Healing Wounds of War: Local Film Series

Here in Charlottesville we’re being treated to an unusual Sunday evening film series, hosted by our local Mennonite Church.
This Sunday, March 1st, For the Love of Tomorrow tells the story of how one woman, a member of the French Resistance against the Nazis, overcame intense hatred to become a key force transforming relations between Germany and France.
Two weeks later, on March 15th, The Imam and the Pastor considers how a Nigerian Christian pastor and a Muslim Imam went from being mortal enemies as bloodied militia leaders to co-directors of a Muslim-Christian Interfaith Mediation Center. I’m especially curious about how this happened.
Closing out March, on the 29th, The Radicals examines how early anabaptists refused to take sides in the religious wars of the 16th and 17th Century, considers why their stand threatened the established political orders, and ponders why they deemed their peacemaking model worth the terrible cost.
Each film will begin at 6:30 at the Charlottesville Mennonite Church. (intersection of Monticello Ave & Avon Street) All are invited; pre-film snacks at 6:00 p.m.; childcare provided; brief discussion after each film.
Footnote to the last film: Among the actors in “The Radicals” is the late Mark Lenard, best known to Star Trek fans as Sarek of Vulcan, father of Spock. “Live long and prosper.” (Or if you prefer, “be well and at peace.”)

Tewks: “Let the Children Dance”

I recently highlighted Gina Bennett’s National Security Mom, with it’s marvelous drawing from the “lessons we teach our children” to understand national security.
I’ve been wondering then what lessons Israel has been purporting to teach to the children of Gaza. Is this the message of the iron fist, that if you dare to mess with Israel, you will be pounded, mercilessly, until you submit? That seems to be logic of Tom Friedman’s latest column, wherein he invokes the “success” of Israel’s pounding of Lebanon in 2006 to explain Israel’s Gaza “strategy:”

“Israel basically said that when dealing with a nonstate actor, Hezbollah, nested among civilians, the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians — the families and employers of the militants — to restrain Hezbollah in the future….That was the education of Hezbollah.”

In Gaza, Friedman can’t quite tell “if Israel is trying to eradicate Hamas or trying to “educate” Hamas, by inflicting a heavy death toll on Hamas militants and heavy pain on the Gaza population.”
Friedman favors “educating” those civilians who would vote for Hamas. He prefers that Israel not “obliterate” them. How magnanimous.
We’re now past 1,000 Gazans dead, including over 300 children. With Gazans now properly “educated,” Friedman deems the time for “diplomacy” with them is at hand
But what lessons have the surviving children learned? Are they now more likely to submit to Israel’s will or turn in despair to very violent means?
As I have struggled with such madness, I came across a lyric from a rising Charlottesville singer/thinker, David Tewks: I post his blog preface and song with his permission.

Continue reading “Tewks: “Let the Children Dance””

Congratulations, Tom Perriello!

Tom Perriello’s lead over mean-spirited rightwinger Virgil Goode in our district’s hard fought congressional race now looks unassailable. The Virginia Democrats’ ‘Raising Kaine’ blog now says that Perriello is 646 votes ahead of Goode, at 158,563 – 157,917 votes.
RK quotes a veteran state political hand as saying that Bedford County is the only jurisdiction that still needs to be retabulated. The state board of elections web-page for Bedford shows us that as of 7:33 last night the numbers involved in correction counting there fell far short of the 650-plus Goode needs: It was three votes here or there they were looking at.
Tom and the state Dems are now claiming victory. Goode has not yet conceded.
Tom Perriello will be a huge improvement over Virgil Goode in the House of Representatives. He is a dedicated social activist where Goode had become a mean-spirited, divisive personality who sought to belittle and exclude immigrants and new Americans. It was also from Goode that I first heard a call to “drill, drill, drill” (oil out of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) being used as a rallying cry.
In a couple of earlier JWN posts I offered Tom Perriello some constructive criticism about some aspects of his campaign. Basically, I thought he was wrong to be so openly critical of those who came before him in Democratic Party, whether locally or nationally.
But thanks in good measure to Tom’s smart and dedicated campaigning we are now in a very welcome new day in Virginia, as throughout the US. And because of the horrible economic crisis now descending on the heads of all the US’s people– but most harshly on those of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable families– we will need Tom’s attention to social organizing and socio-economic and political inclusiveness more than ever. He’ll be a fabulous force for good in Washington, DC!
Thanks to Tom Perriello and all his hardworking supporters!

Thinking of My Son the Lieutenant

(This is Scott writing…. and reflecting)
It’s been a month since I last saw my son Keith, at a dinner where we said our farewells. I miss him; I am concerned for him. It’s taken me too long to write about this.
My angst comes in knowing he leaves for Iraq soon. As I’ve noted here before, my son Keith is an officer in the Virginia National Guard. His engineering unit is now in final preparations in chilly Wisconsin. He will be leaving soon and directly for Iraq, part of a region I’ve dedicated my own career to studying.
No, I don’t want him to go, not under these circumstances. I’m not like Governor Sarah Palin, who last June proclaimed from a church pulpit how her son going to Iraq was somehow “a task from God.” I think too highly of Providence to be so presumptuous. My prayers for Keith are more modest, and, for the moment, private.
The day after 9/11, Keith volunteered to serve his University’s rescue squad. He joined ROTC and earned a scholarship. Not a path I would have chosen. My late father, once a West Pointer, would smile. From all accounts, Keith is today a good officer; he feels honored to be doing his duty.
We see the Iraq war rather differently. Yet our recent conversations and our last dinner were not to be about the cause, but about… Keith and his family. I was speechless; still am.
Helena at the time helpfully reassured me that “for Quakers, being speechless is our most common and usually deepest form of spiritual connection.” I like that. Just being with Keith, his wife, and my grand-daughter was precious. (Jessica is the one who so kindly delayed her birth until my birthday – 9/11 – last year. She’s an angel, just now learning to walk.).
Yes, I did manage to talk a bit, listened hopefully a lot more.
My son is an engineer in training, with a focus on bridge building. (for VDOT) If only he could be doing that for Iraq! I gather his unit will be engaged in “horizontal construction.” (roads & such) I wonder just why it is that Iraqis could not perform such tasks. It seems “trust” remains in short supply.
At a family briefing day in September, I was struck that most of the speakers inserted quick lines to the soldiers about “how much we appreciate your service” — without quite mentioning what it was they were to be doing. We were mercifully spared any of the Bushisms about a “war on terror” and undefined hoo-ahs about “victory.”
We were there vaguely as “a band of families,” even as we are dispersed up and down the east coast. Most Guard member families are isolated; I doubt my son’s neighbors in Augusta County even know he’s been deployed.
Like Vice President elect Joe Biden, when speaking about his son, I wanted – and tried – to tell Keith I am proud of him, that I admire his courage, that I can celebrate his maturity, his achievements in his own right, that I know he will make good decisions, that he is a good leader
Maybe I didn’t get that all out quite right; I had lump-in-throat disorder.
When Keith was told that his former middle school was asking about what they could do for him, what things they could send, Keith at first was a bit defensive. As his unit’s executive officer, he takes pride in making sure his troops are well supplied. (Think Radar — as a Lieutenant!)
But then he swallowed hard and asked quite earnestly that any care packages be sent to his daughter — Jessica — that she gets extra love and attention while Daddy is away….
In that sentiment, I could not be prouder of my son. I salute you Keith.

From that same Monticello portico: a sale

Amid writings about Jefferson and Bush, a friend alerted me to a compelling essay in our local “The Hook” weekly paper — about another irony on the very portico where President Bush spoke. The essay’s author is David Ronka, a gifted guide at Monticello.
In his tours, “Professor” Ronka provides brilliant, well chosen phrases to describe the reasons why we still celebrate Jefferson. Yet David also helps us contemplate his unfinished work, the perplexing paradoxes of the human named Jefferson:

“For as this year’s honored guests are called one by one to the mansion’s West Portico to be welcomed into a future bright with America’s promise, I’ll be reminded of a starkly different event 181 years ago at that same portico.”

While “the sage” of Monticello was profoundly wise in many realms, personal finance was not one of his better suits. After he retired from public life, various schemes to make his estate prosperous, to train and emancipate his own enslaved community, foundered amid repeated economic downturns. Former Presidents then received no pensions, did no speaking tours, had no Presidential libraries. Jefferson knew before his death that he had become insolvent.

“Thus on a frigid January day in 1827, six months after his death, crowds of people flocked to the mountaintop from near and far, drawn by the prospect of purchasing something that had belonged to America’s third president and author of the Declaration of Independence.
On the auction block that day, and highlighted in large boldface on the bill of sale published in the local newspaper: 130 VALUABLE NEGROES, Thomas Jefferson’s slaves.”

Oh ironic wretched fate indeed, that the most valuable “asset” in Jefferson’s failed estate was human flesh. (See actual reproduction of the bill of sale)

“This Fourth of July, from Monticello’s parlor…. I’ll see the ghosts of those 130 men, women, and children huddled against the bitter cold of that distant January day, waiting for their names to be called, not to the promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” as Jefferson famously declared, but into an uncertain and foreboding future.”

Thank you David for the sobering reminders:

“The Fourth of July celebrates America’s birthday, but it also reminds us that there’s still work to be done in perfecting our Union. And that work demands nothing less than our persistent willingness to open our arms– and our hearts– to each other.
We owe that much to the men, women, and children who answered the auctioneer’s call at Monticello 181 years ago. We owe that much to the people we’ll welcome there as new American citizens this Fourth of July. And we owe that much to America’s Founding Fathers, who pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor in the cause of the freedoms we enjoy today.”

Bush misquotes Jefferson

Stirred by President Bush’s actual comments at Monticello on July 4th, Ruhi Ramazani and I (sh) published a comment in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch: Bush’s War Betrays the Sage of Monticello’s Vision for Liberty.
As we suggested last week, President Bush’s decision to speak at Monticello, the first visit of his life, sought a Jeffersonian stamp of approval for his own foreign policy legacy. (Here’s the WhiteHouse link to the speech.)

Ironically, President Bush sought to don the Jefferson mantle by claiming that, “We honor Jefferson’s legacy by aiding the rise of liberty in lands that do not know the blessings of freedom. And on this Fourth of July, we pay tribute to the brave men and women who wear the uniform of the United States of America.”

As the often forgotten founder of the US Military Academy, Jefferson likely would not object to honoring a professional American military. Yet we also contend that Jefferson would have turned over in his grave at the thought that his beloved country had justified “a war of choice” and occupation in the name of promoting democracy.
Having recently been a Jefferson Fellow focused on Jefferson’s reflections on the Declaration of Independence, I was particularly startled when I heard President Bush misquote a 24 June 1826 Jefferson letter, written just before his death, to Robert Weightman. The full passage in the original reads:

May it be to the world what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all), the Signal of arousing men to burst the chains, under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self government

This is the same letter cited accurately last Monday by Bill Kristol in his New York Times column.
But President Bush’s speech tellingly deleted the clause referencing “monkish ignorance and superstition.”

This omission matters because the full quote reflects Jefferson’s long-held doubts about democracy taking root elsewhere. Unlike Bush, Jefferson believed that before democracy can flourish, citizens and their culture must be receptive to democratic principles, including the rule of law and respect for minority rights.

Our essay then highlights means Jefferson endorsed for exporting democratic ideals — leading by example, via information, and through education.
We close with a reference to a theme I wrote about here at jwn last year — about the simple, yet so often forgotten original purpose of the Declaration:

More than a listing of grievances and abstract principles, it was crafted to declare independence — to proclaim America’s determination before a “candid world” to govern itself.
As the world granted America that liberty to choose its own path, so too “The Sage of Monticello” would see wisdom in America granting other countries the same freedom

What a concept.

Bush at Monticello: The Irony

Dan Jordan, outgoing and venerated President of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, is getting more “love” than usual this past week. Many were dismayed that Monticello, Jefferson’s historic home, had invited George Bush to speak at its annual naturalization ceremony on July 4th. Others were miffed that the Foundation “permitted” the audience to include “indecent” demonstrators who were less than impressed by the President. (See this link for debate within the local activist community on the propriety of protests.)
To clarify, the Foundation every year issues an invitation to the sitting President to speak at Monticello. This year, President Bush accepted the invitation.
Previously scheduled speaker Kenneth Burns deferred to the President. Burns would have been following last year’s outstanding speaker, actor Sam Waterson. I commented on Waterston’s magnificent “Commencement Speech for America” here.
As for the many hecklers in the audience, the Foundation released 1,000 or so free general audience tickets on Wednesday morning. To its credit, no attempt was made to restrict who could get those tickets. Early birds got those worms. How refreshing it was that the President encountered some “free speech,” unlike so many other venues where potential protesters are kept far, far away.
I too was moved to comment upon the profound irony of the spectacle — the 43rd President belatedly getting around to visiting with the 3rd President, known to many as the “author of America.” My commentary with Ruhi Ramazani was distributed via Agence Global. I can now post it here, with notes and links we couldn’t put into the original:
Bush’s Last Fourth
by Wm. Scott Harrop and R. K. Ramazani Released: 5 Jul 2008

Irony abounds in President George W. Bush’s decision to speak at Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, on the last July 4th that he will occupy the Oval Office.
For it was Jefferson who wrote in America’s Declaration of Independence that “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires” the colonies to set forth the reasons for their rebellion before a “candid world.” America’s founders agreed — international legitimacy mattered. Two hundred and thirty-two years later, the conscious disregard for the “opinions of mankind” has come to define the Bush presidency.

If that sounds a little strong, it’s calmer than an earlier draft, which wondered if Bush came seeking to wrap his foreign policies in the cover, the perceived legitimacy that speaking from Jefferson’s porch would afford to his controversial legacy.

In the Bush view, the world commonly reduced to being either “with us or against us.” His former press secretary Scott McClellan illustrates the problem in his recent book, What Happened. Lacking respect for international opinion, Bush created alliances with leaders of a “coalition of the willing,” not their citizens. Bush praised those leaders who stood with him for being “tough” and “strong” despite intense criticism from their own publics.
This disregard for the opinions of mankind yielded a bitter harvest. In the aftermath of 9/11, most of the world sympathized with America. But America’s reputation abroad plummeted since 2002, as documented by multiple international public opinion surveys.

Continue reading “Bush at Monticello: The Irony”

Charlottesville forum: US, Iran, & Hope?

For those near Charlottesville, Virginia Sunday evening, consider joining a forum on US-Iran Relations that convenes at 6:00 p.m. at the Charlottesville Mennonite Church. (corner of Monticello Ave. and Avon Streets)
Hosted by Rev. Roy Hange, (who lived in Iran with his family earlier this decade) the forum features a panel of three Iran observers, Carah Ong, myself (Scott Harrop), and our venerable neighbor R.K. Ramazani.
Long time readers of Just World News will recall we have featured Professor Ramazani’s essays several times. Drawing from his 55 years (and counting) of scholarship and observations on US-Iran relations, I anticipate he will be focusing on the paradox of what divides and yet pulls together Iran and the United States, nearly 3 decades after the Iranian revolution.
Carah Ong is currently the Iran Policy Analyst at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation. See her solid Iran focused blog, especially her coverage of Iran nuclear issues, Congress, and interesting reports of her recent journey to Iran.
Our prepared comments will consider our working question — what “reasons for hope” can we discern for improving ties between the US and Iran?
As a hook to the evening, see the Thursday night University of Georgia panel of five former American Secretaries of State, Powell, Albright, Kissinger, Baker, and even Christopher, and how they agreed on two points — that Gitmo needs to be shut down and that the US should be talking to Iran.
Fancy that. For the past seven years, the Bush Administration has been trapped by its own novel idea, at least towards Iran, that a state doesn’t talk to other states of which it disapproves, lest it somehow grant them “legitimacy” in the talking. Our current Secretary of State now claims she wishes to talk to Iran, even as she retains conditions widely known to short-circuit the process.
That five former Secretary of States appear to have repudiated that approach, at least to me, provides a significant ray of hope. That said, even If we at least can see the need to talk to Iran, questions remain not just about what to talk about, yet also how we should talk to Iran with any hope of a positive result
Learning “how to talk to Iran” will be the focus of my remarks. Stay tuned. (or better yet, join us live.)
Note: Charlottesville Mennonite Church is located just to the south east of the downtown mall. Here’s conventional directions on how to get to it: 701 Monticello Avenue.

Ramazani: “Bridging the Divides”

** Updates posted below **
As regular justworldnews readers will recognize, Helena and I have presented and commented on numerous essays here by R.K. – “Ruhi” – Ramazani. Here’s one on Jefferson & Iraq, another on “Making Gulf Security Durable,” and this one on why massive arms sales are not the answer. Tomorrow, he faces a complex heart surgery.
On the eve of this potential life crossroad, the University of Virginia, via UVA Today on-line, published a multimedia tribute to Professor Ramazani’s generous service to students, the University, and to the cause of “understanding” between Americans and peoples of the Middle East.
I especially like Professor William Quandt’s comment at the essay end:

“One of Ruhi’s great hopes has been that he could personally help bridge the divide between the country of his birth, Iran, and the country where has lived for most of his adult life, the United States,” said William B. Quandt, the Edward R. Stettinius, Jr., Professor of Government and Foreign Affairs and an expert on the Middle East. “It remains to be seen whether Ruhi’s hope for reconciliation between the two countries he knows best will take place, but if and when it does, he will have played an important role behind the scenes.”

Several years ago, I published a biographical sketch of how Ramazani’s scholarship has compelling echoes in his own life journey. I hope to have it available on line shortly. I’m also in the early stages of a project to “digitize” the best of his half century of writings for ready access to all via the web.
The UVA Today item includes marvelous clips from a recent interview with “the” Professor himself. (look for the link near the top right) In addition to the quotes on what the University has meant to him, about America’s fixation with “fixing” things, and his ending optimism about the “oneness of humankind,” do enjoy the breathtaking scenery behind him. Warms the heart.
Let’s send our good thoughts, wishes, and prayers for his surgery and speedy recovery. We can endeavor to emulate the bridgebuilder; but not replace him.
Update as of Sept. 26h, 5:00 p.m. est: Via Ruhi’s family, we are greatly encouragedby the good reports from the outstanding University of Virginia heart surgeons. Ruhi has pulled through the surgery, with even a few positive surprises. Thank you Dr. Kron!
Ruhi, enjoy your “vacation….” :-} We – and the world – still need you.

Secluded trail “Secret” in Ch’ville

I, for one, am impressed that Helena manages to keep running, and running well, even while writing an instant important book. Bravo!
Alas, I’ve not been one to run much on hard surfaces, not since breaking an ankle running X-country decades ago on a hard road course in West Chester, PA. Yet I have been “running” a lot lately, mostly on softer surfaces. I’m always on the look-out for “softer” trails for walking and running — and getting away from cars and crowds.
At the risk then of spoiling a well-kept exercise secret around Charlottesville, I recently have been enjoying the new extensions to the Saunders Trail system. I am not talking about the popular Saunders Trail that begins at a parking area near the intersections of Route 53 and 20 and extends nearly two miles to the Monticello entrance.
The core Saunders Trail is so well designed and maintained by the private Monticello Foundation that even wheel-chair athletes can enjoy its perfect grading. I recommend the upper boardwalk section of the main trail late in the fall, when the leaves are down and just before sunset — great vistas.
But I’ve never been one to stick to the “beaten path.” So last fall I began exploring rather un-marked side trails that cut up into the steep hills along the trails. Somebody maintains these side trails nicely. If you go back these side trails, don’t be in a hurry — as they can be confusing, until you come to the next intersection. (!) For locals who know the general topography, such mild uncertainty is “invigorating.”
The newest formal addition to the Saunders trail system comes in the form of 2+ miles of informal mowed trails that wind in and around the 150 acre “Secluded Farm.” If you like “soft trails” in pastoral settings, these are great for exercise and for reflection. Road-runners may find the “carpets” soothing when the joints get sore from pavement pounding.
Alas, unless you get high up onto the ridge, the sounds of highways and “civilization” are often too nearby. (For a real escape, that’s what the George Washington National Forest or Shenandoah are for — but those fragile glimpses of paradise are an hour away.)
For a regular nearby sanctuary, I’m grateful to Monticello for these trails and for not charging us to enjoy them. May these “green pastures” go on restoring many a soul and heart.
And let’s keep it a secret too. :-}