"Patriots" from the pro-war group "A Gathering of Eagles" swarm anti-war demonstrator Carlos Arredondo, a Gold Star Father whose son, Lance Corporal Alexander S. Arredondo, USMC, was killed in Iraq.
Carlos Arrendondo, a native of Costa Rica, wasn't even a citizen of the United States when he learned on August 25, 2004, that his oldest son Alexander had been killed in Iraq.
It was Carlos's birthday. Rather than a phone call from Alex, however, Carlos received a visit at his Hollywood, Florida home from a Marine Corps "Casualty Assistance Team," who informed him that his son -- just twenty days after his own 20th birthday -- had been killed fighting the Idiot King's useless war in Iraq.
Carlos Arrendondo, a member of "Gold Star Families for Peace," participates in an anti-war demonstration.
On learning of this irrecoverable loss, Carlos suffered an epic breakdown.
"At that moment, not expect [sic] those words, my world tumbled and I felt my heart go down to the ground and rush up through my throat," Carlos wrote later. Like many parents confronted with the news that their children had been killed in the service of the State, Carlos was seized with the desperate thought that if he could force the Marines to leave, his son would still be alive.
Momentarily deranged, Carlos went into his garage and grabbed a container of gasoline and a welding torch, which he used to set the Marine Casualty Assistance Team's van on fire -- igniting himself in the process. Although understandably startled by vehemence of Carlos's reaction, the Marines acted quickly to save Carlos's life, retrieving him from the burning van, suffocating the flames that threatened to kill him, and arranging for medical attention.
Since that horrible morning, Carlos has become a U.S. citizen and enlisted in the anti-war movement. He is often found at anti-war protests displaying photographs of his lost son. During the recent anti-war rally in Washington, Carlos brought up the rear of the march, pulling a mock-up of a flag-draped casket bearing his son's name and photograph.
It is reasonable to believe that this wasn't the most appropriate way for Carlos to display his opposition to the war, or express his abiding grief for his son -- but the important point is that Alexander was his son.
Long before becoming a Marine, and then a corpse, Alexander Arredondo was a flesh-and-blood human being -- his father's firstborn son. From his eyes radiated the promise of a long and happy life, of years to come in which he and his children would provide joy and satisfaction to his proud and grateful father.
That light was extinguished because a vainglorious idiot working on behalf of an unfathomably evil power elite started a useless war halfway around the world.
I can understand why Carlos, after being deprived of his son in that fashion, erupted in fury and collapsed on himself in desolation. His grief is sacred. We may not share it, but decency requires that we respect it.
Those who believe that the demands of the State trump the bonds of the family will find Carlos's grief inexplicable; a sub-set of those people who fetishize the State's killing apparatus find that grief offensive.
Thus it was that ex-Marine Fred Peterson, who might otherwise be a thoroughly decent man, saw fit to desecrate Carlos's memorial to his son during the September 15 war protest. Peterson was in Washington as part of a group calling itself "A Gathering of Eagles," which is best understood as a kind of loosely organized, Republican-aligned freikorps (specializing in street theater rather than actual armed combat) that materializes on occasion to confront anti-war demonstrators.
According to an account published by National (Socialist) Review Online, Peterson was "offended by the marcher's politics and [his] perceived lack of patriotism" and also believed that because Carlos was "exploiting the death of a fallen Marine," he had "crossed a line." Accordingly, "Fred walked out into the street and snatched the picture off the casket."
Here's Mr. Peterson's account of the incident, written in stilted prose that might strike even the most emo adolescent as excessively melodramatic:
My teams broke up at the Capitol, mission accomplished, and I was walking alone back to the Mall when I saw the photo-image of a proud young Marine in dress blues being held hostage in company not of his own choosing and affixed to a coffin not his own. The insult to his honor and disrespect to his Corps and cause by his captors was immediately obvious and intended. These same peddlers of provocation are paid to push their coffin-prop all over the country they revile. They subvert a common will and undermine the cause and country for which this hostage-Marine had sacrificed his very life. The captive Marine was not among his own. He was surrounded and outnumbered by those who shamelessly exploit his image and memory, disgrace his uniform, his brothers in arms, and his willing sacrifice. He would never choose such company. He needed a rescue.... I liberated his image from the midst of the hostile crowd, intending to replace it in a position of honor [in] Arlington, where he would rest with heroes and among his own...."
In fact, by this time the "hostile crowd" had moved on (remember, Carlos was bringing up the rear of the protest). So Peterson didn't display any "boldness" by "liberating" Alexander's picture -- an act better described as theft, vandalism and -- in a sense -- desecration.
What is genuinely revealing here is that Peterson claimed to be acting as an agent of the "common will," and that he claims (on behalf of the State's military affiliate) an exclusive proprietary claim on the image and memory of Carlos Arredondo's son.
Shortly afterward, Peterson was surprised to be tackled from behind by Carlos, whose rage was understandable even if -- once again -- his method of expressing it was questionable. As for Peterson, he got more or less what his arrogant presumption had bought: He was knocked flat on the ground by the father he had offended.
And then Peterson's fellow heroes joined in, swarming Carlos and -- according to eyewitnesses -- beating and kicking the distraught Gold Star Father. The police intervened and broke up the scrum, and no charges were filed.
Granted, it could have been much worse. (Given the brutality routinely practiced by the WWI-era antecedents of "A Gathering of Eagles," we can expect it to get worse.) But what happened was bad enough. And it was brought about because a "right-wing" provocateur considered it entirely appropriate to commit an act of aggression against a grieving father who was guilty of undermining the "common will."
A more genteel version of the same thuggish, militarist collectivism was behind the White House-orchestrated drive to condemn the left-wing group MoveOn.org for running a New York Times advertisement critical of General David Petraeus , whom George W. Bush cravenly exploited as the political equivalent of a human shield. (In keeping with their recent performance, most Senate Democrats supported the resolution condemning the activist group.)
"I felt like the ad was an attack not only on Gen. Petraeus but on the U.S. military," drooled Bush in response to a planted question at a White House press conference. "Most Democrats are [more] afraid of irritating a left-wing group like MoveOn.org ... than they are of irritating the United States military. That was a sorry deal."
Why should citizens of a supposedly free republic be "afraid ... of irritating the United States military"? As someone who briefly lived under military rule in Guatemala I find myself wondering if Bush sincerely meant to suggest that it would it be better if citizens were afraid of the military.
Kentucky Senator "Chinless" Mitch McConnell described the ad as "abhorrent," theatrically wailed: "Who would have ever expected anybody to go after a general in the field at a time of war, launch a smear campaign against a man we've entrusted with our mission in Iraq?"
Yes, it just might be this obvious.
McConnell didn't explain why it is scandalous or inappropriate for citizens to criticize any government official at any time -- whether peacetime or time of war, and whether the official wears a suit or a military uniform. And Senate Democrats, palsied with terror over being accused of undermining the "common will," enshrined in precedent the idea that a publicly condemning a cynical exercise in war propaganda is in some sense a civic crime.
Not surprisingly, given the finely attuned political instincts she shares with the spouse with whom she no longer shares a bed, Hillary Clinton has embraced the same view. Weeks after she had chided Petraeus for offering an implausibly optimistic assessment of the Iraq occupation, Clinton has condemned the MoveOn.org advertisement.
Hillary's transparently opportunistic gesture won't placate her critics on the militarist right -- but they're not the intended audience. Madame Hillary is in full triangulation mode, building "centrist" credentials intended to make her palatable to that vast and (for her) dimly understood region west of the Hudson River.
For years, both in the streets and in government, conservatives of the Bu'ushist variety -- call them Weimar Republicans -- have been diligently mowing down legal and constitutional restraints on presidential power. Their objective has been to entrench and exalt Republican power uber alles. Meanwhile, Madame Hillary has quietly abetted this process in the serene confidence that she will be the eventual beneficiary of the Republican Party's decision to embrace executive dictatorship.
After all, as the irreplaceable Chris Floyd points out, the Clintons and their political caste are just as wedded to the Military-Industrial-Media-Homeland Security Complex as are the Bushes. Clinton was just as inclined toward the promiscuous use of the military as his successor. And Hillary herself is as militaristic as any of the soi-disant heroes on the Right. She wouldn't have any difficulty arranging needless wars in which young men like Alexander Arredondo would die, leaving fathers like Carlos Arrendondo broken and desolate.
So we shouldn't be surprised to learn that Bush has all but anointed Hillary to be his successor, or that he is quietly giving her advice on how best to perpetuate the war she would inherit on January 20, 2009.
Should she be enthroned as our nation's first distaff dictator, Hillary will inherit the radically enhanced apparatus of coercion the Republicans kindly built on her behalf. The German Communists in the early 1930s, along with their Soviet patrons, tried to pull of the same stunt by quietly supporting the National Socialists in the hope of inheriting a ready-made dictatorship.
"Nach Hitler, kommen wir" -- "After Hitler, we come," was the optimistic refrain of the German Communist Party. That approach didn't work out for them. Hillary and her comrades, however, just might pull it off.
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