Three remarkable books have been published recently. THE SEARCHERS: The Making of an American Legend, DIRTY WARS: The World is a Battlefield, and FORTRESS ISRAEL: The Inside Story of the Military Elite Who Run the Country — And Why They Can’t Make Peace. These publications reflect the gaze of three of America’s most eminent journalists on a common theme: when cultures clash and territorial issues arise, violence is usually the final arbitrator.
I picked up THE SEARCHERS expecting to read about the classic 1956 John Ford western starring John Wayne. Of course the author’s bio from the book jacket drew my attention. Glenn Frankel understands ethnic conflict. As Jerusalem bureau chief for the Washington Post he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1989 for “sensitive and balanced reporting from Israel and the Middle East.” Frankel retired from the Post after twenty-seven years and now directs the School of Journalism at the University of Texas.
My next surprise was the book itself which begins with a fascinating account of Texas in the 1830’s. Shortly after Santa Anna’s army overcame the Alamo in San Antonio killing James Bowie, William Travis and David Crockett on March 6, 1836, a raiding band of Comanches attacked a settler outpost, Fort Parker. Five settlers were killed and five were taken prisoner. Cynthia Ann Parker, who was nine at the time, spent the next twenty-nine years with the Comanches. Her uncle, James Parker spent those years tracking her down and exacting revenge on all Indians for the death of his father and brother. This is the essence of the story upon which the film, The Searchers was based.
Yet Frankel takes us on a wider path with his narrative. At the time of the Alamo, Texas was an independent country led by Sam Houston who had run away from his boyhood Tennessee home to live with the Cherokee Indians for three years. He called the Cherokee chief Oolooteka father and considered the Cherokee his family. As subsequent events took place, Houston’s wisdom and council were to no avail, with Texans maddened by violence and bent on revenge.
What had started as a tit-for-tat struggle over horse thievery and hunting rights was quickly evolving into the most protracted conflict ever waged on American soil, a forty-year blood feud between two alien civilizations. Neither side believed the other was fully human. Comanches saw the Texans as invaders without conscience who occupied their lands, destroyed their hunting grounds, and broke every promise. Texans saw Comanches as human vermin, brutal, merciless and sadistic . . . Texans used the term “depredations” to describe Comanche atrocities. In the Texan view, this was not warfare as practiced by civilized men but rather a form of depraved, predatory attack by wild beasts. The only possible solution was to cage or kill the perpetrators . . . Revisionist historians have characterized these campaigns as exercises in ethnic cleansing. Despite the emotionally charged context, it’s a label hard to refute. — Glenn Frankel
Many a month has come and gone
Since I wandered from my home
In those Oklahoma hills where I was born.
Many a page of life has turned
Many a lesson I have learned
Well, I feel like in those hills I still belong.
Way down yonder in the Indian Nation
Ridin’ my pony on the reservation
In those Oklahoma hills where I was born.
Now, way down yonder in the Indian Nation
A cowboy’s life is my occupation
In those Oklahoma hills where I was born.
— from the song Oklahoma Hills by Woody Guthrie
When I was thirteen years old my parents put me on a plane in Tripoli, Libya and I traveled by myself to Wichita, Kansas. There my Uncle Vern, Aunt Kathryn and my cousins, Jonelle and Joe, greeted me. My father, having grown up on a wheat and cattle ranch thirty miles from Dodge City during the Dust Bowl, had decided a similar upbringing would be of benefit for me. My father’s family was large and extremely patriarchal. My grandfather, J.W. Birney, President of the Kansas Livestock Association and on the boards of the local school and bank had ruled with a strong hand and tongue. His profanity was loud and renowned. As the youngest children, my father Lawrence and his brother Vern had little direct contact with J.W. It became my father’s task to take full responsibility for his younger brother. So it would now be my Uncle Vern who would be taking on the task of caring for me.
The American Great Plains is a staggering, beautiful and humbling experience. The land stretches, like an ocean, from horizon to horizon. Massive thunderclouds pile up, billowing atop each other, rolling angrily from the distant, unseen Rockies. Lightning flashes laterally in the evening darkness, telegraphing power and might from an awesome God. From Texas to Canada these grass plains are the world’s breadbasket. Wheat rules the seasons and the voice of vanished Indians is strong. I sensed their unseen presence driving tractors for endless hours under a relentless sun and tossing hay bales high into the loft of the Froome-Birney round barn in Kiowa County with a pitch fork.
During that time, I recognized the importance of honoring the Indian legacy and the willingness to restore our own birthright as humble participants in an earthly journey of personal and communal discovery. When we fail to honor those who cared for the land before us, we place ourselves above the divinity who made us both and call our own stewardship into question. Frankel’s The Searchers brought that fact home once again.
The savage war of peace between Texans and Comanches was now in full destructive bloom, a violent adolescent tearing at its own flesh — The Searchers
Jeremy Scahill is an investigative reporter of incomparable skill. He has worked in the former Yugoslav Republic, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen. His most recent work DIRTY WARS: The World is a Battlefield is, simply put, disturbing. His prologue recounts a young man killed by a drone missile.
The boy was outdoors with his cousins — teenagers like him — laying a picnic for dinner beneath the stars. It was then he would have heard the drones approaching, followed by the whiz of the missiles. It was a direct hit. The boy and his cousins were blown to pieces. All that remained of the boy was the back of his head, his flowing hair still clinging to it. The boy had turned sixteen years-old a few weeks earlier and now he had been killed by his own government. He was the third US citizen to be killed in operations authorized by the president in two weeks. The first was his father.
Anwar al Awlaki was born on April 22, 1971 in Las Cruces, New Mexico. His father, Nasser, was a PhD candidate in agricultural economics from Yemen. Awlaki grew up in Nebraska and Minnesota. Scahill follows his progression from being an average American boy to Awlaki’s interest in Islam and career as an imman. Much had changed through the years and by 1999, Awlaki was on the FBI radar. He drew national recognition as the face of a moderate, well spoken, intelligent religion after 9/11, speaking with the Washington Post and The New York Times. After that the trail grows murky. Was Awlaki hounded into radicalization by the FBI, or did he become an informant? Villain or victim? He left the US for Britain in 2002. His firey sermons became a staple for radical Muslims around the world. He corresponded with Nidal Malik Hassan, the army psychiatrist who murdered thirteen fellow soldiers at Ft. Hood, Texas in 2009.
Was Anwar Awlaki’s killing in 2011 by the US government legal? Two facts jump out. First the death of his son Abdulrahman two weeks later was murder. Second, any legal opinion offered by Eric Holder is worthless. His Justice Department’s obsession with pot smokers, whistle blowers and journalists is Nixonesque. His refusal, even when presented with evidence by the FHA, to investigate the banking industry after the largest financial crime in the history of the world makes him the worst US Attorney General in history. The image of Holder following James Rosen of Fox News around Washington like Inspector Jacques Clouseau will haunt his legacy forever. Unbelievable. This after the Obama administration allowed itself to be swept along with the crushing tide of criminal sociopaths that destroyed the world economy, and not one indictment.
DIRTY WARS: The World is a Battlefield is a broad reaching and spellbinding account of the entire War on Terror and the absolute failure of violence as the sole antidote to violence, as well as the extreme blowback created by the ‘drone’ mentality that grips the Obama administration, even toward journalists who sympathized with their goals. Which brings us to Israel.
Patrick Tyler, a seasoned reporter with both the Washington Post and The New York Times, in a riveting account, has detailed what has been obvious for many years. Israel’s obsession with violent retribution and weaponry is based on state policy that dates to the early days under David Ben-Gurion. FORTRESS ISRAEL: The Inside Story of the Military Elite Who Run the Country — And Why They Can’t Make Peace is an unpleasant read for anyone who holds to the notion of a Jewish David facing down Goliath.
In 1955, as Britain was preparing to withdraw eighty thousand troops stationed along the Suez Canal, the Israeli Defense Ministry under Pinhas Lavon came up with a plan to bomb public targets, including cinemas, in Cairo and Alexandria frequented by British and American citizens. The idea was to create a sense of panic making it impossible for the British troops to leave. The plan was unmasked and several Israeli operatives were eventually executed as terrorists. Ironically, this heightened the sense of injustice felt in Israel and made it impossible for the voice of reason to be heard. Prime Minister Moshe Sharett who had worked alongside Ben-Gurion since 1933 had lived among Arabs in Ramallah and Jaffa as a boy. He spoke Arabic, and his Zionism — his ambition for a Jewish state and homeland — was suffused with humanist precepts about coexistence.But the decision was made to forge a path with swords not diplomacy. You live by the sword, you die by the sword.
Historian Benny Morris wrote a harsh commentary on FORTRESS ISRAEL in the Jewish Review of Books. Tyler’s purpose in writing this book was not to offer his readers an honest history, it was to blacken Israel’s image. FORTRESS ISRAEL is just the latest in a spate of venomous perversions of the record that have appeared in the past few years in the United States and Britain, all clearly designed to subvert Israel’s standing in the world. Deliberately or not, such books are paving the way for a future abandonment of the Jewish state. He goes on to add, The appeasement of the Arab-Islamist world at Israel’s expense is in the air and Tyler is one of its (very, very) minor harbingers. This last line suggests some personal pique, this petty tonality needlessly detracts from Morris’ argument.
In her classic book JERUSALEM 1913 Amy Dockser Marcus, a Pulitzer Prize winning author, states, In choosing 1913 as my focus, I realized that what happened that year more than any other answered the question that had bothered me during my time in Israel: Why had things gone wrong. Later she writes, By now each side had already made a crucial misjudgement they would continue to affect its policies in Palestine for years to come: the Muslims were convinced the Jews would never win, while the Jews believed the Arabs would someday yield.
In his Farewell Address, President Eisenhower said, We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. After Israel invaded Egypt in 1956 and France and Britain began bombing Cairo, Eisenhower said the United Nations could not survive if Israel was allowed to change its borders through conquest. He went on national television and forced Israel, with the threat of sanctions to withdraw from Sinai. Almost sixty years later, his words seem prophetic. Fanning flames with weaponry has given rise to radical Islam as an existential threat to the entire world. It takes no vision to realize that continuing on our present path places us all in peril.
Instead, we must look within for the answer. Politicians keep a steady focus on their next election, and capitalism sees every crisis as an opening for a free-for-all weapons market. A leap of consciousness is essential to reach a resolution, and that leap needs to include women. We can’t create peace without half the world in on it.
In addition, the search for justice, more than any other cause, motivates people. That is the missing link. PURE VISION: The Magdalene Revelation by Perri Birney is a fictional tale of women from around the world moving toward Jerusalem with a single voice. Their aim: the creation of an international City of Peace. PURE VISION underscores the fact that military, political and economic initiatives are what have led us into our current world crisis and can only serve to further entrap us. The novel highlights a sense of immediacy, noting the time is now, the need is here, and the means are women.
This new Jerusalem was alive — it was now. Not a vague prophecy for future generations but a here-and-now proposition for action. Maggie felt the pain of the mothers . . . mothers who had lost their children to war. She spoke for those weary of violence. She neither sought nor feigned justification for her prayer. It was simple, from the heart. Pray for peace, and let Jerusalem be its capital. — PURE VISION