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American Mothers and War

Mother’s Day in the US was originally conceived of as a holiday against war and for peace.  This was based on a sentiment that supposes mothers know better than anyone the pointlessness of war’s blood and death since it was their children who do the dying.  Susan Galleymore’s recently published book Long Time Passing: Mothers Speak About War & Terror takes this premise and moves it to today’s headlines.  Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and the United States.

Interviews and statements from mothers of soldiers, bombers and children killed by all of the former pepper this book with modern conflict’s sheer brutality, pointlessness and just plain sadness.  Underneath the narrative lies a barely contained rage that not only permeates the text but focuses it.  There are no sane reasons for this bloodshed and misery is Galleymore’s message; only the logic of greed and revenge.  Greed and revenge tainted by religion, nationalism, and the hubris of a few men who risk very little except for other mother’s children.

Although the text is occasionally uneven, with most of the testimony coming out of Iraq, Israel and Palestine, there is a consistency to the stories here.  Some mothers express an inconsolable anger while others seem to have opted for an almost zen-like acceptance of their children’s deaths in the world’s battles.  The consistency referred to is not in how they deal with their children’s deaths, but in their common desire that no other mothers suffer like they have.  The most evocative stories come from Iraq and Palestine, in part because Galleymore spent the most time in those two broken nations, but perhaps also because the perpetrators of the death in those places are so close to Galleymore’s own life story.  Indeed, her son served in Iraq and Afghanistan.  This fact was not only the motivation for Galleymore’s visit to Iraq and other nations in the Middle East, but was also a motivation to wrote this book.  It is part of her attempt to understand not only what her nation and its ally Israel have done to their chosen enemies that spurred this project but also to understand what compelled her son to join the US military.

Galleymore addresses this very issue in the book’s section on the United States.  To be honest, this part of the text drew the least sympathy from this reader.  Much of what is written here is difficult to sympathize with.  We read the letters of a soldier describing his unit’s interactions with the Iraqi people–indiscriminate killing and fear accompanied by a growing hatred of the mission and the people he was told he was sent to liberate.  More stories of poorly equipped US troops going into battles they should never have fought because they should never have been in Iraq.  Underlying it all is a failure to understand that there is no lasting glory in their mission beyond the individual acts performed on that battlefield they don’t belong.

After these tales of the hardships of the occupiers, Galleymore asks the question she was asked by some of her interviewees in those nations under the US (or its ally Israel) military’s boot.  How can American mothers allow their children to join in this endeavor of conquering and occupation?    Why don’t the mothers of US children considering the military just tell them “no?”

In response, Galleymore considers the cultural assumptions that create the dynamic whereby young Americans join the military despite their mothers’ objections.   In the United States, writes Galleymore, 18-year-olds can “make legally binding choices independent of parents and family, including the choice to enlist in the military.”  Many parents go along with this choice, believing that the military will somehow teach their child discipline.  It may very well do that, writes Galleymore, but it also teaches those children to kill.  This is what most Americans refuse to openly acknowledge: that they have allowed their child to learn how to kill other humans.  In more collectivist cultures like many of those in the Middle East and Central Asia, argues the author, where family, clan, and parental respect are paramount, it is extremely unlikely that a son would enlist without permission from the head of the family.  Then again, here in the United States, the military is everywhere–schools, television, video games.

Our culture is permeated with the military’s presence.  Boys and girls as young as eleven go to summer camps sponsored by the US Army.  Recruiters roam the halls of many high schools and shopping malls looking for future soldiers and marines.  Malls lend shop space to military recruiters  for a weekend geared toward elementary and middle school age children that includes all the free video games kids want to play.  All they need to provide the recruiters on site is their name and social security number.  A few months later the phone calls, text messages and emails began coming, encouraging the youngster to consider joining the military.  If these recruiters were working for a gang besides the military, they would be chased out of town and condemned for the predators they are.

The United States has the mother of two young girls living in the White House now.  From all appearances Michelle Obama seems to be a wonderful mom.  One wonders what she would tell a military recruiter if they called her home looking for Malia or sent her oldest daughter an email extolling the virtues of enlisting in the military.  Hopefully, she would be appalled at the sheer audacity of a recruiter attempting to influence a child.  Yet, this is what the military does.  Without shame.  Of course, if the United States was not so insistent on maintaining and expanding its reach via the sword, then perhaps the military wouldn’t feel compelled to kidnap the minds of middle-schoolers.

One way to change (and perhaps the only way) the drive for empire Washington and Wall Street have locked this nation into is by resisting that drive.  A good place to start is by making the mothers of those children who fight Washington’s wars aware of the consequences of their inaction is.  A good place to start this awareness is at the top.  So, let me suggest that when you finish reading  Long Time Passing: Mothers Speak About War & Terror you mail your copy to Michelle Obama at the White House.  Perhaps she’ll take the time to read it.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: rjacobs3625@charter.net

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Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

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