Author Archives: bobkoehler

Working the Dark Side

Abu Ghraib crossBy Robert C. Koehler
COTO Report

Ten years ago, photos of the crucifixion — and worse — were released to the American public. The media still call it “the Abu Ghraib scandal,” as though, oops, the awkward repercussions for Team Bush were the torture photos’ primary horror.

No one talks about “the Auschwitz scandal.” The depth of our moral wrong has yet to be plumbed.

Ten years later . . . the hooded man with arms outstretched, electrodes attached to his fingers, revisits the national conscience. Iraq is in a shambles. The prison itself was closed in mid-April because Sunni insurgents are too much of a threat in the region. We wrecked and contaminated two countries in reckless pursuit of revenge and national interest.

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Abolishing war, resurrecting Fallujah

fallujah babyBy Robert C. Koehler
COTO Report

Iraq vet Ross Caputi’s film opens with a fleeting synopsis of the American heartbreak — and the bandage we tape across it.

His documentary, Fear Not the Path of Truth, is about the U.S. devastation of Fallujah, in which he participated as part of Operation Phantom Fury in November 2004, but the first couple minutes give us an overview of his hometown, the “former industrial city” of Fitchburg, Mass.:
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Return of the Golden Calf

pope francisBy Robert C. Koehler
COTO Report

’Tis the season to feel rage and heartache about the economy.

I feel hope as well, praise the Lord, thanks to Pope Francis and the alley behind my house, where nothing of value goes to waste.

I’m the kind of person who can’t throw anything away, but sometimes I have to anyway — an old microwave, a sewing machine that hasn’t been used in 20 years, a threadbare easy chair, tangled computer wires and other excruciating miscellany — and when I do, it’s usually gone within a day, if not an hour. When I can no longer find value in what I possess, others see it as a gift from the universe.

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A Future Stuck in the Pipeline

School-to-Prison-pipeline
By Robert C. Koehler
COTO Report

Are the bad ideas dead yet? You know, the ones that have been hollowing out the country’s soul for the last 30 years.

In Atlanta, they indicted 35 teachers, principals and administrators, including a former superintendent, for routinely altering their students’ standardized test results — and in all likelihood this massive fraud is an aberration only because the cheaters got caught.

Everything is at stake in these tests, so perhaps it’s dawning on us that fraud — by adults — is inevitable, but there’s a bigger issue here that continues to escape public outrage: The tests are stupid. They measure virtually nothing that matters, but monopolize the classroom politically. Teachers, under enormous pressure, are forced to teach to the tests rather than, you know, teach critical thinking or creative expression; and education is reduced to something rote, linear and boring.

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USA’s Poison Values

Dees Obama Syria sarin gasBy Robert C. Koehler
COTO Report

Poison gas is not only a “moral obscenity” — one the United States stockpiled for decades after its use was banned in warfare — but a metaphor for human recklessness and wasted science.

Like it or not, we’re forced to think about it these days, since it’s still an enticing pretext for war. And the more I think about it, the more I marvel at the persistent insanity of its existence. The “red line” that the so-called civilized world crossed over a century ago was not in the use of poison gas but in its creation, because it’s lethal whether it’s used or not. Attempting to get rid of it — by burying it, burning it, dumping it — has consequences almost as deadly as firing it off in battle.

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Cherry-Picking Evil

tactical nukeBy Robert C. Koehler
COTO Report

“Because these weapons can kill on a mass scale, with no distinction between soldier and infant, the civilized world has spent a century working to ban them.”

Why does the president need to address a classroom full of third-graders?

On Tuesday night — hallelujah — he stepped back from the brink of war, but in his address to the nation he spent most of his time justifying his earlier aggression toward Syria, detailing the Assad government’s single, heinous deviation from the civilized norms of war.

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Stopping a War Before It Starts

lob-monsantoBy Robert C. Koehler
COTO Report

Who’s up for stopping a war?

This is the time, as the next war strains to be born, amid the same old lies as last time, amid the same urgency and pseudo-debate and pretensions of seriousness:

The government of Syria has crossed a “red line.” It has used poison gas, killing hundreds of innocent people and committing a heinous war crime. And suddenly, clear as a bell, we have good vs. evil. Our only course of action, President Obama and his spokespersons tell us, is to “carry out a punitive strike against the Syrian government.”

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Privacy, Security and Sanity

Obama FuhrerBy Robert C. Koehler
COTO Report

What I keep longing to hear, in the hemorrhaging national debate about Edward Snowden, whistleblowing and the NSA, is some acknowledgment of what the word “security” actually means, and what role — if any — the government should play in creating it.

“You can’t have 100 percent security and also have 100 percent privacy.”

A moment of silence, please, for the dying patriarchy. That, of course, was how President Obama explained it to the American public shortly after the spy scandal hit the fan. When did we become “the children” in our relationship with the government, irrelevant to its day-to-day operations, utterly powerless as we stand in its massive, protecting shadow?

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Your Government on War

JFK 1960By Robert C. Koehler
COTO Report

“Our primary long range interest in Geneva, however, is general and complete disarmament, designed to take place by stages, permitting parallel political developments to build the new institutions of peace which would take the place of arms. . . . While we proceed to safeguard our national interests, let us also safeguard human interests. And the elimination of war and arms is clearly in the interest of both.”

That was President John F. Kennedy speaking to the 1963 graduating class of American University —announcing that the human race was ready to move beyond war. This was the speech in which he revealed that talks on a Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty with the Soviet Union had begun, and that the U.S. was unilaterally suspending atmospheric nuclear testing.

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Pile of Skulls

skull pile 3By Robert C. Koehler
COTO Report

The boy is in his bed crying because there’s a monster in the room. Dad walks in, snaps on the light . . .

This is the setup for Joe Dator’s macabre, punch-in-the-nose-funny cartoon in a recent New Yorker. “See,” says Dad as he points to the wall, “there’s no monster in the corner — it’s just a pile of old skulls.”

Why, for God’s sake, did I think of this cartoon when I read about the newly released Global Terrorism Index?  Could it be that our childhood monsters — whom grownups call terrorists these days — are being manipulated for political purposes?

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The Moral Equivalent of Nuremberg

By Robert C. Koehler
COTO Report

My favorite quote was from the British government spokesperson, who assured us: “All ammunition used by UK armed forces falls within international humanitarian law and is consistent with the Geneva Convention.”

Tears come to my eyes as I think about the kindness of coalition bullets, the empathy of coalition bombs — unlike, I’m certain, the ammo used by terrorists, which is cruel, which hates our way of life and wants only to destroy it.

Forgive me the sarcasm. Another study has come out, this one underwritten by the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Michigan, linking the U.S.-British war in Iraq with a hideous, heartbreaking and “staggering” increase in birth defects in areas of the country where bombing and heavy fighting occurred.

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The Innocence of U.S. Foreign Policy

 

By Robert C. Koehler
COTO Report

The Saturday headline in the Wall Street Journal was: “Anti-U.S. Mobs on Rampage.”

The next day, a NATO airstrike killed eight women collecting firewood in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan, an event that garnered virtually zero mainstream U.S. headlines.

Somewhere in the gap between these two phenomena — the overheated news about our violent, irrational enemies in the Middle East and the silence surrounding our war and occupation of the region — lies American politics, values, the presidential race, the national identity. Beyond that gap lies the truth about who we are, and only when we have access to it does the future turn into creative possibility and peace become possible.

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Rape, Patriarchy and the Bomb

By Robert C. Koehler
COTO Report

Every sperm is sacred . . .”

Todd Akin could have worked on the script for the 1983 Monty Python movie, The Meaning of Life: “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

But wait, there’s more. “But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something,” the Missouri Senate candidate said in his recent, now infamous TV interview. “You know, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be at the rapist and not attacking the child.”

This is where I heard the bell toll. He hypothesizes that the rape is “legitimate” but the woman manages to get pregnant anyway. So punish the rapist, he says, not “the child” (i.e., embryo) by, presumably, allowing it to be aborted. Who hovers in utter irrelevancy in this scenario? The woman. She’s no more than a fertile medium for the rapist’s “child” and has no say in what should happen next.

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Nuclear righteousness


By Robert C. Koehler

This is American exceptionalism: “Now I am become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds.”

But you have to say it without the doubt, the regret — the horror — of Robert Oppenheimer, theoretical physicist extraordinaire and director of the Manhattan Project, who famously uttered these words in reference to the Trinity nuclear explosion in New Mexico’s Jornada del Muerto desert on July 16, 1945.

When you remove Oppenheimer’s moral awareness from the quote, it sounds more like: “Oh, I wouldn’t hesitate if I had the choice. I’d wipe ’em out. You’re gonna kill innocent people at the same time, but we’ve never fought a damn war anywhere in the world where they didn’t kill innocent people. . . . That’s their tough luck for being there.”

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Good Violence, Bad Violence

By Robert C. Koehler
COTO Report

“In the end, after he has felt the full force of our justice system, what will be remembered are the good people who were impacted by this tragedy,” President Obama said this week in Aurora, Colo., after the shootings.

That’s probably not true.

From Charles Whitman up to the present day, the collective American memory preserves the name of the killer . . . the lone psycho, the shadow hero. We’re far too fascinated with violence not to mythologize its perpetrators. And just as we all know (because the media tell us) that there will be a “next war,” we know, oh God, in the deep churnings of the heart, that there will be more murder victims — schoolchildren, college students, shoppers, churchgoers, theatergoers, bystanders. We know because we live in a culture that tolerates and perpetuates violence.

James Holmes may have been a “loner,” but, like his predecessors, he acted in a complex American context. He wasn’t alone at all.

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The grim reaper

By Robert C. Koehler

The poison seeps slowly into the future. No one notices.

“The Obama administration,” the Wall Street Journal informs us, “plans to arm Italy’s fleet of Reaper drone aircraft, a move that could open the door for sales of advanced hunter-killer drone technology to other allies . . .”

I can’t quite get beyond the name: Reaper drones?

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Violence and Greeting Cards

By Robert C. Koehler

On my new radio show, Playing for Keeps, my co-hosts Adam Ericksen, Suzanne Ross and I will have the pleasure of interviewing global peace activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Kathy Kelly. The show will be on Monday, May 21, at 11 a.m. Central time.

NATO is visiting Chicago next week and so are nonviolent protestors from around the globe. While the NATO powers are in town, we are delighted to bring you two-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee Kathy Kelly, who has been speaking truth to power for decades. Kathy is the coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence and has witnessed for peace in Gaza, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

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Bob Koehler on Invisible Boundaries

By Robert C. Koehler

I’m sending out an old column this week. I just got back from Paris, where my daughter, Alison, got married. I’m still jet-lagged. This column, about an earlier transition in her life (our lives) was written in 2004.

Tribune Media Services

Nothing fills an emotional void quite like the piercing drone of bagpipes. No matter the kids were rolling their eyeballs as they shuffled two-by-two into the stifling field house — this was profound, and I was on the verge of tears.

Oh, there she is. My daughter. Gulp. Eighteen years old. A college student. I stifled the impulse to wave and embarrass her still further. We had fleeting eye contact, then she turned to the business of finding her seat, one of almost 500 reluctant stars of this event.

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Growing up, falling in love

By Robert C. Koehler

The AP story on military maneuvers in the Arctic reads like the gleeful report of a mugging.

“To the world’s military leaders, the debate over climate change is long over. They are preparing for a new kind of Cold War in the Arctic, anticipating that rising temperatures there will open up a treasure trove of resources, long-dreamed-of sea lanes and a slew of potential conflicts.”

Wow, what fun — a new playground, with maybe 90 billion barrels waiting for corporate exploitation beneath the melting ice cap, 30 percent of the world’s untapped natural gas, and all sorts of minerals, diamonds, gold, copper, zinc and so much more. And the world’s armed forces get to play war games. Boys will be boys!

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Chemical Warfare

By Robert C. Koehler

To fight our insane wars, we’re wrecking our soldiers’ ability to live with themselves and function in society, then regulating what’s left of them with chemicals, which often make things immeasurably worse.

In the pursuit of order, could we possibly be creating more chaos, not simply externally — in the shattered countries we’re leaving in our wake — but internally, in the minds of those soldiers?

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