Reflections on Katrina, 10 years later

hlward:

I wish I had something profound and hopeful to write about Hurricane Katrina and the City – the people – of New Orleans. It’s been ten years now, and I’ll be damned if I can find anything to reflect on that doesn’t make me feel ashamed of my country.

I could go through the litany of ways every level of government failed our brothers and sisters in New Orleans, but what would be the point?

Instead I think I’ll tell you some things I’ve learned since August 29, 2005.

– Every major city in America is a short series of official mistakes from being part of the “Third World.” Your comfortable suburb and mine could look just like the Lower Ninth Ward if just a few bad things happen. The question is, will your state and the federal government send help for you? Or will CNN show up first and make you and your home the next iconic image of helplessness and despair? Let’s be clear: The United States government has the capacity and resources to save you and your family – and probably a lot of your stuff – if whoever is in charge when the shit hits the fan makes you a priority.

– New Orleans is now the “Third World.” George Bush did not prioritize the families of New Orleans, and they have not recovered. They will not recover. New Orleans will never be “The City That Care Forgot” again. Yeah, New Orleans had its problems before Katrina. Not like this.

– When disaster strikes, if your leaders consider /for one moment/ how their actions will affect their political careers, people will die. You might die. Ray Nagin, Kathleen Blanco and George Bush are case studies in this respect. And no, political leaders do not always act like those fools did. Great leaders prove themselves in time of crisis. The people of New Orleans were not fortunate enough to have one single great leader in the long chain of government officials.

– New Orleans is doomed. That’s something I used to think was part of the charm … you always knew disaster was right around the corner, but you hoped you’d have time to finish your drink before the reaper showed up. And if you didn’t have time you were pretty sure you could get a go-cup anyway. At least that’s the way /I/ always felt. The reality isn’t romantic or charming at all. The reaper won’t let you bring a go-cup. You will stand in line at the SuperDome with no food or water or you will camp in the August sunshine on the remains of an asphalt bridge. It’s going to happen again. We know now that the People In Charge knew very well that the levees would break before the levees broke. And we know that that they will break again when the next storm comes. We know that despite the best efforts of the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Mississippi River wants to reroute itself many miles West, far from the city. When those things happen, the devastation will be complete.

– It doesn’t have to be this way. We can choose to put people ahead of profit. We can say “no” to the idea that “Government should be small enough to be drowned in a bathtub.” We can take care of each other and we can all prosper. But if we choose to allow some to prosper and leave the rest to fend for themselves … we can all end up like our brothers and sisters in New Orleans.

Maybe that’s the closest thing I can find to “hopeful” in the wake of Katrina. We can do better. Will we? I can’t tell your that.

samanthaimperiatrix:

2005 was a big year for me. I became a mother, and I got married for the first time. Watching the horrors unfold in New Orleans fell as I held my infant son, and put the final touches on the wedding. I saw the images of the people in towns on their roofs, the houses completely envelloped in water, and the residents clinging for some shred of dignity.
“How can this be happening here? Aren’t we a big important country? Isn’t there more we can do? Or could have done?”
I tried to mentally block out the blame that passed around from agency to agency over the next months, but in some sense they were all guilty. They all failed those people in some way. Living in coastal Florida my entire existence, I cringe at the thought that we could be next. The next horrific images and stories you see on the news next of an American city underwater could be mine.
Shortly there after, people from the Biloxi area transferred to my work, because they were now out of jobs, and had nothing to go home to. I made friends with some, and they told me their stories.
There was no media embellishment there. They were as bad as you imagine.


Seyyal Edibe:

In 2005, my family and I were living in Germany, where I was working for the Army. We had been there since 2002, but I had not managed to “settle in” and feel at home there. It was like I was on an extended vacation, except I had to work … a lot. A by-product of that is I felt like I was living in some netherworld: I didn’t really fit in in Germany, but I wasn’t in the U.S. either. We were finally able to get Sky TV out of the UK after almost a year, so we could watch English-language TV, but it was British TV. We had CNN, but it was CNN International. The only American news feed we had was Fox News. I know.

I still remember that day. Germany is 6 hours ahead of East Coast U.S. so that in itself can be disorienting. I want to say we found out about Katrina from CNN International. It was a nice, sunny day in Germany, which isn’t exactly the norm, even in August. So I turned to Fox to get the “hometown version.”

All I can say is that it was surreal. I was seeing Katrina through the eyes of a “foreigner,” but at the same time not: I had attended Loyola for a semester and a summer, and had been stationed there for 3 years. I knew East Bank from West Bank. Algiers. Ninth Ward. The French Quarter. The CBD. New Orleans East. Crescent City Connection. The Huey P. Long Bridge. My husband and I sat there in disbelief: watching how one of the most famous cities in the U.S. had devolved into little more than a Third World country. I sat there and watched while Shepard Smith (who’s from Mississippi, BTW), was actually /screaming/ on TV that people were dying on the Crescent City Connection because people were on the Gretna side of the bridge standing there with guns, threatening to shoot them if they even tried to enter Gretna for food and water. And another meltdown as he reported how children were being sexually molested in the SuperDome that had become a makeshift shelter for those who were unable to leave New Orleans for a myriad of reasons.

I sat there and watched the coverage hour after hour. Horrified, but unable to change the channel. Because somehow, I felt it was my /responsibility/ to watch this, so when I went back out into the community, I could attempt to explain to the Germans I regularly interacted with “our” side of the story. I watched people sitting on the roofs of their houses, which was the only thing above the water line, shooting at National Guard helicopters trying to rescue them. I listened while they described how old people in nursing homes had never been evacuated because there was no evacuation plan, so they just died in place. How people in hospitals were dying because there wasn’t sufficient auxiliary power to keep their life support systems going, or any coherent mass evacuation plan. How New Orleans police were breaking into luxury car dealerships and taking cars because “the police cruisers [were] underwater” or they “needed SUVs to navigate the flooded streets.”

All of a sudden “Laissez les bons temps rouler!” stopped being the battle cry of committed partiers and more a declaration of “We’re a bunch of clueless, careless idiots.”

And we won’t even discuss Mayor Ray Nagin surveying the devastation in designer suits and declaring New Orleans would arise as a “Chocolate City!”

alethiam:

I went to the coast of the panhandle after Katrina brushed by Florida. I was with two friends, and the normally clear water was murky with stirred up sand (and god-knows-what else). We could see there had been a storm surge. The usually brilliant white sand was covered with rotting dead fish and a few dead sharks. The smell of death and the dark, but gentle, waves of the Gulf were ominous. I took some photos of the beach, but not of the death or destruction. I’m not sure why.

I remember being relieved when I heard Katrina was only a Category 3 as it made landfall over the coast to the West of me. I had studied photographs of New Orleans before and after Camille, and thought the city would be spared a little.

And then, the levees broke. I hadn’t foreseen that. I had to go over to a friend’s house to watch TV, and the images and witness reports were horrific.

A year later, I found myself in New Orleans. We drove around the city, curious to see how it was recovering.

Parts of the city seemed unscathed. But right next to a beautiful home, there would be a house, boarded up, with spray paint on it, informing all it was too be demolished. The city was discombobulated. It was trying, but next to every effort were ashes or ruins.

We kept driving, and ended up in a middle class neighborhood. Something seemed amiss, though. It was evening, and there were no cars on the road or in the driveways. No lights were on inside the homes. There were no people walking on the sidewalk. I looked from my right to my left. To my right, there were houses. To the left, there was water that was higher than the houses.

All of this must have flooded. No one lived in these houses anymore. They were ruined. It was such an eerie, spooky feeling. The lake to the left of me no longer seemed scenic. The water, calm in the evening sun, was suddenly cruel; it was a destroyer of lives and dreams.

Some links I’ve found interesting:
Race and Recovery 10 Years After Hurricane Katrina
A Katrina Lexicon

Remembering Hiroshima

(Disclaimer: this post solely represents the opinion of the author.)

On August 6, 1945, a B-29 Superfortress named Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, the climax of the gruesome struggle in the Pacific between the US and Japan. Approximately 90,000 people were killed immediately, and another 50,000 died within two years. Added to that was the toll paid by the survivors, and their descendents: radiation sickness, cancer, leukemia, mutation, genetic damage, and birth defects decades later add an incalculable amount of human suffering to the toll. Three days later, this Boschian tragedy was re-enacted, at Nagasaki.

It’s almost cliche, now, to dutifully go through the debate: the Japanese started the war, Pearl Harbor, Bataan, Manila, execution of prisoners, refused to surrender. The Bomb not only saved a million(?) Americans, but actually saved Japanese lives as well, by obviating the need for an invasion of Japan.

And so forth. For every one, there is a riposte, every charge, a justification. These justifications-and that’s what they are-are necessary, because they help obscure what the nuclear attack on Hiroshima was:

A massacre. A slaughter of the innocents. I don’t know what else you can call hitting an undefended city, containing few if any targets of military value, with a nuclear weapon.

You can call it justifiable if you want-I’ve given you the basic outline of the usual main points. Many do. But remember what you are doing: you are justifying the massacre of civilians, on a previously-unimagined scale. If massacres are justifiable, then where does it stop? It doesn’t, until it reaches its logical conclusion: justifiable genocide, as promoted in the Times of Israel last year.

Hitler and Stalin both thought massacres were justifiable, as seen in places like Babi Yar, Katyn Forest, the gulag archipelago, and the German concentration and extermination camp system. “Bomber” Harris was a big fan, as seen at Cologne, Hamburg, Dresden, and a hundred other incinerated cities. So was Curtis LeMay, whose firebombing campaign against Japan-hitting a major Japanese city every other day-made Harris look like a bush-leaguer. And of course, the Japanese officers who ordered the rape of Nanking, created IJA Unit 731, and killed hundreds of thousands in China, Korea, the Philippines, and Okinawa thought they were justified too. And Truman, who promised Japan “a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on the Earth”, went to his grave justifying his decision.

Nobody escapes the truth. Either these acts are universally wrong, or they are not. And if the massacre on a vast scale is justified, then why not genocide? After a while, they start to become indistinguishable from one another. If it is morally acceptable to nuke a city, then what is forbidden? And why? Is there still something worse, where we can draw a line and say “We won’t do that”?

So, amidst the jingoistic chest-pounding and nationalistic roars on one side, and the solemn memorial of the dead divorced from the acts of the leadership who brought this horror upon them on the other, remember Hiroshima, sacrificed on the altar of the justifiable massacre as an offering to the gods of vengeance. A vast, boiling, multi-colored monument to the failure of human beings to rise above their base, brutal, bloodthirsty programming. Remember the dead, the hibakusha, and the downwinders. And remember, even after all this time-it could still be you, your kids, your family.

We are all downwinders now.

Overcoming Through Forgiveness?

We shall overcome.
We shall overcome.
We shall overcome some day.

 

I always loved that song as a child. I believed it, too. My family is what my son calls a “patchwork quilt”…a little of everything. Growing up, I surrounded myself with all kinds of people, because people are people to me. We all bleed red, right? The idea people were people informed my entire young life. Aging came with knowledge and awareness that my child’s brain could not process. I’ve learned, through experience, that color blindness is a slogan. It’s also a weakness.

The recent events in a South Carolina church are possibly a result of that weakness.

For those unfamiliar with me, I am a fellow traveler through life who happened to be born with ovaries and not quite white skin. By not quite white, I mean dark -VERY dark- skin. I am a black woman. Yes, black! No hyphenated American here. Move along. Those travelling alongside me are as diverse and colorful as a rainbow. There is one who holds my hand, nudges me forward, and even carries me some days. He is a wonderful man who happened to be born with not quite dark skin. Not quite meaning as white as a cloud, but he’s MY cloud, and I love the caring person that he is underneath the not quite dark skin. With him, I share four of Heaven’s sweetest angels. Speaking of Heaven and angels, yes, I believe in a High Power.

And that brings me to my question. Every headline I’ve read lately has zeroed in on the fact that the families of the victims have forgiven the terrorist who killed their loved ones. Yes, I said terrorist! If you don’t recognize racism as an ideology rife with terroristic tendencies and methods, read a book. But back to my question. Is immediate forgiveness the answer?

On one hand, I applaud -admire even- these families. They have experienced a tragedy the likes of which I can not fathom. Forgiving the terrorist may be a crucial part of their grieving process, and I pray comfort and peace over them, however that’s accomplished. As a fellow believer, I know that love, compassion, and forgiveness are expected. Likewise, I know that truth and justice are required in any truly free and equal society.

On the other hand, I wonder if it is healthy for us, as a nation, to focus on the forgiveness of a killer without much care for the conditions that lead to such forgiveness-needing acts?

I don’t think it is. As it is, in order to be heard, black Americans must react in a certain (submissive?) way to events involving race. We must make the disclaimer that we know all white people aren’t racist. We must exude grace through our pain. We must speak softly. We must condemn ‘black on black’ crime in Chicago and openly plea for less fatherless homes. We must criticize Al Sharpton. We must march, sing, and quote Dr. Martin Luther King. We must do any and everything except…

BE ANGRY. Even after this most horrible and OBVIOUS racially motivated hate crime, we must not show anger. We should forgive immediately? A hate-filled terrorist slaughtered people who welcomed him with open arms, literally responding to an olive branch with a gun, and shows no remorse should be immediately forgiven? He asked not for forgiveness, but for a living witness to what he hoped would be the beginning of a race war…and this is the conversation we’re having? This is after the conversation about motivation, because saying “I’m here to shoot black people” has SO many meanings.

My faith is strong, but I’m not at Forgiveness Avenue yet. I am angry. I am sorrowful. I am angry. I am filled with worry over the state of the nation my children have to live in. I am weary of our cowardice in regards to repairing race relations. Did I mention how mad I am? I wanted to look around and see that others were as disgusted as I was. That everyone was as disgusted as I was.

I’m comforted that I saw some of that. Thank God for good people! I saw other things, too. I saw that far too many of us would rather keep sweeping shit into a corner and spraying Febreeze than to go on and deal with the busted sewage pipe. I saw that far too many of us still don’t recognize the power of language (thug vs mentally ill) and symbols (heritage vs symbol of oppression). Thank you, South Carolina for recognizing that some divisions are bigger than a flag. I saw that in 2015, far too many of my fellow Americans ignore the reality hundreds of years worth of bigotry created, and expect me to forgive in order to overcome.

Someday.

 

 

Ferguson Is Your Future Too

(I wish I could say I wrote this, but alas! This post is the work of the Institute’s Cherubic Adonis, the victim of a particularly nasty tech issue.)

This is your future, America. The events in Ferguson, Missouri are a symptom of a broken country. You know it’s broken. You see the damage and you look the other way because it isn’t your children who are being killed at a frightening pace by authority figures in our society. But one day soon, it will be you and your children who are the victims. They will be drawn into the battle on one of the two sides.

Either all Americans share certain “inalienable rights” or none of us do. The problem stems from your own inability to address the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Prejudice. Now, when I say prejudice, I don’t automatically mean race, but racial prejudice is a big part of the problem. People can be prejudiced in any number of ways. Political prejudice (left vs right), economic prejudice (rich vs poor), intellectual prejudice (intellectual elites vs common man), sexual prejudice (men vs women) are all equally as bad for our national health. Until we, as a society, recognize that we all have value, none of us will really be worth a damn.

Local police forces are now paramilitary units who use counterinsurgency and urban-warfare doctrine to establish control of their areas of operation at any cost. Now, I realize that many people will read this and say, “Oh, you’re exaggerating. This is an isolated incident” but is it really? Take a look and you’ll see that these atrocities occur with staggering regularity in America. Some folks think that this squall will pass (and they may be right), but I guarantee you one thing, this storm isn’t over.

Looking the other way when someone’s rights are being violated doesn’t strengthen your rights. It weakens them. Sooner or later you or people like you are going to become very upset about something (perhaps a big gubmint takeover of *insert cause here*) and they are going to go to the streets because of it. When they do they are going to find out what many minorities in America already know: America does not care about you. America cares about its image and it won’t tolerate you making it look bad on the news. America is a sixteen-year-old girl taking a selfie. America is a self-absorbed douchebag talking into their Bluetooth in the checkout line at the grocery store. America will step over your bleeding (and maybe dead) carcass on its way into a Starbucks to get their caffeine fix. America only cares about America. You aren’t America. America isn’t you. You have become a cog in a machine and if you get worn out or break down, it won’t matter. The machine will continue grinding away. Today it’s Ferguson, Missouri, but soon it will be YourTown, USA. It won’t be fair. It will hurt.  You’ll whine about it and maybe your friends and relatives will be killed or maimed by the “authorities” but don’t expect anyone else to care, because you don’t care right now. In fact, expect people to giggle with glee at your misfortune. Expect to be made into a meme. Expect to be shot through the door when you ring the doorbell and cry for help. Expect to be exploited, first as political fodder and then as comedy, because that’s what America does.

I leave you with an old quote about America by Carl Schurz, “My country right or wrong.” Most people have heard it before but that’s not the whole quote. The whole statement reads, “My country right or wrong; if right to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” Until we are all prepared to set America right when it is wrong there won’t be any right to celebrate.

We are here.

So Ferguson happened.

The pictures say a lot, don’t they? What they say depends on who’s doing the looking. To me, it says dangerous times are ahead.

If you recall, I wrote about this very thing many months ago. In that piece, the militarization of America’s police departments was discussed. If we are brutally honest with ourselves, we know that Ferguson has been a forward moving train..gathering steam..barrelling toward us at a speed sure to cause massive damage when it finally made impact. Armored vehicles and military grade weapons are not new. SWAT teams are not new. Abuse of authority is not new. So, I won’t go into all that again. This begs the question: Are we truly surprised? Or are we simply expert reactionary Facebook/Twitter/Instagram protesters?

If, indeed, you are truly surprised..or if you really don’t understand why minorities, all across the nation, are angry..or if you find it impossible to fathom the type of desperation, frustration, and hopelessness that causes you to destroy your own communities…

“Hence I have no mercy or compassion in me for a society that will crush people, and then penalize them for not being able to stand up under the weight.”

“I was going through the hardest thing, also the greatest thing, for any human being to do; to accept that which is already within you, and around you.” –Malcolm X

We are here.

Remember when I said it depended on who was doing the looking? Yeah, well, African-Americans have always been here. This type of drama plays out on the stages of our communities Every. Single. Day.

America has done this. America – with her high handedness, her conceit, her total lack of will to right her wrongs – has done this. America is masterful at “breaking” a subset of people, at burdening them until they collapse to their knees, then punishing them for not standing up straight. (Bootstraps, anyone?) Systemic racism is like kudzu in the foundation of this nation. It has sprung up around -and intertwined itself with- every aspect of life. So much so, that far too many can’t recognize what a privilege it is to not be black in America. America wants to keep us in check with The Dream. (That they began waking us up from before we got too deeply involved in it.)

Americans have allowed it. (And by Americans, I mean ALL of us. Hang on, black folk, I’ll get to you in a minute.) There has been silence where there should have been shouting. Heads have been turned when we should have faced issues head on. Apathy has replaced action. The face we show to the world has got to be flawless, but our inner workings are as ugly as homemade sin. That ugliness fuels riots and rebellion. Unfortunately, when a people is left without power, they react in ways those without such experiences can not possibly relate to.

But, here is the thing…you don’t need to relate. You need to acknowledge. So, you’ve heard of Michael Brown. And Trayvon Martin. You posted about how sad it was for their families. You posted about the senseless waste of life. You may have even found a local march in an attempt to show your support. And then, you moved on with your life. Life does go on, right?

Not for Ousmane Zongo, Timothy Russell, Aaron Campbell, Victor Steen, Alonzo Ashley, Wendell Allen, Oscar Grant, Ramarley Graham, Manuel Loggins, Ezell Ford, Kimani Gray, Amadou Diallo, Timothy Stansbury, Jr., Sean Bell, Orlando Barlow, Steven Washington, Ronald Madison, James Brissette, Travares McGill, John Crawford III, or Eric Garner. To name a few.

The constitution was meaningless for these young men and thousands of others like them. But, guess what? That means that the constitution is meaningless for you, too. Today, your kids are pretty safe from lying in a pool of their own blood for hours in the middle of the street. What of tomorrow? Don’t think for a moment it can’t happen. It has already happened. For years, disgruntled blacks complaining of police brutality, harassment, and use of excessive force were ignored. Remember? We had it coming. We deserved it. We were whiners. While you were giving the “birds and bees” talk to your kids, we were giving the “statistics show that you will probably have an encounter with police, so this is how to avoid being shot” speech. Then one day, a funny thing happened. Your neighborhood cops became overzealous. They demanded respect without being bothered to return it. They began bursting into your homes, with or without warrants. Just like that, our problem became your problem. Welcome. You are here. What are you going to do about it? Point guns at officers of the law? You just might get away with it, but black people….

“America’s greatest crime against the black man was not slavery or lynching, but that he was taught to wear a mask of self-hate and self-doubt.”
“So early in my life, I had learned that if you want something, you had better make some noise.”
― Malcolm X

….know they would be shot down. Immediately. So what do we do? March and sing? Riot and loot?

No.  Plan our lives!  We must give up on the notion that America cares. Still waiting for forty acres and a mule? Ha! Hell, we can’t even eat skittles or jaywalk! The first step is to know your worth. Self hatred, doubt, and lack of pride are the greatest enemies we face. Stop allowing this country to dictate your value. We must be present. Present in our homes and in the lives of our children. Present in our communities and programs that lift one another up. Present in our classrooms where we learn how to play the game.  Present in our children’s classrooms to ensure they are well prepared to face the world. And, like my Grandma always said, “America ain’t giving away nothing. Money talks, bullshit walks.”  Therefore, we must purchase our equality with the only currency power accepts – ballots and dollar bills. These are our weapons; we must wield them well. The logo on your foot, the name on your rear, nor the initials on your purse are more important than the number on your bank balance. Finally, speaking of walking, high step it to the voting booth. You can’t expect to be heard when you don’t speak!

“We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.” —
Malcolm X

So, yes, we are here. But we don’t have to remain here. Stand for something.

 

Further Reading

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/08/police-shootings-michael-brown-ferguson-black-men

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2011/07/26/wealth-gaps-rise-to-record-highs-between-whites-blacks-hispanics/

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/08/14/police-killings-data/14060357/

http://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Family/Modern-Parenthood/2014/0815/If-They-Gunned-Me-Down-on-Tumblr-Pressing-parents-to-take-a-second-look

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/michael-brown-shooting-us-cannot-lecture-others-on-human-rights-amnesty-says-9677800.html

 

The Covert Action Virus

Twenty or so years ago, I had a conversation with a soil scientist of my acquaintance, who had recently returned from an extended trip through Central America. He had been teaching alternative farming techniques to peasant farmers being squeezed into less and less available land, as part of a private aid group. It sounded to me like an ideal gig for the Peace Corps, so I was surprised when he answered: “Uh-uh. No way. If you’re in Central America with the Peace Corps, everyone just assumes you’re CIA. Nobody will talk to you, and you can’t get anything done.”
I was taken aback, given that, as the Peace Corps itself says:

Persons who have been employed by an intelligence agency, or otherwise have been associated with intelligence activities, are ineligible to serve as volunteers. This exclusionary policy is one aspect of the broader, long-standing policy of maintaining an absolute separation between Peace Corps and intelligence activities conducted by the U.S. government. This absolute separation is necessary to protect volunteers’ safety and to maintain the trust and confidence of the people in the countries in which volunteers serve.

The inverse, however, is also true. Because of this exclusionary policy, the Peace Corps would in fact make an excellent cover for an agent. This goes to the very nature of the deception that is the core of what intelligence agents do: it does not matter what lie is believed, as long as a lie is believed. As long as the target believes something that is not true, he/she can be manipulated. Which means that everything is a potential cover story, a legend, and a potential target for infiltration and exploitation. Every bureau, every commercial outlet, every information source is a potential target. Every cell of the body politic is susceptible to this, either proactively or by being compromised; a virus of deceit, secrecy, and covert action.

The problems with this are obvious, and became apparent to me again this morning, when I opened Firedoglake and saw USAID Fake HIV Center in Cuba Undermines Global Health Efforts. I followed the links; the gist, as reported by the AP, is that “Over at least two years, the U.S. Agency for International Development — best known for overseeing billions of dollars in U.S. humanitarian aid — sent nearly a dozen neophytes from Venezuela, Costa Rica and Peru to gin up opposition in Cuba.” These untrained agents, supplied with encrypted flash drives, and codes for communications, “posed as tourists, visited college campuses, and used…[a]n HIV-prevention workshop one called “the perfect excuse” to recruit political activists.” Perhaps not surprisingly, the operation was set up by the same contractor that dreamed up the failed “Cuban Twitter” project.

This program is being defended by the Obama Administration: according to State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, the program “enabled support for Cuban civil society, while providing a secondary benefit of addressing the desires Cubans express for information and training about HIV prevention.” Note the moment of honesty: the secondary benefit of the HIV awareness program was HIV awareness. The first was covert action.

This type of covert action is not rare, as Peter at FDL goes on to elaborate; nor is it just medical aid being used as cover. The fake NGO that was used to decapitate a FARC unit in Columbia is missing, but he includes the fake hepatitis vaccine program in Pakistan that helped identify Usama bin Laden-since then, the Pakistani Taliban has outlawed polio vaccination and killed 60 vaccination workers, allowing polio to make a robust comeback. Another one Peter could have pointed to was the role of the NED-the National Endowment for Democracy-in Ukraine, where it has spent tens of millions of dollars on a wide variety of programs. As  One of the founders of the NED-“whose purpose is to support foreign organizations sympathetic to US foreign policy goals” explained it in 1991“A lot of what we do was done 25 years ago covertly by the CIA.” And so it is: whether it be Nicaragua, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Albania, Iran, Cuba, Mongolia, or Venezuela, the NED is there. No wonder Putin was pissed about US operations in Ukraine. Every dollar spent there was intended to lessen Russian influence. Every single aspect of the “civil society” NED is supporting there can be considered a covert operation targeted on Russian interests.

And that’s the real issue-the meta-issue. The effect of using everything as a cover for covert operations is the certain destruction of the ability of people to have faith in institutions that, in a democracy, require faith to operate (rampant conspiracy theory-the guaranteed response to pervasive secrecy-has the same effect). You can have democracy-or you can have deceit and covert action. You can have citizen participation-or you can have counterintelligence programs designed to “expose disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize…” You can have journalism-or you can have Operation MOCKINGBIRD, in which the CIA compromised dozens of journalists and fed them CIA propaganda. You can have community policing-or you can have Phoenix Program-style counterinsurgency as law enforcement, in which pervasive surveillance, secret and unconstitutional police methods, and Special Operations teams combine to “neutralize threats.” Radley Balko reports an average of fifty thousand SWAT raids annually in the US…we have come a hell of a long way from “to serve and protect.”

And that’s the point-when everything is a covert action bureau, or cover, that is all it is. It cannot be an institution that operates by deceit and covert violence, AND be a democratically-controlled institution responsive to citizens’ needs. You can have democracy, and freedom, and all the messy processes that democratic institutions require to operate; or you can have the expediency, secrecy, deception, and violence of government-by-secret-police-agency. When your service providers collect and sell your information; when your cell phone is tracked by retailers in the mall; when your movements are tracked via car tracking, facial recognition programs, and ubiquitous cameras; and when your police subvert oversight by deceiving responsible authority, your institutions have become spy agencies, whose tools are secrecy and deception: anathema to self-government in a free society. A paradigm of covert action, or a representative democracy. You cannot have both.

You cannot have both, and there will be no progress until this question is answered, definitively. Subverting change in defense of the status quo, after all, is what intelligence agencies do. Our government is infected with a virus, that has seemingly moved into every cell; healing America will require, first, a robust immune response from a citizenry that will not be able to suspend the necessary weight of disbelief much longer, and second, an intense vaccination course to keep the patient from  relapsing.

 

The Great Crusade: Remembering D-Day

(Updated for 2014)

The date was June 6, 1944. The biggest invasion fleet ever assembled was about to depart their ports in Britain, on the way to their landing areas, the beaches of Normandy, France. It was the launch of the “Great Crusade”-Operation OVERLORD, the 1944 seaborne invasion of France by the combined forces of the US, Britain, Free France, Belgium, and Poland, and the beginning of the liberation of Western Europe, occupied by the Nazis since the lightning victory of 1940. Supreme Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower nervously fingered the note in his pocket: the note in which he defended his troops and accepted full responsibility for the failure of the invasion. There was reason to worry: while success may seem inevitable in hindsight, poor weather had already delayed the invasion by a day, the degree of success in Allied deception operations was unknown, and the Germans in the West had had four years to prepare their defenses AND were being commanded by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the famed “Desert Fox” who had taught the Allies such painful lessons in mobile warfare in North Africa in 1942. A thousand troops had been killed just practicing for the invasion, when the landing craft were surprised by German E-boats. The rough seas were destined to sink many of the ‘swimming’ tanks, and the minefield-clearing flail tanks developed by the British were not included in the American order of battle. It was a gigantic gamble, with the highest possible stakes. Long demanded by Stalin and obsessed over by Hitler, this invasion was considered the decisive engagement of the war by Rommel’s superior, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt. While this is debatable, its role as a decisive engagement is beyond question.

As the defining event of the Twentieth Century, the Second World War and the experiences of those who fought it, both individuals and nations, became central to the identity of the participants: Britain had Dunkirk, the Blitz, and El Alamein, the US had Pearl Harbor and D-Day (and the A-bomb), and the Soviet Union had Stalingrad, Kursk, and Berlin. The character and behavior of every major participant was informed by the experience. The State of Israel was formed as a result, and both Germany and Japan underwent major cultural shifts, both in dealing with defeat and in confronting the reality of their conduct of the war. For better or worse, the world would never be the same.

The narrative of D-Day is also an essential building block of the discourse of heroic Americans storming ashore into the teeth of German fire to liberate helpless Europe groaning under a Nazi boot, and the root of a million resentful “we saved your ass from speaking German” reminders from Americans insulted by European perceptions of them as arrogant, uncivilized rubes. In reality, given the speed of the Soviet advance from the East, the likelihood is that the US, rather than saving anyone from speaking German, instead actually saved a whole lot of people from speaking Russian. The Soviet Army had crushed the bulk of German mobile forces in the East at Kursk in July 1943, and the Soviet march towards Berlin that then began had stopped only to occasionally resupply and reorganize, and to crush fanatical German resistance. The German response was to transfer the vast majority of its remaining forces to meet the onrushing Russians, and this reduction of available German forces was an important factor in the success of the D-Day invasion. And success was essential: had OVERLORD failed, it would not have been possible to try again until the next year. The alternatives, such as the Red Army standing watch on the Atlantic Wall in France, the invasion of a France held by Stalin instead of Hitler, or the use of atomic weapons against Germany, the Soviet Union, or both, are nearly unimaginable. In short, for millions, the stakes could not have been higher.

The OVERLORD invasion also heralded the true opening of the long-delayed “second front” in Europe; while forces of the Western Allies had been engaged in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy, and the combined air forces of RAF Bomber Command and the US Eighth Air Force had been bombing Germany since 1942, these actions represented piecemeal commitments to the war against Hitler, and constituted no direct threat to Hitler’s position in Europe. The delay in opening this front had fueled Stalin’s belief that the Western Allies were dragging their feet in order to force the Soviets to bear the brunt of the fighting and the lion’s share of the losses. This belief was reinforced by British attempts to conduct peripheral operations more designed to assure the solidity of the British Empire after the war, especially in the Mediterranean, the Balkans, and India. After the Tehran Conference, when Stalin made this belief plain and mentioned the possibility of a Soviet-German truce, the plans for OVERLORD were set for May, 1944.  The D-Day invasion is often mischaracterized as “the biggest/greatest invasion of all time,” and other such hyperole. The biggest invasion of all time was Operation Barbarossa, the 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union, and the biggest coordinated military operation ever was Operation Bagration, the 1944 Soviet offensive in the East that followed closely after D-Day in the West.  OVERLORD was, however, the largest amphibious invasion ever, one of the most complex operations ever, and the apex of the amphibious invasion as military operational art, rivaled only by Saipan, Iwo Jima, and Inchon.

There were two possible landing grounds:  Pas de Calais, directly across the English Channel from  Dover, and Normandy. Choosing Normandy over the more advantageous Pas de Calais created several important effects: dissension in the German chain of command, and the biggest deception operation of the war. Rommel, as the German ground commander, anticipated the Allied landings at Normandy, but his superior Rundstedt was convinced the stroke would fall at Calais. This was particularly important because it was the deciding factor in where to place two German Panzer (tank) divisions being held as strategic reserve. The disagreement eventually reached Hitler, who made a frustrated parent’s decision: neither would get the Panzers, which would be held in yet another place, and released only upon Hitler’s direct order. The consequences were catastrophic: Hitler was sleeping when the call to release the panzers first came in, and his staff declined to wake him and ask; and, in any case, the Panzers would have been unable to reach either, due to Allied air superiority.

The Allies had gone to a great deal of trouble to encourage Rundstedt’s belief: during the build-up, General George S. Patton, who had been recalled and disciplined after slapping a shellshocked soldier in a hospital, was put in charge of a mythical US invasion army mustering opposite Pas de Calais. Thousands of inflatable decoy tanks, trucks, and artillery pieces were built and deployed in pre-invasion configuration, and the air was filled with fake radio traffic. Rundstedt bought it. Had Rommel prevailed, the consequences at Omaha Beach in particular, where the US was very nearly driven back into the sea with heavy losses anyway, may have been catastrophic.

The five invasion beaches were Omaha, Utah, Sword, Gold, and Juno. The  landings at Utah and Sword went fairly smoothly with light casualties, while the landings at Gold and Juno took heavy casualties, and the US landing at Omaha, though successful, was a bloodbath. Ineffective naval gunfire and aerial bombing had left many of the well-prepared and dug-in German troops intact and ready on the cliffs overlooking the landing beach. The resulting carnage nearly repulsed the American landings, and victory was in grave doubt, until a Ranger unit managed to scale the cliffs and eliminate the German positions there. The survival of the American beachhead was assured, and could finally begin moving off the beach; two months later, after finally breaking out of the bocage country around Normandy, the end was assured, with only the timing and final Soviet position remaining in question. As Rundstedt said, “the war ended in September.” That may have indeed been the case for any realistic possibility of a German victory in the West, the Battle of the Bulge notwithstanding, although millions of German civilians were still to face the wrath of a Soviet Army for whom the war wasn’t nearly over yet. D-Day is the iconic American experience of World War II. To have simply survived such an event is an act of heroism, as anything less than individual heroism in the aggregate would have been insufficient to the moment. The affirmation that may be taken from that, however, is tempered by the certainty that many, every bit as heroic, motivated, and determined, still found their deaths on the beaches of Normandy. Heroism was necessary, but it was not in and of itself sufficient: one’s position in a landing craft when the grenade went off was utterly beyond one’s control. This, then, shows the expression of necessary faith that is part  of every military operation, that confirms itself in the survivors while betraying the dead,  and leaves all to ponder the meaning of the sacrifice. The examples are all there. Faith. Heroism. Boldness. Honor. Confidence. Responsibility. Competence. Resiliency. Fortune. Imperfection. Humanity…. No wonder D-Day is such a defining moment in 20th century American identity-it should be.  Remember–D-Day, June 6, 1944. Happy D-Day, America!