LANGELLE PHOTOGRAPHY

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Wally Menne with Ana Filippini of World Rainforest Movement in front of the European Parliament in Brussels, 2007. Photo: Langelle/GJEP-GFC/photolangelle.org

Cross-posted from Global Justice Ecology Project

Wally Menne: A Lion Among Men

The Loss of a Giant

Wally Menne in Kuna Yala 2010. Photo: Langelle/GJEP-GFC/photolangelle.org

My partner Orin Langelle and I were shocked and saddened this morning to learn of the death of friend and colleague Wally Menne who passed away on Thursday 26 October.

We had known Wally for many years and his loss was like a dagger. I had met Wally when he organized the founding meeting of the Durban Group for Climate Justice in his hometown in 2004.

Orin met him a couple of years later at a gathering of the Global Forest Coalition.

The loss of this important South African activist was sudden and surprising. Wally was a powerhouse, a giant. His force was impossible to ignore. He was dedicated and uncompromising with a seemingly endless supply of energy despite his years at the grindstone. Even now, it is difficult to imagine a movement without him.

I heard from Wally only a few days ago with information on a possible volunteer for GJEP—someone whose writings he had come across who impressed him with her no-nonsense critique on the problem of industrial tree plantations—his personal crusade.

The Durban Group for Climate Justice. Wally with arms folded, far left.

Anyone who knew Wally knew this about him. He was passionate about ridding the Earth of the scourge of timber plantations and was one of the most knowledgeable on their extensive social and ecological impacts. He had no qualms about laying the blame for this devastating problem squarely at the feet of those responsible–not merely the corporations whose plantations they were, but the agencies and organizations who laid their groundwork and made up excuses to enable their expansion. In particular he targeted the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

The FAO won Wally’s wrath through their insistence on promoting a definition of “forests” that included industrial timber plantations. This despite the obvious fact that forests support communities, biodiversity, clean water and climate stabilization; and plantations destroy forests, communities, biodiversity, clean water and the climate. 2 + 2 will never equal 5 no matter how many reports the FAO puts out claiming it does.

Wally Menne, in center with hands above head, during a protest against a SAPPI pulp mill in South Africa. Photo: Langelle/GJEP-GFC/photolangelle.org

The FSC was dogged by Wally’s incessant criticism due to their support and legitimation of the timber plantation model. The FSC became a multi-billion-dollar brand by giving corporations sustainability certification for their timber monocultures, enabling them to sell their plantation-derived products as “green,” despite the real, on-the-ground consequences of that model.

On October 22nd, Wally wrote the piece below, promoting a new blog on the problem of plantations. I think it is a wonderful example of the anger and passion that Wally wielded with such skill, and of his ability to address not just the problem of plantations, but all of the issues connected to them. In this case, wood-based bioenergy. A timely post, given the upcoming UNFCCC Climate Convention early next month.


“The debate around the negative impacts of burning tree biomass to generate energy or to manufacture liquid biofuels has been escalating over the past ten years, with ample evidence having been presented of the harmful effects of government and UN policies that promote this false solution to climate change.

“However, the extremely greedy and powerful land-grabbing industry has managed to capture most of the international institutions that are supposed to act as the protectors of our planet, its people and its biodiversity. The prime example of this is the FAO. The FOOD and AGRICULTURE organisation of the United Nations, which has been co-opted by big bad business through tireless propaganda campaigns to undermine and to weaken the outcomes of political processes and to promote false promises under the guise of projects and programmes such as the Green Economy, REDD+, renewable energy targets and even targets to reduce biodiversity loss and deforestation.

“It is becoming increasingly obvious that these efforts are highly unlikely to bring about their intended results, and that instead they are only creating a false sense of there being no urgency for governments and individuals to take the initiative and to act decisively on their own in implementing the changes that are needed. In other words, all the hot air being pumped out at meetings of the CBD, UNFCCC, FAO, UNFF and the rest, is only serving to delay the implementation of real solutions, so that the owners of the industrial corporations that benefit from these long drawn-out processes can continue to profit at the expense of the majority of the people on our planet.”

—Wally Menne, Timberwatch, South Africa


We will miss Wally and the huge hole left by his absence. We hold his wife Rose and son Adam in our hearts at this terrible time.

Rest in peace Wally. You’ve earned it.

We miss you.

Anne Petermann (Orin Langelle and the staff and Board of Global Justice Ecology Project)

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This critique is re-posted from Global Justice Ecology Project. No disrespect is intended for Vietnam Veterans or for any of us who stayed in the U.S. in the struggle to bring U.S. troops home and stop the war on the people and the land in IndoChina. – Orin Langelle – 27 September 2017

Members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) show their outrage as they protest the lives lost (both U.S. and Indo-Chinese) in the Vietnam War. Both VVAW members and thousands of anti-war demonstrators massed at the Republican National Convention, Miami Beach, FL to show opposition to the war. PhotoLangelle.org (1972)

Two critiques of Burns’ film The Vietnam War question its intentions

by Global Justice Ecology Project’s Orin Langelle – co-founder, consultant, and photographer

As someone who was active in the movement to stop the Vietnam War, I was asked to comment on two key critiques of Burns and Novick’s highly acclaimed series, The Vietnam War.  The first,“The Killing of History,” is by John Pilger and the other,“Ken Burns’ Vietnam Gives Corporate Sponsors Little to Worry About,” is by Frank Joyce.  [I include a few others as well.] I have found writing about that epoch deeply challenging, as that war forever changed me and my understanding of reality, as well as millions of others–some living, some dead. I carry the heavy load of that time every day.

It was a crash course in imperialism, racism, colonization and class.

On July 1, 1970 a “lottery” draft was drawn for all men born in 1951. I drew 031 out of a possible 365. I subsequently was ordered by my draft board to report for a physical.  I took the physical, but made sure I did not go to Vietnam. There was no guarantee of a round trip ticket and I had no desire to kill anyone.

I had a lot of friends who did go to Vietnam. One young man I knew was a conscientious objector but served as a medic refusing to carry a gun.  He received the purple heart three times and returned deeply disturbed. Another was a military combat photographer. The last time I visited him the only things he had in his refrigerator were bottles of vodka.

I had no animosity for those who went to Vietnam, nor did I or anyone I knew ever spit on any veteran–a myth perpetuated through endless propaganda to undermine the anti-war movement, which also included many Vietnam veterans.

Wounded soldier from Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) in a wheelchair during protests against the Republican National Convention, Miami Beach, FL. He was one of over 200,000 U.S. casualties in that war. PhotoLangelle.org (1972).      This photograph received the 2017 Exhibition Award from the CEPA Gallery (Contemporary Photography & Visual Arts Center) in Buffalo, NY during their Members’ Exhibition. Langelle will have a solo exhibit in January 2018 at CEPA entitled “Portraits of Struggle.”

I was arrested many times trying to end the war. But I wasn’t marching in circles like so many in the ‘peace” movement today – I was in the streets taking part in direct action to STOP the war.  Not to complain about it, to STOP it.

But back to Burns’ advertisement for Bank of America – I mean his series The Vietnam War. I have to congratulate Bank of America for their part in the making of this series. They sound so concerned and compassionate.  For those who suffer from societal amnesia or just weren’t paying attention or alive then, it sounds great. But I was suspicious from the beginning of all the film’s corporate sponsors, especially Bank of America. And I wasn’t the only one.

Noted journalist, John Pilger, in his article “The Killing of History” states of Burns’ movie, “It’s lavish advertising campaign promotes its biggest backer, Bank of America, which in 1971 was burned down by students in Santa Barbara, California, as a symbol of the hated war in Vietnam.

Burns says he is grateful to ‘the entire Bank of America family” which “has long supported our country’s veterans.’ Bank of America was a corporate prop to an invasion that killed perhaps as many as four million Vietnamese and ravaged and poisoned a once bountiful land. More than 58,000 American soldiers were killed, and around the same number are estimated to have taken their own lives.”

And Frank Joyce in the LA Progressive goes after PBS in “Ken Burns’ Vietnam Gives Corporate Sponsors Little to Worry About. “The corporatization of so-called public broadcasting is a fact of life, a prime example of how the machinery of manufacturing consent works ceaselessly to expand its influence.”

Joyce also discusses sponsorship of the film by the Koch Brothers. The Koch Brothers?

Last night I watched the film’s credits to see exactly who was behind the making of “The Vietnam War.” And yes, David H. Koch’s name (from the Koch Foundation) was displayed in great big letters.

David H. Koch has a track record of well, just plain evil. Jane Mayer in 2010, writing “Covert Operations” for The New Yorker says, “David H. Koch… and his brother Charles are lifelong libertarians and have quietly given more than a hundred million dollars to right-wing causes.”

Mayer continues, “A Republican campaign consultant who has done research on behalf of Charles and David Koch said of the Tea Party, ‘The Koch brothers gave the money that founded it. It’s like they put the seeds in the ground. Then the rainstorm comes, and the frogs come out of the mud—and they’re our candidates!’”

But that’s just the beginning.  In a Rolling Stone article, “Inside the Koch Brothers’ Toxic Empire” Tim Dickerson writes, “The volume of Koch Industries’ toxic output is staggering. According to the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute, only three companies rank among the top 30 polluters of America’s air, water and climate: ExxonMobil, American Electric Power and Koch Industries. Thanks in part to its 2005 purchase of paper-mill giant Georgia-Pacific, Koch Industries dumps more pollutants into the nation’s waterways than General Electric and International Paper combined. The company ranks 13th in the nation for toxic air pollution. Koch’s climate pollution, meanwhile, outpaces oil giants including Valero, Chevron and Shell. Across its businesses, Koch generates 24 million metric tons of greenhouse gases a year.”

So glad Koch and Bank of America now want to set the record straight on the Vietnam War.

John Pilger continues in “The Killing of History,” The ‘meaning’ of the Vietnam war is no different from the meaning of the genocidal campaign against the Native Americans, the colonial massacres in the Philippines, the atomic bombings of Japan, the levelling of every city in North Korea…

Nothing has changed. When Donald Trump addressed the United Nations on 19 September – a body established to spare humanity the ‘scourge of war’ – he declared he was ‘ready, willing and able’ to ‘totally destroy’ North Korea and its 25 million people. His audience gasped, but Trump’s language was not unusual.

His rival for the presidency, Hillary Clinton, had boasted she was prepared to ‘totally obliterate’ Iran, a nation of more than 80 million people. This is the American Way; only the euphemisms are missing now.

Returning to the US, I am struck by the silence and the absence of an opposition – on the streets, in journalism and the arts, as if dissent once tolerated in the ‘mainstream’ has regressed to a dissidence: a metaphoric underground.”

So The Vietnam War is another outrageous attempt by the corporations and corporadoes to absolve their transgressions through the re-writing of history in an attempt to win the hearts and minds of viewers and pave the way for future atrocities.

See: John Pilger’s “THE KILLING OF HISTORY”  http://johnpilger.com/articles/the-killing-of-history  Pilger is an Australian-British journalist based in London. He covered the Vietnam War for a decade.

Frank Joyce’s “Ken Burns’ Vietnam Gives Corporate Sponsors Little to Worry About”  https://www.laprogressive.com/ken-burns-vietnam/

Jane Mayer’s “Covert Operations” https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/08/30/covert-operations

Tim Dickerson’s “Inside the Koch Brothers’ Toxic Empire” http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/inside-the-koch-brothers-toxic-empire-20140924

 

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