…& is there a place for acknowledgment,  forgiveness and reconciliation in our enormous and violent conflicts?


The recent news reports on the continuing inhumane incarceration of American Indian Movement (AIM) activist Leonard Peltier and resumption of the Dakota Access Pipeline project by Donald Trump’s executive order of January 24, brought my attention to a largely ignored (by the mainstream media) event which should carry tremendous significance in our world of endless war, violence, cruelty and of course, forgetfulness, denial, amnesia and the awful potential for more of the same which results.


Primo Levi (1919–1987), Auschwitz survivor and writer, once said his greatest concern was that already time was passing and the crimes of the Nazis would soon be forgotten by a new generation and so the possibility of their reoccurrence was almost inevitable in humanity’s history of turmoil and insanity:


Primo Levi:

“The experience that we survivors of the Nazi concentration camps bear witness to is alien to the younger generations in the West, and becoming more so with each passing year…

For us it is becoming harder and harder to speak with young people. We see it as both a duty and a risk: the risk of appearing outdated, of not being listened to. We have to be listened to: apart from our individual experiences, we were collective witnesses to a fundamental and unexpected event, fundamental precisely because it was unexpected, unforeseen by anyone. It happened contrary to every prediction. It took place in Europe. Incredibly, an entire civilian population that had just emerged from the fervid cultural flowering of Weimar followed a two-bit actor whom people find laughable today. But Adolf Hitler was obeyed and acclaimed until the catastrophe struck. It happened once and it can happen again. This is the heart of what we have to say.”


Since the early 80’s a number of countries have engaged in a truth and reconciliation process as a step in ending conflict or repairing the damage to the social fabric that violence, torture, military juntas and murder have ended in. South Africa, for example, has had a peace and reconciliation process via the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (“The TRC, the first of the 1003 held internationally to stage public hearings, was seen by many as a crucial component of the transition to full and free democracy in South Africa. Despite some flaws, it is generally (although not universally) thought to have been successful” Wikipedia). We here in Ireland, despite our own on-going peace process, have not yet had the experience and one would wonder why some view it not as a necessity but rather an inconvenience?


For those on the Left, committed (or who once were) to ‘revolutionary war’ there can be no conflict without peace eventually (or mutual destruction) and no genuine peace, arguably, without the capacity to face the cruelty and barbarism that we as humans are capable of. Soldiers and perpetrators should be more aware of this than anyone else.


So, a meeting held as part of the Standing Rock Pipeline resistance in December 2016 is worthy of attention.


On December 5th – (the birthday of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, who led the 7th Cavalry Regiment in the Battle of Little Bighorn – June 25–26, 1876, near the Little Bighorn River in eastern Montana Territory – against Lakota, Arapaho and Cheyenne warriors) – 4,000 veterans were awaited at the Standing Rock protest when news that President Obama had issued notice to halt work there. The contingent had been organised by Wesley Clark Jr, (Clark Jr. who served four years as First Lieutenant in the Seventh Cavalry and has become an active peace veteran is the son of Gen. Wesley Clark, former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO) along with Michael A. Wood Jr., a former Baltimore police officer and Marine Corps veteran, under the Veterans Stand for Standing Rock banner.


In a number of interviews since then Clark has explained what happened. On arrival at Standing Rock, Tribal elders didn’t want him, or any other outsiders, leading a group of protesters. ‘”This was their fight“, he said. All of the veterans Clark had brought to Standing Rock would now have to take orders from the Sioux. “It’s totally out of my hands now, brother,” Clark said. “The elders want us to do peace and prayer, so that’s what we’re going to do.” Then, after a pause, he added, “Look, me and our whole staff, and most of the vets I know here, we all have PTSD. So if we go to the frontline and they start hitting us, I’m perfectly happy to take a few blows and stuff, but some people may flip out. And we can’t have an incident where there’s any question in anyone’s mind of who’s in the right and who’s in the wrong.”’


Thus, on December 5, Wesley Clark Jr and a dozen members of various United States military branches, as part of the planned formal “forgiveness ceremony,”  got down on bended knee to ask forgiveness from the Lakota people. In the presence of hundreds of veterans and Lakota medicine people, elders and leaders, ex-Lt. Clark donned the uniform of the Seventh Cavalry and spoke of the history of his unit.


Wesley Clark Jr:

“Many of us, me particularly, are from the units that have hurt you over the many years. We came. We fought you. We took your land. We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills. We blasted the faces of our presidents onto your sacred mountain. Then we took still more land and then we took your children and … we tried to eliminate your language that God gave you, and the Creator gave you. We didn’t respect you, we polluted your Earth, we’ve hurt you in so many ways but we’ve come to say that we are sorry. We are at your service and we beg for your forgiveness.”


Following Clarke’s expression of remorse Chief Leonard Crow Dog put his hand on Clark’s head. The moment of forgiveness was followed by tears and embraces. “We do not own the land. The land owns us” Chief Leonard Crow Dog said.


“Among those who also spoke and accepted the apology were 19th Generation Keeper of the White Buffalo Calf Pipe Chief Arvol Looking Horse, elders Faith Spotted Eagle, Phyllis Young, Paula Horne, Jon Eagle Sr. and several other Lakota leaders. Ivan Looking Horse sang a prayer song as veterans lined up to hug and shake hands in an emotional moment 140 years in the making.”


The online journal The YES! in  Washington, interviewed Clarke in late December 2016 and I believe his words are worthy of repetition and inclusion in the record of 21st century struggles.


Wesley Clark Jr:

“I always wanted to start it (Standing Rock Protest) with what the tribe calls a “Wiping the Tears Ceremony.” First of all, I have PTSD and most of the guys out there with me do. So I thought it was very important to kind of spiritually cleanse us and prepare us for what I expected to be harsh tactics and beatings and jailing from the security forces.”


Questioned on non-violence he replied:


Wesley Clark Jr:

“If you want to effect change in the world, it has to come through nonviolence and forgiveness. It’s the only way…You can look at history for examples. If somebody starts a violent revolution, they have less than a 5 percent chance of succeeding. And at the end of it, all they’ve inherited is a broken country full of death and bitterness and distrust. But through nonviolent action—the kind we saw in Czechoslovakia in 1989 and in the Philippines long ago—you actually have a greater than 50 percent chance of success. So it’s not just a moral imperative but a strategic one as well, that’s backed up by history.


Indian Country Media Network:

“’Today was a day of remembrance. It’s very powerful for the military to intersect with Oceti Sakowin, the Seven Council Fires of the Lakota, as part of our historical healing journey,” said Spotted Eagle, an elder and grandmother who counsels veterans with PTSD as part of her work. ‘Our people carry intergenerational trauma and there’s much work to be done. I feel protected and honored to work with our warriors and veterans, and we’re thankful they came to stand with us.’”


Clark also pledged to return to Standing Rock in service to the people and when he does, he’ll go through another ceremony. “Phyllis Young plans to adopt him as a son in the traditional Lakota Hunka ceremony. Explaining that he had given away all the gifts he brought, Clark told Young he was very honored by the gesture and gave her the key to his Southern California home, saying her relatives are always welcome.”


Wesley Clark Jr:

“I did it because I saw people in pain, and I hate seeing injustice…I hate to see people have to accept injustice and saying you’re crazy if you want to do something about it. It’s easy to fix things. People just have to understand what the truth is and act on it. There’s no reason anyone who lives in the United States should be treated the way Native Americans have been treated. It’s evil. It’s wrong and part of the pattern of colonialism. All the decisions are made thousands of miles away and all the money goes to people thousands of miles away…

The Dakota Access pipeline is going to make money at the expense of the health and lives of people who live here. That’s how it worked 500 years ago and that’s how it works today. They want to get Indians off the land, and for what? So they can destroy it for money.”


Now, and just a few weeks later, and on the other shore to forgiveness, Trump’s public (sic) servants have now geared up for their next onslaught:


According to The Washington Post, Friday, February 3, the federal government made an announcement that it would be sending agents from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to “help clear” Dakota Access Pipeline protesters from Standing Rock.


February 7th: The army corps of engineers says it intends to grant a permit for the oil pipeline to cross the Missouri river, following Donald Trump’s executive order (The Guardian).


On the 8th of February, Stars and Stripes reported that: Veterans return to Standing Rock, ‘not backing off’ pipeline protests : “The group Veterans Stand, which was born out of the veterans’ movement in Standing Rock, vowed to send a second wave of resources to protesters who have been camped near the construction site since April.”


By February 10, a spokesperson from Energy Transfer Partners, the company involved in the construction of the pipeline, had confirmed that work had resumed….

“‘We’re not done yet,” said Joye Braun, the Cheyenne River Sioux woman who was the first to erect a teepee at the Sacred Stone Camp last April…Her yurt is set up directly across the Missouri River from the pipeline drill pad. “I could literally feel the vibrations in the ground,”’ she told Jenni Monet from The Center for Investigative Reporting.


It is not that Primo (Levi) didn’t warn us:

“It can happen, anywhere. I do not mean nor can I say that it will happen. As I’ve just noted, it’s unlikely that all the factors that triggered the Nazi madness could occur again, and simultaneously. But some precursory signs are appearing. Violence, “useful” or “useless,” is before our eyes. It is spreading, through sporadic private incidents and government lawlessness, in the two areas customarily known as the first and the second worlds, that is to say, in parliamentary democracies and Communist-bloc countries. In the Third World it is endemic or epidemic. All that is needed is a new two-bit actor (there is no shortage of candidates) to mobilize the violence, legalize it, declare that it is necessary and just, and infect the world with it. Few countries can be guaranteed immunity from a future “wave of violence generated by intolerance, lust for power, economic claims, religious or political fanaticism, or racial friction. We thus need to sharpen our senses and distrust the prophets, the charismatics, the persons who speak and write “fancy words” without the backing of sound reasons.”


February 11, in an interview given to the Guardian newspaper, Elizabeth Williams, a 34-year-old air force veteran, “who arrived at Standing Rock with a group of vets late on Friday: ‘We are prepared to put our bodies between Native elders and a privatized military force,’ she said. ‘We’ve stood in the face of fire before. We feel a responsibility to use the skills we have.'”


War. Peace. And an endless struggle to transcend their cruel dialectic…



Er bricht einen Wa ld nieder und zerma lmt hundert Menschen.

Aber er hat einen Fehler:

Er braucht einen Fahrer.

General, dein Bombenflugzeug ist stark.

Es fliegt schneller als ein Sturm und tragt mehr als ein Elefant.

Aber es hat einen Fehler:

Es braucht einen Monteur.

General, der Mensch ist sehr brauchbar.

Er kann fliegen und er kann toten.

Aber er hat einen Fehler:

Er kann denken.



It smashes down forests and crushes a hundred men.

But it has one defect:

It needs a driver.

General, your bomber is powerful.

It flies faster than a storm and carries more than an elephant.

But it has one defect:

It needs a mechanic.

General, man is very useful.

He can fly and he can kill.

But he has one defect:

He can think.

Bertolt Brecht


War. Peace. Endless struggle. And on the horizon: our Hope. And, like Primo Levi, surely, or Wesley Clark Jr or the protesters of the Standing Rock Sioux,  always our relentless commitment to this dream called “humanity”…


séamas carraher


Sources & References (thanks to)



From Video by:

The Official Oceti Sakowin Camp Media: Forgiveness Ceremony: Veterans Kneel at Standing Rock (link below)



Some Standing Rock protesters resolve to stay put as tribe shifts focus



Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved, Vintage, 1989.

Bertolt Brecht, Poetry & Prose, Edited by Reinhold Grimm, The Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006. (Poem above translated by Lee Baxandall)


Interview (Dec 5, 2016)


VideoForgiveness Ceremony: Veterans Kneel at Standing Rock


VideoStanding Rock Protests

“Brandee Paisano – I Took An Oath to Protect!” from Longhouse Media


VideoWes Clark Jr speaks about Standing Rock



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