The Gulf War photo no one would publish

The Iraqi soldier died attempting to pull himself up over the dashboard of his truck. The flames engulfed his vehicle and incinerated his body, turning him to dusty ash and blackened bone. In a photograph taken soon afterward, the soldier’s hand reaches out of the shattered windshield, which frames his face and chest. The colors and textures of his hand and shoulders look like those of the scorched and rusted metal around him. Fire has destroyed most of his features, leaving behind a skeletal face, fixed in a final rictus. He stares without eyes.

On February 28, 1991, Kenneth Jarecke stood in front of the charred man, parked amid the carbonized bodies of his fellow soldiers, and photographed him. At one point, before he died this dramatic mid-retreat death, the soldier had had a name. He’d fought in Saddam Hussein’s army and had a rank and an assignment and a unit. He might have been devoted to the dictator who sent him to occupy Kuwait and fight the Americans. Or he might have been an unlucky young man with no prospects, recruited off the streets of Baghdad.

Jarecke took the picture just before a ceasefire officially ended Operation Desert Storm—the U.S.-led military action that drove Saddam Hussein and his troops out of Kuwait, which they had annexed and occupied the previous August. The image and its anonymous subject might have come to symbolize the Gulf War. Instead, it went unpublished in the United States, not because of military obstruction but because of editorial choices.

RTFA for a sensitive, thoughtful discussion – decades after this young man was killed. My hatred for war is no surprise to any of our regular readers. Even the only “just” war in my lifetime – the war against fascism, World War 2.

That war produced two books which have guided my whole life – in war and peace, about war and peace. I doubt if either are easily available anymore. BEACH RED by Peter Bowman is a short novel in what he called sprung prose, as much poetry as prose – as much about death and dying as anything else. DAYS AND NIGHTS by Konstantin Simonov is a heroic tale from a journalist who lived through the siege of Stalingrad. It is a love story.

Photographs like this are also an important part of how we look at war. Outside of dispatches published in newspapers; curt, prosaic sound bites on TV. As hard as it is to look at this photo, I think it should be a required part of anyone’s education.

Thanks, Mike

Descanso honors BREAKING BAD’s Walter White

Descanso honors “Breaking Bad” character Walter Whitecourtesy of Michelle Valdez-Browning

“Breaking Bad” fans continue to honor Walter White.

North Valley resident Michelle Valdez-Browning and her brother, Marc Valdez, and son Aaron Browning made a descanso near the Nazi compound where White passed away in the show. (A descanso is a roadside memorial that commemorates a site where a person died. They are seen along roads in New Mexico.)

Valdez-Browning says her brother was part of the locations crew who helped scout the various areas…“He put his heart and soul into finding the right places,” she says.

Once the show aired, the trio decided to pay tribute to White and put the descanso in front of the area…The location is near Second and Los Ranchos Road NW.

In case you want to be among the hundreds who continue to visit Albuquerque to pay their respects.

Italy memorial to Fascist commander Graziani is an ethical stain

Graziani – commanding Italian forces in Libya

A political row has erupted in Italy after a memorial was opened to fascist commander Field Marshal Rodolfo Graziani, a convicted war criminal.

Graziani was honoured with a mausoleum and memorial park, built at taxpayers’ expense, in a village south of Rome.

He was notorious as Benito Mussolini’s military commander in colonial wars in Ethiopia and Libya where he carried out massacres and used chemical weapons…

“Is it possible to allow, accept or simply tolerate that, in 2012, we dedicate a park and a museum to the fascist general and minister Rodolfo Graziani?” asked Esterino Montino, head of the Democratic Party in the Lazio region.

He pointed to the “crimes against humanity committed by Graziani in Ethiopia in the 1930s”, La Repubblica newspaper reports.

Graziani was sentenced to 19 years’ imprisonment for war crimes in 1948 but was released from jail after serving only two years, and died in 1955.

The BBC’s David Willey, in Rome, says that the cult of fascist heroes remains alive in certain parts of Italy despite the outlawing of the fascist party in the country’s postwar constitution.

He adds that it is curious, however, that there has been no formal protest that a crypto-fascist mayor of a small town near the capital can, in 2012, publicly honour a man who brought death to thousands of Africans and dishonour to his own country.

The mayor of the village of Affile attended the opening ceremony on Saturday

He was accompanied by a representative from the Vatican. That’s no surprise either.

Martin Luther King Jr memorial dedicated this coming weekend

Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

The morning sun that came up over Washington’s Tidal Basin on Monday illuminated a new memorial opening to the public for the first time: a plaza and statue honoring the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

President Barack Obama is scheduled to dedicate the site on Sunday, but the media and visitors were allowed to take part in a “soft” preview as construction crews complete their final touches.

“I feel like I’m standing on holy ground,” said Donnie Simons, nearly overcome with emotion at the sight of the granite portrayal of King.

The D.C. resident told CNN, “What Dr. King means to me and this world, and the things that he stood for, for us to give him this kind of commemoration, for my kids and my grandkids, they’re going to be able to stand here and see this as well.”

Another visitor, who drove up from Atlanta for the preview, told CNN the memorial is “breathtaking,” in how the 30-foot tall sculpture faces the Tidal Basin, overlooking the water in front of the Jefferson Memorial.

“It’s an emotional response,” said Erica Nicole Griffin, “but it’s also a sense of ‘wow, this is finally happening.'”

The early visitors represented a variety of ethnic backgrounds. “I would have expected that,” said Wayne Cunningham of California, on a family vacation to the nation’s capital, “because I think he’s a symbol of not just the blacks but all cultures and all races.”

Groundbreaking took place in November 2006, and the dedication on Sunday is timed with the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington, where King delivered his historic speech, “I Have a Dream.”

I was there for the original speech. Working security for some of the speakers I was off to the side of things – keeping an eye out for racist idiots. But, I could hear every word as clearly as anyone out front. A few years later I got to open for Dr. King a couple of times in Chicago – the man never let a crowd off with an “easy” speech.

It was a tough day of travel by train – in a group mostly organized by Black ministers from my home town. And all worth it.

The best chuckles were in the organizing: leafletting the central Catholic church in my neighborhood, inviting folks to come along and participate, the priest came out on the steps and ordered parishioners leaving mass not to read or accept that “commie propaganda”. Only topped by the chief of police exiting the same mass and presuming I was handing out leaflets because I knew he was there. Which I didn’t. But, I especially would have had I known. 🙂

CNN looks to be carrying the dedication, Sunday. Please watch and remember an important part of American history.

FDR Four Freedoms Memorial rises in N.Y.C. East River

New York’s East River swirls around a roofless room, an unfinished shrine built of massive stones. It’s the first visible part of what will be a five-acre memorial to Franklin Delano Roosevelt at the southern tip of the island renamed for him.

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park was one of the final designs of architect Louis I. Kahn, who died in 1974, a year after beginning work on the project. For years, politics and economics conspired to halt work. Now it is finally being built almost exactly as Kahn designed it.

At the time it was conceived, the Vietnam War was ending, an oil embargo was pushing up gasoline prices, and Kahn had just designed or built his greatest buildings, such the vaulted travertine galleries of the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth and the eerily monumental capital complex in Dhaka, Bangladesh…

We hiked along the edge of the island, dodging equipment and a high pile of soil. Bulldozers will smooth that pile into a 24-foot-high sloping wedge. When it’s complete, visitors will ascend to the top on a wide stair and then gradually descend through a tree-lined garden that narrows toward the island tip.

The garden culminates in a small stone plaza with a single pylon holding a 1933 bust of Roosevelt by Jo Davidson, selected by Kahn. It stands sentinel at the entrance of the roofless square room that is the focus of the composition. The four foundational freedoms that Roosevelt spelled out in 1941 (of speech and worship, from fear and want) will be cut into the back of the pylon. A low parapet will direct the viewer’s gaze southward to the curving lower reaches of the river.

Kahn makes a contemplative space in the middle of the city’s noise and bustle, as he did with his Salk Institute for Biological Studies, in La Jolla, California, letting the river replace the infinite sea as the element opening the imagination…

Kahn’s design hasn’t dated, and I find myself wistful for Roosevelt, who forcefully steered the nation through the Great Depression and World War II. I hope visitors give both men their due.

I share James Russell’s hope albeit with little confidence. Obama and his advisors lack both the gumption and commitment to working people that led Roosevelt to betray his class.

And the leaders of the class that owns this nation, that manipulates teabaggers and stock markets with as much ease and facility as their Madison Avenue flunkies orchestrate elections and beer campaigns may lack the class hatred that characterized Republicans in the first half of the 20th Century – but, having learned to mask their power in Federalist zeal and Christian devotion to Walt Disney cartoons of government, their power is no less. Their opposition to Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms is closer to success than anytime in our country’s history.

Vienna prepares to honor Austrians who deserted Hitler’s army

Hitler’s “defense” force marching into Austria, 12 March 1938

The Austrian capital Vienna has announced plans to erect a memorial in honour of soldiers who deserted from Adolf Hitler’s army, the Wehrmacht.

The city council has yet to decide the exact location, but campaigners want it to be put in Heldenplatz (Heroes Square) alongside war memorials. The square is also where Hitler, born in Austria, addressed crowds in 1938 when Austria was annexed to Germany…

Two years ago Austria’s parliament agreed to rehabilitate soldiers criminalised by the Nazis for deserting from the Wehrmacht.

The decision to erect a memorial was endorsed by the socialist and green parties which form Vienna’s municipal government coalition. Vienna Green Party leader David Ellensohn said the monument could be modelled on other memorials to Wehrmacht deserters in some German cities…

“In large parts of the Austrian population deserters are still considered cowards, traitors, even comrade-killers. A monument – and especially the public debate around the erection of the monument – could somehow change that.”

Mr Geldmacher said an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 Austrians deserted from the Wehrmacht, especially in the final days of World War II.

And someday – someday – the United States may even honor those who deserted from our war on VietNam.

Not yet. The chickenhawks who run for public office still reinforce the patriotic agitprop that sends young men and women off to invade lands judged threatening to the United States – regardless of history and truth.

In Poland, a memorial becomes a religious battleground – UPDATED

Young people “sick of living in a medieval society

Every day, a small group of protesters gathers across the street from Poland’s presidential palace. Some kneel, others weep before pictures of those who died last April when the plane carrying President Lech Kaczynski, his wife and 94 other Polish politicians and civil servants crashed in western Russia.

The demonstrators’ main focus is a simple, wooden cross of 4 meters that was erected outside the presidential palace soon after the crash in Smolensk. They say they have no intention of giving up their vigil or of taking down the cross until a monument to Mr. Kaczynski and the other victims of the Smolensk crash is placed in front of the presidential palace…Since then, there has been a standoff between the demonstrators who call themselves the Defenders of the Cross and the authorities…

The cross has become a religious, patriotic and political symbol that makes the demonstrators almost untouchable,” said Jacek Kucharczyk, director of the Institute of Public Affairs, an independent research organization in Warsaw. “This is a test of the church’s influence and those political parties who hide behind the cross…”

During the presidential campaign last June, priests urged worshipers to vote for Mr. Kaczynski, some even saying it would be a sin if worshipers voted for Bronislaw Komorowski, a supporter of the center-right Civic Platform government who was eventually elected president…

Over the past decade, the number of candidates for priesthood has declined 30 percent, according to the Conference of the Polish Episcopate. Admissions to the church’s 84 seminaries have plummeted 30 percent in the past three years. Admissions to female religious orders have halved, falling 15 percent last year alone. And even though nine-tenths of Poland’s 38 million inhabitants still call themselves Roman Catholics, the majority follow their own interpretation of the church’s pronouncements on moral issues, according to opinion polls.

Because of these problems, Mr. Cichocki says the church has shown little courage in trying to end the dispute over the cross. But neither has Donald Tusk, the prime minister and leader of Civic Platform. Without informing the demonstrators or the public, Mr. Tusk recently and almost secretly unveiled a commemorative plaque to the Smolensk victims on the wall of the Presidential Palace. He said he hoped it would end the dispute, but that clearly has not happened.

Don’t think fundamentalists in the United States have the market cornered on nutball manifestations. We all know what flavor of Christian someone is talking about when they refer to the American Taliban; but, descendant churches in many other lands cling to a sectarian fringe in their attempt to hang onto political power.

UPDATE: Removed, today.