Monday, April 28, 2014

People of the Philippines want less US military presence, not more

Deal Welcoming US Military Into Philippines Slammed As 'Betrayal'

Ten-year military accord announced Sunday spurns mass movements that ousted US military from permanent bases in Philippines in 1992

- Sarah Lazare, staff writer
April 23, 2014: Protesters shout slogans during a rally at the U.S. Embassy ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama's visit in Manila, Philippines. (Photo: Bullit Marquez/ Associated Press)The U.S. and Philippine governments have agreed on a 10-year pact to open this southeast Asian country to more U.S. troops, warships, and fighter planes, flouting the people's movements that booted the U.S. military from its permanent Philippine bases over twenty years ago.
"We have lost too much because of the U.S. military presence in our country," Bernadette Ellorin, Chairperson of BAYAN-USA—an alliance of Filipino organizations in the U.S, toldCommon Dreams. "The Philippines has long history of protests against militarization. The protests now are only going to grow."
The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement was announced Sunday by the White House and confirmed by two anonymous Philippine officials speaking to the Associated Press.Friday April 25 Protest in New York City against U.S. military and economic intervention in Asia Pacific. Protests swept major cities across the United States last week, in solidarity with protests throughout the Asia-Pacific. (Photo: Bernadette Ellorin)
According to AP, which obtained a Philippine government primer, the accord "would give American forces temporary access to selected military camps and allow them to preposition fighter jets and ships." The primer did not specify how many U.S. troops will be deployed.
The agreement will be signed on Monday before President Barack Obama arrives on a two-day visit to Manila. The deal comes in the midst of Obama's tour of the Asia-Pacific region, in what is widely seen as a bid to secure a U.S. military "pivot" to the region and push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership—a so-called "free trade" deal that has been slammed as "corporate colonialism."
Critics say the U.S. economic and military agenda in the Asia-Pacific is aimed at securing dominance over the region and hedging against China. "Militarization is always the other side of economic intervention," said Ellorin.
Throughout the Asia-Pacific, and in cities across the U.S., Obama's trip has been met with protests. "Even before Obama is planned to arrive, they already started holding protests at the U.S. embassy in Manilla, and they were met with violent reaction from security forces," said Ellorin.
For over 100 years, social movements in the Philippines have opposed U.S. power over their country, which includes more than five decades of direct colonial rule and the backing of brutal dictator Ferdinand Marcos — who was president from 1965 to 1986 until he was overthrown by a popular movement.
"In 1992, it was the people's movement that ousted the U.S. from two permanent bases. We did it once we can do it again." —Bernadette Ellorin, BAYAN-USA
Even after Philippine independence, the U.S. maintained a heavy presence of bases and troops, despite widespread opposition to the environmental and social harm they spread, which includes numerous incidents of sexual assaults and rape perpetrated against civilians.
Social movements forced the Philippine government to shut down the last permanent U.S. bases in the country in 1992. However, the U.S. currently sends 500 troops to the southern Philippines annually for so-called counter-terrorism purposes, while 6,500 come each year for training, according tothe Philippine military.
Obama has aggressively pushed to expand this military presence as part of the U.S. military's "re-balancing" to the Asia-Pacific. The U.S. and Philippine governments have levied U.S. humanitarian response to Typhoon Haiyan to build support for a buildup.
"This is treachery from the Philippines government and a betrayal of our territorial integrity by taking a subservient role to imperialists," said Ellorin.
She added, "In 1992, it was the people's movement that ousted the U.S. from two permanent bases. We did it once we can do it again."

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Promoting a "Right to Heal" from Ft. Hood to Abu Ghraib

Excellent article by Phyllis Bennis from Foreign Policy in Focus:

Promoting a “Right to Heal” from Ft. Hood to Abu Ghraib

(Photo: Joseph Holmes / Flickr)
This article is a joint publication of Foreign Policy In Focus and
The recent shootings of soldiers at Fort Hood and other U.S. military bases have once again brought to public attention the challenge of making sure that soldiers returning from war zones find security and support at home. The Washington Post calls the pressures on veterans “the next war.” But whatever war comes next, those existing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and their consequences continue.
The exploding rates of suicide among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, the escalating numbers of soldiers turning their weapons on each other as well as themselves, and theendemic spread of PTSD all are linked to the wars themselves. Wars of aggression and occupation have an enormous, terrible effect on the young women and men ordered to fight them.
And that’s just on the U.S. military side. We also have a moral and legal responsibility to respond to the wars’ even more devastating impact on millions of Afghans and Iraqis.
Last March, a hundred or so people filled a local Washington, DC church, reprising a scene more common several years ago—an examination of the impact of the U.S. war in Iraq. That night, the young soldiers of Iraq Veterans Against the War (and some of their parents) joined Iraqi women’s rights and labor leaders, along with U.S.-based lawyers, epidemiologists, and activists, to build a campaign demanding what they call the Right to Heal. The veterans’ demands begin with the urgent need to end the military’s practice of sending soldiers diagnosed with PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and other related wounds back into battle. That need is linked directly to dealing with the suicides, homicides, domestic violence, and other problems facing the high numbers of veterans returning from the post-9/11 wars with serious mental injuries.
But IVAW linked its demand for better care for U.S. veterans to the need to respond to the deep destruction left in Iraq and Afghanistan—social, environmental, and medical—that continues to plague the violence-riven countries.
U.S. troops were redeployed out of Iraq two-and-a-half years ago. But the United States’ nearly decade-long occupation—which followed not only the 2003 invasion, but also the Pentagon’s 1991 war and 12 years of crippling U.S.-led sanctions—destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure, despoiled the country’s environment, and shredded its social fabric. The consequences of the U.S. war remain embedded in the shattered cities, polluted rivers, carcinogenic military burn pits, and in the bodies of hundreds of thousands or millions of Iraqis, as well as of tens of thousands of U.S. troops.
Meanwhile, in an all-too-rare front-page feature documenting the Afghanistan War’s ongoing impact on Afghans, the Washington Post recently dissected the consequences for the “rising number of children … dying from U.S. explosives littering Afghan land.” The Postset a scene similar to post-occupation Iraq: “As the U.S. military withdraws from Afghanistan,” it reported, “it is leaving behind a deadly legacy: about 800 square miles of land littered with undetonated grenades, rockets and mortar shells. The military has vacated scores of firing ranges pocked with the explosives. Dozens of children have been killed or wounded as they have stumbled upon the ordnance at the sites, which are often poorly marked.” Ominously, it adds, “Casualties are likely to increase sharply; the U.S. military has removed the munitions from only 3 percent of the territory covered by its sprawling ranges, officials said.”
Back at the Washington church, with film producer and longtime television host Phil Donahue moderating, IVAW members detailed their experiences. The mother of Joshua Casteel, an army interrogator at Abu Ghraib prison who died of a rare cancer in August 2012, described the toxic nature of the military’s burn pits—which are filled with plastics and other chemical materials—100 yards from where Joshua lived, worked, and breathed thick black smoke for seven months in 2004.
U.S. environmental toxicologist Mozhgan Savabieasfahani documented the cancers, birth defects, and other health crises among Iraqis, particularly in areas where “the Iraqi public has been exposed to toxic compounds, such as lead and mercury.” She noted, “I would like to see large-scale environmental testing in Iraq.”
Iraqi women’s rights advocate Yanar Mohammed called for “reparations for families facing birth defects, areas that have been contaminated. There needs to be clean-up…. The U.S. has to be held to account for this.”
Such accountability—to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan and to the U.S. forces returning from years of war and occupation—would go much further to protect U.S. troops and veterans than better gun control at Fort Hood.
Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Back in Cougar Country at Crockett HS

Tami, Hart, Susana, Alejandro and I were glad to have a SOY table today at Crockett HS.  Our stenciled t-shirts went quickly to students who did all four things:  named the 5 basic First Amendment freedoms, tried a Peace Pull-up, did the Penny Poll and tried the Peace Wheel of Fortune.  Today being Tax Day made the Penny Poll even more pertinent.  The "Education" category got the most penny votes by far, followed by "Health Care" and "Environment."  Once again, it is clear that if elected officials listened to the voices of students, we would have much different government priorities, with higher education and health care affordable for all.
We were glad to see peace posters designed by the XY Zone, a group for young men sponsored by Communities in Schools, and other student art in a "Peace it Together" display.


We really liked these posters by the XY Zone

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Iraq Veterans Against the War response to Ft. Hood shootings

This excellent statement was released today by Iraq Veterans Against the War in response to the tragic shootings at Ft. Hood yesterday:

Last night, President Obama stated that he is "heartbroken" about the shooting on Fort Hood Army base in Killeen Texas. We, too, are heartbroken, because this shooting could have been prevented.
The United States military is an institution that teaches us to devalue the lives of others and to devalue ourselves. When combat stress and other injuries are added to that environment, the result is volatile.
Fort Hood's base commander, General Mark Milley, would like us to believe that this incident is about one unique individual and his inability to shoulder the stress of combat. Based on our own experiences and 4 years of extensive research and analysis, we are well aware that there is nothing particularly unique about Ivan Lopez's story. A full report on this research will be released next month on Memorial Day.
When we first went to Killeen in 2010, we met with many soldiers who were suffering from Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from combat and from sexual trauma. Instead of being treated, their commanders overturned their doctors' orders and sent them back to war. In some cases, those who reported these injuries were punished or given bad discharges, which create a permanent barrier to care. It is no wonder that this phenomenon manifests as rage and violence. We cannot allow this to continue - U.S. service members must be provided the right to heal from the invisible wounds of war. 
Lopez was already being treated for common symptoms of PTSD - anxiety, depression, and insomnia - and was being evaluated for PTSD. Even after his death, the leadership at Fort Hood is going out of their way to deny any relationship between Ivan Lopez's mental health and his actions. The army claims that PTSD is difficult to diagnose. It would be much more accurate to say that it's difficult for veterans and service members to get a diagnosis from a military or VA doctor. 
The U.S. government and the Department of Defense are doing everything they can to avoid paying - whether in dollars or labor - for the invisible injuries they have caused to those they use to fight on their behalf. The number of US service members who suffer from PTSD due to (often concurrent) deployments ranges from 20% - 50% depending on the source. A lifetime of care for that many veterans is incredibly expensive. Affirming high numbers of incidences of PTSD requires acknowledging that trauma is a common and normal response to war, not a unique and individualized affliction that results from personal weakness and failure. 
We collected testimony from 31 soldiers during our time at Fort Hood and are confident that these experiences are quite common. One of these soldiers, Rebekah Lampman, testified about attempting to get mental health support and justice after being sexually assaulted near the end of her 7 years at Fort Hood. She stated, "I went and did everything I possibly could to advocate for myself. And I was getting the run-around, people were telling me that they were working on it, and the paperwork was delayed. They just gave me excuses. And in the meantime, they kept reprimanding me for my emotions and my actions and for everything."
As long as soldiers continue to be punished for seeking care, tragedies will continue to occur.
We must demand the right to heal.
In Solidarity,

Joyce, Matt, Maggie, and Julia
IVAW Staff

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Women soldiers: "The Things She Carried"

From yesterday's NY Times opinion page:

The Opinion Pages|Op-Ed Contributor

The Things She Carried

Credit Wesley Allsbrook

THE injury wasn’t new, and neither was the insult. Rebecca, a combat veteran of two tours of duty, had been waiting at the V.A. hospital for close to an hour when the office manager asked if she was there to pick up her husband.
No, she said, fighting back her exasperation. She was there because of a spinal injury she sustained while fighting in Afghanistan.
Women have served in the American military in some capacity for 400 years. They’ve deployed alongside men as soldiers in three wars, and since the 1990s, a significant number of them are training, fighting and returning from combat.
But stories about female veterans are nearly absent from our culture. It’s not that their stories are poorly told. It’s that their stories are simply not told in our literature, film and popular culture.
Women have the same issues as men upon return, from traumatic physical injuries to post-traumatic stress disorder. One young combat veteran told me a harrowing story of crushing a little boy beneath the wheels of her speeding Humvee. I am sure she hears the sound of that vehicle hitting his small body every day of her life.
In addition, as many as a third of all women serving in the military are raped by fellow soldiers during their tours of duty, compounding whatever traumas they may have experienced in combat.
And yet Rebecca’s experience at the V.A. hospital is common. I’ve talked with many women veterans, and like all soldiers, they’ve recounted the firefights, moral confusion and compassion for those whose lives are torn apart by war.
Each had a different experience, and each bore her pains differently. But there was this simple, common thread: their stories of being unrecognized at home, which always carried with it a separate kind of frustration and incredulity.
Male soldiers’ experiences make up the foundation of art and literature: From “The Odyssey” to “The Things They Carried,” the heroic or tragic protagonist’s face is familiar, timeless and, without exception, male. The story of men in combat is taught globally, examined broadly, celebrated and vilified in fiction, exploited by either side of the aisle in politics.
For women it’s a different story, one in which they are more often cast as victims, wives, nurses; anything but soldiers who see battle. In the rare war narratives where women do appear, the focus is generally on military sexual assault, a terrible epidemic of violence that needs to be revealed and ended, but not something that represents the full experience of women in the military.
Homecoming isn’t easy for anyone, but traditional domestic expectations can make it particularly challenging for women.
Feelings of wanting to be alone, of alienation, are more difficult, as women are expected to be patient nurturers who care for spouses and children. Parenting under the best circumstances can test a person’s patience, but parenting after life under fire is more than most of us could take. Studies show women experience elevated anxiety about caring for their families upon homecoming, including an increased fear that they may hurt their own children.

Lack of recognition is also a problem. I’ve stood next to my uniform-wearing brother, a veteran of two tours in Afghanistan, in a grocery store while three separate strangers approached to thank him for his service. Women veterans are rarely stopped by people who want to shake their hands. Even wearing fatigues and boots and carrying duffel bags standing in a bus station or at the airport, somehow they go unrecognized as returning warriors.

The sense of emptiness that can follow unacknowledged accomplishments and unacknowledged trauma makes women soldiers feel invisible and adds yet one more insult to injury. Depression, drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness and suicide do not just affect male soldiers, though theirs are the stories we see. Women who have served in the military are three times more likely to commit suicide than their civilian counterparts.
I can’t help but think women soldiers would be afforded the respect they deserve if their experiences were reflected in literature, film and art, if people could see their struggles, their resilience, their grief represented.
They would be made visible if we could read stories that would allow us to understand that women kill in combat and lose friends and long to see their children and partners at home. They would be given appropriate human compassion if we could feel their experiences viscerally as we do when reading novels like “All Quiet on the Western Front,” or seeing films like “The Hurt Locker.”
Society may come to understand war differently if people could see it through the eyes of women who’ve experienced both giving birth and taking life. People might learn something new about aggression and violence if we read not just about those fighting the enemy but about those who must also fight off assault from the soldiers they serve beside or report to.
Female veterans’ stories clearly have the power to change and enrich our understanding of war. But their unsung epics might also have the power to change our culture, our art, our nation and our lives.
Cara Hoffman is the author of the novel “Be Safe I Love You,” about a female veteran.