Mommy Died in the War

9 04 2009

Since 9/11, over 8,000 U.S. children have lost a parent in the military, according to the Department of Defense. These are the young casualties of war that we don’t talk about or even think about very often. Today I watched a 2007 movie “Grace is Gone” on HBO and I thought about it and cried…a lot.

grace-is-gone-movieIn the movie, John Cusack plays the stoic and sad father of 8- and 12-year-old girls whose mother Grace is a sargent in Iraq. He is notified that Grace died in combat and is at a loss for how to tell his daughters. He impetuously decides to take them on a bonding adventure, a testament to the love and sacrifice of parents that we try to ease the pain of our children in any way we can.

The movie was scored with beautiful music by Clint Eastwood, who was nominated for two Golden Globes for the score and one song. I could really feel the emotions of the father as he agonized over the loss of his wife and his daughters’ loss of their mother.

Over 8000 children have felt that loss due to our being in Iraq and Afghanistan. They already were made to sacrifice while the parent was away from home, but with a sudden death, they aren’t even given the opportunity to say goodbye to their parent. That parent will never come to their future soccer games and ballet recitals and graduations and weddings and baby christenings. That parent will never again hug them or tuck them in at night or comfort them when they’re scared or tell them they’re proud of how well they’re doing in school. All that is gone.

The child(ren) and the remaining parent are left to carry on…to grieve, to find some new normal in life, to wonder why this happened to them, and to ache for the loss of someone who can never be replaced.

It is important to remember that sacrifice comes even from small children in these wars we are fighting. And children suffer not only here in the U.S., but also in Iraq, where it is estimated that more than five million children (at the end of 2007; source: Iraq’s anti-corruption board) are orphans, mostly due to the war.

Take the time to watch Grace is Gone on HBO or rent the DVD. It is moving. It will touch you. If you want to help out families who have lost a loved one in the war, consider donating to one of these organizations.

  • Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund – provides unrestricted grants to families of fallen troops
  • Fallen Patriot Fund – provides financial grants to the families of those killed or seriously injured in Iraq
  • Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) – provides services to all who have lost a loved one while serving in the U.S. armed forces
  • Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society – provides financial assistance and emergency grants to families and survivors.
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    Life as an Iraqi Refugee

    24 02 2009

    Imagine what life would be like as an Iraqi refugee. I did some research on what refugees are experiencing. Here is a realistic story you could hear from one of them.

    I am one of 5.5 million Iraqi refugees. I watched as my husband was killed by a suicide bomber in a revenge killing. A Sunni insurgent leader forced me and my children from our home at gunpoint.

    Iraqi woman and child in refugee camp

    Iraqi woman and child in refugee camp

    We fled on foot to the holy Iraq Shiite city of Najaf and live in a camp with 200 other people. It is one of many camps in Iraq. 1.2 to 1.5 million of us fled to Syria and hundreds of thousands to Jordan after our homes were destroyed, our lives were threatened, and our family members were killed. One in five Iraqis are refugees…ONE in FIVE.

    The water we drink is polluted. I fear being attacked if I go outside our tent and so my children and I urinate and defecate inside…in the place where we eat and sleep and live. Every time I venture out to collect firewood or to get some of the polluted water, I risk being raped.

    My children had to drop out of school and there is no school in our camp. Sometimes we get meager rations of food to eat. Other times, I must prostitute myself to get money to buy bread and water for my children and me. Every day I pray that God will send us food and clean water. I pray that my children and I will not fall ill to cholera or typhoid, which is rampant in many of the camps.

    I also pray that the United States will rescue us from this living hell. I have always heard that the United States was a very powerful and rich country and that they help people in other countries. They helped create the violence in my country by attacking us. Now they need to help those of us who were forced from our homes due to their aggression.

    President Obama has pledged to create an international working group to address the crisis that we refugees face. He has pledged $2 billion in aid to expand services and help provide a decent place to live to refugees in Iraq and in neighboring countries. Every day is a struggle to stay alive physically and emotionally. Please hurry. We are dying.

    Those who fled to Syria hope that President Obama will appoint an ambassador to Syria to help with their situation. They are not allowed to work and many of them are forced to allow their young daughters to dance in clubs and even serve as prostitutes to make money to feed their families.

    I am barely holding on to hope and to the physical and emotional well being of myself and my children. I fear they will not develop properly because of lack of food and pure drinking water. I wonder if I will ever be able to have my own home again, hold a job, and find a man who would take me as his wife. I want a normal life. I want out of this camp. I am a refugee in my own country. I cry to God and ask for help for my family and my fellow Iraqis from someone…anyone. Please help us.

    This post is written to recognize and give voice to those 5.5 million Iraqi refugees who want and need to be heard. Refugees International wants you to be aware of this situation and sign a petition to urge President Obama to take swift action to help Iraqi refugees. Here is a short clip from their website about Iraqi refugees in Syria:





    Taking Chance Home with Dignity – Lt. Col. Strobl’s Personal Experience of the Cost of War

    21 02 2009

    The stirring HBO movie “Taking Chance” brought tears to my eyes. It shows the reverence, dignity, honor, and respect with which soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are brought home.

    Starring Kevin Bacon and premiering today on HBO, it was shown at

    Michael Strobl - Credit: PBS.org

    Michael Strobl - Credit: PBS.org

    Sundance Film Festival and competed for the Grand Jury Prize. Kevin plays Lieutenant Colonel Michael Strobl, who volunteers – out of some seeming guilt at not being in Iraq himself – to escort the body of 19-year-old Private First Class Chance Phelps home.

    PFC Chance Phelps

    PFC Chance Phelps

    Chance was killed in Iraq on April 9, 2004. Strobl and those who assisted at each point along the way with transporting the body of PFC Phelps were deeply impacted and respectful and the cost of war was felt by all.

    Lt. Col. Strobl is a Desert Storm veteran and served in the Marine Corps from 1983-2007. He daily read the list of Marines killed in Iraq and came across the name of PFC Phelps, who was from his home town in Colorado. That made his decision to serve as an escort for Phelps’ body personal and something he felt he had to do.

    He kept a journal on his experience of escorting PFC Phelps home and from this came an article for the Marine Corps Gazette, which was published in July, 2004. I cannot access that article, but found a shorter version of it, which was published online at OrthodoxyToday.org in May, 2004. The article was widely circulated on the Internet and touched many people. It was given to Executive Producer Brad Krevoy when he attended the funeral of a friend’s son, who was killed in Iraq. He contacted Chance’s family and they agreed to allow the story to made into a film. Stobl went on to co-write the screenplay for the movie.

    From the HBO site for this film:

    ‘Taking Chance’ chronicles one of the silent, virtually unseen journeys that takes place every day across the country, bearing witness to the fallen and all those who, literally and figuratively, carry them home. A uniquely non-political film about the war in Iraq, the film pays tribute to all of the men and women who have given their lives in military service as well as their families.

    The life and death of Chance Phelps have touched a lot of people. The Chance Phelps Organization sponsors Run4Chance races and gives the proceeds to the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, which helps them to “…continue [their] vital mission of service to our wounded and critically ill Marines, Sailors and their families.”

    Here is a short HBO clip on taking the story from script to screen. Kevin Bacon, Lt. Col Strobl, and others are interviewed about the story and the movie. HBO will be showing this many times . I hope that you will check out the schedule and make a point to watch it. It is incredibly moving.

    Coffins of Soldiers Killed in Iraq

    Coffins of Soldiers Killed in Iraq being Taken off Plane at Dover Air Force Base - Credit: AFP, Getty Images

    UPDATE: On 2/26/09 Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that photos can now be taken of flag-draped coffins of soldiers if the family of the deceased soldier agrees.

    UPDATE 4/5/09: For the first time in 18 years, the media today witnessed the return of a soldier killed overseas. You can read about it here.

    UPDATE 7/16/09: Today it was announced that this movie is nominated for an Emmy Award for best made for television movie and Kevin Bacon is also nominated for an Emmy Award as best actor in a made for television movie.

    UPDATE 1/17/10: Today Kevin Bacon won a Golden Globe for his role in this movie. The movie was also nominated for a Golden Globe award.





    Female Suicide Bombers in Iraq: Raped, Shamed, and Looking for a Way Out

    5 02 2009

    Vulnerable. Recruited. Raped. Disgraced. Become suicide bomber. A way out. 80 women in Iraq. Recruited by Samira Ahmed Jassim, a 50-year-old mother of four daughters and two sons . Nicknamed the “mother of believers,” Samira is now in jail, and is the mastermind behind 28 suicide bombings in Iraq. Insurgents organized the rapes and then she tried to convince the raped and shamed women to become suicide bombers. The insurgents threatened to blow up Samira’s house if she did not cooperate.

    Samira Ahmed Jassim, Recruiter of Female Suicide Bombers in Iraw
    Samira Ahmed Jassim, Recruiter of Female Suicide Bombers in Iraq

     

     

     

     

     

    Under Sharia, the Islamic religious law, sex with someone you are not married to is strictly forbidden. When a woman is raped, religious zealots say she had unlawful sex and must be punished…often by whip lashes, being cast out from the family and community, by stoning, or by other forms of death. This is what happened to Somalian 13-year-old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow, who was stoned to death after being raped by 3 men. I wrote about this tragedy in this post.

    So after these women in Iraq are targeted and raped, they are then subject to at least being ostracized by their families. They are looking for a way to restore honor to their families and for some, being a suicide bomber is their way out. Islamic fathers have been known to do things like drown a daughter in a swimming pool, stab, shoot, or behead her for having sex with someone she was not married to or for even falling in love with someone not approved by her family. So these raped women may realize they have no future at all…literally.

    Rape does not usually have anything to do with the woman who is raped…she is merely an unfortunate pawn in the game of war or is used to satisfy the ego of a narcissistic, self-centered man who attempts to assert power.

    It is particularly disgusting that this woman Samira would participate in luring other women to their death by pretending to counsel them after being raped. If it is true that her house would have been bombed had she refused to cooperate with the insurgents, then she too is a pawn in this very sick, disturbing, and dehumanizing war game.

    This is not what Islam…or any religion…is about. For people to so devalue their fellow Muslim brethern like this is where the real shame lies…not in the women who are raped.





    Iraq War: The Cost of Bush Lies and His Influence of Not Being Accountable

    1 02 2009

    UPDATED 3/15/2013

    From a Reuters report on a Watson Institute study:

    NEW YORK, March 14 (Reuters) – The U.S. war in Iraq has cost $1.7 trillion with an additional $490 billion in benefits owed to war veterans, expenses that could grow to more than $6 trillion over the next four decades counting interest, a study released on Thursday said.

    The war has killed at least 134,000 Iraqi civilians and may have contributed to the deaths of as many as four times that number, according to the Costs of War Project by the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University.

    When security forces, insurgents, journalists and humanitarian workers were included, the war’s death toll rose to an estimated 176,000 to 189,000, the study said.

    See the full article here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/14/iraq-war-cost-more-than-2-trillion_n_2875493.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000009.

    ORIGINAL POST I WROTE

    George W. Bush reasons for the Iraq War: WMDs, Iraq’s ties to al-Qaeda, and liberate Iraqis from Saddam Hussein and create a democratic government. His refusal to accept or admit any accountability for the results of his misleading the American people have had tremendous cost to Iraq and to the U.S.

    I just finished reading the riveting “War Journal: My Five Years in Iraq” by Richard Engel, NBC News Middle East Correspondent. Richard says none of those reasons for starting the war are true, and that the war in Iraq “…has always been more about geography, religion, and power than democracy. If you see where Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds live, it’s easy to understand their struggles for dominance.” Bush never understood that…and frankly didn’t care. He did what he wanted to do and what he wanted to do has been…and continues to be…extremely costly.

    Here are some statistics on what the Iraq war (taken from think tanks such as the Brookings Institute and from the media) has cost the U.S. as of 1/21/09 due to Bush’s folly of inserting us in the middle of a civil and religious war:

    • 4,231 U.S. soldiers killed; 30% of them younger than 22 years old
    • 30,984 U.S. soldiers injured, with 20% of them having serious brain or spinal injuries
    • 30% of U.S. soldiers develop serious mental health problems within 3-4 months of returning home and suicide rates in the U.S. Army hitting an all-time high in 2008
    • One TRILLION DOLLARS (that’s $1000 billion) through  October 2009 in U.S. taxpayer money (this figure was updated 10/25/09)
      • $390,000 per year to deploy just ONE U.S. soldier
    • 142,000 – 148,000 (depending on whose statistics you use) troops in Iraq currently
    • 513,000 U.S. troops deployed since 2003; 197,000 of those more than once and 53,000 more than 3 times
    • According to February, 2007 Congressional hearings (and that was two years ago so the number is probably much higher now) an estimated $10 billion wasted and mismanaged in Iraq

    Now add to those staggering numbers the impact on the Iraqi people:

    • An estimated more than one MILLION Iraqi citizens killed as of August, 2007 (according to the Opinion Business Research survey); the official documented number around 100,000
    • 2.25 million Iraqis displaced inside Iraq and 2.25 million Iraqis who are now refugees in Syria or Jordan as of May 2007; an additional 840,000 people displaced since May 2007 – a total of well over 5 MILLION Iraqis displaced
      • A note: Syria has refused to allow the 1.5 million who came there to work so many of the refugees have been forced to send their daughters – even as young as 5 or 6 – to clubs to dance to get money unofficially, becoming the family breadwinners. The girls make usually $20 to 30 per day in the clubs and the fathers of these girls act as pimps for work outside the club. These girls and their families are casualties of the U.S. War on Iraq.

    Bush used the fear that the Iraq War would disintegrate into chaos to get re-elected in 2004. The cost to the American people of having four more years of Bush as president has been immense. He used fear again to continue to justify the now $12 billion per month the U.S. spends to keep our troops there. This is triple the burn rate of what we spent in the early years of the war. John McCain used fear about the war to try and get elected president and said he would never take our troops out until we had won. Only Barack Obama seems to understand that we are in a war we should never have started and that we cannot win.

    The fear the Republican warmongers have perpetuated is that Iraq would descend into civil war if we leave. It has been happening for years now. Richard Engel cites countless atrocities that Iraqis have committed against other Iraqis during the Iraq War, continuing the torture and violence of Saddam Hussein:

    • A father’s beautiful 17-year-old daughter is kidnapped. The father talks to the kidnappers and convinces them to let him speak to his daughter. He asks her if she has been violated and she says yes. He tells the kidnappers to keep her…that he doesn’t want her back in that condition. The kidnappers execute the girl.
    • A family refuses an order to move from their home and their two-year-old boy is kidnapped, split open, stuffed with rice, roasted, and delivered to their doorstep.
    • People are executed and thrown in the streets as a warning to others to not cross the executioners.
    • Body parts are everywhere, bombings are commonplace, and women in particular hide in their homes in fear.

    Some infrastructure improvements have been made since the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003. Phone subscribers have increased from 800,000 to over 14 million. Internet users have increased from 4,500 to around 850,000. Those improvements do not negate the fact that the cost of the Iraq war has been very high…for the U.S., other countries, and especially for Iraqis.

    Bush’s lies have caused unbelievable destruction, death, injury, harm to the U.S. reputation around the world, increase in terrorists and terrorism, U.S.-sanctioned use of torture, and money. And we wonder why our country is in the place it is now. We had an immoral, destructionist, lying, and above-the-law president who felt he was accountable to no one. The American people followed suit…we felt we could do anything and not pay a price. We are paying now…both as a country and individually.





    Bush Ducks as an Iraqi Takes Aim

    15 12 2008

    Disrespectful? Yes. Understandable? Also yes. Bush had two shoes thrown at him today by Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zeidi during a press conference in Iraq. Showing the soles of shoes is a sign of contempt in Arab culture.

    When the first one was thrown, the Iraqi journalist throwing it said: “This is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog.”

    When he threw the second shoe, he said: “This is from the widows, the orphans and those killed in Iraq.”

    Zeidi knew first-hand about the violence in Iraq: he was kidnapped last year by Shiite militiamen, tortured, and later released. He has also had relatives killed in fighting in Iraq.

    Reports vary wildly of how many Iraqis have been killed since the U.S. invaded in 2003. The website http://www.IraqBodyCount.org lists 89,878 – 98,139 documented civilian Iraqi deaths in that time period. Other counts are much higher. On October 10, 2006, the New York Times reported that the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study said that over 600,000 Iraqi deaths had occurred…and that was over two years ago.

    With so many innocent Iraqi citizens killed, it’s understandable that they would feel hatred toward Bush. Saddam Hussein was responsible for over 2 million people being killed (many of these Iranians). Bush’s decision to take the U.S. into war in Iraq on false pretenses has not had the reign of terror that Saddam Hussein had, but to the Iraqis, it may feel like it…and the numbers are startling.

    Bush seems to have no remorse or any feeling at all over the havoc he has created in the world and the many many lives that have been lost, destroyed, or forever changed because of his actions. Throwing shoes at him, while disrespectful, is mild considering the damage he’s done. When he’s out of office, will there be repercussions for his having authorized torture? For lying repeatedly to the American public? Will people be standing in line to “throw shoes” at him?

     





    U.S. Torture Has Caused As Many U.S. Soldier Deaths as 9/11

    3 12 2008

    They got it all wrong. Bush, Cheney, Addington, Rumsfield, and Gonzales authorized torture to “keep us safe” after 9/11. I wrote about this in a 11/16/08 blog.

    Today Keith Olbermann interviewed “Matthew Alexander” on torture. “Matthew” (not his real name) served 14 years in the U.S. Air Force and is still in the Reserves (thus the assumed name). He has written a book called “How to Break a Terrorist: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq.”

    Alexander went to Iraq in March, 2006 for a 5-month stint as a senior interrogator. He witnessed the U.S. using torture to try and elicit information from terrorist suspects. He conducted 300 interrogations and supervised 1,000 interrogations, and refused to use those methods. Instead, he built a rapport with the suspects, showed an understanding of their culture, and used criminal investigation techqniues to elicit the information he sought. His interrogation methods gathered information that led to the bombing and killing of Abu Masab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

    “Matthew” says that torture is “extremely ineffective and is counter-productive to what we are trying to accomplish.” He says that you get unreliable information from torture and that al-Qaeda uses the fact that we torture people to recruit new members. He says we need to outlaw torture immediately when Obama takes office.

    In a 11/30/08 Washington Post article he wrote, which was entitled “I’m Still Tortured by What I Saw in Iraq,” Alexander says that:

    I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners.

    He also makes this startling declaration:

    The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me — unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans.

    LET THAT SINK IN FOR A SECOND. We have lost as many soldiers due to torture as we did in 9/11. We are supposedly FIGHTING a war on terror. Instead, we have CREATED terror with our torture policies…terror for our own soldiers and terror produced by new recruits who came to fight directly because of our torturing suspected terrorists.

    Here’s Keith Olbermann interviewing “Matthew Alexander” on “Countdown” today:

    Alexander is hopeful since Obama has said he will outlaw torture. Obama’s top legal advisors met today with 12 retired generals to talk about banning torture. Torture is just so unnecessary…and IT HAS TO STOP.