Tag Archives: war

A Life on Hold

An intimate portrait of Omar, a 17 year old stranded in a refugee camp since the 2011 war in Libya.  The film offers a unique perspective of one person amongst thousands waiting for a chance to start their life again in a safe country.

When war broke out earlier this year in Libya, thousands of refugees from countries such as Somalia, Sudan, and Eritrea, who were living in or transiting through the country at the time, were forced to flee for their lives yet again. They are now waiting in refugee camps along the Tunisian and Egyptian borders – unable to return home due to war or persecution, unable to return to Libya due to ongoing violence and discrimination, and unable to stay in Tunisia or Egypt, countries both undergoing their own political upheavals.

A fantastic short film.

Yemen is on the brink of turning into hell.

From the New York Times Magazine

At night, Samie took me up to the roof of the house, where there was a view down onto the city. We could not see the protest square, but we could hear grenades and heavy guns being fired down into it from a military base on a hill. “They shoot into the square every night,” Samie said. “It lasts until 2 a.m.” In the other direction, toward the airport, tracers arced across the night sky, as young opposition fighters shot at another military base. I looked down into the trees around the house and saw the guards, clutching their rifles and standing alert by their posts. I asked Samie about several mysterious killings that were reported that day in Taiz, the latest in a series of assassinations. “The first one was an officer killing one of the youth at a checkpoint,” he said. “The officer was then tracked down and killed.” I did not ask him how he knew. The next day, Samie told me about an ambush on a government convoy that had destroyed a large truckload of weapons. When I asked how the attackers had taken the truck out, he said, without hesitation, “It was a rocket-propelled grenade,” and I thought I caught a hint of pride in his voice. “Would you like to see one?” he asked, then went downstairs and came back with the weapon. He then showed me an antitank missile. He was working hard to lure sympathizers inside the military to defect, he told me. The next day, one of his guards drove me past a weapons market at the airport, where I saw row after row of rifles, ammunition boxes and grenades. “The prices are going up,” the guard said. “People did not have weapons before in Taiz. Now everyone is buying them. War is coming.”

A regional war

Thomas Ricks points out that this isn’t a war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and now Yemen, it’s starting to feel like a war against an entire region.

Why doesn’t anyone ever tell me these things? I knew the United States conducted drone strikes a few years ago, including one that killed an American citizen on purpose, something that I still don’t get in legal terms.

But sending in piloted aircraft is a major step. Suddenly I begin to see what several of you have been worrying about, as the U.S. conducts military operations in, let’s see: Afghanistan. Iraq. Libya. Pakistan. Yemen. Pretty soon we may be able just to refer to it as one big old war.

What if the United States had captured Osama Bin Laden?

We can learn a bit from how they interrogated Saddam Hussein

During the interrogation of Saddam, Piro conducted only 20 formal interviews; most of their daily interactions were casual. They talked politics, history, sports, arts, the Middle East, women, and family. "For me, it was important just to get to know him," Piro says. "I wanted to be able to understand his thought processes. It was an investment for those 20 interviews."

The hundreds of pages of interview notes marked "high value detainee #1", declassified five years later, provide fascinating reading. The conversations ranged across all aspects of life in Iraq: Saddam’s rise to power, the Iraqi people and culture, the Iran/Iraq War of the 1980s, the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the power of the ruling Ba’ath Party, Iraq’s relationship with its neighbors, Saddam’s views of Osama bin Laden.

The men discussed war strategy and geopolitics. Piro listened to an intimate, previously untold history of Iraq offered by the man who, more than anyone else, had created the modern country. Saddam explained that he had lived in fear of US attacks; he’d used the telephone himself just twice since March 1990 and moved locations daily among a variety of settings—including his 20 palaces—to make it harder to target him.

Contrary to the beliefs of Western intelligence, Saddam claimed to have never used body doubles, feeling it was too hard to mimic another person. Perhaps of most immediate interest, Saddam told Piro that while the Iraqi regime had had some contact with Osama bin Laden, he felt the al-Qaeda leader was a fanatic and not to be trusted.

So what about those missing WMDs?

Saddam explained that it was important to national pride and national security that his neighbors believed Iraq still had weapons of mass destruction. "We destroyed them. We told you, by documents," he said to Piro in one interview. "By God, if I had such weapons, I would have used them in the fight against the United States."

Another American War / Another Arab State

Thomas Ricks discusses six things to consider when thinking about an American no-fly zone over Libya.

Here are some of the issues that need to be examined. Anyone who advocates a no-fly zone should be required to answer them.

I wish everyone talking about imposing a no-fly zone on Libya would take a deep breath. Americans have an odd habit of backing into war . We first deployed ground combat forces into Vietnam in the spring of 1965 simply to protect American air bases, for example.

The Cost of the War In Afghanistan

Bob Hebert of the New York Times writes about the hidden cost of the Afghanistan war.

It’s a quaint notion, but true: with wars come responsibilities. The meat grinder of war takes its toll in so many ways, and we should be paying close attention to all aspects of it. Instead, we send our service members off to war, and once they’re gone, it’s out of sight, out of mind.

If we were interested, we might notice that record numbers of soldiers are killing themselves. At least 125 committed suicide through August of this year, an awful pace that if continued would surpass last year’s all-time high of 162.

Stressed-out, depressed and despondent soldiers are seeking help for their mental difficulties at a rate that is overwhelming the capacity of available professionals. And you can bet that there are even higher numbers of troubled service members who are not seeking help.

In the war zones, we medicate the troubled troops and send them right back into action, loading them up with antidepressants, sleeping pills, anti-anxiety drugs and lord knows what other kinds of medication.

One of the things we have long known about warfare is that the trouble follows the troops home. The Times published an article this week by Aaron Glantz, a reporter with The Bay Citizen news organization in San Francisco, that focused on the extraordinary surge of fatalities among Afghanistan and Iraq veterans. These young people died, wrote Mr. Glantz, “not just as a result of suicide, but also of vehicle accidents, motorcycle crashes, drug overdoses or other causes after being discharged from the military.”

An analysis of official death certificates showed that, from 2005 through 2008, more than 1,000 California veterans under the age of 35 had died. That’s three times the number of service members from California who were killed in Afghanistan and Iraq during the same period.

The effects of Global Thermonuclear War

As written by Wm Robert Johnson

A mushroom cloud in the aftermath of a nuclear explosion.

12:00 midnight CDT 5/6 August 1988: The nuclear exchange is generally over. In the U.S. 5,800 warheads detonated totaling 3,900 mt. Soviet and NATO weapons successfully used in Europe numbered 3,300 (1,200 mt) (excluding tactical weapons). About 6,100 warheads (most of them American, but some Chinese, British, and French) exploded in the U.S.S.R. with a total yield of 1,900 mt. Mainland China (P.R.C.) received 900 (detonating) warheads (1,300 mt) from its northern neighbor. Other areas receiving at least a dozen warheads include Canada, North and South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Greenland, Puerto Rico, India, Israel, Australia, Guam, Cuba, Syria, and Egypt. Hundreds of other nuclear weapons have been used in naval combat, in troop combat in West Germany and along the U.S.S.R./P.R.C. border, and in defending the Soviet Union from nuclear attack. About 50% of the global strategic and theater nuclear arsenal has been used. About 10% was launched but did not reach a target and 30% was destroyed on the ground. Altogether, World War III has involved the detonation of 18,000 warheads with a total yield of 8,500 mt. Including tactical weapons, there were 67,000 nuclear weapons in the world a day ago; now, there are 10,000 left.

In Texas 6,400,000 have been killed (38% of its original population). Of the 10,400,000 survivors, 3,000,000 have severe injuries and 2,000,000 have lesser injuries. In the Rio Grande Valley 340,000 have been killed (49%) and 90,000 injured (13%); in Travis County over 400,000 are dead (75%). In the U.S. about 110,000,000 people have died altogether, with the 135,000,000 survivors including 30,000,000 injured. In the U.S.S.R. about 40,000,000 have been killed out of a pre-war population of 285,000,000. Mainland China has had 100,000,000 killed out of a population of 1,090,000,000. Examples of other countries: United Kingdom, 20,000,000 killed (out of 57,000,000); Denmark, 2,700,000 killed (out of 5,100,000); Australia, 3,000,000 killed (out of 16,000,000). In Mexico over 3,000,000 have been killed, mostly in cities on the border with the U.S. Throughout the world about 400,000,000 have died.

Despite reading a lot of cold war history (I am reading May Day: Eisenhower, Khrushchev and the U2 Affair now), I was stunned by the amount of nuclear warheads that existed in 1988.  67,000 nuclear weapons is mind boggling.

Today there is still over 23,000 nuclear warheads.

Status of World Nuclear Forces in 2009

‘Hello mum, this is going to be hard for you to read …’

Letters home from a 19 years old soldier from Afghanistan, including the one he wrote after he was killed in action on June 2, 2009.  The family gave the letters to the Independent to publish.

Cyrus Thatcher as a rifleman. He was killed on 2 June 2009

In the spring of this year, the 2nd Battalion, The Rifles deployed to Afghanistan. Halfway through the battalion’s tour, it has lost nine soldiers, with dozens injured.

Of those to have given their lives, four were teenagers. Here Rifleman Cyrus Thatcher, who was 19 when he was killed by an explosion near Gereshk seven weeks ago, tells his own story, through letters home and the last letter he left behind to bid farewell to his family – his mother Helena, father Robin and brothers Zac, 21, and Steely, 17.

Following are the words of a proud soldier described by his officers as possessing "a rucksack full of potential", and by his friends as a rascal always cracking jokes and helping to keep morale high. Most of all, they are the words of a young son to his mum, dad and brothers.

You can read all of his letters here.


Gaza During the Israeli attack on Hamas, I was sent a variety of links, Facebook groups, e-mails, and people to write so I could show my solidarity with the people of Gaza.  For some very complicated reasons, I decided to ignore all of them, even though they came from close friends.  The main reason is that I support Israel in their current war against Hamas.

I don’t support everything Israel has done over the decades.  I have talked to several Jewish and Israeli’s over the years and housing settlements in occupied territories have never made sense to me.  Israel would never tolerate those inside their borders and surely they much have foreseen the reaction them doing it to the Palestinians would create.  Israel has made a lot of foreign policy mistakes over their life time as a country.  Even a casual reader of the Jerusalem Post, the New York Times, or any publication that covers Israeli politics know that Israel can debate and second guess themselves as well as any country in the world.

Yet this isn’t a war about past policies.  Hamas started the fighting by choosing to fire 60 rockets a day into Israel with the hope of hitting Israeli cities and killing Israeli civilians.  If Canada was firing rockets with the hope of taking out Minot, North Dakota or Flint, Michigan, no one would question a United States military response.  If France started to shell Germany, no one would question a military response.  As Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff said, “Israel has been attacked from Gaza, not just last year, but for almost 10 years.”  His stance is consistent with both Conservative and Liberal governments of the past.

Hamas shelled Israel hoping to make them back down and do nothing and therefore look weak to their neighbors or to provoke a reaction from Israel and then hide behind civilians and create a sympathetic global reaction which would lead to Hamas gaining international recognition (beyond the rather meager recognition they get now from Syria and Iran).  Finally Israel had enough and decided to act and stop the rockets and weaken Hamas.  To do that was going to cause civilian deaths, it almost always does, especially when Hamas decided to use mortars and rockets schools, hospitals, and mosques.  At a certain time armies used to do battle out in the battlefield but now we live in a different age where terrorists hide in civilians encampments to try to cause civilians deaths and gain the sympathy of the world, a world that didn’t care that much when it was Israeli citizens dying.  To do nothing was to allow Iran equip Hamas with more and more powerful rockets, mortars, and other weapons.  Will it work?  I have read enough military history to know that time will tell if it worked.  There have been many military actions deemed a tactical success but strategic failure while other tactical failures have achieved strategic success.  In other words, time will tell what happens in Gaza.  For the record, there are those that disagree that Israel is doing the right thing strategically, Andrew Sullivan suggests that Israel’s actions are disproporportionate to what Hamas is doing to it and will lead to only greater bloodshed.

When Israel finally had enough and decided to strike Hamas, Hamas did what everyone predicted.  They hid behind civilians (their own people) with the hope of enough of them dying would help them politically.  The weird thing is in some parts of the world, it worked.  Much was made of the United Nations Human Rights Commission vote to condemn Israel.  Many media sources and bloggers noted that the adopted motion calls for investigation of “grave” human rights violations by the Israeli forces. That’s is the press release version. In fact, the motion is four pages long that blames Israel entirely for the crisis, thus unilaterally responsible for the consequences. Thirty-three countries voted in favor, including several countries that are experts at human rights, Cuba, Russia, China and Saudi Arabia. 13 European nations abstained from the vote on the resolution while Canada was alone in voting against it.

Israel was put in a horrible situation as a country.  It is confronted by a foe that is comfortable firing thousands of rockets at it’s military and civilians day in and day out.  A foe that isn’t interested in peace but rather feels it’s purpose on earth is to destroy Israel.  To attack Hamas means civilian casualties but to ignore it means more and more civilian casualties within it’s own borders.

Is there an end to this?  Just as people felt Jimmy Carter was the answer, Ronald Reagan was the answer, George H. Bush was the answer, Bill Clinton was the answer, George W. Bush was the answer, and starting tomorrow, people hope Barack Obama has the answer (I suspect that the war in Gaza has stopped because both sides want to hear from the new American president).  I don’t see this being solved by an American president, a Canadian prime minister, Tony Blair as a peace envoy, or even Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie adopting the entire Gaza Strip.  It gets solved by doing what Saudi Arabia’s leaders have done, the King of Jordan has done, what Egypt has done, and what other Arab nations have done and that is give up the desire to destroy Israel and recognize their right to peaceful co-existence. Then the hard work of peacemaking can start.

I am not saying that Israel has not made mistakes but it’s an awfully tough neighborhood they live in and until countries like Iran and Syria stop using Hezbollah and Hamas to wage proxy wars for them, Israel is going to find themselves making tough decisions that aren’t black and white, right or wrong.  I do know that decisions made under the fall of rockets and mortars are far different then decisions made during peace times.  Hopefully in the future we will see more decisions made in the quiet of peace than under the roar of rockets and the sounds of suicide bombers.

More Opinions

The Rise and the Fall of the Third Reich

TheRiseandFalloftheThirdReich Well I just finished today William Shirer’s The Rise and the Fall of the Third Reich.  A couple of thoughts.

  • If Churchill and England would have capitulated, England would have been devastated in a Poland like genocide.  That goes against what I have read over the years that Hitler never wanted to go to war against Britain.  It does have a bizarre section where it appears that Hitler is trying to recruit former king Edward VIII to take the throne if the invasion is successful.  The book leaves it unclear how serious Edward took his offer.
  • I was amazed at how soon the Germans realized the war was lost but other than fretting about it, did nothing to stop it.  While there are many references to trying to negotiate with the English and the Russians (not that it would have done any good), as far as I know, there were no attempts and instead military delusions kicked in.
  • The idea that Germany was going to rule the world as enslave everyone that wasn’t enslaved by Japan or Italy is factually correct but still a little hard to grasp.  Maybe as a Canadian I can’t get my head around the idea of manifest destiny unless it involves hockey.
  • In the end it did answer some of my questions about the WWII, like why Hitler launched the Battle of the Bulge (even if he had driven the Allies to Antwerp, then what?  He was out the fuel, tanks, and men to push the offensive any further) and why did he not order a retreat from Stalingrad?
  • Winston Churchill surveying the damage during the Blitz Hitler never went to one of the bomb ravaged cities.  By contrast we have all seen the photos of Winston Churchill during the Blitz.  There is one video of people cheering Churchill as they were digging out the next morning and yet Hitler said “it was too hard on him”. 

It was a good but really, really, really long book that if you haven’t read and enjoy reading history, it is worth reading.  There is a lot more to think about then what I could cover here.  It may make a wonderful addition to your summer reading list.

Prince of Peace – God of War

John Campea’s movie, Prince of Peace – God of War is now out and getting some good reviews from the film festivals. Yes I am in it and no I haven’t seen my part yet… I hate the sound of my voice so I will see if I can get a special director’s cut without me in it to see what McLaren, Campolo and others have to say. There is a trailer and more information on the site. As they say, it will also be coming to a theatre near you.

The War As We Saw It

A New York Times op-ed by some soon to be returning troops of 82nd Airborne. Here is just part of it but the entire op-ed is worth reading.

Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur, but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks. It will happen on Iraqi terms when the reality on the battlefield is congruent with that in the political sphere. There will be no magnanimous solutions that please every party the way we expect, and there will be winners and losers. The choice we have left is to decide which side we will take. Trying to please every party in the conflict — as we do now — will only ensure we are hated by all in the long run.

At the same time, the most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. “Lucky” Iraqis live in gated communities barricaded with concrete blast walls that provide them with a sense of communal claustrophobia rather than any sense of security we would consider normal.

In a lawless environment where men with guns rule the streets, engaging in the banalities of life has become a death-defying act. Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise, while we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence. When the primary preoccupation of average Iraqis is when and how they are likely to be killed, we can hardly feel smug as we hand out care packages. As an Iraqi man told us a few days ago with deep resignation, “We need security, not free food.”

In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are — an army of occupation — and force our withdrawal.

Until that happens, it would be prudent for us to increasingly let Iraqis take center stage in all matters, to come up with a nuanced policy in which we assist them from the margins but let them resolve their differences as they see fit. This suggestion is not meant to be defeatist, but rather to highlight our pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends without recognizing the incongruities.

We need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through.

Contextless Links

  • According to the Pope, only the Roman Catholic Church is the true church. Protestant churches are just ecclesial communities.
  • Wendy has posted about the last couple of weeks. About as bad as she describes it but not as bad as some of the e-mails have made it out to be.
  • An op-ed by Anne Murray fighting a wind farm near her cottage. I remember seeing a piece with Walter Cronkite fighting a wind farm near his cottage because it would interfere with sailing. It’s the old we like alternative energy, as long as it isn’t near me.
  • Seth Godin on sloppy naming and branding. We had a discussion on church and ministry names not that long ago on Resonate. This applies to churches as well. You Apple fans will want to check out this diagram on Apple naming throughout the ages.
  • The New York Times is calling for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq :: While I was never in favor of the war I generally subscribe to the belief that when you destroy a country, you need to fix it. This paragraph seems to sum up the editorial and the problem :: At first, we believed that after destroying Iraq’s government, army, police and economic structures, the United States was obliged to try to accomplish some of the goals Mr. Bush claimed to be pursuing, chiefly building a stable, unified Iraq. When it became clear that the president had neither the vision nor the means to do that, we argued against setting a withdrawal date while there was still some chance to mitigate the chaos that would most likely follow.While Mr. Bush scorns deadlines, he kept promising breakthroughs — after elections, after a constitution, after sending in thousands more troops. But those milestones came and went without any progress toward a stable, democratic Iraq or a path for withdrawal. It is frighteningly clear that Mr. Bush’s plan is to stay the course as long as he is president and dump the mess on his successor. Whatever his cause was, it is lost.

Contextless Links

Contextless Links

  • Wendy is writing about sex in the snow and no she isn’t referring to the book
  • Winner of the 2007 World Press Photo contest of a badly wounded Iraq war vet returning home to marry his sweetheart:: Their story is here.  More photos of the couple here. via
  • CEO of Cineplex compares those who camcorder movies to drug dealers :: It also endangers our young employees, because they are dealing with hardened criminals, for whom this is more lucrative then selling drugs. via who has more here
  • Vive Le California? :: California to split from the United States of America? :: Governor Schwarzenegger is quite clear that California is not simply another state. “We are the modern equivalent of the ancient city-states of Athens and Sparta,” he recently declared. “We have the economic strength, we have the population and the technological force of a nation-state.” In his inaugural address, Mr. Schwarzenegger proclaimed, “We are a good and global commonwealth.” via
  • Trouble for a University built on profits via :: The complaints have built through months of turmoil. The president resigned, as did the chief executive and other top officers at the Apollo Group, the university’s parent corporation. A federal court reinstated a lawsuit accusing the university of fraudulently obtaining hundreds of millions of dollars in financial aid. The university denies wrongdoing. Apollo stock fell so far that in November, CNBC featured it on a “Biggest Losers” segment. The stock has since gained back some ground. In November, the Intel Corporation excluded the university from its tuition reimbursement program, saying it lacked top-notch accreditation.
  • Cows can’t eat grass!  Hurry, tell that to the several million grass fed cattle that roam Saskatchewan
  • Curing Souls: The Forgotten Art by Eugene Peterson
  • The real reason we love dogs :: They dance with joy when we come home, put their heads on our knees and stare longingly into our eyes. Ah, we think, at last, the love and loyalty we so richly deserve and so rarely receive. Over thousands of years of living with humans, dogs have become wily and transfixing sidekicks with the particularly appealing characteristic of being unable to speak. We are therefore free to fill in the blanks with what we need to hear. (What the dog may really be telling us, much of the time, is, “Feed me.”)
  • The John Edwards “blogger” scandal won’t be the last.  If I were you, I wouldn’t trust anyone who has a blog.
  • Rwanda, haunted by genocide has a new problem, overpopulation :: Though Rwanda is predominantly Catholic, the church’s leaders here are not expected to oppose a campaign for population control. A number of priests, nuns and lay workers participated in the 1994 genocide, which weakened the church’s moral authority, and has led it to avoid politics.
  • Reading your own Stasi files :: Although the Stasi had little in their files about me, within days they had a relatively good idea of my activities and, at that point, I was charged with espionage. The order for my incarceration was issued two weeks after I was initially arrested–and about a week later than the East German law required such orders to be made. Such legal niceties, however, made little difference to the Stasi.
  • Most IED’s are coming from IRAN according to USA Today and MSNBC.  The question is after being lied to so many times, do we believe them?
  • Mark Cuban vs. Dwyne Wade :: I know Shaq appreciates your leadership as well. He called out your team a few weeks ago saying it was “ embarassing’. Great leadership DWade. Your coach sat players for being fat. I guess you couldnt lead them away from the buffet.
  • Hockey is being outmarketed by America’s other fringe sport, MLS
  • Free Methodist college fires transgendered professor