On good days — Straight from the reprobate

Whitman sang a song of himself, self-publishing

grassy leaves and setting the world aflame.

Emerson was an elite word-player, looking for meaning

without getting muddy.  Hawthorne wrote political lies

for Jimmy Polk’s imperial invasion of Mexico.

Thoreau, at least, was jailed for not paying taxes.

(His mother paid them the very next day!)

Me? I’m a happy reprobate—bowing humbly

to the old Latinate: ‘one who reproves’—

carping with hot consternation at those who,

with blind and blinkered eyes, trail after evil’s

easy, please-y morsels, spending more at Starbucks

daily than many elsewhere have for food.

I’ve no pretensions—I’m not a Whitman, an Emerson, or a Thoreau;

I’m certainly not an old Nate Hawthorne.

I’m a tired grunt Marine from the American war

in Vietnam, lugging my frayed bulging rucksack

over hither and yon, planting anti-war apple seeds

deep in the dirt called America.

On bad days — Screed, screed: I cut, you bleed

I hate that I went to war for you. It ruined my life.

After more than 40 years of wandering the American wilderness …

I’ve reached these sad conclusions, my friend:


I was willing to physically give up my life for you.

I was naïve and full of teenage hubris.

Now I know … You don’t deserve my sacrifice.



Every adult around me encouraged me in my delusion,

or, if they had doubts, did not counsel me from my moral certainty.

You were willing and complicit that I should throw my life away.

Now I know … You don’t deserve the sacrifice of others.

You are unconscionably ignorant of the military history of your own country,

of its lies and deceits, of its wars of racist atrocities,

its strivings for empires to bloat the rich and the bigoted.

Now I know … You don’t deserve those who have fought for you.

Your myth of exceptionalism—we ‘Americans’ are sine qua non

on the face of the earth—is nothing but night dirt,

built upon the hard fact of flagrantly schooled self-deception.

Now I know … You don’t deserve those who have done your killing.

You are immorally ignorant of how your soldiers step arrogantly

onto foreign soil. You train them to disdain everything indigenous,

killing first and asking/answering questions only if forced.

Now I know … You don’t deserve those who have died for you.

I rue this country. I rue this culture.

Don’t you dare be surprised by my anger.

                                                                                                                 Copyright Tim Bagwell


Syria’s children suffering the cost of war

More than a million Syrian children could miss out on education, and child labour is a big problem, warns refugee agency

by Harriet Grant and Lee Harper

Friday, 29 November 2013

The Guardian


Hundreds of thousands of Syrian children already traumatised by war are facing a life of “catastrophe” in exile, without education or normal childhood freedoms, the UN refugee agency has warned.

Child labour is a huge problem across the refugee communities of Jordan and Lebanon, with children as young as seven taking on the role of breadwinner for their fractured families.

More than a million Syrian children are refugees, most of them in neighbouring countries. The report, the Future of Syria: refugee children in crisis, published by the UNHCR on Friday, involved four months of research across Jordan and Lebanon, speaking to children and the international workers supporting them.

Registration workers at refugee camps are used to recognising the signs of acute distress or depression in the children and families they register each day. Sheeraz Mukhaimer, a case manager with the International Medical Corps, described children telling her about seeing family members killed and then having to bury the bodies. Parents report children suffering sleep problems, flashbacks to the war, bedwetting and speech difficulties. Constant crying is common.

Volker Türk, director of international protection at UNHCR, says the scale of the unravelling crisis is what sets it apart from other refugee situations. “In terms of numbers, we are talking about a crisis of major proportions. Over 1 million children, it’s the sheer magnitude of it. One striking feature is the impact on the psychosocial wellbeing of children. They are severely traumatised children coping with things adults would find difficult to cope with.”

As families fall apart, tens of thousands of Syrian children are living without their fathers. In a female-headed household, a male child is likely to be sent out to work. Child labour is illegal in Lebanon and Jordan, but children are commonly taking menial work for low pay. Their meagre wages are sometimes the family’s only source of income.

A previous report by the UN children’s agency, Unicef, published in March, estimated that one in 10 Syrian refugee children in the region is engaged in child labour. In Jordan Valley, the agency found that 1,700 out of 3,500 school-aged children (nearly 49%) were working.

An inspector at the Jordanian ministry of labour, Maysoon Al Remawi, told the Guardian that refugee children were directly competing with Jordanian adults.

“Syrian children work in larger numbers than Jordanians due to their culture – 60-70% of child labour in Jordan is made up of Syrians, according to our estimates,” he said. “They have higher skills than Jordanians and therefore compete with Jordanians on the same market segment… Syrian children work in sectors Jordanians would want to work in and are as much of a competition as adult Syrians.”

The Guardian spoke to a number of young people who are forced to work in Irbid, near Jordan’s border.

Samir works all night, six nights a week, cleaning and making tea in a pool hall. He is 13 and was at school in Syria, but now the family has no option but to send him to work.

For his 12-hour shift he earns about $4, but even this tiny income is desperately needed. His father was killed when a bomb hit their house in Homs, leaving his mother paralysed. His 15-year-old sister has been married off to a 50-year-old Syrian man, because his mother thinks this is the best chance she has of a normal life.

Samir works hard for his money. “I offer coffee, tea and clean the tables between six in the evening and five in the morning. I don’t get a break, but if it’s quiet I will sit down,” he told the Guardian.

Hassan, 14, is the eldest of four children, who now live in an apartment in Irbid with their father. They are from Daraa in Syria. Hassan sells books on the street, because his father can’t work. “He was shot in the leg, sometimes he tries to work one or two days,” he says.

Hassan works a 14-hour day to provide for his family, running a book stall for a man he says is good to him. He earns $5 a day.

“When it’s quiet I rest, but he doesn’t give me a break. The man is nice to me, he brings me two meals a day … Sometimes I get half a dinar extra, which I keep myself. We pay JD250 ($350) for rent, we cannot pay every month. The landlord tells us, if you don’t pay I will kick you out.”

While boys are sent to work, many girls described startling levels of isolation and loneliness. Almost a third (29%) of children said they left their homes only once a week. One father in Zaatari refugee camp was so worried about the safety of his daughters he made them stay in their tent for the entire month they lived in the camp. Noor, 13, and her sister passed the time playing with rocks.

Despite a massive effort by international NGOs and the governments in Lebanon and Jordan to support the children and provide them with education, more youngsters are out of school than in it. The number of Syrian school-aged children in Lebanon is soon likely to exceed the number of Lebanese children who were enrolled in the public system last year.

Türk says the infrastructure in the host countries cannot expand indefinitely. “Lebanon and Jordan have been extremely generous about this,” he says. “The problem is of course that we need different shifts – children going at different times of the day. There are very overcrowded classes and a need for double the number of teachers.”

The UNHCR is calling for more support for Jordan and Lebanon as they struggle to provide for Syrian children. One fear among humanitarian agencies is that countries will begin to close their borders if this support does not materialise.

Türk says there needs to be more visible solidarity for Syria’s neighbours from the international community, including offers of resettlement in Europe for the most vulnerable refugees. “I was very taken by the incredible amount of generosity I saw on the part of both Lebanese and Jordanian families … but the longer the crisis lasts, the more it is a burden. We have to support the host communities.

“The longer it goes on, the less people envision their future in Syria itself – there is a tipping point. We need to constantly reinvigorate the hope that there is as solution in sight, and that people will … when the conflict is over, be able to go back.”

Manifesto howled in the surditorium[1]

I went to war for this country.

I hate that I went to war for this country.

My American war ruined my life.

I work hard to find anyone who gives a damn.

As a kid, I played war and reveled in dirt-clod heroics.

As a teenager, I fought in the American war in Vietnam.

In middle-age, I ran from my memories and tried ineptly

to heal the suppurating mind-scars.

Now, in old age, I stand vociferous against war,

against war’s inundating acid torrent.  I weep at war’s relentless,

dismemberment of life, its disembowelment of being.

I hate—to the dregs of my heart—all war, all war-making.

My words are caustic, inelegant, intentionally and painfully direct—

steaming scat at your pretty dinner parties.  I chose them to be.

Other poets are graceful word swans, beautifully flicking forth flumes,

diaphanous brocades of the finest in quotidian life.  I’m duck-ugly—

gawky and ungainly at refined word-smithing. I’ve thought

of making my poems funny: maybe I will make everyone laugh,

then surreptitiously slip in a seriously different way of being …

maybe I will use funny spoons, clacking in rhythm …

maybe I will hire twin midgets playing tiny twin trombones …

maybe I will lease the Marine Corps Band to play Jimi’s

Star Spangled Banner and have them, at finale, smash

their instruments in one grand,glorious gesture of defiance. 

Ah, but none of this is me.

I’m an angry American veteran, a voice writing madly what I know,

seeking to excise love of country and human ideals

from pompous patriotism and sanguinary selfishness.

How did I get here?

I want you to know …


Spring 1968:  Khe Sanh, Rowen & Martin’s Laugh-In, the USS Pueblo, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and, of course, the Tet Offensive.  Sacramento, California: I am 17, a senior in high school; white kid who grew up in blue-collared, conservative-Christian America. I enlist, going on active duty two weeks after high school graduation: U.S. Marine Corps, semper fi!   A Man! – by instant American mythology.

January to July 1969:I arrived “in country” Vietnam, January 9, and get assigned to B (Bravo) Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, in I Corps, just below the DMZ. Our nickname was “The Walking Dead.” My MOS—Military Occupational Specialty—was an M-60 machine gunner. My first operation  was Dewey Canyon, a sweep south through the A Shau Valley, where the Ho Chi Minh trail comes back into Vietnam from Laos—six weeks of constant dread, fear, death, and jungle.  Leeches suck—clothes shred—we go without food—we carry our dead—jungle rot eats to the bone on both my shins.  Months of bad combat ahead.

Late July 1969: I’ve survived so far and now I get tremendously lucky! I remain with Bravo, 1/9, when Nixon includes it as he pulls out the first 25,000 troops from Vietnam. (You had to be more than halfway through your 13-month tour and I had just crossed off month seven!)  I was getting out—out of the bush, out of the country! Alive and, physically, unharmed.

July 1969 to January 1970: We shipped out of Da Nang harbor aboard Navy troop ships—OMG! Fresh water and daily showers!—and landed at Okinawa, training as a ready-reaction force. I came down with malaria in Manila: I listen through the wonderful glaze of my med-induced hallucinogenic stupor to the monkeys playing in the green and palmed courtyards, swaying to south Pacific breezes.  I shipped home after 13 months overseas and took a 30-day leave.

February 1970 to Fall 1970: I am assigned to Marine Barracks, Headquarters Marine Corps, 8th and I, Washington, D.C. The company does ceremonial duties at the White House and Blair House; weekly dress parades at 8th & I and the Iwo Jima Monument, in addition to security at Camp David, the presidential retreat. The district is thick with anger and anti-war sentiment. My Lai hits the news. William Calley is arrested. The shootings at Kent State and Jackson State shock me deeply.  I think long and hard about deserting to Canada.

Fall 1970 to Spring 1971: Nixon appoints a Navy Admiral—Thomas Moorer—chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  I’m picked to become his orderly: walk his briefcase in and walk his briefcase out.  I join Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). I am investigated by the Defense Intelligence Agency and have my Top Secret security clearance taken away. I take this opportunity to file for a discharge as a conscientious objector.

April 1971: VVAW stages its historic three-day anti-war demonstration on the Mall, west of the U.S. Capitol. I wear the jacket from my dress blues—a large embroidered cartoon character hand-stitched on the back.  Still on active duty, I return my combat and military medals to the U.S. Congress.  Nixon, hurt politically by the authenticity of the VVAW, jerks away international press coverage by inflaming the MIA/KIA issue. (I still can’t see that black and white flag without my blood pressure rising in anger.)

May 1, 1971: I am honorably discharged as a conscientious objector. I am 20 years old.  I start college in the fall, studying religion at Anderson College in Anderson, Indiana, trying to fit in.  The scars were already showing up, but I wasn’t seeing them.


In my mid-50s, post-trauma jerks my mind backward, and I begin to know the trail of litter I have left behind: three marriages, two affairs, deserted sons, multitudinous jobs, distracted dreams and wasted meanings, zero retirement. All this, muddled together with shards of anger, hopeless love, resentment, hope, impatience and, from a warped conservative Christian upbringing, misunderstood carnality. War taught me to feel fierce force everywhere. War conditioned me to breathe hyper-vigilant states of anger, fear, distrust. I would look around my narrowed world and blearily see others, less embattled than I, set the unblemished sails of their lives for cashmere horizons and glistening goals.  I look up and see my life-sails pierced and ragged by bloodied bone chips, blasted fragments of life, grisly sprays of blood and brain, piss, shit, and madness.  

Now, in old age, I accept that I stand forever bathed in war’s dirty light, my throat and thoughts forever knotted to a titanium lamppost designed by Homeland Security to withstand a direct hit by a terrorist’s dirty bomb. I know my neck is noosed for life with a hangman’s knot. My ’60’s mates are gone—into releasing death or well- paid corporate life, sub silentio; middle-class America has been pimped off by an all-volunteer military of the poor, the immigrant, the dumb, and the politically blinkered. The brute elites—pretty and well-coiffed in their grey suits tailored—enter their banks, laughing amongst themselves over their latest 24/7 mass market manipulation. My battles—they tell me, when they deign speak—are non-existent, self-chosen, delusional. Life is good, brisk, easy-in-Tahiti, for those smart enough to work it. To hell with the rest, they whisper, smiling.


If the toxic words of my poems hurt you—and I want them to pierce deeply—figure out why.  But you need to know I ask of no man, no woman, permission to carry this stake through my heart, traipsing across America’s plush white carpeting, splashing sloppy blood and bowel with hard angry steps.  I am trying—with an intent for which I am truly willing to die—to scribe upon every American’s mind, heart, eyes, and hands, a true picture of how we cause so much pain and death worldwide. I know deeply I can—you can—we can stop war with nothing more than singular hard work to halt nationalist gore and the people who ignore their blind-eyed role in its perpetuation. I don’t mourn the combat dead: I mourn the civilian living; mind-dead and fatted on force-fed lies; I mourn for the future of the living, those numbed to the unlearned lessons of the available past.

For me, I refuse to let my combat in the American war in Vietnam be the signal event of my life. Millions died and millions more were injured for lifes—generation after wounded generation. Children, including my own sons, grew up in chaos and death and weary, lonely, soulful sadness because of our uncritical acts of ugly, human idiocy.  I willingly accept this debt I owe them—all of them, both Vietnamese and American.  I vow to die for peace worldwide: That will be my repayment.

Where are the Joseph Rotblats? Where the Mordechai Vanunus? Why are we not cloning all the Gene Sharps we can? I ache for more humans like Alice Herz, Norman Morrison, Roger LaPorte, Nhat Chi Mai, Florence Beaumont.  But my old age blunts my blades of fierce fight and steals my small tools of anti-warfare. My last weapons are refusal and will and they too are fading. I hone what small steel I have left on the black angry granite where I have rebuilt my thunderous soul.


We don’t have peace because we don’t want it.

That simple? 

Yes, that simple. 

If we wanted it, truly and deeply,

we would rise up and make it.

Do you? 

Will you?

Copyright Tim Bagwell 2013






[1] A neologism meaning an auditorium filled with deaf persons; surdity, deafness.