of 18 U.S. Congress members that the U.S. military action would last for “days not weeks.” Three months later the war grinds on. The president still persists in arguing that there is no need for Congressional approval of his war on Libya; the 90 day limit provided by the War Powers Act that terminates a war not authorized by Congress passed on June 17th; NATO forces are apparently ready to bomb Libya’s ancient Roman ruins, and the so-called “peace movement” seems little more than a relic from the Bush years.

I began writing these words after stumbling upon the aforementioned TIME Magazine photo essay. In truly Orwellian fashion, the essay title had already been changed before I finished this article. No doubt “See Libya’s Roman Ruins Before Nato Bombs Them“, was too honest a proclamation.

Libya: Release The Bats!

"Where there's a will there's a way - Francisco Goya. Etching. 1819-1823. The artist's comment on humanity's lunatic dreams of the impossible - to fly like bats!

"Where there's a will there's a way - Francisco Goya. Etching. 1819-1823. A comment on humanity's lunatic dreams of the impossible - to fly like bats!

March 19, 2011 marks the eight year anniversary of the U.S. war in Iraq. George W. Bush launched his “Operation Iraqi Freedom” on March 19, 2003, and Barack Obama launched his “Operation Odyssey Dawn” against Libya on March 19, 2011.

It is the third major war currently being conducted by the United States. One cannot forget the fourth - the robot drone war Obama is waging at present in Pakistan. Allegedly designed to assassinate Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants seeking refugee in the northwest of Pakistan, the drones have killed upwards of 2,138 individuals since Obama took office, the overwhelming majority of them innocent civilians. Iran also looms on the horizon as a possible target of U.S. military action. Forget the “dogs of war,” release the bats!

"The sleep of reason produces monsters." Francisco Goya. Etching. 1799. From the artist's Los Caprichos etching series. Release the bats!

"The sleep of reason produces monsters." Francisco Goya. Etching. 1799. From the artist's Los Caprichos etching series. Release the bats!

It what now seems like ancient history, Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman warned on February 9, 2011, that pro-democracy protests should immediately end in Egypt, otherwise he anticipated “the dark bats of the night emerging to terrorize the people.

Suleiman was chief of Egypt’s much hated General Intelligence Service, the spy agency known for its use of torture and its connections to the C.I.A. when Hosni Mubarak appointed him Vice President in the hopes of appeasing the masses. The Obama administration approved.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton extolled Suleiman’s appointment as part of a “transition” to democracy. Suleiman’s dark bats of the night had indeed been set loose; when their dirty work was done an estimated 1,500 Egyptians had been murdered by state security forces and some 5,000 injured.

On Feb. 11 Mubarak stepped down and handed over power to the U.S. backed Egyptian military. With the people seemingly victorious the bats flew elsewhere, it has been reported that the skies of Libya are now filled with them.

Ostensibly a joint operation conducted by French, British, Canadian, and American military forces under the aegis of a UN Security Council resolution, Operation Odyssey Dawn is a military campaign purportedly aimed at preventing Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi from terrorizing Libya and “shooting his own people”. Gaddafi is certainly guilty of such crimes, but then so are a good number of the monarchs and potentates of the region - many of them staunch U.S. allies.

The opening salvo of the U.S. operation came in the form of at least 112 Tomahawk cruise missiles being fired from U.S. Navy ships at military targets inside Libya. The United States Navy fact file on the Tomahawk Cruise Missile states that each long-range missile had a cost of $569,000 in fiscal year 1999 dollars. That would make the cost of 112 missiles $63,728,000, but adjusting for inflation - the current cost of that first barrage of missiles fired by our Nobel Peace Laureate president actually comes to $84,655,340. It is but the first stage of what the Obama administration says will be a “multi-phase campaign” against Gaddafi’s Libya.

Conflict - Garri Bardin. 1983. Screen shot from the stop motion animation. For God and country! For freedom! For right and honor! Matchstick men have come to do battle!

Conflict - Garri Bardin. 1983. Screen shot from the stop motion animation. For God and country! For freedom! For right and honor! Matchstick men have come to do battle!

When contemplating the folly of this unbridled militarism and its unintended consequences, I remembered an ingenious stop motion animation created in 1983 by the Russian animator Garri Bardin. Titled Conflict (конфликт), the short film (seen here) made use of wooden matchstick men who comprise opposing armies.

A more poignant antimilitarist animation has yet to be made, and while Bardin’s Soviet-era film was created during the height of the Cold War, the film’s antiwar message has become universal and eternal. With Libya becoming America’s latest battlefield, and with Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plants melting down, Bardin’s Conflict could hardly be more pertinent. Mr. Bardin has since gone on to enjoy great success as an animator, founding the “Stayer” animation studio and producing several award winning films.

Before landing in Libya the aforementioned bats roosted in Bahrain, and along with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa they unleashed a lethal wave of repression against tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators. So far 11 have been killed since the beginning of the protests last month, and hundreds have been shot with everything from rubber bullets to live ammunition. Bahraini doctors believe the regime has used nerve gas to quell the dissidents. The King has declared martial law, banning all protests and public gatherings. Saudi Arabian and UAE soldiers have entered Bahrain to help crush the pro-democracy movement. Protest organizers have been rounded up and imprisoned. Amnesty International released a report condemning Bahraini security forces for using “live ammunition and extreme force against protesters.” While Mr. Obama has asserted Gaddafi has “lost legitimacy to lead” because of his “appalling violence against the Libyan people,” he has not made the same declaration against King Khalifa. Is there any mystery here? Gaddafi is to be overthrown because the West covets Libya’s oil fields, the largest in Africa; the Khalifa dynasty is to be supported as a bulwark against the Arab revolution, with Bahrain home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet naval port.

The bats have also been nesting in Yemen, where U.S. backed President Ali Abdullah Saleh is engaged in the brutal repression of a mass movement for democratic reform opposed to his 32-year reign. So far dozens of Yemenis have been killed by Saleh’s security forces, and thousands have been injured. The most shocking instance of government violence took place on March 18, 2011, when Saleh’s security forces shot down hundreds of demonstrators in the capital of Sanaa, killing at least 46; government snipers with high-powered rifles shot at protestors from rooftops. Yemeni doctors also believe the Saleh regime has used nerve gas against demonstrators. Surely President Saleh is guilty of “shooting his own people”, but as an ally in Washington’s “war on terror” he has been rewarded with $250 million in U.S. military aid this year.

Conflict - Garri Bardin. 1983. Screen shot. The aftermath of the war.

Conflict - Garri Bardin. 1983. Screen shot. The aftermath of the war.

And while pointing out the contradictions of U.S. foreign policy, could there be a more despicable cabal of undemocratic reactionaries than the Saudi Royal family? Yet in October 2010 the Obama administration struck a $60 billion arms deal with the Saudis, the largest arms deal in U.S. history.

Amongst other highly developed weapons systems the pact will supply the House of Saud with 84 sophisticated F-15 fighter jets, 70 Apache and 72 Black Hawk combat helicopters. And what exactly will be done with this “cutting edge” weaponry? It will be used against the people of Saudi Arabia, where all demonstrations have been banned and the pain of death awaits those who do not comply; some of the weaponry has been deployed to help quash the pro-democracy movement in neighboring Bahrain. So much for standing against tyrants who repress and brutalize their own people.

In his latest commentary on the Middle East, seasoned reporter Robert Fisk lets us in on the obvious concerning President Obama’s “Operation Odyssey Dawn”. He reminds us of an unforgettable comment made in 2003 by neoconservative Tom Friedman of the New York Times, who said of the U.S. war to remove Saddam Hussein from power, “When the latest dictator goes, who knows what kind of bats will come flying out of the box?” Now we know. After 8 years of war in Iraq 4,439 U.S. soldiers have been killed and some 32,992 wounded. Estimates for Iraqi civilian deaths range from 109,318 to over one million. The colony of bats in Libya now swarming in great black clouds are working on casualty figures for the new imperialist war in North Africa. Release the bats!


The U.S. Constitution: Article 1, Section 8, Clause 11. “Only Congress can declare war.”

In the build-up to the U.S. attack on Libya, the U.S. Congress did not conduct a single debate regarding the merits of sending American soldiers into battle in Libya, nor did the U.S. Congress declare war or otherwise authorize any military action against Libya. Amazingly enough, after commencing military strikes against that country, Obama sent a letter to congressional leaders informing them that attacks had been launched. One group of Congressional representatives stated publicly that they “raised objections to the constitutionality of the president’s actions.” They went on to say that the Obama administration “consulted the Arab League. They consulted the United Nations. They did not consult the United States Congress. They’re creating wreckage and they can’t obviate that by saying there are no boots on the ground… there aren’t boots on the ground; there are Tomahawks in the air.” Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, lashed out at Obama’s actions, calling them “an impeachable offense.” Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., called Obama’s action “an affront to our Constitution.

Readers of this web log know of my antipathy towards George W. Bush, but despite my aversion to the former president, he launched the 2003 war against Iraq after a Congressional debate (contrived and distorted as it was), and after the U.S. Senate passed the “Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq” (though the Senate had been given false information by the administration regarding Iraq’s ability to attack the U.S. with chemical or biological weapons). The threadbare resolution provided Bush with a “legal” basis for the invasion of Iraq, but Obama acted without even that.

In an interview conducted with Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe on December 20, 2007, presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama said the following regarding presidential war powers as defined in the U.S. Constitution. The relevant excerpt from that interview is as follows:

Question from Charlie Savage: “In what circumstances, if any, would the president have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress? Specifically, what about the strategic bombing of suspected nuclear sites - a situation that does not involve stopping an imminent threat?

Answer from Senator Obama: “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”

Emily Henochowicz

Readers of this web log are no doubt aware that the Israeli military attacked a flotilla of six civilian ships in international waters on Monday, May 31, 2010. The ships were attempting to break the three-year long Israeli blockade on Gaza and deliver humanitarian aid to the 1.5 million people who live there. The Israeli commando raid took the lives of at least nine people and wounded dozens, sparking global calls for an independent investigation into the deadly operation and the lifting of the blockade. On June 3 the U.S. State Department confirmed that one of those killed was a 19-year-old American – shot four times in the head and once in the heart. In this article I would like to mention a part of the story that has received comparatively little attention.

On the evening of May 31, international TV channels showed people around the world protesting the Israeli attack on the “Freedom Flotilla.” A brief video clip of a West Bank protest depicted a chaotic scene of Palestinians running in the streets as tear gas canisters rained down upon them. The final seconds of the film showed a small cluster of people carrying a young woman, her hands covering her bleeding face as she screamed in perfect English, “My eye!” Who was the young woman? What had happened to her?

A Palestinian woman cries for help as she holds a cloth to the head wound suffered by Jewish American art student, Emily Henochowicz, who had just been shot in the face with a tear gas canister by an Israeli soldier. Associated Press photograph by Majdi Mohammed.

A Palestinian woman cries for help as she holds a cloth to the head wound suffered by Jewish American art student, Emily Henochowicz, who had just been shot in the face with a tear gas canister by an Israeli soldier. Associated Press photograph by Majdi Mohammed.

The young woman in the film was 21 year old Jewish American art student, Emily Henochowicz. Ms. Henochowicz is currently enrolled as an art student at Cooper Union in the East Village of Manhattan. She took part in the protest at the Qalandiya Checkpoint as a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). That group defines itself as a “Palestinian-led movement committed to resisting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land using nonviolent direct-action methods and principles.” ISM members come from the U.S., Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, England, Spain, and many other countries.

Hundreds of Palestinians took part in the Qalandiya Checkpoint demonstration, including a number of foreign nationals from the ISM. The Associated Press reported one witness saying that some Palestinian youths threw rocks at Israeli soldiers, but that Henochowicz and other ISM members were not involved in the violence – in actuality, according to the witness, they were standing at a distance from the melee.

Regardless, Israeli troops fired volleys of tear gas projectiles at the crowd of demonstrators. The ISM alleges Israeli troops fired tear gas projectiles “directly at the heads of Emily and another ISM activist.” On the ISM website, Sören Johanssen, the ISM volunteer that had been standing with Henochowicz, insisted the Israeli soldiers “clearly saw that we were internationals and it really looked as though they were trying to hit us. They fired many canisters at us in rapid succession. One landed on either side of Emily, then the third one hit her in the face.”

Ms. Henochowicz was carried from the scene by fellow protestors and members of the ISM, and rushed to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. On May 31 she underwent two surgeries. Her left eye, destroyed by the tear gas projectile, had to be removed. Surgeons inserted three metal plates into her head and face, as the bone surrounding her eye socket, cheekbone, and jawbone suffered severe fractures. Ms. Henochowicz is now recuperating in Hadassah Hospital.

The Tribe of Levi - Marc Chagall. 1960. Stained glass. One of twelve windows, each measuring 11 feet high by 8 feet wide. Located in the synagogue of Hadassah Hospital, Jerusalem. Photograph - Creative Commons, Wikimedia.

"The Tribe of Levi" - Marc Chagall. 1960. Stained glass. One of twelve windows, each measuring 11 feet high by 8 feet wide. Located in the synagogue of Hadassah Hospital, Jerusalem. Photograph - Creative Commons, Wikimedia.

When I read that the young artist was rushed to Hadassah Hospital, where the good Israeli doctors and staff did their best for her, I was dumbstruck by the irony of it all. Hadassah Hospital is where the 12 magnificent stained glass windows created by the famed Russian-born Jewish artist Marc Chagall (1887-1985) are housed.

Starting in 1960, Chagall began creating windows for the hospital’s synagogue, stained glass that would depict the twelve tribes of Israel. Chagall donated the windows to the hospital free of charge, and I would agree with those that say they are the artist’s greatest creation in the medium of stained glass.

On February 6, 1962, Chagall attended the dedication of the synagogue, where his windows were permanently installed. At that ceremony, the artist made the following statement: “This is my modest gift to the Jewish people who have always dreamt of biblical love, friendship and of peace among all peoples. This is my gift to that people which lived here thousands of years ago among the other Semitic people.” The heart breaks when contemplating the full meaning of those words, truths that also now include a young Jewish artist in a Hadassah Hospital bed, recovering from a terrible wound.

"Sheikh Jarrah" – Emily Henochowicz. Pen and ink, watercolor. May, 2010. The artist captioned her drawing with the following words, "Amongst the chaos of the military and settler’s attempts to squander our ability to paint a mural, a little girl sadly sits on the swing set." Sheikh Jarrah is an Arab neighborhood in Jerusalem that is undergoing an official Israeli government policy of judaization. Palestinian families are forcibly evicted from their homes, which are then awarded to Jewish settlers. The Palestinians are of course resisting, and Israeli students have been protesting the evictions along with them. As recently as May 26, 2010, hundreds of Hebrew University students chanting "We won’t sit in class while rights are being trampled," marched from their Mount Scopus campus to rally in solidarity with Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah. Henochowicz witnessed such a demonstration in early May, making it the theme of this drawing

"Sheikh Jarrah" – Emily Henochowicz. Pen and ink, watercolor. May, 2010. The artist captioned her drawing with the following words, "Amongst the chaos of the military and settler’s attempts to squander our ability to paint a mural, a little girl sadly sits on the swing set." Sheikh Jarrah is an Arab neighborhood in Jerusalem that is undergoing an official Israeli government policy of judaization. Palestinian families are forcibly evicted from their homes, which are then awarded to Jewish settlers. The Palestinians are of course resisting, and Israeli students have been protesting the evictions along with them. As recently as May 26, 2010, hundreds of Hebrew University students chanting "We won’t sit in class while rights are being trampled," marched from their Mount Scopus campus to rally in solidarity with Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah.

I discovered the works of Marc Chagall when I was but a child, and he remains one of my favorite artists to this day. His delightful modernist prints and paintings were my very first introduction to Jewish life and culture, and his works no doubt have had that same affect on untold millions.

Chagall once said that it was an artist’s duty to keep “awake the sense of wonder in the world,” but he also warned that in life’s long vigil the artist must always be “striving against a continual tendency to sleep.” It appears many have fallen into the deep slumber the visionary Chagall cautioned against.

Some will no doubt call Emily Henochowicz naïve, but I believe that in her own youthful way, she was struggling against the “continual tendency to sleep.”

Looking at her past sketches, one can plainly see a young artist fascinated with humanity, and reaching to find a means of expressing the complex realities of our time. She was grappling with the human figure, form and color, just as all art students do, and was perhaps a bit too reliant on whimsy, but she obviously has the necessary spark one needs for the serious pursuit of art.

I pray that the thuggery displayed by some goon with a tear gas gun will not deprive us of Ms. Henochowicz’s artistic talents; that she will overcome what may now seem like an insurmountable obstacle, and help to bring some beauty into this troubled world – for it is sorely in need of that.


Visit Emily Henochowicz’ web log and flickr gallery.
Click here for information about Sheikh Jarrah.
A video that shows the shooting of Emily Henochowicz can be found on the Lede news blog of the New York Times.

COIN: Pentagon Postmodern

The History of the World - Jeremy Deller. 2004. Pencil and paint on wall. Installation dimensions variable. Turner Prize winner Deller standing in front of his wall chart, The History of the World, at the Turner Gallery. Photo by Associated Press.

"The History of the World" - Jeremy Deller. 2004. Pencil and paint on wall. Installation dimensions variable. Turner Prize winner Deller standing in front of his wall chart at the Turner Gallery. Photo by Associated Press.

In 2004 Jeremy Deller won Britain’s most prestigious art award - The Turner Prize - for his short video, Memory Bucket.

Documenting Deller’s travels through the State of Texas, the film impressed the judges at the Tate Modern in London sufficiently enough for them to honor Deller with their highest award, plus a check for $48,000. That Deller admitted he cannot paint, draw, or sculpt to save his life was no impediment to his being proclaimed numero uno in the world of postmodern art; at least for a brief moment in time.

The History of the World - Jeremy Deller (Detail).

"The History of the World" - Jeremy Deller (Detail).

Deller had actually submitted a number of installations to the Tate’s annual art competition, Memory Bucket being just one of them. In the room at the Tate that displayed all of Deller’s works, one could find his wall chart, The History of the World. Supposedly an exploration of the connections between working class brass bands and the 1980s acid house scene, the chart is a jumble of hand scrawled lines and arrows, along with the names of important bands, events, places, and concepts in music.

Deller’s chart is all but incomprehensible - even to music lovers and historians. But then, striving to create works that are easy to comprehend has never been a strong point for postmodern conceptual artists. Nonetheless, Deller’s The History of the World has been an obvious inspiration to a rather unlikely group of artists, the U.S. military’s Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff - who are also reported to possess a total lack of skill when it comes to painting, drawing, or sculpting.

Afghanistan Stability/COIN Dynamics - Security. Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 2009. Unclassified document digitally printed on non-archival paper with foam core backing and laminated surface. Installation dimensions variable.

"Afghanistan Stability/COIN Dynamics - Security." Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 2009. Unclassified document digitally printed on non-archival paper with foam core backing and laminated surface. Installation dimensions variable.

Trying their hands at conceptual art, the Joint Chiefs have created a wall chart installation titled Afghanistan Stability/COIN Dynamics - Security, a brash reference to the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy, “COIN” for short, which the Obama administration is currently applying in the Afghan war.

While their work has a strong political dimension, the Joint Chiefs have to their credit avoided the tedious moralizing so common with much of today’s political art. By dispensing with outdated notions of craft, skill, and narrative (at least one that makes any sense), the Chiefs have given us a hardheaded no-nonsense look at what really lies behind America’s “necessary war” - confusion, bewilderment, and stupefaction.

The eddy of lines and arrows swirling across the face of Afghanistan Stability/COIN Dynamics – Security, pulls the viewer into the work’s dense subtext having to do with counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan, and the impenetrable text that floats on the surface of the piece like an opaque cloud of obscurantist chatter (”Western Affiliation Backlash-Acceptance of Afghan Methods-Overall Government Capacity”) only points to the futility of attempting to make sense of the world. To fully appreciate this ephemeral work, one must put aside logic, as well as any attempt to understand history - just as the Joint Chiefs have clearly done.

Afghanistan Stability/COIN Dynamics - Security (Detail). Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 2009.

"Afghanistan Stability/COIN Dynamics - Security" (Detail). Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 2009.

If Jeremy Deller gave us a fractious view of the world with his unsteady scribbles and nervous squiggles, the Joint Chiefs have delivered order and tranquility with their clean lines and methodically arranged catchphrases. They have created an installation to rival the Turner Prize winning wall chart produced by Mr. Deller; in fact Afghanistan Stability/COIN Dynamics - Security is a postmodern masterwork that will long be remembered after the last body bags are flown out of Kabul.

Every good postmodernist knows that an artwork’s true value is determined solely by its price tag and not some foolishness like “intrinsic spirituality”, or gads - “beauty.” It was wonderful when Jeremy Deller was given $48,000 along with his Tate prize, and it was even more fantastic when Damien Hirst sold his diamond encrusted platinum skull sculpture, For the Love of God, for $100 million. But with the creation of the Joint Chief’s Afghanistan Stability/COIN Dynamics - Security piece, one need ask - what is being born, exactly? It might be the art of the 21st century! Surely by its price tag alone that is so; it took the Joint Chiefs’ $636 billion to produce Afghanistan Stability/COIN Dynamics - Security, making it the most expensive piece of art ever produced. Time will tell whether or not there will be a buyer.

MSNBC wrote an extensive review of the Joint Chief’s Afghanistan Stability/COIN Dynamics - Security installation piece that should be read by all. Click here for a large version of the artwork. Now that the war is finally escalating in Afghanistan and spilling over into Pakistan, one can only imagine what the next conceptual work from the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will be like - and what it will cost.