Posts Tagged ‘middle east’


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.


Sarah Palin’s Good Advice: Seek Fair Reporting


In the aftermath of the deadly attack by Israel on the flotilla delivering humanitarian aid for Gaza, most political pundits have voiced their opinions. Unsurprisingly, people seem to be harshly divided into two camps: those supporting Israel, and those condemning its actions.  And for the most part, that division falls along party lines.

Sarah Palin supports Israel and condemns the liberal mainstream media for its condemnation.  I am in the condemning Israel camp.  That said, there are always two sides to every story.  Two viewpoints on all conflicts.  Everyone feels wronged in some way, whether one is valid or equal or not, it doesn’t mean people don’t feel it.

That said, regardless of which side of the argument you’re on, especially if you’re a public figure, you need to voice your opinion with some level of intelligence and the use of facts.  Palin gets the first part right – she sure loves to voice her opinion.

Let’s take a look at her latest Facebook Note and see how she does on the second part:

The media, as usual, seems to be reporting only one side of the Israeli Flotilla incident. Don’t trust the mainstream media to give you both sides of a story fairly… you must seek out fair reporting to ensure you have all the information.

She has a point here: depending on which news outlet you’re getting your information, you might be not be getting a fair report.  Fox News and MSNBC will do their best to paint the incident for their respective viewerships, while CNN will most likely go way overboard in being balanced, which will most likely be Wolf Blitzer agreeing and disgreeing at the same time with everything – fact or fiction – from all sides so as to not take a side at all.

As far too many in the media, and in various governments, rush to condemn Israel, we must put the recent events off Israel’s coast into the right perspective.

How many is “too many” in the media?

And, while many may be rushing to condemn Israel, it seems that there are a large – equal? – number of people rushing to support Israel.  If it’s the speed at which these people have reached their stance on the situation, what makes Palin any better?  Perhaps both sides are passing judgment too quickly.

This “relief” convoy was not about humanitarian aid, as the liberal mainstream media keeps reporting.

I can’t reiterate how much I hate the sarcastic use of quotes in political discourse.  If the convoy wasn’t providing relief, then prove that it was a warship and move on.  Do not just discredit it or suggest that there was an ulterior motive to the flotilla by throwing grammatically incorrect quotes around a word you dislike but fail to provide evidence to the contrary.  This is lazy and incompetent.

Also, note how Palin substitutes the word “convoy” for “flotilla,” which suggests that this was a group of warships with armed troops aboard, which serves her narrative much better than “flotilla,” which is much less charged and is a broad term defining a grouping of ships minus the military slant.  (Granted, the BBC uses the term “convoy,” as well, so either it’s a dialect thing or maybe “convoy” isn’t as highly charged a word as the dictionary makes it seem.)

So what was the convoy all about, Sarah?

The whole operation was designed to provoke Israel,…

Well, yeah.  They were clearly bringing to international attention the injustice of the Gaza blockade.   Was it illegal?  Possibly.  Did it necessitate the boarding of the boat by force that led to ten activists deaths?  Doubtful.

And, aren’t we all adults here?  We should’ve already learned that one valuable lesson from childhood: bully taunts you –> you punch bully –> you get in trouble.  Regardless of what someone else does or says to provoke you, ultimately only you control what you do.  Blaming the bully doesn’t justify your wrongdoings.

Now, that analogy only works if you assume the activists were bullies – which Palin does.  Though, it’s hard to see how delivering aid to the extremely impoverished state area of Palestine can be considered being a bully.

…not to provide supplies to Palestinians held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza.

Held hostage? The Palestinians had an election. They voted for Hamas. Hamas now rules Gaza. That’s hardly being held hostage.  Not to say that Hamas isn’t comprised of terrorists or at least affiliated with terrorist groups, nor that they’re the only government in Palestine — the whole situation is a disaster — but, this is a way for Palin to blast Hamas as an illegitimate ruling party, which then validates Israel’s attack, all the while not directly blaming the Palestinian people.

Anyone who sees the video of Israeli commandos being attacked as they land on that ship knows the people aboard were vicious thugs, not “peace activists.” The media insults our intelligence with their outright mischaracterization of who these enemies are.

Wait, so let me get this straight: you’re aboard your own ship in international waters when a group of heavily armed and well-trained commandos from another country drop in and takeover your vessel by force at gunpoint, during which you defend yourself with blunt makeshift weapons and this makes you the thug?  Only if Israelis are always the good guys and Palestinians/Turks/Arabs are always the bad guys does this logic work.

I’d say it’s Sarah Palin who insults our intelligence by thinking that we will just listen to her without thinking for ourselves about this situation after she tells us in the beginning to seek out fair reporting.  I suppose having to con yourself into believing the lies that would make one unwaveringly in favor of the Iraq and Afghanistan War for the past decade (and supporting the option to invade Iran), it’s understandable that she’d be deluded enough to think that the invader is the victim — in the case of Israel or America, at least.  Because we’re exceptional.  (Which is code for: the rules apply to everyone except us.)

Israel delivers thousands of tons of humanitarian supplies every week to Gaza. These ships could have offloaded their cargoes at a nearby Israeli port if they really wanted to help the people of Gaza. Instead, they chose to incite confrontation and violence.

I’m pretty sure that a quick look at the quality of life in Gaza right now would show that no matter how much aid Israel may be delivering, it’s clearly not enough.

And, again, how were the activists the ones inciting violence when the Israelis were the ones who dropped soldiers armed with machine guns down onto the boat while it was in international waters?  What was that supposed to be — a peacekeeping endeavor?

Israel has a right to prevent arms shipments to Gaza that will be used to target innocent Israelis, so they were legitimately checking the cargo on the flotilla.

It’s one thing to be stopped to have your shipments searched; that would be a different story entirely.  But that was not the case here.  Israel’s primary objective here was preventing this flotilla – regardless of what it was carrying – from reaching Gaza, by any means necessary.

And there has to be a better way to inspect the goods than dropping in commandos by rope from a helicopter one at a time with automatic weapons, yeah?  Perhaps it’d be best done at one of Israel’s ports, which is what some claim Israel was trying to get the flotilla to do, but the flotilla refused.  Now, the attack occurred in international waters, so it seems like if ever Israel had the right to use force, it’d be once the boats crossed into their territory.

Turkey has chosen to condemn Israel but we should be asking some serious questions about Turkey’s role in this whole affair. Why is a fellow member of NATO sponsoring such a dangerous publicity stunt? As one expert points out: “Three ships of that six-ship pro-terror convoy flew Turkish flags and were crowded with Turkish citizens. The Ankara government – led by Islamists these days – sponsored the ‘aid’ operation in a move to position itself as the new champion of the Palestinians. And Turkish decision-makers knew Israel would have to react – and were waiting to exploit the inevitable clash. The provocation was as cynical as it was carefully orchestrated.”

Well it should come as no surprise that Turkey – a Muslim nation – would be sympathetic to the Palestinians’ plight.  And compared to many other actions that Islamists tend to do these days to get their word out – you know, like, car and suicide bombings that kill and maim scores of innocent people on a regular basis – saying that it’s a pro-terror provocation to send some ships full of playground equipment and pre-made homes is absurd to the point of not being grounded in reality.

We can only hope the Obama Administration does not join the anti-Israel chorus in the aftermath of this staged confrontation. Please, Mr. President, we need to let Israelis know we stand with them in their fight against terrorists and those who arm and support them. America and her ally, Israel, stand by waiting for your response.

Well, the Obama Administration hasn’t out-right condemned Israel’s actions, so there’s that.  I’m sure that won’t be enough for Ms. Palin, of course.  It also hasn’t made many friends on the other side of the aisle.   Obama, like any US President these days, has to tow the line to an extent when it comes to our ties with Israel; however, Obama has been not-so-subtle about his disagreements with Israel’s direction lately in his relationship with Benjamin Netanyahu.  That’s probably the most we’ll see given the complex and sometimes bizarre alliance we have with Israel.

Sarah Palin has taken the torch passed on by the Bush Administration’s War on Terror with gusto and glee.  She paints the world in black and whites, with nary a gray area for interpretation.  She speaks in absolutes, which makes it difficult to deal with the real world and the grayness in which just about everything resides.

After this lengthy exercise, the one thing that I can really takes away from Sarah Palin’s note is to agree that we should all seek out fair reporting to get the best information to help form our opinions on this murky situation.  And from what I’ve read here, I’d say keep looking.  Perhaps here.

– Sarah Palin

– Ryan Mason


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