The Gulf War photo no one would publish

The Iraqi soldier died attempting to pull himself up over the dashboard of his truck. The flames engulfed his vehicle and incinerated his body, turning him to dusty ash and blackened bone. In a photograph taken soon afterward, the soldier’s hand reaches out of the shattered windshield, which frames his face and chest. The colors and textures of his hand and shoulders look like those of the scorched and rusted metal around him. Fire has destroyed most of his features, leaving behind a skeletal face, fixed in a final rictus. He stares without eyes.

On February 28, 1991, Kenneth Jarecke stood in front of the charred man, parked amid the carbonized bodies of his fellow soldiers, and photographed him. At one point, before he died this dramatic mid-retreat death, the soldier had had a name. He’d fought in Saddam Hussein’s army and had a rank and an assignment and a unit. He might have been devoted to the dictator who sent him to occupy Kuwait and fight the Americans. Or he might have been an unlucky young man with no prospects, recruited off the streets of Baghdad.

Jarecke took the picture just before a ceasefire officially ended Operation Desert Storm—the U.S.-led military action that drove Saddam Hussein and his troops out of Kuwait, which they had annexed and occupied the previous August. The image and its anonymous subject might have come to symbolize the Gulf War. Instead, it went unpublished in the United States, not because of military obstruction but because of editorial choices.

RTFA for a sensitive, thoughtful discussion – decades after this young man was killed. My hatred for war is no surprise to any of our regular readers. Even the only “just” war in my lifetime – the war against fascism, World War 2.

That war produced two books which have guided my whole life – in war and peace, about war and peace. I doubt if either are easily available anymore. BEACH RED by Peter Bowman is a short novel in what he called sprung prose, as much poetry as prose – as much about death and dying as anything else. DAYS AND NIGHTS by Konstantin Simonov is a heroic tale from a journalist who lived through the siege of Stalingrad. It is a love story.

Photographs like this are also an important part of how we look at war. Outside of dispatches published in newspapers; curt, prosaic sound bites on TV. As hard as it is to look at this photo, I think it should be a required part of anyone’s education.

Thanks, Mike

Overweight or obese is main reason for dismissing U.S. soldiers

Under intense pressure to trim its budget, the Army is dismissing a rising number of soldiers who do not meet its fitness standards, drawing from a growing pool of troops grappling with obesity.

Obesity is now the leading cause of ineligibility for people who want to join the Army, according to military officials, who see expanding waistlines in the warrior corps as a national security concern.

Between 1998 and 2010, the number of active-duty military personnel deemed overweight or obese more than tripled. In 2010, 86,186 troops, or 5.3 percent of the force, received at least one clinical diagnosis as overweight or obese, according to the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center.

The trend has prompted the military to reexamine its training programs and is driving commanders to weed out soldiers deemed unfit to fight. “A healthy and fit force is essential to national security,” said Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde, a Pentagon spokeswoman. “Our service members must be physically prepared to deploy on a moment’s notice anywhere on the globe to extremely austere and demanding conditions.”

During the first 10 months of this year, the Army kicked out 1,625 soldiers for being out of shape, about 15 times the number discharged for that reason in 2007, the peak of wartime deployment cycles…

Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling said he was floored by what he found in 2009 when he was assigned to overhaul the Army’s training system. Seventy-five percent of civilians who wanted to join the force were ineligible, he said. Obesity was the leading cause.

“Of the 25 percent that could join, what we found was 65 percent could not pass the [physical training] test on the first day,” he said in a recent speech. “Young people joining our service could not run, jump, tumble or roll — the kind of things you would expect soldiers to do if you’re in combat.”

RTFA for details and the many directions the report describes as health and fitness failures among those trying to enlist, today. There’s a lot there to ponder. Not just obesity from inactivity and overeating keeping out recruits; but, soldiers who thought they had a career being dismissed from service, from their job.

U.S. starts to clean up Agent Orange in Vietnam — decades late!

Just one of the reminders of America’s war on the Vietnamese people

More than half a century after the United States began dousing Vietnam with the defoliant Agent Orange in a bid to clear the jungle that provided cover for Viet Cong fighters, it is about to begin cleaning up one of the most contaminated spots left over from the war.

The cleanup is expected to take four years and cost more than $43 million. It is the first time that the U.S. has joined with Vietnam to completely cleanse a site tainted with Agent Orange, which has been linked to birth defects, cancer and other ailments.

“This is huge, considering that for many years the U.S. and Vietnam could not see eye to eye at all about this issue,” said Susan Hammond, director of the War Legacies Project, a Vermont-based nonprofit group. “It was one of the last unresolved war legacies between the U.S. and Vietnam…”

“Huge” is not acting after decades of ignoring responsibility. It would be huge if the United States acknowledged the imperial arrogance central to our foreign policy since the end of World war 2. Huge would be assuming the task of cleaning up the death and destruction we have distributed about this planet from Hiroshima to Lebanon, from atomic weapons to Claymore mines and cluster bombs.

Near the Da Nang site, Vo Duoc fought tears as he told the Associated Press that he and other family members, who have suffered diabetes, breast cancer and miscarriages, had tested high for dioxin. Now he fears his grandchildren could be exposed as well.

They had nothing to do with the war,” Duoc told the AP. “But I live in fear that they’ll test positive like me.”

The U.S. has chipped in for programs to help Vietnamese youth with disabilities but has shied away from saying their problems are specifically linked to the chemical. Vietnam has bristled at that resistance, pointing out that the U.S. has paid billions of dollars in disability payments to American veterans suffering illnesses linked to Agent Orange…

Da Nang, once used as an American military base, is widely seen as the most worrisome hot spot because it sits in the middle of a densely populated city. Nearby lakes are used to raise fish and ducks for human consumption.

Vietnamese authorities poured a concrete slab over the most badly contaminated area 4 1/2 years ago, with technical assistance from U.S. environmental officials and the Ford Foundation, Bailey said. American aid officials also helped plan for the remaining cleanup to destroy the dioxin in soil and sediment on the site.

I hope no one in Washington harms themselves whilst patting each other on the back for this belated attempt at reparations for crimes committed in the name of the United States. The Leaders of the Free World demonstrated a disdain for humanity in Southeast Asia easily matching the worst of European colonialism.

In practice, the Euros and Brits have probably performed slightly better at recognizing both responsibility for their crimes and the appropriateness of aiding the colonial peoples they oppressed. I expect you still couldn’t get a serious aid package for VietNam through Congress valued, say, at the equivalent of what we provide annually for updating our nuclear arsenal.

Israeli settlers fire on Palestinian demonstrators while army and police stand around watching

A video released by an Israeli human rights group appears to show settlers shooting at a group of Palestinian protesters while police and soldiers stand by.

The incident was filmed by Palestinians from the West Bank village of Asira al-Qibliya on Saturday afternoon. A 24-year-old Palestinian, Fathi Asayira, was taken to hospital with facial injuries following the shooting.

According to B’Tselem, which uploaded the footage to YouTube, a large group of settlers, some masked and armed, approached the village from the nearby settlement of Yitzhar and began throwing rocks and starting fires. After a group of Palestinians gathered and threw rocks in return at the settlers, Israeli police and soldiers arrived on the scene…

“The video footage raises grave suspicions that the soldiers present did not act to prevent the settlers from throwing stones and firing live ammunition at the Palestinians,” said B’Tselem. “The soldiers did not try to remove the settlers and in fact are seen standing by settlers while they are shooting and stone throwing.”

In a statement, the Israeli defence forces said it was investigating the shooting.

That will do a lot of good. Witness the course of the nation our government says is leading the way to democracy in the Middle East. Just about as well as we’re doing with the same task in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We’ve only wasted 10 years or so at it. The Israelis have been doing this for over a half-century.

Police replaced by military in half the Mexican state of Tamaulipas

Mexican troops fanned out across the border state of Tamaulipas this weekend, taking over security operations in half the state’s cities and towns.

About 2,800 soldiers were deployed to 22 of 43 cities in the state, which borders Texas and is among the most violent in the country. The show of force came as President Felipe Calderon defended his drug war strategy in the face of mounting criticism from activists.

The soldiers took over policing duties in the state’s largest cities, including the capital, Ciudad Victoria, and the border cities of Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa and Matamoros…

However, a municipal official in Nuevo Laredo told CNN that local police have been taken off the streets in the 22 cities while they are investigated for corruption. Crooked cops are among the biggest obstacles to combating the country’s drug cartels. The official spoke anonymously due to the sensitivity of the subject. “Sensitivity”? He could be killed.

In Nuevo Laredo, the military influx was so large that the soldiers couldn’t find room in the city’s barracks and had to lodge in two hotels, the official said…

Other towns taken over by the military include San Fernando, where authorities found mass graves containing more than 200 bodies this year. They began finding the graves while investigating the kidnapping of passengers from a bus in late March.

San Fernando is also where last year, the bodies of 72 migrants from Central and South America were discovered at a ranch.

The Zetas drug cartel have been blamed for the mass graves and for the deaths of the migrants…

Ciudad Mier, San Fernando and the city of El Mante will also be the locations for soon-to-be-built military installations.

There aren’t a bunch of reasons left for anyone to cross the border into Mexico. I wouldn’t go to a Farmacia to buy medications at prices below the highway robbery authorized by Congress here in the States – except in daylight with a full tank of gas. That’s about it.

About as close as I get to a Xmas song

Happened to hear this, this morning, on one of our local country[ish] radio stations. Hadn’t heard it in a spell.

Woody’s son, Arlo, still has one of Woody’s guitars that says “This machine kills fascists” – which is about the best thing about the kind of music I sang and played back in the day. Woody was an inspiration to us all.

So, if you have a friend who is a modern-day Christian American Republican, play this song for them and ask whether or not this kind of Christianity is too old-fashioned for them?

Children’s book by Obama to be released in November

America’s author-in-chief is back.

President Obama has written a children’s book titled “Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters,” according to a news release from Random House.

A 500,000-copy first edition is scheduled to be released November 16.

The illustrated book, according to Random House, is “a moving tribute to thirteen groundbreaking Americans and the ideals that have shaped our nation — from the artistry of Georgia O’Keeffe, to the courage of Jackie Robinson, to the patriotism of George Washington…”

The manuscript was completed before Obama took office in 2009, the news release stated.

Proceeds from the book, which has a suggested retail price of $17.99, will be donated to a scholarship fund for children of fallen and disabled soldiers.

Rock on!

Russian soldiers suspected of looting plane crash

Russia and Poland’s newfound solidarity is now under severe strain following claims that Russian soldiers stole the credit cards of one of the victims of April’s plane crash that wiped out much of Poland’s leadership.

Polish authorities said that Russia had detained four soldiers on suspicion of looting credit cards from the body of Andrzej Przewoznik, a historian and top Polish official. Przewoznik perished with 95 other people, including Poland’s president Lech Kaczynski, when their plane went down in thick fog near Smolensk airport in western Russia.

According to Warsaw, Przewoznik’s card was used to withdraw money from a cashpoint within hours of the catastrophe. Further withdrawals were made from four Smolensk cash machines over the next two days. Przewoznik’s widow raised the alarm when she discovered around 6,000 zloty (€1,400) had vanished from her dead husband’s bank account.

Today Polish television reported that credit cards belonging to another plane crash victim, Aleksandra Natalli-Swiat, the deputy head of the Law and Justice party, had also disappeared. No transactions were recorded, however…

The row threatens to undermine the genuine closeness that has blossomed between Russia and Poland in the crash’s aftermath. The Kremlin gave unprecedented assistance and access to Polish investigators, while Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir Putin, flew to Smolensk with his Polish counterpart, Donald Tusk. President Dmitry Medvedev attended Kaczynski’s funeral in Krakow.

Distrust wasn’t helped when Poles accused Russian police of stealing the cards – after reports of arrests. In fact, it apparently was Russian police who turned up the soldiers sent to the crash scene who stole the credit cards.

Old anxieties, conflicts rarely laid to rest in that part of Europe leap out at you at the simplest provocation. I hope they get it sorted.