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Why It's Okay to be Person Most Likely to Stand in Front of a Tank To Stop It and Continue Military Work in Afghanistan

Fri, 04 Dec 2009 17:10:04 +0000

If there was a high school yearbook category Person Most Likely to Stand in Front of a Tank To Stop It, I'd be the winner hands down.And yet, there's no way I would support a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan post-haste. This blog entry, A Commitment Strategy to Afghanistan, by Lorelei Kelly offers a great explanation but here's the crux for me (I recommend reading the whole column though):The left and the right are too often defaulting to Iraq-era talking points for Afghanistan. On the right, Vets for Freedom is running anti-Obama ads, using the Iraq surge as a bludgeon against him. On the left, the California Democratic Party just adopted a resolution calling for increased humanitarian aid along with a military withdrawal.But what if you can't have one with the other? The consequences of a complete withdrawal would leave a violent, chaotic hole in the middle of a tense neighborhood. The US would deal a potential death blow to the world's premier military alliance (NATO) and crackpot messiahs across the globe will claim credit. Troops need to be in the mix. Most Afghans want us there. They overwhelmingly dislike the Taliban. Girls attending school has risen to 44% since we've been present. Far more Afghans have access to basic health care. We need to start seeing these benchmarks as part of a broader set of objectives -- all thus far achieved with the help of American troops. [emphasis mine]A month before that, Lorelei wrote, in Commander-in-Chief, Yes He Is, a pre-emptive strike that Obama critics from any point on the spectrum would be wise to read:It still kills me that so many neoconservatives claim to value the military, yet demonstrate so few military values. Like: looking after the general welfare, shared risk, sacrifice for common goals and longterm planning. And here's the kicker: public service. Here are some other reminders of how progressive the military can be:International human rights law: U.S. military lawyers have been human rights champions for Guantánamo prisoners and for the Geneva Conventions.International treaties: The U.S. Navy is one of the strongest advocates for the Law of the Sea.Conflict resolution: The Air Force has a prize-winning office of dispute resolution.Renewable energy: The U.S. military is the largest renewable consumer in the country.AIDS prevention: The Defense Department has an extensive program to help foreign militaries.And her conclusion really says it all for me:The idea that power comes not from dominance, but from the ability to influence change, is a lesson learned from recent experience. Contrast the tea-drinking and negotiating experience of Afghanistan with the linear, engineering mindset of the Cold War--where a rigid worldview fit nicely with hardware-heavy solutions. Low-tech is our future. Afghanistan is the test. Finally, we have a President who hears what the military has been saying for nearly twenty years now: Security is about people.I'm going to gloss over the fact that what I hate most about our military intervention in Afghanistan is how disconnected I've always felt it has been from getting at those individuals and groups and influences behind who actually performed the terrorist attacks (read more about how they connect to one another) and the countries and entities that have truly given asylum to such individuals. I read Three Cups of Tea, I think the Afghanistan population, like that in many countries around the world, our own included, could benefit enormously from the skills our military can deploy when not using arms or weapons (as Lorelei notes the other things the forces do), but that's why we have the U.N. and its derivative groups as well as NGOs.And so, as a student of just and limited war, while it's incredibly difficult for me to even accept that we're in Afghanistan since we barely went after the right parties in the right way in the first place, I must insist that we now look at how deep in we are. There's little practical value to withdrawing 100% immediately either as no objectives will have been met if we do so.This headline from an ar[...]

A mother's stark choice: foster care or providing for her child and serving her country

Fri, 20 Nov 2009 00:43:15 +0000

What if a white male single dad had a 10 month-old, adorable baby boy. Say his wife had died tragically and he had no extended family….The dad was in the army, and he was deployed to Afghanistan. The dad had nowhere for his baby to go while he was deployed… what would happen? I bet that baby would not go to foster care.Blogger Julie Kang really shifted my thinking on the case of Alexis Hutchinson, the 21 year old Army Specialist who did not show up for her deployment to Afghanistan because she had no one to care for her 10 month old baby Kamani. Julie writes, “…hello!  I think there would be an even BIGGER furor if a single dad (and for the sake of argument, make him a single white dad) had his child taken away, not because he was defecting, but because he needed more time to find another caregiver during his deployment.  Everyone, including aforementioned conservative talk show hosts, would be clamoring to care for that baby.”Julie is riffing off the fact that the site Courage to Resist reported “A few conservative websites have taken notice of growing public outrage over this case. Some have attacked Alexis because she is young black woman who got pregnant soon after basic training, yet she chose to remain the Army! Another blames her because Kamani’s father is not a part of their lives. Some incredulously ask if we would support a young male soldier in a similar situation (yes—we would). Alexis’ only real mistake was believing the military’s “family friendly” recruiting sales pitch.” (and, Morra’s note, the Hyde Amendment that rules that no federal funds be used to pay for abortions means she would have had few options had she wanted to terminate the pregnancy, anyway. She had to keep the baby, and she had to provide for the baby. She is mother and provider.)Let’s take a step back: 21-year old Alexis Hutchinson is the parent of a 10-month old boy. She is African American. She is a single parent. She is a cook in the Army, and she had orders to deploy to Afghanistan on Nov. 5, but she stayed home and did not show up to move out. When she showed up to the Base the next day with her son in town, she was arrested and her son was taken into custody. She is now on base in Georgia, waiting to find out her fate, and her baby is with his grandmother Angelique Hughes. Latest reports have Alexis Hutchinson facing a possible court martial. Her son is thousands of miles away in California.“According to the family care plan of the U.S. Army, Hutchinson was allowed to fly to California and leave her son with her mother, Angelique Hughes of Oakland. Angelique says she realized she could not care for her grandson, since her other duties include caring for a daughter with special needs, her ailing mother, and an ailing sister, and working long days running a daycare.The Army then gave Hutchinson an extension of time to allow her to find someone else to care for Kamani. Meanwhile, Hughes brought Kamani back to Georgia to be with his mother.However, only a few days before Hutchinson's original deployment date, she was told by the Army she would not get the time extension after all, and would have to deploy, despite not having found anyone to care for her child.Faced with this choice, Hutchinson chose not to show up for her plane to Afghanistan. The military arrested her and placed her child in the county foster care system.”According to a story on NPR, the estimated 85,000 people in the Army who are single parents are required to have a caregiving plan, for when the custodial parent is deployed or unavailable to care for a child. When Alexis Hutchinson’s learned her mother was unable to be Kamani’s backup caregiver, Hutchinson says she advised her Commander of the change in her care arrangements and asked for time to figure out a new plan. Hutchinson states her Commander basically said to figure it out in the next 24 hours, because deployment had been moved up to November 5. If she couldn’t find an alternative in time, Kamani would have to go into foster care.H[...]

Marital Rape Abroad and At Home

Thu, 23 Apr 2009 13:42:23 +0000

A new national law in non-Taliban Afghanistan now says that unless a wife is ill, she is "obliged to fulfill the sexual desires of her husband." That is the law of the land, signed by President Hamid Karzai. Approximately 300 brave Afghan women marched against this new law and others. Jaelithe at Momocrats notes that Americans who rely on FoxNews for information probably missed the march because they were busy providing coverage of conservatives' teabagging parties, and reports that: On Wednesday, April 15th, the Afghan women protesters made their way through a crowd of angry men, who threw stones at the marching women and screamed "Whores!" as they attempted to surround and stop the protest. With the aid of Afghan police, the women walked two miles, through threats, insults, and hails of gravel, from a conservative madrasa run by one of the drafters of the law to the steps of the Afghan Parliament. On Thursday, April 16th, Afghan President Hamid Karzai told CNN's Fareed Zakaria that he will attempt to revise the Shia Family Law before its implementation. Karzai now claims he did not understand the scope of the law when he signed it because he had not read the entire piece of legislation, which was part of a larger bill aimed at promoting the preservation of Afghanistan's minority Shia culture. The progressive group Credo Action has created an online petition asking U.S. President Barack Obama to put diplomatic pressure on President Karzai to abolish the law. In Western countries, like the US where I live, we purport to be above and beyond these barbaric requirements. And, as far as I know, there are no official laws required women to fulfill the sexual desires of her husband. (I say as far as I know because I am continually surprised by some of the laws from Ye Olden Times that remain on the books in many states and towns, like the prohibition from walking backwards after dark in a town in Connecticut, so you never know.) However, while women may not legally be required to serve as their husbands' sex slaves, the idea of marital rape is still a hard concept for many Westerners to accept. In her post in the Feministing community, Idiolect reminds readers that: Until 1976, marital rape was legal in every state in the United States. Although marital rape is now a crime in all 50 states in the U.S., some states still don't consider it as serious as other forms of rape. The only states that have laws that make no distinction between marital rape and stranger rape are Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia. [Source:] On a related note, some of you might remember that as recently as 2006, a court in Maryland decided that women cannot say no after intercourse has begun. That ruling has since been overturned (but it was law in Maryland for a couple years, while I personally was living there, too) but I think it's telling that such decisions are made in the first place... This is our own culture and our own law. That isn't to say that I don't think the state of affairs in Afghanistan is also outrageous, but let's not pretend as if "those people" are the one with the problem. Incidentally, it is also illegal to engage in oral sex in Maryland. Connie Verneracion at House on a Hill wrote a post in 2006 about the laws in the Phillipines and Singapore: It wasn’t until the Anti-Rape Law took effect in 1997 that the Philippines finally acknowledged that there is such a thing as marital rape. I used to think that the government should have done that much, much earlier. Actually, I still do. That’s why I was more than a bit surprised to read that in Singapore, to this day, the husband actually enjoys legal immunity from marital rape. The Singaporean government proposes a change in the criminal law which will partially destroy that immunity... [Veneracion describes the cumbersome judicial process to [...]

Release of kidnapped Canadian journalist highlights growing dangers in Afghanistan

Mon, 10 Nov 2008 02:55:00 +0000

Canadians got the good news yesterday that Canadian Broadcasting Company journalist Melissa Fung had been freed in Afghanistan, nearly a month after being kidnapped. Their happiness was leavened with surprise, though, because the public hadn't been told that Fung had been in danger. For some bloggers, the plot thickened when it was learned that Fung's kidnapping had taken place October 12 -- two days before Canada's parliamentary elections. Did the government and news agencies embargo the news of Fung's abduction for her saftety -- or was there an element of political calculation involved? The bloggers reactions betray a lack of understanding of how journalists work in war zones.  First, the details of the crime. According to articles on the CBC website, Fung was working on a story at a refugee camp on the outskirts of the Afghan capital of Kabul when armed men kidnapped her on October 12. She was taken into mountains northwest of the city. She told an interviewer yesterday that she was held, blindfolded, in an underground cave. Investigators say they think the kidnappers were criminals out to make a buck, not members of the Taliban. Afghan authorities say three people have been arrested so far, and three more suspects are being sought. They also say no ransom was paid for her release.  CBC news publisher John Cruikshank said that they asked fellow journalists to keep Fung's kidnapping a secret for safety reasons. .Melissa's parents are obviously grateful that she has turned up safe.(You can see a CBC video of them talking about the call they received from their daughter after she was freed. There's also video of Fung describing her ordeal.) Fung said she had not been hurt by her captors.  Reporters Without Borders' statement on Fungs release noted that it's become increasingly dangerous for journalists to work in Afghanistan: We are... very worried by the recent kidnappings of journalists in Afghanistan, where the security situation has deteriorated dangerously.” Violet is impressed that the news organizations can keep a secret. Ninemoonjupe understands why secrecy was necessary. But  BlastFurnace is suspicious, asking: [W]asn't this really just a case of the right-wing media colluding to ensure a Harper victory? And for that matter, the CBC cowing to their political masters to make sure they don't lose next year's appropriation? I'm not an expert on Canadian politics or media, but the news blackout doesn't surprise me. News organizations routinely keep secrets when reporting in war zones, which is why Geraldo Rivera got into so much trouble in 2003 when he revealed details about the military operation he was witnessing in Iraq. Rivera's loquaciousness was the exception, not the rule for military correspondents.  But even beyond that, there's an element of solidarity at work. No one has forgotten the horrific kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002. Journalists working in a war zone know that what happened to Pearl or Fung could happen to them. Why wouldn't they keep a secret if that could save a fellow journalist's life? Thankfully, Fung is safe, as is Dutch journalist Joanie de Rijke, who was abducted Nov. 1. Her kidnapping was not disclosed until after her release Nov. 7, according to Reporters Without Borders. Riljke's release prompted this statement from the Committee to Protect Journalists: "We are relieved that Joanie de Rijke is safe and free. Her week-long ordeal is an indicator of how dangerous Afghanistan has become for foreign and local reporters. The question that must quickly be addressed is how journalists are going to continue to operate in the country's disintegrating security situation," said Bob Dietz, CPJ's Asia program coordinator.      [...]

Let's help! Donate via BlogHers Act (including Myanmar cyclone victims) and we'll match your donation with $3,000

Mon, 07 Apr 2008 19:51:31 +0000

Right now, thousands upon thousands of women and children like these (above) who took shelter in a Buddhist temple need our help. This morning, BlogHers Act and GlobalGiving expanded our Mother's Day fundraising initiative to save women's lives to include the tens of thousands of people devastated by Cyclone Nargis. Now, in addition to donating to hand-picked and carefully vetted programs to help women and children in Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Darfur, Nepal and South Africa, you can use the BlogHers Act donation widget (see below and the left-hand column on every page of to help get water and shelter to thousands of people whose lives are in danger. And we'll help! "In Geneva, a United Nations spokeswoman, Elisabeth Byrs, said that Myanmar had said it would welcome aid supplies and that disaster assessment officials were now awaiting visas to enter the country. “Our biggest fear is that the aftermath could be more lethal than the storm itself,” said Caryl Stern, who heads the United Nations Children’s Fund in the United States." Source: Aid Flows to Myanmar as Death Toll Rises to 22,500 By Seth Mydans, NYTD, 5.7.08 Here's how BlogHer and GlobalGiving will match your donation: Whichever of the now six projects recommended via the BlogHers Act fundraising widget receives the most donations between now and the end of the week will get a $1,000 donation from BlogHer, which Global Giving has agreed to match. The other five worthy projects will also get a donation of $200 each from BlogHer. We are very proud that to date the BlogHer community has donated $2,930 and growing! Now we have an opportunity really make a difference -- Won't you please help by donating and/or blogging this initiative? Globalgiving accepts donations of as little as $10 or $15. Here's how: Take Action Now: 1) Grab a button or donation widget to place on your blog. 2) Share this information with your readers by blogging about maternal health, or this BlogHers Act initiative, or the individual project you're supporting. 3) Leave your link at the bottom of this post, using Mr Linky, so others can hear your thoughts on these issues. (We'll also be featuring many of you on and in our newsletters.) 4) Donate to save women's lives, today. Get the widget here: Get the button code:           Copy this code: (image) Visit our information page to get great information on why women across the world need your help: * Every year, 529,000 women die from pregnancy-related causes. * Children who have lost their mothers are up to 10 more times more likely to die prematurely than those who haven’t. * More than 80 per cent of maternal deaths worldwide are due to five direct causes: haemorrhage, sepsis, unsafe abortion, obstructed labour and hypertensive disease of pregnancy. * Most maternal deaths (61 per cent) take place during labour, delivery or in the immediate post-partum period. Some 3.4 million newborns die within the first week of life. UNFPA As someone who is like a broken record about the extraordinary power of women who read and write blogs, I'm excited to see what we can do together. Thank you in advance for your help -- I encourage you to blog this now: BlogHer's powerful community and GlobalGiving kick off donation initiative to save women's lives in Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Darfur, Nepal, South Africa. I'm proud to be part of a community that speaks for and invests in other women. Let's do this.   [...]

Combat Related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the wounded soul

Sat, 17 Nov 2007 19:54:42 +0000

Many of us heard about it after Vietnam. Some men, we were told, returned home having flashbacks and exhibiting anti-social behavior. But, like most people back then, I shrugged it off, never realizing that it would come to effect so many that I knew and loved. I didn't know then how deeply it could wound a person, or with what lasting and horrible presence. PTSD can often have a delayed effect. One day a colleague of mine had to be taken from his office, as he was cowering behind his desk, terrified. He was a Vietnam vet who in 25 years had exhibited no negative symptoms. But then one day it all exploded. His life exploded. And now, with the war in Iraq/Afghanistan, reports are that as many as one in five soldiers will be afflicted with this life-damning disorder. The Knoxville Voice" says: More than 100,000 soldiers are being treated for mental health problems, according to the Veterans Administration, and half of those are for Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD). But that figure’s likely low-balled and the true numbers are far higher, as many in the military are afraid to report their flashbacks, nightmares, weight-loss and other symptoms for fear of reprisal. Others seek help but get turned away. Some are told to shut up and deal with it. Celeste Freeman reports it that the suicide rate for vets is climbing On Tuesday night, CBS News announced the devastating results of a five-month investigation into the incidence of suicide among American war veterans. Until the CBS folks did their own count using existing state death records (that no one had bothered to gather together and analyze), little information existed about how many suicides among veterans there were nationwide. . The numbers CBS found are extremely disturbing. In 2005, 6256 veterans killed themselves—an average of 120 suicides each week. Furthermore, the CBS researchers found that veterans age 20-24 had the highest suicide rate of any age group. These, of course, are the Iraq and Afghani war kids. Whereas other veterans were twice as likely to commit suicide than the non-veteran populace. The new, young vets were three or four times more likely. Here in an uneducated nutshell is what contributes to the disorder: Take a fine young American boy. Teach him to do anything for his soldier-brothers. Then set him down in a jungle, or a desert, and blow up his best friend, spattering body parts all over him. Tell him to shoot anyone who looks dangerous. Let him be terrified of dying at the hands of a hidden enemy 24/7. Make his terror abject and total. Make lots of people die around him. Reward him for killing, an act he has been taught is wrong as a child, but an act he finds necessary to live as an adult. Let the enemy be anyone. A child. A woman. A man. Then send him home to make nice at the family picnic, surrounded by people who used to understand him, but who now may as well be speaking Turkish. The familiar has been replaced by the nightmare that threatens to break through at the next opportunity,. The PTSD veteran often is unaware that he or she has symptoms. And if aware, they are afraid to report it because of the stigma. Most 21 year old boys do not get support for admitting that they may cry all day long. ABC news agrees: Indeed, stigma is a major barrier that soldiers face when seeking mental health care. In an article published in the most recent edition of Journal of Military Psychology, Litz writes that although 80 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan service members with a mental health disorder acknowledged they had a problem, only 40 percent were interested in receiving help. . "Modern career service members are very concerned about stigma and may be ashamed of opening themselves up the mental health professionals," Litz states. "They are also concerned about appearing weak or sick and expect that it will negatively impact their careers." . Experts agree that screening is important to identify [...]