Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan’


Suicides Claiming More American Troop Casualties than Combat in Afghanistan


Unsavory facts about the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars that don’t get the biggest press tend to make the entire military campaign more real, and thus more difficult to talk about in black and white terms of good vs. evil or us vs. them.

And this could be one of the more disturbing facts to come to light recently:

For the second year in a row, the U.S. military has lost more troops to suicide than it has to combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We’re literally killing ourselves over this conflict.

We’ve been in combat in the Middle East for over nine years. Longer than we were involved in World War II. Longer than Vietnam. Longer than the Civil War. And per the Obama Administration’s current plan, we will still have troops in Afghanistan until 2014. That’s nearly 13 years. Unreal.

And these numbers don’t even tell the whole story either:

Figures reported by each of the services last week, for instance, include suicides by members of the Guard and Reserve who were on active duty at the time. The Army and the Navy also add up statistics for certain reservists who kill themselves when they are not on active duty.

But the Air Force and Marine Corps do not include any non-mobilized reservists in their posted numbers. What’s more, none of the services count suicides that occur among a class of reservists known as the Individual Ready Reserve, the more than 123,000 people who are not assigned to particular units.

I’m beyond done with these wars. I’m tired of our money going over to rebuild nations while our own schools and streets lose funding and continue to worsen. I’m sick of all the lives being lost and the countless more ruined by this seemingly endless debacle. The sooner we can come home, the better.

But regardless of when our troops get back, we must focus much more of our attention on the diagnosis and treatment of traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorders. We’re sending these men and women – boys and girls – overseas to kill or be killed. To see their friends blown up in front of their eyes. To be separated from their families for years over multiple tours. It takes its toll.

The bigger tragedy, though, is how clueless we still are about mental health.  We still think of depression as a weakness that you just need to suck up and get over it. That it’s all just “in your head,” as if it’s a bad mood or being bummed out. Same with TBIs: that because we don’t see any outward injuries, there must not be lasting effects inside the brain.

I’m not sure we have all the answers or cures for these ailments, but certainly we should be using all of the known ones to treat our troops, making sure that they know they have these resources available to them with no stigma or shame attached. It’s the least we can do.

We are still in the desert.


Our Current Political Discourse: Time for Critical Thinking, Not Selective Listening


If we consider the endless debating on the 24-hour-news TV channels, in the blogosphere, and on talk radio as healthy political discourse, we’re lacking the “healthy” and “discourse” parts of it.

Instead of focusing on facts and figures to influence a “this is the best course of action” decision, all of our time “discussing” is really just making sure that every single person’s view on things – regardless of how informed it may be – gets its validation in the world.

I suppose the idea is that offering different viewpoints allows the reader/viewer/lemming to determine on their own which one is right and which one is wrong.  Or, more likely on the complex issues not as cut-and-dried as something like the Birther insanity, that each side would offer something valuable to the discussion (and by that I mean factual knowledge, not just personal belief) that would help the reader/viewer/lemming to come to their own conclusions.  Instead, though, people tend to just latch onto whichever person already coincides with their own beliefs (not facts or conclusions) and just accepts everything that person says as truth.  Our news has become simply about offering an outlet to validate everyone, not to empower them to come to their own conclusions.

So what ends up happening? People immediately become defensive when debate occurs because it’s not a discussion of independent facts and points of view; it’s become a personal attack on beliefs.  And, of course, people just reiterating the same talking points over and over.  It’s like we’re all just in one camp or another, following the leader.  That’s not informed debate.  That’s not engaging, educational discourse.  That’s not examining complex issues. It’s just finding someone that is a supposed authority to make you feel like, “Yup! I knew it: I’m right!  See, he said so, too, so that means whatever I think it’s the truth!”

The reality is that everyone lives life in a gray area, even if they claim to – or want to – live in an ideal world where there are clearly defined rights and wrongs. Recently in a Facebook thread, I had a discussion with two Republicans who can’t stand Obama and it came down to this: no matter what Obama does, they won’t agree with him. For example: despite the fact that Obama increased the military campaign in Afghanistan — which is something that one supported — she marginalized it by saying that Obama has merely “supported” the effort there.  I countered that factually that was inaccurate — Obama drastically increased the troop levels in Afghanistan — but, it didn’t change her opinion that he was a “pansy.”  Since she already had established that as her belief of Obama, everything had to be spun to fit that image rather than amending her belief; in this case, marginalizing Obama’s surge in Afghanistan as simply “supporting” what had already been started by his predecessor.

The other commenter in the discussion summed it all up rather succinctly:

“He is slithery and two faced, that is the bottom line.we will never agree on what he has done or not, but he is a fake for sure. [sic]”

Notice that phrasing — implying that even the facts are debatable and up for personal interpretation.  We can certainly disagree on the value of his actions, but to not even be able to see eye-to-eye on what actions he’s done… I mean, that’s outside the boundaries of rational thought. Unfortunately, I feel like that’s where much of our discourse exists today.

We’re at a point where people stick to their preconceived notions in the face of facts that may run contrary, seeking out and listening to others to reaffirm and support those notions rather than absorbing the facts and using those to influence our opinions.  Coming to conclusions based on the evidence seems to be an outdated concept having lost favor to everyone needing validation that their own view of the world is the right one and everyone else is wrong.

Except for those chosen political pundits that share those same beliefs of course.

I mean: what’s so good about all sharing the same feelings on politics as Glenn Beck?  So you can have the exact same political opinions as every other Fox News Channel viewer?  Or every other talk radio listener?  Every other self-proclaimed Republican?

We should all be as skeptical of opinion writers/pundits/hosts as we are of the public figures they themselves are criticizing.  We should all also accept that:

  1. our initial opinions might be wrong;

  2. accept that we won’t share the exact same opinions that we’re “supposed to” have given our political affiliations; and

  3. we will not know what’s “right” and what’s “wrong” on every single issue or policy or maneuver or bill that comes down the pike and is discussed exhaustively in the public eye.

There’s not nearly as much security in accepting those three realities — it’s easier to sleep at night knowing that we’re right and they’re wrong.  The biggest impediment to acceptance is that the pride that has been established already in the polarizing discourse has meant that no one can handle the ego blast that one would endure at this point if a die-hard Republican admitted that – gasp! – Obama did something they agreed with for once and didn’t spin it to still retain their comforting disdain for him.

To universally dismiss and disagree with everything that someone does simply because they did it is the exact same fallacy as universally celebrating and agreeing with everything that person does simply because they did it. It’s the flip side of the same misguided coin.  We need to accept the gray area.  We need to accept that Republicans will sometimes favor (insert traditional Democrat stance here) and Democrats will sometimes favor (insert traditional Republican stance here).  This shouldn’t be surprising nor unforgivable.

It should be encouraged that we think for ourselves and have diverse stances on things rather than stick to partisan talking points.  It’s time to validate critical thinking, not selective listening.


Why We Shouldn’t Stop Rev. Jones’ Quran Burning Party


Rising from the still-smoldering debate over the legitimacy of the Park51 community center is the Rev. Terry Jones’ proposed “Burn A Quran Day,” scheduled for this Saturday, September 11th.  Just like the name implies, from six to nine in the evening, people will gather to set copies of the Islamic holy text ablaze to show their opposition to the faith held by the radicals who attacked New York City nine years ago.

Jones’ plans have been met with considerable opposition of their own by just about everyone in the State Department and even from the military — General Petraeus warned that this very act could harm our efforts to control Afghanistan, even endangering our troops.

This hasn’t deterred Jones and his Dove World Outreach Center church.

Jones, who has about 50 followers, gained some local notoriety last year when he posted signs in front of his small church declaring “Islam is of the Devil.” But his Quran-burning scheme attracted wider attention… The Quran, according to Jones, is “evil” because it espouses something other than biblical truth and incites radical, violent behavior among Muslims.

Religious freedom sure is an odd thing, isn’t it?  People want it when it suits them, but want ways around it when it doesn’t.  It’s part of the freedom’s brilliance and why it’s so vital to our Constitution.  Just like the Muslims have the right to build their mosque near Ground Zero, Jones and his own crew radicals have the right to burn some books.  Freedom of expression, of speech, of religion, however you want to slice it: they have the right to do this.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it an effective, worthwhile use of time.  Combating extremism with more extremism isn’t going to work.  Not to get all squishy, but you can’t beat hate with more hate.  You can’t beat ignorance with more ignorance.  You beat brutality with civility.  You overcome oppression with freedom.  You trump prejudice with acceptance.

What people don’t want to realize is that conflating all Muslims into radical terrorists is the same fallacy as Muslims condemning all Americans as infidels.  So, by blaming the entire religion of Islam for the terror attacks, Rev. Jones and his followers are responding to the mentality with which they disagree by adopting that exact mentality themselves. There’s very little in the way of logic going on here — it’s simply an “I’m right, they’re wrong” line of thinking.  No rationality required.

Another paradox is that these 50-odd people and their inflammatory plans for Saturday really could’ve just come and gone without much notice from anyone, except the media exploded this thing to the point where all levels of government voiced their opinions, it’s all over the news, all over the blogosphere.  It’s everywhere.  We could’ve all ignored Jones and his followers’ sad, unfortunate response to tragedy and they would’ve faded away without much of a whimper — no television stories for people abroad to see and misinterpret.

Although, that’s never going to happen — nor should it necessarily.  It is a news story, after all.  But does it require the amount of national exposure that it’s receiving?

People wonder why others hate Americans and then when snippets of news of Americans burning Qurans flood the airwaves, it’s not hard to see why they might be too fond of us.  Because just like how we only catch glimpses and read certain stories about what kind of people they are in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, and Palestine, you have to figure that people in those countries only catch glimpses and read certain stories about us, too.  And who knows what is being passed off to them as representative of Americans as a whole. Odds are that if there’s video footage of a bunch of Floridians burning Qurans gleefully, claiming that the entire faith is of the devil (remind you much of Ahmadinejad calling America the “Great Satan” at all?), that will make it over to those Islamic nations with which we’re firmly entrenched overseas.

While we can’t stop the Dove World Outreach Center from their Quran-burning plans, we can do our part to embrace our diversity and focus on remaining rational in the face of these highly emotional times.  Let them burn their books.  Because when has that ever changed people’s minds?  The beliefs aren’t in the books; they’re in people’s minds and hearts. They won’t accomplish anything good with their pointless, crude event, so why give them a soapbox any bigger than they already have?  Our efforts are best served doing something else, something productive, something positive.

If we continue to do more and more things that promote tolerance, acceptance, rationality, and – ultimately – positivity, we can outshine any blaze by the loud, radical outliers.

Image courtesy of Sydney Lea Steele — All Rights Reserved.  And no, it has nothing to do with this post other than it makes me happy.  And we need more of that in the world, right now especially.


Trying to Make Sense of the Afghanistan Quagmire


I just finished reading Jon Krakauer’s Where Men Win Glory, the story of Pat Tillman’s odyssey from New Almaden, California to his glory days playing in the NFL to his tragic death by friendly fire as an Army Ranger fighting in Afghanistan.

It’s phenomenal.

I can’t convey all of the emotions that I feel after having read the book.  I thought that I would be angrier, actually, given the lengths at which the Bush Administration covered-up the fratricide – lying to not only the country but to Tillman’s mother, father, brother, and wife – in order to use Tillman’s devastating demise to prop up support for the unpopular war.

But, I wasn’t.

Perhaps I’m too far removed from Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld now to feel more disgust at their actions than I already do.  Instead this narrative simply added more evidence to those feelings of shame that we called that man “President” for eight years.  It just wasn’t shocking to read about multiple levels of complete disregard for rules and regulations that not only led to the propaganda in the aftermath, but also that led to Tillman’s accidental death at the hands of his own comrades.  Perhaps that’s shocking in and of itself.

Mostly I just felt heartbroken.  Like with all good stories, you hate to see them end.  You’re inclined to rush to the finale to find out how everything works out and then you’re sad to have to say goodbye.  This was no different.  Only there’s no happy ending here.  And it’s not just a tale; this really happened.  Corporal Patrick Tillman is really gone.

There were times when I thought I would truly connect with Tillman had we had the chance to meet in real life.  And other times when I felt he’d be the kind of guy that I’d be sure to avoid had we crossed paths.  But, I loved his complexity, his depth, and his unabashed sense of self.  And even though Krakauer made sure to remind us frequently that Tillman was a large man, much more muscular than his fellow soldiers, his personality and his emotional range always made me picture someone more average.

I don’t mean that to diminish his stature; only that, Tillman’s physical prowess wasn’t what made him a hero.  No doubt he was an athletic specimen of the highest caliber.  But he was more than that.  The core of his person felt true and authentic, which I found to be the true source of his heroism.

While Tillman’s story was magnetic, I was thoroughly engrossed in Krakauer’s back story on the Afghanistan quagmire that started in the late-1970s when the Soviets were embroiled in an unwinnable war against the very people in Afghanistan that we supported then yet are now currently fighting.  It’s a stark reminder of how important it is for our leaders to be humble and intimately knowledgeable on world events.  And it’s equally mind-blowing how infrequently we learn from history.


Two days from now marks the third anniversary of Pfc. Levi Hoover’s death in Iraq.  He was my brother’s best friend.  He was family.  And his death still haunts and debilitates my brother to this very day.

I hope that one day I can stop saying this but as every year goes past, it remains the same: we’re still in the desert.

Image courtesy of SmileDarling


Get Out Of The Desert! Cont’d


I know this is playing to emotions and there are difficult, real-world issues at stake here, but for the same party that touts family values and the traditional nuclear family to also want to just keep sending moms and dad overseas to fight for a pointless war for nearly a decade just seems so very contradictory and blind.

Let’s get out of both Afghanistan and Iraq for all of the little girls in the country who want their daddy back home.

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Get Out Of The Desert!


As if we needed any more American deaths to make this war real to those of us back home who have the luxury of thinking about the ideal of spreading democracy and freedom across the planet.  Well, here we have it.

12 American soldiers.  Dead.  On American soil.

This is what happens to the human psyche when trained to kill and subjected to years in a war zone.  It breaks.  And, in this case, it takes others with it.

We went into Afghanistan and liberated it from the Taliban.  We installed a democratic government.  We’re done.  It’s over.  Time to come home.

The fact that that the Taliban has reemerged in Pakistan is not the same fight.  Sure, it’s the “War on Terror” but there’s no need for the tens of thousands of troops on the ground nor the 40,000 potentially deployed in The Surge, Part II (we all know how well sequels tend to be).  We can surgically help out Pakistan if need be with their fight with the Taliban.

It’s been over nine years since 9/11.  We’ve been at war for nearly a decade.  The human cost is incalculable, especially when you include the pain of people losing their loved ones as well as those troops who survive physically, but are mentally and emotionally wrecked.

This has to stop. Now. There are no more excuses.  No more reasons to stay.  No more staying the course.  No more troop surges for victory.  Win or lose, we’re done.

Bring our troops home.  It’s time to get out of the desert.


We Are Still In The Desert


Everyone remembers where they were on this tragic day eight years ago.  Everyone remembers those images of devastation and horror.  And everyone remembers the feeling of comradery and patriotism that ensued.  It was amazing to feel everyone pulling together for a common goal.

Yet looking back on it, I find it sad and depressing that the only way we could all be on the same page was with a sense of anger and revenge.  We were all only in arms together in the primal sense of survival, a basic human reaction.

And that didn’t last long.

In the past eight years, we’ve avenged the deaths of our loved ones in the World Trade Center attacks by losing over 5100 more men and women overseas fighting two wars, one of which was completely unprovoked and criminally unnecessary.  We’ve gotten more polarized as a country, to a point where a large section of society gets enraged when the president wants to speak to the students.  Have people really lost sight of real issues that should get us enraged that we waste our energy on something as benign as that?

How about the fact that we are still in Iraq?  And that President Obama is talking about a troop surge (sound familiar?) in Afghanistan while its government proves to be dangerously unreliable.  If you want to get outraged at him, that would be a really good reason.

My brother Dave lost his best friend, Pfc Levi Hoover, in Iraq on the day before my birthday two years ago.  Growing up together since they were kids, so many of Dave’s memories include Levi.  They went fishing together.  They went hunting together.  They fixed their trucks together (after they wrecked them together).  You’d be hard pressed to find any pictures of Dave without Levi right next to him, holding up a prize trout or next to a seven-point buck.  They were brothers.  And, now that he’s gone, my brother hasn’t been the same.

None of us have.

I wish I could at least take comfort in knowing that Levi had to be there, that he had to be fighting for our freedom, that he sacrificed his life for a cause that we had no choice in being a part of.  September 11th, 2001 changed our world.  So many people lost their Levis that awful day.  Tragically, thousands and thousands more have been lost since.

Never forget 9/11.  But, more importantly, never forget what happened after.  And that it’s still happening.