” Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, a 42-year-old who teaches at the Paris School of Economics, shows that two-thirds of America’s increase in income inequality over the past four decades is the result of steep raises given to the country’s highest earners.
This week, Bill talks with Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, about Piketty’s “magnificent” new book.
“What Piketty’s really done now is he said, ‘Even those of you who talk about the 1 percent, you don’t really get what’s going on.’ He’s telling us that we are on the road not just to a highly unequal society, but to a society of an oligarchy. A society of inherited wealth.”
Krugman adds: “We’re seeing inequalities that will be transferred across generations. We are becoming very much the kind of society we imagined we’re nothing like.” ”
(By Rabbi Arik Ascherman)
There are days when I wake up and say, “John Lennon was right.” Maybe we really would be better off in a world without nationalism or religion. So much blood has been shed throughout history in the name of these beliefs, especially in my part of the world, the Middle East.
Here in Israel, we have a thriving if imperfect democracy plagued, as are most democracies, by racism and discrimination. There is democracy in Israel proper, including for those Palestinians who are Israeli citizens. There is no democracy for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, however. Israelis are deeply divided on many key issues. Many support the positions of the organization I have led for more than 18 years, Rabbis For Human Rights, but ironically most supporting us on the human rights of non-Jews are secular. On issues of socioeconomic rights within Jewish-Israeli society, however, many religious Jews believe, as do we, that it is a Jewish obligation to build a society that cares for its weakest and poorest members.
Painfully for me as a rabbi, however, polls consistently show that religious Jews in Israel are more likely to be racist, xenophobic and opposed to human rights for non-Jews. They are the ideological vanguard behind the settlement movement, believing that the religious obligation to settle the Biblical Land of Israel overrides our religious obligation not to oppress non-Jews. For some, the obligation not to oppress non-Jews is nonexistent.
So why not just acknowledge reality and work for a world without nations or religion, where we all speak Esperanto?
Here’s why: Were we to eliminate all the divisions between us tomorrow, we would likely create new ones the very next day. Faith, moreover, is not something one simply turns on and off like a light. And finally, given religion’s tremendous power, it would be a terrible mistake to abandon the field to those who interpret it in xenophobic ways.
Religion as part of the solution
Several years ago, I attended a conference co-sponsored by the Norwegian Foreign Ministry and an Oslo peace organization. The premise was that, while civil society and diplomats had for years thought that they must circumvent religion to solve conflicts, the diplomatic community had come to realize this wasn’t possible, and that religion must become part of the solution.
At Rabbis for Human Rights, our first mandate is to prevent or redress human rights abuses. Our second is to introduce to our fellow Jewish-Israelis another way of understanding Judaism, an interpretation very different from that which currently dominates.
The dominant understanding is very different from the Judaism I grew up with. In Erie, Pennsylvania, it was simply assumed that a basic part of what it means to be a Jew was to be committed to universal human rights and social justice. This is what I learned from my parents, from my rabbis, from my community. Polls consistently show that a commitment to justice is a key component of North American Jewish identity.
For many years, almost all of Rabbis for Human Rights’ financial and moral support came from Jews in the United States and Canada, particularly from our fellow rabbis. I was truly shocked when I discovered that values axiomatic to me were not shared by all Israeli Jews, especially religious Jews.
Increasingly, religious Jews, particularly members of what is called the “national religious camp,” are socialized into a very problematic mixture of extreme nationalism and Jewish particularism.
Particularism means that the ultimate value is the survival and wellbeing of the Jewish people. It means that all of the wonderful humanist values and Jewish commandments flowing from the teaching in Genesis 1:27 – that humans are created in God’s Image – apply only to our treatment of Jews. Some would not even apply them to all Jews, but only to their own insular community.
At Rabbis for Human Rights, however, we note that Genesis doesn’t say that only Jews, or only the wealthy, were created in God’s Image. The Torah specifically states that both men and women – all men and women – were created in God’s Image.
Circling the wagons
American and Canadian Jews who are liberal on just about any other human rights issue are often defensive when it comes to Israel. Unwillingness to confront Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is not just a function of religious belief but also of our collective consciousness. This consciousness stems from 2000 years of oppression, along with the ongoing enmity toward Israel in our region and beyond.
I penned these words shortly before our Jewish holiday of Purim, when we read the Book of Esther, a story about the precariousness of Jewish life when our fate is in the hands of others. In April, the traditional Passover Seder contains the words, “In every generation there are those who have risen up to destroy us.” These lessons give rise to the strong feeling that Jews must circle their wagons to protect themselves against the non-Jewish world.
Many Jews who have concerns about human rights issues in Israel keep their thoughts to themselves out of fear that their words will be twisted by those who wish to delegitimize Israel’s very existence. They can see those who violate this taboo as traitors. We see this same tendency in many groups with a history of oppression.
Many Jewish Israelis aspire to be moral and just. Most truly believe that the human rights abuses we talk about are isolated, non-representative incidents that the government is doing everything it can to combat and that we have the most moral army in the world. It is frustrating that they live in a bubble, but it is positive that they aspire to having the most moral army in the world.
At Rabbis for Human Rights, our task is to find a way of holding up a mirror to our fellow Jewish Israelis, and to tell them, “We know that you aspire to be good and decent people, but take a look at what we are actually doing. Is this who we want to be?”
Easier said than done, of course. To tell Jewish Israelis that we don’t have the most moral army in the world, or that our human rights abuses are often intentional and systematic, is to burst one of their most cherished bubbles. People get angry and resistant when their bubbles are burst.
Rabbis for Human Rights have just completed our 25th anniversary as an organization, and I am proud of the many instances where we have prevented or reversed human rights abuses. Among them:
- In 2002 Palestinians attempting to harvest their olives and those of us acting as human shields to protect them were being shot at, beaten, threatened, etc., without the Israeli security forces intervening. As the result of a 2006 Israeli High Court victory, the army is now protecting Palestinian access to places they couldn’t previously reach for as many as 15 years.
- Significant tracts of land have been returned to their Palestinian owners. In 2009, Rabbis for Human Rights returned residents to the village of Bir El-Id, abandoned for almost 10 years because of settler intimidation.
- Rabbis for Human Rights helped end the Israeli Wisconsin Plan, a carrot-and-stick approach to returning the unemployed to the workforce that around the world has almost always increased poverty.
We have helped to improve the lives of both our fellow Israeli Jews and of the many non-Jews who are part of our society or under our control.
Yet I must also acknowledge that few of our successes are connected to the fact that we are rabbis. On April 6, 2014, we marked our anniversary with a panel discussion on what is, could and should be the role of Judaism in the struggle for human rights in Israel. We are still searching for the answers and looking for new ways to better fulfill our mission.
Rabbis for Human Rights was founded in 1988 by a group of Orthodox, Reform and Conservative rabbis led by Rabbi David Forman (may his memory be blessed). In the late 1980s, during the challenging days of the first Palestinian intifada, Rabbi Forman wrote an open letter to Israel’s Chief Rabbis, asking why the religious establishment focused almost solely on Sabbath observance and Kashrut, our Jewish dietary laws. As important as these things are, Rabbi Forman said, where were rabbis on the burning moral issues of the day? We should not ignore the very real dangers we faced, Rabbi Forman said, but these threats should not be used as an excuse to behave immorally. In the words of Hillel the Elder, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”
Today, Rabbis for Human Rights number approximately 100 rabbis from various liberal and Orthodox streams of Judaism, with some 30 full- and part-time staff members. Many of these are rabbis, but some are secular, Christian or Muslim. The organization defines itself as Zionist. We believe, however, that true Zionism, and our self-interest, lies in working for an Israel that is not just physically but morally strong, one that lives up to our highest Jewish values. These values were part of what we dreamed of when we wrote in our Declaration of Independence that Israel would be based on “Freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel,” and that it would guarantee “Total social and political equality for all, regardless of race, nationality or gender.”
A key principle of my Zionism is that I can’t ask for myself what I am not prepared to grant to others. This includes the human rights and national aspirations of Palestinians. Rabbis for Human Rights believes that the Occupation must end because it inevitably leads to human rights violations. However, it is beyond our mandate to take a position on a one- or two-state solution, borders, or various possibilities regarding what ending the Occupation might look like.
A beacon for all
Our organization is involved in protecting the human rights of both Jewish Israelis and of non-Jews who are a part of our society or under our control. We serve as a beacon for all those Jewish Israelis, religious or secular, who believe that their humanistic values are rooted in Judaism.
The national Orthodox community does not like us, and often has misconceptions regarding who and what we are. But they are quite aware that we throw a monkey wrench into the symbiotic relationship they have created between Judaism and all those political positions that are antithetical to human rights.
Rabbis for Human Rights’ work often causes cognitive dissonance, forcing people to reexamine their stereotypes and beliefs. Ironically, we may have been most effective in breaking down Palestinian stereotypes of religious Jews. Many times I have gone to rebuild a demolished home or defend Palestinian human rights, and find that Palestinian parents insist that their son, who wants to grow up and be a terrorist, meet us in order to understand that not all Israelis come with guns to demolish their homes and trample on their human rights.
The one who acts with decency
Faith has helped me continue in this work for so many years, when many have burned out. We are taught, “You are not expected to complete the task by yourself, but neither are you free to desist from doing your part.” We each need to play a role in the grand drama that is God’s plan. We believe that the eventual outcome will be a world that honors God’s Image, in every human being.
As the Middle East and Israeli Jews become increasingly motivated by religious belief, we must struggle for Judaism’s soul. We must find a way to introduce our understanding of the Jewish tradition into the intellectual universe of our fellow Jewish Israelis. We must make Judaism part of the solution, and not just part of the problem. The religious text, Pirkei Avot, teaches us, “In a place where no one acts with basic human decency, you must be the person who does.”
I would add, “In places where rabbis are strikingly absent, you must be the rabbi who acts as rabbis should.”
Rabbi Arik Ascherman is president and senior rabbi of Rabbis for Human Rights, based in Jerusalem.
El rabino Arik Ascherman es presidente y rabino superior de Rabbis for Human Rights, con sede en Jerusalén.
This article is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 licence.
Mirrored from Open Democracy
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Not since George W. Bush complained that the problem with the American economy was that “too many of our imports come from abroad” has such hilarious use of the English language been on display. The furor on the Right about Harry Reid terming “domestic terrorists” the militiamen who brought sniper rifles across state lines to confront the Bureau of Land Management produced the following interview by Fox News of Rand Paul.
Eric Bolling asked Sen. Paul, “Is there any reason to call Americans domestic terrorists?”
So, Mr. Bolling, you see, the category of “domestic terrorist,” when used inside the United States, cannot be used for foreigners, only for “Americans.”
If you meant to ask whether there are any domestic terrorists, I think Timothy McVeigh might be an answer to your question.
So, yes, there is sometimes a reason to call Americans domestic terrorists. When they are.
If what you meant to say is that “white Americans” should not be called “terrorists” and that the term should be reserved for brown-skinned peoples, that is just Fox News editorial policy, not a feature of, like, the English language. It is a feature I have complained about all week
The remark is at 0:20 here:
Senator Reid on Friday defended his use of the term:
Reid said he hadn’t been referring to Cliven Bundy, the deadbeat cattle rancher, himself when he spoke of domestic terrorists, but the armed militiamen who interfered with the confiscation of Bundy’s cattle for non-payment of fees.
“600 people came armed, they had practiced, they had maneuvered… they set up snipers in strategic locations… they had automatic weapon . . . And they boasted about the fact they put women and children . . . so they would get hit first” . . . “If there were ever an example of people who were domestic violent terrorist wannabes, these are the guys . . .”
Good for Reid!
One of my readers wrote last week:
“Imagine that the Bundy ranching family in Nevada, instead of being white and Mormon, are all black and Muslim. And imagine that they, too, believe not only that the federal government should have no jurisdiction over the public land adjoining their ranch, but also that a second revolutionary war should topple the U.S. government.
Imagine that, just like Mr. Bundy, they lost two court decisions and are expected to either pay one million in overdue fees or have their cattle seized to pay the debt. Imagine that they send out a call, via Facebook and Twitter, for all like-minded thinkers to take up arms and prepare to fight the agents sent to collect the cattle.
How would the media describe some 2000 black, Muslim men, armed with automatic rifles and shotguns, who drive from all across the country to show up in Nevada ready to kill government officials?
How would the media portray those black, Muslim men when they used their guns to shut down I-15, a major interstate freeway, forcing hundreds of travelers to bake in the hot desert sun until the road could be re-opened?
What would right-wing pundits say about those black, Muslim men who were crouched on overpasses training their sniper sights on the cowboys and drivers hired by the federal government to move the cattle?
Would they agree with those black, Muslim militants who planned to put their wives and girlfriends on the front lines so there would be news footage of federal agents shooting women?
Would Nevada politicians, senator Dean Heller and Governor Brian Sandoval, still throw their support behind a Bundy who said, “. . . I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing,” if he were Muslim and black?
Try as hard as I can, I can’t see people on the right using any word other than “terrorist” to describe homegrown, black, Muslim militants who are willing to use violence to support their belief that the U.S. government is meaningless.
And that shows us exactly how far Americans have to go before we define each other by character, not race or religion.”
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(By Abdul-Khaleq Dosky in Dohuk, for Niqash)
The Iraqi government and the government of the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan are digging a trench along the Iraqi border with Syria. Ostensibly it is to better control this porous border area and to prevent smugglers and extremists from crossing into the country. The trench, which is two meters wide and three meters deep, passes through six border villages – Chelky, Suhaila, Shibani, Moska, Kalky and Qahira – and it is already having an impact on the lives of locals in these places.
“The people here have deep social and business relationships with the villagers on the Syrian side of the border,” says a local who wanted to be known only as Sami, who lives in Suhaila village. “We have relations there and we used to go back and forth into Syria with no problem. Now our movement is going to be restricted. The trench is also going to impact on the livestock trade across borders, which we’ve been doing for years.”
“My daughter-in-law’s family lives in the village opposite ours, on the other side of the border,” says another Suhaila local, a woman called Salman. “She used to be able to go and visit her family whenever she wanted to. Now she won’t be able to,” she complained to NIQASH.
And Ahmad Mustafa, a farmer living in Qahira village, says the trench actually passes through his property – he’s in the process of trying to get compensation for the loss of crops in this part of his farm; he usually plants wheat and barley there.
It is not just the villagers who are upset about the trench. Dozens of Syrian activists who have found refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan staged a sit-in in front of local government buildings in the region’s capital, Erbil. They demanded that the digging of the trench be halted and chanted slogans like, “western Kurdistan needs help, not trenches”. Western Kurdistan refers to the fact that if the Kurdish people had their own country in areas where they are most populous, the Syrian Kurdish areas would make up the west of a Kurdish nation.
One of the men driving the diggers working on the trench says those on the Syrian side are also very upset. “When they saw the diggers they tried to attack us,” says the driver, Mohammed Saeed. “Last Thursday there were around 400 people and they tried to attack us when we started work. They said they wanted to burn our vehicles. If the Peshmerga [Kurdish military] hadn’t intervened, I think we would all be dead by now.”
And at one stage last week – on Saturday April 12 – the work on the trench saw Syrian Kurdish security forces, who control most of this part of Syria, shut the border crossing on their side, an Iraqi official told NIQASH. “They closed the border without any prior warning,” Shaukat Barbharri, who is in charge of the Saemalka border crossing, says. “There were dozens of people who couldn’t get through and it became really crowded.” In the past the Syrian Kurdish militias who control this area have closed the border crossing because of their displeasure at actions taken by Iraqi Kurdish authorities.
Despite all vehement objections though, the digging of the trench is still going ahead. “Every day another 500 meters of this trench will be dug,” says Brigadier General Hashim Sitay, commander of the Eighth Peshmerga Brigade – part of the Iraqi Kurdish military – stationed on the Iraq-Syria borderlands. “The work is being done in coordination with the Iraqi government, which dug the trench all along the border from Ramadi. Now it has reached Qahira, which is the point at which the Iraqi Kurdish region begins.”
“The aim of this trench isn’t to isolate Syrians,” Sitay argues. “It is to prevent the infiltration of smugglers and terrorists who are entering Iraq illegally on this border. And the trench isn’t going to mean that the border will be closed to Syrian refugees. All official border points will remain open.”
NIQASH asked Sitay if he really thought the trench would work the way security forces wanted it to. “The trench will reduce the number of incidents,” he says confidently. “The number of security risks entering by car will drop for sure. Additionally there will be well guarded checkpoints all along the trench and these checkpoints will also play an important part in preventing smugglers and terrorists getting in.”
Mirrored from Niqash.org
(By Ann Jones)
After an argument about a leave denied, Specialist Ivan Lopez pulled out a .45-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun and began a shooting spree at Fort Hood, America’s biggest stateside base, that left three soldiers dead and 16 wounded. When he did so, he also pulled America’s fading wars out of the closet. This time, a Fort Hood mass killing, the second in four and a half years, was committed by a man who was neither a religious nor a political “extremist.” He seems to have been merely one of America’s injured and troubled veterans who now number in the hundreds of thousands.
Some 2.6 million men and women have been dispatched, often repeatedly, to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and according to a recent survey of veterans of those wars conducted by the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly one-third say that their mental health is worse than it was before they left, and nearly half say the same of their physical condition. Almost half say they give way to sudden outbursts of anger. Only 12% of the surveyed veterans claim they are now “better” mentally or physically than they were before they went to war.
The media coverage that followed Lopez’s rampage was, of course, 24/7 and there was much discussion of PTSD, the all-purpose (if little understood) label now used to explain just about anything unpleasant that happens to or is caused by current or former military men and women. Amid the barrage of coverage, however, something was missing: evidence that has been in plain sight for years of how the violence of America’s distant wars comes back to haunt the “homeland” as the troops return. In that context, Lopez’s killings, while on a scale not often matched, are one more marker on a bloody trail of death that leads from Iraq and Afghanistan into the American heartland, to bases and backyards nationwide. It’s a story with a body count that should not be ignored.
War Comes Home
During the last 12 years, many veterans who had grown “worse” while at war could be found on and around bases here at home, waiting to be deployed again, and sometimes doing serious damage to themselves and others. The organization Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) has campaigned for years for a soldier’s “right to heal” between deployments. Next month it will release its own report on a common practice at Fort Hood of sending damaged and heavily medicated soldiers back to combat zones against both doctors’ orders and official base regulations. Such soldiers can’t be expected to survive in great shape.
Immediately after the Lopez rampage, President Obama spoke of those soldiers who have served multiple tours in the wars and “need to feel safe” on their home base. But what the president called “that sense of safety… broken once again” at Fort Hood has, in fact, already been shattered again and again on bases and in towns across post-9/11 America — ever since misused, misled, and mistreated soldiers began bringing war home with them.
Since 2002, soldiers and veterans have been committing murder individually and in groups, killing wives, girlfriends, children, fellow soldiers, friends, acquaintances, complete strangers, and — in appalling numbers — themselves. Most of these killings haven’t been on a mass scale, but they add up, even if no one is doing the math. To date, they have never been fully counted.
The first veterans of the war in Afghanistan returned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in 2002. In quick succession, four of them murdered their wives, after which three of the killers took their own lives. When a New York Times reporter asked a Special Forces officer to comment on these events, he replied: “S.F.’s don’t like to talk about emotional stuff. We are Type A people who just blow things like that off, like yesterday’s news.”
Indeed, much of the media and much of the country has done just that. While individual murders committed by “our nation’s heroes” on the “home front” have been reported by media close to the scene, most such killings never make the national news, and many become invisible even locally when reported only as routine murders with no mention of the apparently insignificant fact that the killer was a veteran. Only when these crimes cluster around a military base do diligent local reporters seem to put the pieces of the bigger picture together.
By 2005, Fort Bragg had already counted its tenth such “domestic violence” fatality, while on the West coast, the Seattle Weekly had tallied the death toll among active-duty troops and veterans in western Washington state at seven homicides and three suicides. “Five wives, a girlfriend, and one child were slain; four other children lost one or both parents to death or imprisonment. Three servicemen committed suicide — two of them after killing their wife or girlfriend. Four soldiers were sent to prison. One awaited trial.”
In January 2008, the New York Times tried for the first time to tally a nationwide count of such crimes. It found “121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing in this country, or were charged with one, after their return from war.” It listed headlines drawn from smaller local newspapers: Lakewood, Washington, “Family Blames Iraq After Son Kills Wife”; Pierre, South Dakota, “Soldier Charged With Murder Testifies About Postwar Stress”; Colorado Springs, Colorado, “Iraq War Vets Suspected in Two Slayings, Crime Ring.”
The Times found that about a third of the murder victims were wives, girlfriends, children, or other relatives of the killer, but significantly, a quarter of the victims were fellow soldiers. The rest were acquaintances or strangers. At that time, three quarters of the homicidal soldiers were still in the military. The number of killings then represented a nearly 90% increase in homicides committed by active duty personnel and veterans in the six years since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Yet after tracing this “cross-country trail of death and heartbreak,” the Times noted that its research had probably uncovered only “the minimum number of such cases.” One month later, it found “more than 150 cases of fatal domestic violence or [fatal] child abuse in the United States involving service members and new veterans.”
More cases were already on the way. After the Fourth Brigade Combat team of Fort Carson, Colorado, returned from Iraq later in 2008, nine of its members were charged with homicide, while “charges of domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault” at the base rose sharply. Three of the murder victims were wives or girlfriends; four were fellow soldiers (all men); and two were strangers, chosen at random.
Back at Fort Bragg and the nearby Marine base at Camp Lejeune, military men murdered four military women in a nine-month span between December 2007 and September 2008. By that time, retired Army Colonel Ann Wright had identified at least 15 highly suspicious deaths of women soldiers in the war zones that had been officially termed “non-combat related” or “suicide.” She raised a question that has never been answered: “Is there an Army cover-up of rape and murder of women soldiers?” The murders that took place near (but not on) Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune, all investigated and prosecuted by civilian authorities, raised another question: Were some soldiers bringing home not only the generic violence of war, but also specific crimes they had rehearsed abroad?
Stuck in Combat Mode
While this sort of post-combat-zone combat at home has rarely made it into the national news, the killings haven’t stopped. They have, in fact, continued, month by month, year after year, generally reported only by local media. Many of the murders suggest that the killers still felt as if they were on some kind of private mission in “enemy territory,” and that they themselves were men who had, in distant combat zones, gotten the hang of killing — and the habit. For example, Benjamin Colton Barnes, a 24-year-old Army veteran, went to a party in Seattle in 2012 and got into a gunfight that left four people wounded. He then fled to Mount Rainier National Park where he shot and killed a park ranger (the mother of two small children) and fired on others before escaping into snow-covered mountains where he drowned in a stream.
Barnes, an Iraq veteran, had reportedly experienced a rough transition to stateside life, having been discharged from the Army in 2009 for misconduct after being arrested for drunk driving and carrying a weapon. (He also threatened his wife with a knife.) He was one of more than 20,000 troubled Army and Marine veterans the military discarded between 2008 and 2012 with “other-than-honorable” discharges and no benefits, health care, or help.
Faced with the expensive prospect of providing long-term care for these most fragile of veterans, the military chose instead to dump them. Barnes was booted out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Washington, which by 2010 had surpassed Fort Hood, Fort Bragg, and Fort Carson in violence and suicide to become the military’s “most troubled” home base.
Some homicidal soldiers work together, perhaps recreating at home that famous fraternal feeling of the military “band of brothers.” In 2012, in Laredo, Texas, federal agents posing as leaders of a Mexican drug cartel arrested Lieutenant Kevin Corley and Sergeant Samuel Walker — both from Fort Carson’s notorious Fourth Brigade Combat team — and two other soldiers in their private hit squad who had offered their services to kill members of rival cartels. “Wet work,” soldiers call it, and they’re trained to do it so well that real Mexican drug cartels have indeed been hiring ambitious vets from Fort Bliss, Texas, and probably other bases in the borderlands, to take out selected Mexican and American targets at $5,000 a pop.
Such soldiers seem never to get out of combat mode. Boston psychiatrist Jonathan Shay, well known for his work with troubled veterans of the Vietnam War, points out that the skills drilled into the combat soldier — cunning, deceit, strength, quickness, stealth, a repertoire of killing techniques, and the suppression of compassion and guilt — equip him perfectly for a life of crime. “I’ll put it as bluntly as I can,” Shay writes in Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming, “Combat service per se smooths the way into criminal careers afterward in civilian life.” During the last decade, when the Pentagon relaxed standards to fill the ranks, some enterprising members of at least 53 different American gangs jumpstarted their criminal careers by enlisting, training, and serving in war zones to perfect their specialized skill sets.
Some veterans have gone on to become domestic terrorists, like Desert Storm veteran Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people in the Oklahoma federal building in 1995, or mass murderers like Wade Michael Page, the Army veteran and uber-racist who killed six worshippers at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in August 2012. Page had first been introduced to the ideology of white supremacy at age 20, three years after he joined the Army, when he fell in with a neo-Nazi hate group at Fort Bragg. That was in 1995, the year three paratroopers from Fort Bragg murdered two black local residents, a man and a woman, to earn their neo-Nazi spider-web tattoos.
An unknown number of such killers just walk away, like Army Private (and former West Point cadet) Isaac Aguigui, who was finally convicted last month in a Georgia criminal court of murdering his pregnant wife, Sergeant Deirdre Wetzker Aguigui, an Army linguist, three years ago. Although Deirdre Aguigui’s handcuffed body had revealed multiple blows and signs of struggle, the military medical examiner failed to “detect an anatomic cause of death” — a failure convenient for both the Army, which didn’t have to investigate further, and Isaac Aguigui, who collected a half-million dollars in military death benefits and life insurance to finance a war of his own.
In 2012, Georgia authorities charged Aguigui and three combat veterans from Fort Stewart with the execution-style murders of former Private Michael Roark, 19, and his girlfriend Tiffany York, 17. The trial in a civilian criminal court revealed that Aguigui (who was never deployed) had assembled his own private militia of troubled combat vets called FEAR (Forever Enduring, Always Ready), and was plotting to take over Fort Stewart by seizing the munitions control point. Among his other plans for his force were killing unnamed officials with car bombs, blowing up a fountain in Savannah, poisoning the apple crop in Aguigui’s home state of Washington, and joining other unspecified private militia groups around the country in a plot to assassinate President Obama and take control of the United States government. Last year, the Georgia court convicted Aguigui in the case of the FEAR executions and sentenced him to life. Only then did a civilian medical examiner determine that he had first murdered his wife.
The Rule of Law
The routine drills of basic training and the catastrophic events of war damage many soldiers in ways that appear darkly ironic when they return home to traumatize or kill their partners, their children, their fellow soldiers, or random strangers in a town or on a base. But again to get the stories we must rely upon scrupulous local journalists. The Austin American-Statesman, for example, reports that, since 2003, in the area around Fort Hood in central Texas, nearly 10% of those involved in shooting incidents with the police were military veterans or active-duty service members. In four separate confrontations since last December, the police shot and killed two recently returned veterans and wounded a third, while one police officer was killed. A fourth veteran survived a shootout unscathed.
Such tragic encounters prompted state and city officials in Texas to develop a special Veterans Tactical Response Program to train police in handling troubled military types. Some of the standard techniques Texas police use to intimidate and overcome suspects — shouting, throwing “flashbangs” (grenades), or even firing warning shots — backfire when the suspect is a veteran in crisis, armed, and highly trained in reflexive fire. The average civilian lawman is no match for an angry combat grunt from, as the president put it at Fort Hood, “the greatest Army that the world has ever known.” On the other hand, a brain-injured vet who needs time to respond to orders or reply to questions may get manhandled, flattened, tasered, bludgeoned, or worse by overly aggressive police officers before he has time to say a word.
Here’s another ironic twist. For the past decade, military recruiters have made a big selling point of the “veterans preference” policy in the hiring practices of civilian police departments. The prospect of a lifetime career in law enforcement after a single tour of military duty tempts many wavering teenagers to sign on the line. But the vets who are finally discharged from service and don the uniform of a civilian police department are no longer the boys who went away.
In Texas today, 37% of the police in Austin, the state capitol, are ex-military, and in smaller cities and towns in the vicinity of Fort Hood, that figure rises above the 50% mark. Everybody knows that veterans need jobs, and in theory they might be very good at handling troubled soldiers in crisis, but they come to the job already trained for and very good at war. When they meet the next Ivan Lopez, they make a potentially combustible combo.
Most of America’s military men and women don’t want to be “stigmatized” by association with the violent soldiers mentioned here. Neither do the ex-military personnel who now, as members of civilian police forces, do periodic battle with violent vets in Texas and across the country. The new Washington Post-Kaiser survey reveals that most veterans are proud of their military service, if not altogether happy with their homecoming. Almost half of them think that American civilians, like the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan, don’t genuinely “respect” them, and more than half feel disconnected from American life. They believe they have better moral and ethical values than their fellow citizens, a virtue trumpeted by the Pentagon and presidents alike. Sixty percent say they are more patriotic than civilians. Seventy percent say that civilians fail absolutely to understand them. And almost 90% of veterans say that in a heartbeat they would re-up to fight again.
Americans on the “home front” were never mobilized by their leaders and they have generally not come to grips with the wars fought in their name. Here, however, is another irony: neither, it turns out, have most of America’s military men and women. Like their civilian counterparts, many of whom are all too ready to deploy those soldiers again to intervene in countries they can’t even find on a map, a significant number of veterans evidently have yet to unpack and examine the wars they brought home in their baggage — and in too many grim cases, they, their loved ones, their fellow soldiers, and sometimes random strangers are paying the price.
Ann Jones, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of Kabul in Winter, among other books, and most recently They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars — The Untold Story, a Dispatch Books project (Haymarket, 2013).
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook and Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Ann Jones’s They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars — The Untold Story.
Copyright 2014 Ann Jones
Mirrored from Tomdispatch.com
As talks between Israel and Palestine falter, thousands of Palestinians demonstrated Thursday on behalf of nearly 5,000 Palestinians imprisoned by Israeli Occupation authorities in 22 Israeli jails, many of them arbitrarily. They include 184 minors and 175 persons being held without any due process.
Many prisoners are subject to “moderate physical pressure,” solitary confinement or on bans from being visited by their families. Some 1400 of the Palestinian prisoners are ill.
Saeb Ereikat, a Palestinian politician and negotiator, said, “The plight of the prisoners reflects the plight of the Palestinian people as a whole.”
The Israeli military routinely arrests Palestinians for peaceably protesting the theft of their land, water and other resources by illegal Israeli squatters. Often they take away minors, and sometimes they haul off the parents without any regard for what will happen to their small children. The 1949 Geneva Convention on the treatment of people in occupied territories forbids the Occupying power from expropriating locals and from flooding its own population into the Occupied territories.
Some 30 Palestinians are still being held in Israeli prisons since before the Oslo Peace Accords of 1993. As part of those accords, Israel had committed to releasing them, but it never has. Palestinians made it a requirement of their participation in the current round of talks (which began last August) that Israel finally abide by this commitment. Israel did release some 78 of these long-term prisoners, but declined to let the last batch go. As a result, Palestine signed the Geneva Conventions and other UN human rights treaties and instruments, a step preparatory to going to the International Criminal Court over Israel’s systematic war crimes in the Occupied Territories. That step in turn caused the talks to collapse. Sec. of State John Kerry blamed Israeli continued squatting activity along with the reneging on the prisoner release for the faltering of negotiations.
Some 4/5s of the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails are from the West Bank. Only 9% or so are from the Gaza Strip.
Since 1967, when Israel seized the West Bank and Gaza, some 800,000 Palestinians have circulated through Israeli jails, about 13,000 of them women.
Thursday’s protests were also held abroad, including in Argentina, where there is a large Arab immigrant population.
(By Juan Cole)
The Fall of the New Year Throne
(To read this serialized sword and sorcery novel as it has unfolded before this installment, click here)
Another idea circled Kaveh’s mind. He hoped it worked better than the last one. He retrieved the fallen kidenn stone and slowly lifted his bound arms in an arc, as though he were polishing a huge bronze mirror, the way he had seen the shaten do when they saved him in the bazaar. He thought of the scene in Rishapla’s caravanserai, where the shaten had performed the divination. The air shimmered before his hands, and joy flattened his breast as he saw the scene materialize. The Elamite warrior’s eyes widened, making his black pupils look like pinpoints. He lowered the dagger. His face contorted with dread, he backed away and fled. Kaveh, in his weakened condition, could not keep the image from abating.
The astonished warrior came back with two other men. One was elegantly dressed in a long, wide-sleeved tunic patterned with hollow squares, and wore a tightly-curved bow over his shoulder, beside the quiver. The other was a long-haired, naked shaten with a black snake around his neck. Kaveh did not know if this was a good or a bad development. The shaten might not stand in much awe of a kidenn stone or parlor tricks like the one he had just mastered.
The great man knelt in front of Kaveh. “Are you a Persian, or a Mede?”
“A Persian, of the Germani tribe and the city of Aratta.”
“Good. I know the Persian dialect better than I do Median.” The man pointed at the carnelian stone. “How did you come by that necklace? It is normally among the paraphernalia of Elamite holy men.”
Kaveh told him the story. The notable’s dark face surrendered no sign of emotion as he listened, then turned to the aged shaten and translated for him. The Elamite priest, his straight, iron grey hair hanging in braids down his back, nodded thoughtfully and grunted. After a while he launched into a long peroration directed at the notable and anyone else who happened to be listening.
The notable’s nose was aquiline, his cheek bones high, and his curled black beard well-groomed. His eyes were round and seemed capable of infinite amazement, and he displayed a good-humored smile. “The shaten has explained that all things are made of light, yet most beings in this material world allow darkness to encompass them. The true hero is one who realizes his unity with the underlying light-stuff, and who shines in the darkness. He says that you are such a hero. He sees the kidenn glow about your head, and agrees that his colleagues who bestowed the stone on you were very wise men indeed.”
“You’re not going to sell me as a slave?”
The notable frowned. He turned to the old priest and softly asked a question. The shaten made a sign with his hand that Kaveh could not interpret.
“No, the straitlaced old bugger won’t let us sell you. Has no sense of the value of booty.”
The man flashed his winning smile, and Kaveh had no idea if he was serious or not. Then he began giving commands to the warriors in staccato bursts. One came over and untied Kaveh, and another brought him a dish with a roast chicken leg on it. Ravenous, the blacksmith mumbled a short prayer and tore into it, even devouring the gristle. Then he licked his greasy hands.
“Thanks. What are you going to do with me?”
“I cannot say for sure yet. My name is Indattu, and I am the second in command here. I’m inclined simply to set you free, but I’ll have to clear it with my chief.”
“Is that what the shaten said?
“Luckily for you, the shaten seems very much on your side. He’s gone off to do a divination about you, and by the time we’re ready to strike camp, some decision will have been made. But rest easy. At worst, we may like to bring you back to Susa as a guest in hopes that you’re good luck.”
“But I have to get back to Aratta! My family–”
“Just be patient, young man. Ten minutes ago the question was whether to sell you or kill you.”
Kaveh fell silent. Indattu was right, his fate had taken a happy turn and he should be grateful to the gods. He could not, however, still the frustration that seethed in his midriff, the compelling impulse to seek revenge for his family’s fall to this low estate, and to somehow vindicate them all. He tried saying his mantra, and found that today it possessed some of its old potency and tranquilizing effect. As he settled into a trance-like state, he could hear soldiers and workmen cursing and wrangling with one another as they loaded the booty on their emaciated, wretched beasts, which winced at the return of the heavy cargo to their pink, skinless backs. It suddenly occurred to Kaveh that the Elamites had raided because they were weak and hungry, not simply out of aggrandizement.
Indattu and the shaten finally returned. “The commander was very intrigued with you.”
“He doesn’t want to take me to Susa, does he?” Kaveh’s heartbeat hammered in his ears.
“No. He didn’t want an enemy warlock accompanying his expedition. He wants you to leave.”
Kaveh expelled a lungful of cool morning air, and realized he had been holding his breath.
“I’m grateful enough for my freedom. But tell your commander that if he really wants to appease this warlock, he’ll treat the two men taken captive with me well.”
Indattu raised a jet-black eyebrow. “Very well. I’ll deliver the message. But one of them, the dealer named Bagavir, died last night.”
Kaveh felt guilty at his elation.
Then Indattu nodded at the old gap-toothed shaten. “The holy man has some parting advice for you, as well.”
Kaveh looked up in surprise. “He does?”
“He says that he once saw another stone shaped exactly like this one.”
“It belonged to an elderly and once-powerful shaten of Susa who had fallen on hard times, and came close to starving to death as the city entered the time of troubles. The desperate priest, convinced that he had lost his aura of divine favor, sold the stone to a visiting Persian merchant.”
“How long ago was this?”
Kaveh shrugged. “So it could be anywhere by now.”
“He later encountered the merchant again, when he came to trade in Susa, and asked after the remarkable stone. It seems the Persian went trading in Mazandaran, and the treacherous people of that jungle set upon him and stole all his goods, taking him as a slave. He claimed to have seen with his own eyes how, one day the gigantic Saena bird swooped down on the village where he was enslaved, and carried off his master, who wore the kidenn stone about his neck. In the ensuing confusion, he escaped.”
Kaveh thought for a moment. “I never used to put a lot of stock in the talk of kidenn stones and dragons, and I’m still not sure there are any giant Saena birds. But the gem obviously did allow me to summon up a scene from the past. The other shatens thought it might be important to find the stone’s mate, so this information may come in very handy someday. Please thank the shaten for me.”
Indattu winked his round eye, and translated, then listened to the raucous response. “He says that if you truly have the kidenn, we may end up being most beholden to you. He wishes you luck, but warns of unhappy harbingers.”
Kaveh nodded, and put his hands together, bowing slightly to the shaten, then to Indattu. The notable had his men untie his bonds.
“There’s one more problem.”
“He says we can’t spare any horses. You’ll have to go on foot.”
“In this unknown wilderness? This abode of demon mind, of abominable slithering or poisonous freaks? That is virtually a death sentence!”
“It has been written.”
Comments and suggestions on the installments are welcome, but they should please be constructive. Commenters relinquish the rights to any ideas they express in the comments section, which become the property of Juan Cole. Presumably they want them incorporated into the final work, and they might be. The novel is copyright by Juan Cole, 2014, and may not be mirrored or reproduced without express permission from the author.