Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Vietnam War”

Agent Orange – Not Going Away?

During the Vietnam War (1961 – 1971) the US military launched a program called Operation Ranch Hand in which chemicals (herbicides and defoliants) which the Vietnamese  government estimates killed or maimed  400,000 people. In the ensuing years they claim that half a million children were born with birth defects.[1]

It was later discovered that Agent Orange (a 50:50 mixture of 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D, if that makes any sense to you) contained an extremely toxic compound (2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzodioxin). During Operation Ranch Handthe US military sprayed nearly 20 million US gallons (80 million liters)  mixed with jet fuel over Vietnam, Eastern Laos and parts of Cambodia. The goal of the program was to destroy the dense forests where the guerrillas took cover. In addition, they sought to destroy the resources needed by the indigenous population which would force them to live in the U.S. dominated cities. The idea here was to deprive the guerrillas of their rural support base and food supply.

All this is a history lesson, right? Wrong. History has a habit of not disappearing into books.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYlzApY5MM0

And a CBS report:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65KFpyxK0Ho&feature=related

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Creating Coalitions Pt. 2

Following on from Monday’s post, I have been summarizing Mark Bittman’s excellent article in the NYT. Mr. Bittman stresses the realization of “an oligarchy in this country, one that uses financial strength to gain political power, one that fights and bullies for its “right” to make money regardless of the consequences to the earth or anything on it.

Exxon will do all it can to prevent meaningful climate change legislation; Cargill and Pepsi will fight any improvement in agriculture or diet that threatens their profits; Bank of America would rather see homeowners go under than discuss changes in financial structures. And so on.”

Mass movements have begun to emerge as one method to break this ring of influence and the Occupy Bank Transfer Day is an outstanding example. To organize at both the personal and local level can have a resounding effect. 

The second focuses on voting. Very few Presidents, our present one might be an exception, initiate change. Again, Mr. Bittman: “Does anyone believe that Lyndon Johnson wanted to combat racism, or that Richard Nixon cared about American troops or Vietnamese citizens? No: they were forced, respectively, to support civil rights legislation and to begin ending the Vietnam War. Forced by masses of Americans marching, yelling, demonstrating, sitting in and more — Americans driven by their conscience, not by profits.”

This makes the organization and coordination of huge numbers of citizens absolutely critical. We need to identify politicians who are willing to shun corporate money and pressure in favor of reflecting the needs of their constituents. This is so much more difficult than taking several million dollars to support your campaign.

We can sit around and complain of the blatant undemocratic process of corporate sponsorship of politicians or we can focus on establishing a list of candidates that are true to their principles and will rely on mass support from the street. The alternative is to create our own big interest PACs, and this has its own scary elements to it.

A few weeks ago, I bemoaned the idea of ‘playing their game,’ but now I am not so sure that we can create a sustainable framework whereby politicians are elected and held accountable by their voters.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Andy Brandi – P.T.S.D Counsellor

Today is Veteran’s Day. I have lifted this post from my friend, Al Levenson, who blogs about his experience: A Year on the Road.Al met a man named Andy Brandi who served in the Vietnam War. Forty years on, Andy is still living the war.

Andy recounted to Al how when he sits in a room, he will always have his back to a wall and be able to see the door. When he crosses a parking lot he will automatically scan the roofs of the surrounding buildings. A car backfiring can make him instantly drop to the floor. 

These stories sent chills through me.When my family first arrived in the US, we visited Chinatown in San Francisco with some friends. As we exited a store someone let off a firecracker. I instinctively threw my son (then 2 years old) behind a parked car and dived on top of him.

I freaked the group out (not least my two-year-old) and we decided to go sit for ice cream and tea. One of our friends asked me about my reaction and my wife told about other behavior traits I have that I took as ‘normal.’ This was the first I heard of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D). I too hate to have my back to a door and scan around me in unfamiliar urban areas. I have been shot at from roof tops and had rocks and Molotov cocktails thrown from above.

Today P.T.S.D is recognized as a genuine anxiety disorder caused by extreme psychological trauma. In a severe condition, it can overwhelm the person and rend them helpless to deal with it. Symptoms include “re-experiencing the stress through flashbacks, or nightmares, difficulty falling or staying asleep,anger and hypervigilence to the extent of impaired social function. Most often, they are plagued by a feeling if intense guilt that they survived when so many who were close to them did not.

Andy has written a book meant to serve as a guide for those (and their loved ones) who are fighting a fight they should have left behind in the desert or the jungles. Al says that The Warrior’s Guide to Insanity, Traumatic Stress and Life, “is a book that will haunt you from the first page.”


Al says that the most important message in the  book is that there is help available to the combat vets today.  Although Andy is critical of the level of services, they are vastly underfunded in his opinion, he points out that the Veteran’s Administration does offer counseling, and there is peer support at the posts of Veterans of Foreign Wars. He encourages veterans to reach out to these services.

Finally, Brandi wants to get his book in the hands of elected officials, who need to understand that a war costs more than the weapons and soldiers deployed.

Andy maintains a website (www.sgtbrandi.com) from where he wants to reach out and support veterans. He is also happy to speak to veteran’s groups.

The Warrior’s Guide to Insanity, Traumatic Stress and Life   is free to combat vets and their families and Andy funds his book giveaway from his own pension and disability checks. If you wish to help get his books into the hands of those who need it, you can donate at the following address. Just $20 can help cover the p&p  for a half dozen books to get to men and women who need to read it.

Sergeant Brandi, P.O. Box 574, Cerrillos, New Mexico, 87010.

The Warrior’s Guide to Insanity, Traumatic Stress and Life is also available from Amazon in tree or e-book. Buying a copy will help fund more books going out for free. Put that book in the hands of a veteran that you know is suffering.

Show them you care.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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