Between Friends


Where were you when the Allies stormed the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944? Were you only a glimmering in your parents’ brains?


Where were you when the Battle of Khe Sanh began on January 21, 1968? Were you nursing the bone spurs in your heels that would eventually earn you a medical deferment from the draft? Or were you awaiting a pilot’s commission in the Texas Air National Guard?

Refugee child drawing
A drawing made by a refugee child, formerly resident in Pristina, Kosovo, depicting his horrific experiences in the Kosovo War in 1999. The drawing was taped to a wall in the Brazda refugee center in Macedonia. Photo from the U.S. Department of State and NATO.

Where were you when the United States and its allies launched the invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003, beginning an unnecessary war that would spiral the entire region into chaos? Were you looking under furniture for weapons of mass destruction, something you would joke about later?

Where were you when the world learned in April 2004 that American soldiers had been torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison? Were you throwing a few “bad apples” under the bus, rather than acknowledging a culture of cruelty encouraged from the top down in the chain of command? Or were you busy making the first year of your daytime television talk show a success? Or were you occupied with creating an illusion of yourself as a successful and hard-nosed, but fair, businessman on the first year of your television reality show that was more fiction than reality?

Dire Straits performs “The Man’s Too Strong” in concert at Wembley Arena in London, England in June 1985 during their Brothers in Arms tour.

Where were you in 2008 after conservatives had used the wedge issue of gay marriage four years earlier to whip up the ire of homophobic reactionaries and send them to the polls in just enough numbers to make it possible for the Republican candidate to steal another presidential election? Were you getting married? What does your friend, the Republican presidential candidate, have to say about that now? Is he against gay marriage only when it suits political expediency?

Where were you in August 2016 when the Turks made their first incursion into the Kurdish zone of Syria, where the Kurds had been America’s ally in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria (ISIS)? Were you listening to what the Russians had to say about your Democratic opponent in the presidential election, a practice you appear to have made into a habit since then as you extort other countries to get them to investigate your political rivals?

And where were all three of you when the brains were being passed out? It’s nice for people to have friends, but some friends are not worth having, such as a narcissistic sociopath or a war criminal, both of whom have proven time and again they look out only for themselves, and maybe their cronies as well. And in the sense of cronyism, a crony is not a true friend. And a friend may be a “sweet man” in private, but that shouldn’t shut out all the harm he’s caused in the world. Millions of Iraqis and Kurds may reflect on the old saying that “with friends like these, who needs enemies?”

— Vita

David Gilmour, best known as the lead guitarist for Pink Floyd, performs the Pink Floyd song “Coming Back to Life” with a new band backing him in a concert at Pompeii, Italy in July 2016.


Shut Up, Messengers, and Sing


The controversy in January over Meryl Streep’s remarks upon accepting an award at the Golden Globes seemed to have centered on whether an entertainment industry ceremony was the appropriate time and place for a famous actress to air her political concerns. Lost in all the hullabaloo were Ms. Streep’s actual remarks and how they concerned a humanitarian issue more than a political one, namely that we treat each other with respect and dignity, and that a good example should start with the president of the country.

Perhaps the most notable incident of humanitarian protest at a Hollywood awards ceremony occurred in March 1973, when Marlon Brando refused his Oscar for best actor in 1972’s The Godfather and asked Sacheen Littlefeather to speak for him at the podium. Brando was upset at the treatment of Native Americans in movies and television, and he also wanted to shine a light on the siege by federal agents of the Wounded Knee occupiers, which until then had drawn little media attention. Brando and Littlefeather succeeded in getting American news media to note what was happening at Wounded Knee. Their long term goal of turning around the portrayal of Native Americans in popular media is still a work in progress. The momentum of centuries of stereotyping by the dominant European culture is slowing but not stopped.

Meanwhile Ms. Littlefeather, more than Brando then and Streep now, took a tremendous amount of abuse in the press over her role in the incident. She was not a famous actress known for a lifetime of work in the public eye, she was female, and she was part Indian. Some in the press even intimated she was not Indian at all, implying she was a phony and therefore no one need pay attention to anything she said. In an interview on The Dick Cavett Show after the Oscar ceremony, starting at the 6:30 mark of the video clip included in this post, Mr. Brando expressed regret for having put her in such a vulnerable position. Beating up on the messenger is an old tactic, for some a gut reaction to unwelcome news, and for others a cynical ploy to distract from the message, and anyone who tells unpleasant truths has to prepare for it as much as possible. Still, withstanding the onslaught can be an ordeal.

The Dixie Chicks learned that unpleasant lesson in 2003 and beyond when, on account of humanitarian concerns, they made remarks critical of the rush to war in Iraq. It seems that calling out jingoism is the most unwelcome news of all for sunshine patriots, considering the level of vitriol they heaped on these singers. Fourteen years later, what has the uncritical pose of much of the major popular and news media toward the Bush administration’s justifications for war in Iraq brought to Iraqis and Americans that has proved worthwhile, that has proved anything but a destructive waste? And where do the jingoists stand on that now? They have not learned a thing, and instead have turned their attention elsewhere in the world, fanning embers into flames.
― Vita