DEYAN RANKO BRASHICH was born in Belgrade, former Yugoslavia, and is an Op-Ed columnist for Connecticut's Litchfield County Times.  He writes the monthly Letter From America column for Romania’s Scrisul Romanesc, a literary magazine and is a Contributing Editor for  The Country and Abroad, another literary/art magazine where he authors the Dispatch from Abroad column. He is a frequent contributor to Pecat, the Belgrade, Serbia weekly news magazine, Britić, a magazine published in the United Kingdom and Passport, a lifestyle quarterly. He resides in New York City and Washington, Connecticut.

 

Media
Friday
Jun262015

WHY DOES THE CONFEDERATE FLAG STILL FLY

Versions of this article were published as the Guest Column: “Why Does the Confederate Flag Still Fly” in The Register Citizen and The Middletown Press - June 30, 2015

Have you ever wondered why the Confederate flag still flies over state capitols, cities and cemeteries in the South? The Stars and Bars was the war flag of the Confederacy during the Civil War, a misnomer if there ever was one. “War” is a state of armed conflict between nations. “Civil” is a state of affairs defined by courtesy and politeness. Put them together and you get “civil war” the antonym to the bloodbath that was the United States between 1861 and 1865.

Civil wars usually end with summary executions of the leaders of the rebellion followed with reprisals aimed at the rank of file. The reprisals - massacres and brutal suppression with economic sanctions ranging from confiscation to expulsion – are administered with unchecked fury. Justice in the eyes of the victors is absolute and without mercy.

Secession and armed insurrection started the Civil War. Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis and the South were all guilty of treason - “levying war” against the United States as defined by and in the Constitution. Yet after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox and Lincoln’s assassination his successor Andrew Johnson, a southerner by birth, issued a number of Presidential Proclamations granting first amnesty then full universal pardons to the rebels. As a result not one man guilty of treason was ever arrested much less prosecuted.

Pragmatism and self-interest had intervened – justice was denied. There were too many guilty men to be dealt with, to be brought to justice and punished for acts of treason that had cost one million lives and millions of dollars. The South had been given a free get out of jail card; amnesty and pardons had washed away the sins of the South and its rebels.

By avoiding retribution the South side stepped the need to face the grim reality of defeat. It could honor its military heroes, the Jeb Stuarts and Jubal Earlys and erect statues in their name in town squares. It could celebrate the victories of the Battles of Bull Run and Carthage and mark Confederate Memorial Day in ten states. The men who had participated in rebellion had been granted full Presidential pardons and were now cast as defenders of home and hearth. The South came to believe that it had not lost the war and continued to fly that rebel flag with pride and impunity.

Amnesty, the base pragmatic solution that prevented further bloodshed, had trumped justice and the rule of law. The display of the Confederate flag, the symbol of the rebellion, could not be prohibited once the acts of treason forgiven and crimes rendered null and void.

If at the end of the Second World War Germany’s political and military leaders [Hitler, Ribbentrop and Himmler], the Waffen SS and concentration camp prison guards had been granted amnesty and full pardons the use of the National Flag of Germany [1935-1945], the blood red one with a black swastika in a white circle, would not be prohibited as it is in many countries and could well be displayed in some German cities and towns. It is not because our moral compass worked in 1945 while it did not in 1865.

Before you bristle at my mention of Nazi concentration camps let me remind you of Andersonville, the Georgia prisoner of war camp where 13,000 men died of starvation and exposure and the Elmira, New York hell hole where many more perished. Trials for treason, war crimes and crimes against humanity – Sherman’s “Marching through Georgia” for one – would have done our country some good.

The time to lower the Confederate flag is long past. It has acquired secondary meanings - it was adopted by the Klu Klux Klan in the 1910’s and by stupid ignorant assholes today. So let people display the Confederate flag if they will, as some misguided fools do the Nazi one, but not on public property, not as government speech or by public officials, not on our watch.

 

 

Tuesday
Jun162015

TODAY’S GUNS OF AUGUST

Versions of this article were published as "Today’s Guns of August" by Britić on June 16, 2015 and Pećat on June 17, 2015


The Guns of August
is a book about the blunders, miscalculations and general fuck-ups starting with an assassination in Sarajevo that led the death of 10 million soldiers and 5 million civilians in the First World War. Thirteen Days is Bobby Kennedy’s account of the Cuban Crisis and the narrow escape from nuclear holocaust in 1962 when Nikita Khrushchev tried to move missiles into Cuba. These books should be must reads for Barack Obama while he vacations on Martha’s Vineyard in August.

In July Obama will sign an agreement with Fidel Castro’s Brother Raul restoring full diplomatic relations with Cuba some 50 years after the crisis. He should remember how close we came to the brink of disaster when we intercepted and blockaded missile carrying Russian freighters bound for Cuba in international waters. He might want to reconsider his announced plan to deploy “battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and other heavy weapons … in several Baltic and Eastern European countries”.

In response to Jack Kennedy’s failed Bay of Pigs Invasion Khrushchev’s decision to deploy medium-range and intermediate-range nuclear ballistic missiles in response was tantamount to a declaration of war. The United States could not allow offensive strike capabilities to exist some 90 miles south of Miami and within striking distance of every major American city including Los Angeles and Seattle. What makes Obama think that this proposed deployment of forces only 500 miles from Moscow [Riga, Latvia to Moscow, Russia] will go unchallenged and unanswered?

Kennedy’s embrace of the Monroe Doctrine - “Don’t Tread on Me” or the Western Hemisphere – was as rational and prescient in 1962 as it was when first made by the President in his State of the Union Address in 1823: any interference with countries in North or South America “would be viewed as acts of aggression, requiring United States intervention”. What makes Obama think that Putin and Russia do not ascribe to their own “Don’t Tread on Me” policy?

Like it or not the agreements made at Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam divided Europe into two spheres of influence – Western Europe dominated by NATO and the United States and Eastern Europe dominated by Russia and it puppet states. That has changed with the demise of the Cold War. Russia has been downsized with the defection of former client states and the independence of post-Soviet states - Ukraine, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and 10 others.

On the other hand NATO has dangerously expanded beyond its original mission and Charter. Between 1999 and 2004 it has co-opted 8 former Warsaw Pact countries, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia, all on Russia’s very borders. It is no wonder that Russia feels threatened.

An enemy on your border is not to be tolerated which explains our Cuban policy of embargo and containment for 50 years. Socially media reflected this mind set. Red Dawn, possibly the worst movie ever made, played on our fears - Russia using Cuban and Nicaraguan forces invades the United States in that make believe scenario and an intrepid band of teenagers led by Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey wage a guerilla war for freedom, justice and the American way.

A mirror image of this scenario is playing today on Russian TV with the American aggressors supported by NATO forces trying to gain control of Ukraine and the Crimea. On domestic TV the Cold War series Deutschland 83 premieres on Wednesday with an East German spy telling an American general “On your maps, Russia may be very far away but it’s as close to Bonn as say, Ohio is to D.C. The fallout alone would destroy us”. The reverse sends shivers up Putin’s spine.

Obama’s plate is full with Iraq and Afghanistan disintegrating, Syria and Libya imploding, Isis and the Taliban ascending. Why add another distraction by positioning battle tanks, heavy weapons and advance equipment and 5,000 battle ready troops within striking distance of the Kremlin? This is an unnecessary provocation. It violates a “crucial provision of a 1997 agreement between Russia and NATO in which the alliance [NATO] pledged not to station substantial combat forces near Russia”.

To claim that the Pentagon “is merely deploying the equipment, not the troops themselves” notwithstanding the 5,000 soldiers “guarding” and “maintaining” the equipment or that “positioning the equipment forward saves the United States Army time, money and resources” are silly word games to be derided with appropriate hoots and hollers.

Putin and Obama should re-read The Guns of August and Thirteen Days and cancel any deployment of forces. There is no good reason to tempt fate just to save face. 

Wednesday
Jun032015

TRANSGENDER’S DARK UGLY PAST & PRESENT

A version of this article was published in Britić, June 4, 2015. Another version of this article was published in the Litchfield County Times, June 10, 2005

A couple of years back a young man by the name of Andrej Pejić hit the runways, a welcome new face on the catwalks of high fashion. What was unusual about him was that he was a Serb born in Bosnia, not your usual hothouse for beauty and fashion. But what really set him apart was his ambidextrous beauty - he modeled as a winsome male and a stunning female.

Andrej was described as an androgynous male model living “in between genders” until he underwent sex reassignment surgery in 2014 and renamed herself “Andreja”. Her transgender journey from male to female was denounced as abnormal, an abomination, an insult to God and the result: a “thing”, not human. Andreja came to mind this week with the début of Caitlyn Jenner, once known as Bruce, on the cover of Vanity Fair.

What a difference a year and station in life makes. Bruce, once a star college football player and winner of the gold medal of 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics men’s decathlon event was until recently a reality TV star appearing in the hugely popular Keeping Up with the Kardashians with his wife, children and step children. As Bruce she was Male Athlete of the Year, inducted in the Olympic and other Halls of Fame and a guest at the Ford White House. She will receive the Arthur Ashe Courage Award in July for “the courage to embrace a truth [her feminine persona] that had been hidden for years”.

In 1981 I knew of Christine Jorgensen’s 1951 ground breaking gender reassignment surgery in Denmark. As to anything else of that dark taboo subject I knew nothing. Notwithstanding the Stonewall Riots of ’69 being gay in those days kept you in the closet; changing gender kept you deep in the sub-basement never to see the light of day.

My introduction to transgender phenomena that year was when Dr. David R. Wesser, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon was charged by New York State's Department of Health “with negligence or gross incompetence, or both, in connection with the care of five gender-change patients”. The State wanted to yank his license, punch his ticket and then bring criminal charges. I represented him in administrative and court proceedings for the next seven years  

Wesser was quite a guy. He had served with distinction as a front line surgeon with the Army Medical Corps in Vietnam. After his tour of duty he established and ran a free surgical facility that treated Vietnamese children injured and maimed in that war. On his return to the States he was asked to correct surgical mistakes that others with less skill had inflicted the small but growing transgender population.

It was clear from the get-go that this was a kangaroo court. The Chairperson of the panel was a psychiatrist who believed homosexuality to be a deviant criminal activity. Another doctor on the panel was a close friend and professional colleague of the expert witness testifying for the prosecution. The lay person, non-medical professional member of the panel was a Roman Catholic Monsignor. Talk about a stacked deck.

The best the State could do after seven years of prosecution was to suspend his license for a year. But the prosecution broke him, his health failed and he had to abandon the physically demanding field of plastic and reconstructive surgery. The transgender population lost a talented care provider.

I met many transgender individuals, actual or potential witnesses to the proceedings. Their histories of torture and abuse haunt me to this day. Rapes, assaults, beatings were everyday experiences. Drug and substance abuse was an escape and I heard time and again of the ultimate escape for many – suicide. Even after successful gender reassignment surgery and transition a person had to face continued, vicious discrimination with little or no support.

Hartford, Connecticut’s Christ Church Cathedral had a program of counseling and psychological services for gender reassignment candidates. The program’s individual case histories were used as evidence by the defense but were also stark indictments of the abuses suffered by the transgender minority. Hieronymus Bosch would have had a field day painting this version of hell.

It seems that aside from some stupid insults Andreja Pejić has made a smooth transition to womanhood. It is reported that she is to be the subject of a movie, a biopic. Caitlyn Jenner is doing even better. Today on the cover of Vanity Fair photographed by Annie Leibowitz, tomorrow a star of her own reality shows I am Cait. Good for her!

This week, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued its second report on “the state of human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex [LGBTI] people worldwide”. Appalling and frightening are the appropriate words. It documents “a pattern of human rights violation … in every region of the world … [with] LGBT people targets of organized abuse from religious extremists … with lesbian and transgender women at particular risk … with same-sex conduct in at least five countries – Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen - ” commanding the death penalty.

With Caitlyn Jenner the United States has taken a giant step forward for mankind, but as for Serbia and the rest of the world “You’ve got a long way to go, Baby”.

 

Monday
Jun012015

ABORTION - A WOMAN ONLY ISSUE

Men shouldn’t have a voice when it comes to women’s reproductive rights – contraception and abortion. It’s none of their business. Men do not know of such things. Men should be kept at bay and away.

Men and women are much alike but one thing sets them apart. While both men and women can have sex only women can give birth - a fact beyond dispute.

Show me a man who claims to know what child birth is like and I will show you a liar. Tell me that men should have a voice in reproduction issues and I will say “bullshit”! Tell me when it comes to public policy one person, one vote majority rules decides, and I will repeat yet again “bullshit”!  

One person one vote does not control in American politics. In elections for President it is the Electoral College, not the popular vote that ultimately decides the winner or in the Bush-Gore 2000 election it was 4 men and 1 woman that cast the deciding vote – in the Supreme Court of the United States, not in a voting booth.

The Senate is another example of the disregard of the one person one vote rule. Two Senators are elected to represent California’s 39 million, that’s 39,000,000 people while another two are elected to represent Wyoming’s 550 hundred thousand, that’s 550,000 people. Yet Wyoming’s two have as much say in the way the country is run as California’s two. Enough said for one person one vote principle on the senatorial level.

Gerrymandering is the hallmark of elections for the House of Representatives. It is intended to deny equal representation to the political party that does not control that state’s politics. Red states deny equal representation to Democrats and Blue states do the same to Republicans.

In law’s blind eyes corporations are people too but they don’t have, as of yet, the right to vote. The Supreme Court has given them a voice, constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech in the political arena. But their voice is the voice of money and in that arena their cash, their millions are equal to millions of votes. The effect of the millions of dollars that the super PACs will pour into next year’s Presidential Election will put the lie to the one man on vote delusion.   

On a state level New York’s eight down state counties – New York City, Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester – with a population of 13 million are held hostage by the 6 million living upstate who control the levers of power in Albany. New York City can’t install even one red light or speed enforcement camera without upstate approval.

Likewise on a private level the one person, one vote principle does not apply.

The National Football League is an unincorporated trade association controlled and operated by the owners of the 32 professional member teams. It’s a monopoly. The owners vote in setting up the rules, the regulations, the penalties and sanctions. The players and the coaches have no say, no vote. If you do not like the game, don’t play, don’t coach; you can’t just pick up your marbles – you ain’t got any - and leave.

The same goes for baseball, our national pastime, and for basketball, ice hockey, soccer and boxing. And Ladies, if by chance you have failed to notice, it’s men only in those sports, no women allowed in the big leagues.

Football and boxing were designed for men willing to butt heads and chance serious brain injuries. Women were designed with birth and reproduction in mind. Women have no voice in setting the rules and regulations in men only games then why should men have a voice in the game that’s been reserved exclusively for women?

A woman can legally contract her body to be a surrogate for another woman’s child yet she is constrained by law in negatively exercising that right when it comes to her own.

Some limitations on abortion and reproduction rights may be just and proper but they should not be set by men. Abortion is a woman only issue – one woman, one vote, one man zero votes.

 

 

Friday
May292015

KILROY WAS HERE – IS IT “SNAFU” OR “FUBAR” IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Published as Kilroy Was There, Britić, May 28, 2015 and Kilroy Was There, Pecat, June 1, 2015

Another Memorial Day just passed us by. The weather was perfect. Fighter jets and military transports boomed and flashed by overhead. In New York, Fleet Week was in full swing with men and women in Navy uniforms walking the streets of Manhattan. In Litchfield, the First Litchfield Artillery Regiment in a motley of period uniforms marched by while men in their 60’s and 70’s sporting a badge or tokens of their military service in Korea and Vietnam stood silently by the roadside or gravesites remembering honorable service, their comrades and times gone by.

America’s early wars had meaning and purpose. The Revolution was for freedom and self-determination. The Civil War ended slavery. The Spanish American War was a grab for territory. The First World War was “to end all wars” while the Second was to avenge Pearl Harbor, “a date which will live in infamy”. Those wars at least made some sense out of chaos and destruction.

After that it was all downhill. The Korean War was a “police action” and Vietnam an exercise in stopping the Communist “falling domino principle”. Grenada and Panama were fits of pique while Desert Storm, with only 148 battle deaths, was not even a war. Not much was accomplished by these military adventures – we still have 30,000 troops stationed in South Korea and Vietnam is now a trading partner manufacturing cheap garments for Kmart.    

Our country has just gone through 15 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq with sideshows in Somalia, Yemen, Libya, now Syria and yet again Iraq. Like in Vietnam we declared victory, declared the threats contained and withdrew most of our troops. All that remains of the massive military presence and the billions spent are abandoned air fields, army bases and deserted checkpoints. All you need is someone paint that iconic World War II graffiti image “Kilroy was here” on what’s left.

Thousands of our Kilroys were there. Some died; many were wounded while others will carry the invisible scars of post-traumatic stress disorder to their graves and to what end?

The Afghani Army, trained and paid for by the United States, has turned tail and surrendered territory to the Taliban in northern Afghanistan, forcing a resurgence of the old warlords and local militias. In Iraq the Kurds are fighting in the north against ISIS or whatever al-Qaeda is calling itself today. ISIS or ISIL, the Islamic State of Whatever, is waging war against Iraq and Syria while the Iraqi Army we trained and paid for stands by. US and Saudi planes bomb targets in both Iraq and Syria in support of rag tag forces supposedly fighting ISIS.

Iran is ramping up sectarian strife pitting the Shiites against the Sunnis in Iraq and elsewhere in the region while the Saudis lend a helping hand and cash to their Sunni brethren. We continue to sell military hardware to Israel, Egypt and the Saudis while arming with conventional weapons insurgent groups who align with our politics du jour.  

In reviewing our military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region, let’s lump all of them into a generic Middle East, you come up with two assessments of our efforts. The first is “Snafu” – “Situation Normal, All Fucked Up” and the second “Fubar” – “Fucked Up, Beyond All Repair”.

Now today in the Middle East does “Snafu” or “Fubar” hold sway?

Snafu contains within it a glimmer of hope. From the get-go World War II, the war that gave birth to the term was a screwed up war; think of the false promise of Munich, “Peace in Our Time”, and the missed signals before Pearl Harbor. The inauspicious start notwithstanding - Continental Europe conquered, England besieged - we and the Allies muddled through.  

Given the will and resources, putting aside differences in the face of a common enemy, success can be achieved.

Fubar, on the other hand, is a cry of despair. The natural order of things has been irreparably destroyed. Nation states no longer have borders and they exist only on maps, on pieces of paper. The apocalypse has arrived.

The only solution is to let waging forces and factions destroy themselves in a cathartic war and start anew, start afresh.

So my Memorial Day message to the seats of power, the capitals of the Middle East: “Snafu or Fubar, your choice, but leave us out of it this time” and to Washington “No more Kilroys”.