Category Archives: War

Minimizing Terrorism by Integrating Muslims

Recently on The Daily Show, journalist Sebastian Junger and producer Nick Quested discussed their documentary Hell on Earth about the ongoing civil war in Syria. They made an intriguing comment about why ISIS terror attacks haven’t happened in the U.S. as much as they have in Europe:

“Thank God this country has been spared most of the kinds of attacks Europe has been suffering the last few years. The theory for why that is, is that the Muslim population in America has been really successfully integrated into our economy, our culture, our society. In Europe it has not. And I think the lesson for America is let’s make sure that we are as inclusive a society as possible, because that is actually what protects us from the kinds of violence, the tragedies we’ve been seeing almost every week in Europe on the news.” -Sebastian Junger, The Daily Show, June 7, 2017

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The Reality of War in Syria

“Just because it isn’t happening here doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.”

That’s a haunting video highlighting the plight of refugees.

(Part of me is unnerved that it takes the story of a little white girl in the UK to get our attention, but sometimes it’s just the juxtaposition of the normal that we need to shake us up.)

But that haunting plight is reality right now in Syria:

I can’t speak to the accuracy of that photo or the caption, but it represents hundreds if not thousands of civilian deaths at the hands of snipers in Syria.

It’s a war zone in Syria right now (and has been for a year or two). This gallery of pictures is pretty overwhelming.

I don’t have any solutions. I don’t know who is “right” in a conflict like this. But I do see a lot of wrong.

Libyan Tunnels: Fredd & I the Spies

As the Libyan rebels raided Colonel Gaddafi’s compound this week I was reminded of a story I wrote in fourth grade: Fredd and I the Spies. The basic plot is that President George H.W. Bush asks me, a 9-year-old boy, to make a friend in Italy (the oddly spelled “Fredd”) and spy on a chemical weapons plant in Libya.

Why a 9-year-old spy?

“If we sent a grown-up man then it would be more obvious.”

As you can imagine, it’s pretty incredible.

Incredibly painful.

One of my favorite moments is that they give me a car that converts to a submarine and that’s how I get to Libya. I drive across the Atlantic Ocean:

“It took me a few hours, but I finally made it.”

Awesome.

We did much of our spy work by reading a newspaper article in a McDonald’s which laid out Libya’s plans to attack the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. (yes, that’s what it was called when I was in fourth grade) with chemical weapons.

A less ludicrous plot point in the story is that we discover a secret tunnel that gives us access to the chemical weapons plant. Fast-forward 20+ years: This week the Libyan rebels discovered a secret network of tunnels under Tripoli.

But my life as a spy was not meant to be. When President Bush asked me if I’d like to be a full-time spy during a press conference (!) announcing the success of our mission, I declined.

“I’d rather have friends than bullet holes.”

After 36 hand-written pages of James Bond-inspired (i.e. heavily borrowed) violence, I suddenly became aware of the potential for harm.

(While the story is packed with James Bond references—this was 1989 and the height [and end] of the Timothy Dalton as James Bond resurrgence—I was pleasantly surprised to see a reference to the “pocket grenades used by Leonard (in Leonard Part 6).” If you’re not familiar with it, Leonard Part 6 is a 1987 Bill Cosby spy spoof so bad that Cosby himself urged people not to see it. He went so far as to buy the television rights so it would never appear on TV. My 9-year-old self disagreed. I still remember a spectacular scene where Cosby fended off man-eating lobsters using their natural enemy—what else?—melted butter [surprisingly, the clip doesn’t hold up as well on YouTube]. I also remember wishing I could watch the five previous installments that surely existed. Ah, to be 9 and have such low expectations. Despite Cosby’s efforts, Leonard Part 6 is available on DVD and Amazon’s Instant Video.)

Commenting on Daylight Raid by U.S. Forces in Somalia

I’m not sure why but this story about a daylight helicopter raid by U.S. Special Forces in Somalia is intriguing to me. I tried twittering about it but I just couldn’t sum up my thoughts in 140 characters. I’m not sure if this kind of story is rare, but I don’t remember seeing that many stories about U.S. raids like this (though it’s entirely possible I just miss them—I almost missed this one).

I think what I find interesting is that it was so “clean,” if such a thing can be clean. They took out a major terrorist operative who was connected to the U.S. embassy bombings and an attack on an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya. There were no civilian deaths (another article noted that they opted to send in troops instead of using cruise missiles to minimize civilian casualties), it seems like they got the right guy (not sure if they have a positive ID yet) and it was a quick in and out operation. Maybe this is how it often happens and I just haven’t seen the stories, but it seems like this is how the war on terror should go. It could have just as easily been a mess, as any combat situation can go bad (Somalia of all places has taught us that).

I guess all the military stories we hear are of being mired in Iraq (which I don’t think started with any legitimate connection to the war on terrorism) or the continued struggle in Afghanistan. There are certainly successes in those places, but they often feel overshadowed by the body counts, the civilian casualties, the two steps forward one step back “progress” of nation-building.

I’m often uneasy about war and sympathize with peace movements, but I also think that in the face of things like terrorism a nation has little choice but to fight back. How we fight back is the crucial question of course, and I guess this just strikes me as a good example.

I realize I’m completely rambling here. Sorry.

Update: Here’s a second story on the daring raid that includes a little more background and detail.

Peace or Justice in Sudan

The news coming out of Sudan has been a bit bizarre this week as the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al Bashir on charges of war crimes. It’s the first time a warrant has been issued for a sitting head of state. In response, Sudan has been kicking international aid groups out of the country, threatening even more of the mess that Bashir is charged with in the first place.

What’s been especially interesting is the reaction of Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the international aid organization, Samaritan’s Purse. Graham wrote a New York Times op-ed piece arguing that Bashir should be left in power in order to maintain peace in Sudan.

So what’s more important? Peace or justice? It seems like a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation to me. There may be peace right now, but it’s being held together by a tyrant accused of war crimes. But bringing justice means more unrest, hardship and possibly death.

It reminds me of the situation in Iraq (if you ignore the whole weapons of mass destruction thing). Do you leave a murderous tyrant in charge or oust him and risk the messy aftermath?

Seems to me that real, lasting peace only comes when justice is ensured. But it’s never an easy process. Especially when different people have different ideas of what constitutes justice. Getting along with people (never mind entire countries of people) is no easy thing.

We’ve got friends who are currently in Khartoum, which makes this whole thing a lot more personal. We also had the option of a fuel layover in Khartoum on our way to Ethiopia (we opted not to take that route). Makes the world feel a lot smaller.

Muslim Americans

Arlington National Cemetery tombstone of Muslim American soldier Kareem Rashad Sultan KhanA couple weeks ago I wrote about how Barack Obama isn’t a Muslim—but what if he was? Who cares? Sometimes it’s nice to be backed up. In this case former Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell has my back:

“I’m also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, ‘Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.’ Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America.” (Meet the Press)

Powell went on to talk about a 20-year-old soldier who died in Iraq and earned a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. His name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan and he was a Muslim. He was 14 on a 9/11 and wanted to show people that not all Muslims are fanatics. He served and died for his country, proving that point.

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Did Martin Luther King Jr. Finally End the Civil War?

PRI’s The World has a fascinating series of stories on how wars end. The series is looking at past wars to give insight into how the Iraq war might end. Yesterday’s story covered the end of the Civil War and the failure of Reconstruction.

What’s so interesting is the assertion that the Civil War didn’t end at Appomattox. The battle continued, though it wasn’t always a military battle (though people still died):

Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations says it helps him understand how it’s possible to win the war, capture the capital but still lose the peace. He notes the North won the big military contest between 1861 and 1865, but that didn’t end the struggle. And over time, Biddle points out, Southern resistance paid off. In 1877 President Rutherford Hayes withdrew Northern troops from the South.

“And the South proceeds to essentially run out the Northern installed governments of the remaining Southern states, institutes what amounted to white one-party rule, removed blacks from voter rolls throughout the South and established a system of segregation, and that system remains to a significant degree all the way up until the civil rights movement of the 1960s.”

Biddle says if you look at in political terms, it’s possible to construct an argument that the South actually won the war.

That’s quite a claim, but it’s interesting to consider. If the Civil War was fought to bring freedom to blacks, you could argue that freedom wasn’t fully achieved until Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. How’s that for a long view of the conflict? Never thought I’d consider MLK a Civil War hero. That’s probably taking it a bit far, but it’s interesting to consider and is a strong counter to the myth that the Civil War ended amicably at Appomattox.

Five Years in Iraq

So five years ago we invaded Iraq. Nearly 4,000 U.S. soldiers have died, more than 29,000 have been injured and the war has cost us roughly $500 billion. And the stat often left out of the news is Iraqi casualties. They’ve been estimated at over 1 million, though they vary wildly depending on when and where you get your numbers.

President George W. Bush has been speaking about the progress in the war on the anniversary:

“For the terrorists, Iraq was supposed to be the place where al-Qaida rallied Arab masses to drive America out. Instead, Iraq has become the place where Arabs joined with Americans to drive al-Qaida out” (Star Tribune)

Nevermind that if al-Qaida is in Iraq at all, they’re there because we invaded.

Continue reading Five Years in Iraq

How Do You Get Out of a War?

Today hundreds of Twin Cities students skipped class to protest the war in Iraq. I heard the story on MPR (oddly enough I couldn’t find the story on the Star Trib or the Pioneer Press web sites) and I was struck by what the students were calling for. They wanted immediate troop withdrawal, war funding to go to education and army recruiters out of high schools (for whatever reason those rationales are not articulated clearly in the online article, though they were in the report I heard).

Even if you’re completely against the war, I don’t get what immediate troop withdrawal accomplishes. So we completely pull out of Iraq–what’s left? The country would plunge into civil war and it’d be a terrorist fun zone. That doesn’t sound like a way to end violence and death. While I’m not happy about the mess we’ve made in Iraq, I think we do have a responsibility to set it right. Being in Iraq in the first place may not be good, but leaving now would be even worse.

I applaud these students for protesting. That’s what makes this country great (try that in Pakistan right now). But I just don’t see the logic of their demands. Once you’ve made a mess you can’t just walk away and let someone else clean it up. That’s not right. Even Lexi knows that (sometimes).

It’s a lot easier to start a war than it is to end one. It’s also a lot easier to protest a problem than it is to figure out how to fix it. (Blogging and protesting are a lot a like that way.)

Letter to Iraq

Aspiring rock star Nathan Arizona has started the Letter to Iraq campaign. He wants to send a letter to the Iraqi people signed by ordinary Americans that apologizes for our mistakes (Abu Ghraib, among others) and expresses a wish for peace in Iraq. He’s got a moving song and video, too.

Will it make any difference? I have no idea. Iraq is such a mess it can’t hurt. Maybe if ordinary people did something on their own instead of governments or militaries or corporations, maybe that would make some small measure of difference. Who knows? Anyway, I’m signing it.

(link via Brad Abare, who in the same post made up the word “sadulous” [sad+jealous=sadulous], which I feel quite often when my friends move away.)