By Kevin Stoda, Missouri

According to Heidi Burgess, “Social conflicts often involve some misunderstanding. Parties in conflict communicate by what they say (or do not say) and how they behave toward each other. Even normal interaction may involve faulty communication, but conflict seems to worsen the problem. When two people are in conflict, they often make negative assumptions about “the other.” Consequently, a statement that might have seemed innocuous when two parties were friends might seem hostile or threatening when the same parties are in conflict.”


Burgess goes on to state in an essay entitled “Misunderstandings” that “[a]ll communication has two parts: a sender and a receiver. The sender has a message he or she intends to transmit, and s/he puts it in words, which, to her/him, best reflect what s/he is thinking. But many things can intervene to prevent the intended message from being received accurately.”

I was struck by the importance of using the proper and most functional or appropriate tools in communicating one’s message this week as American observed that the noxious“ Runaway” General McChrystal was forced to bail-out-early in the war and on his troops in Afghanistan.  (Was McChrystal just trying to get fired—and skip-out-of-Dodge, i.e. before things turn worse in Afghanistan? Or was he a fool in doing those interviews?)


Also, this past week, I recalled Burgess’ words and reflected on how easily it is to be misunderstood in the heightened political environment in America (i.e. culture wars and tea-party politics) upon my arrival to a small Missouri town where my mother lives.

The very first day in town, I had quickly observed that there was a nearby home with a 20-foot-flag-pole set at half-mast.    I wondered “Why?”

As I took my mother’s dog for a walk each day past the flag, I was forced to continue to ponder what message this apparently-very-patriotic American was trying to convey with his flag at half mast.  I enquired of neighbors and soon learned that the flag had been at half for quite some time.

I thought, “Could the man who flies the flat at half mast be anti-Obama? i.e. and be in mourning, like  those who still don’t recognize Obama as our duly elected president?”


On the other hand, I asked myself, Could the owner of the flag at half mast be the opposite? Perhaps he is mourning America being in wars so far from our shores and wasting tax payers money on rich banks?”


I thought, “A Flag-at-Half-Mast represents mourningMourning is good at times, but now, in our nation’s history, we need to move beyond mourning and act to change and improve things.”


Finally, yesterday morning, I walked with the dog once again by the house with the flag at half mast and saw a tall but aging fellow in the garage.

I told myself, “Enough of my just guessing at the old man’s  intentions at flying his American flag each day at half-mast.  I needed to stop making assumptions and get to the root of the message.”

Well, the gracious older American (neighbor) explained, “Well the part of the mast is broken at the top.  However, I can get up their to fix it.  The flag just doesn’t go any higher.”


I say it is high time that Americans stop all the misunderstandings and false assumptions (and other misunderstandings) leading to hostilities this hot summer of 2010.  Sitting down and talking to your neighbors and start repairing our flag poles (and fences) and rotting infrastructure is a great place to start, eh?

That is as direct as I want to be right now.

What do you think we can otherwise do as citizens of peace (and of a relatively free land) to make our country and our world to function and communicate better this year—and this decade?

We sure are not going to solve our problems by waiving our dirty laundry, like General McChrystal did, are we?

About eslkevin

I am a peace educator who has taken time to teach and work in countries such as the USA, Germany, Japan, Nicaragua, Mexico, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman over the past 4 decades.
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  1. eslkevin says:

    I must confess that I also had thought the flag might have been at half-mast to mourn the senseless waste of life and livelihood in the Gulf due to the BP catastrophe off Louisiana since April 2010.


    Many are outraged at BP/Transocean/Halliburton/GenericEvilCorp for spilling an estimated 200,000 gallons into the Gulf of Mexico each day. Actually, it really doesn’t matter which corporation did it, but the media has made it clear: some evil profit-grabbing company committed this atrocious act and it needs to pay. I don’t disagree. In fact, it’d be great to see this disaster lead to some tangible goods. A few suggestions:

    a) The nationalization of BP’s US operations or the revocation of BP’s corporate charter (or whichever company ends up taking the fall).

    b) A moratorium on all future offshore drilling beyond a certain depth, or while we’re at it, a moratorium on all offshore drilling.

    c) Sentence the executives of all three companies to swim in the oil-polluted waters and then roll around in piles of feathers of birds the spill killed (Is that asking too much?)
    Outline of the Gulf Oil Spill

    Outline of the Gulf Oil Spill

    But the hand-wringing shouldn’t stop at why we didn’t watch these self-interested business entities more closely. Someone recently mentioned to me that after the Exxon Valdez spill the Sierra Club bought an ad in The New York Times that read something like, “His Driving Didn’t Cause This, Yours Did” (referring to the captain of the Valdez). Bingo.

    While we hold the companies at fault responsible, we also need to once again draw attention to the root cause of this disaster: our insatiable appetite for oil. It’s time to wean ourselves off oil—NOT merely by shifting to renewable energy sources as that won’t be enough, but by reducing our consumption levels dramatically—as individuals, as communities, and as a country. So I’m calling all of you to act, not just by demanding the government deal with the oil spill, but by consuming less in some significant, immediate and perhaps even painful ways.

    Cultures often include mourning rituals centered on sacrifice—as choosing to sacrifice in the face of suffering can serve as a catharsis, leading to less pain and improved healing in the long-term. In some cultures mourners even remove part of one of their fingers as a sign of bereavement—but I’m not asking you to go that far (though some may think my proposals are even worse). Well, without further ado, here are some ways you could mourn the BP disaster and help to prevent future disasters from happening as you reduce your ecological footprint and our need for oil:

    1) Change your will so that your funeral is green. Americans spend an average of $10,000 on a funeral and as a country our funerals use 827,000 gallons of embalming fluid, 90,000 tons of steel, and 1.6 million tons of concrete each and every year. That’s a lot of materials and a lot of embodied energy. Asking loved ones to bury you in a shroud in a natural cemetery will be a major ecological improvement and help teach mourning loved ones a new way to relate to Earth: not in a way where we separate our remains away from the planet’s natural cycles, but embrace the cycle and offer up our bodies as part of the continuation of this living system. (Plus, it’s a one-time change so it’s much easier than the other 4 suggestions below.)

    2) Sell your house and buy or rent a place that is half its size and situated in a walkable neighborhood and closer to your workplace. And then, if possible, sell your car too! (And if selling your large home isn’t possible then rent out a room or two.)

    3) Vow not to get another dog or cat. Ever. You’ve heard me say it before, but pets have got to go—with the exception of food producers, like egg-laying chickens, rabbits, guinea pigs, etc. Yes, yes, I know they offer social and health benefits. But so do friends.

    4) Reduce meat and fish consumption to a maximum of 0.5 pounds a week (about 1 kilogram a month) and make sure that meat is sustainably produced. If the entire world ate meat at this level, we could do away with factory farms, and significantly reduce the ecological impacts of our diet.

    5) Work fewer hours (which will be a lot easier if you commit to suggestions 1-4 as those will all reduce your financial burdens). And devote your new found free time to political and community activities. Or if your job doesn’t allow this or your job is achieving social change and you want to work full time, then give away a significant portion of your income.

  2. eslkevin says:

    JOHN HAYDEN’ thoughts on “The Meaning of Petraeus”

    is as follows:

    by Tom Hayden

    President Obama may have saved his reputation as commander-in-chief by firing Stanley McChrystal today, but he deepened his Afghan quagmire by choosing David Petraeus as the replacement.

    There may be immediate pressure on Congress to pass the Afghanistan war supplemental under the pretext of showing national resolve. The measure by Rep. Jim McGovern, which requires an exit strategy including a withdrawal timeline, awaits House action after the Senate killed an identical bill by Sen. Russ Feingold two weeks ago. The Feingold measure was supported by 18 senators, an initial gauge of anti-war sentiment. Support for the McGovern bill hovers around 100 House members.

    Perhaps the most important thing we know about Petraeus is not that he was the author of the Iraq surge, but that he is a political general, who openly pays attention to two “clocks”–that of events on the ground and that of domestic public opinion as well. The Iraq surge strategy was meant to speed up the Iraq clock [throwing more troops into battle] while slowing the American clock [convincing elites and voters alike that the war was ending, more gradually than peace advocates wanted, but with a timetable that was opposed by the Bush-Cheney administration and neo-con believers in the Long War].

    In the case of Afghanistan, Petraeus will want to speed up the Afghan clock by the summer-fall military escalation in southern Afghanistan, and, according to recent testimony, slow down the American clock–now ticking toward a July 2011 deadline to “begin” US troop withdrawals. On a parallel diplomatic track, Petraeus will support very gradual steps toward talks with the insurgents.

    There could be friction with the White House if Petraeus and his allies insist on a “conditions-based” troop withdrawal plan. Over the weekend, Rahm Emmanual emphasized in interviews that the July 2011 deadline for initial withdrawals was a firm one.

    By that time most, if not all, of America’s NATO allies will be withdrawing their troops and heading for an exit strategy. The multilateral cover will be gone.

    Obama may well want to run for re-election in 2012 on a platform of having ended the Iraq War and begun the end of the Afghanistan one.

    The greatest leverage that the broad peace movement may have is the power of mass disaffection. Obama won the 2008 Democratic primaries on his promise to end the Iraq war, which Hillary Clinton had voted to authorize. In fact, Obama virtually began his campaign with an anti-war speech at a rally organized by the local anti-war coalition in Chicago.

    But in trying to win in Afghanistan, Obama definitely risks losing most of the peace movement and the larger bloc of peace voters. This loss of support may not be orchestrated, but be measured in disillusionment, apathy, lack of energy, volunteers and grass-roots participation in states where the election will be close.

    Republicans have a political strategy of branding Afghanistan as Obama’s war and blaming him for not winning. I talked with a member of Congress this week [who declined to be named] who predicted that Republicans will force the Congressional Democratic majority to vote for Afghanistan funding in the coming days, thus co-owning Obama’s war, then “hammer [Obama] with it” and try to “use it as the last nail in the coffin.”

    For an additional perspective on the Obama-Petraeus approach, please see Gareth Porter’s analysis via the Inter Press Service.


    The Peace and Justice Resource Center urges everyone to take the immediate steps of signing the Restore Democracy/End the War petition today.

    A public outcry in support of democratic society is urgently needed. But neither an apology from Gen. McChrystal, nor even his resignation, are enough. The Afghanistan War must be ended if our democracy is to be preserved and strengthened. Sign the petition below and join this campaign. Here are the reasons why:

    It is no surprise that Gen. McChrystal and his military associates would mock and seek to manipulate the White House. Gen. McChrystal represents a new phase of clandestine warfare built around the manipulation of information.

    McChrystal’s entire career in special operations in Iraq remains classified, beyond media scrutiny or meaningful civilian oversight.

    But we know that McChrystal, according to Bob Woodward, designed the top-secret program of extra-judicial killings in Iraq in 2006-2007, which was the bloody core of the “surge,” a plan now being duplicated in the shadows in Afghanistan, where special operations account for more than half the US operations.

    McChrystal is responsible too for the escalating secret war in Pakistan, where our drone strikes have led to the recent near-catastrophe of the Times Square car bombing.

    Apparently the only secret to be leaked in McChrystal’s classified career was his June 2009 military assessment for the President, which predicted military defeat unless the White House yielded to pressure for 30-40,000 more troops.

    McChrystal believes “this is not a physical war…this is all in the minds of the participants.” In that spirit, McChrystal went on a public relations offensive to promote his troop escalation last year, giving interviews to the New York Times, Le Figaro, Newsweek and the International Institute for Strategic Studies, shaping the “information battlefield” for his meetings with the White House.

    Now is the time for President Obama to become a commander-in-chief of diplomacy and reject the advice of those who would manipulate him into a deadly and unaffordable quagmire. Instead of being led by his generals into a no-win conflict and then blamed for losing an unwinnable war, the White House should fully support the overwhelming Afghan majority who desire peace talks with the Taliban, a negotiated diplomatic settlement, and the withdrawal of US troops on a timeline. There must be an escalation of the peace process now.

    President Obama has had three opportunities to avoid debacle in Afghanistan. First, as a presidential candidate. Second, after reviewing his military options last year. Third, after recognizing the stolen election by the Karzai government we fund in Kabul. Each time he has chosen the McChrystal staircase of escalation. Now faced with insubordination and mockery from his generals, with democracy threatened by the military mindset, the president must end the war to prevent a fatal erosion of the very principle of civilian control of the war-making power.

    If you agree with this statement please sign the petition below, demanding a peace process now, so that our democracy is preserved from military manipulation.

    Sign petition here:

    Restore Democracy/End the War petition


  3. eslkevin says:


    William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn’t Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.

    My purpose in this life is to chronicle the events of our time, to shine a light on events and actions that damage us all, to reveal good works whenever they actually happen, and when possible, to show people places and times where they can make a difference should they choose to get involved. In the ten years I’ve been at it, I have seen everything: wars and rumors of wars; economic collapse and environmental calamity; state-sanctioned murder and torture and rape; theft, graft, fraud, deception and greed vast and dense enough to bend the light.

    I have also seen millions upon millions of people pour into the streets to raise their voices as one against all these terrible things. I have seen people hurl themselves into political campaigns that have no hope of succeeding because they believed in the candidate, because the campaign message mattered as much as winning, and was made of so much truth that it required their labor. I have seen previously disconnected people get plugged in somewhere, anywhere, because they could no longer abide the silence of the sidelines.

    I have seen a man, a veteran of the ongoing Iraq war, walk past me on the street on two prosthetic legs. I have looked into the eyes of too many people whose futures were charred to ash by the flagrant criminality that continues on Wall Street even to this very moment. I have watched helplessly as friends lost their jobs, their homes, and their hopes. I have seen people rise above all this, and I have seen people subsumed by it.

    In 2006, I watched as the George W. Bush Big Top Circus finally, finally, finally crashed and burned under the weight of its own incalculable wretchedness. The American people finally stopped buying what he and his people were selling, and on one memorable November night, I watched as those people removed what had been total congressional power from the GOP and hand it to the Democrats. Then I watched as those Democrats failed to do anything even remotely close to stopping the wars, as they failed to thwart the noxious aspirations of the Bush administration, failed to properly investigate and expose the crimes of that administration, failed to impeach, failed to do anything but enjoy the new offices they got for holding majority power.

    In 2008, I watched history unfold. The Democrats expanded their control in congress, and more importantly, a black man and a white woman grappled for the White House against a demonstrably unfit Republican from Arizona, a man whose final epitaph will someday credit him for further poisoning our political culture by elevating Sarah Palin to national prominence. On the night Barack Obama sealed his victory in the general election, the reaction across the country was two-thirds jubilation and one-third doomed dismay; in Boston, thousands of people took to the streets beating drums and banging pots as they shouted with joy, while others made hasty arrangements to buy as many guns as possible. That January, the world watched as the United States shrugged off two centuries of rancid history by inaugurating a president who, just fifty years earlier, would have been required to use a separate water fountain if he wanted to quench his thirst.

    I was not lured into believing the 2008 presidential election was going to mark the beginning of a sea change in American politics. I approach politics and politicians with one simple rule in mind: if I have heard of a politician, count on that politician being deeply and perhaps irredeemably compromised. In order to achieve the kind of notoriety and financing required to be successful in politics, politicians have to sign their names on a number of dotted lines that are not in any way in the best interests of the people. There are exceptions to this, of course – Sen. Paul Wellstone was one, and Rep. Dennis Kucinich is another – but for the most part, a politician who has reached the lofty heights of genuine power and influence does so by donating themselves to the crooked interests that donated to them on the way up.

    President Obama is no different. He took money from BP, which is killing the Gulf as we speak. He took money from the big banks and investment houses that raped our future even as they laughed their way into massive and undeserved bonuses. He is a creature of the “defense” industry, just like every president before him going back to Truman. He is an American politician who reached the highest possible position, and I knew going in that he would be, in the main, another compromised disappointment. Better, but not by much.

    I thought I was prepared for this, but a year and a half into this brave new world, I feel…I don’t know exactly what. I am glad Obama is the president, I am glad McCain is not, I am glad the derangement of Republican rule has been upended, I am pleased with a number of policy initiatives that have been undertaken, and yet there are these empty spaces in my mind and heart that actually, literally, ache. A few things are better, a lot of things are worse, and most things remain exactly the same. I knew it would be like this, but still, the emptiness is there.

    My role is to chronicle these times. During all the years I have done so, I have been clinging to a belief that has managed to sustain me even on the darkest of days, a belief that has always filled some of that emptiness. It is a belief I fear our president has allowed himself to forget amid the cacophony of corporate power, military mayhem and runaway greed which binds him to a familiar course that, if left unchecked, will come to be the end of us all.

    This belief is simple: America is an idea. We have borders, roads, cities, farms, armies, but that is not America. The idea that is America was forged in the crucible of Europe, when kings could mandate a state religion and incarcerate or kill whoever disagreed, when rights only existed if the powerful deemed them so. The idea that is America was forged upon the premise that these things were wrong on their face, that people are endowed with rights that cannot be taken away by fiat. At no time in history had any nation premised its existence on the bedrock truth that all of us are created equal until the Founders did so in Philadelphia, and in doing so, they created a self-improving process of national growth and redemption that functions through the will of the people alone.
    We are an idea, and all of us are bound to it through the ink that explains us on old pieces of parchment. We are an idea, and in that idea, we can locate our nobility, our strength, and the better angels of our nature. Too many of us, including our president and congressional representatives, have forgotten this. Perhaps, if we remind them in strong enough terms, if we make We The People a true force for right instead of a catch-phrase, things would get better. Until then, the idea that is America will continue to wither, and the empty spaces within will endure.

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