Category: War

Pigeons wearing bras go to war

The pigeon vest was a vest that was created to protect carrier pigeons as they parachuted through the air strapped to the chest of paratroopers during World War II. Once the paratroopers hit the ground behind enemy lines, they would release the pigeons so they could fly off to deliver important messages.

And what does this have to do with brassieres? The pigeon vest was designed and manufactured by the brassiere company, Maidenform. On December 22, 1944, Maidenform agreed to make 28,500 pigeon vests for the U.S. government, switching, as many companies did, from peacetime production to producing necessary supplies for the war. In addition to the pigeon vest, Maidenform also made parachutes.

RTFA. It all makes sense.

Omar Khadr in his own words

Omar Khadr is standing in his bedroom looking out at the backyard.

It is his second morning of freedom after nearly 13 years behind bars, and he’s embarrassed because he doesn’t know how to open the window…

Open a window. Open a bank account. Get a driver’s license. Get a library card. There are so many small skills to be learned by a man who has loomed large since he was shot and captured in Afghanistan at the age of 15 – a man who has never been allowed to speak publicly.

For the first time since being granted bail earlier this month, Khadr spoke over two days in exclusive interviews for the Toronto Star and a documentary that will air…on the CBC.

Until now, Khadr has existed in caricature drawn and defined by others: victim, killer, child, detainee, political pawn, terrorist, pacifist; he has been compared both to South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela and serial murderer Paul Bernardo.

Michelle Shephard and the Toronto STAR knocked it out of the park. Real journalism, a challenging interview and story. Not because of the difficulty in the subject learning again how to communicate in a free society. Difficulty in accessing print, video, the means of communication in modern society that still hasn’t agreed to free speech.

And maybe more.

There is a great body of growing discussion here in the United States – and around the world – about what must be a revised Western policy in the cradle of the Fertile Crescent, the seat of civilization. Do we continue choosing sides in wars between Sunni and Shia? How do we compensate families for the hundreds of thousands of innocents killed by a war founded on base political lies? How can we rebuild what we have crushed – and prevent the ongoing descent into civil war from resuming?

Educated journalists and politicians take the questions back to World War 1 when the Brits and French decided to remake history and national borders, creating new nations, relegating others to poverty, turning a region into a political desert to be mined for minerals and oil.

Still, the crushing blow that smashed all hope for millions was delivered by a red-white-and-blue blitzkrieg worthy of any army of Panzer Divisions. The “reasonable” among us say we have acquired full responsibility for the United States to care for the region like another territorial property. Bring a halt to civil wars. Rebuild.

Perhaps that is best for the people there. But, send the tab to those politicians who voted for Bush’s War in the first place. Pass a special tax on Americans who re-elected George the Little – and, so far, haven’t charged him and Dick Cheney for their war crimes.

Remember also – the origins of Memorial Day

The purpose of Memorial day [nowadays] focuses on those who lost their lives while serving in the US armed forces.

And that cost has been enormous over the past century. Inspired by Poppy Field, a data visualization of all war deaths since 1900, we built this chart showing the death toll of the seven biggest American conflicts since 1914, along with total military deaths resulting from the conflicts:

The human cost of the Civil War was beyond anybody’s expectations. The young nation experienced bloodshed of a magnitude that has not been equaled since by any other American conflict. The cost of eliminating the tragic and inhuman greed of slavery took more lives on and off the battlefield than any war since.

That memory is the foundation of Memorial Day.

kwc-totals

Sabotage conviction overturned against nun and her fellow activists


Click to read our post at the time of their original arrest

An 85-year-old nun and two fellow Catholic peace activists who splashed blood on the walls of a bunker holding weapons-grade uranium — exposing vulnerabilities in the nation’s nuclear security — were wrongly convicted of sabotage, an appeals court has ruled.

At issue was whether Sister Megan Rice, 66-year-old Michael Walli and 59-year-old Greg Boertje-Obed injured national security when they cut through several fences to break into the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge in July 2012. A panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a 2-1 decision that they did not.

Once there, the trio had hung banners, prayed and hammered on the outside wall of the bunker to symbolize a Bible passage that refers to the end of war: “They will beat their swords into ploughshares.”

“If a defendant blew up a building used to manufacture components for nuclear weapons … the government surely could demonstrate an adverse effect on the nation’s ability to attack or defend,” the opinion says.

“But vague platitudes about a facility’s ‘crucial role in the national defense’ are not enough to convict a defendant of sabotage.”

The court upheld a less serious conviction for injuring government property. An attorney for the three, Bill Quigley, said he hopes they will be re-sentenced to time served and released from prison, where they have been since being convicted in May 2013. Rice was sentenced to nearly three years; Walli and Boertje-Obed are each serving sentences of just over five years…

The three spent two hours inside Y-12, including in the most secure part of the plant. In the aftermath of the security breach, federal officials implemented sweeping changes, including a new management team and a new defense security chief to oversee all of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s sites.

So, for all his “God bless the United States of America” – our commander-in-chief has failed to convict three Christians for behaving like really old-time Christians.

For all the bible-thumping, preaching the gospel of hate, fear of the dignity of women, self-titled fundamentalists in and out of Congress have a chance to stand in awe of three simple religious folk who act like the savior they believe in – instead of kneeling before the altar of nuclear war.

The kind of Christians I wouldn’t mind sharing a jail cell with. And often did back in the day when more of them marched for peace and justice – instead of obedience, theocracy and imperial war.

Giant rats saving lives — by Nicholas Kristof

hero rat
Click to enlarge

I’m walking in a minefield here in rural Angola, tailing a monster rat.

This is a Gambian pouched rat, a breed almost 3 feet from nose to tail, the kind of rat that gives cats nightmares. Yet this rat is a genius as well as a giant, for it has learned how to detect land mines by scent — and it’s doing its best to save humans like me from blowing up.

These rodent mine detectors have been dubbed HeroRats, and when you’re in a minefield with one that seems about right. You’re very respectful, and you just hope this HeroRat doesn’t have a stuffed nose.

I’m here because five years ago, my kids gave me a HeroRat for a Father’s Day present through GlobalGiving.org. I didn’t actually take physical possession (fortunately!) but the gift helped pay to train the rat to sniff out explosives. And now I’ve come to minefields of rural Angola to hunt for my rat.

There are 39 HeroRats here, and they underscore the way the aid world is increasingly embracing innovative approaches to old challenges.

I’ve seen land-mine detection in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and it’s dreadfully slow and inefficient. Typically, men in body armor walk in precise rows holding metal detectors in front of them. Whenever they come across metal, they stop and painstakingly brush away the soil until they see what it is.

Usually it’s an empty AK-47 cartridge or a nail. Sometimes there is metal every few inches. Each time, the whole process stops until the soil can be brushed away.

In contrast, the rats scamper along on leashes. They respond only to the scent of explosives, so scrap metal doesn’t slow them down.

At this minefield, which is full of metal objects, a human with a metal detector can clear only about 20 square meters a day. A rat can clear 20 times as much.

“Rats are also more reliable,” said Alfredo Adamo, a field supervisor here. “With humans, concentration wanes after a while, but rats just sniff away.”

The rats are paid in bananas, peanuts, avocados and apples, and they don’t need body armor — partly because they’re too light to set off land mines. (They can still weigh up to 2.5 pounds, which is a lot of rat when you’re face to face.)

I think I found my rat: a scraggly codger named Boban who is just the right age to have been trained when my kids sponsored the rat. Boban was named after a Tanzanian soccer star, and the handlers said he was highly dependable.

A story very much worth reading. A program very much worth supporting.

You also might consider telling your elected officials in Congress to press to sign the Mine Ban Treaty. The United States still hasn’t done so.

Revisit the legacy of Agent Orange


Click to enlargeReuters photographer Damir Sagolj

As April 30 approaches, marking 40 years since the end of the Vietnam War, people in Vietnam with severe mental and physical disabilities still feel the lingering effects of Agent Orange.

Respiratory cancer and birth defects amongst both Vietnamese and U.S. veterans have been linked to exposure to the defoliant. The U.S. military sprayed millions of gallons of Agent Orange onto Vietnam’s jungles during the conflict to expose northern communist troops.

Reuters photographer Damir Sagolj travelled through Vietnam to meet the people affected, four decades on.

I would say, “Never again”; but, I haven’t that much trust in our government, our politicians.

Obama’s drone program: our death squad in the sky – with no accountability

Of all the reactions to the deaths of two hostages from a missile fired from a US drone, Congressman Adam Schiff provided the deepest insight into the logic underpinning the endless, secret US campaign of global killing.

“To demand a higher standard of proof than they had here could be the end of these types of counter-terrorism operations,” said Schiff, a California Democrat and one of the most senior legislators overseeing those operations.

The standard of proof in the January strike in tribal Pakistan was outlined by the White House press secretary in the aftermath of Barack Obama’s admission about the deaths. An agency that went formally unnamed – likely the CIA, though the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) also conducts drone strikes – identified what Josh Earnest called an “al-Qaida compound” and marked the building, rather than particular terrorists, for destruction.

Thanks to Obama’s rare admission on Thursday, the realities of what are commonly known as “signature strikes” are belatedly and partially on display. Signature strikes, a key aspect for years of what the administration likes to call its “targeted killing” program, permit the CIA and JSOC to kill without requiring them to know who they kill

Civilian deaths in signature strikes, accordingly, are not accidental. They are, as Schiff framed it, more like a cost of doing business – only the real cost is shielded from the public.

RTFA. It is detailed, laying out the cogent points for the debate on questions of ethics and morality – if not legality. Questions not likely to be addressed by our Congress of Cowards.

As a legitimate military tactic, I see nothing wrong with the use of unmanned drones as weapons. In a legal war, in legal military action. Without reasoned automatic boundaries, without priorities of military responsibility already in place within treaty obligations, everything our government currently accomplishes with the UAV program is illegal.

Because it is “popular”, acceptable to most Americans filled with Fair and Balanced news-as-entertainment – is no reason to offer my personal acceptance. I’m reminded of the mill workers in England who walked out in illegal strikes against cranking out profits generated from spinning and weaving Confederate cotton – and thereby supporting the cause of slavery. Imperial Britain didn’t especially care where mill owners profits were coming from; but, the bravest workers in Europe did.

Until our government turns these questions into debate and rule of law, I cannot support those who continue secrecy, sanctification based on Bush’s Wars.

The trial of the “accountant of Auschwitz”

“One night in January 1943, I saw, for the first time, the Jews being gassed. I heard the panicked screams of human beings as the doors were closed.” This is how Oskar Gröning described his time at Auschwitz in several German newspaper articles in 2005.

He served with the SS there from September 1942 to October 1944, and was responsible for managing the money and valuables of the murdered – hence his nickname the “accountant of Auschwitz” in the media. He proclaimed himself innocent. “I killed no one, I was just a small cog in the killing machine. I was not a perpetrator,” he said in 2005.

But now, ten years later, Gröning is on trial – what could be the last major Nazi trial in Germany is set to begin on April 21. Since the accused has lived in a small village in the area for years, the trial will take place in the German regional court in Lüneburg. The 93-year-old is accused of 300,000 counts of accessory to murder.

The charges brought by the state prosecutor’s office in Hanover, responsible for the prosecution of Nazi crimes in Lower Saxony, have been limited to the so-called “Hungarian Operation,” for “legal and evidence reasons.” The operation took place between May 16 and July 11, 1944. During that two-month period the SS deported about 425,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz. Some 300,000 of these were led directly to the gas chambers and murdered…

This trial “comes decades too late,” says Christoph Heubner, executive vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee. “The accused lived the most important decades of his life in peace and in freedom in the heart of society.” Gröning, born on June 10, 1921, came to Auschwitz as a young man of twenty-one. Now he is an old man who will soon turn 94.

Why so late?

Average life expectancy in Germany is about 80 years. For that reason alone one has to ask, why have things progressed so slowly in the case against Gröning? Why is the “accountant of Auschwitz” coming before the court now, at the end of his life? Especially since the so-called Ludwigsburg “central office” for the investigation of Nazi crimes has been active since 1958.

One reason is a revision of legal jurisprudence. In the 1960s and 1970s, the legal premise was that each perpetrator had to be proven to have committed a specific crime. This precedence changed with a Munich court’s decision in the trial of John Demjanjuk. In 2011, the now deceased former guard at the Sobibor death camp was convicted of being an accessory to the murder of more than 28,000 Jews – although his direct participation could not be proven.

So far the Lüneburg court has slated 27 days for the trial. The verdict is to be handed down at the end of July. More than 60 co-plaintiffs will testify, travelling from the United States, Hungary, Canada, and Israel.

Complicity is rarely a tough question for survivors of genocide, mass murder. It not so unusual to find folks on both sides of a question like this who agree on guilt, either. Witness the hundreds of Americans who have made their way back to VietNam – to work, to rebuild what they helped to destroy. Witness – if you would – Leo Szilard’s novel The Voice of the Dolphins where essentially he puts himself on trial for a leading role in designing nuclear weapons for the Manhattan Project.

But, in practice – most of those “cogs in a killing machine” are in denial of any responsibility. If you are not a survivor, if your government doesn’t care more for victims than perpetrators, responsibility is a hard thing to come by.

Thanks, Honeyman

Pic of the day

Ukie army grocery bike
Click to enlargeAP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka

A Ukrainian serviceman rides a bicycle in Shyrokyne, eastern Ukraine… Russia and Ukraine agreed in Berlin on Monday to call for the pullback of smaller-caliber weapons from the front lines of the conflict that has claimed more than 6,000 lives.

Too many kinds of comment in my poor brain for this one. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions, humorous, philosophical or otherwise.