Attn: United States of America soldiers –

soldier1.jpg

CNN is reporting that the primary concern (exit polling in Michigan)  is the economy at 55%.

The Iraq war comes in at 15%.

_______________________________

Photo credit:  ARLINGTON, VA – MAY 27: Mary McHugh mourns her dead fiance Sgt. James Regan at “Section 60” of the Arlington National Cemetery May 27, 2007. Regan, an American Special Forces soldier, was killed by an IED explosion in Iraq in February of this year, and this was the first time McHugh had visited the grave since the funeral. Section 60, the newest portion of the vast national cemetery on the outskirts of Washington D.C, contains hundreds of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Family members of slain American soldiers have flown in from across the country for Memorial Day. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Mary McHugh 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/91468371@N00/2059905018/

120 VETS COMMIT SUICIDE EACH WEEK

 

120 War Vets Commit Suicide Each Week

By Penny Coleman, AlterNet
Posted on November 26, 2007, Printed on November 26, 2007
http://www.alternet.org/story/68713/

Earlier this year, using the clout that only major broadcast networks seem capable of mustering, CBS News contacted the governments of all 50 states requesting their official records of death by suicide going back 12 years. They heard back from 45 of the 50. From the mountains of gathered information, they sifted out the suicides of those Americans who had served in the armed forces. What they discovered is that in 2005 alone — and remember, this is just in 45 states — there were at least 6,256 veteran suicides, 120 every week for a year and an average of 17 every day.

As the widow of a Vietnam vet who killed himself after coming home, and as the author of a book for which I interviewed dozens of other women who had also lost husbands (or sons or fathers) to PTSD and suicide in the aftermath of the war in Vietnam, I am deeply grateful to CBS for undertaking this long overdue investigation. I am also heartbroken that the numbers are so astonishingly high and tentatively optimistic that perhaps now that there are hard numbers to attest to the magnitude of the problem, it will finally be taken seriously. I say tentatively because this is an administration that melts hard numbers on their tongues like communion wafers.

Since these new wars began, and in spite of a continuous flood of alarming reports, the Department of Defense has managed to keep what has clearly become an epidemic of death beneath the radar of public awareness by systematically concealing statistics about soldier suicides. They have done everything from burying them on official casualty lists in a category they call “accidental noncombat deaths” to outright lying to the parents of dead soldiers. And the Department of Veterans Affairs has rubber-stamped their disinformation, continuing to insist that their studies indicate that soldiers are killing themselves, not because of their combat experiences, but because they have “personal problems.”

Active-duty soldiers, however, are only part of the story. One of the well-known characteristics of post-traumatic stress injuries is that the onset of symptoms is often delayed, sometimes for decades. Veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam are still taking their own lives because new PTSD symptoms have been triggered, or old ones retriggered, by stories and images from these new wars. Their deaths, like the deaths of more recent veterans, are written up in hometown newspapers; they are locally mourned, but officially ignored. The VA doesn’t track or count them. It never has. Both the VA and the Pentagon deny that the problem exists and sanctimoniously point to a lack of evidence they have refused to gather.

They have managed this smoke and mirrors trick for decades in large part because suicide makes people so uncomfortable. It has often been called “that most secret death” because no one wants to talk about it. Over time, in different parts of the world, attitudes have fluctuated between the belief that the act is a sin, a right, a crime, a romantic gesture, an act of consummate bravery or a symptom of mental illness. It has never, however, been an emotionally neutral issue. In the United States, the rationalism of our legal system has acknowledged for 300 years that the act is almost always symptomatic of a mental illness. For those same 300 years, organized religions have stubbornly maintained that it’s a sin. In fact, the very worst sin. The one that is never forgiven because it’s too late to say you’re sorry.

The contradiction between religious doctrine and secular law has left suicide in some kind of nether space in which the fundamentals of our systems of justice and belief are disrupted. A terrible crime has been committed, a murder, and yet there can be no restitution, no punishment. As sin or as mental illness, the origins of suicide live in the mind, illusive, invisible, associated with the mysterious, the secretive and the undisciplined, a kind of omnipresent Orange Alert. Beware the abnormal. Beware the Other.

For years now, this administration has been blasting us with high-decibel, righteous posturing about suicide bombers, those subhuman dastards who do the unthinkable, using their own bodies as lethal weapons. “Those people, they aren’t like us; they don’t value life the way we do,” runs the familiar xenophobic subtext: And sometimes the text isn’t even sub-: “Many terrorists who kill innocent men, women, and children on the streets of Baghdad are followers of the same murderous ideology that took the lives of our citizens in New York, in Washington and Pennsylvania,” proclaimed W, glibly conflating Sept. 11, the invasion of Iraq, Islam, fanatic fundamentalism and human bombs.

Bush has also expressed the opinion that suicide bombers are motivated by despair, neglect and poverty. The demographic statistics on suicide bombers suggest that this isn’t the necessarily the case. Most of the Sept. 11 terrorists came from comfortable middle- to upper-middle-class families and were well-educated. Ironically, despair, neglect and poverty may be far more significant factors in the deaths of American soldiers and veterans who are taking their own lives.

Consider the 25 percent of enlistees and the 50 percent of reservists who have come back from the war with serious mental health issues. Despair seems an entirely appropriate response to the realization that the nightmares and flashbacks may never go away, that your ability to function in society and to manage relationships, work schedules or crowds will never be reliable. How not to despair if your prognosis is: Suck it up, soldier. This may never stop!

Neglect? The VA’s current backlog is 800,000 cases. Aside from the appalling conditions in many VA hospitals, in 2004, the last year for which statistics are available, almost 6 million veterans and their families were without any healthcare at all. Most of them are working people — too poor to afford private coverage, but not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid or means-tested VA care. Soldiers and veterans need help now, the help isn’t there, and the conversations about what needs to be done are only just now beginning.

Poverty? The symptoms of post-traumatic stress injuries or traumatic brain injuries often make getting and keeping a job an insurmountable challenge. The New York Times reported last week that though veterans make up only 11 percent of the adult population, they make up 26 percent of the homeless. If that doesn’t translate into despair, neglect and poverty, well, I’m not sure the distinction is one worth quibbling about.

There is a particularly terrible irony in the relationship between suicide bombers and the suicides of American soldiers and veterans. With the possible exception of some few sadists and psychopaths, Americans don’t enlist in the military because they want to kill civilians. And they don’t sign up with the expectation of killing themselves. How incredibly sad that so many end up dying of remorse for having performed acts that so disturb their sense of moral selfhood that they sentence themselves to death.

There is something so smugly superior in the way we talk about suicide bombers and the cultures that produce them. But here is an unsettling thought. In 2005, 6,256 American veterans took their own lives. That same year, there were about 130 documented deaths of suicide bombers in Iraq.* Do the math. That’s a ratio of 50-to-1. So who is it that is most effectively creating a culture of suicide and martyrdom? If George Bush is right, that it is despair, neglect and poverty that drive people to such acts, then isn’t it worth pointing out that we are doing a far better job?

*I say “about” because in the aftermath of a suicide bombing, it is often very difficult for observers to determine how many individual bodies have been blown to pieces.

Penny Coleman is the widow of a Vietnam veteran who took his own life after coming home. Her latest book, Flashback: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Suicide and the Lessons of War, was released on Memorial Day, 2006. Her blog is Flashback.

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/68713/

Blackwater did WHAT ???

 

Blackwater Mercenaries Draw Their

Guns On US Soldiers

By Phoenix Woman
Posted on October 20, 2007, Printed on October 26, 2007
http://www.alternet.org/bloggers/woman/65723/

This post, written by Phoenix Woman, originally appeared on FireDogLake

Click for larger version
(click for larger version)From a recent issue of Newsweek:

The colonel was furious. “Can you believe it? They actually drew their weapons on U.S. soldiers.” He was describing a 2006 car accident, in which an SUV full of Blackwater operatives had crashed into a U.S. Army Humvee on a street in Baghdad’s Green Zone. The colonel, who was involved in a follow-up investigation and spoke on the condition he not be named, said the Blackwater guards disarmed the U.S. Army soldiers and made them lie on the ground at gunpoint until they could disentangle the SUV. His account was confirmed by the head of another private security company.

They did WHAT?!

Holy. Crap. I’ve heard of road rage, but this is ridiculous.

No wonder the regular troops hate these mercenaries so much.

When I say “mercenaries”, I’m being strictly correct, as Siun’s recent piece showed. Considering how many of them are not Americans, but actually Serbian mercenaries fresh from killing Muslims in Kosovo, or South African thugs who got their jollies using violence to uphold apartheid back when whites controlled the country, I really shouldn’t be surprised that they have no qualms about firing on US troops, their alleged allies.

But of course nothing must interfere with Erik Prince’s getting his wingnut welfare checks from the Federal government. Gotta build that Christian Crusader army, and Amway money alone won’t do it.

Phoenix Woman is a regular blogger for FireDogLake

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/bloggers/woman/65723/

OUR CHRISTIAN ARMY

 

Building God’s (Christian) Army

 

By Jane Lampman, Christian Science Monitor
Posted on October 19, 2007, Printed on October 19, 2007
http://www.alternet.org/story/65597/

At Speicher base in Iraq, U.S. Army Spec. Jeremy Hall got permission from a chaplain in August to post fliers announcing a meeting for atheists and other nonbelievers. When the group gathered, Specialist Hall alleges, his Army major supervisor disrupted the meeting and threatened to retaliate against him, including blocking his reenlistment in the Army.

Months earlier, Hall charges, he had been publicly berated by a staff sergeant for not agreeing to join in a Thanksgiving Day prayer.

On Sept. 17, the soldier and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) filed suit against Army Maj. Freddy Welborn and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, charging violations of Hall’s constitutional rights, including being forced to submit to a religious test to qualify as a soldier.

The MRFF plans more lawsuits in coming weeks, says Michael “Mikey” Weinstein, who founded the military watchdog group in 2005. The aim is “to show there is a pattern and practice of constitutionally impermissible promotions of religious beliefs within the Department of Defense.”

For Mr. Weinstein — a former Air Force judge advocate and assistant counsel in the Reagan White House — more is involved than isolated cases of discrimination. He charges that several incidents in recent years — and more than 5,000 complaints his group has received from active-duty and retired military personnel — point to a growing willingness inside the military to support a particular brand of Christianity and to permit improper evangelizing in the ranks. More than 95 percent of those complaints come from other Christians, he says.

Others agree on the need for the watchdog group, but question the conspiratorial view and some of its tactics. They say dealing with religious issues is a complex matter, and the military is trying to address them appropriately.

At the Defense Department, spokeswoman Cynthia Smith says the DOD doesn’t comment on litigation, but “places a high value on the rights of members of the Armed Forces to observe the tenets of their respective religions.”

Since the Revolutionary War, the armed services have tried to ensure that soldiers can practice their faiths, and that chaplains serve not only those of their own sect but all who may need pastoral care. The services have also sought to adhere to the First Amendment prohibition of any government “establishment of religion.”

In the 1990s, for instance, the Air Force’s Little Blue Book of core values highlighted religious tolerance, emphasizing that military professionals “must not take it upon themselves to change or coercively influence the religious views of subordinates.”

Weinstein insists, however, that there are improper actions at high levels that not only infringe on soldiers’ rights but, at a very dangerous time, also send the wrong message to people in the Middle East that those in the US military see themselves engaged in Christian warfare.

For example, he says, Lt. Gen. William Boykin, who gave speeches at churches while in uniform that disparaged Islam and defined the war on terror in fundamentalist, “end times” terms, was not fired but promoted. (Speaking of a Muslim warlord he had pursued, Lt. Gen. Boykin said, “I knew my God was a real God and his was an idol.” And our enemies “will only be defeated if we come against them in the name of Jesus.”)

“There’s an eschatologically obsessed version of Christianity that … is trying to make American foreign and domestic policy conterminous with their biblical worldview,” Weinstein charges. And “there’s improper pressure within the military command structure to make members join them.”

The most serious allegations from the field cannot be corroborated for this article. A few will be raised in the lawsuits, but some incidents have been documented.

Perhaps the most visible situation — and the one that set Weinstein off on his mission — involved the evangelizing of cadets on the part of some faculty and staff at the Air Force Academy (AFA) in Colorado Springs, Colo., which came to light in 2004. Congress held hearings, DOD conducted an investigation, and the head of the academy acknowledged significant problems. Weinstein’s cadet son experienced the pressures as a Jew.

Col. David Antoon (ret.), another alumnus of the AFA and now a 747 commercial pilot, says his heart was broken when he took his son, Ryan, to an orientation at the academy in the spring of 2004. An overt evangelistic approach during part of the orientation so upset them, he says, that they decided his son would reject the treasured appointment and instead go to Ohio State University.

“My son had dreamed of doing what I had done, but it was no longer the institution I went to,” Colonel Antoon says, his voice cracking with emotion.

The Air Force set about reaffirming basic principles in religion guidelines, as a basis for widespread training, but a pushback by Evangelicals later led to Congress setting them aside until hearings could be held. The hearings have not taken place.

In 2006, MRFF learned of a video produced by Christian Embassy, a group that conducts Bible studies at the Pentagon and seeks to evangelize within the armed services. Aimed at fundraising for the group, the video was improperly taped in the Pentagon and involved endorsements by Army and Air Force generals in uniform.

MRFF’s public alert spurred a DOD investigation. In a report critical of the senior officers, the Inspector General said they gave the appearance of speaking for the military. One general defended his role by saying “Christian Embassy had become a quasi-federal entity.”

The report noted that Maj. Gen. Paul Sutton participated while he served as chief of the US Office of Defense Cooperation in Turkey, a largely Muslim nation whose military takes pride in protecting the country’s secular status. After a Turkish newspaper wrote about the video as promoting a “fundamentalist sect,” General Sutton was called in and questioned by members of the Turkish General Staff.

“They had to give him a lesson in the separation of church and state,” Weinstein says. “Imagine the propaganda bonanza! And how this upset Muslims.”

The DOD report on the video recommended “appropriate corrective action” be taken against the officers. According to Army spokesman Paul Boyce, “The Army has not yet completed any planned actions associated with the Christian Embassy review.”

MRFF claims a victory in the case of the evangelical group Operation Stand Up. Earlier this year, OSU was preparing to send “freedom packages” to soldiers in Iraq as part of an Army program. Along with socks and snacks, the packages included proselytizing materials in English and Arabic, and the apocalyptic video game, “Left Behind: Eternal Forces.” In it, Christians carry on warfare against people of other faiths.

After the plans were made public, the Pentagon announced in August that the materials would not be mailed. OSU did not respond to a request for comment.

Weinstein — an intense, voluble attorney who prizes blunt, no-holds-barred language — has struck more than one nerve with his bird-dogging. He says numerous threats have been made on his life. Last week, the front window of his house was shot out for the second time. After the lawsuit was filed, talk of “fragging” (killing) Specialist Hall surfaced on some military blogs. The Army is investigating.

Others sympathetic to Weinstein’s concerns say some tactics undermine his efforts, and they question aims.

“He’s uncovered some very disturbing stuff that shouldn’t be going on in the armed forces,” says Marc Stern, a religious liberty expert at American Jewish Congress. “But it’s important that you not go too far.” Mr. Stern disagrees, for instance, with Weinstein’s stance on the Air Force guidelines, such as preventing military supervisors from ever speaking of religion to people under their command.

“He did a disservice to his and our cause by taking a position beyond what the law requires, and in fact may intrude on people’s rights,” Stern adds.

Several conservative Christian ministries publicly proclaim an evangelistic aim “to transform the nations of the world through the militaries of the world,” and they are active at US military installations in many countries. (See www.militaryministry.org or militarymissionsnetwork.org.)

MRFF sees that as a harbinger of a volunteer military falling under the sway of increasing numbers of Christian soldiers. Others see a military leadership, with the exception of a few generals here or there, well aware of its constitutional responsibilities, but challenged by the demands of training on these issues in a military of millions. A group such as MRFF can provide a crucial service, they say, if it is willing to work with the military.

Right now, Weinstein is counting on a set of lawsuits to bring serious issues to the fore. The question is whether those suits will go beyond individual cases of discrimination to prove an unconstitutional pattern within the armed forces.

Jane Lampman is a staff writer at the Christian Science Monitor.

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/65597/