Tuesday, May 31, 2016

2340. John Bellamy Foster on Nature

By John Bellamy Foster, Monthly Review, May 1, 2016

“Nature,” wrote Raymond Williams in Keywords, “is perhaps the most complex word in the language.”1 It is derived from the Latin natura, as exemplified by Lucretius’s great didactic poem De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things) from the first century BCE. The word “nature” has three primary, interrelated meanings: (1) the intrinsic properties or essence of things or processes; (2) an inherent force that directs or determines the world; and (3) the material world or universe, the object of our sense perceptions—both in its entirety and variously understood as including or excluding God, spirit, mind, human beings, society, history, culture, etc.
In his Critique of Stammler, Max Weber suggested that the intrinsic difficulty of “nature” as a concept could be attributed to the fact that it was most often used to refer to “a complex of certain kinds of objects” from which “another complex of objects” having “different properties” were excluded; however, the objects on each side of the bifurcation could vary widely, and might only become apparent in a given usage.2 Thus, we commonly contrast humanity or society to nature while, at the same time, recognizing that human beings are themselves part of nature. From this problem arise such distinctions as “external nature” or “the environment.” At other times, we may exclude only the mind/spirit from nature.
Science and art are two of the preeminent fields of inquiry into nature, with each operating according to its own distinct principles. As Alfred North Whitehead noted in The Concept of Nature, natural science depicts nature as the entire field of things, which are objects of human sense perception mediated by concepts of our understanding (such as space and time).3 Consequently, one of the two leading scientific periodicals carries the title Nature (the other is Science). Within the Romantic tradition in art (a direct influence on modern environmentalism), nature is often perceived in accordance with notions of “natural beauty” (Percy Bysshe Shelley’s skylark and William Wordsworth’s Lake District); however, the validity of the concept has frequently been challenged within the field of aesthetics.4
As a concept, “nature” gives rise to serious difficulties for philosophy, encompassing both ontology (the nature of being) and epistemology (the nature of thought). Since Immanuel Kant, it has been emphasized that human beings cannot perceive “things in themselves” (noumena) and thus remain dependent on a priori knowledge, which is logically independent of experience. It is therefore customary within academic philosophy today either to take an outright idealist stance and thus to give ontological priority to the mind/ideas, or to subsume ontology within epistemology in such a way that the nature (including the limits) of knowledge takes precedence over the nature of being. In contrast, natural scientists generally adopt a materialist/realist standpoint by emphasizing our ability to comprehend the physical world directly. Concerned with growing ecological crises, most ecological activists today take a similar stance, implicitly stressing a kind of “critical realism,” as in the work of Roy Bhaskar, that rejects both mechanical materialism (e.g. positivism) and idealism.5
Reflecting a similar division of views, many contemporary social scientists (particularly postmodernists) emphasize the fact that our understanding of nature is socially or discursively constructed and that there is no nature independent of human thought and actions. For example, Keith Tester writes, “A fish is only a fish if it is socially classified as one, and that classification is only concerned with fish to the extent that scaly things living in the sea help society to define itself…. Animals are indeed a blank paper which can be inscribed with any message, and symbolic meaning, that society wishes.”6 In contrast, while recognizing the role of thought in mediating the human relation to nature, most ecological thinkers and activists gravitate toward a critical materialism/realism, in which nature (apart from humanity) is seen as existing prior to the social world, is open to comprehension, and is something to defend.7
With the advent of nuclear weapons, the world came to the sudden realization that the relation between human beings and the environment had forever changed. The human impact on nature was no longer restricted to local or regional effects; conceivably, it extended to the destruction of the entire planet in the sense of constituting a safe home for humanity. Subsequently, modern synthetic chemicals (with their capacity to biomagnify and bioaccumulate) and anthropogenic climate change brought the human degradation of nature to the forefront of society’s concerns. Book titles like Silent SpringThe Closing CircleThe Domination of NatureThe Death of NatureThe End of NatureThe Sixth Extinction, and This Changes Everything reflect a growing state of alarm about ecological sustainability and the conditions required for human survival.8
Compared to earlier centuries, the question of nature in the twentieth and twenty-first century has been radically transformed. No longer is nature seen as a direct external threat to humanity through forces like famines and disease. Instead, emerging or threatened global natural catastrophes are viewed as the indirect products of human action itself. We now live in what scientists have provisionally designated the Anthropocene, a new geological epoch in which humanity has become the dominant geological force, disrupting the biogeochemical cycles of the entire planet. This new reality has compelled a growing recognition of the limits of nature, of planetary boundaries, and of economic growth within a finite environment.
The meteoric rise of “ecology” (along with derivatives like “ecosystem,” “ecosphere,” “eco-development,” “ecosocialism,” and “ecofeminism”) stems from these rapidly changing interactions between capitalism and its natural environment. The concepts of ecology, ecosystem, and the Earth system have become central both to science and to popular struggle. At times, they even displace the concept of nature itself.
Attempts to address the enormity of the ecological problem have, however, been complicated by a resurrection of essentialist conceptions of human nature. By subsuming the social under the “natural,” such views often downplay or altogether deny the importance of a social-historical dimension in the human interaction with nature. This outlook has recently gained ground through the social Darwinist pronouncements of sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists. E. O. Wilson’s 1978 On Human Nature, for instance, professes to be “simply the extension of population biology and evolutionary theory to social organization.”9 An inevitable struggle thus arises between ecological radicals who demand that society be historically transformed to create a sustainable relation to nature and more establishment-oriented thinkers who insist that possessive individualism, the Hobbesian war of all against all, and a tendency to overpopulate are all inscribed in human DNA.10Accompanying this revival of biological determinism has been the presumption that capitalism itself is a product of human nature and of the natural world as a whole. Such views deny the historical origins of alienation. In contrast, most radicals view the alienation of nature and the alienation of society as interconnected and interdependent phenomena requiring a new co-evolutionary social metabolism if the world ecology as we know it is to be sustained.
Contemporary conflicts over the relationship between nature and society can be traced to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with the rise of capitalism and modern science. The seventeenth-century scientific revolution witnessed the emergence—most notably in Francis Bacon, but also in RenĂ© Descartes—of calls for the “conquest,” “mastery,” or “domination” of nature. In The Masculine Birth of Time, Bacon metaphorically declared: “I am come in very truth leading to you Nature with all her children to bind her to your service and make her your slave.”11 In The New Atlantis, this ambition was tied to a program for the institutionalization of science as the basis of knowledge and power.12 Descartes also linked it to a mechanistic worldview in which animals were reduced to machines. Following Bacon, the conquest of nature became a universal trope to signify a vague mechanical progress achieved through the development of science. Nevertheless, as Bacon himself made clear in his famous statement in Novum Organum, “nature is only overcome by obeying her.” In this view, nature could only be subjected by following “her” laws.13
The domination of nature espoused by Bacon was subjected to critique during the nineteenth century through the dialectical perspectives associated with Hegel and Marx. In his Philosophy of Nature, Hegel insisted that—while Bacon’s strategy of pitting nature against itself could yield a limited mastery—total mastery of the natural world would forever remain beyond humanity’s reach: “Need and ingenuity have enabled man to discover endlessly varied ways of mastering and making use of nature,” he wrote. Nevertheless, “Nature itself, as it is in its universality, cannot be mastered in this manner…nor bent to the purposes of man.”14 For Hegel, the drive to master nature generated wider contradictions that were beyond human control. In the Grundrisse, Marx treated Bacon’s strategy as a “ruse” introduced by bourgeois society.15 In his Theses on Feuerbach, he rejected essentialist views of human nature outright. Human nature, he argued, is “the ensemble of the social relations.”16 In The Poverty of Philosophy he stated: “All history is nothing but a continuous transformation of human nature.”17
In his later economic writings, Marx developed an analysis of the human relation to nature as a form of “social metabolism.” The social metabolism was part of the “universal metabolism of nature,” which found itself increasingly in contradiction with industrial capitalist development. The soil was being robbed of essential nutrients (e.g., nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium), which were being shipped hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles to the new urban centers. “Instead of a conscious rational treatment of the land as permanent communal property,” Marx charged, “we have the exploitation and squandering of the powers of the earth.”18 In response, he introduced the notion of an “irreparable rift in the interdependent process of social metabolism” imposed by the very nature of accumulation under capitalism. This break with the “eternal natural condition” underlying human-social existence, he argued, demanded a “restoration” through the rational regulation of the metabolism between humanity and nature.19 In Capital, he advanced what is perhaps the most radical conception of ecological sustainability yet propounded: “From the standpoint of a higher socio-economic formation, the private property of particular individuals in the earth will appear just as absurd as the private property of one man in other men. Even an entire society, a nation, or all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the earth. They are simply its possessors, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations, as boni patres familias.”20
Today, radical ecologists tend to fall into two broad camps. The first consists of those who—from a deep-ecology, radical-green, or “ecologism” perspective—simply counter Baconian anthropocentrism with ecocentric philosophies.21 Such views retain the society-nature dualism but approach it from the side of external nature, life, or some kind of spiritualized nature. This general perspective has played an important role within the ecological movement. Ecofeminist thinkers, for instance, have highlighted the link between the mastery of nature and the subordination of women (often by taking the critique of Bacon as their starting point). Nevertheless, the one-sidedness of radical-green or deep-ecology perspectives often encourages misanthropic views (especially when human population growth is seen as the principal problem) and anti-scientism, where the critical role of science in understanding ecology is misunderstood.
The second broad camp consists of those who have adopted more dialectical perspectives.22Here, the problem is conceived as one of social metabolism (how capitalist society interacts with nature). From this vantage, the goal is to transcend the “rift in the interdependent process of social metabolism” to create a more sustainable form of human development—inseparable from the struggle for human equality.23 This outlook critically builds on ecological science with its emphasis on the ontological interconnectedness of all living and nonliving things. Conflict arises between a social system geared to endless accumulation and growth and everlasting, nature-imposed, conditions of ecological sustainability and substantive equality. It is along these lines that critical scientists, ecosocialists, socialist ecofeminists, anarchist social ecologists, and many Indigenous activists have coalesced to take a stand in defense of the earth. As Frederick Engels wrote in the Dialectics of Nature:
Let us not…flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us…. Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature—but that we, with flesh, blood, and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all of our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.24


  1. Raymond Williams,Keywords (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), 219.
  2. Max Weber,Critique of Stammler (New York: Free Press, 1977), 96.
  3. Alfred North Whitehead,The Concept of Nature (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1920).
  4. For criticisms of the concept of natural beauty within aesthetics, see G. W. F. Hegel,The Philosophy of Nature, vol. 1 (London: Allen and Unwin, 1970), 3; Theodor Adorno,Aesthetic Theory(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 68–76.
  5. Roy Bhaskar,A Realist Theory of Science (London: Verso, 1975), andThe Possibility of Naturalism(Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press), 1979.
  6. Keith Tester,Animals and Society (New York: Routledge, 1991).
  7. On realism and ecology, see David R. Keller and Frank B. Golley, “Introduction,” in Keller and Golley, eds.,The Philosophy of Ecology (Athens, GA: Univeristy of Georgia Press, 2000), 1–4; John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, and Richard York, The Ecological Rift (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010), 289–300.
  8. Rachel Carson,Silent Spring (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962); Barry Commoner,The Closing Circle (New York: Knopf, 1971); William Leiss,The Domination of Nature (Boston: Beacon, 1972); Carolyn Merchant,The Death of Nature (New York: Harper and Row, 1980); Bill McKibben,The End of Nature (New York: Random House, 1989); Richard E. Leakey and Roger Lewin,The Sixth Extinction(New York: Doubleday, 1995); Naomi Klein,This Changes Everything (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2014).
  9. E. O. Wilson,On Human Nature (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978), x.
  10. On the possessive individualism of capitalist society, affecting its conception of natural-social relations see C. B. Macpherson,The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962).
  11. Francis Bacon, “The Masculine Birth of Time,” in Benjamin Farrington,The Philosophy of Francis Bacon (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964), 59–72.
  12. Francis Bacon,The New Atlantis and the Great Instauration (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 1991).
  13. Francis Bacon,Novum Organum (Chicago: Open Court, 1994), 29, 43.
  14. Hegel,The Philosophy of Nature, 421–23.
  15. Karl Marx,Grundrisse (London: Penguin, 1973), 409–10.
  16. Marx, “Concerning Feuerbach,” inEarly Writings (London: Penguin, 1974), 421–23.
  17. Marx,The Poverty of Philosophy (New York: International Publishers, 1963), 147.
  18. Marx,Capital, vol. 3 (London: Penguin, 1981), 949.
  19. Marx,Capital, vol. 1 (London: Penguin, 1976), 637­–38;Capital, vol. 3, 959.
  20. Marx,Capital, vol. 3, 911.
  21. Representative works include Andrew Dobson,Green Political Thought (New York: Routledge, 1995); Robyn Eckersley,Environmentalism and Political Theory (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992); Mark J. Smith,Ecologism (Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 1998); Bill Devall and George Sessions,Deep Ecology (Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith, 1985).
  22. See, for example, Murray Bookchin,The Philosophy of Social Ecology (Montreal: Black Rose, 1995); Paul Burkett,Marx and Nature (Chicago: Haymarket, 2014); Stefano Longo, Rebecca Clausen, and Brett Clark,The Tragedy of the Commodity (New York: Routledge, 2015); Ariel Salleh, “Introduction,” in Salleh, ed.,Eco-Sufficiency and Global Justice (London: Pluto Press, 2009), 1–40; Naomi Klein,This Changes Everything.
  23. Marx,Capital, vol. 3, 949.
  24. Frederick Engels,Dialectics of Nature (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1934), 180.

2339. Leon Trotsky on the Socialist Society

By Leon Trotsky, The Militant, August 1941
Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky’s monumental life was devoted to the realization of a socialist world order in which all mankind would live free of exploitation, poverty, weakness and ignorance.

The following excert from his Literature and Revolution (1924) gives a sense of Trtosky's view of socialism and nature.  For a critical discussion of his view which was prevelent in the Societ Union of the 1920s see "Trotsky, Ecology, and Sustainability" by Sandy Irvine.  KN

*     *     *

Through the machine, man in Socialist society will command nature in its entirety, with its grouse and its sturgeons. He will point out places for mountains and for passes. He will change the course of the rivers, and he will lay down rules for the oceans. The idealist simpletons may say that this will be a bore, but that is why they are simpletons. Of course this does not mean that the entire globe will be marked off into boxes, that the forests will be turned into parks and gardens. Most likely, thickets and forests and grouse and tigers will remain, but only where man commands them to remain. And man will do it so well that the tiger won’t even notice the machine, or feel the change, but will live as he lived in primeval times. The machine is not in opposition to the earth. The machine is the instrument of modern man in every field of life …

Communist life will not be formed blindly, like coral islands, but will be built consciously, will be tested by thought, will be directed and corrected. Life will cease to be elemental, and for this reason stagnant. Man, who will learn how to move rivers and mountains, how to build people’s palaces on the peaks of the Mont Blanc and at the bottom of the Atlantic, will not only be able to add to his own life richness, brilliancy and intensity, but also a dynamic quality of the highest degree. The shell of life will hardly have time to form before it will burst open again under the pressure of new technical and cultural inventions and achievements. Life in the future will not be monotonous ...

Under Socialism, solidarity will be the basis of society. Literature and art will be tuned to a different key. All the emotions which we revolutionists, at the present time, feel apprehensive of naming – so much have they been worn thin by hypocrites and vulgarians – such as disinterested friendship, love for one’s neighbor, sympathy, will be the mighty ringing chords of Socialist poetry ...

Will Man Degenerate Under Socialism?
However, does not an excess of solidarity, as the Nietzscheans fear, threaten to degenerate man into a sentimental, passive, herd animal? Not at all. The powerful force of competition which, in bourgeois society, has the character of market competition, will not disappear in a Socialist society but, to use the language of psycho-analysis, will be sublimated, that is, will assume a higher and more fertile form. There will be the struggle for one’s opinion, for one’s project: for one’s taste. In the measure in which political struggles will be eliminated – and in a society where there will be no classes, there will be no such struggles – the liberated passions will be channelized into technique, into construction which also includes art …

All forms of life, such as the cultivation of land, the planning of human habitations, the building of theaters, the methods of socially educating children, the solution of scientific problems, the creation of new styles, will finally engross all and everyone. People will divide into ‘parties’ over the question of a new gigantic canal, or the distribution of oases in the Sahara (such a question will exist too), over the regulation of the weather and the climate, over a new theater, over chemical hypotheses, over two competing tendencies in music, and over a best system of sports. Such parties will not be poisoned by greed of class or caste. All will be equally interested in the success of the whole. The struggle will have a purely ideological character. It will have no running after profits, it will have nothing mean, no betrayals, no bribery, none of the things that form the soul of competition in a society divided into classes. But this will in no way hinder the struggle from being absorbing, dramatic and passionate. And as all problems in a Socialist society – the problems of life which formerly were solved spontaneously and automatically, and the problems of art which were in the custody of special priestly castes – will become the property of all people, one can say with certainty that collective interests and passions, and individual competition will have the widest scope and the most unlimited opportunity.

In a struggle so disinterested and tense, which will take place in a culture whose foundations are steadily rising, the human personality, with its invaluable basic trait of continual discontent, will grow and become polished at all its points. In truth, we have no reason to fear that there will be a decline of individuality or an impoverishment of art in a Socialist society …

It is difficult to predict the extent of self-government which the man of the future may reach or the heights to which he may carry his technique. Social construction and psycho-physical self-education will become two aspects of one and the same process. All the arts – literature, drama, painting, music and architecture will lend this process beautiful form. More correctly, the shell in which the cultural construction and self-education of Communist man will be enclosed, will develop all the vital elements of contemporary art to the highest point. Man will become immeasurably stronger, wiser and subtler; his body will become more harmonized, his movements more rhythmic, his voice more musical. The forms of life will become dynamically dramatic. The average human type will rise to the heights of an Aristotle, a Goethe, or a Marx. And above this ridge new peaks will rise?

Monday, May 30, 2016

2338. Memorial Day: Remembering All the Deaths From All American Wars

By S. Brian Wilson, Counterpunch, May 27, 2016
Anti-Vietnam war protest at Washington Memorial, November 15, 1969.  The Vietnamese herioc resistance and massive anti-war movement forced Washington to accept defeat. 
Celebration of Memorial Day in the US, originally Decoration Day, commenced shortly after the conclusion of the Civil War. This is a national holiday to remember the people who died while serving in the armed forces. The day traditionally includes decorating graves of the fallen with flowers.

As a Viet Nam veteran, I know the kinds of pain and suffering incurred by over three million US soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen, 58,313 of whom paid the ultimate price whose names are on The Vietnam Wall in Washington, DC. The Oregon Vietnam Memorial Wall alone, located here in Portland, contains 803 names on its walls.

The function of a memorial is to preserve memory. On this US Memorial Day, May 30, 2016, I want to preserve the memory of all aspects of the US war waged against the Southeast Asian people in Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia – what we call the Viet Nam War – as well as the tragic impacts it had on our own people and culture. My own healing and recovery requires me to honestly describe the war and understand how it has impacted me psychically, spiritually, and politically.

Likewise, the same remembrance needs to be practiced for both our soldiers and the victims in all the other countries affected by US wars and aggression. For example, the US incurred nearly 7,000 soldier deaths while causing as many as one million in Afghanistan and Iraq alone, a ratio of 1:143.

It is important to identify very concretely the pain and suffering we caused the Vietnamese – a people who only wanted to be independent from foreign occupiers, whether Chinese, France, Japan, or the United States of America. As honorably, and in some cases heroically, our military served and fought in Southeast Asia, we were nonetheless serving as cannon fodder, in effect mercenaries for reasons other than what we were told. When I came to understand the true nature of the war, I felt betrayed by my government, by my religion, by my cultural conditioning into “American Exceptionalism,” which did a terrible disservice to my own humanity, my own life’s journey. Thus, telling the truth as I uncover it is necessary for recovering my own dignity.

I am staggered by the amount of firepower the US used, and the incredible death and destruction it caused on an innocent people. Here are some statistics:

–Seventy-five percent of South Viet Nam was considered a free-fire zone (i.e., genocidal zones)
–Over 6 million Southeast Asians killed
–Over 64,000 US and Allied soldiers killed
–Over 1,600 US soldiers, and 300,000 Vietnamese soldiers remain missing
–Thousands of amputees, paraplegics, blind, deaf, and other maimings created
–13,000 of 21,000 of Vietnamese villages, or 62 percent, severely damaged or destroyed, mostly by bombing
–Nearly 950 churches and pagodas destroyed by bombing
–350 hospitals and 1,500 maternity wards destroyed by bombing
–Nearly 3,000 high schools and universities destroyed by bombing
–Over 15,000 bridges destroyed by bombing
–10 million cubic meters of dikes destroyed by bombing
–Over 3,700 US fixed-wing aircraft lost
–36,125,000 US helicopter sorties during the war; over 10,000 helicopters were lost or severely damaged
–26 million bomb craters created, the majority from B-52s (a B-52 bomb crater could be 20 feet deep, and 40 feet across)
–39 million acres of land in Indochina (or 91 percent of the land area of South Viet Nam) were littered with fragments of bombs and shells, equivalent to 244,000 (160 acre) farms, or an area the size of all New England except Connecticut
–21 million gallons (80 million liters) of extremely poisonous chemicals (herbicides) were applied in 20,000 chemical spraying missions between 1961 and 1970 in the most intensive use of chemical warfare in human history, with as many as 4.8 million Vietnamese living in nearly 3,200 villages directly sprayed by the chemicals
–24 percent, or 16,100 square miles, of South Viet Nam was sprayed, an area larger than the states of Connecticut, Vermont, and Rhode Island combined, killing tropical forest, food crops, and inland forests
–Over 500,000 Vietnamese have died from chronic conditions related to chemical spraying with an estimated 650,000 still suffering from such conditions; 500,000 children have been born with Agent Orange-induced birth defects, now including third generation offspring
–Nearly 375,000 tons of fireballing napalm was dropped on villages
–Huge Rome Plows (made in Rome, Georgia), 20-ton earthmoving D7E Caterpillar tractors, fitted with a nearly 2.5-ton curved 11-foot wide attached blade protected by 14 additional tons of armor plate, scraped clean between 700,000 and 750,000 acres (1,200 square miles), an area equivalent to Rhode Island, leaving bare earth, rocks, and smashed trees
–As many as 36,000,000 total tons of ordance expended from aerial and naval bombing, artillery, and ground combat firepower. On an average day US artillery expended 10,000 rounds costing $1 million per day; 150,000-300,000 tons of UXO remain scattered around Southeast Asia: 40,000 have been killed in Viet Nam since the end of the war in 1975, and nearly 70,000 injured; 20,000 Laotians have been killed or injured since the end of the war
–7 billion gallons of fuel were consumed by US forces during the war
–If there was space for all 6,000,000 names of Southeast Asian dead on the Vietnam Wall in Washington, DC, it would be over 9 sobering miles long, or nearly 100 times its current 493 foot length

I am not able to memorialize our sacrificed US soldiers without also remembering the death and destroyed civilian infrastructure we caused in our illegal invasion and occupation of Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia. It has been 47 years since I carried out my duties in Viet Nam. My “service” included being an eyewitness to the aftermath of bombings from the air of undefended fishing villages where virtually all the inhabitants were massacred, the vast majority being small children. In that experience, I felt complicit in a diabolical crime against humanity. This experience led me to deeply grasping that I am not worth more than any other human being, and they are not worth less than me.

Recently I spent more than three weeks in Viet Nam, my first trip back since involuntarily being sent there in 1969. I was struck by the multitudes of children suffering from birth defects, most caused presumably by the US chemical spraying some 50 years ago. I experienced deep angst knowing that the US is directly responsible for this genetic damage now being passed on from one generation to the next. I am ashamed that the US government has never acknowledged responsibility or paid reparations. I found myself apologizing to the people for the crimes of my country.

When we only memorialize US soldiers while ignoring the victims of our aggression, we in effect are memorializing war. I cannot do that. War is insane, and our country continues to perpetuate its insanity on others, having been constantly at war since at least 1991. We fail our duties as citizens if we remain silent rather than calling our US wars for what they are – criminal and deceitful aggressions violating international and US law to assure control of geostrategic resources, deemed necessary to further our insatiable American Way Of Life (AWOL).

Memorial Day for me requires remembering all of the deaths and devastation of our wars, and it should remind all of us of the need to end the madness. If we want to end war, we must begin to directly address our out-of-control capitalist political economy that knows no limits to profits for a few at the expense of the many, including our soldiers.

S. Brian Willson, as a 1st lieutenant, served as commander of a US Air Force combat security police unit in Viet Nam’s Mekong Delta in 1969. He is a trained lawyer who has been an anti-war, peace and justice activist for more than forty years. His psychohistorical memoir, “Blood On The Tracks: The Life and Times of S. Brian Willson” was published in 2011 by PM Press. A long time member of Veterans For Peace, he currently resides in Portland, Oregon