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Book Review by Lucine Kasbarian
“What I’d like to say to mothers this Mother’s Day is, instead of going out for brunch, tell your family, ‘Let’s stay home and learn what the War on Terror is all about. Let’s learn why, for example, someone like Anwar Jawad [in Iraq] would have her whole family slaughtered on the streets by people, our troops, and why our children in the military want to get out of these countries so desperately.’” -- Author Susan Galleymore in an interview on “Democracy Now!” radio, 2009.
What do mothers and entire societies undergo when their offspring fight in wars? Social justice activist-journalist Susan Galleymore had the experience thrust upon her when she became a reluctant “military mother,” and made it her business to go forth, find out and publish her findings. Her book, Long Time Passing: Mothers Speak about War and Terror is the ambitious, stunning result.
When Galleymore’s son was deployed to Afghanistan in 2003, she awoke from nightmares nearly every night. This scenario could describe any mother whose child is embroiled in armed conflict, and struggles with the possibility that she may never see that child again, or that the child will likely return as “damaged goods,” physically and/or psychologically.
In 2004, Galleymore joined a Code Pink (www.codepink4peace.org) women’s delegation to Baghdad to visit her son who was by then deployed to Iraq. For this book, Galleymore also interviewed, between 2004 and 2008, ordinary people she encountered -- including mothers in Iraq, Israel/Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Afghanistan -- where war and terror have become a way of life. Back in the U.S., Galleymore went on to interview military mothers, war veterans and soldiers on active duty, as well as those gone AWOL or who were stop-lossed (commanded to involuntarily extend their tour of duty), wounded, and/or discharged.
While the mothers she interviewed possessed views that span the political spectrum, each described how she viewed her child's involvement in war, and how it impacted family, community and country. By also interviewing men engaged in armed struggle in their native lands as well as soldiers speaking about disturbing facts on the ground in the countries in which they had been deployed, Galleymore adds layers of meaning to this unique book. By further relaying her own personal experiences, observations and ruminations along the way, the author manages to write the equivalent of many books in one volume. Long Time Passing touches on a variety of interconnected, fundamental issues that are missing from national and global discourses, whether through media, mainstream cultural sources or inter-communal dialogue.
What sets the author apart as particularly suited to write such a book are her natural gifts as an empath, a “seeker,” and one whose life choices are/have been made on moral grounds. An idealistic Galleymore worked on an Israeli kibbutz in the 1970s, where the racism and apartheid she encountered reminded her of her growing up years in South Africa. A progressive activist and radio interviewer in adulthood, Galleymore more recently adopted the role of military counselor on the G.I. Rights Hotline and became the founder of the MotherSpeak organization, which fosters cultural and environmental awareness through talent- and story-sharing.
While Long Time Passing provides an insider’s view into the tremulous circumstances of occupation, what emerges is that maternal and human suffering -- both deeply personal and extraordinarily universal – highlight the private tragedies behind the public spectacle of war.
Galleymore’s profiles illustrate that the average mother or family precariously surviving under occupation is more informed, civilized, humane and nuanced in perspective than the Western media routinely give either one credit for being, all while those occupied struggle, under unnatural circumstances, to live freely, safely and in charge of their own destinies. By contrast, the reader can’t help but notice, through the trials of Galleymore and her interviewees, how the military industrial complex and the culture it engenders emerge as what the occupied peoples are often painted as, that is, zealous, xenophobic, arrogant, irrational, intolerant, and even ignorant, unstable and incompetent.
Long Time Passing is a tribute to mothers everywhere who, through the interviewees, honor our common humanity by sharing their stories of courage, despair, questioning, anger and resilience. However, it would not do to simply say that the book is about the tribulations of military mothers. It is an absorbing, discriminating and enraging look at the devastating impact of war, world affairs, the history of lands under occupation, and what is being done in the name of freedom and democracy. A complete reading of Long Time Passing leaves no doubt with this reader that the culture of war seeps into and undermines every aspect of our lives: physical, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, moral, racial, familial, cultural, social and sexual. The book will also be eye opening for anyone who has not traveled beyond “First World” nations to see the ravages of war, poverty and disenfranchisement. That reader -- who enjoys gainful civilian employment, an intact family, creature comforts, disposable income and extended leisure time -- will no doubt develop a greater appreciation for a lifestyle s/he may previously have taken for granted.
Long Time Passing (the title culled from Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” -- one of the first songs to protest the Vietnam War) is a work to examine time and again as a reminder that war and the military are inimical to mothering. Frequent readings will also urgently remind us that our common humanity, our obligations to one another and this earth, and our collective efforts to shine a light on truth, equality and global justice can – and will -- make a difference.
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Reviewer Lucine Kasbarian is a journalist and political cartoonist. Visit: www.lucinekasbarian.com
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