Tuesday, November 19, 2013

#125 A perpetrator's tale

Dear all,
There are so many ways to think of this time when October turns to November--the completion of the harvest season, a time when the veil grows thin between the worlds of the living and the dead, a pause before the winter holidays and then the winter.  While that image of the veil thinning is a compelling one, I'm just plain looking forward to harvesting my sweet potatoes--there's something magical about them growing there unseen.
I send love.

A perpetrator’s tale

I’ve accumulated a few facts about Indonesia over the years:  a Dutch colonial history; a chain of islands that includes Bali; a nasty civil war in Aceh around the time of the big tsunami; a forest ecosystem increasingly threatened by palm oil plantations.  Among them is the fact that there was a big purge of Communists in the mid-1960’s, in which the US played a role.

Now, I’ve found out about a guy who put in eight years working on a documentary about that atrocity, and I’ve learned a lot more.  There’s a familiar back-story:  an inclusive politician had been elected president; the US wanted a more reliable cold-war ally; and an army general was happy to oblige.  Not only did he orchestrate a coup, but he went to arrange the killing of anybody who could be remotely associated with communists, unionists or democratic reformers—a million or more people in all.

The filmmaker first wanted to focus on the survivors, but the military didn’t allow it, so someone suggested that he film the perpetrators.  Well, here was my first surprise.  Those mass murderers were still around, and able to be identified?  Not only that, it turns out, but they are all in positions of power, still boasting about their death-squad prowess, and providing a very effective deterrent to anybody who might like to challenge the regime’s policies.

In a second surprise, he found one perpetrator who was eager to be a star in his movie.  Considered the ringleader of the death squads in his area, this man was still extolled and feared for the role he had played. He was happy to talk about his part in the genocide, and ready to cheerfully reenact the most gruesome acts of killing. The filmmaker decided to follow this man’s lead, going along with increasingly elaborate and surreal reenactments. As time went on, it became clearer and clearer that some inner demons were driving this man.  When he brought in another death squad buddy, who pointed out that this documentary would make them—not the communists—look like the bad guys, he still couldn’t stop.

In the filmmaker’s own words, “He is trying, actually, somehow, to deal with his own pain. He’s trying to deal with his nightmares. He finds a forum in the film to express a pain that the regime has no time for. The regime wants him to say it was heroic, it was great, so that he can live with himself, all the other killers can live with themselves, and the survivors are kept suppressed and silenced. And suddenly, in the making of the film, he has a chance to deal with the ghosts that haunt him.”

This is the third and biggest surprise:  that someone was able to show so compellingly, almost without his own volition, the pain of being a perpetrator.  Many of us know, on some level, that it’s hard on people to hurt others, but our compassion is bound up so thoroughly with the victims that we are reluctant to give it much thought.  Here is the unvarnished, unavoidable truth about that pain.  Some perpetrators may never be able to show it, perhaps they can’t even know it consciously, but it’s there to be found.

The official story in Indonesia, still taught in the schools, is that the genocide was a necessary and heroic chapter in the nation’s history.  But this documentary, which has successfully evaded the film censors (a final surprise), has found audiences throughout the country.  A wall of silence of almost fifty years has been breached.  And that just may be enough to change the story—all because of a tenacious filmmaker and a perpetrator who grabbed at the chance to address his pain.

For more information: http://www.democracynow.org/2013/7/19/the_act_of_killing_new_film


As a species
the mail carrier
is a loner
marking his own territory
making his rounds
in solitary self-sufficiency.

Yet here was a pair
male and female
each marked with that distinctive
uniform and bag
moving side by side
down the street
up steps together
and back down
as if inseparable.

A remarkable sighting
An invitation
to turn what we know
on its head--
imagine the impossible.

Imagine:  A new economy is possible!

100 years of federal income tax

In the fall of 1913, Congress passed a new revenue act that featured a modest income tax:  7% on income higher than $4,000, or slightly more than $94,000 today.  By the 1940s that rate had soared: income above $200,000 faced a 94% percent tax rate, and that top rate hovered around 90% into the early 1960s.

According to critics of progressive income taxation, these high-tax years should have been a time of economic calamity.  But commerce did not cease; the wealthy did not flee; the entrepreneurial spirit did not evaporate.  On the contrary, the United States thrived throughout the mid-20th century, becoming the first industrial nation ever where the majority did not live in poverty.  The nation’s steeply graduated tax rates raised the revenue that bankrolled new programs and services that opened doors into middle-class life, teaching us that our country works best when we tax progressively — and significantly so.


Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

Alternatives to Violence (AVP) workshops in a 120,000 person refugee camp in northwestern Kenya, through which Somalis, Congolese, Ethiopians, Sudanese and others find transformation. “We are all refugees. We came to Kenya from our countries because of many problems.  Creating new problems here will hurt us more. We need each other and our tolerance. Cooperation from this workshop means we can make this camp a haven as we pray for peace in our mother countries” Timas Ibrahim Hamdan from Sudan

Chinese orphanages being transformed into community centers, with a visionary group of child advocates modeling loving, responsive, stimulating, and developmentally appropriate programming for young children, and the ripples beginning to spread.

A Washington Heights, NYC elementary school where more than 80% of parents opted to have their four-six year olds sit out new standardized multiple-choice tests, causing the school to cancel the tests altogether.  http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/uptown/parents-opt-city-test-article-1.1492127#ixzz2ie6XF7wE

Farmers throughout the US and Canada who are bucking the mono-culture/chemical intensive trends, and discovering that more respect for the health of the soil yields better results all around.  For just one example:  http://grist.org/food/one-weird-trick-to-fix-farms-forever/

Posts on other people's blogs:


More resources:

NEW:  Check out my friend Daniel Hunter's new book, a narrative of direct action campaigning:  Strategy & Soul: A Campaigner's Tale of Fighting Billionaires, Corrupt Officials, and Philadelphia Casinos:  www.strategyandsoul.org

Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:  doingdemocracy.com/MB4PnJ02.htm  (or just google the title)

faitheconomyecology.wordpress.com, a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives)

www.ourchildrenourselves.org, a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years.

www.startguide.org. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to www.pamelascolumn.blogspot.com.  I'm currently posting at pamelalivinginthisworld.blogspot.com.

My favorite magazine:  YES! Magazine reframes the biggest problems of our time in terms of their solutions. Online and in print, they outline a path forward with in-depth analysis, tools for citizen engagement, and stories about real people working for a better world:  www.yesmagazine.org