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


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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A Writer Struck Down

Malala Yousafzai, the first Pakistani child nominated by Unicef for the Peace Award on Universal Children’s Day, has been gunned down by the Taliban. “She is our daughter,” the President of Pakistan said when he heard the news.

As I write, the doctors are trying to stabilize Malala enough to be moved to Dubai for state-of-the art treatment. Let us hope—and pray if we pray—that she makes it. Two other girls were also injured in the attack which, as I understand it, took place in broad daylight on a bus.

Malala began writing when she was very young—eleven years old—about her life as a young girl in the Taliban-controlled Swat region of Pakistan. She is now only fourteen and the author of a blog that is published in Urdu by the BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7834402.stm. Even in the English translation, the entries are breathtaking—concise, clear, and urgent. Reading them today, I am concerned about the young girls in Afghanistan who have been enjoying school under the American occupation, but will be endangered again once our troops are withdrawn and the Taliban reclaims the government. More than certainly, this will happen.

Living so far away in a land where—despite our own hardships—comfort, universal education, and the freedom to write and speak, are taken for granted for most of us, I am wondering, apart from solidarity and our own blogs, what we can do to help Malala and others like her. Does anything we say or write make a difference?

Oddly, Malala’s name in Urdu means “grief stricken,” and she wanted to change it to her pen name, Gul Makai. I do not believe in portents, but I am grief stricken about Malala—what she has had to endure even before this assassination attempt—and will dedicate my class to her tonight.  Read More 
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