G.I. Jane in the Middle East

April 21, 2009 at 7:30 am (1)

I recently came across an article from the Jerusalem Post which reminded me a lot of Tim O’Brien’s book The Things They Carried. The article, entitled Palestinian women train with men at academy, details how in the second year of the police academy there are 16 women and 148 men who are training and graduating together. In the past this would have been an impossibility. The article states:

On Saturday, women clad in olive-green uniforms, some with their heads covered, marched together with the men. Farah Salman was one of them and said she dreamed of being a police commander.

It is ironic though that a uniform is supposed to delineate equality of the people who uphold the law, but in this case the women still wear their traditional head coverings. When describing the training Salman described it as an equal share of responsibilities between the women and the men:

Women do the same training as the men, which includes marching, crawling, shooting, riding horses and the trademark jumping through rings of fire.

It is certainly good to see that there are positive steps being made in the equality of women in Arab countries. A previous post I submitted brought this into focus for civilians, but this is the first time that I have heard anything about government roles being given to females. As I was reading this though I couldn’t help but to think of the “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong” in O’brien’s book. In this short story a civilized and even stereotypical girl from America is slowly but surely indoctrinated into the Vietnam war by the green berets. Rat tells about the time when Mark sees her coming in from patrol with the green berets:

Her eyes seemed to shine in the dark–not blue, though, but a bright glowing jungle green. She did not pause at Fossie’s bunker. She cradled her weapon and moved swiftly to the Special Forces hootch and followed the others inside. Briefly, a light came on, and someone laughed, then the place went dark again. (106)

In this account the idea of a young girl in war was almost unbelievable, but there is a connection to be made between this story and the article. I believe that women should be afforded the same opportunities to show that they can operate and function under extreme duress. In one instance the idea of a woman in a war zone may be fiction, but the article is reality, and in a region that is so one-sided, it is beneficial to see changes made.

Palestinian Women Train with Men at Academy by Associated Press writers for the Jerusalem Post in Jericho


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Punishing the Innocent

April 20, 2009 at 12:38 pm (1)

I have read A Long Way Gone and I couldn’t help but to notice how the children in the book were forced from their homes, not given adequate care, and conscripted into military service, all in the name of the greater good. It seems that the justification governments and rebel groups use when they force children to fight for them is that they are providing food and shelter for children who otherwise would not have anything. Although I find it ironic that if these warring adults had not been so selfish in the first place and started a war, the children would have been able to live in their homes with their families. Baeh describes his experience of being indoctrinated into the military when he writes:

I turned away, and my eyes caught the smashed head of another man. Something inside his brain was still pulsating and he was breathing. I felt nauseated. Everything began to spin around me. One of the soldiers was looking at me, chewing something and smiling. He took a drink from his water bottle and threw the remaining water at my face.

“You will get used to it, everybody does eventually,” he said. (100)

It seems to me that this is not benevolent behavior towards children, but rather a punishment for crimes uncommitted. The entire war for the children was a punishment, and what did they learn from this? Simply that they were not allowed to have a childhood.

I think a common theme that I have noticed with my posts is how humanity is expected to grow as time passes. I understand that Baeh’s story was only fifteen years ago, but with globalization and NGO’s becoming more prevalent it only makes sense that more good will towards other people should also increase, especially when it comes to children. However this is not the case. It is unfortunate that the very institutions that Baeh may have believed protected him (government) were the ones who used and abused him. The same can be said about an article from FoxNews on Friday April 17th, 2009. The article explains that in India an eleven year-old girl died because her teacher made her stand outside in the sun. The entire article is as follows:

A girl in India reportedly died after standing in the hot sun Wednesday as punishment for not doing her homework, AFP reported.

Eleven-year-old Shanno Khan’s teacher made her stand in the baking New Delhi sun, after which she got a bloody nose and fainted. Khan slipped into a coma after being taken to the hospital and died on Friday, AFP reported.

The teacher and school principal have been suspended, and criminal charges are pending after the autopsy results are released, according to local media reports.

While corporal punishment is illegal in India, it is not unusual for teachers to physically abuse students, AFP reported.

I remember when I was in elementary school and didn’t  do my homework, I had to wait five minutes before I could go outside for recess. It is a crime when children are subjected to adult punishments with little to no regard for safety. Even though the teacher are principal could face criminal charges, that does not negate the fact that they overstepped their bounds. This is not just child abuse, but a human rights abuse. Both this girl and Baeh were forced into situations that for one cost her her life.

Indian Schoolgirl Left in Sun as Punishment Dies by FoxNews staffers

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Religion as a Hostage

April 15, 2009 at 5:11 pm (1)

In recent news stories on the television and in the papers, I have noticed how holy sites such as mosques, churches, and temples have been used by terrorists and army personnel alike as means of cover, shelter, and even bases. I guess my naivete of war always made me believe that holy buildings were generally unused by soldiers, but it may be the other way around. In an April 14th article written by a staff member for the Jerusalem Post it told of how security forces for the Palestinian Authority uncovered a weapons lab, two bombs, and eight suspects under a Mosque. The article states:

Palestinian Authority security forces have uncovered an explosives lab under a mosque in Kalkilya, it was announced Tuesday.

Even if this lab was underneath the mosque the fact still remains that if  a mistake were made by alledged terrorists, they could potentially kill hundreds of people who are worshipping above them. The article goes on to say:

PA police said eight people were arrested during the operation, which took place several days ago.

Adnan Damiri, a spokesman for the police, said two bombs were found in the lab. He would not say which organization the lab belonged to, but stated that it was run as part of efforts to destabilize PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s rule.

I recalled after reading this article a section of Tim O’Brien’s book The Things They Carried entitled “Church”. The section included this:

“Its bad news,” Kiowa said. “You don’t mess with churches.” But we spent the night there, turning the pagoda into a little fortress, and then for the next seven or eight days we used the place as a base of operations (119).

It is interesting that as Americans, the soldiers in O’Brien’s squad had respect for where they were staying. Of course this respect was not carried out, but the observation by Kiowa allows a reader to sympathize and to feel better about the soldiers staying there; as long as they know it is not entirely right. However when it comes to Islamic extremists who use mosques as shelters, bases, or even as targets we find the acts deplorable. I believe that in any circumstance the use, destruction, or inhabitation of holy sites should be kept to a bare minimum. These sites are places of worship, not war, and to commandeer them for military purposes defeats the purpose of these buildings.

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Using Youth

April 14, 2009 at 7:21 pm (1)

It can be seen throughout A Long Way Gone that indoctrination and “brainwashing” techniques were used on Baeh and his friends, all in the pursuit of building them up as fighting machines. To most Americans this is certainly cruel and inhumane. We pride ourselves on being politically correct and being a country that is devoted to human rights. Therefore when we read about children being pro-scripted into an army, it is one of the most dishonorable thing a country can do. Lies are used to develop these children into fighting machines. They are given food and safety at first, and then given a weapon and drugs. The weapon is for fighting, and the drugs are for compliance. The generals and lieutenants of the squads know that once the children are hooked on the drugs then it is only a matter of giving an order for the children to act on. They become dependent on the drug and the orders that are given to them. However going back to this idea that America is politically correct, what is to say that we are not brainwashing our own children? Don’t get me wrong, we are not doing this to send our children off to war and drugs, but to think a certain way. In an April 3 article for the New York Times Helene Cooper writes about how Obama connects with European youths:

President Obama, appearing on the eve of a NATO summit meeting here, told a cheering crowd of young people on Friday that “America is changing, but it cannot be America alone that changes.”

I find it ironic and amusing that this sort of indoctrination of ideals isn’t considered brainwashing in our first world countries. Think back to the run up to the election back in November, it was clear that technology played a genuine role for the Obama administration. Facebook users could stream the inaugural address by President Obama, and his campaign launched massive ads on the social networking site. Most people would agree that the majority of users on facebook are pre to late teens, as well as twenty something year olds. While most of these groups are of the voting age, a lot of them are not. I know what most people are wanting to say right now, that this has no comparison to Baeh’s situation. I understand that, but think about how the liberal and conservative media twist and strangle their stories until it sheds a positive light on what executives want covered. This post is not meant to be partisan in any way, but it does want people to understand that their will always be brainwashing in our world. There will also be lies told to people to encourage violence, conformity, or even silence. In any case, Baeh’s situation and any number of other people’s situations are not mutually exclusive, but rather are placed on a continuum which displays at to what degree people with power will brainwash youths.

Obama Connect with European Youth by: Helene Cooper, New York Times

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A Reason for Remembering the Holocaust

March 23, 2009 at 4:01 pm (War Blog Entries)

I came across an article today from the Jerusalem Post entitled, “Islam Teacher Disputes Shoah Testimony” by Maud Swinnen. According to the article Henri Kitchka was invited to speak to a school in the Laeken suburb of Brussels in Belgium. Kitchka is a survivor of the Nazi holocaust and accepts many speaking engagements around the country to explain to students how his family was murdered, and how he survived Buchenwald. However at this speaking engagement things did not go over as usual for Kitchka.

During the meeting with 150 students, the school was told by a teacher of Islamic religion that Kitchka’s account “was largely exaggerated.”

I found this not only appalling but also extremely ignorant. However after I read the entire article and had time to think about the books that we have read for this class I remembered the foreword that Elie Wiesel wrote for Night. What I wanted to find was the reason that he chose to write the book. I found my answer:

…my life as a writer-or my life, period- would not have become what it is: that of a witness who believes he has a moral obligation to try to prevent the enemy from enjoying one last victory by allowing his crimes to be erased from human memory. (viii)

Elie realizes that he is not just a survivor but a witness to one of the most despicable human acts the entire world has ever known. The same can be said about Henri Kitchka. Both of these men are survivors and each has his own story about survival, death, and remembrance. Each man also uses two very distinct methods of getting their messages across. However the one constant for both men is that they do not want the human population to forget what happened.

Thankfully the country of Belgium has taken steps to aid Kitchka and Elie’s wish.

Christian Dupont, education minister in the French-speaking Belgian government, said he was “shocked” by the “totally unacceptable” comments by the religion teacher.

As the minister, Dupont has made an inquiry and lodged a legal complaint against the school and teacher. It is also interesting to note that all Islamic religious teachers in Belgium are selected by representatives from the Muslims of Belgium group. The group commented quickly about the school incident:

“Negationism is an offense. Our teachers must respect the Constitution and laws of this country. Otherwise there will be sanctions,” it said. Holocaust denial is an offense in Belgium subject to prison term.

The reason why men like Kitchka and Wiesel write and speak is to remind people of the holocaust. Many believe the old mantra, “If you don’t learn from the past, you are doomed to repeat it”, and fervently work each day of their lives to remind the world that a terrible injustice was done in our not so distant past. When certain groups or people attempt to negate the holocaust or diminish its impact, it is the responsibility of not only the survivors, but us as human beings to stand up and in one voice proclaim the truth.

Article found in the Jerusalem Post, international section. Islam Teacher Disputes Shoah Testimony, by:  Maud Swinnen.

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The Progression of Women’s Rights During War

March 22, 2009 at 8:54 pm (War Blog Entries)

Before the onset of World War I conservative values and norms were the ruling majority in regards to how women behaved, acted, dressed, and spoke. However once social agendas were less focused on these institutions that bound women to a patriarchal system and more towards the war effort, women were beginning to gain greater independence for themselves. This is most clearly represented in Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth. As a young English woman during the war she relates a first hand account of how social constraints receded and allowed for a more introspective and independent woman to emerge.

However even with the passing of time and the recognition of women’s rights there are still countries that bind women to a constraining system. A disturbing example of how suffocating the lack of rights can be is found in Afghanistan where it has been reported that there are increasing numbers of women who are self-immolating themselves (setting one’s self on fire to die). In a March 19th Article from the BBC News, Martin Patience reports on this increase of self-immolation:

Self-immolation among women has the highest recorded levels…Most of the women are in their teens or early 20s and are recently or soon-to-be married. Experts suggest that a combination of poverty, illiteracy, domestic violence and lack of freedoms continue to drive this decades-old trend.

While there are reforms that allow equal rights to men and women in the Afghan constitution, strict conservative families still exist. However what is most interesting is how women’s rights were shifted for both Brittain and the women of a war torn country like Afghanistan. In Testament of Youth Brittain recounts a class where several conclusions were reached about the differences between a “pre-war girl” and a “new woman”:

The age is intensely introspective, and the younger generation is beginning to protest that supreme interest in one’s self is not sin or self-conscious weakness or to be overcome, but is the essence of progress. (125)

Just like Vera Brittain, women in Afghanistan have made steps to improve the equality and fairness of their society. The article states:

To mark International Women’s Day in March, an arts and crafts fair was held in the city, with all the items made and sold by women…”I wanted to show that women can do some things better than men,” says the organiser, Kandigol. “We want to have the same rights as men.”

In each example war has been the catalyst for social change. As much as people want to believe that nothing good comes of war, here is an instance where because of war, social and cultural equality increased. Our world has major work ahead to achieve equality for both sexes and even for all people, but over the years steps have been made to lessen the divide between man and woman. The only thing we can do now is hope that war is not the answer for change.

Afghan Women Who Turn to Immulation by: Martin Patience, BBC News Kabul

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Remembering the Past…Focused on the Now

March 20, 2009 at 10:40 pm (War Blog Entries)

“The only way around is through” – Robert Frost.

This quote was brought to my attention as I was reading a military blog from an Army wife. I couldn’t help but remember Elie Wiesel, and I pictured him running for survival and his life. After Night I read this blog post and realized that each one of us will have a moment in our life where we will be presented with what seems like an insurmountable obstacle, and as much as we may want to avoid it and go around, we will undoubtedly face the challenge head on.

The blog post was written by an Army wife named Tara and in her post she described her new life, in a completely new city, and thousands of miles away from anyone she knew. Her only comfort was her husband. In her post Tara says:

I am a bit homesick…I miss the rest of my family…I miss the Atlanta skyline…I miss knowing where all the best places in town are…I miss the “world” I left behind.

As most college kids know, moving away from home and all the things they know and love is certainly a tough adjustment, albeit even scary at times. What if instead of going away to college like many of us have experienced; or even moving to a new city like Tara, what if you were to be forced from your home and taken thousands of miles away to your death; how would you cope, or better yet, survive?

It seems almost blasphemous to compare the horrors of a concentration camp to our own small obstacles, but each one of us, Tara the army wife and Elie Wiesel all remember our past. Elie states:

From time to time, in the middle of all that talk, a thought crossed my mind: Where is Mother right now…and Tzipora…”Mother is still a young woman,” my father once said. “She must be in a labor camp. And Tzipora, she is a big girl now. She too must be in a camp…” (46)

Looking back for Elie wasn’t so much about remembering how great his family was, it was simply something he had to remember to keep his sanity intact.  Both he and Tara recall their old lives and the people in it. But they also live the words of Robert Frost. Tara writes:

I am also reminded of how important it is for me to release the past to embrace the newness of my destiny…

For her she has a life with her husband to look forward too, in Elie’s case his survival was what he was focused on:

“Don’t think, don’t stop, run!” (86)

In both of these instances each person is using their strength of the present to overcome the obstacle that seems to great to get around. Instead of giving up and claiming defeat each one has chosen to keep going. For Tara she embraces a new life, which at first seems scary and unnerving, but she accepts that. For Elie his motivation for survival allowed him to overcome one of the greatest of human obstacles that our world has ever known.

If you take anything away from this post, let it be simply this:

“The only way around is through”

I Miss the “World” I left Behind. From Loving a Soldier. Living the Life. by Tara JW

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Unseen Injuries

February 3, 2009 at 4:06 am (War Blog Entries)

After finishing a section of Brittain’s memoir I couldn’t help but notice the lack of description that Vera uses to describe unseen injuries. Since I am not a history buff I will try to explain what I mean. I believe it was common knowledge for soldiers to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); sometimes referred to as shell shock, during WWI. One of Vera’s close friends, George, was a victim to this debilitating mental condition, but she spends very little time in discussing it. In today’s scientific world much more emphasis is being placed on injuries to the psyche, and the United States Army has taken notice. In a podcast from January 16, 2009 Army Brigadeer General Loree Sutton describes the armies efforts to treat not only the soldier suffering from traumatic events, but also useful tools for families and loved ones.

Vera’s only description of PTSD or shell shock is when she first visits George at Fishmonger’s Hospital where she writes:

…he still shuddered from the deathly cold that comes after shell shock; his face was grey with a queer, unearthly pallor, from which his haunted eyes glowed like twin points of blue flame in their sullen sockets (257).

George is simply sitting alone, covered by a green blanket, in front of a fire. Of course this book is not about psychological conditions, but when this account is viewed in congruence with the other numerous accounts of septic wounds, gangrene, and overall wartime images a flag should be raised as to why Vera would not include how George was affected. By all accounts and from classroom discussion we have seen Vera constantly worries about how the war would change the people she loved. Perhaps then it can be argued that George is on the periphery and Vera sees no point in assigning pages of her text to his condition. However in our current wars, we as Americans can classify and diagnose PTSD and give it the attention that is warranted.

General Sutton outlines in a podcast how PTSD is seen from the Army’s perspective and how they are being proactive about treating soldiers who have just come back from deployment. Sutton states that forty to fifty thousand troops have been clinically diagnosed with PTSD.  To help the soldiers who have been diagnosed, Sutton and the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury have created a warrior wellness network. This network has a twenty four hour call center that can help soldiers and families find doctors, learn about treatments, and find out more information about psychological problems that returning soldiers may have. Sutton went on to say that this center builds upon cognitive behavioral and prolonged exposure therapies, but that it also introduces new coping tools such as yoga, tai chi, and accupuncture.

But what is the connection between Vera Brittain’s work and this podcast then? Certainly the obvious connection is that both have elements of PTSD in each. But what I find interesting is how the focus of psychological ailments has shifted over time. The focus for Vera was physical injuries, things she could see and deal with, things that were felt and seen by all. I suppose the true connection here is the treatment of the injured. Vera treated the physically maimed, while today’s military does the same it holds the mind on a higher pedestal. Perhaps this is due to the advacements in technology, but also in modern warfare tactics. It is interesting to note that Roland’s death impacted Vera so significantly that she payed little attention to the psyche of George; one could say she is suffering from her own PTSD. However in any case, there are sharp differences in the way each piece deals with the unseen injuries of soldiers, and how it affects the people around them.

Audio Blogger’s Roundtable with Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton

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The feeds I have chosen and why…

January 8, 2009 at 8:15 pm (War Blog Entries)

I believe I have gathered numerous feeds that not only cover the topic of war, but also provide varied perspectives on war. Not only do these sources span many different topics, but they also span the entire world. Let’s begin shall we?

1.)  Audio Blogger’s Roundtable (Hosted by the Pentagon Channel) I chose this podcast because it comes from a reliable source, and it provides details of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that most people would never know about.  Each podcast consists of current or retired military personnel relaying information on the happenings of the United States military. This podcast is also a chance for bloggers to become active by posing questions to the guests.

2.) BBC World News I believe having an outside internationally recognized news source lends credibility to the type of reporting that will be done. It is often said that the media in America can be seen as liberal and I believe that the BBC may as well be liberal, but it reaches more people than any national news outlet we have in America.

3.) Google News Search: Foreign, Conflict, Military I chose these three search terms because I believe they best represent current warfare. It not only encompasses war, but conflicts that may be catalysts to a war.

4.)Fox News RSS I chose Fox News for a more conservative approach to the media being offered to the American public.  I like to see a balance when it comes to the news I receive, otherwise perceptions can suffer.

5.)Jerusalem Post: Front Page News & Middle East News I thought getting news from a media outlet that is currently in a war would be extremely helpful to the style of reporting that is offered. Not only do I receive news from the front page of the paper, but also a section of the paper that focuses on the middle east as a whole.

6.) Loving A Soldier. Living the Life. I chose this blog because it is written exclusively by army wives. Not only does it have postings about the men in the military, but it also has postings about home life and the difficulties of being an army wife that comes with it.

7.)New York Times. I chose the NY Times because it is a nationally recognized paper that provides interesting insights into the topics that are currently in the news.

8.)Reuters. I thought this was a good feed because it seems that any internet news story I read online is usually taken from Reuters. It only seems logical then that I would subscribe to the source.

9.)The Japan Times. I chose this paper because I wanted a different perspective about the wars that are occuring in the world. I have feeds that start in America, then go to England, next the Middle East, and finally Asia. I believe I covered the world in the feeds that I subscribed to.

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