Reclaiming the Truth about Vietnam

By Robert C. Koehler

“From Ia Drang to Khe Sanh, from Hue to Saigon and countless villages in between, they pushed through jungles and rice paddies, heat and monsoon, fighting heroically to protect the ideals we hold dear as Americans. Through more than a decade of combat, over air, land, and sea, these proud Americans upheld the highest traditions of our Armed Forces.”

OK, I get it. Soldiers suffer, soldiers die in the wars we wage, and the commander in chief has to, occasionally, toss clichés on their graves.
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Opening Gitmo to the World

By Robert C. Koehler

To read Witnesses of the Unseen: Seven Years in Guantanamo is to run your mind along the contours of hell.

The next step, if you’re an American, is to embrace it. Claim it. This is who we are: We are the proprietors of a cluster of human cages and a Kafkaesque maze of legal insanity. This torture center is still open. Men (“forever prisoners”) are still being held there, their imprisonment purporting to keep us safe.

The book, by Lakhdar Boumediene and Mustafa Ait Idir — two Algerian men arrested in Bosnia in 2001 and wrongly accused of being terrorists — allows us to imagine ourselves at Guantanamo, this outpost of the Endless War.
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Dead Civilians and the Language of War

By Robert C. Koehler

Finally it comes down to this: Some people are expendable.

In certain parts of the world — where we and our allies are waging war — the expendable people come in two categories: terrorists (good riddance!) and civilians, whom we only kill if and when necessary, and whose deaths often elicit official apologies (if there’s no way to deny it was our fault).

Indeed, as Secretary of Defense James Mattis said, according to the Daily Beast, “There has been no change to our continued extraordinary efforts to avoid innocent civilian casualties.”
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Nukes and the Global Schism

By Robert C. Koehler

The United States boycotted the U.N. negotiations to ban — everywhere across Planet Earth — nuclear weapons. So did a few other countries. Guess which ones?

The international debate over this historic treaty, which became reality a week ago by a margin of 122 to 1, revealed how deeply split the nations of the world are — not by borders or language or religion or political ideology or control of wealth, but by possession of nuclear weapons and the accompanying belief in their absolute necessity for national security, despite the absolute insecurity they inflict on the whole planet.

Armed equals scared. (And scared equals profitable.)
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The Fire Burns, the Caldron Bubbles

By Robert C. Koehler

America serves up its news in a caldron from hell, or so it sometimes seems. The fragments are all simmering in the same juice: bombs and drones and travel bans, slashed health care, police shootings, the Confederate flag.

Double, double, toil and trouble . . .

Suddenly I’m thinking about the statues of Confederate generals taken down in New Orleans, the Confederate flag yanked from the state capital in Columbia, S.C. . . . and the secret flag the authorities can’t touch. Ray Tensing was wearing such a flag — a Confederate flag T-shirt — on July 19, 2015, while he was on duty as a University of Cincinnati police officer. That afternoon, he pulled over Samuel DuBose because of a missing front license plate. Less than two minutes into the stop, DuBose — a dad, a musician, an unarmed black man — had been shot and killed.
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The Infrastructure of Healing

By Bob Koehler

A door opened for me on a Wednesday afternoon, as I was trying to finish a column.

This is not a door I would have opened by myself. So the Tribune Company, for which I had worked as an editor for 14 years, opened it for me. The year was 2009, when financial disaster was commonplace and doors were flying open everywhere. In fact, the Trib had been undergoing a serious jettisoning of employees for the past year, but of course I felt secure. And then on that May afternoon, as I was about a dozen paragraphs into almost my five hundredth column . . .

“The desperation of our military efforts is showing around the edges of the carnage and tragedy.” I had written. “This past week has brought three official U.S. denials that we have done what eyewitnesses and/or other evidence indicates we did: a) used white phosphorous as a weapon against Afghan civilians; b) killed nearly 150 Afghan villagers in a sustained bombardment; c) killed a 12-year-old Iraqi boy as he stood innocently by the side of the road selling fruit juice.

“Note to David: Goliath’s vulnerability is the truth.”

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Democracy and Our Vulnerable Future

By Robert C. Koehler

It was a moment as tiny as marking a ballot — those two minutes of the second debate, when the presidential election hung suspended mid-diatribe and the candidates let go of their opponent’s flaws long enough to honor a bit of common humanity.

No big deal. Yeah, I know.

But as the thing winds down to the day of reckoning, and a sense of lost values and lost democracy overwhelms me — the election season is pure spectacle, full of sound and fury (signifying nothing?) — I find myself going back to those two minutes over and over, trying to understand why they hit me with such force.

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Budgeting the Good War, for 75 Years

By Robert C. Koehler

World War II never quite ended — it morphed.

Today we call it the status quo, or endless war, or we just don’t bother to notice it. Indeed, now more than ever we don’t notice it. It’s barely part of the 2016 election, even though we’re engaged in active conflict in half a dozen countries, toying with a relaunch of the Cold War with Russia and, of course, hemorrhaging, as always, more than half our annual discretionary budget on “defense.”

World War II has been going on for seven decades now and has no intention of ever stopping . . . of its own volition. But this year’s rocking electoral craziness — not just Hurricane Donald, but the unexpected staying power of the Bernie Sanders campaign — may well be the harbinger of transcendence. Apparently there’s another force in the universe capable of standing up to the American, indeed, the global, military-industrial status quo.

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Commander in Chief

By Robert C. Koehler

Maybe it’s the phrase — “commander in chief” — that best captures the transcendent absurdity and unaddressed horrors of the 2016 election season and the business as usual that will follow.

I don’t want to elect anyone commander in chief: not the xenophobic misogynist and egomaniac, not the Henry Kissinger acolyte and Libya hawk. The big hole in this democracy is not the candidates; it’s the bedrock, founding belief that the rest of the world is our potential enemy, that war with someone is always inevitable and only a strong military will keep us safe.

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Nuclear Standoff

By Robert C. Koehler

Values the size of Planet Earth are at stake, as the American presidential election grows ever smaller, ever pettier, ever more certain that rancor triumphs over relevance.

Can you imagine, let us say, an issue the size of global nuclear disarmament emerging in this race, somewhere between the groper tapes and the hacked DNC emails? What if — my God — we lived in a country in which such a matter were seriously and publicly discussed, not shunted off to the margins with a grimace and a smirk? The only thing that has mainstream credibility in this country is business as usual, which comes to us wrapped in platitudes about strength and greatness but in reality is mostly about war and profit and the destruction of the planet.

Meanwhile it’s three minutes to midnight.

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