Kids get Addicted to War
San Francisco’s high school students to study a different kind of schoolbook
By Amanda Witherell
It’s a lucid time line of 230 years of American wars and conflicts. It’s a well-researched text, footnoted from sources as varied as international newspapers, Department of Defense documents, and transcripts of speeches from scores of world leaders. It’s been endorsed by such antiwar stalwarts as Susan Sarandon, Noam Chomsky, Helen Caldicott, Cindy Sheehan, and Howard Zinn, who called it “a witty and devastating portrait of US military history.”
And it’s a comic book that’s going to be available for 10th-through-12th-grade students in San Francisco’s public schools. Four thousand copies of Addicted to War: Why the U.S. Can’t Kick Militarism, by Joel Andreas, have been purchased and donated to the San Francisco Unified School District using contributions gathered by local peace activist Pat Gerber.
Gerber came across the book at a rally about a year and a half ago and, inspired by the compelling display of such heavy content, presented it to the Board of Education’s Curriculum and Program Committee, where its use as a supplemental text was unanimously approved last fall. The book will be distributed to all high school social studies teachers for review, and those who opt in will be given copies to use as supplemental texts to their already approved curriculum.
Many peaceniks may be familiar with the 77-page comic book that was originally conceived in 1991 to highlight the real story behind the Gulf War. With spare wit and imagery, Andreas plainly outlines how combat is the very expensive fuel that feeds the economic and political fire of the United States.
In outlining this history, Andreas doesn’t gloss over the lesser-known and oft misunderstood conflicts in Haiti, the Philippines, Lebanon, and Grenada. He draws on multiple sources to portray America’s purported need to overthrow foreign governments and establish convenient dictators, including Saddam Hussein, in order to fill the pockets of the most powerful people and corporations in American history. Andreas also includes the blinded eyes of the mainstream media, whose spin and shortcomings keep this business rolling.
The current publisher, Frank Dorrel, came across the book in 1999. “This is the best thing I’ve ever read,” the Air Force veteran told the Guardian. “I’ve got a whole library of US foreign policy, but this puts it all together in such an easy format. Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Michael Parenti — they’re all [authors of] great books, but they aren’t easy reads.” When Dorrel first discovered the book, he contacted the original publisher to order 100 copies to give to all his friends.
“They didn’t even have 10,” he said. “It was out of print.”
Dorrel was disappointed with the news and thought an updated text was overdue. With the use of a private investigator, he tracked down Andreas, who happened to live in the Los Angeles area just a few miles from Dorrel.
Andreas agreed it was time for a new edition. Addicted to War now includes Kosovo, Sept. 11, Afghanistan, and the current quagmire in Iraq. Over the years, 300,000 copies have been distributed in English, Spanish, and Japanese. Many of those copies have been distributed to teachers and students through the Books for Schools program, but San Francisco Unified is the first entire district to approve use of the book. Dorrel encourages others to follow suit by deeply discounting the $10 price for school districts to as little as $2.50 a book plus shipping. He seems unconcerned with making a profit and said, “It’s all done to get out the information.”
For San Francisco, he discounted the price even further, and the costs were met by donations from local peace activists. No taxpayer or school district funds were involved in the purchase, and Gerber and Dorrel are still accepting donations to defray some costs. (Contributions may be sent to Frank Dorrel, PO Box 3261, Culver City, CA 90231-3261.)
The district teachers’ union, United Educators of San Francisco, expressed unanimous approval of the book, and it sailed through the board’s bureaucracy. But it is not without its critics.
Sean Hannity of Fox News slammed the book for, among other things, illustrations of President George W. Bush wearing a gas mask and a baby holding a machine gun. Hannity invited Sup. Gerardo Sandoval to his Jan. 12 show, introducing him as “the man who doesn’t think we need a military” in a distorted reference to something Sandoval said in a previous appearance.
This time Hannity asked Sandoval, “Do you support this as propaganda in our schools?”
To which Sandoval responded, “It’s not propaganda. But I do support having alternative viewpoints, especially for young people about to become of military age…. I think it provides a balanced approach to history. Some of the actions that the US has taken abroad in our 200-year history have been less than honorable.”
To which an aghast Hannity countered, “It encourages high schoolers to kick the war habit. It is so unbalanced and one-sided…. You’re entitled to your left-wing ‘we don’t need a military’ views … but leave our children in school alone.”
Strangely, images of the book shown during the Fox segment bear little resemblance to those in the actual text. The news channel flashed to a picture of a thick, hardbound book with a dust jacket of the cover illustration, though as far as Dorrel and Gerber know, it has never been published in hardcover and never with a dust jacket. Gerber thinks the cover image and some internal cartoons were printed from the Web site http://www.addictedtowar.com and faked into a book that the news channel didn’t have a copy of and had not actually read.
The SFUSD was invited by Fox News to speak on behalf of the book but declined. “We decided we didn’t want to debate in that forum,” district spokesperson Gentle Blythe told the Guardian.
Blythe said the district has been contacted mostly by people in support of the work and the only criticism has come from its coverage in the conservative media. She stressed that the use of the book is optional, at the discretion of each teacher, and the Office of Teaching and Learning is researching other texts that offer another perspective but has not settled on anything yet.
“If a teacher agrees with the content, they love the book,” Dorrel said. “This is really the history. We’ve been going around in the name of liberty, and it’s not that. It’s a business. It’s really bad when war is your business.”
Dorrel said that since he’s been distributing the book, which has all his contact information on the first page, he’s only received a couple of nasty phone calls. “The phone rings every day. Every day there are e-mails, and mostly I just get praise because they’ve never seen anything like this.”