Category: Art of War

Year Zero: Converting from VICE to Virtue

VICE

Just another corporate media platform.

On April 9, 2021, VICE, the digital media and broadcasting company that touts itself as “the definitive guide to enlightening information,” published a ghastly interview with Matt Loughrey, a successful 42-year-old Irish photo restorer who developed a lucrative career colorizing historic photos. The article was titled, These People Were Arrested by the Khmer Rouge and Never Seen Again. It was subtitled, These portraits, recently colorized, humanize that tragedy. But that was all a lie. VICE and Loughrey’s efforts only “humanized” barbarism. In June of 2021 I stumbled upon this report quite by accident. Perhaps this essay can bring the story to a wider audience.

The VICE interview presented Loughrey’s colorized and digitally altered photos of prisoners held by the genocidal communist regime of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge (Red Khmers), the radical Maoists who seized power and tormented the country from 1975 to 1979. Some two million Cambodians perished under the harsh rule of the Khmer Rouge; they died of preventable disease, starvation, torture, and a campaign of mass execution. As an artist, I have always felt unease concerning the colorization of historic black and white photos. That is because I also have a great interest in, and respect for history; attempts at rewriting history raises my ire. But what VICE and Loughrey did was outside the bounds of good judgement and decency.

Cell block at Security Prison 21, circa 1979. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

Cell block at Security Prison 21, circa 1979. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

Loughrey based his altered colorized portraits on actual black and white prison induction photos the communists took of their captives before locking them up in Security Prison 21. Also known as S-21, the prison was located in Cambodia’s capital of Phnom Penh.

Inside the prison starvation, interrogation, torture, and execution was the daily regimen. It held 20,000 prisoners, but only 7 left the building alive in 1979. There were 150 such camps across Cambodia, though Security Prison 21 was certainly the largest.

S-21 was not a mass execution center per se. When masses of detainees were marked for liquidation, they were trucked to Choeung Ek, a large “killing field” outside of Phnom Penh. Still, hundreds of innocent victims were dumped into unmarked graves on the grounds of S-21.

When the Khmer Rouge government was driven from power in 1979 by an invasion of the army of Vietnam, the S-21 death camp was transformed into the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. It continues to maintain an extensive archival collection documenting the genocide conducted by the Khmer Rouge. Part of that collection includes the S-21 prisoner photographs and the forced confessions detainees made under torture.

In his VICE interview Loughrey made the dubious claim that he colorized three S-21 photos for “a person in Cambodia” that had contacted him with the request; Loughrey offered no verification of such an appeal. VICE indicated that once Loughrey saw the size of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum photo archives, he decided to download and colorize even more images from the online source. In the interview he was quoted as saying: “The more I looked into it and the more images I saw, I thought, well, this has to be done.” VICE did not report he did so without permission from the museum. It is unknown how many images he filched.

Making things worse, and this is key, Loughrey went far beyond colorizing the photos, he changed the entire facial expressions of the prisoners by digitally painting smiles on their faces! The corners of their mouths curved upwards showing smile lines, their eyes were brightened, their cheeks were glowing. From their faux beaming smiles the prisoners looked as if they were attending a festive occasion rather than being shoved into a death camp. While VICE published Loughrey’ altered smiling photos, they did not publish the original photographs.

Unidentified men in Security Prison 21 are bound with rope and shackled together. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

Unidentified men in Security Prison 21 are bound with rope and shackled together. Photograph taken sometime between 1975-79. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

Without institutional backing, Loughrey colorized photos he lifted from the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum website. That alone was a violation of the museum’s terms and conditions, which states its historic images must never be altered or modified. But painting smiles on the faces of innocent people who were tortured before they were executed… that is hard to fathom.

One reason for Loughrey’s chilly indifference as an “artist” is that, consciously or not, he is part of the postmodern art world, where spectacle and shock carry more weight than substance, and truth is just a social construct. His insensitivity reflects postmodern art stars like Jake and Dinos Chapman, who once clothed ghoulish Nazi mannequins in SS uniforms, replacing their swastika armbands with smiley faces, and exhibited the entire mess at the White Cube gallery in London. Loughrey’s act of painting smiles on the faces of Khmer Rouge victims was pure Chapman brothers—though liberal art institutions will likely receive Loughrey less favorably than they did the “brilliant” Jake and Dinos.

Loughrey’s postmodernist ethics are evident in his obsession with “restoring” historic black and white photographs by way of colorization. He has made a career out of “re-imagining” the past. As a visual artist who has intentionally created many artworks in glorious black and white, I would hate to see a technician in the future colorize my works. Likewise, when I view a photo of Paris taken by Louis Daguerre in 1830, I want to see the world as he and his colleagues saw it. I do not want his vision to be “restored” or “re-imagined.” Colorizing Daguerre’s unique photos would be a crime against art and history.

Imagine the outrage if someone painted smiley faces on the photos of those who died in Nazi extermination camps like Auschwitz. In point of fact, Loughrey did something very close to that, provoking an angry response from the Auschwitz Museum (you will find the details if you continue reading). Most importantly, Loughrey and VICE committed an affront against the dignity of all Cambodian people, an abusive blow equal to a racist attack. The oh so progressive VICE did this, and it should never be forgotten.

Unidentified female prisoner in Security Prison 21. Photograph taken sometime between 1975-79. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

Unidentified female prisoner in Security Prison 21. Photograph taken sometime between 1975-79. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

The unaltered, black and white prisoner photos from S-21 are haunting. Looking through those photos archived online by the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, one young woman caught my eye. She is unidentified. Museum records state only that she was held in cell number 16 (indicated by the tags on her blouse), and that she was prisoner 3,753 (hand written on the photo by a Khmer Rouge guard). Aside from the fact that she died, everything else about her is a mystery.

It is difficult to interpret her expression; to me the young women looks as if she had seen too much evil and it no longer fazed her. That, or it was the demeanor of a woman who knew she was doomed. Before I discovered that Matt Loughrey had transformed Prisoner 3,753 into a gussied-up glamour doll, I chose to use the original unaltered photo to illustrate my essay. The altered photo reminds me of a lyric from a 1981 song by UK punk band, Crass: “Like a glamour billboard in a battlefield. At least the bloody-red poppy was of nature’s will.” Out of respect for the deceased, I will not post that altered colorized abomination to my article.

After VICE published Loughrey’s photos on April 9, 2021, Cambodian nationals and those in diaspora began to inveigh against the cruel racist provocation. April 10, 2021, the National Cambodian Heritage Museum and Killing Fields Memorial in Chicago, Illinois, issued a statement that read in part: “We do not endorse those that seek to profit and benefit from the violent and lived traumas of our past and current history. Minimizing the pain and trauma of our community from those who are not connected to the experience is not only revising and erasing history, it’s a violent act.”

On April 11, 2021, Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts (MCFA) located in Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia, issued a statement that read in part: “MCFA does not accept this kind of manipulation, and considers this work of Matt Loughrey to seriously affect the dignity of the victims, the reality of Cambodia’s history, and in violation of the rights of the Museum as the lawful owners and custodians of these photographs.”

April 11, 2021 statement from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, Kingdom of Cambodia.

April 11, 2021 statement from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, Kingdom of Cambodia.

On April 16, 2021, the Auschwitz Museum located on the grounds of the former Nazi concentration camp in Poland, tweeted a message of solidarity with the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. In that dispatch the Auschwitz Museum made known they had contacted Matt Loughrey and asked him to remove from his Instagram account, a color animation he created of Czesława Kwoka. He refused. Kwoka was a 14-year-old girl who died in Auschwitz on March 12, 1943. She was a Polish Catholic and one of the approximately 230,000 children the Nazis sent to the camp for extermination. Only around 650 children survived Auschwitz.

Tweets from the Auschwitz Museum and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, April, 2021.

Tweets from the Auschwitz Museum and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, April, 2021.

Not surprisingly, without permission Matt Loughrey made his animation of Kwoka with images owned by the Auschwitz Museum. He used an imaging technique he developed called X-Oculi, arrogantly describing it as “a combination of unrivaled artistry and cutting edge orbital motion-tracking.” After refusing the reasonable request of the Auschwitz Museum, the pretentious Loughrey no doubt received a tidal wave of negative criticism. On April 16, 2021, the offending animation was taken down from Instagram without comment or fanfare.

A petition demanding that Matt Loughrey apologize “for the theft, manipulation and appropriation of these photographs,” and that VICE apologize for “publication and support of Matt Loughrey’s work” was initiated by Dany Pen and 7 other Cambodians. Pen lost her family members at the S-21 death camp, she had biting words for VICE:

“I strongly implore VICE to take down these photos that are promoting white supremacy, cultural appropriation, cultural erasure, and victim dismissal. It promotes harm and brings on psychological and emotional violence towards my Cambodian community.”

It is troubling that our time has produced characters like Matt Loughrey, as well as sensationalist rags like VICE. Loughrey’s website touts his “ambitious photo colorization project” as “an option for museums and libraries to upgrade and re-imagine their own visitor experiences.” With no sense of irony his website bears a masthead reading “Bridging a gap between history & art.” He dared to write, “we find ourselves in an age of image obsolescence,” and that his digital skills are “a form of visual defense against this.” He spouted even more rubbish with, “collections are being rescued, detail and character that could never be seen in the original images is being uncovered.” All while the ne’er-do-well erased history and painted a happy face on genocide.

Loughrey’s website makes no mention of insulting and hurting the Cambodian people. He does however brag that “current and previous clients include: DELL, 21st Century Fox, National Parks Service, BBC, ABC Australia, The New York Post, The Guardian, The Times, National Geographic and more.” If they had any principles these supporting companies would wash their hands of Loughrey. He should delete his websites and slink away, hoping no one will recall his depravity.

On April 11, 2021, the “editorial leadership” of VICE issued a short and confused statement that they were taking down the Loughrey photos and interview. Saying the photos were “manipulated beyond colorization” and the “story did not meet the editorial standards of VICE,” they called publishing the materials an “error.” VICE did not have an editor informed enough to realize at first glance that the photos were drastically altered. If the interview and photos did not meet the lofty editorial standards of VICE why publish them in the first place? The genocide committed by the Khmer Rouge remains a historically earth shaking story, but the vacant millennials running the show at VICE have blank memories. The remarks from VICE “leadership” is an admission the company has absolutely failed as a legitimate news organization. On April 16, 2021, they released an updated statement that was closer to an apology—but still worthless. I have entirely lost my patience with poseurs who feign humanitarianism.

On April, 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge seized Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Photo, AP.

On April, 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge seized Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Photo, AP.

I was 21-years-old when the Khmer Rouge seized Cambodia’s capital of Phnom Penh on the morning of April 17, 1975. That same day they ordered the complete evacuation of Phnom Penh and other cities. By force of arms they marched everyone into the countryside to undertake the building of an agrarian utopia. In doing so they closed schools, factories, and hospitals; the sick and infirmed were forced to march, so too children and the elderly—thousands died along the way as food, water, and medical care were not provided. At the time, reports coming out of Phnom Penh were unsettling. When I saw the photo of a Khmer Rouge soldier pointing his 1911 pistol at shop owners, demanding they abandon their businesses and leave the city, I knew Cambodia was doomed. Because of the Vietnam war, I had been following politics in Southeast Asia since the mid-60s as an idealistic pre-Teen, so I knew of the Khmer Rouge. But they were about to give me, and the world, a lesson in medievalist savagery.

The leader of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot, who was referred to as “Brother Number One,” declared the communist takeover to be “Year Zero,” the beginning of an era when all vestiges of the past would be destroyed. Straight away, all money, banking, private property, and religions were abolished. The liquidation of the regime’s enemies started. Anyone who represented the past—educated middle-class professionals, technicians, artists, writers, filmmakers, musicians, were all exterminated. Wearing eyeglasses or speaking a foreign language could identify a person as an intellectual to be executed. Everyone in Year Zero Cambodia was forced to wear Khmer black pajamas and the traditional red and white gingham Krama scarf. To do otherwise was dangerous.

The “Marxists” of the Khmer Rouge envisioned the country’s peasants building communism through collective labor and people’s communes. They applied Mao Zedong’s “Great Leap Forward” and “Cultural Revolution” to their nation. In fact the Chinese Communist Party backed the Khmer Rouge, giving them political support and endless military supplies. But the Red Khmers also viewed the ancient 12th century Angkor Empire of Cambodia as an agrarian utopia to be replicated. They called their nation “Kampuchea,” using the Khmer pronunciation of Cambodia. They referred to their leaders as “The Angkar” (The Organization). And on Jan. 5, 1976, they presented the official red flag of “Democratic Kampuchea,” which incorporated a stylized Angkor Wat symbol in yellow. The Khmer Rouge were nothing if not ethnic and national supremacists.

The Khmer Rouge red flag of “Democratic Kampuchea,” incorporating a stylized Angkor Wat symbol in yellow.

The Khmer Rouge red flag of “Democratic Kampuchea,” incorporating a stylized Angkor Wat symbol in yellow.

Once taking power the intolerant Khmer Rouge began to annihilate 1000s of ethnic Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, and Cham people. Condemning religion as “detrimental,” the Khmer Rouge targeted Christians, Catholics, Muslims, and Buddhists for extermination.

In 1975 they destroyed the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Phnom Penh, taking it apart stone by stone until there was nothing left. It was one of 73 Catholic churches destroyed in Year Zero.

In 1975 there were 66,000 Buddhist monks and 4,000 Buddhist temples. Before the Khmer Rouge were driven from power, they murdered more than 25,000 monks and obliterated 1,968 temples.

Two reporters were working together in Phnom Penh when the Khmer Rouge surrounded the capital—Cambodian photojournalist and interpreter Dith Pran (1942-2008), and NYTimes reporter Sydney Schanberg (1934-2016). Schanberg was one of the last Western journalists to stay in the city. The two witnessed the communist army take the city. In his last dispatch Schanberg wrote: “Most of the soldiers are teenagers. They are universally grim, robot-like, brutal. Weapons drip from them like fruit from trees… grenades, pistols, rifles, rockets.”

The Khmer Rouge wasted no time in unleashing large scale looting and executions. The two reporters were captured by guerrillas Schanberg described as “maniacal.” The two were threatened with death, and only the pleas of Pran saved them from being executed in the street. They took refuge in the French embassy compound along with a throng of desperate foreigners. Being Cambodian Pran was dragged from the embassy by the Khmer Rouge and marched into the countryside; they expelled Schanberg and the other Westerners from the embassy and trucked them to Thailand. As Schanberg noted: “With this act, Cambodia was sealed. The world could not look in. The killing could begin.”

The perilous journey of Dith Pran had just begun. He ended up in a Khmer Rouge work camp as a slave laborer—all for the good of the new “Democratic Kampuchea.” His captors fed him a tablespoon of rice a day, he supplemented his ration with an occasional beetle or small lizard he would secretly catch. He experienced beatings, torture, starvation, and witnessed endless executions. Pran endured four years of this, and when Vietnam overthrew the Khmer Rouge in 1979 he broke out of the camp and escaped over the Thai border. His 60 mile flight to freedom had him slogging through muddy fields filled with decomposing human corpses. These were the execution grounds where the Khmer Rouge slaughtered over a million people. Pran dubbed them the “killing fields.”

Excavated grave pit at Security Prison 21, circa 1979. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

Excavated grave pit at Security Prison 21, circa 1979. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

Today the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center stands outside Phnom Penh, it is built on one of the largest Khmer Rouge killing fields. Once an orchard before it was turned into a death camp, there are 129 mass graves in Choeung Ek. Heavy rains still uncover human teeth, bone fragments, and bits of clothing. A Buddhist “stupa” monument commemorating the dead stands in the middle of the killing field. Its plexiglass walls are filled with more than 8,000 skulls found onsite. Many of the skulls show evidence of having been bashed. To save ammunition the Khmer Rouge made victims kneel at the edge of a large pit, then clubbed their heads with steel bars or agricultural hoes; victims fell into the mass grave.

A “killing tree” is also found at Choeung Ek. Whole families were murdered at the camp, including babies. Khmer Rouge guards held toddlers by the ankles, then swung their heads into the tree. The tiny smashed bodies were tossed into a nearby open pit. Despite the communist aim of totally eradicating Buddhist “leeches and worms,” today the tree is covered in Buddhist string bracelets left by visitors as spiritual gifts to the slain little ones.

In 1980 Sydney Schanberg published his book The Death and Life of Dith Pran. The book served as the basis for the 1984 movie The Killing Fields, which depicted the agonies of Cambodia as seen through the experiences of Dith Pran and Sydney Schanberg. The book and the film brought international attention to the tragedy that had befallen Cambodia. If VICE really wanted to “restore” the history of Cambodia and “humanize” the tragedy, they would have recited the tale of Dith Pran to an audience completely unfamiliar with his saga. Instead, VICE published the vulgarities of braggart Matt Loughrey.

Unidentified female prisoner in Security Prison 21. Photograph taken sometime between 1975-79. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

Unidentified female prisoner in Security Prison 21. Photograph taken sometime between 1975-79. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

Cambodians were not the only ones tortured and murdered at the S-21 death camp. In 1978 the Khmer Rouge “navy” captured two hapless young Americans who were sailing off the coast of Cambodia. Michael Deeds and Chris Delance were sent to S-21 where they were tortured for 40 days. The Khmer Rouge were sadistic torturers who employed a variety of techniques in their “interrogations.” They forced prisoners to eat human feces, ripped out fingernails, burned detainees with hot wires or cigarettes, used electric shock, pushed needles under fingernails, administered beatings with sticks or electric wire, used water-boarding and other methods of drowning detainees, and covered victims with centipedes and scorpions.

Michael Deeds and Chris Delance were tortured until they signed “confessions” that they were CIA agents. The commander of S-21 was Kaing Guek Eav, aka “Duch.” After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, Duch testified at his trial that he was given orders by Pol Pot’s right hand man to “destroy all human beings from S-21” before the army of Vietnam arrived. That included Americans Deeds and Delance. They were bound, wrapped in gasoline soaked tires, and set on fire. They were gruesomely executed two days before Vietnamese soldiers liberated the camp. The Vietnamese discovered the prison by following the stench of the many burned bodies left to rot and decompose in the tropical heat. Perhaps Matt Loughrey will digitally paint the two Americans with happy smiling faces.

It is an irony that Cambodian artist Vann Nath (1946-2011) occupied the cell next to where Michael Deeds was locked up. The artist was one of 7 detainees who survived Security Prison 21. Prior to 1975 he made a living painting landscapes and film posters, but in 1977 he ran afoul of the Khmer Rouge and they put him in S-21. Every evening Vann Nath would watch guards pull Deeds from his cell, dragging him elsewhere for “interrogation.” The artist would see the guards return hours later to dump their tortured victim into his cell, where he would forlornly sing to himself. Today, the paintings of Vann Nath are permanently displayed at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Each a depiction of unspeakable brutality, each a condemnation of tyranny. VICE never did a story about Vann Nath, no, they chose to interview the no account Matt Loughrey.

A prisoner interrogated by the Khmer Rouge. Oil painting by Cambodian artist Vann Nath. The painting is in the Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum collection

A prisoner interrogated by the Khmer Rouge. Oil painting by Cambodian artist Vann Nath. The painting is in the Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum collection

In the end, the excesses of the Khmer Rouge sealed their fate. Their xenophobic hatred of ethnic Vietnamese—who settled in Cambodia long ago, caused the Khmer Rouge to massacre them by the thousands. By 1977 the Khmer Rouge were crossing into Vietnam with troops and artillery to attack Vietnamese towns and villages. The last straw came when a large force of heavily armed Khmer Rouge marched four miles into Vietnam and slaughtered over 3,000 Vietnamese civilians in the Ba Chúc massacre on April 18, 1978. On Dec. 25, 1978, Vietnam launched the invasion of “Democratic Kampuchea,” rapidly crushing the lion’s share of Khmer Rouge fighters and overthrowing the Pol Pot regime. On Jan. 7, 1979 Vietnam rolled into Phnom Penh, effectively putting an end to the genocide.

Remnant Khmer Rouge dead enders retreated to jungle enclaves near the Thai border and continued their fight (which of course was backed by Communist China). In 1998 a Khmer Rouge officer put the ailing Pol Pot under house arrest, but Brother Number One died that same year. In 2006 the Cambodian government and the UN established the “Khmer Rouge Tribunal,” where the remaining three Khmer Rouge leaders were tried and sentenced. In 2012 Duch was jailed for life for having run the S-21 death camp. In 2014 Nuon Chea (Brother Number Two) and Khieu Samphan (Khmer Rouge head of state) were sentenced to life for crimes against humanity for their roles in the Year Zero forced evacuations. In 2018 Chea and Samphan were found guilty of genocide for the mass extermination of Vietnamese Cambodians.

VICE supposedly captured the millennial focused market in 2015 with its “alternative” approach to news. Needless to say, I always perceived VICE as just another corporate media platform to be avoided. Now, with their self-inflicted Khmer Rouge wound destroying their carefully constructed “progressive” image, my viewpoint has been vindicated. As for VICE being “the definitive guide to enlightening information,” that pretense was destroyed in a Year Zero of their own making. It is long overdue that journalists convert from a life of vice, to a life of virtue. After all, dictionaries define “vice” as a “wicked, immoral, corrupt, and depraved” practice.

Unidentified male prisoner in Security Prison 21. Photograph taken sometime between 1975-79. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

Unidentified male prisoner in Security Prison 21. Photograph taken sometime between 1975-79. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

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, likely hundreds of millions of dollars would be spent on weaponry and logistical operations. Each Tomahawk cruise missile Obama launches 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 “warmonger” McCain (R-Arizona) and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Delaware) that called for “democratic government in Syria,” in other words it’s regime change care of the Uniparty. 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 Clinton led U.S./NATO assault on Kosovo/Serbia and Obama’s buildup to war with Syria is the 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 regained its footing.

The American antiwar contingent against President Clinton’s war was small-scale at best, but nevertheless vocal and active. Opposition to President Obama’s militarism is almost non-existent.

One can only imagine how liberals and leftists who proclaim Obama to be an “antiwar president,” would be reacting if it was President Romney 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 Clinton’s 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 All Along. 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. Furthermore, European diplomats said “this had undermined moves for a political solution to the conflict between Serbs and Albanians.”

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—that’s 78 days of bombing by the greatest military power on earth.

First Lady Hillary Clinton said of President Clinton: “I urged him to bomb. You cannot let this go on at the end of a century that has seen the major holocaust of our time. What do we have NATO for if not to defend our way of life?”

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 openly cooperate.

At the time small 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.

However, liberal and left circles were deeply divided, with many “progressives” siding with Clinton’s “humanitarian” bombing. “Laptop bombardiers” became a disparagement used by antiwar activists against supporters of Clinton’s war. Christopher Hitchens the author, left critic, and fallen socialist, became one of those bombardiers who cheered the bombing, calling Kosovo “Serbia’s Gaza.”

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, 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. His staff hire a spin doctor and a Hollywood movie producer to concoct a distraction, which turned out to be a media-spectacle sham war with Albania. In a way 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.

"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" - Anonymous artist. 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 media, 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 interests of globalist empire. Wars are fought over resources, territory, and political interests - the “patriotic” and “humanitarian” concerns professed by leaders that instigate and conduct wars is often nothing more than propaganda.

As the American left 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 November 1998 the former United States Secretary of Energy, Bill Richardson, 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.

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!