Bob Schwartz

Category: War

Veterans Month and Mental Health

It is appropriate to talk about this Veterans Day 2018—Sunday, November 11—when talking about veterans and mental health.

Veterans Day was originally celebrated as Armistice Day, the day that World War I ended. This Veterans Day marks the one hundredth anniversary of the end of “the war to end all wars.”

Modern awareness of the widespread psychological effects of warfare began early in World War I, with the phenomenon of “shell shock.” In looking back at the war, there is still a question of how many cases were, in terms then used, “commotional” (due to explosions at close range) and how many cases were “emotional” (due to the psychological experience of war). In either case, numbers of warriors came home different and troubled—troubles which might last for the rest of their lives, and even serve to shorten those lives.

In the wars since, different theories and treatments have been developed, different labels have been attached. Today, those of us on the outside of this experience know it as PTSD. Those on the inside know it as the hell of war and its aftermath.

This will be another month—since a day is absolutely not enough—of honoring veterans. Judging by the still inadequate attention and support, they are more honored in the breach than in the observance. Among the failures too long to list is insufficiently acknowledging and taking responsibility for the mental health of those who we send to serve.

If you don’t want war—blessed are the peacemakers—then work for that. If you want war, or reluctantly think that war is necessary, treat those you send to fight for you as your own family, your own siblings, your own children. Because they are somebody’s.

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“Afghanistan’s Charlie Chaplin says he aims to make people smile, forget grief”

“His live performances provide respite in a city that routinely gets attacked by Taliban insurgents and suicide bombers, mainly claiming allegiance to Islamic State.”

For those who think that they have troubles in their lives and in their nation, or that laughing doesn’t help, or that one person can’t make a difference, even if just a small and temporary one, for your consideration:

Reuters:

Afghanistan’s Charlie Chaplin says he aims to make people smile, forget grief

KABUL (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s Charlie Chaplin says he has witnessed suicide attacks, explosions and threats from hardline Islamic militant groups, but is determined to waddle and bumble to fulfill the primary goal of his life.

“It is very simple, I want to give Afghans a reason to smile,” said Karim Asir, a stand-up comedian who performs across the capital Kabul in Chaplin’s trademark oversized shoes, baggy pants, cane and black bowler hat.

Asir, 25, said Chaplin impersonators are found all over the world helping people ignore grief and making them laugh, and he does the same.

Asir’s early years were in Iran, where his family fled after the hardline Taliban took control of Afghanistan in 1996. There he saw performances of Chaplin on Iranian TV.

After the family returned home, Asir started wearing make-up and recreating Chaplin’s characters in his performances, despite his parent’s apprehensions.

His live performances provide respite in a city that routinely gets attacked by Taliban insurgents and suicide bombers, mainly claiming allegiance to Islamic State.

Asir says he has been threatened by militants who say his performances are un-Islamic. But despite the threats, he performs in public parks, orphanages, private parties and at charity events organized by international aid agencies.

“I want to give my people a chance to forget their problems such as war, conflicts and insecurity in Afghanistan,” he said.

In Kabul, when Asir’s fans surround him to take selfies, he smiles but is constantly worried about attacks.

“I am afraid of getting attacked by a suicide bomber or an explosion but these issues cannot stop me from being Charlie Chaplin,” he said.

Christmas for Refugees

How could you say to me,
“Off to the hills like a bird!
For, look, the wicked bend back the bow,
they fix to the string their arrow
to shoot from the gloom at the upright.
The foundations destroyed,
what can a righteous man do?”
Psalms 11:1-2 (Robert Alter translation)

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt,
Matthew 1:13-14 (NRSV)

The wicked bend back the bow. The innocent flee. Give this Christmas to the UNHCR.

A Very Short Primer on Veterans

1. When we as people of a nation order or ask others to fight for any cause, we must treat them, their service, and their families with the highest practical lifelong honor and healing, that is, with more than just symbols or rhetoric.

2. As we order or ask for that service, from the first we must study the causes that we are fighting for, in light of all our truest values, not just the values that are convenient, expedient, self-serving or inadequately considered.

3. While we will likely never be a world without warriors, we owe it to the warriors—past, present and future—to be peacemakers.

​The UN Declares Nuclear Weapons Illegal 

Some think the United Nations is naive and childish at best, and at worst a way for small nations and idealistic dreamers to get in the way of superpowers doing the dirty and necessary grown up business of the world. 

That is the context of the vote (122 of 193 nations) to declare nuclear weapons illegal, a vote that was boycotted, derided and ignored by those superpowers. 

The UN is not naive and the vote is not ridiculous. From the start, the UN was meant to stand in the way of tragedy, or help fix it when it couldn’t be avoided. The UN is in part the collective conscience of the world, and like conscience, is set aside for the sake of pragmatism and convenience. 

The first and only time atomic bombs were used in war was 72 years ago. Since then, the power and quantity of those weapons has grown exponentially, as has the number of nations owning them. What is naive and childish is to think that the power and numbers won’t continue to grow. Thinking that keeping nations such as Iran and North Korea out of the club is a solution, while existing members continue to stockpile, is delusional. There will always be another nation, always more and more powerful weapons. 

Also delusional is the thought that having avoided the use of nuclear weapons for 72 years demonstrates a likelihood that it will never happen again. Looking back at millenia of brutal geopolitics, we would laugh if that thought isn’t so painfully ignorant. 

It’s true that the UN declaration, even with a majority of nations behind it, has no practical effect. But it should leave every citizen and every nation thinking about this all the time, from practical and philosophical perspectives. It seems that the concept of normal is eluding us more and more, but if every house in your town was filled with lots of highly dangerous explosives, how normal is that? How would you sleep? Do you trust your neighbors, all of them, any of them, that much? 

Be Peace

6 Long has my whole being dwelt
among those who hate peace.
7 I am for peace, but when I speak,
they are for war.
Psalm 120, translated by
Robert Alter

Terror in Manchester is one more shattering note in a cacophony of mindless aggression. News of the nation and the world attests to it, from nasty tweets by so-called leaders to torturers and mass murderers. We dwell among those who hate peace.

In Psalm 120, Robert Alter translates the Hebrew ani shalom in verse 7 as “I am for peace”:

The Hebrew appears to say “I am peace,” but, without emending the text, the most plausible way to understand these two words, ani shalom, is that they function as though there were an elided “for” (in the Hebrew not a word but the particle l’).

I dare not take issue with Alter, the great modern translator of the Hebrew Bible, but merely want to extend a thought. If the Hebrew appears to say “I am peace”, maybe that is precisely what it means to say.

Being for peace is a start and an essential part. Being peace is one step beyond this, where there is no space between us and the peace we seek. One step toward that elusive peaceful world, in spite of those who hate peace.

China’s Big Long View: “Swords Drawn and Bows Bent”

In a story about current tensions between the United States and North Korea, this was reported:

“The United States and South Korea and North Korea are engaging in tit for tat, with swords drawn and bows bent, and there have been storm clouds gathering,” China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, said in Beijing, according to Xinhua, the state news agency.” (emphasis added)

It is hard to imagine the American President or Secretary of State using such poetic language to describe such a serious situation. But allusions to swords and bows is not just poetic. It reflects the thousands of years that China has had to deal with situations just like this.

In the world, few nations, and none so powerful, are as young as the United States. We tend to equate power with enlightened perspective, but that is silly. Even the European nations can’t compare their histories to the long and hard lessons that many Asian nations have learned.

It is no accident that in the years since the end of a series of modern Asian wars involving the West—World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War—Asian nations have to some degree risen and dominated in various ways. China in particular. These nations have had to ride the wave of history, going back to times when swords and bows were the tools of strategy and subjugation, of victory and defeat.

Many Americans think that the most significant global affairs began a couple of centuries or so ago, when this nation emerged in North America as the perfection of what our European ancestors tried but failed to accomplish. Like all precocious children, we think that it is all about us, especially because of our might and our ability to damage and destroy. Those who have seen it all before are careful not to provoke us, but know that no matter how big our weapons, they are only swords and bows, about which they have much more experience.

Trump Van Winkle

The U.S. just dropped the biggest non-nuclear bomb ever on an ISIS target in Afghanistan.

The president apparently believes he can “defeat” ISIS and “win” the war in Afghanistan by dropping really big bombs. The biggest. Sad that no one thought of that before.

A number of times in world situations (and in domestic situations too) it appears that Trump has been completely absent from any discussion, debate or learning for decades. It doesn’t matter, since his opinion, at least until recently, has been based mostly on what he sees and hears on the news and on his emotional gut reaction. And as with most uninformed gut reactions, subject to change at a moment’s notice

Or maybe he’s been asleep. Like Rip Van Winkle, who slept for at least 20 years, only to wake up and discover a strange but more satisfactory world. Maybe one in which he is suddenly president.

Syria: Things Fall Apart

I just checked to see how many posts I’ve published about or mentioning Syria. Twenty in the last four years.

Just when you think it couldn’t get worse, it does. When you think that nobody has “the answer” you are proven right. Again.

The oldest of the posts is Can Israel Stop the Syrian Genocide? (“Can Israel stop the Syrian genocide? On its face, the question seems practically preposterous and crazy….But in a world and region that continues to exhibit madness, maybe moments of crazy wisdom are what we need to break through. Because whatever we are doing isn’t working.”)

Of course, Israel wasn’t about to stop the Syrian madness, and hasn’t. Neither have we or any other nation, and neither are we or any other nation sure what to do—not only to stop the madness but to relieve the ongoing dismal and heartbreaking aftermath.

So we watch. It’s not the first time in our lifetimes, or in history, that good people have stood by uncertainly at the sight of spiraling tragedy and could not act or figure out what to do.

William Butler Yeats wrote The Second Coming in 1919, as the madness of World War I was just ended and the madness of the Irish War of Independence was just beginning. “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.” As Yeats saw it, one cycle was ending in utter darkness, but there was the possibility of light appearing again in history, as it had before.

This is a season of light for many people, but in Syria it is getting darker every day. We will do what we can, but if we and our leaders can do nothing, we can at least keep Syria in our hearts, right next to a burning light.

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Veterans Day and Operation Unite America

veterans-day

Friday, November 11 is Veterans Day, which this year arrives during the same week as Election Day (you remember that day, don’t you?)

The great Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) has organized Operation Unite America:

Veterans Day 2016 is just 3 days after Election Day. Join IAVA’s campaign to do the impossible: bring together all Americans.

After a long, brutal and disgusting election season, everyone’s had it. It hasn’t been a good look for America. Everyone is exhausted–many are outright embarrassed. But Republican, Democrat, Independent, Other…we’re ALL sick of the bickering, the commercials, the debates, the politics, the fighting.

Here is your mission (if you choose to accept it!), JOIN US:

Tag your Veterans Day activities on social media with #veteransday

Donate $11 to IAVA to help us support veterans

Attend a #veteransday #VetTogether

 

tammy-duckworth

In the wake of Election Day, it is happy news to report that Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois won a seat in the U.S. Senate. She is an Iraq War veteran, awarded the Purple Heart after losing both her legs. She joins a number of women warriors in Congress, which needs more women and more experienced warriors who know how to choose our wars carefully. And who will take good care of other warriors when they come home.