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War is Not Good for the Environment. Our Cultural Heritage, or Any Sentient Being

Armed conflict zones result in endless suffering of innocent civilians, permanent refugee camps , invalidism of injured combatants, destruction of cultural heritage sites and dismembered families and communities.  Photo © copyright Unicef 2021

 

By the time active military engagement ended, the United States dropped three times as many tons of bombs on North Vietnam, a country the size of Illinois, as were dropped by the Allies in all of the Second World War...Three million Americans served in Vietnam: 58,000 died there. The United States got nothing for it.   

 

-Louis Menad, "The Free World"

 

I was reading Menand's chapter on Vietnam in The Free World the very week that most of the American troops in Afghanistan came home. The bases that fed and employed the local populations, bases as large as cities, were abandoned in a middle-of-the-night clandestine operation to prevent Taliban attacks during retreat.

 

The United States got nothing for that 20-year war either. Osama was bivouacked in Pakistan so why, exactly, did we go in?

 

The women of Afghanistan benefited greatly from the American occupation, however. A short-lived gift. What will happen to them now?

 

I've known a few war reporters, and to a person they are addicted to the adrenalin rush of war. They then feel remorse, and often cannot wind down, sleep or eat for months, or years. Like soldiers and humanitarian relief workers, reporters often suffer from PTSD. They witness cruelty, barbarism, murder, famine, loss. Sometimes, like some humanitarian workers, soldiers and reporters disappear from civilian life entirely, re-enlist ad infinitum, volunteer to cover stories ad infinitum, and stay in the field for the rest of their lives following the footprints of war across the continents. There are plenty to keep them busy.

 

And then there are the soldiers who become humanitarian workers—swords into ploughshares. I am always honored to meet them. This week I received an email from Robert Macpherson's publicist asking if I'd blurb his debut book, Stewards of Humanity; Lighting the Darkness in Humanitarian Crisis.  Macpherson is a former infantry officer in the U.S. Marines with service in Vietnam, Iraq, and Somalia. After retiring as a Colonel, he enjoyed a second career with the humanitarian aid agency, CARE. He lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Veronica and service dog, Blue.

 

A service dog. That says a lot, enough for me to consider saying yes to the publicist, that I'm happy to read the book and write a blurb. The only caveat is the prose: it has to be strong. I wasn't disappointed. Here's an excerpt, by permission:

 

Upon leaving the clinic, I thought about how sheltered I had been. Although I experienced war and conflict, I traveled within a bubble. If I were injured, the Marine Corps would find and rescue me. When I went to a rest area away from combat, there were cans of Coca-Cola and other staples of American life. Wherever we were assigned, we brought our culture, language, and as much of our lifestyle with us as logistically possible. In Somalia, though, I was pushed outside my psychological comfort zone. Combat was horrendous, but I was trained for it. This was the first time I directly encountered the long-term results of armed conflict on the innocent.

 

Some statistics: According to Unicef and Save the Children , 426 million children are living in conflict zones, 1/5th of the world's children. 27 million children will be born into conflict zones this year.

 

 

It's hard these days to imagine a planet without war, or the environmental and human degradation that war amplifies, or causes. Armed conflict impacts all of us, even if we live protected lives far away from the battlefield.  What can we do here, from the relative safety of our homes? At the very least, we can monitor the foreign policy initiatives and arms sales of our government. After all, we are the only nation on earth that unleashed an atomic weapon to "end" a war.

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Virus Without Borders: Chapter Seventy

The Last Scene Before Flying With the Dove to Paradise.  ©copyright Malak Mattar 2021

Malak often includes a Dove of Peace in her paintings.

 

 

Ceasefire

 

 

 

Imagine there's no countries

It isn't hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion, too

Imagine all the people

Living life in peace…

 

-John Lennon

 

Dedicated to all children growing up in war zones.

 

 

 

Malak Mattar, my young friend in Gaza, put up this FB post today: "I survived. I'm officially a four Israeli attack survivor by the age of 21."  But is this Le Fin, the end of this horror movie? Probably not.  Geopolitics, realpolitik, real lives underneath those falling bombs and rockets. Children in Palestine and in Israel and in Afghanistan growing up in war zones, suffering from PTSD, learning to hate, dreaming of escape or revenge. And what about the soldiers and flyers and bombers, what about their PTSD as they become yet more efficient killing machines?

 

Did the bombing in Gaza wipe out Covid? Of course not. But now that there is a ceasefire, the humanitarian agencies can get back in to do their work: house the homeless, provide medical assistance, vaccinate, even set up temporary schools and play spaces for the children.

 

I spoke to MacKay Wolff, a former relief worker for UNRWA, the UN agency set up in 1948 to serve  the Palestinians –and  Jews—displaced  by the war against the British colonial regime. "I hope they are using the 80 schools UNRWA set up as shelters," MacKay told me before the ceasefire. UN workers are tasked with protection—of everyone—to treat all those in need equally. It is not always easy, but that is what they are trained to do.

 

Gaza is flat, and unlike Israel, has no bomb shelters, my Palestinain friend Ahmad told me.  I had not realized that the terrain was indefensible, and was shocked to hear there are no shelters. In that case, I hope the Israelis are not bombing the schools, I thought. Did I say that thought aloud? I'm not sure. I was feeling distressed that day, and so was Ahmad. I knew that my Israeli cousins were safe, or safe enough, in shelters.

 

MacKay had written a story for my book, "Another Day in Paradise," about his posting in the West Bank during the first intifada. How many years ago was that? Too many. There are now 5.6 million Palestinians—the original refugees and their descendants—registered with the UN agency. How many refugees? Too many.

 

Strange that this very week the citizens of New York State began navigating without masks, enjoying freedom of movement and a renewed sense of safety. Most of us—if we have not lost a loved one, or our jobs, or have long term effects of Covid—are feeling positive, even euphoric, about our survival. I wish the same for Malak, her family, and all her wonderful activist friends. May they live in peace.

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