I became a student of international terrorism in the 1980s. Not to be a terrorist, but to try to understand it.
Before that, I had little or no understanding of it. I’d seen reports of terrorism on television as a teenager and as a young woman, but those instances were far away from my home and my life.
The terrorists of those times had names like Bader Meinhof and the Red Brigade; terrorists heinously killed athletes at the Munich Olympics; they opened fire in the airport in Rome and they hijacked airplanes now and then. There was the terrible Lockerbie airliner bombing. The word “Belfast” triggered nothing in me but a vague sadness and anger because two branches of the same religion in pretty, green Ireland seemed to have forgotten, on both sides, that the Christ both claimed to believe in had only exhorted them to pursue peace and love their neighbors, not to practice violence and hatred.
It was bewildering. In the America I lived in, pre-1986, terrorism was a fairly remote issue. It wasn’t given much in-depth coverage in the news at the time, and to be honest, I had little interest in the news anyway.
That changed when my military husband got orders to Germany.
Still, we were going there during a time of relative quiet, terrorism-wise. There hadn’t been an attack anywhere in Europe in several years; I told myself that really, there was nothing to be concerned about. I’ve always been a pragmatic sort.
Upon arriving at Heathrow International Airport outside of London, we had a layover of several hours. Excited about being in another country for the first time, my little family and I spent most of those heady hours wandering the duty-free shops, getting our American dollars changed into a few British pounds so we could purchase souvenirs of our very short stay in Merrie Olde England and check out the odd English food in the food courts. I still have the bone china mug with the Herrod’s logo on it that I purchased there that day.
But the threat of terrorism, while vague, was all around us at Heathrow. Everywhere I looked, there were signs that warned travelers not to leave their baggage unattended for any reason -- and not to ask strangers to watch it for them, either.
The reason, of course, was that an unattended bag could potentially contain a bomb. The kind stranger you asked to watch your bag could well be a thief – or far worse, a terrorist who’d think nothing of turning you into an unwitting bomber by putting explosives into your bag while you were away, set to explode after you were in the air again.
There were also a fair number of grim-faced British soldiers and security guards wandering around. You could tell what they were because of their uniforms, of course, but also because of the menacing automatic weapons they carried.
I’d seen nothing like this in the American airports we’d left hours before.
When it was time to board our plane to Hamburg, Germany, we lined up with the other passengers. Here, as at home, we put our carry-on luggage and purses on a conveyor belt through a machine that X-rayed baggage and walked through a gate that scanned us, too.
I’d done this in San Francisco, and again in New York City without a problem. But at Heathrow, when I walked through the sensor gate, it beeped loudly.
I hadn’t done a lot of traveling by air, but I’d always wondered what happened if the Authorities did happen to find something suspicious. Now, I was about to find out.
Two guards appeared immediately and before I knew it, I’d been separated from my husband and daughter and asked, in rather clipped tones, if I was carrying any metal on my person.
Um, no, I said. Everything I have is in my purse and carry-on bag, and they just went through the machine.
The guards told me to step through the gate again. I did. It beeped.
I was hustled to the side and ordered, sharply, to put my arms out and spread my legs apart. An unsmiling female guard patted me down professionally and very, very carefully.
I had never before in my life been patted down by the Law – American OR British. My poor husband watched wide-eyed from the sidelines, holding my 6-year-old daughter’s hand.
The guards didn’t find anything, of course – I wasn’t a terrorist and I wasn’t trying to conceal anything dangerous or deadly in my clothes. But there was that maddening, telltale beep.
What a very odd feeling this was. My stomach was fluttering and I broke out in a light sweat. I knew I wasn’t a bad guy, but I felt guilty anyway. And by now, I was gibbering. I had no idea what could be making the machines dislike me so.
Finally, the female guard, looking hard at me, softened. “Your hat,” she said.
“My ... hat?”
I was wearing a pretty, black felt hat with elegant black netting. It looked a bit like a lady’s hat from the 30s. I loved hats back then, and I thought wearing it with my dark wool suit and calf-length, charcoal wool coat would make me look quite “international.” I wanted to be taken as a sophisticated American. No jeans and sweatshirts while traveling by air overseas for me. I had class.
Well, I do think I pulled that off. I was a very attractive young woman. And I beeped.
What I didn’t know was that in the hat’s rim was a stiff metal wire, sewn in help the hat hold its rakish shape.
The guard told me to give her the hat and pass through the gate again. I did. This time, I didn’t beep.
I laughed, deeply embarrassed. The guard did not laugh. She told me to put the hat back on and do it one more time.
I obeyed, and yep, the sensors beeped.
The Mystery of the Beeping Blonde was a mystery no more.
I apologized profusely. It had never occurred to me that my hat might set off the sensors – I honestly had no idea it had any metal in it. My apology was accepted with a grim nod of the head, but no smile, and the guards didn’t apologize to me for my scare, the delay in boarding or the embarrassment they’d caused me.
Nor did I expect them to. I knew, even as inexperienced and innocent as I was, that England had been the target of terrorism many times over the years. While becoming the object of the guards rapt attention wasn’t much fun, it was reassuring that they didn’t pussyfoot around about it.
My hat was given a further, thorough inspection (for a hidden automatic pistol?), and once it was declared harmless, I was allowed to put it back on my head and rejoin my husband and daughter. My hat and I had held up the long, slow boarding line for about ten minutes and while it was happening, I’d been the absolute center of everyone’s fascinated, almost fearful attention.
When we arrived in Hamburg, I noticed even more guards wandering the airport crowds, all of them carrying scary-looking weapons. I’d been taught to break down, rebuild, load and fire and M16 in my Air Force days – I knew the damage these weapons could do.
I was a neophyte no longer.
Even back then, I wondered at the difference between the seriousness with which the Europeans treated the threat of terrorism and the offhandedness toward it in my own country.
Each day when I went to my Army public affairs job on base, where I worked as a civilian, I was stopped at the base gate and my ID checked carefully. Sometimes, a soldier would come out of the guard shack with a mirror on a long stick and check the undercarriage of my car, as well. As military members and their dependents, we were exhorted to do this check ourselves before we even got into our cars, as well, and told to vary our routes to work each day. There’d been no recent terror attacks anywhere in Germany, but the threat was treated seriously.
I never really believed that I or my family or anyone else I knew was in any real danger during the six years I lived there. Nevertheless, I didn’t think the precautions were silly, and I was careful when I traveled to keep my eye on my own bags and simply be wary. It was a way of life, one I quickly grew accustomed to.
I became interested in what would make people resort to terrorism, and I set about learning all I could about it. I read books and once, I attended a conference at the U.S. Embassy in Bonn on international terrorism. It was fascinating.
What I learned was that terrorism is warfare of the last resort, undertaken by those who, right or wrong, sane or mad, feel disenfranchised by their governments. I learned that terrorism is directed against innocent civilian populations, for the most part, because only by terrorizing the general population can these disenfranchised types get the undivided attention of their governments and the world. They feel that other means have failed and will continue to do so. And terrorists, no matter the reason for their actions, feel powerless.
It was quite an education.
Many years later, I began studying the Troubles in Ireland. Some of my ancestors were Irish; I know little about them or why they came to America, or whether or not they’d been affected by the terrible things that happened there at the end of the 19th Century. I learned about the Irish Republican Army and other terrorist organizations on both sides of the conflict, and I learned about Great Britain’s complicity in the conflict, one that continues even today. Northern Ireland, and Belfast, continue to seethe quietly under the Good Friday Agreement, and there are individuals in power there who would like nothing better than to see it fail utterly.
I started learning about politics. I learned about gerrymandering. I learned about detentions without trial and kangaroo courts, and why a young person would take up arms against his neighbors and his government. And I learned, in the process, about terrorism in the Middle East and other parts of the world.
I’m no expert. But I feel that I know a lot more than most of my peers and in fact, a lot more than most Americans about terrorism, guerilla warfare, and why people do this to other people. It’s a terrible thing, and wrong no matter how you turn it, but it is also sadly understandable.
When President Bush declared his War on Terrorism following the Sept. 11 attacks, I was appalled. You don’t fight terrorism with soldiers and guns and war – a cursory study of Northern Ireland is all you need to see that it simply doesn’t work. A good look at Israel’s reaction to the Palestinians also shows that tanks and military maneuvers are useless against terrorists.
The only solution to terrorism is the negotiating table, where all parties sit down and hammer out their grievances and set about changing the conditions that leave people feeling helpless and disenfranchised. All the guns, armed conflicts, guards at the borders, airport x-ray machines and shoe inspections in the world won’t stop a terrorist who’s determined to strike, and only intelligence and good, old-fashioned police work can do even a little to prevent it.
The problem must be addressed at its root – and that’s something that we in the West just can’t seem to understand.
Or perhaps, our leaders understand it only too well, and that’s why the root issues will never be addressed and they’ll only continue to fight it with air attacks and bombs and soldiers and tanks, killing civilians indiscriminately and compelling more and more of the disenfranchised of the world to adopt this terrible, undefeatable type of warfare. They don't really want it to end. There's too much money to be made and too much power to be won.
The War on Terror will never end until we stop the vicious cycle that makes it inevitable.
*Correction: The Lockerbie bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 was on Dec. 21, 1988, two years after I arrived in Germany. Sorry about that; long-past events tend to muddle in the memory. Still, Lockerbie was one of the terror incidents that compelled me to open my mind and learn.
31 August 2006
I became a student of international terrorism in the 1980s. Not to be a terrorist, but to try to understand it.
30 August 2006
Vice President Dick Cheney was in Reno, Nev. on Monday while Codpiece was traipsing around Biloxi, Miss., trying to sound empathetic while not giving a rat’s ass about the little people who hovered around him, anxious for his generosity and actual help.
In a speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention, Cheney explained why America needs to “stay the course” in Iraq, even though we never knew, exactly, what “the course” was in the first place and we sure as hell don’t know what it is now.
“This enemy also has a set of clear objectives,” he said. “The terrorists want to end all American and Western influence in the Middle East. Their goal in that region is to seize control of a country so they have a base from which to launch attacks and to wage war against governments that do not meet their demands. The terrorists believe that by controlling one country, they will be able to target and overthrow other governments in the region, and ultimately to establish a totalitarian empire that encompasses a region from Spain, across North Africa, through the Middle East and South Asia, all the way around to Indonesia.”
Um ... isn’t that what we're trying to do?
Now I know I’ll get flamed for this, but if you change the word “terrorists,” which is vague and ambiguous but carries a big scare in it, to “Bush Administration,” and then change a few other words, it sounds rather familiar, even if it hasn't been articulated so clearly to the American people:
“This administration also has a set of clear objectives,” he said. “The Bush Administration wants to end all Arab and Muslim influence in the Middle East. Their goal in that region is to seize control of a country so they have a base from which to launch democracy and to wage freedom against governments that do not meet their demands. The Bush Administration believes that by controlling one country, they will be able to target and overthrow other governments in the region, and ultimately to establish an empire that encompasses a region from Spain, across North Africa, through the Middle East and South Asia, all the way around to Indonesia.”
Sounds like something right out of the Neocon Handbook for Mouth-Breathers, doesn’t it?
This is why America is really in Iraq, right Mr. Cheney? You can argue that Americans surely aren’t terrorists – we’re far too “good” for that -- but it’s a tired argument. After three-and-a-half years, this horse just won’t run.
Remember the old saw, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”
I’m sure the people of Iraq would argue the point, given a chance.
28 August 2006
I’ve never experienced a hurricane. TeeVee doesn’t count.
I was in Texas, though, when the sirens on the military base where I was stationed started shrieking, warning of an impending tornado touch-down. I’d just arrived the night before, and a group of us newbees had spent the day in briefings that covered all the things we needed to watch out for during our stay.
These included aggressive water moccasins in the local, lazy brown river, rattlesnakes, brown recluse spiders, scorpions, hailstones the size of golf-balls and yes, twisters.
As I ran with my roomies to the Designated Tornado Shelter, as we'd been instructed just hours earlier, I did some serious wondering what in the hell I’d been smoking when I decided to join the U.S. Air Force.
We sat on the floor around the walls of a classroom with windows (go figure) while the sirens howled. The tornado touched down about a mile away, yanked its long black tail back up into the clouds and vanished. Presumably to Oz.
Later, during a six-week training stay in Biloxi, Mississippi, I enjoyed such natural wonders as 90 percent humidity in 90-degree heat, sudden deluges – sunshiny one moment, rain that Noah would have exclaimed over the next – insecticide-proof roaches the size of rats, and fire ants.
I left for the comparatively quiet Pacific Northwest about 24 hours before a hurricane was anticipated to make landfall, right there in Biloxi. I urged the taxi-driver speed to the airport in Gulfport. "Hurry, hurry, hurry!"
I truly hated Mississippi. To a California girl, used to gentle, usually distant thunderstorms in the winters and springs and long, hot, dry summers, the southern part of the U.S. seemed like the Environment from Hell. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would voluntarily live there.
And I’m a little embarrassed to admit that the last thing I wanted to do was 1) be in Biloxi during a hurricane, and 2) be forced to stay there by the Air Force afterward to help with the Post-Hurricane Clean-Up. I had plans, see. I was on my way to marry Mr. Wren. I don’t recall what this particular hurricane’s name was, but fortunately it wasn’t one of the terrible ones.
I’ve never been back to that part of the country. I've consciously avoided it. The roughly six months I spent in Texas and Mississippi were enough to last me a lifetime.
I was living in Tacoma, Washington, when Mt. St. Helens blew her picturesque top. Because of the prevailing winds, we only got a light coating of fine gray ash there. The volcano was too far away to be able to see the awesome plume that rose from the volcano, so I watched it on the 6 o’clock news like the rest of the world.
Over the years, I’ve been fairly close to natural disasters, but I’ve been lucky enough not to have to live through one. Yet.
Today, I hear Codpiece is doing his PR thing in Biloxi, glad-handing carefully screened locals for the cameras and making pronouncements about what a heck of a job his administration has done getting things back in order there in the year since Katrina blew in and drowned the Gulf Coast and its residents.
There he was, sleeves rolled up, saying such inanities as “There will be a momentum, momentum will be gathered. Houses will begat jobs, jobs will begat houses.”
He also said (apparently in an effort to “demonstrate empathy,” as opposed to genuinely feeling it), “It’s hard to describe the devastation down here. It was massive in its destruction, and it spared nobody. United States Senator Trent Lott had a fantastic house overlooking the bay. I know because I sat in it with he and his wife. And now it’s completely obliterated. There’s nothing.”
Wow. Now that's empathy. Does this man even live on the same planet as the rest of us?
Doubtless Senator Lott and his pragmatic wife decided to take their insurance money and build a new fantastic house in some equally beautiful place much, much further inland. Somehow, I don’t think they’re sipping mint juleps from a FEMA trailer today.
It’s hard work to spin something as truly tragic and awful as the aftermath of Katrina, the storm that killed 1,500 people, injured thousands more and left tens of thousands bereft and homeless. The vast majority of survivors haven’t returned. There’s not much left to return to, even a year later.
But Codpiece gave it his good-ol’-boy, brush-cuttin’ best: “For a fellow who was here and now a year later comes back, things are changing.”
“I feel the quiet sense of determination that’s going to shape the future of Mississippi,” he said.
Uh-huh. Says the New York Times story I’m quoting from: “In an event with echoes of his prime-time speech in Jackson Square here last September, Mr. Bush spoke in a working-class neighborhood in Biloxi against a backdrop of neatly reconstructed homes. But just a few feet away, outside the scene captured by the camera, stood gutted houses with wires dangling from ceilings. A tattered piece of crime-scene tape hung from a tree in the field where Mr. Bush spoke. A toilet sat on its side in the grass.”
As I write this, forecasters are saying Tropical Storm Ernesto may regain hurricane strength in the warm waters off Cuba and come ashore in south Florida as early as tomorrow night.
Or maybe it won’t. My own thoughts and prayers are going out tonight for the people who live there, that perhaps they'll be spared from devastation this hurrican season.
But if further damage is done there, and more people are injured or lose their lives, what seems quite sure is that they won’t be able to look to this particular administration for help either during the storm or in its aftermath.
Because all the Bush Administration can begat is stupidity, which begats incompetence, which begats stupidity.
Those of us on the left side of the blogosphere often refer to the bubble Codpiece addresses the world from. It's hard not to bring it up, since he acts and appears so totally insulated from and ignorant of reality.
And yet, while it's hard to admit, most of us also live in a sort of bubble, one that keeps us from feeling any more than we absolutely have to.
In a post about cell phones and Japanese community on his new blog, International Political Will, my friend Wil Morat says:
"It has been said that Americans feel they are in a bubble in their beloved cars, seeing only the road and feeling free to sing or talk to themselves, eat, put on make-up or even pick their nose. Many people will curse at other drivers that they normally wouldn’t dare make eye contact with if not for the two tons of steel between them.
"More frequently, the bubble Americans put themselves in on the road follows them outside of their vehicle, and they continue conversations over the phone no matter where they are, oblivious to the world around them. In America, the feeling of community is shrinking, as the quest for individual gratification has superseded the social responsibility and interaction that is inherent in living in a country with nearly 300 million other people, much less the 6 billion in the world."
Wil's is a sane, eloquent and reasoned voice amid the hubbub. He recently moved to Japan, where he's working as a freelance writer, and his observations about his new, adopted culture and people are fresh and full of insight. A student of international politics and a fine journalist, he's well worth a few minutes of your time. Go read.
22 August 2006
I guess the question still remains, same as yesterday, last week, last month, and last year. In fact, for three and a half years now, thoughtful Americans who love their country deeply have been asking “Why?”
Why is America fighting a war in Iraq?
What, exactly, is our mission there?
As Codpiece joked with reporters yesterday about their temporary digs across the street from the White House, four more American soldiers died in Iraq. Ten more Iraqi civilians died, too. On Sunday, 20 Iraqi civilians died.
Well, we’re not there because Saddam Hussein had anything to do with Sept. 11.
Codpiece said so during the press conference. That should clear things up nicely for all those mouth-breathing Americans who still think the Iraqi president ordered the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. And I’m sure that our soldiers serving in the middle of the hornets’ nest – the 90 percent who’ve been brainwashed into believing that Saddam was the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks – are also scratching their heads, befuddled.
From the press conference transcripts:
Q: What did Iraq have to do with that?
Bush: What did Iraq have to do with what?
Q: The attacks upon the World Trade Center.
Bush: Nothing. Except for it's part of -- and nobody's ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack (except they did suggest it, many times) Iraq was a -- Iraq -- the lesson of September the 11th is: Take threats before they fully materialize, Ken.
Nobody's ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq. (sigh) I have suggested, however, that resentment and the lack of hope create the breeding grounds for terrorists who are willing to use suiciders to kill, to achieve an objective. I have made that case.
And one way to defeat that -- you know, defeat resentment -- is with hope. And the best way to do hope is through a form of government.
Now I said, going into Iraq, we've got to take these threats seriously before they fully materialize. I saw a threat.
I fully believe it was the right decision to remove Saddam Hussein, and I fully believe the world is better off without him. Now the question is: How do we succeed in Iraq?
And you don't succeed by leaving before the mission is complete, like some in this political process are suggesting.
Ahhh. I think I've got it now. The Iraqi people were resentful of Saddam’s viciousness and needed some hope. So to give them hope we went in and bombed the hell out of them, occupied their country, made a horrific hash out of the post-war period, and set ourselves, a bunch of corporations and a handful of Iraqi opportunists up to make a shitload of cash out the chaos. We made ourselves a nice, fortified Green Zone so Burger King could serve up freedom fries and Whoppers. We started building huge military installations while those hopeful Iraqi people, freed from the threat of Saddam once and for all, suddenly found themselves being oppressed and slaughtered by the violent, narrow-minded Dark-Ages mullahs.
After all, no matter how we try to gussy it up, the puppet government in Iraq hasn’t got the power to enforce even the simplest of secular laws.
Saddam was an asshole, but he was a secular asshole. Under Saddam, the various religions and sects might not have liked each other much, but kids went to school, women were allowed to get an education -- including college -- and they weren’t required to cover themselves from head to toe just in case they inadvertently made some horny goat of a man lust in his heart. Iraq was the most progressive, educated Muslim country in the Middle East.
No, it wasn’t perfect. Western sanctions had reduced the amount of food an average Iraqi could get, the water wasn’t always sparkling clean, and electricity wasn’t on 24-7.
But as long as you could stay on Saddam’s good side, you did OK.
Recently, a National Public Radio reporter in Baghdad informed listeners that religious extremists murdered a shepherd because, well, he wouldn’t diaper his goats to hide their naughty bits. And a grocer was killed because the stalks of celery in his market were too close to the tomatoes, lewdly suggesting – the horror – erect male genitalia.
Iraq is now in midst of civil war. They’re killing each other because of immodest goats and indecent vegetables. Simplistic? Yes. True? Yes.
But back to the point of this meandering post – why are we still hunkered down in Iraq, sending our kids out to be blown up by roadside bombs?
Once again: Exactly what is our mission there, Mr. President?
We got Saddam. He didn’t have any WMDs, but what the hell, he wanted them. Fine. Now we’re sitting in the middle of the shitpile we made as the country explodes around us, for all the world like stupid kids who started a huge grass fire while playing with matches.
Iran is sitting by, too, waiting for the right moment to step in and take the jewel – the second largest oil-producing country in the world – it’s always wanted.
So, are we still sitting there watching the grass fire blow up into a conflagration so Iran can’t steal the oil we stole for ourselves? Because we all know, down deep where it counts, that this war was about oil.
If so, we deserve to burn.
If bringing hope, freedom and democracy to the people of Iraq was the reason, the mission, the point of all the lost lives on both sides, we’ve failed miserably. Instead, we’ve brought hell on earth down upon the Iraqi people. They have no hope at all now, nothing but the grim promise of generations of senseless death, squalor, hopelessness and terrible oppression ahead.
Someone said, a long time ago, that you can’t force democracy at the point of a gun. What a damned shame Codpiece never learned that one – and, if this last press conference was any indication, he still hasn’t.
17 August 2006
16 August 2006
Call me a cynic, but could there be any good reason for the City of New York to release 1,600 more Sept. 11 emergency calls to the public at this time? Complete with a gut-wrenching MP3?
Just weeks prior to the fifth anniversary of that national tragedy?
Could it be because it’s just a week after a big media brouhaha (now predictably absent the headlines) about an alleged British Muslim terrorist plot to blow up a bunch of airliners over the Atlantic with liquid explosives hidden in toothpaste tubes and shampoo bottles?
Which was released to the public just a week after Joe Lieberman lost his primary race to Ned Lamont in Connecticut, indicating a deep, abiding disgust with Vichy Democrats and in-bed-with-Bush Republicans?
And just days after a cease-fire agreement went into effect between Israel and Hizbullah, ending the wicked war on unarmed civilians, mainly in Lebanon. Israel and the U.S. say the cease-fire agreement means they won the conflict. Of course, so does Hizbullah. The world knows who really won.
OK. I’m sure, now.
This is terrorism perpetrated by our own government on us, the American people.
It’s terrorism in the form of propaganda, crafted to make us very, very afraid. We’ve already shown we’re so easily frightened that we’ll vote with our wide, yellow back-stripes showing. We’ll go to the polls using our reptile brains, instead of our reasoning brains.
Wake up, America. Please.
14 August 2006
In the previous post, I attributed the words “Civil war this, civil war that” to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Not sure now where I saw it quoted, but I seem to have misread.
Maybe because it sounded like such a natural Rumsfeldism (“Stuff happens.”).
But I’m big enough to admit it: I was wrong, wrong, wrong. It wasn’t Rummy who uttered those pearls of offhanded disdain.
It was President George W. Bush.
Gosh. My bad.
Upon being reminded that an average of 100 civilians a day had been killed in Iraq in July, Bush said on Aug. 7 during a press conference:
“My attitude is that a young democracy has been born quite quickly. And I think the Iraqi government has shown remarkable progress on the political front. And that is that they developed a modern constitution that was ratified by the people and then 12 million people voted for a government.
“Which gives me confidence about the future in Iraq, by the way. You know, I hear people say, Well, civil war this, civil war that. The Iraqi people decided against civil war when they went to the ballot box. And a unity government is working to respond to the will of the people. And, frankly, it’s quite a remarkable achievement on the political front.
“And the security front is where there has been troubles.”
Um, no shit, Sherlock.
I was, frankly, horrified and infuriated to think that one of the President’s lackeys had said such a childish and terrible thing. “Civil war this, civil war that.”
But it was the Bully in Chief himself who said it.
Now I’m more than horrified and infuriated. I’m ... speechless.
*Thanks to Think Progress for the full quote.
08 August 2006
“Civil war this, civil war that.”
--Sec. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
--Aug. 7, 2006
“It promises to be a long summer. We're almost at the mid-way point, but it feels like the days are just crawling by. It's a combination of the heat, the flies, the hours upon hours of no electricity and the corpses which keep appearing everywhere.
"The day before yesterday was catastrophic. The day began with news of the killings in Jihad Quarter. According to people who live there, black-clad militiamen drove in mid-morning and opened fire on people in the streets and even in houses. They began pulling people off the street and checking their ID cards to see if they had Sunni names or Shia names and then the Sunnis were driven away and killed. Some were executed right there in the area. The media is playing it down and claiming 37 dead but the people in the area say the number is nearer 60.
"The horrific thing about the killings is that the area had been cut off for nearly two weeks by Ministry of Interior security forces and Americans. Last week, a car bomb was set off in front of a 'Sunni' mosque people in the area visit. The night before the massacre, a car bomb exploded in front of a Shia husseiniya in the same area. The next day was full of screaming and shooting and death for the people in the area. No one is quite sure why the Americans and the Ministry of Interior didn't respond immediately. They just sat by, on the outskirts of the area, and let the massacre happen.
"At nearly 2 pm, we received some terrible news. We lost a good friend in the killings. T. was a 26-year-old civil engineer who worked with a group of friends in a consultancy bureau in Jadriya. The last time I saw him was a week ago. He had stopped by the house to tell us his sister was engaged and he'd brought along with him pictures of latest project he was working on- a half-collapsed school building outside of Baghdad.”
July 11, 2006
“Civil war this, civil war that.”
--Sec. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
--Aug. 7, 2006
I’ve been “tagged” by A Big Fat Slob to reveal five weird things about me, then “tag” five other poor souls for the same humiliation.
Ahem, sir. There is nothing weird about me. I’m about as white bread as you can get without gagging, though I am rather good with a thin layer of cream cheese and some cucumbers.
However, in the interest of genial blogger relations everywhere, I’ve decided to think some weird things up about myself.
1. I am a prodigious, even voracious writer. I have written no less than 75 Great American Novels over the last decade. The weird thing? Not one of them has an actual ending. Many have barely progressed past the first two or three chapters.
While I’ve had scads of stories published by local newspapers (I am a journalist, after all), I’ve never had the guts to actually send queries to publishers regarding my works of fiction. It’s not that I think my writing is bad, exactly, though I know a certain percentage (OK, a certain large percentage) of my attempts would never make it past the editor’s recycle bin.
Actually, I’d like to think that I’ve done some mighty fine writing in a few of them.
The trouble is, none are finished, and frankly, I have no idea how to finish. I love reading books because I love nothing more than a good story – and a good story has a beginning, a middle and an ending. Whether the ending is good or bad, happy or sad, it does bring things to a satisfying close. But I find situations in life rarely work that way, except for the “She was born, she lived, and she died” part.
Hence, my problem. I get bogged down in all the details. And after a certain point, I lose the gist of the point, if you know what I mean.
This is not the hallmark of a great writer. Or it could be that I'm simply a sloppy, unorganized thinker. What’s weird is that I keep doing it, hoping to improve. I’m on Novel No. 76 now.
2. I once sat a NORAD radar console and, over the course of roughly six hours, directed 26 live interceptor aircraft against an entire End of the World As We Know It attack on the left coast of the United States by the Soviet Enemy, from scramble to return to base.
Fortunately for all of us, it was a big Air Force evaluation exercise, not the real thing.
Nevertheless, all 26 interceptors – F4 Phantoms and F16s -- were absolutely real, with real figher pilots flying them, and real pilots flying the “targets” out over the Pacific Ocean and within various exercise areas over land (so as not to actually scare the bejesus out of the civilian population of the PNW, you know?).
I must say that we did rather well. Of course, “rather well” in terms of Saving The World isn’t quite good enough, but for exercise purposes, we rocked. I rocked. I was calm, cool, and collected through the whole damned thing.
When the last interceptor had returned to base safely, and I was released from my position in the big, dark room for a short break, I laid my radio headset aside, made my way to the only Ladies room in the whole three-story building and puked my guts up.
What’s weird about that? I was one of just three women participating in the entire shebang, and after I’d rinsed my mouth out, neatened my hair and reapplied my lipstick, I rejoined my male counterparts for the debriefing, still cool as ice. I never broke a sweat.
And, I enjoyed every single friggin’ minute of it. It was one of the most intense experiences of my entire life to date, and even though it took place many, many years ago, I remember it like it was yesterday.
3. Each evening after work, when I sit down at my desk to write the latest GAN attempt or post to Blue Wren, I am closely observed by two beta fish in separate bowls, a 10-inch live rubber boa and a Chinese water dragon.
The betas, which once had clever names but I forgot them, are lovely, lively little fellows who seem to be genuinely interested in what I’m doing. They swim over as close as they can get, and when I put my finger to the glass, they flare out their gill covers like lions and raise their luxurious dorsal fins. This gives me great, if inexplicable, satisfaction.
Saying the rubber boa has any real awareness of my existence might be an exaggeration. Usually he stays buried beneath the sandy substrate at the bottom of the terrarium, though he does come out sometimes for a drink of water or to climb around the inside of the screened cover at the top for a while. The fledgling, who found him during a hike last summer, feeds him tiny pink baby mice because I just can’t do it.
The Chinese water dragon is another matter. This guy (I’m not sure which gender either of the reptilian beasties is, as they haven’t told me, so I’m only guessing here) is deeply fascinated with what I’m doing. He watches my every move. When I look up from the screen, there he is, giving me his red-eyed, unblinking stare. He was also a gift from the fledgling, this time for Mother’s Day. He’s about a foot long, is the most gorgeous aqua color and as he grows, looks increasingly like the Creature from the Black Lagoon, except in Technicolor. He has a big tub of water, which he enjoys diving into now and then. When he comes out, he waves at me.
4. I love gray, rainy, windy, stormy, drizzly, foggy cold weather.
I mean, I really love it. As far as I’m concerned, the colors of the world are that much more vibrant against a background of gray. I love the sound rain makes when it falls, whether it’s on the roof, or on the leaves of the trees, or as it patters on a parking lot. I love the smell of rain, the feel of rain, the very idea of rain. Thunder and lightning don’t scare me – the more and the louder, the better. When the sky lights up with great, jagged bursts of eldritch electrical energy, it gives me a thrill, and the crack-boom-rumble of thunder just makes me grin.
I like to dress in warm clothes, I like to get cold because then I can come inside and warm up. I particularly like to back up to a nice, toasty wood fire in the woodstove. One of my favorite things in the winter is to get into bed between sheet so chilly they make you hiss, then cozy up to Mr. Wren (who radiates the most delicious heat) and snuggle beneath the feather comforter.
The truly weird part? I live in boring, sunny California.
5. Because like the lovable and loquacious Slob, I am having a hard time coming up with anything exceptionally weird about myself, I just asked the fledgling.
“Hmmm,” she said, gazing at me. “You’re not a very weird person, Mom.” She thought a little more about it. “Nope, I can’t think of anything about you or that you do that’s weird.”
We both sighed.
And then she said, with a big grin, “That's it! The weird thing about you is that you’re not weird! These days, just about everyone has some weird personal quirk, but not you. You’re not weird, and that’s weird!”
So there. I love that child. I think.
By Neddie Jingo
I Speak Dog
Black Sky Theory
When I lived in Northern Germany in the late 1980s, I visited the Bergen-Belsen prisoner-of-war and concentration camp.
It was a drive of perhaps two hours from where I lived. And a pleasant one, too. The two-lane network of roads ran through open dairy and farmland – nothing so vast as you see here – but pretty. Well-tended. There were stands of forestland, and many small towns, each one very old and very, very neat.
One of the great mysteries of the 20th Century, at least to the countries of the Allied Forces who finally ended World War II was the fact that the general populace of Nazi Germany didn’t rise up against the terrible things Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party did in their names.
I talked to a lot of average Germans in my six years there. Nearly all of them that I worked with or knew socially were my own age or perhaps one generation removed – they’d either not been born during the Nazi regime or they’d been children. The older people – the ones who had been young and middle-aged adults during that time -- tended to be more aloof. Friendly, for the most part, but not terribly interested in engaging in conversation about the national shame.
Those who did talk with me about it assured me that they had not been members of the Nazi party. Instead, they were its victims.
One of the old jokes among the American personnel in Germany after the war was that you couldn’t find a Nazi there.
The younger people talked about it, once you got to know them. They didn’t understand their parents’ and grandparents’ actions, either, but they were tired of being made to be ashamed. They agreed that what their people, as a nation, had done was very, very bad, but they’d had no part in that. If the same situation were to occur again, they were sure they would never allow it.
Bergen and Belsen are two small towns separated by a kilometer or two in an area called the Lueneberger Heide, a large tract of heather-covered moor and forest land. All around it is farmland, with small patches of broadleaf forest to break things up. In the springtime, the wild heather blooms, covering the moor in great swaths of glorious, fragrant pink.
In between the two towns – each very quiet and very neat – is the site of the prison and concentration camp.
There was a small, white sign, easily missed, on the road to tell you where to turn to get there. That road ended in a small parking lot. A building under partial construction stood to one side – it would become a museum, and even then, you could go into the completed part and see exhibits of photos, each with an explanatory panel in German. I don’t recall seeing panels in English, but then my memory of that small building was quickly overwhelmed by what came after.
There are no crowds at Bergen-Belsen. Tucked into woodland, it’s very quiet. The day I visited, there were perhaps four other cars in the lot.
To enter the site where the camp had been, you passed through a low arch in a 30-foot-high wall that was completely covered in dark green ivy. Or perhaps it was laurel, I don’t know now. Just beyond it was what appeared at first glance to be quiet parkland, with a neat footpath running straight ahead. Trees bordered it, tall, unassuming.
I remember being a little surprised. My own understanding of the German camps didn’t jive with lush, green grass and parkland. I’d expected to see the low, long, pale-colored clapboard buildings in which the horribly emaciated inmates had been forced to live and die, stacked one on top of the other in hard, dark, bunk-like cots.
None of that existed here any longer.
Soon, though, I understood. Instead of to buildings, the footpath led to a vast open space, bordered by trees. In it were rows and rows of dreadfully neat, grass-covered mounds, each one faced with a low, gray cement headstone. On each one the number of bodies contained inside the mound was marked in bas-relief.
Each mound was about 20 feet wide and perhaps 50 long. Some were a little larger, some smaller.
At the far end of this vast place of unquiet death was a mourning wall and an obelisk. Small bouquets of flowers had been placed along the wall in spots. Some were fresh. Most were wilted, their bright colors fading.
There were no gas chambers at Bergen-Belsen. In the beginning, when the people died their bodies were burned in the crematorium, but later when the camp swelled to more than 15,000, the crematorium couldn’t keep up. Bodies were thrown into deep, open mass graves. They weren’t covered until the pit was full. As the war wound down to its end, the Allies pressing ever deeper into the countryside, the camp was flooded with prisoners from the other camps to the south in a vain attempt to keep them from being found.
Bergen-Belsen was overwhelmed with 60,000 people. Nearly all of them were in various stages of starvation. Nearly all were desperately ill with dysentery and other wasting diseases. There wasn’t enough food to feed them all, even badly, and each day dawned to more and more dead.
The German camp administrators couldn’t keep up with the bodies. The pits couldn’t be dug fast enough. Corpses were stacked aside for eventual burial and left to lie in the open.
The stench rising from this place, even before the war drew to an end, must have been overpowering.
And yet, the townspeople of Bergen and Belsen, those two quite nearby, neat little burgs, claimed they’d never known what was going on in the camp. They weren’t aware of the horror in their midst.
They were ... uninformed. Innocent. It wasn’t their responsibility.
The atrocities visited upon the Jewish people, the Russians, the gypsies, homosexuals, the mentally or physical disabled and many others by the Nazis during World War II caused the rest of the world to recoil in horror.
And in the years that followed, the men and women who’d participated in that shameful atrocity were condemned as war criminals, hunted down and tried.
The Jews, who’d endured the deaths of millions of their own at the hands of the brutal Nazi overlords said, “Never again.”
I was born 11 years after World War II ended. Like the rest of my generation, I grew up being told that Americans and our allies were heroes, and that the Nazis were evil monsters. I grew up hearing, internalizing, the words “Never Again.”
It was too bad that my German counterparts had to live with the shame of what their people had done before they were born. But I wasn’t sorry for them. To keep something like Bergen-Belsen from being repeated, the dark national shame they endured was a quiet, but firm, requirement.
And yet as I write this, my own country of heroes has turned Iraq into an abattoir of death. Led by liars, we have visited unspeakable horror and destruction upon the Iraqi people.
To make it easier to do, we call them insurgents, terrorists, ragheads, sand monkeys and Hadjis.
As of today, 39,000 to 44,000 Iraqi civilians – men, women and children -- have been killed in their own homes, their neighborhoods, their markets, their places of worship and their businesses, victims of American military intervention. Thousands upon thousands more have been injured and maimed for life.
We’ve also sent our own children and spouses, brothers and sisters to their violent deaths. As of today, we’ve brought two thousand five hundred and ninety-one American soldiers home in coffins. Thousands have been wounded and maimed.
America’s is a collective, insane bloodlust, a national shame.
And we’re not done. For the last month, Hizbollah, a terrorist organization in Lebanon – but also a part of that country’s democratically elected government – and Israel have been at war, firing rockets at one another and fighting a limited ground war as well. Israel, supplied with American aircraft and materiel, is also fighting an air war, sending jets with bombs and missiles to blow up suspected Hizbollah hiding places.
We’re rushing more armaments to them right now.
So far, many Israeli civilians and hundreds of Lebanese civilians have died violently in the conflict, which shows no sign of abating.
Indeed, since it began my own country, my America, has been an enthusiastic cheerleader for Israel as she bombs Beirut and other parts of Lebanon to smoking rubble. My American President, George W. Bush, refers to Hizbollah as “the Hizbos.”
America, my country, feels that this horror, this atrocity, this mass murder at a distance, is necessary for a “new Middle East.”
Whatever that is.
America holds prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba without trial or hope of release. We continue to enable and perpetuate a bloodbath in Iraq and stand by as that country collapses into a civil war we perpetuated. We shrug and turn our backs on poor, war-ravaged Afghanistan and we shake our heads, not very sadly, over the sad fact that hundreds of civilians dying horrific, violent deaths in Lebanon and Israel.
After all, there’s really nothing we can do about it. After all, most of the people who are dying are ragheads and Hadjis. They’re not really people.
The Nazis had a universal word for them. “Untermenschen.” Subhuman.
Really, we’re not responsible. We’re uninformed.
We go to work, we shop and play,we talk with our friends, we make love and we live our daily lives as if we have no personal accountability for what the leaders of our country are doing in our names. Never mind that like the good people of those little towns in Northern Germany, Bergen and Belsen, we have to hold our noses and breathe through our mouths to avoid smelling the stench.
When this latest holocaust finally ends and becomes an American national shame, I wonder if we’ll find any Bush supporters anywhere. Or whether, in 21st Century post-war America, we and our children, and their children’s children will all claim to be Bush victims.
02 August 2006
Blue Wren’s been extra blue lately, so that’s why no new posts for a while.
Very very busy at work, and on top of it, the summer heat, which just sucks away my energy and makes me lethargic and dull.
I’ve always been this way. Summer is my bad season.
But autumn is coming, and with it, fresh energy. It doesn’t actually arrive here until about the third week in October, and from the floppy, oppressed vantage point of the first week in August, those nippy, pumpkin-and-frost nights, the sweet, sharp, astringent smell of evergreen and wood smoke in the air, sound like forever away.
Summer days are 27 hours long. Each hour lasts 90 minutes. Each minute takes 120 seconds to pass. Each second ... well.
That, of, course, is only during the work day. Once I’m home at night, time flip-flops and it all moves much, much faster. The hours from when I pull into the carport until I go to bed last about 56 minutes, tops.