“The great thing in the world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.” -Oliver Wendall Holmes

“We were formed in ranks, with Russian soldiers guarding us–Englishmen, Americans, Dutchmen, Belgians, Frenchmen, Canadians, South Africans, New Zealanders, Australians, thousands of us about to stop being prisoners of war. And on the other side of the field were thousands of Russians and Poles and Yugoslavians and so on guarded by American soldiers. An exchange was made in the rain–one for one.” (Vonnegut p. 6)

Kurt Vonnegut paints a vivid picture of how the prisoner exchange went after the end of World War II in Slaughterhouse Five. At the end of the war, soldiers from many countries were displaced, usually found behind enemy lines as prisoners of war. Back in WWII the numbers were in the thousands. I’m not sure why, but it seems that Vonnegut wanted to tell us that there was no formal way of returning soldiers back to their respective countries other than playing a mass-scale game of ‘Red Rover’.

Today, prisoner exchanges still happen, although the world probably will never see one on such a massive scale as Kurt Vonnegut witnessed. Prisoners are traded with the captivating country for prisoners from their own country. Such a situation is about to happen between Palestinian Hamas and Israel. The deal, however, isn’t going to be the big game of ‘Red Rover’ that was talked about in Slaughterhouse Five. In fact, it is a one sided deal, that primarily favors Hamas.

As talks continue, it appears to be that Israel will release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for one Israeli captive, held for over three years. Though at first the deal doesn’t seem fair, to traded hundreds of prisoners for one, it is actually a strategy that will try and promote peace in the future.

“Hamas, the Iranian-backed militant group that controls Gaza, is also hungry for progress. Exchanging Schalit for hundreds of prisoners would provide a swift popularity boost for the militant group among Palestinians, who see the imprisonment of thousands of their countrymen in Israeli jails as one of their main grievances against Israel.” (AP)

Be as it may, I don’t see this exchange as promoting peace at all. I see it as a bold move for Hamas to get many Palestinians out of jail, most of whom I believe will fight against Israel shortly after being released. I see the whole deal as a mistake for Israel. I think they can figure out another way to get the one soldier back from behind enemy lines. Yet, who knows. Maybe I’m wrong and Hamas is ready to deal. Maybe the prisoners aren’t soldiers. The problem is, I don’t know. What I do know is that this is one war that needs to end as it has been dragging on for way too long.

Progress Seen in Hamas-Israel Talks about Possible Prisoner Swap

24 November 2009

The Associated Press

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By lenards18

They Say That The Truth Shall Set You Free…

Seeing how I have never experienced war firsthand, it’s hard for me to know what it’s like to be in the military handling prisoners of war. I can understand how hard it must be to look some people in the face. In 2003 a British soldier, Corporal Donald Payne, was accused of a war crime and dismissed from the military, and jailed for a year, for allegedly causing the death of an Iraqi prisoner, Baha Mousa. News recently surfaced from a former colleague of that soldier who claimed to see him and another soldiers kick and beat the Iraqi.

“I don’t believe he was a threat. I do not even believe he was trying to escape, I just think he was injured and wanted to get help. I saw them struggling with him. One of them – I cannot remember which one – was trying to get the sandbag on his head. Baha Mousa was struggling and he seemed to be trying to break free. I saw Payne and Cooper kicking and hitting Baha Mousa trying to get him in the room. I just walked out of the room… because I wanted nothing to do with that. This was not what I had signed up for.”

As a soldier, I feel like you are trained to kill people whom you are told to kill. Sometimes, I feel like it can be misinterpreted. But can you really blame a soldier for his actions? Would they have done something like this before they went to war? Was it prejudice or just what they were trained to do? I feel that post 9/11 many people had a negative attitude towards anyone from the Middle East. I feel like it would be more expected from a US soldier than a British soldier, though. So how can you really justify your actions? I’m not saying the British soldiers were right. What they did was terrible, as Mousa was a prisoner of war. I just wonder if it was because of hatred or training that they committed the act.

As far as their behavior goes, however wrong it may have been, I also feel it is an improvement from the way things went during World War II. While reading Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut explains the fate of the two scouts. They were killed on the spot, no questions asked.

“Three inoffensive bangs came from far away. They came from German rifles. The two scouts who had just ditched Billy and Weary had just been shot. They had been lying in ambush for Germans. They had been discovered and shot from behind. Now they were dying in the snow, feeling nothing, turning the snow into the color of raspberry sherbet. So it goes…”(pg. 54)

Sure, Baha Mousa may not have been an armed infantryman, but he was still a prisoner of war. He could’ve been shot like the scouts in Slaughterhouse Five, but at least he was a prisoner first. It just seemed to happen unfortunately that he was put into the wrong hands, and accidentally beaten to death. So it goes…

 

Soldiers ‘Hit and Kicked’ Mousa

BBC World News

9 November 2009

By lenards18

Blogs…The New Mail?

It’s no secret that technological advances have helped make communication easier. Long gone are the days of writing letters. E-mail has taken over that job. And why not? Today it costs forty-four cents to mail a letter, within a certain range. With many people in the world already owning computers and paying for internet service, why spend extra money to keep in contact with relatives? Especially for people with loved ones overseas. I used a postage calculator to find out how much it costs to mail a letter from the US to Iraq on The United States Postal Service‘s website. For a regular, plain letter, it costs $0.98 international. Packages start at $13.00 and can go up to around $28.00!

I feel that gone are the days of writing loved ones letters. It is much easier, much quicker, and more convenient to e-mail or blog to someone. It is usually instant, instead of days to even weeks-long delays in mailing. Sure, the letters we have seen in Since You Went Away had sentimental value, but that was in the 1940s. The internet, yet alone computers themselves, didnt exist, so people had to make due with what they had. Also, I’m sure if two people kept in contact through mail nowadays, it would have the same sentimental value. There is something about seeing handwritten words rather than generic text.

One of the blogs I am subscribed to, A World Away, which is from soldiers from Wisconsin, had a recent post from a soldier in Iraq. He blogged what he could have easily wrote in a letter, but instead of just sending it to his family, he is letting the world see what he has experienced. It is titled Sights and Smells on the Iraq Side of Camp Taji. In it, soldier Nick Druecke blogs about, literally, the sights and smells of Camp Taji, a military camp ~20 miles north of Baghdad.

The Iraqi side is the complete opposite. After passing an entry control point filled with armed guards, a series speed bumps, stop signs, detainee areas and more concrete, you enter what I call ‘the dark side.’ The roads are a nightmare, filled with pot holes and small fissures. Also road signs are a rarity, there is one speed limit sign to be seen (50 k.p.h.) which nobody obeys. You could be flying down those roads and somebody will always be trying to pass you, as there are no traffic lanes. More often than not you will see a truck with an obscene amount of Iraqi’s going down the road. In an average pick-up there will be upwards of 12 crammed in there. Also all of the road signs are in arabic, so unless you know where your going your in trouble.

If Nick would have written a letter, chances are it may be published in a Wisconsin newspaper. But I feel that may be where the story would end. Now that is online, anyone can read it. The same is true with all of the other military blogs. More people can find information online rather than just their local paper. Soldiers stories can be seen by the world, rather than just family or friends. Letter writing may be on the way out, like cassette tapes, VHS tapes, or maybe even house phones. As the world transitions into using newer technology, things will have to be phased out and replaced.

Sights and Smells on the Iraq Side of Camp Taji

By Nick Druecke

14 October 2009

By lenards18

Seriously?

Last week I wrote about the Israeli army and Palestinian Hamas both being cited for war crimes against humanity. One would think that after being cited for war crimes the guilty parties would make a better effort to clean up their act. Apparently it is a lot easier to think than act. After something as serious as that, one of those parties failed to make things better, and if you had to guess who it was before I told you, most of you would think of Hamas. Well, you’d be wrong. Israel is the guilty party.

While Israel is blockading Gaza, they are also denying a large number of Palestinians in the West Bank water. Sounds familiar, right? For the past month, we have read a lot of stories and have even seen videos of Jews in Nazi concentration camps being denied food and water. From both documentaries, to Maus, to Survival in Auschwitz, we keep seeing how Jewish and other prisoners were being denied their basic human rights during one of the worst war acts in world history. For how ridiculous I thought the innocent people being killed from last week’s post was, this horrible act just thrust itself to the top of my list. At least the civilians who died in bombing raids were accidental. What is happening now is on purpose.

According to Amnesty International:

“…average Palestinian daily water consumption reaches 70 litres a day, compared with 300 litres for the Israelis. It says that some Palestinians barely get 20 litres a day – the minimum recommended even in humanitarian emergencies.”

Along with that, Amnesty International has reported that many Israeli actions are discriminating against the Palestinians. Those actions include:

  • Israel has “entirely appropriated the Palestinians’ share of the Jordan river” and uses 80% of a key shared aquifer
  • West Bank Palestinians are not allowed to drill wells without Israeli permits, which are “often impossible” to obtain
  • Rainwater harvesting cisterns are “often destroyed by the Israeli army”
  • Israeli soldiers confiscated a water tanker from villagers who were trying to remain in land Israel had declared a “closed military area”
  • An unnamed Israeli soldier says rooftop Palestinian household water tanks are “good for target practice”
  • Much of the land cut off by the West Bank barrier is land with good access to a major aquifer
  • Israeli military operations have damaged Palestinian water infrastructure, including $6m worth during the Cast Lead operation in Gaza last winter
  • The Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza has “exacerbated what was already a dire situation” by denying many building materials needed for water and sewage projects.

Now, you would think that Israel would take these charges and maybe, if they were acting rationally, fix the problems. Well, as far as responding to the accusations, they feel like they are being picked on. They complain that Palestinians are already getting more water that they were supposed to get in a 1990 peace deal. They are saying that Amnesty International’s report is flawed. Well according to a third party, say for instance, me, Israel are the ones who are wrong. You cannot deny civilians basic human rights, no matter what war you are in. If Israel keeps this behavior up, they are going to lose a lot of friends, or maybe even a few allies.

Report: Palestinians Denied Water

BBC News-Middle East

27 October 2009

By lenards18

Oh, how the tables have turned…Sort of…

In Israel’s fight to drive Hamas out of Gaza, both Israel and Hamas have been found guilty of war crimes. Funny how sixty-four years after World War II how Israel can be accused of war crimes against humanity, which many Nazi officials were accused of after the war for connections to the Holocaust.

The 575-page report by the South African judge concluded that Israel had “committed actions amounting to war crimes, possibly crimes against humanity” by using disproportionate force, deliberately targeting civilians, using Palestinians as human shields and destroying civilian infrastructure during its offensive in Gaza. It also found there was also evidence that Palestinian militant groups including Hamas, which controls Gaza, had committed war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity, in their repeated rocket and mortars attacks on southern Israel.

You’d think that the Israelis people would try and fight their war a little more carefully. Not to say that this is in any way, shape, or form in any comparison to the Nazi’s acts during the Holocaust, but the simple fact is, they are accused of committing war crimes. It reminds me of the old saying: “The pot calling the kettle black”. I can understand that people of Jewish descent, especially those who survived the Holocaust, can be mad at how the way things went. Yet, when Israel starts committing war crimes, they aren’t acting any better than Nazi Germany in a small sense.

At least what the Nazis did was preplanned. What Israel and Hamas are being accused of is mostly the killing of innocent civilians in the crossfire, or during bombings or rocket attacks. The simple things is this: While fighting a war, you must value human life, even though you are taught to destroy it. Killing enough civilians to be cited for war crimes is ridiculous. Using people as human shields in a war is unacceptable. Any war that is killing that great of a number of innocents should be limited or stopped.

Another thing that bothers me is the bombing deaths. At least during the Holocaust, like how we see in Art Spiegelman’s Maus, many of the Jews in the Nazi camps were expecting to die. We have also heard the same thing from the Holocaust Survivors documentary. They knew from those in the camps before them where the gas chambers were, where the crematorium was, and that they would be shot dead on the spot for many different reasons. The civilian deaths during the Gaza fighting were unexpected. I can’t imagine how it must’ve been for those who had their houses bombed, and their loved ones killed, all for an ongoing war on terror. In a little way, the war on terror can almost be seen by the families of the deceased as a terrorist act in itself.

UN backs Gaza ‘War Crimes’ Report

BBC World News

16 October 2009

By lenards18

How to Make Up for a Political Injustice…

It has been 64 years since the official end of World War II. I figured I had known what happened in the Nazi “work” camps. Watching the Alfred Hitchcock documentary, I realize now I had heard the sugar-coated version. I never knew how horrible things were until the video. Watching the video definitely opened my eyes to the sheer brutality of the Nazi regime.

I knew of the gas chambers and ovens that burned the prisoners, but from what I have learned now, it was one of the least horrifying things that happened. I cannot believe that upon hearing of the advancement of Allied troops, the Nazis at the some of the camps tried to cover their tracks and kill as many prisoners as possible. I was appalled to hear the stories of those who died in the last hours of the war. Their deaths, to me, completely unnecessary. One part of one story that got me was about the camp where the Nazis threw prisoners in the barn and tried to asphyxiate them by burning hay. What really got me about this particular story was how the one guy who was digging his way out, with the rest of his body on fire, had to be shot. What were his chances of getting away? He was most likely mortally wounded by the fire. Others that escaped were shot. What were they going to do? The war was over. Why did they need to die?

Which brings us to now. It has been 64 years since the end of World War II. So how does the current German government make up for political injustices performed by the Nazi party six and a half decades earlier? They overturned Nazi-era treason convictions. Treason against the Nazi party carried a death sentence. Those caught hiding enemies of state, those who participated in political revolts, and those who demoralized troops or deserted, were killed or sent to a “work” camp. The number of German people thought to have died is in the ten thousands.

So why now? What does the German government hope this will do? According to Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries:

“By rehabilitating all so-called war traitors, we restore the honor and dignity of a long forgotten group of victims of the Nazi justice system. This is also an important signal for the relatives. Even if not all of those who were sentenced to death as war traitors were political resistance fighters, they definitely all were victims of a criminal justice system that killed in order to maintain the Nazi regime.”

To me, it may be a little too late to make peace with those German citizens who died in camps like those in the video. It makes you wonder how many of those ten thousand or so German people were in the video we saw, lifeless lying in a mass grave, betrayed by their countrymen over a failed cause.

Germany Overturns Nazi-era Treason Convictions

The Associated Press

9 September 2009

By lenards18

“And now, telling you all about it here I can distinctly remember most things, the river, the pub, the cold, but I couldn’t for the life of me tell you what he looked like. I can’t see his face anymore.”

These words from Saunders’ story really struck a chord with me. I cannot remember how many times, along many different kinds of media, that I have heard the expression about soldiers not learning much about each other except for each others names because they weren’t going to be around long enough to remember anything of value. I feel like the line from Saunders’ story sort of hits that point. Maybe it was because of the war and the remembering of new faces that he forgot what the creepy guy by the river looked like. So many people died in those wars, I bet it was hard to remember anything about them. They even joke about it early in the play. Joking doesn’t make me feel too good about what kind of people the soldiers are, but since they are fictional I cannot get into an uproar about them. Why is it that soldiers who have been with a company for awhile treat newcomers with zero faith? Maybe the replacement will be a better soldier than the last guy, but I still feel like most of the time the older soldiers have a death wish for the new guys.

Saunders, and many soldiers like him, have trouble remembering faces. I can understand that. War must be hard, especially fighting it with people who you cannot become too attached to. There was no way for those men, nor their families to remember the soldiers how they were.

Let us fast forward the time frame a bit. I found an old story on npr.org. In 2005, students and faculty at the College of Marin in California painted 1,100 5″ x 7″ portraits of soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Additional pictures were painted by students at Syracuse University. Total, around 1,500 portraits of fallen US soldiers were created. The project was called To Never Forget: Faces of the Fallen. I found this project moving, because for no apparent reason, these students and staff undertook the task of helping people remember those soldiers whose faces they cannot remember. They are helping these fallen men live on as heroes for the world to see by showcasing them with their fallen comrades. I feel that more projects like this should be undertaken. I believe it could be used as a powerful tool to show the world the faces of the men that died in order for the rest of us to live free, or protect the ideal of freedom. With the US soldier death tool approaching 4,500, I feel like people need to have their attention drawn to how this war is going. I feel like people are just forgetting those faces whom we have overseas. We cannot forget those faces.

By lenards18

“I feel I shall never be the same person again, and wonder if, when the war does end, I shall forgotten how to laugh.” -V.B.

When we are young, we learn about the horrors of war. We understand that people die. Soldiers die. Civilians die. It’s just a part of what happens. Yet, as we get older, we learn more about war. We learn that war is uglier than we originally thought. We learn that casualties don’t always occur on the battlefield. We learn that just because a soldier comes home, it doesn’t mean he/she is exactly safe. We learn about things such as PTSD.

It’s no secret anymore. There are more and more cases of PTSD every day. More alarming is the rise in suicides of military personnel who have returned from  war. More and more cases of PTSD are slipping through Army pysch-personnel. The Army National Guard has reported that in the last five years three of their members have committed suicide.

Stung by alarming increases in soldier suicides, the military has expanded testing and education around suicide, depression and related problems in recent years.

It may be because those who return are harder to diagnose. It may also be because personnel are lying during their exams, denying their problem and refusing help. That was the case of Iraq war veteran Kevin Rodrick of Racine, Wisconsin. On the day he was supposed to meet with Marine colleagues and commanders about joining the Reserves, he took his own life.

Those who knew him say he was too independent and stubborn to accept counseling for personal problems, and that he would have given false answers on a psychological evaluation in order to fool the doctors.

Ironically, on the day he was buried, there was a postcard in the mail. The post card was to tell Kevin he was due for a pysch evaluation.

The story of Kevin and the many other cases of soldiers who took their own lives really reminded me of an excerpt from Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth.

I wonder how much really all you have seen and done has changed you. Personally, after seeing some of the dreadful things i have to see here, I feel I shall never be the same person again, and wonder if, when the war does end, I shall forgotten how to laugh.” (p. 215)

In Vera’s experience as a wartime nurse, she already was talking of how she had changed who she was because of what she had seen. I feel that is exactly what is wrong with those soldiers with PTSD. What they have gone through, seen, or heard. Sleepless nights, unsteady at the thought of ambush or attack. It must really take a devastating toll on them. It also makes me wonder back to WWI or WWII, if there were any suicides after the war. I’m certain that those coming back from the war were discharged without a psychological evaluation. Wikipedia’s definition of PTSD states that:

Although PTSD-like symptoms have also been recognized in combat veterans of many military conflicts since, the modern understanding of PTSD dates from the 1970s, largely as a result of the problems that were still being experienced by US military veterans of the war in Vietnam.

So what was different? How did the soldiers of WWI or WWII cope with the stress of war? If anyone can steer me into this answer please do. Also, tell the military while you are at it. Soldiers taking their own lives after they come back from war seems like a ridiculous problem to be having in this day and age.

Suicides a Growing Problem for Military

by Steven Verburg

5 September 2009

By lenards18

Looks like we’re gonna be here for awhile…

As record shows, the Iraq war officially started on March 20, 2003. For six years the US and it’s allied countries have occupied regions in the Middle East. Six years has passed and to some, it to people like me it has felt like two. For many families with loved ones overseas, it has felt like twenty. It is strange how time passes by so fast. Recently, I feel like I haven’t been hearing much in the news about Iraq. I’m used to hearing about revolts, bombings, and lies about exit strategies. The only thing I have been seeing lately is reports on US deaths every couple of weeks. This brought up a big question to me. When I am not looking for news about Iraq, or there is no news to report, what is happening with our troops. Well, with the help of A World Away, one of my military blogs, I cam across a very different story of what happens that we don’t usually hear about.

In the article We’re Recycling Camp Bucca, LTC Leah Moore explains how that at FOB (Forward Operating Base) Camp Bucca, which serves as a prison camp in Iraq, they have been making forward strides in making being stationed at the camp more ‘livable’. Since it’s creation, the camp has built:

“…a brick factory capable of producing up to 1 million bricks per month, an ice plant capable of producing up to 45 tons of ice per day, and a Waste Water Treatment Plant with the ability to sustain a population of over 50,000 people.”

Now, Camp Bucca is overseeing construction of a water treatment plant that is supposedly going to produce two million gallons of water a day. Having two million gallons of clean water a day is really going to be a nice asset to those stationed at Camp Bucca. Yet, if that weren’t enough already, in the future they will provide local cities/villages direct access to their water, waste plant, brick, and ice factory.

I feel that it is important to notice how war has changed in the last 80-90 years. While reading Siegfried Sassoon’s Trench Duty, we got a glimpse of how war used to be fought. In World War I, men camped on the front lines. Trench warfare played a big part in the war. Most soldiers didn’t have long term breaks in fighting. Compared to now, where after six years in fighting on the front lines, we have become more adapted to long term warfare. Bases in the war didn’t have many of the comforts of home. Nowadays, in Iraq, and more specifically Camp Bucca, we have a base/prison camp that has buildings that make materials that will aid in the rebuilding and also aid those soldiers who are putting their lives on the line in a way that soldiers in WWI or WWII probably would never even dreamed of. To me, it’s amazing how far we’ve come, and how the standard of living has risen from the 1900s to the present. I can only wonder what war will look like when I’m an old man. I’m curious to see what advancements we will make in order to make the lives of soldiers easier for a long term war.

We’re Recycling Camp Bucca

by LTC Leah Moore

8 September 2009

Full Article

By lenards18

English 384… First Post

Bear with me as this is my first blog and I’m struggling to introduce myself to Google Reader. For the most part, the RSS feeds I have been looking into either deal with the war in Iraq, or a pending war with Iran.

I chose to use the BBC’s middle east feed because I feel like the BBC has no intention of withholding information to the world. I feel that the New York Times may be biased in an attempt to “protect” the American public. I’m trying to use this feed to focus on happenings in Iran.

Google news decided to be troublesome with me as well. I’m not quite sure if I have done it right but I have subscribed to the Dallas Morning News’ international section, as they have a Iraq War Report. I’m hoping that they will keep updating this, otherwise I will find a new source.

My milblogging.com feed is titled A World Away. The latest post is really what drew me in, and the description is really why I chose it. According to Milblogging’s site, A World Away tells stories of dispatched Wisconsin men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. When I first saw this blog, the picture on the post was a truck running over beer in Iraq. I was curious.

I also looked into the “You Served” podcast, as I was interested in hearing stories and talk from both retired and current soldiers. They have a 9/11 special coming up and I’m curious as to what will be discussed amongst the participants.

By lenards18