Monthly Archives: May 2013

Bradley Manning, San Francisco Pride, and a Queer Sense of Duty

The controversy over the decision by the board of directors of San Francisco Pride to revoke their selection of Private First Class Bradley Manning as a grand marshal for the 2013 parade has highlighted what most queer San Franciscans have long recognized: SF Pride is a soulless endeavor beholden to corporate capitalist interests and directed by a handful of career professionals who value the comforts of assimilation over confrontational politics. Nor should the dysfunction and incompetence signaled by the way the board of directors has handled the controversy surprise any serious observers of SF Pride, who have watched the organization stumble repeatedly in the past several years. A city controller’s report of SF Pride’s bungled finances exposed the extent of the incompetence in 2010, and a series of poorly timed resignations revealed persisting difficulties well into 2011, even prompting the illustrious Michael Petrelis, never shy to speak truth to power, to advocate canceling Pride’s events that year, and dissolving its board altogether.


No one wears a rainbow flag like Michael Petrelis.

No one wears a rainbow flag like Michael Petrelis.

Certainly, now more than ever, SF Pride requires public scrutiny, and if its legally bound directors refuse to operate transparently, the community must take action to replace them. A diverse group of writers and activists, from locals like Petrelis, Glenn Greenwald, and Clinton Fein, to the far-flung like Victoria Brownworth and Jesse Monteagudo, are on the case, and one can expect the pressure on SF Pride only to build until the directors answer the community’s concerns; the recent announcement by SF Pride to postpone any opportunity to do so until after the June 30th celebrations is thus all the more puzzling to anyone familiar with the rudiments of community relations. The incompetence continues.

Whatever criticism observers may rightly reserve for SF Pride, though, I am equally troubled by the failure of another player in this drama. Those active duty members and veterans of the military who demanded SF Pride take the ill-advised decision to rescind Manning’s selection not only demonstrated their utter ignorance of community relations, they also showed both a deep disrespect for a convention of martial culture essential to maintaining civilian democratic authority over the military – the legal duty of every soldier, sailor, and marine to refuse to obey unlawful orders, and to report others who violate military or civilian law – and a regrettable disregard for the free, pluralistic society one’s military service is intended to secure. While I can easily overlook their naiveté of public affairs, their disrespect for the legal complexities of Manning’s case, and their disregard for pluralism impress me as dangerous indeed.

Advancing the first criticism is challenging for a self-professed anarchist like me, as it relies on legal paradigms I do not myself accept as valid, but those legal paradigms nonetheless operate as the framework for construing concepts of military duty and obligation, and function as the sole constraints on the exercise of military power by the democratic state, civilian authorities, the chain of command, and the troops themselves. So, peaceful society relies on these legal paradigms to avoid the perils of military force run amok. The sworn duty of every inductee into the armed forces is to obey all lawful orders, and much of military training is structured to teach every member to do so without question, but the obverse of that Janus coin is the duty to refuse unlawful orders, and instruction in the Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is meant to teach every trainee to be able to discern the difference. Manning was clearly paying attention in class.

As for Manning’s critics among the queer military community, I’m not so sure. The contempt these supposedly upright service members hold for the complexities of law is apparent even in the short quotes they’ve provided to the media: all have spoken of Manning as if he had already been convicted, which he certainly has not, and prosecution on the capital crime of aiding the enemy is highly improbable according to some legal observers, who say the government is overplaying its hand. Stephen Peters, president of the American Military Partners Association, called Manning’s alleged acts “treacherous,” and accused him of “blatant disregard for the safety of our service members and the security of our nation.” Josh Seefried, co-chair of OutServe-SLDN, an organization one might have thought should have supported Manning, called Manning’s alleged acts a “disgrace.” Navy veteran Sean Sala even asserted that Manning “makes Gay military, the Armed Forces, and the cause of equality look like a sham.”

I’m unsure how these critics have arrived at their conclusions. Other critics have referred to Manning’s “confession,” by which, I presume, they mean his statement before the providence inquiry in February. I have lately suspected the most voluble opponents of Manning’s selection as grand marshal have perhaps never read that statement, because Manning was eloquent in the defense of his actions, especially eloquent to anyone who ever served. Service members and veterans should know, better than civilians and non-veterans, that the induction oath sworn by enlistees and commissioned officers and the UCMJ, in which all service members are well indoctrinated and of which ignorance among the troops is not tolerated, require that service members refuse unlawful orders. Under Article 81 of the UCMJ, prohibiting conspiracy, therefore, no authority can require a service member to conceal the violation of other laws. In other words, once Manning knew that others were breaking laws or ignoring the military’s own rules of engagement, he was duty-bound to come forward, and if the chain of command were complicit in said violations, he was duty-bound to find another way to blow the whistle.

Those who have served, and those who still do, should be very sympathetic to Manning’s dilemma. On the one hand, standing orders and certain laws pertaining to handling classified information bound him to silence. On the other hand, yet different laws, arguably higher laws, and a sense of moral duty bound him to speak the truth. His statement before the providence inquiry suggests Manning knew he might be held accountable under those lesser laws and orders, but he rightly recognized, as his critics should recognize now, that the prohibitions against the murder of civilian journalists and firing on unarmed children trump the prohibitions against leaking classified information, and the laws forbidding our military personnel from helping a foreign government to imprison and torture its political opponents supercede laws forbidding the publication of secrets.

Uncertain though I might be of the logic by which the opponents of Manning’s selection derived their condemnation of him, I remain quite certain they are mistaken. Any who may have obscured the truth about battlefield crimes were acting treacherously, not Manning. If some in Manning’s chain of command, as evidence suggests, were misusing U.S. forces to interfere with the liberties of the very people whose democratic rights those forces were meant to secure, they were demonstrating a blatant disregard for the safety of our service members and the security of our nation, not Manning. The State Department officials who hurled insults at foreign leaders in cables they believed those leaders would never read, and who, in their embarrassment, would now hang a private, are the disgrace, not Manning. Those in the Obama administration and the military chain of command pursuing the prosecution of a man whose actions will probably save lives by rendering the Status of Forces Agreement untenable and forcing an earlier end to operations in Afghanistan make…the Armed Forces…look like a sham, not Manning. And Peters, Seefried, Sala, and all the other victims of military group-think, so insecure in the legitimacy of their own service that they must ignore the facts of Manning’s case in order to join in his pillorying, make…Gay military…and the cause of equality look like a sham, not Manning. (Sala’s use of the term “Gay military,” never mind capitalizing it, is a sham unto itself, but I digress.)

I must also quarrel with the simple sanctimony of any queer veteran or service member who would reduce their denouncement of Manning to calling him a criminal. Yes, in his testimony to the providence inquiry, Manning admitted to breaking lesser laws in the service of a higher good, but so did thousands of veterans, like myself, whose service predated Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Our illegal but honorable service was the justification for the incremental improvement in policy represented by DADT. Likewise, once the military implemented DADT, those who did tell were also violating the law in the service of a higher good, but none who have benefited from the repeal of DADT would castigate those individuals as criminals. Instead, our communities, even many who oppose U.S. military policy, count those individuals as heroes. As a participant and organizer of many protests of the military ban, I also know that the intentional breaking of the law in acts of civil disobedience was critical to raising public awareness and shaping popular opinion so that queer service members might serve openly today. That those who enjoy the greatest advantage of such efforts would take such an uncritical view of military or civilian law truly disheartens me, and suggests a childish understanding of history.

Most troubling, though, is that queer service members and veterans would employ the Manning broke the law tactic when congress has yet failed to repeal Article 125 of the UCMJ, the article that prohibits sodomy of any stripe for all service members, queer or not, married or not. The repeal of DADT may have decriminalized calling oneself  “gay,” but actually doing anything that makes one so remains a brig-time offense. While this odious law persists, Peters fights for spousal benefits, Seefried chases media attention, and Sala organizes military contingents for Pride parades. Might this be the dirty little secret compelling them all to their vehement repudiation of Manning? Is the internal recognition that their service remains a legal hoax undermining their own sense of legitimacy, like the closet case homophobe who lashes out in hatred of others because of what he despises in himself? Is their lack of courage in confronting the legal and political issue that should now most concern queer service members, the repeal of Article 125, feeding their rebuke of Manning’s moral bravery? I can’t know the answers to these questions, of course; but I would be failing my own sense of duty if I didn’t now propose them to Peters, Seefried, and Sala. Their attacks on Manning reveal a deep disrespect for the complexities of law that must always be unacceptable in individuals the state trains, equips, and licenses to kill, because such disrespect for the complexities of law among the warrior class is dangerous to all.

The second flank of my critique of Manning’s queer detractors is not concerned with the law but with the conventions of pluralism within a free civilian society, and the military’s role in protecting the freedoms that underlie those conventions. For uniformed participants in queer life to demand that civilian society conform to the rigid notions of homogeneity and the authoritarian demands of artificial hierarchies required by military life is insulting to the very idea of democratic pluralism, and casts those uniformed participants in the unflattering light of police state bullies, or, at least, children in tantrum.

I can illustrate this problem in two ways. First, consider how a secularist like me feels when pride organizations select religious leaders as grand marshals, as they reliably do in cities across the US, including San Francisco. As a class, I find the clergy altogether unfit as personal role models. I do not think religion ever serves queer freedom. To me, these individuals will never be heroes. I also sometimes disagree with the political or social views represented by such selections. But I am so grateful to live in a truly diverse community, populated by many with whom I disagree. I would never presume, as Peters, Seefried and Sala have, to suggest that pride organizations not select individuals with whom I disagree, or even those of whom I somehow disapprove. Rather, I expect that the contingent of people representing me in such roles will be diverse, and that I may sometimes even find some choices objectionable. Otherwise, I might suspect that the pride organization had failed in its responsibilities. No doubt, many queer San Franciscans are pacifists, or at least oppose militarization, but they didn’t stamp their feet and demand SF Pride rescind its selection of Dan Choi as grand marshal in 2009. Instead, they took the opportunity to discuss military politics with their queer neighbors, pulled the boas and boots from their closets, and went to the parade.

The cultural, philosophical and intellectual diversity of our queer communities enriches us all, and Manning’s critics should be eager to foster it, too. The pride organizations of large cities like San Francisco, recognizing that one person alone can’t possibly embody such diversity, typically select more than one parade marshal, and usually employ multiple means for their selection. A board of directors will likely employ different criteria in their selection than the voting public participating in a community selection process might employ. Similarly, a congress of former grand marshals will likely employ different criteria still. Finding ways to embrace the differences among us strengthens our communities in important ways, and Manning’s critics should be grateful for San Francisco’s robust efforts to do so. Indeed, one would hope that a desire to protect the freedoms that make such expressions possible serves, in some part, at least, as motivation for military service. The uniformed participants of queer life can celebrate such expressions even while disagreeing with them; to instead selfishly demand that such expressions be disallowed does not comport with the demeanor of sacrifice, and love of liberty demanded by life in uniform.

My second illustration of this problem may better appeal to the self-interest of queers-in-uniform, as it concerns their strategic position in the queer political community. For this illustration the reader must permit me a slight historical diversion. As the Navy was discharging me for homosexuality in 1987, I stood at a payphone on the quad at Naval Nuclear Power School in Orlando and called every major political organization that had ever taken any interest in queer politics or queer legal issues. I called the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund (LLDEF), the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force NGLTF), and the Human Rights Campaign Fund, (HRCF) among others. I realize now that I was naïve to think these organizations could help me in any way, but what surprised me even then was how little they seemed to know or care about the issue. On the political left where most queer alliances were forged, the plight of a Navy fag was something of a non-issue. Lambda was litigating one relevant case at the time, as I recall, and the receptionist at HRCF was sympathetic, and a volunteer at ACLU advised me to say nothing that would incriminate myself. Otherwise, they told me in no uncertain terms, I was on my own.

After my discharge and my return to Washington, D.C. I had the great privilege of meeting and befriending Frank Kameny. He was then the only political figure in the capital to have any sense of the gravity of the military ban on homosexuality encoded in Defense Department regulations. The queer right first seemed strangely protective of the military closet, but by the end of the decade was recognizing the need for the military to permit queers-in-uniform to serve openly, thanks in part to Congressman Gerry Studds, and HRCF Executive Director Tim McFeeley. The queer left was not only indifferent to the plight of queers-in-uniform, it was hostile to the very idea of queers-in-uniform. Several years before NGLTF inaugurated its Military Freedom Project, I sat across the desk from Jeff Levi, who would later lead that effort, and told him the story of how I was exposed as a fag and discharged from the Navy. He said not a word until I finished my story, then after a long weighted pause, he shook his head with puzzled derision, and asked,” So, explain to me again, if you’re gay, why would you want to be in the Navy?”

Years before DADT, the radical queer left helped forge a consensus to "lift the ban."

Years before DADT, the radical queer left helped forge a consensus to “lift the ban.”

Over the next five years, Kitt Kling, Miriam Ben-Shalom, J.B. Collier, and I, veterans-turned–activists all, joined Kameny’s ongoing efforts to change those attitudes. By Veterans Day 1991, our efforts had united hundreds of demonstrators, representing an array of groups from the HRCF to the NGLTF marching behind a Queer Nation banner, to protest the ban on the steps of the Pentagon, but the issue remained far from a mainstream concern of what was then considered the national movement, either in D.C., or out in the states. Our communities were suffering the worst of the AIDS crisis; progressives were generally wary of US military policy in the wake of the Gulf War. In some ways, moreover, movement activists had never fully recovered from the shock of the Supreme Court’s decision in Bowers v. Hardwick, and they had every reason to be reluctant to take up the cause of lifting the ban.


On the Pussy Grazer "Hit List" for self-hating patriotism.

On the Pussy Grazer “Hit List” for self-hating patriotism.

After Glenn Belverio wished me dead in the queer ‘zine, Pussy Grazer, I decided to argue directly for the support of the radical queer left, of which, as a member of ACT UP and Queer Nation, I considered myself a part. I first made my case in a speech I gave during a workshop on military homophobia in Norfolk, Virginia, “Tell the Queer Who Asks Why Care,” written to address the specific objections of the queer left. I then spent the spring of 1992 repeating its key points to anyone who would listen. I argued how the military’s ban and its culture of homophobia adversely affected American civilian life, even for those antagonistic to US militarization, and how lifting the ban served the queer left’s desire for a more pluralistic civil society. I was among only a handful of activists, organizers, and elected officials making the case, but the case was strong, and eventually more and more influential voices were added to ours as the political pressure for change grew. By that fall, reporters were asking questions on the campaign trail, prompting candidate Bill Clinton to make his now-famous promise to lift the ban, in turn prompting queers from every walk of life and from across the political spectrum to vote for him that November. One year after Queer Nation had stormed the Pentagon, President-elect Clinton affirmed that he would keep that campaign promise.


The tragic murder of Alan Schindler galvanized even pacifist and anti-military activists behind "lifting the ban."

The tragic murder of Alan Schindler galvanized even pacifist and anti-military activists behind “lifting the ban.”

In those five years, from the summer of my discharge to the autumn of Clinton’s election, I had witnessed a large national movement shift from a position of indifference, even hostility, on the issue of queers-in-uniform, to a position of nearly full support for lifting the ban. Even many who identified as pacifists, and many opponents of US military policy, now agreed that the plight of queer service members was an issue our communities could no longer afford to ignore. Early in 1993, when the news of sailor Alan Schindler’s brutal murder at the hands of gay-bashing shipmates surfaced, the fatal beating seemed to tragically emblematize all the arguments of the last five years. No one who attended the March on Washington in 1993 could fail to observe the unity of the national movement on this issue. Diverse components and factions, some who were very anti-military, closed ranks in solidarity with queers-in-uniform: a pluralistic force of immeasurable political power. The rest of the story is well-told: an unfortunate compromise, seventeen years of justice delayed, an ultimate victory the full measure of which is yet unfolding; but without the alliances of diverse groups with various interests united in pluralism to lift the ban, there would be no story to tell. The right for queers-in-uniform to serve openly may not have been achieved until 2011, but the political will of the movement that achieved it was forged in 1993, and it was forged in the fires of pluralism.

I can’t imagine why those who enjoy the finest fruits of that achievement would turn their backs on the very same leftist impulses that drove queers into the streets in solidarity with them. Perhaps, they are ashamed of us, the queer comrades who fought for them and would now fight for Manning, too. Or perhaps, now that they have their full place at the military table, they fear losing it through guilt by association. I don’t demand they agree with supporters of Manning’s selection as grand marshal, although I think the facts are on his side, and speak especially clearly to those of us familiar with military law. Nor do I demand that they share my views on US military policy. I do expect them to respect the pluralist conventions of the diverse civilian society they are sworn to protect, and in which they are choosing to participate now that they are free to do so; I expect them to express their disagreement without censoring the expression of others; I expect them to recognize that, just because they are no longer bullied by the military closet, they are not now free to bully the rest of us.

Bradley Manning faced a terrible dilemma, and none should judge him lightly. Given the choice between doing the right thing at enormous personal cost, or doing the easy thing by ignoring a great wrong, Manning showed true valor. Under similar circumstances, most of us would like to think that we would choose the right over the easy, as Manning did, but, until we are somehow tested we can never be sure. So, we must imagine these aspirations for ourselves through him, holding his example close, a model for our own behavior in trials yet to come. Moved by empathy for the victims of battlefield crimes, an empathy I have speculated may have somehow emerged from his very experience of being queer, Manning bravely sacrificed self. For this, he will always be a hero to me, and for many of us, a true cause for celebrating queer pride.



Bully, Know Thyself

In the late autumn of 2010, as Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project climbed quickly to national prominence, and upon my mother telling me how one of the videos had moved her, I complained that I thought the project was not completely honest.

“It gets better? That’s a lie, really,” I retorted argumentatively, “because, if  ‘it’ is one’s experience of the abusive dominant culture, ‘it’ doesn’t get better.  That experience is a constant throughout one’s life; only one’s response to it is susceptible to one’s willful change.  From elementary school through high school and even college, and throughout one’s working life, one is forever subjected to a culture of bullying. Most bullies never outgrow their abusive ways so much as improve their capacity for subtlety, and expand the range of their influence over their victims’ lives — as foremen, managers and chief executives, military, political and spiritual leaders, husbands and fathers.”

I ranted on: “If life improves for those of us with rough childhood experiences, it does so because we get better. We get better at maneuvering the demands and expectations of the dominant culture; we get better at moderating our own behaviors in precise ways calculated to elicit specific rewards and avoid specific punishments from the dominant culture; we get better at formulating values independent of the dominant culture’s values; we get better at choosing when resistance to the abuses of the dominant culture is essential to our authenticity and integrity; we get better at the very resistance itself when we decide it is essential; we get better at compromising when it’s not essential. We get better at all these things, but the culture doesn’t change, really. The abuse never stops. The bullies never rest.”

(How lucky I am my patient mother endures these verbal tirades without perceiving me a bully. I often find myself at odds with the conventions and trends of gay culture, e.g. the marriage equality movement, in ways that engender these awkward conversations with would-be allies eager to support whatever convention or trend the gay community might be pursuing, but that thorny problem must await another post.)

Derrick Jensen, whose extraordinary writing I’ve cited before, argues that the abusiveness of our culture is intrinsic to civilization, that the creation and sustenance of cities, the defining project of civilization, requires systematic violence; without violence, why would indigenous people ever permit the exploitation and denigration of their watersheds, food sources, and land bases that the support of concentrated populations in cities requires?  The first five premises of Jensen’s Endgame summarize this argument succinctly, so I quote them here in their entirety:

Premise One: Civilization is not and can never be sustainable. This is especially true for industrial civilization.

Premise Two: Traditional communities do not often give up or sell the resources on which their communities are based until their communities have been destroyed. They also do not willingly allow their landbases to be damaged so that other resources – gold, oil, and so on – can be extracted. It follows that those who want the resources will do whatever they can to destroy traditional communities.

Premise Three: Our way of living – industrial civilization – is based on, requires, and would collapse very quickly without persistent and widespread violence.

Premise Four:  Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted, yet unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.

Premise Five: The property of those higher on the hierarchy is more valuable than the lives of those below. It is acceptable for those above to increase the amount of property they control – in everyday language, to make money – by destroying or taking the lives of those below. This is called production. If those below damage the property of those above, those above may kill or destroy the lives of those below. This is called justice.

The implications of the fourth of these premises have weighed heavily on me in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, because the attack was, arguably, an example of “violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher,” and, with all due respect to the dead, the injured, and their families, the reactions of the dominant culture has closely tracked the predictions of the fourth premise. Again and again in the days since the bombing, politicians, civic leaders, and commentators have used these very words to describe the attack: shocking, horrible, unthinkable. Yet, how many of them have used those words to describe any of the far more excessive and far more murderous elements of United States foreign policy? To me, the 2003 bombing of Bagdhad and the consequent murder and maiming of thousands of innocent Iraquis was shocking. To me, the use of radioactive munitions in the Battle of Fallujah with its legacy of illness and birth defects was, and remains horrible. To me, drones swooping from the sky to kill our so-called enemies – let alone the innocent bystanders and the wrongly targeted – are unthinkable. But the dominant culture seems to find these things not so much unthinkable as easier not to think about.

Authorities tell us the surviving alleged perpetrator of the Boston Marathon bombing admitted that religious beliefs motivated him and his brother, and that they undertook their attack as a protest against America’s ongoing wars, but such a direct connection to United States foreign policy is not required to make the point: attacks such as the one on Boylston Street are hardly unthinkable; as long as the United States remains determined in its worldwide bellicosity, such attacks seem quite thinkable to me, even inevitable. How is it so many Americans have come to believe that United States military and intelligence forces can range the globe wreaking mayhem, killing people, terrorizing cities, and poisoning communities with depleted uranium without the violence coming home to roost?

Moreover, such a direct connection between the motives behind the Boston Marathon bombing and United States foreign policy may well distract from a larger point: the stated reasons of the alleged bombers’ actions are relevant only in the superficial way a married couple’s stated reasons for arguing relate to their argument; rarely does anyone do anything for only one reason, and more rarely still does anyone’s deepest motives find overt expression. Thus, the couple continues to fight, never resolving, possibly never aware of, the less obvious causes of the discord. Thus, the bombers continue to strike, and state security apparatuses cannot expect to stop them while ignoring their less obvious motivations.

Given a singular, if wildly diverse, earthly nature – a system that has evolved to self-regulate for life – might one not also conjecture that earthly desires and earthly discontent operate within that system as feedback loops, the means by which different components in the system share information vital to its self-regulation? With every report of violence exploding up the hierarchy, I can’t help but speculate that over-population, the effect of denigrated foodsheds, cultures of sexual oppression, and other similar forces are as much in play as the stated reasons of an alleged bomber, or an alleged mass shooter for that matter.


When a hydrant fails, the pressure in the main creates a waterspout.

When a hydrant fails, the pressure in the main creates a waterspout.

Only a week after the Boston Marathon bombing, as my canine companion, Red Sonja, and I walked up Octavia Street towards Patricia’s Green, we encountered the most spectacular disemboguement of water from the city’s fire main. The frothy white jet d’eau gushed several meters above the opening in the sidewalk’s pavement where the painted hydrant once stood, then cascaded back upon itself in a sparkling cataract that fully whelmed the storm drain. Passers-by couldn’t resist stopping and watching, taking photos and video; the raw beauty of such a quantity of water spewing with such force seemed to mesmerize all. In its eruption, the spill animated, vividly and brilliantly, what practitioners of permaculture call the general core model – or at least its upper half – entailing all the patterns of nature in one dynamic, mnemonic representation. Maybe some primal appreciation of that significance explained the compulsion to stare into the inflorescent spume.


By the time Red Sonja and I arrived, workers had already removed the failed plug.

By the time Red Sonja and I arrived, workers had already removed the failed plug.

I had no clue what had happened to the fireplug previously capping the main that now surged its geyser into the April sunlight. Perhaps a motorist sheared it away, or some metallurgic weakness led to the failure of one of its closures; the firefighters seemed fully aware of the plug’s demise as they approached the scene for what appeared to be at least the second time, so I surmised they had already cleared away the old hydrant. It was nowhere to be seen.


City workers need to know why the plug failed.

City workers need to know why the plug failed.

The superficially recognizable and stated motivations of a certain bomber or a particular mass shooter are like the causes of a single fire hydrant’s failure. I understand why the fire and public works departments must properly assign importance to discerning the superficial causes of a single failure as part of preventing future failures, but when the city worker dismounted his truck cab with an over-sized wrench and tee-bar to shut the valve controlling flow to the main, he was enacting a tacit admission: as long as pumps and gravity maintain high water pressure in the main, such failures are inevitable.

So it is with our overcrowded, overheated, unsustainably farmed, and war-torn planet. However different the explicit motives recognized in Ted Kaczynski, Timothy McVeigh, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, Ross Truett Ashley, Adam Lanza, and now, allegedly, the Tsarnaev brothers, they are all connected, like a city’s fireplugs, by the same underlying pressures. Perhaps the culture of bullying is just such an underlying pressure. I suspect that if the United States would secure its communities against such attacks, it must first see itself as it truly is, bully through and through.

The bully culture is evident in the domestic economy, in the ever-widening, policy-driven gap between those who have not and those who have much. The bully culture is evident in the justice system, and the national ease with which that system imprisons millions of those who have not, while holding accountable only very few of those who have much. The bully culture is evident in budget politics, where the most harmful effects of sequestration and austerity are reliably  mediated for the traveling and professional classes but not for the working poor, the disabled, the very old, and the very young. The bully culture is evident in gun politics, where a vocal minority thwarts the legitimate interests of the majority – not to defend the civil rights of the minority so much as to defend the profits of the gun-makers. The bully culture is evident in sexual politics, where outdated religious dogma and cultural traditionalism overtake the rights of women and queerkind. But most prominently and consequentially, the bully culture is evident in foreign policy, whereby American citizens accede to a deadly, counterproductive, immoral, and seemingly endless campaign of unnecessary wars, military occupations, illegal coups, and lately, stealth drone attacks. In many parts of the world today, even in places where the people of the United States presumably have no quarrel, ordinary people live in fear of us.

One needn’t accept Jensen’s premises to recognize this fundamental fact: on the world’s playground, the United States of America is the über-bully. See how it puffs itself up, how flamboyantly it struts and threatens, how quickly it pushes and shoves and snarls, how decisively it strikes, and how it bawls the moment any raise a fist in kind. Once challenged by even the slightest resistance, America whines and complains louder than any of its victims. The land of the brave, indeed! Ours is the land of the bully-cum-crybaby.


A worker must close the main to stop the flow.

A worker must close the main to stop the flow.

The waterspout at Octavia and Grove Streets must have released hundreds of gallons by the time the water department arrived on the scene to wrench closed the fire main that serves that particular city block.  Sonja and I stood and watched as the fluxion slowed and fell and drained away.

Red Sonja stands alongside temporary repair.

Red Sonja stands alongside temporary repair.

The following day, the breach remained only temporarily repaired, with an inverted traffic cone protruding from its gape, and even today, although the inverted traffic cone has been replaced with a metal cover, the hydrant itself has yet to be replaced.  Similarly, our neighborhoods, schools, and homes will remain unsecured and ourselves unsafe if we continue to ignore the deeper pressures underlying eruptions such as the Boston Marathon bombing. To resist unflinching self-criticism in the aftermath of such attacks is certainly to invite their violent reprise. Rather, we must all now take a collective look in the national mirror, and recognize the bully in us.

A proper cap has replaced the inverted traffic cone, but still no hydrant.

A proper cap has replaced the inverted traffic cone, but still no hydrant.