REPORT ON PUBLIC
ACTION STAGED AT TOM CLANCY INTERVIEW
February 7, 2002, Washington DC -- Blowback engaged in its first direct public action tonight, at an event hosted by the Smithsonian Associates at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium in Washington, DC. The travelling roadshow of Tom Clancy and Retired General Carl Steiner presented a rosy picture of US Special Forces to a nearly full auditorium (earlier, Smithsonian Associates told us they had sold 900 seats). This was part of a promotional tour for a Clancy/Steiner book entitled Shadow Warriors. We are currently reading it, and recommend that if you wish to do so, that you also tackle Instruments of Statecraft by Michael McClintock (for more information, please visit http://www.statecraft.org). During the event, Clancy and Steiner presented a vision of all wars of national liberation as Soviet-inspired and manipulated. (Blowback countered that the American colonists didn't need France to tell them they were getting a raw deal from the British, and the same went for Guatemalans, Colombians, etc.) Instruments does not share Clancy's warped historical cold war view, and thus helps makes sense out of how the US could support so much repression throughout the world.
Blowback produced 1,000 flyers which were distributed to those entering the auditorium. The flyer was entitled, "How 'Special' are the Special Forces?" and consisted of the Special Forces documents Blowback has unveiled on this website, a few clips from today's (February 7) Washington Post (one describing the erroneous killing of 19 people in Afghanistan; the other an account of the escalating presence in the Philippines), and a quote from Instruments of Statecraft.
At 6pm a small group met across the street from the Lisner Auditorium. We scoped out the scene and determined where to best station ourselves for the distribution of the brochures. The traffic of people flowing into the auditorium was consistent for about 40 minutes and was very steady, a perfect situation. As folks arrived, they were met by our two teams and alerted to "Information about tonight's event," when we handed them the flyer and said "enjoy your evening" or "enjoy the discussion".
It was clear that most people thought we were part of the event staff and our brochure was an official program of some kind. We couldn't keep track of how many people, after taking a brochure and reading the cover, laughed and repeated the title in amusement. It was classic.
Every segment of the audience took the brochure: from the older couples (likely longtime Smithsonian members) to business men, to younger individuals who were obvious Clancy fans as they carried the authors' books hoping for a signature. Even men in full army ranger uniforms (berets and all) took the brochure. A rental van pulled up and dropped off a dozen or so people from Northrop Grumman - a defense contractor that manufactures hi-tech and low-tech weapons and other toys for the military. They took brochures.
In all, we estimated at least 3 out of every 4 people took a flyer. As 7pm came and went, the flow of people thinned and everyone who was going to the event had already arrived and entered. The outside team got ambitious and began to place a brochure on all the vehicles on the street outside the auditorium.
As we took our seats up in the nosebleed section, we could see a great many of the audience members trying to make sense of the flyer (Is this part of the program? Isn't this un-American?). During the question and answer period began, Michael Beer of Nonviolence International asked for a justification of the Special Forces training of the notorious .Indonesian Kopassus (vicious counterinsurgents), and he was told that the soldiers only went where the civilians told them to go. When Beer persisted on the theme of war crimes and international law, he was told that he should not expect a sergeant to know anything about international law! Blowback then asked whether or not terror activities, including the mutilation of corpses, was still part of the Special Forces tactics. We were told "no," to which we followed up by asking when it had stopped being part of the doctrine. Steiner lied and said that it had never been part of the doctrine. We said we could cite for him the relevant Field Manuals and the quotes of where they explicitly called for terror activities and terrorist acts. Lora Lumpe (an independent small arms expert) asked about the problem of war crimes, especially as it related to Vietnam, and was merely brushed off. Then the questions were over.
So, the outcome? We believe we raised a few eyebrows in what was undoubtedly intended to be a pep rally, and introduced some very necessary doubt into the proceedings. Although the person who introduced the program said that it was a timely discussion - we agreed that it could have been - the moderator was in fact a stifling element who prevented any in-depth exploration of the issues. In addition to Lumpe and Beer, other participants in the action included Cristina Espinel from the Colombia Human Rights Committee, Sanho Tree of the Institute of Policy Studies, and Patricia Davis of Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA.
All in all, a successful action. So where does the traveling Clancy-Steiner road show go next? And do we have activists willing to do the same in their cities?