Big Sexy Does the Impossible…

 

“Bartolo has done it! The impossible has happened!”

If you’re a Mets fan, a baseball fan, a sports fan, a fan of fellow dudes in their 40s still playing sports with gusto and swagger, or just anyone who is not cynical, miserable or self-loathing, Philadelphia sports fans I am referencing you, you are most likely still smiling and possibly cheering over Mets pitcher, Bartolo Colon, aka Big Sexy, hitting his first professional home run at the age of 42.

In 1969, another Mets pitcher, Tom Seaver, a young man in the midst of just his third year in his eventual Hall of Fame career, still young enough to have more guts than savvy, and more heart than fear, declared:

“If the Mets can win the World Series, the United States can get out of Vietnam.”

The Amazins did beat the Orioles to win the World Series that year, but the Americans stayed in Vietnam for another four years. Over those four years nearly 15,000 US soldiers would be killed in that far away land, tens of thousands would be wounded, many of them permanently, hundreds of thousands would be psychologically injured, and tens of thousands, more likely hundreds of thousands, would die, as they continue to die, by the never ending after effects of war, most especially the Rainbow Herbicides (Agents Blue, Orange, White, etc.) and suicide.

As the Mets did the impossible and became World Champions, President Nixon continued his secret bombings of Cambodia and Laos and escalated the bombing of Vietnam. By the time Nixon, Kissinger, Abrams, et. al admitted the war in Vietnam could not be won millions more men, women and children had been killed and wounded, countless families shattered, and an entire eco-system destroyed. The Killing Fields in Cambodia were set to begin and half the Cambodian population would be murdered.*

As with our veterans of Vietnam here at home, the war still goes on in that far away land. Meant to destroy lives decades ago, bombs and landmines today kill or maim an estimated 1,000 people each year, many of them born after the war ended. And the Rainbow Herbicides with which we soaked and saturated the Vietnamese fields, mountains, rivers, lakes, jungles, crops, livestock, schools, temples, churches and homes? The Vietnamese Red Cross estimates almost 5 million people were exposed to the 20 million gallons of chemicals dispersed aerially over 5 million acres, it was, after all, the largest chemical weapons program in history. Estimates are 1 million people are currently living their lives disabled in South East Asia because of the chemicals sprayed over four decades ago, and that includes 100,000 children. Those children, monstrously deformed, are still being born today. Read and look here and, when your eyes are dry and your stomach settled, please visit Project Renew and the Vietnam Agent Orange Responsibility and Relief Campaign to help, and then call your members of Congress and tell them to support Barbara Lee’s H.R. 2114.

Not long before Tom Seaver contravened conventional and accepted sports and political wisdom another New York sports legend, Joe Namath, famously predicted his New York Jets would defeat Johnny Unitas and the Colts. David and Goliath never played out so theatrically and athletically as Namath, and his long hair and sideburns, made good on his guarantee of victory – the folks in Baltimore had it tough in 1969. Of course, the cultural significance of Namath’s boast and win is not lost on anyone with a knowledge of 1960/70s American societal upheaval and by comparing side by side photos of Broadway Joe and Johnny U.

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The Jets can’t win, the Mets can’t win, overweight 42 year old pitchers can’t hit home runs, the US can’t get out of Vietnam, the hippies can’t win, love can’t win…Peace can’t happen…

From those who know: those in uniform with tin medals; those in residence at Langley, at Foggy Bottom, or in a think tank office paid for by defense industry dollars; and those on the campaign trail who, craven, wicked and desperate, are happy to wave the Bloody Shirt, we hear, with endless certitude and authority, that we can’t get out of the Middle East, we can’t get out of war, we can’t, we can’t…What happens if we don’t?

I am certain, the answer to that is, simply, more death, including here in the US, more suffering, more shattered families, a poisoned world, and, eventually, the end of man.

We can put an end to our wars and we must put an end to our wars. It is possible. We can choose not to aid dictatorships that repress their own people, monarchies that fund terror and massacre neighbors, or democracies that wantonly commit war crimes. We can not send troops and cash to prop up governments that hold fraudulent elections and which are composed of war and drug lords, and we can stop invading and bombing countries like Iraq and Libya. Additionally, we can stop shipping weapons from one war zone to another war zone, and we can stop trying to use terrorist groups, the very terrorist groups our invasions create, to achieve our political objectives. We could even stop being the planet’s largest arms merchant. We may say we want peace and stability, but it’s hard to demonstrate such when we sell the world the implements and ingredients that go into so much chaos, suffering and death.

In 2003 a majority in our Congress and our President thought invading Iraq had to be done. They were wrong. In 2009 a majority in our Congress and our President believed escalating the war in Afghanistan had to happen. They were wrong then too. More recently it has been a disbelief in a nuclear weapons deal with Iran and a cease fire in Ukraine. In both cases, majorities in Congress favored war with Iran and potentially war in Europe over talking with either the Iranians or the Russians. Well, today, we have a nuclear agreement with the Iranians, which the Iranian people endorsed, and there has been a cease fire in Ukraine that, while shaky, has held and has brought levels of violence down quite dramatically over the last 15 months (I am not linking to any polls to prove Ukrainians are happy their family members and neighbors have stopped being killed, although we have people, appropriately referred to as chickenhawks, war profiteers and psychopaths, in Washington, DC who would argue otherwise…).

What if we tried for peace? What if we empowered diplomacy and strengthened our role in constructive engagement, forgetting the boundaries, the ideologies and the allegiances of the past? What if we pursued policies of reconciliation among religions, ethnicities and sects, rather than trying to manipulate them to turn maps the colors and shades we want them? And what if we prioritized our problems at home, worked to rebuild our country and fixed our own democracy? I know, I know, I know, that’s silly, that’s trite, that’s naive….that’s impossible…Such thoughts and ideas, based on the realities of American foreign and military policy failures and rooted in morality and principle, aren’t allowed in Presidential Debates or in Republican or Democratic party platforms.

It appears that no matter who we elect in November our devotion to militarism, measured in trillions of dollars, and interventionist adventurism, measured in millions of dead and mutilated people, will not change, but will continue because to do otherwise is deemed impossible by our ruling political class.

The possibility of peace will not occur unless we force it to occur, until then, we might as just watch Bart defy the impossible. This time en espanol.

*For more information on the petty fear and lies that motivated the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations to begin, escalate and prolong the war in Vietnam please read Frederik Logevall’s Embers of War, David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest, and Neil Sheehan’s A Bright Shining Lie. Not only do these books illustrate the malfeasance that dominated American policy making in the 50s, 60s and 70s, but they illuminate and illustrate the same gross failures, incompetencies and deceits of American foreign policy decision makers in our current century.

Insulting America’s Sacred Idols: Helping Veterans Recover from Moral Injury

Back in March, Quaker House in Fayetteville, NC, the home of America’s largest military base, Fort Bragg, hosted me to discuss my recovery from PTSD and moral injury. The full video is below, along with a three minute clip that Lynn Newsom, the co-director of the Fayetteville Quaker House, is using in the talks she gives to military and non-military audiences on moral injury.

During my talk I am not very clear about the correlation, and, yes, I would also say causation, between combat and suicide. However, there is a very clear link between combat veterans and suicide, a link that is obviously very dangerous to cherished American myths of war, with all too familiar, prevalent and false motifs of justice, honor and redemption. To illustrate the connection between war, violence and suicide, a connection that manifests in veterans through PTSD, depression, substance abuse, and moral injury, I have included, at the end of this essay, 15 fairly easy to find studies of the last few decades documenting the prevalence of suicide in combat veterans.

Among the below studies, and among the most recent, dealing with my fellow veterans of the Afghan and Iraq Wars, researchers at the National Center for Veterans Studies have found that veterans who were exposed to killing and atrocity had a 43% greater risk of suicide, while 70% of those Afghan and Iraq veterans who participated in heavy combat had attempted suicide. We spends millions of dollars and thousands of hours to physically, mentally and morally condition each young man and woman who volunteers to serve in the military to travel abroad and kill, but upon their return, in reality, effective and thorough programs to decondition our veterans, help them reenter and reintegrate into society and regain emotional, moral and spiritual balance and health are nonexistent, while care for developed wounds, both physical and mental is underfunded. Continue reading

An Excellent Article On Moral Injury

Quite possibly the best article on moral injury I have read. Thanks to The Atlantic and to Maggie Puniewska.

Healing a Wounded Sense of Morality
Many veterans are suffering from a condition similar to, but distinct from, PTSD: moral injury, in which the ethical transgressions of war can leave service members traumatized.

MAGGIE PUNIEWSKA JUL 3, 2015

Amy Amidon has listened to war stories on a daily basis for almost a decade.

As a clinical psychologist at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, she works with a multi-week residential program called OASIS, or Overcoming Adversity and Stress Injury Support, for soldiers who have recently returned from deployments. Grief and fear dominate the majority of the conversations in OASIS: Amidon regularly hears participants talk about improvised explosive devices claiming the lives of close friends; about flashbacks of airstrikes pounding cities to rubble; about days spent in 120-degree desert heat, playing hide and seek with a Taliban enemy. Many veterans in the program are there seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

But many of Amidon’s patients talk about another kind of trauma, a psychic bruise that, unlike PTSD, isn’t rooted in fear. Some of these soldiers describe experiences in which they, or someone close to them, violated their moral code: hurting a civilian who turned out to be unarmed, shooting at a child wearing explosives, or losing trust in a commander who became more concerned with collecting decorative pins than protecting the safety of his troops. Others, she says, are haunted by their own inaction, traumatized by something they witnessed and failed to prevent. In 2012, when the first wave of veterans was returning from the Middle East, these types of experiences were so prevalent at OASIS that “the patients asked for a separate group where they could talk about the heavier stuff, the guilt stuff,” Amidon says. In January 2013, the center created individual and group therapy opportunities specifically for soldiers to talk about the wartime situations that they felt went against their sense of right and wrong. (Rules of engagement are often an ineffective guide through these gray areas: A 2008 survey of soldiers deployed at the beginning of the conflict in Iraq found that nearly 30 percent of the soldiers in each group encountered ethical situations in which they were unsure how to respond.)

Experts have begun to refer to this specific type of psychological trauma as moral injury. “These morally ambiguous situations continue to bother you, weeks, months, or years after they happened,” says Shira Maguen, the mental-health director of the OEF/OIF Integrated Care Clinic at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center and one of the first researchers to study the concept. Examples of situations that might precipitate moral injury are betrayals by those in leadership roles, within-rank violence, inability to prevent death or suffering, and hurting civilians. Sometimes it co-exists with PTSD, but moral injury is its own separate trauma with symptoms that can include feelings of shame, guilt, betrayal, regret, anxiety, anger, self-loathing, and self-harm. Last year, a study published in Traumatology found that military personnel who felt conflicted about the “rightness” or “wrongness” of a combat situation were at an increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behavior afterwards, compared with their peers who didn’t have that same sense of ambiguity. The main difference between the two combat-induced traumas is that moral injury is not about the loss of safety, but the loss of trust—in oneself, in others, in the military, and sometimes in the nation as a whole.
Continue reading

Panel on Moral Injury at 2015 Left Forum

This past weekend I was on a very special panel at the 2015 Left Forum. Entitled Betrayed by Our Government, I was joined on the panel by my friend, mentor and hero, Ray McGovern,  Cathy Smith, the mother of Tomas Young, and Kevin Lucey, the father of a young Marine named Jeff who took his life after returning home from the Iraq War. Phil Donahue moderated the panel.

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Click on the image of Phil and then scroll down the Live Stream page. The video is near the bottom, entitled Left Forum Military Families Speak Out

 

If you have not watched Phil Donahue’s film about Tomas Young, who passed away last November, please do so here:

Jesse Jackson’s Keep Hope Alive Radio

I had the pleasure of being a panelist on Reverend Jesse Jackson’s radio show during Memorial Day Weekend. The discussion lasted for two hours, so the audio is posted below in two separate files. It was great to be on the show with my friend Rory Fanning, as well to have such a platform to discuss veterans issues including moral injury, PTSD and suicide.

Part One:

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Honoring Our Veterans Part One

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.keephopealiveradio.com/media/podcast-audio-showaudio/honoring-our-veterans-26076161/

Part Two:

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Honoring Our Veterans Part II

 

 

 

 

http://www.keephopealiveradio.com/media/podcast-audio-showaudio/honoring-our-veterans-26076162/

 

Presidential War Lies, Standing Ovations and the Great Waste of Everything

From yesterday’s Huffington Post:

“In war, truth is the first casualty.”
— Aeschylus 525-456 BC

As reported by the BBC this month, the Taliban have rejected an offer by the newly installed President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, of Cabinet positions and governorships in three Afghan provinces. The provinces include Helmand and Kandahar, where thousands of American and Western troops have been killed and wounded, particularly since 2009 when President Obama chose to escalate the war in Afghanistan rather than seeking a political solution to end the war.

Five years on and Afghan civilian and security force casualties are at record highs, the Taliban is larger and stronger than it has been at any point since 2001, government and police corruption is massively untamed, and Afghans last year were subjected to their third incredibly fraudulent national election in five years. In fact, the only thing going well for anyone in Afghanistan, besides the Taliban and those on the take of Western foreign aid, are the bumper narcotics crops, which each year produce historic yields.

The Taliban, having been offered power in their home region, have spurned any opportunities for reconciliation and compromise. “Moderates” within the Taliban, whom we could have negotiated with in 2008 and 2009 prior to President Obama’s escalation of the war, have been proven wrong and largely eliminated. The hard-line elements of the Taliban, having seen the Taliban weather the full force of the United States of America, see history as repeating itself or, at the very least, rhyming. Like the departure of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan in 1989, it is now just a question of time before the foreign backed regime in Kabul collapses. Time, among many other factors, was always on the side of the Afghan insurgents.
Continue reading

Profile in VICE: The First US Official to Resign Over Afghanistan Is Fighting to Help Whistleblowers

I’ve liked VICE for a bit of time now, so it was pretty cool to have been profiled by VICE UK while I was in London. Much appreciation for to Joe Sandler Clarke and Adam Barnett for their time and effort telling my story.

The First US Official to Resign Over Afghanistan Is Fighting to Help Whistleblowers

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It’s five years since Matthew Hoh became the first US official to resign in protest over the government’s handling of the Afghanistan war, resulting in a PR disaster for the US government.

“After I resigned, I was in a bar and it just so happened that I was sitting next to an editor from the Washington Post. We got talking and he told me to call the foreign affairs desk the next day.” He did and a few hours later, Post journalist Karen DeYoung was on the phone. They spoke for six hours and within days, his resignation letter was on the front page.

In the letter, Hoh explained he had lost confidence in the tactics being used in the conflict, and that he had no idea why it was going on. He wrote, “My resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end.”

Today, sitting in his hotel room in central London, wearing a War Resisters International badge and with leather elbow patches sown onto his jacket, he admits he is surprised by his journey from Marine Corps captain to peace activist. “I never planned any of this,” he says. “In a year I went from thinking I would have 35 years in the government before getting a PhD and teaching at a small college somewhere to saying, ‘Fuck you, I am not doing this anymore. It’s wrong.'”

The years since he resigned have been marked by the current administration embarking on what Glenn Greenwald has called “the mo​st aggressive and vindictive assault on whistleblowers of any president in American history.” Of the 11 times the Espionage Act has been used to prosecute whistleblowers who have leaked information to journalists, seven have been under Obama. Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist James Risen is to this day ​facing possible prosecution for refusing to reveal the identity of his one of sources to the authorities.

Hoh now fears that if he had blown the whistle today as he had done in 2009, he would be facing prosecution. This explains his motivation for becoming an advisory board member at ExposeFacts, a new website led by veteran journalist and activist Norman Solomon. The project is designed as a place for people to leak information safely, while also offering better protection to whistleblowers and campaigning to shield reporters from state surveillance. It already has the backing of a host of Pulitzer Prize winners and Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times.

The day before I meet him, Hoh was part of panel of former intelligence workers at the launch of ExposeFacts that told the world’s media that they were fighting back against the Obama administrations “war on journalism and whistleblowing.”

They aim to provide technology for secure, anonymous whistleblowing, and to push the actions of whistleblowers “to the forefront of the public consciousness.”

Having enlisted for the Marines in the heady days before 9/11, initially Hoh’s military career was “just like the brochure said it would be.” He was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, with his days spent training, traveling the world, and hanging out at the base’s private beach.

Hardworking and intelligent, with supreme self-confidence and an inherent curiosity about the world, Hoh enjoyed what he describes as a “Forrest Gump-like” rise through the ranks.

By the time US forces invaded Iraq, he was working for the Secretary of the Navy. By 2004, he was leading reconstruction projects in Iraq, handing out money to political leaders and making arrangements, ostensibly so the country’s devastated athletics facilities could be rebuilt. He would travel with his own security team, with a pistol tucked into his suit pocket and $25 million in cash.

“It was part Scarface, part Lawrence of Arabia,” he recalls. “But it was very instructive to me about the folly of war.”

Throughout the conflict, Hoh was skeptical about the reasons for going to war and the mission itself. “I certainly doubted why we were there and could see it wasn’t adding up. I was doing all I could to do it right,” he says. “But it doesn’t matter how much honor you possess if a war is morally fraught.”

He worked with a group of women in Baghdad and the memory of them haunts him still. They were modern and educated. They wore hijabs that matched their mascara and believed in the US mission.

“We gave them this hope and this promise and then we gave them a hell that you and I can’t even imagine,” he says. “I know one of them is still alive, but that is something that has haunted me ever since. I don’t know if they were blown up in a car bomb, or if they were raped, or if their families were killed. That’s where a lot of my moral injury comes from.”

After a period spent moving from one prestigious desk job to the next, Hoh was back in Iraq in 2007. He was with a small group of men when the helicopter they were traveling in crashed over the Persian Gulf. “It was kind of ironic because you go to the desert and almost die in the water,” he says. “Four guys died, including one who was a friend of mine and I could not save any of them. It crushed me. I had survivor’s guilt.”

On returning home he could barely function. While spending a day at the beach in Delaware, he had a flashback. “It came over me as soon as I went in the water. All the stereotypical PTSD symptoms you hear about not liking fireworks, or not being in crowds, they’re all a joke, compared to this moral injury. It’s just blackness,” he says.

“The alcohol became key. I was always a big drinker, but this was different. It was the only way I could get through the day. My days in this period consisted of getting up, going to work, leaving work as soon as possible, getting home, working out, drinking, blacking out by 10 PM and then doing it all again.”

Two years later, figuring that if he was going to die, it may as well be in Afghanistan, he went back to fight. He was the State Department’s senior representative in Zabul province, an area which had seen some of the fiercest fighting of the war. But five months into his year-long contract, he was done with the military.

“I didn’t believe any of what was being said. That we were there to protect ourselves from another 9/11 and all that stuff. It just wasn’t true,” he remembers.

That’s when he resigned and before long he was being chased by journalists who wanted to hear of his disaffection. “It was a huge deal,” recalls Hoh. “I had three TV news trucks outside my house and 75 media requests, the day after it broke.”

Despite US Envoy Richard Holbrooke telling him that he understood his misgivings about the war and that his letter was being “taken seriously,” after news of his resignation went public Hoh found himself cut off from the Washington establishment. A Wikipedia page about him that downplayed his role in the State Department and featured a clip of him being used in an al Qaeda propaganda video surfaced online. For more than two years, he couldn’t find work and had no money coming in. He found himself selling cars for a few months just to get by.

Being frozen out took its toll. By 2011, suicide had become a daily obsession. He would plan it meticulously, figuring out when and how he would do it, how he would tell his family. “The only thing I didn’t do was buy a gun,” he says.

Ultimately, it was through the support of family and an ex-girlfriend who forced him into therapy that he was able to dig himself out of that feeling. A sense of having a greater purpose helped too. Every time he saw a politician lie on TV, or when he read a newspaper article he knew to be untrue, he kept wanting to speak out. “I was out in public and doing media, so I felt like I couldn’t kill myself,” he says. “People would say, ‘You’re gonna listen to what that guy thinks about the war?! He shot himself in the head!’ I had this cause, this purpose and I could not discredit that by killing myself.”

Hoh is now 41. Having left Washington vowing never to return, he lives in Raleigh, North Carolina and earns $48,000 a year through his job the Center for International Policy. If he had stayed in the military, he says, he would be earning more than double that.

He’s turned his back on a career, a high salary, an institution, and a way of life—now he’s determined to help others who want to do the same. For all he’s lost by speaking out, he’s also gained a tremendous amount. “I’m very happy,” Hoh tells me later. “With the moral injury, the PTSD, the depression, the suicidality, I have my bad periods, but I’m getting through. I don’t own a gun, I don’t keep alcohol in my house, I see my psychologist every week, I take medication. I manage it like you would manage high blood pressure. I’m just happy that I can express my own thoughts and think my own way. That’s worth more than any amount of money.”