(Part 1 of interview by Philip Weiss)
I met Guantanamo defense lawyer Todd Pierce last year in New York, and over lunch he offered a fully-formed critique of American foreign policy since 9/11:
“Everything that we have done since 9/11 is wrong. We are embarking on a totalitarian foreign policy that is a hallmark of how Hannah Arendt defines fascism… The false claims about radical Islam show how little we understand about ourselves or the Middle East.”
The marvel was that the critique came not from a leftwing urban blogger, but a retired Army major who had grown up in rural Minnesota and worked for years in farming and construction before becoming a computer technician for the army and later a military lawyer in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, ultimately serving as a defense lawyer for two Guanatanamo detainees. Pierce is a truly independent intellectual, and next month he will fulfill a lifelong dream when he enters the New School as a graduate student in political science at age 65; but his views of American foreign policy are as thought-through as anybody’s and have gained him the respect of internationalists such as Daniel Ellsberg, Roger Waters, the late Michael Ratner, and Peter Weiss.
Last fall, I told Pierce that we needed to do an in-depth interview because his ideas are ones American leaders must engage if we are ever to act with fairness in the Middle East.
Pierce and I met at his home in Roseville, Minnesota, over two days in late July. This is part 1 of our conversation. It follows his life story from his childhood in central Minnesota through several awakenings: service in the Gulf War in 1990 that ended his neoconservatism and work as a law clerk in Minnesota and later military lawyer in Cuba that brought him to the understanding that the American people have no idea of why so many Arabs and Muslims hate us. I will post part 2 in a few days’ time.
Tell me about your background.
I was born in Princeton, Minnesota, in 1951. My mother had grown up on a farm and her family background was Swedish immigrant and Scottish immigrant. My father was from Iowa. One uncle of his had been the minister to China during the Boxer rebellion, Edwin Conger. His wife kept all her correspondence, and it became a source book for the Boxer rebellion.
Something that shaped my thinking was my father was in the Bataan death march. He got released in 1945, by U.S. Army Rangers and Filipino guerrillas. They were rescued from the Japanese in a heroic raid. I knew of this through his mother my grandmother. He didn’t talk about it. So after 3 years he got released from that prisoner of war camp under conditions every bit as hard as a concentration camp, and five years later he had come to Princeton and he married my mother. And he became certified as a highway engineer for the state of Minnesota.
How did the Bataan death march affect him?
He had been through these atrocities. He did have PTSD as we call it now after the war. As one of his letters points out, he had been in the place where 30,000 Filipinos had been killed and 15,000 Americans. Then in the next letter to my aunt, he said, please forgive me for mentioning that, I was in a down mood that day. He never mentioned those kinds of things again. He’d seen the worst you could see, and 3 years later he was living a normal life.
He married my mother. Then my Mother came down with rheumatic fever three years later. She was in deteriorating condition thereafter till she died in 1958. My brother, my sister and I lived with my two different grandmothers for a couple of years, and then my father remarried, and we lived in St Paul all five of us. But I had been living with my grandparents on the farm. I preferred to go back to Princeton and the farm. One reason, I was given much more freedom there, which wasn’t to my benefit. And I had a very unremarkable education career.
My grandfather was a very independent guy, he stood up for things. He was your typical Scots-Irish guy, and I got a lot of things good from him in that way. But that side of the family didn’t place any emphasis on education. So remarkably I was able to get through high school without doing any work and missing a lot of school, and graduated.
Your teachers must have told you you were smart.
– See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2016/08/everything-worldview-retired/#sthash.wZBN90T6.dpuf