Herds of rhinoceroses rushing at top speed through the streets became a sight that no longer surprised anybody. People would stand aside to let them pass and then resume their stroll, or attend to their business, as if nothing had happened.
- Eugene Ionesco, "Rhinoceros"
Few can hold a candle to Vietnam veteran medic Mike Hastie's commitment to speaking Truth to Power about the Vietnam War and a host of other "crimes" the US Military has undertaken in the name of the American people. Mike was recently featured in a video in which he was shot inthe face with a non-lethal repper spray slime for speaking his truth non-violently to a phalanx of camouflaged, de-humanized, up-armored federal police in Portland, Oregon.
[ Homeland Security operatives in action. Photo by Mike Hastie ]
[ Mike Hastie after being thrown to the ground by cops and non-violently shooting photos on the street. Photos right by Dan Shea; left unknown. ]
Hastie was specifically speaking his truth about the Vietnam War, a war he participated in many years ago before these up-armored young federal agents were even born. These obedient young state operatives are symbols of federal power assigned to "trump" local power for the purpose of intimidating First-Amendment protected protesters like Mike Hastie from expressing their truths. Naturally, they employ the very latest non-lethal tools of control.
While intense street confrontations like the one in Portland were inspired by the police murder of George Floyd, that spark set off a movement that quickly spread to involve a host of deeply exasperating issues that have plagued many Americans for a long time. For Vietnam veterans like Hastie, the Vietnam War is one of those issues. The same goes for young Americans fed up with the business-as-usual litany of unaddressed problems that threaten to foreclose their futures and turn them into nightmares. Much of this dissatisfaction is glibly reduced by the comfortable who have achieved their American dream to charges of "radicalism", thereby making protester complaints easily dismissable and ignorable. And any examples of excessive anger by frustrated protesters easily damnable. Systematic racism, brutal policing and imperial militarism tend to get all mixed up in this volatile stew. To me, the assault on Mike Hastie is a small, telling set-piece in this drama.
[ Mike Hastie images from the Battle of Portland ]
The country still hasn't reached any kind of consensus on the meaning of its bloody and costly adventure in Vietnam from 1945 to 1975. It just lives there dead-center in the post-WWII American story. Our aircraft carriers are now making port calls in Da Nang, and we're allied with the Vietnamese vis-à-vis the Chinese. Some of us wonder why so-called great leaders like Harry Truman never considered this in 1945 when the US chose to support French re-colonization, despite the fact during WWII French forces had capitulated to the Japanese and the Viet Minh guerrillas had been our ally against the Japanese. I regularly ask people, but they can never tell me what exactly the Vietnamese ever did to us in the United States that required us to do what we did to them -- the horrific things in the video Hastie is trying to tell the young men and women in the fashion accoutrements of 21st century fascism. You can see their brute passivity is making Mike angrier and angrier. In the end, by exhibiting so much anger, Mike is not being perfectly Gandhian; but Gandhi was not always Gandhian either.
This street confrontation writ large in US culture -- what I'd call The American Vietnam War Divide -- will be with us for the foreseeable future. At least until the last Vietnam vet expires. On one extreme, the Vietnam War is seen as an honorable affair, while on the other extreme, it's an international crime.
The asymmetrical power confrontation between Hastie and the Homeland Security squad is a cliche' of our time. Such a show of rhinoceros-like force never really solves anything; instead, it only circles back and feeds more dissatisfaction, more anger and more confrontation. Look at Belarus right now. In the US, it all began with the movable cattle chutes and "free-speech zones" of police operations following 9/11, all inspired by the so-called Patriot Act, that reactionary legislative construct that few legislators even read. The bottom line is lots of citizen tax money and expensive R&D has gone into discovering brilliant ways and means to restrict angry citizens' First Amendment rights to speak truth to their government. Short of killing them.
Some years ago, 60 Minutes did a story on non-lethal sound-focusing guns for crowd control. My wife and I watched it, and before long we were both cursing the screen. Tank-mounted emitters were shown blasting sonic rays at volunteer soldiers in civilian clothes walking across a field carrying signs calling for -- wha'd'ya know! -- WORLD PEACE. These guinea-pig phony peace activists seemed to be having a really good time. The tank operator blasted the heroic 60 Minutes correspondent, and boy did he jump and snigger in awe at the incredible pain the thing caused. Wow! Ha! Ha! That really makes you move outa the way! Welcome to the brave new world of non-lethal crowd control. Not only did the Pentagon get 60 Minutes to promote its nifty new non-lethal weapon, it got them to ridicule the peace movement at the same time. I recall my furious, peace-loving wife making this wry comment: "We're now supposed to celebrate that we're not being killed by our government?" Thanks for small favors.
Watch Mike Hastie's video a few times. Why is this 75-year-old man so willing to take the abuse from these characters who seem to have stepped out of some cheap thriller? He's a photographer and he's been non-violently using his Nikons on these streets for six days. Today's brute governments all hate cameras. It's always officially denied, but it's obvious some of the more sadistic individual operatives do, in fact, aim their very expensive non-lethal weapons at the press. Why wouldn't they? The same ridicule 60 Minutes propagated on prime-time against the peace movement is treated as gospel in the ranks of the police and the military.
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