How To Really Support Our Troops

Silhouette of U.S. soldier, © Oleg Zabielin /

Silhouette of U.S. soldier, © Oleg Zabielin /

A 10-year-old boy holding a grenade approaches a group of soldiers. He does not respond to their shouts. One shoots him with his M-16 and the boy crumbles to the ground, dead.

Did he have a choice? It was do or die, kill or be killed. Still he killed a little boy, and those images still haunt him.

This is a classic example of psychological trauma: A person is put in horrific life-threatening situation where they do not feel they have control. That's the situation he found himself in. It was a no-win scenario — kill a little boy or have you and your friends all die.

Soldier suicides have reached epidemic numbers. As the AP reports, More soldiers are taking their own lives than are falling in battle. Add on top of that, the many who suffer from PTSD, and who as a result find themselves estranged from their home, their loved ones, and indeed from themselves.

Deportations are Not the Way to Show Respect for Veterans

Photo: Dogtags on the Constitution, Sergey Kamshylin /

Photo: Dogtags on the Constitution, Sergey Kamshylin /

When I go out with my Dad, he often wears a cap identifying him as a Korean War veteran.  Over and over again, people tell him, “Thank you for serving.” Over and over again.

I’m always struck by the contrast between that appreciation and the sad, hidden truth about our country’s treatment of some other veterans. I’m speaking of the government’s detention and deportation of many immigrants who served in our armed forces but who are not yet citizens. 

The first time I heard about this was 1998. My friend’s husband, a Canadian who grew up in Texas and chose to serve in Vietnam had recently gotten a deportation order based on some old drug charges, the kind of thing many vets experienced. What horrified me then, and still does today, is that immigration judges could not grant an exception. Nothing could stop the deportation except a change in U.S. immigration laws.

Can Any Good Come From Drones?

As an antidote to all the stories of killing by drone, I’ve been collecting stories of the good things unpiloted aircraft can potentially do, or are already doing. Many are tasks now being carried out by piloted airplanes and helicopters, but drones bring advantages. They can fly higher, can stay in the air longer, and can fly in more dangerous terrain or situations with no risk to pilots.

Here are 10 things.

1. Monitoring crop watering. “A researcher from Ohio State University envisions the day — less than a decade from now — when a farmer waters the crops then launches an unmanned aerial vehicle to monitor precisely where the water went.” (Dayton Daily News)

2. Acting as lifeguards for beaches. “Surf Life Saving Australia says unmanned aerial drones will patrol some Queensland beaches this summer. … the drones, which have a wingspan of one metre, use cameras to search for swimmers in distress. … the drones will be fitted with flotation buoys that can be dropped down to the ocean.” (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

3. Monitoring endangered species. “For the past few months, drones have been flying over the tropical forests of south-east Asia to map endangered species. A dozen of these unmanned aircraft, fitted with a video camera and an autopilot, have been deployed and will be joined by several more.” (Guardian)

Former Marine Exposes Vet Suicide Epidemic

For Newsweek Magazine, Andrew Swofford writes:

About 18 veterans kill themselves each day. Thousands from the current wars have already done so. In fact, the number of U.S. soldiers who have died by their own hand is now estimated to be greater than the number (6,460) who have died in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. Eleven years of war in two operating theaters have taken a severe toll on America’s military. An estimated 2.3 million Americans have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, and 800,000 of those service members have been deployed multiple times.

Read his full story here

Obama's Proclamation for Today's National Day of Prayer

President Obama on today's National Day of Prayer, from the White House:

Prayer has always been a part of the American story, and today countless Americans rely on prayer for comfort, direction, and strength, praying not only for themselves, but for their communities, their country, and the world.

On this National Day of Prayer, we give thanks for our democracy that respects the beliefs and protects the religious freedom of all people to pray, worship, or abstain according to the dictates of their conscience. Let us pray for all the citizens of our great Nation, particularly those who are sick, mourning, or without hope, and ask God for the sustenance to meet the challenges we face as a Nation. May we embrace the responsibility we have to each other, and rely on the better angels of our nature in service to one another. Let us be humble in our convictions, and courageous in our virtue. Let us pray for those who are suffering around the world, and let us be open to opportunities to ease that suffering....

Abu Ghraib, Unrepentance, and the Way of the Cross

Photo by Jana Birchum/Getty Images

Lynndie England in 2005 during her courts-martial. Photo by Jana Birchum/Getty Images

You remember Abu Ghraib: the correctional facility in Baghdad where such atrocities took place that the prison’s very name is now synonymous with and shorthand for torture, degradation, military scandal, and unchecked American hubris.

A young army reservist named Lynndie England came to represent the horror of that dark chapter (one of several, as it turned out) of the war in Iraq. Photographs of England posing with abused Iraqi detainees led to a dishonorable discharge, a felony conviction, and a two-year prison sentence. Also revealed during and after the shame of Abu Ghraib was England’s own status as both a co-conspirator and an unwitting casualty. She was not a victim in the same way that the Iraqi prisoners were but, given her rank, gender, background, and the weird sexual dynamics she shared with the scandal’s ringleader (and father of the baby she would give birth to a few months later), England’s culpability, like that of many who commit heinous acts, was not separable from her own troubled life.

In the tidy way we like these narratives to play out, England was supposed to pay her dues for the evil she had done and, with time for reflection and introspection, own her guilt and express her sorrow. Or at least, for public consumption, she was supposed to voice regret for the tragic choices she made back in 2003 and offer an apology to those whom she had wronged. But in a recent interview, England was unrepentant. Her only regret, it turns out, is that her actions at Abu Ghraib may have directly caused American casualties.

Military Atheists Get Ready to ‘Rock Beyond Belief’

After more than a year of planning, atheists in the military will stage a public festival and rock concert celebrating their lack of religious beliefs at North Carolina's Fort Bragg, one of the largest U.S. military bases.

Dubbed "Rock Beyond Belief," the event is believed to be the first of its kind to highlight "freethought" -- atheism, humanism and skepticism -- on a U.S. military base.

Organizers hope the March 31 event will lead to broader recognition and support of nonbelievers in the armed forces, where they say they receive little support and often discrimination from an overly Christianized military.

The War is Over. We're All Responsible.

U.S. troops head to Iraq, 2006. Image via Wiki Commons

U.S. soldiers board a flight to Iraq in Kuwait, Oct. 2006. Image via Wiki Commons

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said about the war in Vietnam, “Some are guilty, all are responsible.” It is a good reminder of our responsibilities now that the war in Iraq has officially been declared ended.

First, we as a society are responsible for the necessary care for our returned veterans. A total of 1.5 million American men and women served in the armed forces in Iraq.  Nearly 35,000 suffered physical injuries, as many as 360,000 may have brain injuries, and as many as 25 percent have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Suicides and divorces are rising, homelessness and unemployment are high.

Having sent them to war, our society now needs to assume the responsibility for providing what they and their families need. As Abraham Lincoln reminded the country in his second inaugural speech, as the Civil War was ending in March 1865, one of the unfinished tasks was “to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan …”  

We must advocate for and ensure that in the budget and deficit cutting battles to come, the necessary funding for veterans care and benefits are maintained. It’s a moral obligation.

Egypt's Coptic Christian Community Faces Harsh Persecution

Pope Shenouda III, the Coptic Christian pontiff, listens to President Obama deli

Pope Shenouda III, the Coptic Christian pontiff, listens to President Obama deliver a speech in Cairo, Egypt in 2009.

Just days before the country’s first democratic election (set for Nov. 28), 27 Coptic protestors were killed for demonstrating against the military’s recent burning of a Christian community center. And despite drawing global attention, which included anti-violence demonstrations in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, the Global Post reports that, "the demonstrations reflect mounting fears in Egypt’s Coptic community and its Diaspora that after the pro-democracy uprising of earlier this year the predominantly Muslim Egyptian society seems as indifferent to the Christian minority’s concerns as ever. “