Part IV: William Calley and the Mediterranean Sea

John Turnbull
Jul 5, 2018 · 5 min read

An account of our voyage from the English Chanel to Gaza.

If the name means anything at all to you, I’ll bet you’re more than 60. Better that you were 70 and had lived through the year or two of explosive news. Even then, you may place it in your memory as “Calley: a crazed US soldier in Vietnam who was convicted of murdering about 20 Vietnamese civilians and served only three comfortable months in prison.”

It was far more than that. Growing painfully from an unresearched story of a single insane soldier to an exhaustively documented, shameful indictment of the US miltary’s conduct of a war against civilians in a country that had no airforce and nonetheless sent the super-power home. Calley’s was only one of dozens of similar stories on the same scale, and many hundreds of smaller reported events, and we can be forgiven for forgetting almost all of them. What we can’t forgive ourselves forgetting is the raw fact that the conduct of a war by a powerful military serving a paranoid politic has always led toward the internal, moral destruction of the dominant nation.

Thanks to Dimitri Lascaris, I’ve been able to take a couple of days reading Seymour Hersh’s memoir, “Reporter”. (I “borrowed” Dimitri’s book when we left him in Algeria. You can read him on Facebook.) Hersh is the reporter who pursued the story for months and won a Pulitzer for it. There are dozens of lessons to draw from Hersh’s experience, but the one that seems most important now, as we approach the Sardegna, is this: the Calley story was broken by tag ends of a local news report and the testimony of US soldiers appearing before the Russell Tribunal in London. Bertrand Russell, then near the end of his life, was an easy target for disdain by the anointed pundits of the US media. A British philosopher, logician and mathematician, Russell oversaw a kind of people’s court that heard evidence and drew judgements in a way that no national court could. The respect Russell enjoyed led directly to the release of information to the public that the US military, government and media executives did not want anyone — especially Americans — to know. It took Hersh several frenetic months to shove the noses of New York news producers into the ripe shit that he had found. Naturally, once they got the idea, they made it their own story and … well, blamed the crazy guy.

It’s the Russell Tribunal, still in operation in honor of his life, that draws my attention away from the compass on a soft, black night, during our four-day push toward Cagliari, Sardegna at about 70 degrees, magnetic. There are a few facts you can trust, and one of them is the position of a compass in our current geological age.

The Russell Tribunal heard evidence, in 2014, of war crimes committed against civilians by the IDF in Palestine. Hardly a single media finger was lifted to tap a key. The evidence contradicted, on its face, fundamental myths about the United States — just as the Calley story did so many years ago. Further, the few journalists who might have noticed the news would have no strength of reputation to sell it to their producers and editors who, themselves were completely uninterested in confronting their owners with information that undermined the psychotic interdependency between the United State of America and its “aircraft carrier in the Middle East,” as Alexander Haig assured Congress.

At its beginning this US-Israel relationship was built on the well-justified shame that the world’s immigrant nation feels when it recalls its own response to the dangers facing Jews in pre-war Europe. It cut off Jewish immigration. That shame is shared, of course, by an Anglosphere that includes more Christian Zionists — the most twisted of anti-Semites — than there are Jews left in the world.

But are there William Calleys in Israel? Yes. Just as Seymour Hersh discovered dozens of US soldiers who committed and participated in “a Nazi thing” — to quote one of the lesser-known farm-boy war criminals — there are dozens of “scared, inexperienced young men” in the IDF and the Israeli Border Control who have shot civilians in detail and bulk. There are tag-end news stories about them, almost never in the US media, but they’re easy enough to find in the Israeli English-language press where they are usually reported with pride. On the rare occasion IDF soldiers are taken to court in Israel, they tend to spend a couple of months in a comfortable jail and are then released quietly to their loving families, sometimes in settlements.

Several of my fellow crew members on the Freedom are together here because they share a personal history of sometimes daring resistance to the Vietnam war. These stories of war resistance segue into stories of Central and South America, Bosnia, and Palestine. They are otherwise ordinary people. Doctors, an economist, a corporate consultant, a merchant captain, a ship’s electrician, a train engineer. They have all escaped their conventional Swedish futures by jumping into a fray.

I passed through their country as I turned twenty, in 1970, on my way from the Trans-Siberian Railway to a job in Denmark. I was too young and too disconnected to find them. Otherwise my life would have been very different. To put it more accurately, I’m coming to the jump a little late, having stood around the ladder of the diving board watching the splashing until I felt the chill.

The military chill is part of growing up. I’m not a pacifist. The government chill? Well, governments are run by clever people who are faithful to myth until it actually falls over and crushes them. The media mafia is more complicated. I’ve been close enough to some of it to see how, like Aesop's fabulous beaver, it chews off its own balls.

The same news mafiosi who kept us in Vietnam — who aided and abetted the deaths of perhaps millions of south-east Asians in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos — these are the same typists who took us to South America where we chose murderous tyrants because they were the tightest corks for the bottles. They’re still with us. Different names, more women, more money, less competition. They design fact-sets for us according to their assessment of our opinions which determine our willingness to pay — the cost of our self-esteem. This is how we can read about a close ally killing civilians and explaining to our muddled minds that it’s all because Hamas has attempted un-armed resistance.

I grew up in a world that had become temporarily sane — at least for young white Canadians. But I’m learning to enjoy the contradiction, the absurdity of this current era. We’re sailing an old 72-foot ketch to Gaza. We’ll be captured by the IDF. They have to maintain a blockade that has destroyed the economy of a Mediterranean seaport filled with two million prisoners who can’t even flee destruction from the air, land and sea. Israelis do it because they’re afraid of an enemy that has no airforce but will eventually win. They also do it for the Israeli economy that, in a perverse incentive, sells millions of dollars of goods to aid agencies that collect their funds from us. We pay for Israel’s economic exploitation of the West Bank and its maintenance of the open air prison that is Gaza. You won’t read that in the news or see it on TV. Until you do.


Written by

Sailboats, Palestine, pipelines protests.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade