Roel sent me this open letter to Ken Burns this morning, and I thought it was worth posting here. The entire piece is here: http://www.bestcyrano.org/THOMASPAINE/?p=332, but here's an excerpt:
‘The War,’ Mr. Burns, is the Yokosuka rape queues in August 1945, with GI’s lined up for blocks, two abreast, to get at the Japanese girls enslaved in ‘comfort stations’ for them—with the full cooperation of the American and Japanese authorities. Destitute, vulnerable girls were raped into unconsciousness as the men joked and laughed and jostled in line, waiting their turn. Some girls bled to death. Some committed suicide—that is, the lucky ones who could escape. Not one ‘comfort girl’ has told her story—due to shame. Why did you not tell this particular ‘intimate history’ of ‘The War,’ Mr. Burns? Especially since ‘usage’ of the girls was almost 100%. Why has the small detail that almost every GI in Japan, 1945, was a rapist escaped you? Why his this big ‘dirty secret’ of war never been covered?
‘The War,’ Mr. Burns, is the men who lined up to use the prostitutes on Hotel Street in Honolulu: women were raped 100 times a day—a different man entered the girl every three minutes. Why should I mourn these rapists when they were killed in the attack at Pearl Harbor? They slaughtered the bodies of these women in a fashion far more brutal than any bombing could ever be.
The War,’ Mr. Burns, is the widespread rape of French girls by GI’s after they ‘liberated’ Paris. Rape by American soldiers was so common that Eisenhower actually had to acknowledge it was happening, although he did nothing to stop
‘The War’ is the public parks in Palermo, where pimps considerately laid out mattresses so the GI’s could fuck starving Italian girls comfortably, for a dollar or two a turn.
The War’ is homeless, prostituted girls in Berlin doing it in the rubble for a few cents and agreeing to ‘share’ a GI bed so they would simply have a place to sleep that night. This, after they had already had the insides raped out of them by the invading Russian army and then were labeled ‘whores’ since it was a convenient way for the authorities to deal with these ‘ruined’ women.""
The back story of human history is the story of anyone not exciting enough to be a star - the elderly, the sick, the disabled, the poor, and especially women. And the stars often get carte blanche to inflict as much "collateral" damage as they'd like in the pursuit of our goals - and that that is part of the *point* of many of our actions. That is, as Bosnia and Abu Ghraib and other recent atrocities have pointed out to us - destroying civilian lives, torturing people, raping women - those are part of the point of war, and part of the point of taking political power. They are not accidents, they are not collateral - instead, when we show our power and our strength, we show it by hurting the vulnerable.
I do not agree with the writer's claim that war is a particularly male perversion, nor do I think that none of what Burns so lovingly portrays about heroics is true - say rather that the two are simultaneously, horrifyingly, the truth, and that that is what history is - the juxtaposition of all the truths. But I do think that we must open our eyes to "collateral" damage and recognize that it is not accidental, or unintentional. For example, the collateral damage we in the rich world do to the poor world is not merely an expression of unintentional harm, but is avoidable, and operates to show our power and our wealth.
I worry about women's future after peak oil and climate change. As all over the world we get hungrier and poorer, and wars break out over food and water and fossil fuels, women will pay the price in ways that men won't. Women are always poorer than men. Hunger drives women to prostitution, war legitimizes rape, poverty make the protection of the weak a low priority. Climate change will play itself out in laboratories and in news stories about drought. It will only rarely appear as news stories about young girls sold into sexual slavery because their families can't feed them. Peak oil will appear in the news as war in the middle east and stories of gas shortages - but only rarely in the form of women raped by soldiers. When food starts going short, we will speak loudly of how awful overpopulation is, but only rarely of how often women are powerless to control their own bodies. But the truth is that the sheer numbers of scientists holding press conferences will be vastly smaller than the number of girls weeping after the first man rapes them.
I once read a review of _Saving Private Ryan_ that observed that in our new glorification of "the good war" we seem to have forgotten all the lessons of "the bad war" - that is, Vietnam. That is, that the message of World War II movies is that the greatest horror of war is the bad things that can happen to you in war. The message of Vietnam movies is that the greatest horror of war is the bad things war requires you to do to other people. And as we've replaced Vietnam movies with a preference (who wouldn't prefer them) for World War II movies, we've shaken off the underlying recognition that in some ways, death isn't the worst thing that can happen to us - that becoming the evil you are supposed to be resisting is worse.
We cannot afford the war we are in now, much less any future wars. We cannot afford the dead and lost soldiers, and we cannot afford the moral destruction of making a generation of soldiers into people who will commit atrocities. We cannot afford the artificial division of families into those at home waiting, or those at home prostituting themselves for food, and those off fighting and visiting prostitutes. We cannot afford the notion that the vulnerable, the poor, the sick, the old and women are acceptable collateral damage as we struggle to keep our cars on the road. We cannot afford to be the kind of people who know only the front room history, and keep the rest of the truth hidden in back, under a stack of corpses.
We cannot afford to lie to ourselves about the past or about the future. We cannot afford a simple version of history. We cannot afford to take the anger of those who suffer "collateral" damage for granted, if only because they are us. All of us are either women or have women we love in our lives. All of us will someday be old, most of us will someday be poor, each of us has been a child, each has had or will have moments of sickness and debility. And even if it never comes to us, it will transform us, either into the kind of people who resist destroying others with all their might, or the kind of people who accept it, and silence the voice of history.
About a year ago, I wrote "Peak Oil is a Women's Issue" http://casaubonsbook.blogspot.com/2006/11/peak-oil-is-womens-issue.html because I was worried that in the rhetoric about energy, we were losing sight of a major part of how peak oil would play out. I am even more certain that that is true today - that as long as our discussion focuses on electric rail, hybrid cars and getting solar panels on the homes of the middle class, we are losing the battle to protect ordinary people, from the consequences of ordinary poverty and ordinary hungry, and that a majority of the victims will be women and girls, elderly people and the disabled, whose history and voices simply get shoved to the back room.