Monday, October 26, 2009

Bob, Burned in Combat - Band of Buddies Series

(Sharing my art work created to express the horror faced by families of those injured in war. And holding that the suffering of Iraqis and Afghans- and so many others - are not yet receiving much attention. Feel free to comment on the symbols used here.)

BOB had been completely surprised by the car that came outta nowhere and rammed into the Bradley Fighting Vehicle! All hell had broken loose.

The bomber dude must have been sitting on a huge pile of explosives because the impact killed our tank commander right off and hurt two of our guys, one of them burned even worse than Bob….

It was cool that his mom flew to Germany to be there even though Bob was unconscious for the first few days. She told him that he’d been able to breathe only with a respirator. Funny thing about being hurt that bad, you don't feel that much. Even burns are not as bad as he imagined. Drugs are great… although too much of a good thing also means you can’t think straight or do physical therapy.

Man, when he saw his arms and hands on fire right after the explosion - what he could see out of his messed up eyes and his bloody face - he thought for sure he was dying. Next thing he was being e’vaced to Brooks burn unit in San Antonio. That was after the emergency craniotomy to release pressure on his brain.

In Brooks he learned the extent of his injuries: burns on his hands, arms, face, multiple injuries to his neck, torn cheek muscles, severed artery in his wrist, metal and shrapnel lodged in his skull and brain, and unknown injuries to his eyes. The silver-dollar-sized hole in his cheek healed from the inside and the long-term prognosis looked good. The eye surgeons removed shrapnel from his right eye and still worked on his severely injured left eye.

The TBI [Traumatic Brain Injury] is tough: sometimes Bob can't remember things from the day before. Some days in class he can't remember shit – other days are okay. He hopes the dizziness will just go away so he hasn’t told the doc about it. At least his teacher understands what’s up: his kid brother is in Iraq. Anyway, Bob's gone through some rough shit before… but will he ever get back the life he left behind?

See other pieces in the Family of War Series:
Daniel, Deployed! - Band of Buddies Series

Ryan, Recruited! - Band of Buddies Series

Bob, Burned in Combat

Luis, Corporate Warrior

Jerry and Candy, family of war

Governor Goldie Myron

What goes around, comes around....Olmert hounded in San Francisco

Former Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert may have hoped for a victory lap around the US during his recent visit. Instead, in several cities, including San Francisco, he met with calls of "war criminal," and calls for his arrest.Olmert's visit to San Francisco was courtesy of and hosted by the World Affair Council.
As you watch this video clip, keep on eye on the audience... a lot of young people look mystified by the protests and the protesters. A sad comment on how little young folks know about how the world works these days. On the other hand, some of the older audience members look as if they're ready to explode with anger. Nothing like this sort of firm reminder to agitate folks who prefer not to believe the physical evidence right in front of their faces. In this case, that Olmert - and Israel - presided over a slaughter of Palestinians in Dec '08 and Jan '09 while too many in the world looked on.
Ehud Olmert accused of war crimes in San Francisco - video clip.

Then there are folks like Laura Abraham of The Peace Cycle who see the physical evidence in front of their faces...and vow to do something about it. Laura co-founded The Peace Cycle and just wrapped up another annual trip, this one from Amman to Jerusalem and visiting many towns in the West Bank. Listen to Laura Abraham describe this trip on Raising Sand Radio.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Moscow, mon amour...

Moscow, Idaho, that is! (Pronounced Mos-co, not, as a friend pointed out, Mos-cow as I mispronounced it.)
From the SF bay area, fly to Seattle then Pullman, WA. Sally Perrine and Jerry Swenson, of The Palouse Peace Center, met me at Pullman and we drove together to Moscow.

Flying over The Palouse for the first time was sheer wonder. As far as the airborne eye can see, contoured farm land without the unsightly circles indicating irrigation. Instead, a landscape of golds, beiges, assorted browns, even shades of black in some places. Here are natural hieroglyphics that communicate directly with the heart.  I'm still searching for words to describe how seeing The Palouse affected me. This is more about feelings and less about logic though; the geomorphic message bypasses the head and goes directly to my...well, yes, soul. I look forward to seeing it in the green shades of spring- and growing-season -- although these shades of fall are soothing and spectacular.

Moscow is small, coherent, university town that has its peace and justice people as well as its more extreme religious and militant (yes, the right word is "fundamentalist") factions. In other words, it is like most other places in the world where people strive to make sense of their lives as they make a living and, at the same time, mesh conflicting worldviews.

An aside about small towns and big cities. 
I like small towns because they are suited to what humans beings can "manage" about community life and still feel like they are managing. It is not easy to get lost in a small town. This, of course, is what so many of us like about city life - "getting lost" allows us to experiment, try out different ways of being, try on new ideas, all the things that small towns, often, disallow.

City life is excellent if people feel as if they city is serving them and not that they are serving the city. It is very easy to get lost in a city.  As has been said before, "small is beautiful" and I see "small" coming back in vogue. Our cities will become more neighborhood oriented - more like small towns - and still allow experimentation of various sorts.

A story about Moscow. 
Recently the town decided it was okay for residents to keep chickens in their  backyards - chickens,  not roosters. (This is happening in other US towns and cities too. Some bay area cities now allow households to re-use gray water - essential to fight our ongoing drought and to encourage backyard vegetable gardening and so on.) The family that hosted me in Moscow added five chickens that contribute an egg a day to the household.

One morning, I overheard a brief exchange between daughter Mattie who trains dogs for sled races, and her mother.
Matiie: "I'm going out to visit the girls."
Her mother: "You mean the chickens?"
Mattie: "No, I mean the dogs."
That snippet said a lot to me about the seamlessness of life, that other creatures - here dogs and chickens - are part of our family, that we are part of a larger whole, that each creature contributes to the coherent community of our planet. And that is something I like to get behind.

Thanks for Sally Perrine, Jerry Swenson, Corrie and Lynn of U of I Social Forum and to Martha and Dan who shared their house and their hospitality. And to Moscow.

Leigh and Sallie - the faces behind the voices of Radio Free Moscow.

Jerry, Susan, Sallie, Dahr, and two friends

Jerry, Stephanie, Dahr, Susan, and Jack, veteran of The War on Terror.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Remembering things past,...and future

Way back in 2004, in the Agadeer Hotel, Baghdad, I met a number of folks I want to recognize here.

Mike Ferner, currently Veterans for Peace president, former corpsman (that's a medic for the US Navy) drafted into the Vietnam War. Mike helped me understand the lay of the land in and around Baghdad and Balad, the huge US military base where my son was deployed. He also helped me contact the Public Affairs Officer at Balad. I emailed her, told her I was coming to visit my son, and never heard back from her although the lads in uniform at the gate to the base seemed to expect me. (My hijab threw them off and one did threaten me with an M4 or M16 until I removed the hijab and showed my US passport.) Mike's book is "Inside the Red Zone: A Veteran For Peace Reports from Iraq."

Dahr Jamail was there in January 2004 too. He and I just did an event sharing our work and our books at the University of Idaho. His latest book, The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan , shares the stories of US troops refusing to fight.
Listen to our combined event on Raising Sand Radio or visit the Raising Sand Radio web site for all archived shows.

David Martinez was making a film in Baghdad. He and Robert Eischelman tried to help me get online so I could continue to find my son and await his email. (That didn't really work - for some of the reasons Christian Parenti outlines in his book below, particularly the sections about the informal power structure in the Agadeer Hotel.) Anyway, after a big anti-war rally in San Francisco Civic Center, someone called to me on Market Street. Turned out to be David. We've run into one another here and there - usually after long passages of time. He just turned up again through another friend. These days David is busy with all kinds of things you can find out about at his blog, Cafe DMZ. Check it out.. 

Christian Parenti describes the scene in the Agadeer Hotel in his book, The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq. The Agadeer Hotel, I hear, is shut down and has been since about 2004 or so.

I would like to know what happened to Staff Sgt. Juan. I met him, first, at a lovely coffee shop near the fully fortified Sheraton Hotel in Baghdad. He came into the cafe in full BDU with an M16 or M4, took off his helmet and ordered coffee. I was there for the online internet cafe - again, looking for my son. I struck up a conversation with Juan and learned his wife was deployed to the Baghdad Airport. Their kids - 2 and 4 at the time - were living with Juan's folks in the SF Mission District. The next time I saw SSgt Juan was on the main drag in Baghdad after an IED had been discovered at Firdos Square. I'd gone into an internet cafe - a different one - and came out half an hour later to a cordoned off street and US military everywhere with tanks at the ready. I describe this scene in my book including SSgt Juan's description of an 18-year-old member of his unit who shot and killed a civilian. The young man was not able to function after that, wouldn't touch his weapon, wouldn't go out of patrols. He was sent back to the US with PTSD.

So this posting acknowledges a few of the brave and creative folks I've met over the last few years working for peace and  toward understanding who and what we are as human beings.

Let me finish with a letter from M'kesha, a National Guardswoman of Jordanian Arab descent, who has had a very hard time with the US NG. From her deployment to Iraq she wrote:
"...I may not be able to change the situations I face or the world here but I hold true to things that make me who I am. I will change. I'll return home a different person but I"ll not let go of my joy in life. I will not let go of my ability to find beauty in squalor. I can't explain the faith that surges through me but I know that I will return whole. I will not let this tear me apart."
M'kesha has a child today. He's about 5 and suffers from dyspraxia - an inability to use language - believed to be a result of the toxics M'kesha was exposed to in Iraq.

When people ask me how I keep doing the work for peace and understanding I share M'kesha's letter. She found that life is not one thing OR the other - beauty or squalor, for example, that it is BOTH beauty AND squalor, BOTH good AND bad, BOTH evil AND heavenly, BOTH warlike AND peaceful. It is our work as humans to become more human and more humane in understanding and practicing BOTH this AND that, simultaneously.

Do try this at home!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

"If we can't close it by legislation we'll close it by attrition"

Maura Clarke, Ita Ford, Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donavan. Remember these women? They were the nuns raped and murdered in El Salvador in 1980 by death squads supported by the US. (John D. Negroponte was US ambassador to Honduras at the time. Remember him? He was US ambassador to Iraq in 2004-2005, President G.W Bush's first intelligence czar, and, today, a research lecturer at a Yale 'think tank'. The more things change the more they stay the same.)

Father Roy Bourgeois was friend to the four women. When hard questions about their deaths went unanswered – other than the Honduran government's response that it was a “common crime” – Fr. Roy looked deeply into what had happened. He discovered that the large majority of high level military officers were trained at the School of the Americas located on the base at Ft. Benning, GA.

Initially established in Panama in 1946, SOA was kicked out of that country in 1984 under the terms of the Panama Canal Treaty. Over 59 years, SOA has trained over 60,000 Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics. These graduates have consistently used their skills to wage a war against their own people. Among those targeted by SOA graduates are educators, union organizers, religious workers, student leaders, and others who work for the rights of the poor. Hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped, assassinated, “disappeared,” massacred, and forced into refugee by those trained at SOA, often dubbed the School of Assassins.

In the 1980s, Fr. Roy and ten others decided it was time to shut down SOA. They began by carrying a boombox into a tree on the base and, at nightfall, blared out the voices of the victims of torture, beatings, and other mayhem conducted by trainees of the SOA.

That action has led to an annual pilgrimage to the gates of Ft. Benning. These days about 20,000 people join Fr. Roy to demand the closure of the SOA, in 2001 renamed the “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.” Fr. Roy says, "If we can't close SOA by legislation we'll close it by attrition."

One member of Fr. Roy's team is Lisa Sullivan, a community organizer originally from Virginia, who has spent most of her life working in Venezuela. Lisa's story epitomizes those I love to air on Raising Sand Radio as it brings to a wider audience the every day goodness of people doing extraordinary things in big ways and and in small ways, and connects humanity through caring for our fellow man.
Listen to Lisa Sullivan on this week's radio show or get involved in School of the Americas Watch: org.