April 14, 2009

Here they are, the comments I made and (hopefully) working links to them…

Drew,  I enjoyed this post.  Part was the interesting connection, and part was envy.  I wanted to see Beah speak, but had class—a class I had already skipped for another reading…  Anyway, you did a nice job of bringing this together with other happenings in the world.  You stated:

“This is exactly what Ishmael Beah was speaking to about Sierra Leone. He said that people in America saw the images of the raging civil war in the country and just assumed that that’s the way things were and always had been there, that there was no way to change things.”

And this happens constantly.  Not just Sierra Leone, but all over Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia.  I think it makes us—well, I should really only speak for myself—me feel better to believe there is some cultural corruption in those places around the world constantly warring.  Even if something was tried, some radical *GASP* solution-based initiative, it would inevitably fail.  Not because we didn’t try.  We (I) would feel good about the attempt, but I (we) know it’s as you said, “just the way things are.”  Which is sad, when things are so bad, but it sure makes for a great excuse to do nothing…

Moe, this is a great post.  I like all the questions this post raises and the dialectic it could lead to.  This is the kind of thing many people don’t consider when weighing the factors that lead to war.  Often there is a “go get ‘em” attitude that obfuscates the real victims, the innocent victims, the hidden casualties of war.  Your post delved into said subjects.  I like when you point out:  If hunger can do this much to this 12-year-old kid, it can surely does just as much to an entire population that is being starved in Gaza, and thus, starving these people will end up fueling up the war and encouraging these people to rebel, making the situation even worse than it presently is.” There is such a vicious cycle with no easy answers happening in many areas around the world.  On the other hand, if we allow aid to warring factions, it is often used by despots to also encourage starving people to fight.  Do we provide leverage for dictators or do we let people starve?  There are cycles within cycles, like a mad universe—if we stop the sun from spinning, will the planets cease their orbits?  Unfortunately, there are many more easy questions than easy answers. 


I think this is it, right? War tears social groups apart: families, friends, communities, countries, etc. The decision process of actually leaving to fight is almost impossible to understand for those of us “half-men” who decide to stay behind and the families of those that leave. You state: “Those back at home may not always understand the motivations for a loved one joining the military or making the decisions he or she makes on the battlefield, but there is an understanding that must be reached in order to obtain closure.” But can such a closer really be gained? I hear the concepts of “being part of something bigger than yourself,” and “doing the right thing,” but what are the actual mind-cogs that turn in those that go off to fight? I wish the poets of World War I had introspected on this aspect. Brooke and the like scream “Patriotism!” but Owen and his ilk whisper back, “death.” I suppose if the poets’ dialectic is read concurrently it is possible to better understand the conversation going on inside a person’s head while debating the decision to become a soldier. Perhaps I am too cowardly to have had such a conversation, and that is why I don’t comprehend it. I have great respect for those that fight and make the decision, I just wish I had greater understanding of this very subject; this thought process; this willingness to leave.

I think about this and cannot comprehend myself. I stress when I leave my dogs home alone—a home where they are relatively safe. I worry when my younger sister goes on a date; she doesn’t carry a gun and, presumably, no one will be shooting at her. When my parents or loved-ones leave on a vacation, I find myself praying their plane will land safely. I cannot imagine them being gone for a period of time where there are actually people trained and intent on harming them. And beyond the physical harm that could destroy a soldier, there is the mental strain. As the wife in your blog (and Brittain) worry, will the loved-one be changed? How could a returning soldier not have some mental affliction? Soldiers live each day with the fear of death—far greater than the civilian stress of the happenstance of a car-crash or tragic disease. This is an interesting concept that obviously stays universal with time. As long as there is war, there will be separation; as long as there is separation, there will be this sentiment.

This is an interesting blog. It is most interesting to see how the treatment of returning soldiers has shifted through the decades. Early wars often treated the physical ails, while leaving the mental afflictions for the family to deal with. I think you are correct with the shift in perception coming from a greater understanding of mental illness. You state:
“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 (sic) in technology, but also in modern warfare tactics.” Which is true, but I think the technological advancement is more in the medical field. In wars past, especially pre-WWI and into WWII, many of the injured simply died. Governments sent soldiers like pawns into the fray, caring little for their survival. Now, soldiers carry pounds of armor, medicine and other survival gear. I’d like to think soldiers are more cared for now—wars are more “kind,” as absurd as that sounds. Bombs are “smarter,” meaning they are more likely to kill only those meant to be killed. And, as such, soldiers are more cared for, even after they return home. Not only are their physical wounds treated, but the mental ones as well. I, personally, think this is a positive advancement.

Liz, this is an interesting post, not only because it is about violence as a by-product of war, but because of the oft over-looked problem with power.  We continue to look to governments to put an end to war, but it’s as you say, “I absolutely believe that people need to pay for their crimes but I do not think that killing them is the best solution. If anything it is putting them out of their misery and continuing this cycle of death. Someone kills many people so authorities can kill them and that makes it right?”  Somehow, people are given the authority to kill and then it is ok, that makes it a moral good.  There is capital punishment for those who kill enough, right?  Let’s put this to the test:  governments have killed many more people than citizens have, but there is no capital punishment for governments, only citizens.  Makes sense, really, if you consider who is making the rules.  Between executions and war, I dare say many governments have killed more people in one year than all the murders hitherto combined.  Of course, I have no stats to back up such a wild claim, but when hundreds of thousands can be killed in a single day, do I need it?  Capital punishment, like war, is one of those things that we do because it feels right.  Someone is good, someone is bad, someone gets punishment, and someone gives it.  Simple, sad, true.   


P.S. On a more positive note, great interactive blogging.  I have limited computer skills and am jealous.

I think this is closer on the spectrum to “story truth” than “happening truth.”  Or maybe it’s closer to “Complete B.S.” on the spectrum from “Complete B.S.” to “Mostly B.S.”  These are obviously scripted responses in an attempt to create a burgeoning tourism market in Iraq and boost their economy somewhat.  I think this falls right into our conversation about the ends justifying the means, first expressed in words, I believe, by Machiavelli.  Here there are people doing what they believe to be a good, that is, increase money flow to Iraq.  In theory, this will allow U.S. troops a faster out-time and Iraq a more prosperous future.  Unfortunately, these words could kill people.  I don’t know that anybody is going to fall for them hook, line and sinker—that is to say, there is nobody from this part of the world that doesn’t recognize at least a modicum of danger in traveling to Iraq.  But still, these words could convince people to give it a go.  Some tourists may travel, spend money and return alive—win/win, yes?  However, people should not be used as means of any sort, to any end.  As Kant said, people are ends unto themselves, or something like that.  Frankly, I’m a little sickened by all the lying going on by those in power.  Tell us the truth, “Hey, you there! Want an exciting vacation?  Come to Iraq, there’s majesty, beauty and history.  The cradle of civilization, some say!  Think hard, be cautious, there will be risk, but there will be security around to mitigate danger.”  Who knows, the same ends might be met, but with honest, moral means.

I had a friend who joined the military, the army to be exact.  We (his friends) were all surprised.  It seemed to come out of the blue.  We tried to talk him out of it, not because we were unpatriotic, didn’t believe in the cause, most of them aren’t even anti-war. It was because we thought he was getting in over his head.  He was 25 (just on the verge of being too old), out of shape (pudgy is probably an accurate description), and seemingly doing it for the wrong reasons (he talked a great deal about his life ‘going nowhere’ and the wiping away of student loans).  Anyway, it turns out we were right; within two months he had a breakdown.  Mental, physical, the whole works and was discharged (I’m not sure he was even in long enough for it to be honorable or dishonorable).  The point is: he wasn’t a coward.  I think your post works great to expose other reasons why people aren’t in the military—reasons beyond cowardice.   A soldier, I believe, is made up of something different.  A stoic will, strong body, and something deep down many people don’t have.  I suppose some cynics among us will call that cowardice, but like you, I wouldn’t.

Eric, for the most part I agree with you.  It is important to show an accurate reflection of the amount of soldiers who return home in a coffin.  However, I fear, in this day and age of “OMG! I’M ON TV,” that dead soldiers may be exploited by family members in order to have Warhol’s 15 minutes.  I guess now I’ve put on my cynic’s hat (perhaps it’s a mask), but as I flip from channel to channel I’m often repulsed by the way people will discard their dignity for a moment of ersatz fame.   When I watch sporting or other public televised events and see people on their cell phones waiting for someone back home to tell them they’re on so they can do some inane monkey-on-TV dance.  That’s right, buddy, you’re a star—you might want to hang up that cell phone to save the batteries for all the agents that will soon be ringing in.  I’m an advocate of free speech—some would say to a fault.  And if families want to show their deceased loved ones to the world, so be it.  I just hope it is for something they believe in, for the war, against the war, or simple homage to those passed, I don’t care—just not to sate a disdainful need of vainglory.  


P.S. I like the title of your blog.  Discreetly geeky.


“I found myself forgetting that the book was a comic…” IT’S NOT A COMIC, IT’S A GRAPHIC NOVEL!  Ok, just kidding, it’s fine to call it a comic.  I just thought someone should say it.  Anyway, I think I’m qualified to respond to your post because I am now, and have been for some time, a geek (not a nerd, a geek).  Anyway, I read comic books when I was younger and still do to an extent.  I was familiar with Maus before this class, as it is a “who’s who” of graphic novels.  However, there are so many graphic novels out there with so many powerful stories and I think your post begins to delve into that.  However, there are graphic novels already about Iraq, many of them, in fact (here’s one,  Comics and graphic novels, because they come out on such a regular basis are often more relevant than TV shows and far more relevant than movies, which can take years to produce.  I think this is a strength of the genre.  I think the key is, like you stated, to get people past the idea that graphic novels (or comics, if you like) are for children.  We see this is multiple media: animated TV shows like South Park or The Simpsons, video games like Resident Evil or GTA and other made-for-children outlets have had to break this conception to be accepted.  Maus definitely transcends, and as more graphic novels become relevant, the whole medium may one day lift above the pudgy fingers of children to the masses, where they belong. 


P.S. I would like to use this forum to plug one of my favorite, contemporary graphic novels about war, We3. 

Check it out, hauntingly beautiful and tragically touching.  


There is always war.  There has always been war.  There will always be war.  There are good guys on both sides, there are bad guys on both sides and it is almost impossible to ever tell the difference. 

There are identities like rebel and terrorist and freedom fighter that are interchangeable at times and misnomers at others.  Just call them soldiers and try to understand what each side hopes to accomplish.  Often it is power for a small minority, but sometimes it is something good. 

There are words like propaganda, nationalism, pride and lies that can be transposed with one another. There are a plethora of power-brokers that will use this to their advantage. 

There are emotions like bravery and cowardice and honor and I don’t know what they mean.  I used to, but I learned that I don’t anymore.  I still have an idea, though, and that is maybe all that is possible.

There are the capabilities in people to do great evil, and great good—sometimes both at the same time.  It is difficult to know at the time which one we are doing. 

There is a lot going on in the world; so much that it is impossible to be informed on everything happening everywhere.  It is too much to even try.  It is too little not to. 

There are stories.  Some are true, some are not.   Those not true are sometimes more true than the true ones.  It is impossible to believe all the stories—it is too saddening.  It is too overwhelming.

There are questions without answers.

These are the things I learned in Literary Responses to War and Peace (mostly war) with Prof. Rozema. But above all I learned that there is still much I have to learn about the world around me, as difficult a task as that may be.  I may not continue to blog—who’s listening anyway—but the RSS technology we used is something I see no reason to discontinue, and will probably expand.  It allows an invisible hand to grab bits of information and compile them; however, with all the information available, it is sometimes an overwhelming tool.  But who said this would be easy?     


A Long Way Gone is a perfect bookend to my blogging, I feel.  

What I found most intriguing, and most pertinent to my blog, was the idea of identity in the story.  The author, Ishmael Beah does an excellent job of sliding us into his mentality by setting up the rebels as the evil bad guys, and giving us hints that his own identity of the “good guys.”  It begins in the village of Yele, when he and other army members start behaving as the rebels.  He states,

 Those [soldiers] left behind became restless and started shooting civilians who were on their way to latrines at night (106). 

In this way, Beah is giving us a glimpse of the awful transition he and his comrades are going through.  He says it so brilliantly offhanded that the reader almost misses it.

Later, this new identity becomes more apparent in the words of his lieutenant.  When speaking to the boys about why they must kill the rebels, he is creating the identity inside of them.  He states,

That is why we must kill every single [rebel].  Think of it as destroying a great evil.  It is the highest service you can perform for your county (108). 

This propaganda laden speech creates the identity in the young men of being the good guys, even though they are shooting civilians and ransacking villages like the rebels. 

It is only later that Beah and the other soldiers are confronted with the rebel boys.  One of the rebel boys even gives a speech that echoes the speech of the army, only with the roles reversed.  He states,

We fought for the RUF; the army is the enemy.  We fought for freedom, and the army killed my family and destroyed my village (134, emphasis added). 

This powerful speech creates confusion for the reader, and with good reason.  Beah blurs the lines between good guys and bad guys in this one simple statement.  Each side being confronted with their alter-egos, of course, leads to violence.  It is difficult to strip an identity wrought in a person for a very long time. Each of us have these notions, no one wants to think of themselves as the bad guy.  The fact is, there are people who think every one of us is a bad guy and people who think every one of us is a good guy.  But is there solace in that?  


P.S. If you want to be a good guy (or gal), there is an event sponsored by the Invisible Children on Saturday, April 25th called “The Rescue.”  A group of people will be getting together to promote awareness and raise support for the release of child soldiers in Central-East Africa.  You can be a part of it, too.  For more information go to 

Beah, Ishmael. A Long Way gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. 2007. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. New York. 

For the most part, “The Ghost Soldiers” was my least favorite chapter in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried; however, I found the first 10 pages or so rather captivating.

This is the scene where O’Brien reunites with his buddies after leaving the front. He writes beautifully of a loss he feels—a loss of camaraderie and a loss of closeness to his former mates. In a sense, a loss of identity. He states:

I felt close to them, yes, but I also felt a new sense of speration. My fatigues were starched; I had a neat haircut and the clean, sterile smell of the rear. They were still my buddies, at least on one level, but once you leave the boonies, the whole comrade business gets turned around. You become a civilian. You forfeit membership in the family, the blood fraternity, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t pretend to be part of it.

I had to move away from the milblog I had chosen and search others for something more pertinent to my subject. I stumbled upon a blog titled: “Israeli by Day, American by Night – the journal of an israeli combat soldier.”

In this blog, the soldier speaks of sitting at meal time surrounded by an identity difference of another sort. He is sitting by Druze soldiers. Which are, he explains, followers of a branch of Islam that lives within Israel, they speak Arabic, but their religious customs are such that they are required to support the country under which they live. Therefore, they all serve time in the IDF, for Israel.

What I found most interesting, though, is as O’Brien speaks of a separation, the blogs author, Danny Brothers, speaks of a closeness. The Druze and Brothers have seemingly little in common.  He doesn’t speak their language, share their religion or understand their culture—but there is a bond. He states:

I sat quietly next to them, eating my mashed potatoes, and glanced at their faces and then the IDF symbol on their chests. Purple berets sat naturally on their shoulders. The new Tavor assault rifle rested on their laps. They are very much not Jews, but these young men are Israeli warriors, fighting for our shared vision of freedom and peace for all the residents of this country – Arab and Jew alike.

My admiration for the Druze and Beduin serving in the IDF, especially those that volunteer for combat units, knows no bounds. These are people that could easily get out of doing anything dangerous, and in my speculation could get out of serving at all. I’ve also read that not a few of them face discrimination or backlash from their communities for serving in these units, especially considering that “combat” means engaging Arab targets.

I was sitting next to young men who know what it means to sacrifice for something greater than themselves. My entire journey to the IDF is one of ideology, a desire to contribute to the security of this state. And here are boys who no one expects to do any such thing—and yet they serve with great pride.

It is interesting this identity that comes with being a soldier. There is something deeper that O’Brien can’t share with those he once fought beside, now that he’s away from the front. But Brothers has little trouble finding a bond with the soldiers next to him, as “different” as they are.


Brothers, Danny. “Israeli by Day, American by Night – the journal of an israeli combat soldier.” 3 April 2009.

O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. 1990. Broadway Books. New York.

First off: there are more good soldiers than bad ones. Many, many more.

Unfortunately, there are soldiers—as there are civilians—who do bad. Sometimes real bad.

Lacking the courage myself to do either good or bad in a military uniform, I must live vicariously through the newspapers and blogs and other limited inputs I receive. I have never read Tim O’Brien’s work previously, but it is probably as close as I will get to “true” war. Frankly, it’s as close as I ever hope to get. A recent story in the Australian is happening true, and though I proffer no excuses for the actions of these soldiers, I wonder if O’Brien’s work can bring us closer to “story true,” if we want to get closer.

The Australian reports:

Under the cover of darkness and warfare, five US soldiers broke into an Iraqi home to rape a young girl, murder her family and set the house alight to cover their crime.
The alleged ringleader—a soldier discharged for a “personality disorder” before the slaying was discovered.

The U.S. Army has to be doing something right if this soldier was discharged before the events of this monstrous crime were discovered; however, that does not excuse it from happening. There are many passages in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried that speak to what may be happening in the minds of soldiers who do bad. He states:

They used a hard vocabulary to contain the terrible softness. Greased they’d say. offed, lit up, zapped while zipping. It wasn’t cruelty, just stage presence…

There it is, they’d say. Over and over—there it is, my friend, there it is—as if the repetition itself were an act of poise, a balance between crazy and almost crazy, knowing without going, there it is, which meant be cool, let it ride, because Oh yeah, man, you can’t change what can’t be changed, there it is, there it absolutely and positively and fucking well is. (20-21)

This poetic and poignant line from O’Brien’s book is in itself a glimpse into the cognizance of a soldier. As it is read, the long last sentence carries the reader into a mind balancing between crazy and almost crazy. The lack of real structure—comma splices and absent punctuation—allow the audience to ride the line right there. Right in the middle of crazy and almost crazy. Unfortunately, the soldiers from the story didn’t ride that line.

O’Brien continues:

They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing—these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight.

There is no rationalization, validation or justification for what was done. And vindication will mean little to the victims. There should be no tolerance for monsters; maybe, though, there is an explanation between the lines of text. Perhaps it was the weight of the intangibles that moved these soldiers from almost crazy to crazy.


O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. 1990. Broadway Books. New York.

“US soldier faces death for murder and raping Iraqi girl.” The Australian. 5 April 2009.,25197,25292567-15084,00.html

So it goes…

April 9, 2009

Funny how two people can see the same event and pull completely different meaning from it. However, it is one thing if two human beings see things differently due to viewing conditions or other sense related phenomena. Often, though, this perspective incongruity is due to a lack of understanding or built on, if we’re going to be honest, merely pseudo-differences, like political affiliation, ethnicity or nationality.

Funny, huh? No, funny isn’t the right word—tragic? No that’s too harsh. Sad? Yes, that is the word.

A recent news article from Al Jazeera was headlined: “Israeli boy killed in axe attack.”

Tragic, yes. But what is sad about this article, aside from the senseless loss of a child, is the response from each side.

Here are some facts from the article:

An Israeli teenager has been killed in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank after a Palestinian assailant attacked him with an axe. Witnesses told Israel Radio on Thursday the victim was a 13-year-old boy and that the attacker also badly wounded a seven-year-old boy before fleeing.

Now, consider a passage from Slaughterhouse-Five:

As the Americans were waiting to move on, an altercation broke out in their rear-most rank. An American had muttered something which a guard did not like. The guard knew English, and he hauled the American out of ranks, knocked him down.

The American was astonished. He stood up shakily, spitting blood. He’d had two teeth knocked out. He had meant no harm by what he’d said, evidently, had no idea that the guard would hear and understand.

“Why me?” he asked the guard.

The guard shoved him back into ranks. “Vy you? Vy anybody?” he said. (91)

To me, this passage is entirely relevant to the situation which occurred in the Gaza Strip. Vonnegut is getting at the heart of most conflicts, notably the arbitrariness of it all. Why was this boy attacked?

According to the attackers, it was punishment:

Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a group linked to the Fatah faction led by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, claimed responsibility in a statement, citing Israeli “crimes of occupation”.

According to the attacked, it simply was an evil act:

Emergency services described the attack as a Palestinian “terrorist attack”.

Why him? Depends on who you ask. But the better question is: why anybody?


“Israeli Boy Killed in Axe Attack.” Al Jazeera. 2 April 2009.

Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five. 1969. Dell. New York.

For me, the most haunting passage from Night by Elie Wiesel is:

“Yes, we even doubted [Hitler’s] resolve to exterminate us.

Annihilate an entire people?  Wipe out a population dispersed throughout so many nations? So many millions of people! By what means? In the middle of the twentieth century!” 

What is haunting and even desperate, is Wiesel’s people, the Sighet Jews, put their faith in the idea of progress saving them.  The idea of the “twentieth century” rescuing them from a seemingly barbaric, if not anachronistic evil, is understandable—and grows more understandable as time progresses. 

            Wiesel continues:

 “And thus my elders concerned themselves with all manner of things—strategy, diplomacy, politics, and Zionism—but not with their own fate.”

In an opinion blog on, Avrum Rosenweig makes the plea that this same pattern is cycling back around; and his leaders are taking the same response as those in Wiesel’s time.  He uses the examples he sees in his home country Canada. 

He begins:

“I have always felt that decency will prevail and that anti-Semitism, racism and hatred wherever they stand will ultimately be contained.

This is the Jewish way. I have faith that evil will eventually scatter and run, and goodness and tolerance will prevail. I have not been shaken from these beliefs, but I am shaken.

Over the last little while, there has been an abundance of news showing anti-Semitism is on the rise in my country, Canada.”

Here, Rosenweig is obviously torn by competing identities.  On one hand, he is Canadian, on the other, he is Jewish.  As such, his knowledge is refracted through these lenses.  Perhaps he sees actions as anti-Semitic through his Jewish lens—even if none exists.  Or maybe, those Canadians who don’t identify as Jews have trouble seeing oppressive or at least insensitive activity as anti-Semitic.  To further his point he proffers and few examples:     

“A court ruling finding a Native ‘elder’ accused of spreading hatred against the Jewish people has been overturned. Hooliganism against Jews and Israel Apartheid Week is on our university campuses, and a resolution was passed by an Ontario public employees union barring Israeli academics from speaking and lecturing in our universities.”

And then, like Wiesel, suggests his community’s leaders are failing to act at a budding stage of racial intolerance.  He claims these transgressions are more wide-spread than people (even Jews) are willing to admit, and his community is repeating the same mistakes of the past.

He states:

“Simply put, after years of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on Holocaust education and buildings memorializing our ‘kedoshim’, the six million who died, we seemed to have learned very little. We are still far too comfortable and fooled by the success we have discovered; still too reliant on others to protect us, and still blind to the reality that the Jewish world has the ability to create a worldwide community mobilization plan that could stymie much of the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel filth emanating from dozens of corners and crannies around the globe, from the Vatican to Venezuela.”

His strong words may themselves be offensive to some, but eye-opening, nonetheless, is the dialogue created by them.  Racial intolerance is something most people agree pervades many societies still, even as we wait for progress—the passage of time—to fix things.   

Rosenwieg goes on to state:

“If you think this is hyperbole than go to Israel Apartheid Week happening on 42 campuses around the world, and sit in on a lecture or film. Listen closely to the words the speakers will use. You will know the words because they have been spoken before. They are words that marginalize and syllables that when pieced together, stigmatize. They are words that are not foreign to Holocaust survivors.”

Do we stand aside like the German citizens of the past and say racial intolerance isn’t that bad?  Are we, like he suggests, heading for a new holocaust?  Not likely, we say.  Not in the twenty-first century!  

Rosenweig, Avrum. “Jewish World/ A plea to Jews everywhere, unprepared to fight anti-Semitism.” 16 Mar. 2003.

 Wiesel, Elie. Night. Marion Wiesel, trans. 2006. Hill and Wang. New York. 


For this post, I’m going to step outside the boundary of the Gaza conflict and even the Palestinian/Jewish relationship causing conflicts in the Middle East.  Instead I would like to draw attention to what many of us may already be aware of (reading the other blog posts) and ask the questions about morality, obligation and war.  Notice I said ask, they are far too complicated, for me, to answer.

We, meaning the United States, are powerful—the most powerful nation in the world, they say.  Does that necessitate an obligation to step in and use our military or economic might to correct the problems seen through our American lens?  Can any war be morally just?  Can violence begat peace? Or only more violence?

Consider what the situation in Burma, or Myanmar, depending on the day. 

According to Burma Campaign, a Human Rights group, “Since an army coup overthrew Burma’s last democratically-elected government in 1962, military-run or dominated regimes in Burma have been among the world’s worst violators of human rights. An already serious level of abuses climbed higher after the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) (renamed the State Peace and Development Council in November 1997) seized power in September 1988. The junta removed all pretence of civilian administration and marked its arrival by massacring thousands of unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators in Rangoon and other Burmese cities and towns.

Today, says Amnesty International, “torture has become an institution” in Burma.”

The report goes on to say:

“Reports by the United Nations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other groups have repeatedly detailed a gruesome litany of abuses, including murder, torture, rape, detention without trial, massive forced relocations, and forced labor Even before 1988…”  

In Night Elie Wiesel writes: “There followed days and nights of traveling.  Occasionally, we would pass through German towns.  Usually, very early in the morning.  German laborers were going to work.  They would stop and look at us without surprise.”

In Burma, like the Germans, the world sits aside and watches without surprise.  It is not only Burma, though.  Save Darfur, another human rights group states,

“As the conflict in Darfur enters its sixth year, conditions continue to deteriorate for civilians. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, even by the most conservative estimates. The United Nations puts the death toll at roughly 300,000, while the former U.N. undersecretary-general puts the number at no less than 400,000.1 Up to 2.5 million Darfuris have fled their homes and continue to live in camps throughout Darfur, or in refugee camps in neighboring Chad and the Central African Republic.”  

Wiesel continues:

“One day when we had come to a stop, a worker took a piece of bread out of his bag and threw it in a wagon.  There was a stampede.  Dozens of starving men fought desperately over a few crumbs.  The worker watched the spectacle with great interest.”

Wiesel goes on to explain a time he saw a similar occurance later in his life, on a cruise a wealthy French woman through money to the “natives” of Aden to watch them fight over it.  She called it “charity.”

So what is the role of the world, and the United States in particular, with these events continuing around the world.  Or is there a role at all?

At least we are asking the right questions, right?  Yet we stand aside and watch as multiple holocausts happen around the planet.  Somehow, even breaching the twenty-first century hasn’t stopped them.

Finally, I can only speak for myself and work through my own guilt.  Though I’m standing at the side of the train, I am not throwing bits of bread or tossing coins to cause a riot—nonetheless, I’m still standing at the side of the train.

Yes, Mr. Kennedy, Ich bin ein Berliner, too.


“Human Rights.” Burma

“Darfur Update June 6, 2008.” Save Darfur.

Wiesel, Elie. Night. Marion Wiesel, trans. 2006. Hill and Wang. New York.  

As children they grew in a land tore apart by rocket fire. Midnight sirens often their alarm clock; it’s time to wake up, child, the war has begun. Now, they are the youth of an embattled Israel and they are the voice of an angry generation.
It is election season in Israel, and the youth move toward an aggressive party. Due to what they’ve seen as children, the politics of separation—of us v. them—of, perhaps, hate, though that may be too strong a word. Nonetheless, they hold signs and they protest for their party: Yisrael Beiteinu. An article from the Israeli newspaper Hareetz states:

The youths, ages 16-18, many of them good friends from school, had stood for a long time before the event began at the intersection near the hotel, waving Israeli flags and shouting “Death to the Arabs” and “No loyalty, no citizenship” at passing cars.

The party leader is Avigdor Lieberman, and he is running on a nationalistic ticket. His demand is simple: loyalty to the state. In the article, a worker for the party stated:

Loyalty is the most burning issue for the youth. They’re about to go in the army and therefore national honor is important to them. They want someone whose word is good, who stands behind his principles. Avigdor Lieberman projects strength.

Ideas of loyalty and national honor are thick in the poetry of World War I. And, though many poets of the past—Brook being the most notable—reflect such sentiments, I am reminded of a poem by the less flag-fearing Wilfred Owen: “Anthem for Doomed Youth.” Owen’s poem is more about the young who die in battle, but I think it also speaks to the generations who live under the constant regime of war. He states:

“What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.”

Before voting age, these children of Israel spend sleepless nights listening to the “anger of the guns.” And baby rattles are replaced by “the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle.” So who can blame them for growing into a youth that further demands battle? Though not yet soldiers, this youth still “patter out their hasty orisons,” praying for a leadership to guide them into further fighting. But it won’t be the politicians on the front lines, it will be those youth that voted them in. According to the article, one declared:

Serious measures need to be taken to make them aware of what they’re doing. Someone who doesn’t declare his loyalty to the state, who has no patriotism, should have his citizenship taken away.

I would argue loyalty to the state is not patriotism, per se. Instead, it is loyalty to the ideals of the state that is patriotism; whereas, blind loyalty, unquestioned loyalty, is an act of nationalism—often wielded by power-brokers to evoke legislation to garner more power. Owen continues:

“What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of the boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.”

Again, Owens message of youth fading and a generation withering from war can be extrapolated to include those pre-battle. Here Owen asks, “What candles may be held to speed them all?” wondering if there is any way to promise success for a generation put to battle. But it can equally be asked of a generation raised in battle. There is no success in an endless cycle of war. And the youth continue to draw down their blinds, pledging unconditional loyalty to politicians who wage war from an office, trained only in the art of rile.

“Lieberman’s anti-Arab ideology wins over Israel’s teens.”


Owen, Wilfred. “Anthem for Doomed Youth.” World War One British Poets. 1997. Dover. Mineola, New York.

Casualties of War…

January 31, 2009

Though he eventually disowned his war poems, Robert Graves hit on a powerful subject in his poem “The Next War.” Graves speaks to the way society seems to push young boys to war, creating a cycle. The Gaza conflict in this generation is a new way children are being pushed into the same war-cycle and reflections of this echo in Graves’ words. He states:

“From that same hour by fate you’re bound
As champions of this stony ground,
Loyal and true in everything,
To serve your Army and your King,
Prepared to starve and sweat and die
Under some fierce foreign sky,
If only to keep safe those joys
That belong to British boys,
To keep young Prussians from the soft
Scented hay of father’s loft,
And stop young Slavs from cutting bows
And bendy spears from Welsh hedgerows”

From that hour refers to the way young boys make faux weapons from junk or toys they find and “play war” from a very young age. Graves warns the children against the equally faux honor they think they will receive from real war.

The latter half of this stanza speaks to the idea of raising children against the idea of “playing war,” of possibly keeping them away from weaponry, ersatz or otherwise, for as long as possible. Though, the Gaza conflict steals childhood, forcing kids not to play war, but to live war.

An article from the Associated Press reveals what happens to children who are forced into confrontation with real war. They are not playing; they are living—and dying—through the battles of their ancestors. The headline, “Children show signs of trauma from Gaza conflict” tells much of the story, but there is more to learn. The article explains:

Psychologists say Israel’s three-week offensive inflicted more severe trauma than previous conflicts in Gaza because civilians in the crowded sliver of territory had no place to run. A wartime study among hundreds of Gaza children showed a rise in nightmares, bed-wetting and other signs of trauma, said psychologist Fadel Abu Hein.

Graves gives the idea of a never ending cycle of conflict, due to the fact that young boys are taught to play war. In Gaza, the children are living war, and this, like playing, creates malformed ideals of conflict. By creating a societal expectation to fight, boys, when grown into adults, feel compelled to start real wars to justify their play. Graves continues:

“Another War soon gets begun,
A dirtier, a more glorious one;
Then, boys, you’ll have to play, all in;
It’s the cruellest team will win.”

Graves builds a cycle where the young kids play war to build courage and, as adults, create war to prove courage. War becomes a part of their identity when they are young, and identity is stubborn. However, the children in Gaza are not at play, so what cycle will they grow to. Their memories will be filled of the “evil Isrealis” attacking their homes. The article explains:

[Children] filled the pages passed around by trauma counselors with pictures of Israeli tanks, dead bodies and Palestinians firing assault rifles, scenes they saw in their neighborhoods in Israel’s war on Hamas. “We felt we will die soon,” Sharif Abed Rabbo, 11, told the group, describing his family’s escape.

This idea of hating the Israeli, even if justified, will breed the next generation of adults bent on actions of war. Both sides will weave hate into their respective identities and grow to push the war wheel. Graves concludes with the lines:

“By the million men will die
In some new horrible agony;
And children here will thrust and poke,
Shoot and die, and laugh at the joke,
With bows and arrows and wooden spears,
Playing at Royal Welch Fusiliers.”

The cycle continues, somewhere men (and now even women, Mr. Graves!) are engaged in bloody conflict, and children are being taught to play war. However, in Gaza it is more than a game, and when grown, these children too will hunger to join the fight of their ancestors.


“Children show signs of trauma from Gaza conflict.”,0,4829964.story



Graves, Robert. “The Next War.” World War One British Poets. 1997. Dover. Mineola, New York.