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Foreign Affairs

From Combat Veteran to Horror Writer

Before we get into this, there is a quote from Michael Herr in his book, Dispatches, that I’d like to share. It’s a long quote, so bear with me. Herr says:

“I keep thinking about all the kids who got wiped out by seventeen years of war movies before coming to Vietnam to get wiped out for good. You don’t know what a media freak is until you’ve seen the way a few of those grunts would run around during a fight when they knew that there was a television crew nearby; they were actually making war movies in their heads, doing little guts-and-glory Leatherneck tap dances under fire, getting their pimples shot off for the networks. They were insane, but the war hadn’t done that to them. Most combat troops stopped thinking of the war as an adventure after their first few firefights, but there were always the ones who couldn’t let that go, these few who were up there doing numbers for the cameras… We’d all seen too many movies, stayed too long in Television City, years of media glut had made certain connections difficult” (Dispatches, 1977).

My reasoning for sharing this quote from Herr is because, in more ways than one, his voice sums up my own feelings regarding my experiences in the Iraq War, OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom for those in the know), and writing/living with those memories today. Allow me to explain.

There seems to be a surge of “war stories” finding their way into the media nowadays. I’m in no way saying this is a bad thing; I wish there were more veteran writers. However, I have to be somewhat suspicious when I see books marketed as “another action-packed heroic tale of contemporary military service.” Such as from a Navy Seal’s perspective or some high ranked officer sharing their “retelling” of command with low fidelity storytelling. I’m not trying to be quip here, nor am I trying to call out any one individual. What I am trying to call out is similar to what Herr stated in the quote shared above. There seems to be this carnivorous appetite for war stories, but not war as it really is, rather war from a heroic narrative, or worse, war stories where soldiers are nothing more than pawns in a Mad Hatter’s political chess game. I feel these kinds of stories are for people who do not have a genuine interest in the reality of war from the perspective of, say, Joe-Shmoe from Littlerock, Arkansas. These kinds of stories are for people who want to be entertained, not enlighten to the cruel banality of combat.

For a long time, I didn’t write much about anything. A few poems, here and there, but nothing I was willing to share with anyone, under any circumstance. Well…except for maybe in death, if I was dead then I guess I couldn’t really do much about someone reading my work, could I?

iraq me 2003

I signed up for the U.S. Army in Sept 2001 and was honorably discharged in February 2008. Roughly seven years of service, including three tours in Iraq, 2003-2004, 2004-2005, and finally 2006-2007. The last tour was probably the hardest, not only was my deployment extended for the great 2007 Iraq War troop surge (Operation Arrowhead, I think), but I took more hits than in any of my previous two tours, and on top of that, I had someone other than my parents waiting for me at home. My wife and I had just met a few months before I deployed. She stayed with me the entire deployment. We wrote dozens of letters to each other, we chatted on the phone and on the internet, and that’s if circumstances made it possible. She supported me, with more than just care packages, but by giving me focus, reminding me that I was more than just a soldier. Being away from her was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Let me say, I don’t mean to sound callous towards my parents, I love my parents very much, but with my wife it was different. For the first time, I couldn’t imagine myself dying and not being afraid. Not just for the circumstance (bodily suffering) but for the recompense of leaving her behind (emotional suffering). I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want to be robbed of this imagined life we could’ve had together. I didn’t want to lose that. And I didn’t want her to suffer for my loss.

 

In 2008, after being pushed by family to get into college, I finally agreed. I’m glad I did. College helped with more than just furthering my career. Slowly, through the course from 2008-2014, I began to open up. I didn’t really want to at first, again, back to the “glamorization of war,” I feared any attempt to recount my experience would be a cheapening of it, a cheapening of other veteran’s experiences by attempting to sell my own. I didn’t want to do that, but I felt drawn to write something.

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My first attempt was during a creative writing class into my second semester at San Jacinto Community College. The assignment was to write a short narrative story. I wrote, “There will be Ghosts,” which was my ode to both my experiences and the Tom Cruise Vietnam movie, “Born on the Fourth of July.” From there I dove head first into fiction-writing. I began a little science-fiction piece which never came to fruition, and probably never will. I consider these first works to be a learning curve, not something I’d want to see published. A dabbling, if you will, in the creative cosmos, finding my voice and all that fun stuff. When I left community college to enter the university (University of Houston-Clear Lake), I had to put my fictional writing on the back burner and focus almost exclusively on my history studies. While this may seem like a setback, I do not see it that way. In fact, I believe these two years of hardnosed historical study gave me an element lacking in my previous fictional-writing attempts. Dedicating myself to my studies gave me a depth I wouldn’t have been able to include in my work otherwise. My studies focused on 20th century Germany, namely the Weimar Republic and Nazi eras. I also took  Vietnam War history classes, Texas history, and the Civil Rights Movement, each class taught from the ground-up. This is a somewhat relative new way of teaching history. Traditionally, history is taught from the top, that is, from famous generals and presidents or other such impressive folk. From the bottom-up, history is taught from the Joe-Shmoe perspective, the everyday lives of everyday people. It was fantastic. A new way of looking at our world and the people that fill it by giving them relevance. In 2014 I graduated from the University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelor of Arts in History…now what?

 

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Suddenly I found this huge pocket of empty space. My mandatory studies were over with nothing to keep my mind focused on. I decided to get back to fictional writing no longer for term papers, but something that would keep my mind busy, keep me sane, and present a challenge. I wrote two short stories soon after graduating. “Hobo: a horror short story,” and “Are you hungry, dear?” Both are of the horror genre. And before you ask, “why horror,” let me be brief and just say that I’ve always been a fan of horror and dark fiction, ever since my big sister let me watch “Night of the Living Dead” one Friday night. And even before then, I read Goosebumps and then grew into Stephen King. It made sense for me to gravitate to the genre that I felt more comfortable in. And besides, horror gives us the most honest and straightforward media for social commentary…sometimes we need that ugly non-decorum. And Hobo was as direct a social commentary piece I’ve ever written. Through storytelling, I discussed this growing issue with perspectives and homelessness and then threw that into a gory tale of cannibalism. Perhaps over-the-top…but it was fun to write! “Are you hungry, dear?” I was thinking about this problem with identity, are we who we are because of what we have done in the past, or can we be better. This, of course, was told in thru a story basically about a witch who performs a dark ritual on a pizza!

While these shorts were fun, they also gave me some traction toward my first full-length book, Reinheit.

Reinheit was published originally under Booktrope’s horror imprint Forsaken, and now currently resides with Shadow Work Publishing, was, to be frank, the most serious thing I’ve ever written, other than my wedding vows. But let me be clear, this was not my “Iraq War” piece, though, as a writer you have to draw emotion from somewhere, and it would seem a lot of my emotion still streams from my experiences in Iraq. I think some of that bled into Reinheit. As for the story, I tapped into my history studies and focused on Nazi Germany. I didn’t want this to be just a historical fiction piece, I wanted to say something about some of the issues going on in 2014, in the media, and on social websites, such as Facebook. The total disregard for looking at people as simply that, people. Reinheit drew from real history, but the story was really about the here and now. A school teacher dealing with an abusive husband, an SS officer pushing himself to carry out his ghastly orders, a thug of a husband who views the world from a very narrow hall, an old man looking for redemption, and of course, a curious armchair with a very dark purpose.

While penning Reinheit, I was able to develop my, what authors call, “writers voice.” When you read a lot, which is a must if you want to write, you kind of take on the voice of the authors you are reading. You need to write to chisel away all those voices, and hopefully find your own in the process. I think this is intended to be an ongoing thing. The more you chisel, the more defined your voice becomes, until maybe reaching some point when your aged and withered and giving lectures to a new generation of writers. Obviously, I haven’t reached this milestone yet. I’m still having fun with it. So, yes, writing Reinheit helped define my own voice and gave me the necessary encouragement to take the next step, writing my “war story.”

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Again, I couldn’t write something heroic, though I know a lot of whom I consider to be heroic. I didn’t want to pass the war off as some grand adventure. I wanted to rip the decorum off war, the shininess of it. I wanted to bring audiences into the preverbal trenches of “All Quiet on the Western Front.” I wanted to bring an air of hardnosed poetry as Philip Larkin had done for his own generation with his masterpiece, “MCMXIV.” And above all this, I wanted to be direct and honest, no matter how difficult or depressing that may be. Even for myself, rehashing brutal memories. With my pile of one-subject notebooks (yes, I write everything longhand before MS Word), a set out on this endeavor. What I had titled Subdue was inked in about nine months, from paper to MS Word, and has recently been picked up by my new publisher. I cannot go into too many details about the book just yet, but I can say that within those pages are real, raw, and utterly difficult subjects. While hopefully still entertaining, because of the relationships between the characters, it was not written to entertain, it was written to discuss the reality of war and living with the memory of war, I wanted to talk about PTSD, anger, war-guilt, and suicide because these are discussions that need to happen by getting away from the myth of superman and disconnect of high-adventure combat by focusing on the naked ugliness of it and how we can live with those memories through expression…and the sad gut punching fact that many cannot live with the memories of war…

While there will always be “those” books that do not give much substance to the echoes of war, I’ve been seeing more and more veteran writers coming forward from the trenches, unabashed by unrepentant honesty. BRAVO! There was a recent Vanity Fair article called, “The Words of War” that included a few of these up and coming writers of poetry, novels, and screenplays. I felt encouraged reading it. Seeing fellow veterans picking up the pen and expressing themselves. I’m proud to be part of this “Lost Generation,” for as Elliot Ackerman, one of the veteran writers mentioned above, puts it, “it might have been better to be part of the ‘Lost Generation’ than the lost part of a generation.”

Tommy_Invisible

Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. He is published with The Sinister Horror Company’s horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. His debut novel,Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein and Lanmò His paranormal/miltary series, The Subdue Books, including both Dwelling and Emerging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a BA in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he does author interviews and reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics.

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Monster, by no other name: Understanding the Holocaust (Victims, Survivors, & Perpetrators)

kabala

Are monsters real? Or are monsters simple myths, the unfortunate result when groups separate into differing cultural and communal groupings? But why monsters? Imagined monsters crawl from the closet when one group begins to see the “other” group, those on the outside, as subhuman, when one group begins to believe they are biologically dominate, the better; while the others, subservient. Consider the story of Moishe the Beadle, a Jewish mystic from the flourishing town of Sighet, Transylvania, who one day was rounded up and deported, along with other foreign Jews, into crowded cattle cars destined for an unknown location across the Hungarian border. As the trained pulled away, an unknown bystander sighed, “What do you expect? That’s war.” Moishe survived his deportation and told the story of the ones who didn’t make it back, how they were rushed off the train and into waiting trucks and brought into a dark forest, forced to dig impossibly deep trenches and then systematically shot, their bodies falling into the labored graves (Wiesel, Night pg. 6). Why did this happen? Was Moishe really an enemy or was he the victim of an irrational biological belief of speciation? Pseudospeciation, as we’ll call it, can develop into acts of dehumanization, discrimination, and eventually genocide, for those who do not fit into a ascribed notion of racial identity. Those on the fringe become monsters to those on the inside looking out. Monsters quickly become the enemy. Here, we’ll look at the stories and histories of victims, survivors, and their perpetrators, who lived by the noose of pseudospeciation in the hopes of better understanding why an otherwise civilized German society could produce acts of dispassionate cold brutality.

elie-wiesel

Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and Auschwitz, Buna, and Buchenwald death camp survivor, when giving his acceptance speech, said regarding the Holocaust, it “defies literature…we think we are describing an event, we transmit only its reflection… Still, the story [has] to be told;” (Landau, pg.3) insomuch, as we honor the memory of the dead. The Nazi Holocaust is without a doubt, a convoluted subject, wrought with oodles of information and perspectives; however, no one yet has ever discovered a definitive answer as to why it happened. And no one ever should. There are no definitive causalities for genocide. Besides, who could really answer the “big question,” as to why an otherwise civilized German society that could produce beautiful minds, such as: Beethoven, Bach, Wagner, and Schumann, on the one hand, and merciless brutality on the other? Could one voice unequivocally speak for so much death? The very notion of claiming an answer for causalities seems malignant to the mutilated memory of the people who suffered and died by the hands of Nazi perpetrators. Perhaps the most honest objective we could approach the subject with, is not through definitive answers, but discovering inferred lessons instead of looking for an all-encompassing cause (Landau, pg.4).

Looking back on the history of the Holocaust, it would be fair to say that in 1933, when Hitler came to power, there was no reason to believe, or for that matter, anticipate, the final outcome in the annihilation of six-million Jews. Only, as author Ronnie Landau has stated, through the “luxurious logic of hindsight” could we have seen, as the saying goes, the writing on the wall (Landau, pg. 116). For this reason, something becomes explicit: The Holocaust wasn’t predictable. No one saw it coming. The Holocaust began slowly, through Nazi policies directed at depersonalizing European Jewry. These polices were built around pre-established anti-Semitism and an inferred belief in separation, especially among German Christians (the Jew and Gentile relationship). Hitler and his Nazi Party policies tediously laced their Volksgemeinschaft cake with deliberate poison through subtle conditioning and indoctrination, masterminded by the infamous Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. Propaganda played a significant role in bringing millions of Germans together through popular fascist motifs, in such films as: S.A. Mann Brand (1933), Triumph of the Will (1935), Jew Süss (1940), Münchhausen (1943), and Kolberg (1945). In accordance with Nazi ideology, the function of Nazi education also included particular racial components, namely what to do regarding “The Jewish Question,” in a way that emphasized a path towards resolution that would strengthen and regenerate Germany in a post-Treaty of Versailles country. Hitler was able to use his natural pseud-charismatic character to place blame for Germany’s inequality on a common enemy. What began as a war against undesirables (mentally handicap, Gypsies, Polish, and all other none-German) , soon found its way to Hitler’s central target, the Jews (Berenbaum, pg.102); his veritable monster in the closet, his scapegoat for every pseudo-ascribed sin commented against Germany.

Rede Adolf Hitlers zum Ermächtigungsgesetz

On March 23, 1933, Hitler succeeded in gaining legislative control through the passing of the Enabling Act. By sheer domination and intimidation of opposing parties within the Reichstag, Hitler could now “pass laws and decrees without the consent of parliament” (Landau, The Nazi Holocaust, pg. 121). It is interesting to note how despite having democracy and parliamentary authority thrown to the curb, the majority of German citizens applauded Hitler. It would seem, for the German citizen during the Weimar Republic, the preference in having a charismatic and steadfast leader was much greater than the constant debate and indecisiveness typical during this period in German history. In a way, Hitler was able to twist the general public’s natural disdain for bureaucracy, into an avenue for creating a totalitarian state. There are, of course, other factors one must consider, but one thing is for certain: without the Enabling Act, Hitler would not have been able to carry Germany down the path leading to The Final Solution.

anne

The greatest tragedy ever told could only really be appreciated through the mussing of a young teenaged girl. Anne Frank belonged to a middle class household, liberal in their Jewish faith, typical for most European Jewry living in Germany at the time. In 1933, during the fallout of the Enabling Act, Otto Frank, Anne’s father, moved his family to Amsterdam, Netherlands, far away from the dangers in the heartland of Nazi anti-Semitism, or so he thought. On May 10, 1940, the Netherlands surrendered to an invading German Army and soon after, several anti-Jewish laws were passed and carried out. By 1942, the Franks could see the proverbial writing on the wall, and went into hiding. Anne notes in her famous diary the particular day her family went into the “Secret Annex,”  how on July 8, 1942, beginning with Sunday afternoon and leading to their eventual hiding, “Father…[had] received a call-up notice from the SS… I was stunned. A call-up: everyone knows what that means. Visions of concentration camps and lonely cells raced through my head… Silence. We couldn’t speak” (Frank, pg. 19).

When reading through Anne Frank’s work, it’s hard not becoming emotionally attached. For a thirteen year old girl, she was very aware of the realities around her, considering one of her more popular quotes from her diary: “Sympathy, love, fortune…we all have these qualities but still tend to not use them.” Her constant optimism and willingness for hard honesty in everything she wrote instills a since of longing for humanity; however, her notions optimism also begs the question: was this teenaged girl really a monster? Was she the enemy? Was she something worth fearing? On the morning of August 4, 1944, a little over two years since the Franks first went into hiding, the SS and Dutch Security Police “discovered” the Secret Annex and arrested Anne and the rest who called the back of 263 Prinsengracht road home. By early September, they were shipped away to Auschwitz. There, Anne Frank succumbed to symptoms of typhus in the overcrowded barracks of the concentration camp and died in March 1945; another story among countless victims of pseudospeciation, and the horrible process of dehumanization, discrimination, and genocide. Yet the question we must face remains: was Anne Frank a monster? Giving a definitive answer for how the völk of the Third Reich came to this realization, seeing innocents, such as Anne Frank or Moishe the Beadle, or even Elie Wiesel as the monsters might seem too ambiguous; however, perhaps we could come to some understanding through Europe’s precondition for anti-Semitism. According to Raul Hilberg, as sited by historian Ronnie Landau in his work, The Nazi Holocaust, “Since the fourth century after Christ, there have been three anti-Jewish polices: conversion, expulsion, and annihilation” (pg. 118). For the Nazis, conversion was no longer on the table, as they had already established how their ideology was based on a biological belief that Germanic blood was separate from European Jewry. If we are to follow Nazi ideology down the  rabbit hole, as described by Hilberg, we are faced with a very complex and troubling question: why didn’t the Nazis simply deport the Jews and other non-desirable’s instead of inching toward the next precarious step, The Final Solution?

evianconference

In July 1938, at the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, representatives of thirty-two governments, including: twenty Latin American republics, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the United States, and most of the western European states, England, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, and Denmark came together at Evian, France, for a conference regarding the issue of Jewish refugees fleeing the intensification of anti-Jewish measures during Nazi occupied Germany (Landau, The Nazi Holocaust, pg. 137). Hitler himself responded to news of the Evian conference during his speech at Königsberg, stating: “…on our part, are ready to put all these criminals at the disposal of these countries, for all I care, even on luxury ships” (pg. 137). However, despite the “liberal” intentions of the Western democracies, the Evian Conference failed when both the United States and England washed their hands and refused to take on any substantial number of Jewish refugees, thus ushering an “unmistakable message to the other nations assembled at Evian” (pg. 138). Shortly thereafter, a memorandum was drafted by the Evian Committee and sent to the German Foreign Office, basically stating that the German government had the right to introduce measures affecting its own subjects. One month later, during a cold night in November, anti-Semitic thugs throughout Germany roamed and pillaged in an “orgy of violence” (pg. 141), destroying and setting ablaze synagogues and Jewish establishments belonging to those they used to call neighbors and friends. History would eventually call this event, The Night of Kristallnacht, the night of Shattered Glass. The failure with the Evian Conference not only helped to restrict persecuted Jews who wished to flee this mayhem, but also helped “trigger a change in Nazi policy” (Landau, pg. 139), escalating the Third Reich down the path toward annihilation of the Jews.

kristallnacht

The shattered glass emphasized from the night of Kristallnacht is an excellent, albeit tragic, metaphor for through a glass, darkly, the mirror reflection Elie Wiesel witnessed after being liberated from the Buchenwald concentration camp, when “from the depths of the mirror, a corpse was contemplating me. The look in his eyes as he gazed at me has never left me” (Wiesel, Night, pg. 115). When the Western democracies slammed their doors, this was not in itself an excuse or the root cause of the eventual annihilation of the Jews; however, even Joseph Goebbels noted how, “Nobody wants the scum!” We must consider the implications the Evian Conference had concerning not only Germany, but also the world. If we can say that this Western Democratic failure did in fact contribute to the final outcome of the Holocaust, then we should be able to understand that as it became increasingly apparent that the Third Reich could no longer “remove” Jews from Germanic life, considering their pseudospeciation fervent belief, the extermination and  construction of industrialized killing camps was inevitable.

Following the memories of the victims and survivors of the holocaust, an insidious and unfathomable path from the Enabling Act to the 1933 boycott of Jewish shops and businesses, picket lines and shouts of “don’t buy from the Jews,” to the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service Act, the dismissal of non-Aryan civil servants, scientists, doctors, to further forms of cultural segregation and burning of “un-German” literature, fully separating non-Aryans from artistic, literary, and cultural public life, and also, the Defense Law, excluding Jews from military service, and the more idiosyncratic Nuremberg Laws, ending Jewish emancipation, marriage and sexual relations between Jews and those of Germanic blood, fully institutionalizing Nazi racism, leading to the selection and deportation of Jews to Ghettos, and finally ushering to the greatest crime committed against humanity, The Final Solution, the mass extermination of the Jews, we’re left with many deeply-seated questions (Landau, The Nazi Holocaust, pgs. 122-133). Understandable, one naturally reverts to the big questions of why. However, that is not our goal. We need to focus on the hows, the historical accounts of villainy and somehow find inferred lessons amidst such brutality. We shouldn’t ask why the German people made such a leap from civility to cold calculated brutality, but how. Was it the simple “basic idea [that in] practically every war mythology…the enemy is a monster and that in killing him one is protecting the only truly valuable order of human life on earth, which is…of one’s own people” (Erikson, pg.56)? If we are to understand how the Nazis saw European Jewry as the monster, we’ll need to, in some small way, understand the perpetrators, who in themselves were not likewise mythical creatures, but men and women, mostly blue and pink collar, middle class citizens, with, at least, the basic belief in the tenets of morality, such as: Thou Shalt Not Kill.

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One of the best examples of understanding the perpetrator is from looking at the history of Reserve Battalion 101, which was, consequently, made up of simple ordinary men who ended up committing horrible acts of violence. Most of these “average guys” signed up for the Reserve Battalion in the hopes of avoiding active duty in the regular army, yet, still found themselves on the eastern front, operating from the rear of the forward line, becoming Einsatzgruppen, Nazi mobile killing squads tasked with “liquidating” potential partisan fighters, communist politicians, and “all Russian Jews” (Landau, The Nazi Holocaust, pgs. 165-166). Historian Christopher Browning notes one possible explanation for the cold brutality of the Einsatzgruppen, despite having typical moral understandings and being separated from the hub of Nazi and SS indoctrination, these men were not:

 “…immune to ‘the influence of the times,’ to the incessant proclamation of German superiority and incitement of contempt and hatred for the Jewish enemy… In wartime, when it was all too usual to exclude the enemy from the community of human obligation, it was also all too easy to subsume the Jews into the image of the enemy…” (Browning, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, pg.186).

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The wartime mentality could give us some insight into some of the behaviorisms of the killing squads, perhaps even something much deeper, and something much more intuitive than moral obligation. Psychologist Stanley Milgram noted how obedience is one of the most basic structures of social life and is a huge determinant on behavior, particularly between, as history has shown us, 1933-45, considering how on command, millions of innocent persons were murdered, gas chambers constructed, concentration camps were organized and guarded, all with sinister efficiency (Milgram, pg.1).  Milgram further studied the phenomenon of obedience through a controlled, albeit controversial, laboratory experiment during the 1960’s dubbed, the Milgram Experiment. During the experiment subjects were tested on their willingness to obey the authority of instruction by performing acts that conflicted with their own personal conscience, basically giving differing levels of shock to an unknown party for answering any series of question incorrectly. The result yielded that 26 out of 40 subjects would abandon moral tenets in favor of following the authority of instruction (pg. 32).

As it seems, even against “choking tears” (Browning, pg.200), perpetrators were still willing to perform the “unpleasant” task of the annihilation of their victims; just as major Trapp had commented to his men of Reserve Police Battalion 101, “’orders were orders,’ and had to be carried out” (pg. 201). Orders and obedience were not just a familiarity for the soldiers and police battalions. Josef Mengle, the Auschwitz angel of death, an SS doctor, also “believed orders had to be executed” (Lifton, pg.375) without hesitation or question. Yet, there was a strangeness about Mengle different from the others. Mengle, according to some of his colleagues, was affectionate and nurturing towards the children he experimented on and was also often pleasant and knowledgeable, which seems to contradict our caricature of mythic murderers and cold brutes. However, as Dr. Alexander O points out, Mengle “had all the sentimental motions, all the human feelings, pity, and so on. But there was in his psyche a…impenetrable, indestructible cell, which is obedience to the received order” (Lifton pg.375). Dr. O goes on to describe how Mengle would save the life of a drowning gypsy and then, just as quick, send them off to the crematoria.  Mengle was not only followed orders, being obedient, but he also fervently believed in the biocractic ideology of Nazi pseudospeciation. Perpetrators such as Mengle, Eichmann, and even Rudolph Höss, the SS Kommandant of Auschwitz, were true believers in the Final Solution, insomuch, as to even consider the gas chambers a “humane” end for the Jews (Arendt, pg.234).

final solutioon

There could be no possible or true way to explain, with any absolute certainty as to why or how the perpetrators of the Third Reich reached the cataclysmic and tragic conclusion with the end of so many lives during The Final Solution. Some form of how can be understood from the historical accounts, especially with the political environment, laws and separation of the Jews from Germanic life, and anti-Semitism left over from Weimar era; which was to say, rampant during the time. We could also see how Nazi pseudospeciation turned European Jewry into something hideous, monsters by no other name, for those on the inside looking out into a dreadful world of inequality, with few truths and plenty of subjective answers. But we’ll never find definitive legitimacy for why the Holocaust happened, why the Nazis did what they did, because it simply cannot exist. We can only find inferred lessons to bring with us into the modern world. Historian Neil Kressel notes in his work, Mass Hate, how “people everywhere tend to think in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them,’ and to prefer their own group…even the most tolerant people sometimes rely on simplistic stereotypes” (Kressel, pg.213). And, it is troubling how, just as Dr. Milgram proved with his experiments during the 1960’s, a majority of everyday people seem ready to obey authorities, conforming to the ideologies of their peer groups. What is even more alarming is how in “climates where decency prevails, haters often suppress their hatred; similarly, in hateful climates, relatively decent people sometimes participate in brutal and destructive acts of mass hatred” (Kressel, pg.183). Being aware of our social climate and being objective in what we hear around us could help keep the tide of pseudospeciation from suffocating our cultural identity, insomuch, as we remember, that even when we separate into natural social groupings, one group is no better than the other. Even more important, for future generations, is to keep memory alive and relevant, especially the mutilated memory of the Holocaust.

 


The Obamulator: is this who we are?

Several months ago, back in May, our Commander and Chief gave a speech regarding our nations national security and the ever convoluted issue of counterterrorism. You can take a gander at his strategy here, if you want or can stand listening to the guy who was all peace and love back in 2008 regurgitate the same masterfully crafted oratory: saying everything and nothing at the same time…basically a speech you’d expect from a career politician who desperately clings to maintaining a positive public image. Thankfully, the dawn approaches where we’ll be thrown back into the another season of elections. Hopefully, those who believed the lies of peace will remember how easily duped we all were. Duped about GITMO, duped about the War on Terror, duped about diplomacy first (looking at the most recent issue with Syria and how Obama was going to explain to the American public why we needed to bomb but then quickly changed his mind after Putin, in the least historic democratic country, during the UN summit, mentioned that magical little word we liberals love to hear: diplomacy), and so many others, including the recent attack against the media.

Actions (for me at least), not promises, define administrations and despite Obama’s best attempts at waving a purple bunny in our face, what we see happening on the news comes in complete conflict with his rhetoric. In countries, such as: Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Algeria, Iran, Libya, and Somalia (being the ones we know about), drones are being used to carry out strikes or the maintaining operational surveillance. I guess if you can make murder sound intellectual enough it can become rational and bearable to read about on a daily basis; especially when it’s got the “government” seal of approval, right? But do we really approve these methods, is this what we’ve become? Murderers in the night? Consider the following political cartoon created by Mark Fiore; it pretty much sums up everything i’ve been feeling. Enjoy!

 


In Brightest Day, in Blackest Night

More often than not, the things happening out in the world can be more horrific than any horror movie. News like the Syrian governments use of chemical weapons, which has now officially come to light, puts to shame the most brutal of mass killing stories. Its a strange juxtaposition, watching a movie, cringing and being entertained and watching similar horrific acts on the news; we also cringe but become despondent. Yesterday, as Secretary Kerry addressed the nation during a press release regarding the now “undeniable [evidence] that the Syrian regime had used chemical agents” my heart sank. The claim over the use of chemical agents has been going on for some time, but only recently had U.N. team investigating the issue found conclusive evidence. According to Kerry, “Our sense of basic humanity is offended not only by this cowardly crime but also by the cynical attempt to cover it up,” and that chemical weapons are “the world’s most heinous weapons.” The suffering of any population is indeed the blackest night; however, the brightest day can only be won with the enlightenment of truth. Sadly, truth, along with beauty, knowledge, and virtue, are things only achieved on paper (George Bernard Shaw, 1950) and rarely in actual discourse.

Obviously, talk of war has resurfaced. But will war resolve war? Most of the arguments i’ve been hearing beg-the-question; extremely fallacious. According to NBCNEWS, Congress has generated more support for some kind of action in Syria, but “lawmakers [differ] over the scope of a possible attack and [are] bicker[ing] over how much consultation they’re being allowed with the White House.” Regardless, as per the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, “action is going to occur.” Are we really at that point now? Is action inevitable? The action i’d like to see regarding what to do over this heinous issue is for our administrators to work more diligently with our allies in the U.N. Security Council. Jumping into military action seems as if we’re skipping a few steps. We are not the government of Syria; the protection of global civilian populations cannot be the job squared solely on our (America’s) shoulders. We have allies, we have neighbors, lets use them. We cannot replace rationality with an over-emotional response.

Yes, chemical weapon are heinous, no matter who their used on. At this point, despite Assad’s constant denial, the use of chemical weapons if rather obvious. And deliberately targeting the U.N. Investigative Team doesn’t help the cause of innocence. Reportedly, within the week, evidence Kerry spoke of should be released to the public. Until then, all eyes are going to be on the White House. Will President Obama take action? Yes. Will it be the action everyone wants? No. My biggest fear is that he’ll use drone strikes, as they seem to be his favorite form of warfare. Drones cause more issues; not as much as having “boots on ground,” but still not ideal. The action i’m hoping for is something more diplomatic. While we cannot ignore the issue, because this thing with Syria is pure evil and villainous, we still cannot jump into another costly war (and i’m not just talking money here). History teaches us that war tends to cause more destruction than the things war has been fought over. Lets take note and think and then talk, but most importantly, lets think.

syria plan


North Korean Death Camps…opps, did I say death camps? I meant happy labor camps…where nothing bad ever happens.

“Labor camps? We have no such thing,” claim North Korean officials. However, on March 21, 2013, U.N. Human Rights Council launched a one year inquiry that will collect evidence based on eye witness testimony from the estimated 278 defectors of North Korea now living in either South Korea, Japan, or the Philippians. Most of these testimonies have been collected from actual labor camp escapees. Sordid tales of gross human rights violations have been told from defectors since the 90’s, yet suddenly the world is taking notice? According to CNN, “the council’s decision to take action on [reports] comes amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula following the North’s latest underground nuclear test last month that prompted tougher U.N. sanctions on the regime of Kim Jong Un.” It would seem, there are many reasons we should be concerned about what kinds of actions young Un would take. According to So Se Pyong, the North Korean U.N. representative, the resolution on the issue of human rights violations are “no more than an instrument that serves the political purposes of the hostile forces [attempting] to discredit the image of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea,” and warned the U.N. that there will be “serious consequences” if the investigation went any further. (You can read the U.N. report here.) Yet, with an estimated 200,000 N. Korean gulag-esk prisoners, can we really afford to ignore the issue of human rights violations anymore, especially against such obscure threats?

Kim Jong Un

Gerard Corr, an Irish representative in the U.N., spoke on behalf of the European Union, stating that, “For too long, the population of the [North Korean] country has been subjected to widespread and systematic human rights violations and abuses,” yet we hardly ever hear about such violations. Labor camps never stay for long in mainstream media. Only recently has North Korea garnered enough widespread attention, with random threats of missile strikes, [UPDATE] or assassinated uncles of the Kim Jong dynasty (who so happened to also be second in command of DPRK forces), to bring the focus back on the people who actually live there. As more and more defectors come forward, the more information will be revealed about what Kim Jong Un is really doing behind his iron curtain. One such testimony is the story of Shin Dong-hyuk.

Shin Dong-hyuk

Consider Shin, now thirty, who is the only defector known to have been born inside a North Korean labor camp and escape. Until the age of twenty-two, the only world Shin knew, according to the Washington Post, was inside the “electrified fences, where inmates tended pigs, tanned leather, collected firewood and labored in mines until they died or were executed.” After escaping in 2005, Shin’s account puts a human face on the secretive horrors going on in North Korea’s labor camps; a brutal system that has been going on longer than any of Stalin’s or Hitler’s concentration camps ever did. In an interview, Shin laments that “the existence of prison camps in the North should be known to the people around the world. There are some people born and raised as an animal in North Korea. I have to explain that to everyone.”

Released back in 2012, journalist Blain Harden captured Shin’s story in the book, Escape from Camp 14. The most horrifying and heartbreaking account from Shin’s story comes from his account of his mother and brother. When Shin was thirteen years old, he overheard his mother planning an escape. Without hesitation, Shin reported to the guards everything his mother was planning to do and watched as she and his brother were dragged off. At the time, Shin believed they deserved to die for their treachery. Shin also thought he might be rewarded a full meal for his allegiance. Instead, after watching his mother hanged and brother shot by a firing squad, he reports “I was taken to a chamber full of torture instruments.” Inside the torture chamber, after being stripped of his clothing, Shin was restrained and hung by his hands and legs from the ceiling. A charcoal fire was brought in and placed underneath Shin’s back. Today, crisscrossing Shin’s body are terrible burn scars left from his “interrogation,” and from other wounds from a life inside a North Korean labor camp. The last scars Shin took were from his eventual escape, as he crawled over the burning body of another escapee who had died navigating an electrified fence.

labor camps

Shin’s betrayal of his own mother may seem extreme to those hearing his testimony, but in an interview with Anderson Cooper, Shin confessed that he never knew, still doesn’t, of what love is. Shin was born into a system of reward marriages given to prisoners who worked hard and were allowed, during certain periods, to have sex. Shin does not know if it was a consensual “reward” marriage. From Shin’s perspective, being born inside the camp, his family was not a real family, they were just prisoners. “You wear what you’re given, you eat what you’re given, and you do only what you’re told to do, so there is nothing the parents can do for their children, and there is nothing the children can do for their parents.” Shin’s mutilated “inheritance” is part of the three generations of punishment; a linage that began with the imprisonment of his grandfather and father, each sent to live and die inside camp 14. Kim Jong Sung, North Korea’s first dictator, instituted this “three-generations” of punishment back in the 1950’s in order to remove the revolutionist spirit that fought against the newly established Kim Jong regime. According to David Hawk, a leading human rights investigator, the largest number of people being held inside North Korea’s labor camps are children and grandchildren born from “wrong doers and wrong thinkers.” A majority of prisoners in labor camps are guilty of no crime, but are being kept simply because the policies of North Korea fervently believe that the  “sins of the father” are a justifiable reason to punish generations of the same linage…creating essentially a biocratic political system.

This, of course, stinks of a similar string in historical memory…

…and begs the question: how in a post WWII world, a post Khmer Rouge world, a post Darfur world, can North Korea have this kind of labor/death camp practice?

…but this line of questioning begs an even more problematic and convoluted question: should we take action?

staged production in Theresienstadt

Consider a lesser known story in history, called simply, “The Führer gives a city to the Jews.” In this story, as the world began to first hear tales and rumors of Nazi concentration camps, the Third Reich decided to put on a demonstration for Red Cross investigators. In the days before the U.N. existed, the Red Cross stood alone and Hitler gave them special permission to come and see how they were “really” treating the Jews. Lasting from 1941 through 1945, Theresienstadt, located in modern Czech, was a transit/labor camp for Czech, German, and Austrian Jews before heading to their final destination, Auschwitz. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum database:

Theresienstadt served an important propaganda function for the Germans. The publicly stated purpose for the deportation of the Jews from Germany was their ‘resettlement to the east,’ where they would be compelled to perform forced labor. Since it seemed implausible that elderly Jews could be used for forced labor, the Nazis used the Theresienstadt ghetto to hide the nature of the deportations. In Nazi propaganda, Theresienstadt was cynically described as a ‘spa town’ where elderly German Jews could ‘retire’ in safety. The deportations to Theresienstadt were, however, part of the Nazi strategy of deception. The ghetto was in reality a collection center for deportations to ghettos and killing centers in Nazi-occupied eastern Europe.”

detainees smile for the red cross

The Führer permitted the International Red Cross to visit Theresienstadt on June 1944. In an effort to mask the true propose of Theresienstadt, the Nazis intensified deportations from the ghetto shortly before the visit, and the ghetto itself was “beautified,” by the Jews living there. Gardens were planted, houses painted, and barracks renovated. Special events were also staged to give the impression that the rumors concerning the Nazi subjugation and annihilation of European Jewry were not true. Their efforts paid off. After a five-hour visit, the Red Cross inspectors gave Theresienstadt a glowing thumbs up and declared that they did not require to inspect any other concentration camps in Nazi occupied territory. They did note however that Theresienstadt seemed to be a bit overcrowded and the people had a certain look about them.

After the Red Cross visit, the S.S. and the Nazi propaganda machine (Joseph Goebbels) decided, fearing a return inspection, to use Theresienstadt as a stage for a mock-documentary in the hopes of tricking both to the Red Cross and the German mainstream. The film is known only today in bits and pieces as “The Führer gives a city to the Jews.” The S.S. forced renowned filmmaker Kurt Gerron into filming their documentary. During the months of August and September 1944, under heavy surveillance, Gerron filmed staged scenes of so-called “normal” life in the “Jewish settlement.” The movie was edited without the director, whom after finishing, was sent to Birkenau (death camp also known as Auschwitz II), where he was murdered in a gas chamber. Over 30,000 people died in Theresienstadt, and an untold number were sent off to killing camps. Of those who passed through Theresienstadt, are an estimated 15,000 children. Approximately 90 percent of these children later perished in death camps. Above the gates of Nazi labor/death camps were the words, “Arbeit Macht Frei,” work makes one free.

"work makes one free"

According to the Huffington Post, “North Korea [still] denies the existence of labor camps and activists do not expect [them] to cooperate with the investigation, [after] having denounced it during a U.N. Human Rights Council debate.” However, the U.N. team selected to investigate these horror testimonies of the labor camps, will not be deterred by the North’s refusal to cooperate. The investigation is set to begin in the early weeks of July and run throughout the year, methodologically consulting with as many witnesses and victims as possible. According to certain diplomats concerning the new inquiry into North Korea’s heinous practices with the labor camps and totalitarian state, that the Kim Jong dynasty has been given a clear message that the international community are not only just paying attention to the North’s actions with banned nuclear and ballistic missile programs, but now also with how they are treating their own people. This begs the question though: just what will actually come of their investigations? Will the U.N. take action against North Korea if enough evidence is considered viable? Will the U.S. take action?

Obviously, today we know now what really happened inside Nazi camps. Yet, somehow, the same darkness continues. Inside the borders of North Korea, right now, people are suffering and dying from the harsh and undignified realities of life in labor camps. And not just adults, criminals, or political dissenters, but also children. According to the Huffington Post, the recent U.N. inquiry “is due to file an interim report by September, with a final report due by March next year [2014].” Until then, we are left to ponder how many tales, like those of Shin Dong-hyuk’s, will surface. And when they do, what are we willing, if anything, to do about it?

Update: 7/16/17. According to the Washington Post, “Shin Dong-hyuk, a North Korean prison camp survivor who has become the symbol of human rights injustices suffered in that country, has changed key parts of the story of his ordeal.” Those “key parts” being of course dates and locations. The ordeal and torture Shin had endured remain fact, the evidence read from the road map of burn scars covering his lower back and legs, not to mention his bowed arms, evidence in itself of child labor. According to the Washington Post, “North Korea has already tried to dismiss Shin’s story and assassinate his character. Last fall, amid mounting calls to refer North Korea’s leaders to the International Criminal Court, the regime released a video titled ‘Lie and Truth,’ in which Shin’s father says that his son never lived in a political prison camp and that his testimony is false.” So who is telling the truth? I think History shows us the lengths political bodies will go to cover the truth of their sins.

tommy1

Thomas S. Flowers writes character-driven stories of dark fiction ranging from Shakespearean gore feasts to paranormal thrillers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His veteran focused paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served three tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews horror and sci fi movies and books and hosts a gambit of guest contributors who discuss a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can follow Thomas at a safe distance by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.


Mr. Kerry Goes to Moscow

Late into the night on Tuesday, May 7, 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry met with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, in the hopes of reestablishing some kind of political solution to the conflict raging in Syria that has resulted in over 70,000 deaths and millions of refugees. Kerry’s visit comes after a botched attempt at peace during last year’s Geneva conference. However, Kerry seemed somewhat more optimistic from the outcome of last nights meeting. Dare…could there be a little glimmer of hope for some sort of peaceful end to the now two year-long conflict?

Will there be a peaceful resolution for Syrian Civil War?

According to the Guardian news network, reporting from last night in Moscow, both Kerry and Lavrov emerged from the meeting, confirming to reporters of a renewed co-operations in dealing with the Syrian crisis. “Russia and the United States have pledged to convene an international conference aimed at ending the civil war in Syria, hoping to give the situation a new diplomatic push following two years of bloodshed,” the Guardian reports. “Officials from both sides hope that representatives from the regime of Bashar al-Assad and the opposition will attend.” Both Russia and the U.S. are calling for an end to the violence in Syria and the creation of a transitional government that would include members of Assad’s regime. During an interview with reporters in Russia’s capitol, Kerry recounted of the meeting that, “Despite different points of view, committed partners can accomplish great things together when the world needs it. And this is one of those moments.”

Just what are those differing points of view?

According to an Independent news report, Secretary Kerry’s visit to Moscow has come at a time when our two nations have been in…well…a bit of a feud. Not too long ago, President Obama signed some legislation implementing a ban (or black list) on a number of Russian officials believed to be implicated in human rights abuses while traveling to and within the U.S. You can check out the CNN report on said issue here. Of course, the black list didn’t sit very well with the Kremlin, which prompted a reciprocal list and further accusations that the U.S. had funded street protesters which so happened to spring up last year against President Putin. However, this is all just a bunch of back and forth, nay-saying. The most significant difference is how each nation has reacted toward the Syrian government. On one hand, Russia has been a constant staunch supporter of Assad, opposing foreign involvement whilst simultaneously rearming Assad’s regime. And on the other hand, we’ve been kind of loosey-goosey with what’s been going on over there in Syria. Currently, President Obama is facing increasing support from Washington to rearm the rebel forces, in light of recent reports of the use of chemical weapons from the Syrian military. In an interview with CBS news, Bob Corker commented that he thinks “we’ll be arming the opposition shortly.” However, during a Washington press conference while visiting the South Korean president, Obama responded that, “There are continuing re-evaluations about what we do.” Basically, should we even be arming the rebels? According to Reuters, “Islamist fighters pledging allegiance to al-Qaeda [have] highlighted how some of the rebels are also hostile to the West.”

Do we even know who we plan on arming?

Consider the outcome from the Iran-Iraq War. Who did we back? None other than Saddam Hussein. We gave the Iraqi government billions in economic aid, technology, weapons, military intelligence, special ops training and, at times, direct involvement in the war itself. When the Second Gulf War broke out a couple years later, and Iraq was doing the invading, this time in the small but rich country of Kuwait, Ted Koppel, on a special ABC News Nightline episode, which aired during the night on June 9, 1992, reported that:

“It is becoming increasingly clear that George Bush, operating largely behind the scenes throughout the 1980s, initiated and supported much of the financing, intelligence, and military help that built Saddam’s Iraq into the power it became, and Reagan/Bush administrations permitted — and frequently encouraged — the flow of money, agricultural credits, dual-use technology, chemicals, and weapons to Iraq.”

Basically, we backed Iraq against a post-revolutionary Iran, and look at what happened. And all of that ugliness was still going on all the way up into 2003, when G.W. and Dick Cheney decided to invade Iraq and hunt down Saddam. If you want to check it out, here is Koppel’s full episode transcript.

So, kudos to President Obama for wanting to take things a bit slow. Obviously, his “shoot first and ask questions later” opponents do not feel the same way. To this, understandably, waiting while watching millions suffer from a long and drawn out civil war is not a popular choice. But we have to show some discretion here in the face of what could be another costly (and I’m not talking money; I’m taking about human lives) Middle East war. And in light of the recent Kerry and Putin meeting, it looks like we might actually come to some diplomatic resolution. As, according to UN-Arab League envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, “this is the first hopeful news concerning that unhappy country in a very long time. The statements made in Moscow constitute a very significant first step forward. It is nevertheless only a first step.” This first step comes after a long stand still after last year’s Geneva conference, where Russia and the U.S. butted heads with differing opinions on what to do with the Syrian government, namely, Assad. However, with the new accord between our two great nations (i.e., veto-welding nations), perhaps together with the UN, we can convince both the Syrian government and the rebels to accept, at least some of, the solutions based on the final communiqué. You can find that document here.

According to BBC news, Kerry and Lavrov have announced during the Moscow meeting that they would try to organize said above international conference, if possible, before the end of May.

Could there finally be peace in Syria? Could diplomacy actually prevail?


Attack of the Drones

The Drone program is a relic. Born from the events that occurred after September, 11, 2001, the U.S. Drone Program has allowed the government to monitor, observe, hunt, target, and strike suspected militants under the guise of counterterrorism operations. Since Congress first authorized the Bush administration to use “necessary force against suspected militants,” drone strikes have been conducted in faraway places, such as: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Iraq. However, according to Fox News, C.I.A. director John Brennan (former counter-terrorism advisor to President Obama) claims that “strikes are only used as a last resort against suspects believed to be plotting against America.” Yet, in light of recent media reports regarding drone attacks, just how last resort are they? Are we gaining sufficient intelligence before carrying out strikes, or just enough? The precarious nature of the drone program is, according to Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown University Law Professor, “at any time for secret reasons based on secret evidence in a secret process taken by unidentified officials,” the U.S. government “claims the right to kill anyone anywhere on earth at any time.”

According to the New York Times, last year, the White House had given the C.I.A. and the Pentagon “broader authority to carry out drone strikes in Yemen against terrorists who imperil the United States.” The concern the Obama administration has is that al-Qaeda will “bleed us financially by drawing us into long [and] costly wars.” According to the Obama admin, precision strikes and raids are the most effective means to defeat terrorism.

This is the plan, but is it working?

Consider the testimony of Yemeni activist Farea al-Muslimi, who spoke on Capitol Hill regarding the use of drones in his native country. On April 23, 2013, during the Senates first ever public hearing on the Obama administrations “precision strikes” program, al-Muslimi told the story of when his family’s village was bombed by a U.S. drone strike. “When they think of America, they think of the terror they feel from the drones that hover over their heads, ready to fire missiles at any time,” al-Muslimi says of his fellow Yemenis. “What the violent militants had previously failed to achieve, one drone strike accomplished in an instant.” The very same village strike al-Muslimi mentions has become a so-called signature of the Obama administration, conducting drone strikes based on patterns of suspicion, instead of actual identification. But don’t take my word for it. Consider another testimony, this time from an actual U.S. drone pilot who flew missions very similar to those described by al-Muslimi. In an interview with NPR, former sensor operator for the U.S. Air Force Predator program Brandon Bryant discusses his experience conducting “precision strikes” overseas from a dimly lit trailer in the Nevada desert. According to NPR, “on [Bryant’s] very first sortie as a pilot, [he] watched from the drone’s camera as American soldiers got blown up in Afghanistan. [And] there was nothing he could do.” This was Bryant’s first experience flying a drone; simply watching. Later in the interview, Bryant laments on his “first shot,” saying that while he was watching an attack between a group of insurgents and U.S. troops, he was ordered to fire on another group of men that had been standing some distance away from the battle. “The missile hits, and after the smoke clears there’s a crater there and you can see body parts from the people. [There had been a] guy that was running from the rear to front, his left leg had been taken off above the knee, and I watched him bleed out,” Bryant told NPR reporters. The group of men that Bryant was ordered to fire on had been armed, but Bryant said he had no idea what their intent was. In Bryant’s own words, “these guys could have been local people that had to protect themselves.”

Considering the recent debates in the U.S. regarding gun advocacy, could you imagine a group of civilians in places like Montana or Texas being targeted simply because they were armed? Luckily, drone strikes are not allowed on U.S. soil…at least for now. According to Medill News Service, by 2015, hundreds of thousands of drones could be buzzing around U.S. airspace thanks to a little law called, FAA Modernization and Reform Act, with its seven page provision known simply as the Drone Act, which passed just last year. These drones, however, will be not be armed, and “bear little resemblance to the war machines making headlines overseas; the drones [that will eventually be] flown in the United States often look more like toys,” toys with technologically advanced cameras that beg the question of Fourth Amendment violations.

But I digress; let us return to the subject of drone strikes overseas.

According to CNN News reports, the percentage of civilian casualties overseas has dropped significantly since 2008, from a whopping 33% to 11% fatality rate. Yet, these new estimates do not translate that drone strikes have lessened; on the contrary, they have bumped up from 67% to 89%. Osama bin Laden himself, in a memo confiscated during the famous Abbottabad compound raid that resulted in the death of the world’s most notorious terrorist, that U.S. drone strikes were having a devastating effect on his (Taliban) organization in Afghanistan.

So, as we tally the testimonies of those who are being most effected from drone strikes, the civilian collateral, and from testimonies from drone pilots, when we weigh them against the final outcome, are drones worth it? Sure, we’re killing off, without warrant, at least 89% of suspected militants, but what about the other 11%? Do we simply write them off as an acceptable loss in war?

In closing, consider another sordid tale regarding a recent drone strike in Yemen. This story involves Sanaa cleric Sheik Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber and the night he died. In a small Yemeni village, Ali Jaber preached about the evils of al-Qaida, and according to a Fox News report, “warning residents to stay away from the group’s fighters and their hardline ideology.” The local parishioners feared retaliation from the not far off militants living in the mountain strongholds near the remote eastern village of Khashamir. Even the cleric’s own father wanted him to stop before something bad happened. Eventually, al-Qaida militants, in fact, did call out the brash cleric to a night time meeting, hoping perhaps to intimidate Ali Jaber into silence, or worse. The cleric’s brother-in-law, recounting the events of the fateful night to the Associated Press, said that Ali Jaber “felt he had no [other] choice but to meet them.” The night the cleric died, he had shortly arrived to a car where three militants were waiting. No sooner had the cleric closed his door, four missiles hit the car, followed by a passing (familiar) buzz sound. “We know the buzzing sound of the drones overhead,” reported Faysal bin Ali bin Jaber, the clerics brother-in-law. According to Yemeni security officials, three militants, along with the cleric and a cousin, were among the dead. A strike carried out by an American drone.

Did the officials who gave the order to strike, know that cleric Sheik Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber was not a member of al-Qaida? They probably had no clue who the two other men were as they entered the car with the suspected militants; the cleric and his cousin were simply guilty by association. Except we know, through creditable reporting, that the cleric and his cousin were not militants; in fact, the cleric, himself at least, spoke out against Islamic extremism and al-Qaida. But the pilots of the drone didn’t have that information…didn’t need that information to carry out its strike.

Currently, according to the AP, “while the United States acknowledges its drone program in Yemen, it does not confirm individual strikes or release information on how many have been carried out.” Perhaps the time has come for the American public to have those exact numbers of drone strikes we are carrying out overseas. If our policies condone acts of “necessary force” in counter-termism, we should know the costs.


Mo’ Gitmo, Mo’ Problems

Remember back on January 23, 2009, when Obama made one of the boldest moves a newly signed in President has ever made; a presidential order for the closure of the detention facility at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, affectionately known to the public as Gitmo(almost sounds like Gizmo, the furry cuddly creature from those Gremlin flicks), symbolically closing out the old Bush Administration, who had been herding detainees suspected of terrorism or ties to terrorism since its establishment in January 2002?  Well, if you forgot, you’ll remember soon enough, as new reports make their way to your living room. Since Obama’s closure declaration, the notorious facility has naggingly remained open. But wait…I thought President Obama gave a presidential order to close Gitmo? Why is Gitmo still open? What happened? And why did we suddenly forget about this place?

Here is what was originally mandated, straight from a White House memorandum:

“By the authority vested in me as President and as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40, 115 Stat. 224), and in order to facilitate the closure of detention facilities at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, I hereby direct that the following actions be taken as expeditiously as possible with respect to the facility known as the Thomson Correctional Center (TCC) in Thomson, Illinois.”

 Basically, the President wanted to close Gitmo and move the facility to Thomson, Illinois. Here is the full memorandum from December 15, 2009 (almost a full year later): http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/presidential-memorandum-closure-dentention-facilities-guantanamo-bay-naval-base

So what happened? Did the memo get lost in transition? According to ABC News, and those who still remember watching a bit of Obama’s campaign for presidency way back when and can recall some of the promises he made, if he were elected, that “[he] vowed so many times that he would shutter the prison he [personally] called a recruitment tool for terrorists.” Yet here we are, just over 100 days on Obama’s second term as President and only now has the name Gitmo resurfaced enough to garner public attention. Didn’t Obama also get a Nobel Peace Prize…and in his speech said something like, “I believe the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength.” You can check out Obama’s full speech here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-acceptance-nobel-peace-prize. Yet Gitmo has remained opened, despite harsh rhetoric.

So, what happened? Basically and simply, according to ABC News and Obama’s own press conference this past Tuesday on, April 30, 2013, that he had “run into plenty of opposition in Congress.” More to the point, Obama is saying that lawmakers had passed a bill preventing any federal money to be spent in transferring Gitmo detainees to the United States. The legislator were fundamentally saying, “We don’t want them here!” According to Gallup Poll conducted back in June 2009, “Americans [were] especially resistant to closing the prison and transferring the terrorism suspects to prisons in their own states — only 23% favor this, while 74% are opposed.” Senator John Thune, a Republican of South Dakota, is quoted in the New York Times, saying:

 “The American people don’t want these men walking the streets of America’s neighborhoods. The American people don’t want these detainees held at a military base or federal prison in their back yard, either.”

Are they really going to be walking the streets John… not likely, but yet, even some of the Democrats, at the time, voted against the measure to move Gitmo to the states, including Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the very state Obama had originally planned to move the facility. In 2009, according to the New York Times, “lawmakers in both parties [had]criticized [Obama] for not providing a more detailed plan for what will be done with the [then] 240 detainees currently held in the prison.” Basically, Obama is blaming congressional opposition, even opposition in his own party; while on the other hand, the very same oppositional voices are blaming Obama for not having a more detailed plan. To be sure, closing Gitmo seemed to be one of the boldest moves a newly elected president could make; perhaps too bold. Not that Obama was wrong. Here is a bit of his speech yesterday during Tuesday’s news conference:

“I think it is critical for us to understand that Guantanamo is not necessary to keep us safe. It is expensive, it is inefficient, it hurts us in terms of our international standing, it lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts, it is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.”

So, now that we know, to an extent,  why it was put on the back burner. Why all the sudden interest of late? Didn’t we purposely forget about this place? Well, it seems that a majority of the detainees are on a hunger strike. According to Huffington Post, the number of strikers has reached 100 this past Saturday out of the remaining 186 prisoners. The hunger strike first began two week ago after an April 13th raid, which forced detainees living in a communal facility into individual cells. Twenty of the detainees are being force-fed (which hurts like hell by the way, with the big tube going up your nose and down the throat…); five are in the hospital. According to MSNBC, events which led to the April 13th raid have worsened living conditions for the prisoners. Ranjana Natarajan, an attorney who represents one of the detainees, told MSNBC that:

“They moved with relative freedom and used the communal outdoor space for group activities including soccer. Now their cells are locked for most of the day and their physical activity is strictly regulated. Guards are intentionally interfering with detainees’ sleep by offering recreational time and showers in the middle of the night.”

On Tuesday, during the press conference, Obama alluded to the problem of indefinite detention, stating that:

 “The idea that we would still maintain forever a group of individuals who have not been tried, that is contrary to who we are, it is contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop.”

Kenneth Wainstein, a former top national security official at the Justice Department during the Bush administration, is quoted by the New York Times, saying:

“The situation is not sustainable. There are strong, principled arguments on both sides, but all of us across the spectrum have to acknowledge that this is far from an ideal situation and we need an exit strategy.”

Do we have an exit strategy? Should we have an exit strategy? According to Gitmo’s Muslim advisor, despite now being force fed (which is against international medical regulations), at least one detainee will die before the hunger strike ends. The question is then; will we allow it to go that far? Do we still dread having a super-max here in the states?


Death toll has now risen to over 377 garment workers in Bangladesh Disaster

The death toll has now risen to over 377 garment workers; many are still missing, thought to be trapped beneath the rubble. According to MSNBC, an estimated 3,000 garment workers were employed at the time of the buildings collapse. 3,000 labor force manufacturing garments for American retailers such as: J.C. Penny, Dress Barn, Joe Fresh, and mega retailers like Walmart.

According to the Associated Press, Walmart is currently investigating whether there was any “unauthorized production.” But, isn’t that the rub? When things go horribly wrong and the media shoots a lot of attention on places like Bangladesh and worker rights, mega retailers like Walmart can cry foul and say they purchase through a third party supplier with a set standard for the working conditions for whom they purchase goods; keeping their hands clean of the blood.

Charles Kernaghan, director of the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights, made the following statement regarding worker rights in Bangladesh:

“It is long overdue that the United States, Canada, the European Union, Australia and other countries stop relying upon so-called ‘corporate codes of conduct’ that are never enforced. Workers must be guaranteed their legal right to organize independent unions, to bargain collectively and to have a contract that includes decent working conditions and a prohibition of child labor. Until workers are afforded their legal labor rights, nothing will change, and the list of tragedies will continue to grow.”

But we’re talking about an industry that accounts for 78% of said countries exports. Bangladesh is booming as a global hotspot for cheap garments, but with every boom also brings a higher risk for dangerous working conditions; especially when the local government in Bangladesh is lax in its regulation. 78% in exports is a big number, statistically; how much of an “eye” is the government really going to give those policies? Consider in our last report on Bangladesh regarding the November 2012 factory fire that killed 112 garment workers, garment workers who were manufacturing documented Walmart particular products, which happen just a few months ago; what changed?

Nothing

In an update for our last Bangladesh report, the building owner, Mohammed Sohel Rana, “was arrested while attempting to cross the border to India,” according to MSNBC. The High Court in Bangladesh is charging Mohammed Sohel Rana with violating a construction permit which allowed him to build a five-story building; while actually constructing an eight-story building. However, according to The Guardian news report, the mayor of Bangladesh approved the project, even though it violated the permit.

But this isn’t the first international garment factory disaster, and it won’t be the last, not so long as we the responsible consumer are screaming for lower costs for clothing. As consumers, we need to understand that places like Walmart are not charities; they will, some way, make a profit. Back in November of 2012, some of us watched the news and got a little pissy that Walmart employees here in the states were striking, and maybe some of us felt a bit encouraged in their actions to stand up to a mega retailer. But if we think Walmart employees here in America have it bad living on something resembling minimum wage, consider what kind of conditions garment workers are living with in countries that do not have regulated working conditions, consider that during that same month a garment factory manufacturing robes and women nightgowns for Wal-Mart’s Black Friday sales, burnt to the ground, killing 112 working class employees. Let something like that happen in the U.S. and I guarantee something will come out of it. But, as long as it happens overseas, and we don’t have to look at it, no fuss, no muss.

There is a least one retailer who is taking some measure of responsibility. Primark, according to Sky News, has said that they “will pay compensation to the victims of the Bangladesh textile factory disaster who worked for its supplier.” Notice how Primark claimed that they purchased goods through a third party supplier, but are still taking responsibility? This responsibility also includes long-term aid for children who have lost parents, financial aid for those injured and payments to the families of the deceased. While Primark is a jolly O’ England based company, American based companies, like Walmart, have refused compensation.


Syria… ah, who cares, right?

According to Pew Research Center, only a modest number of 45% to 31% Americans support military action in Syria, if “proof” can be given regarding chemical agents against a civilian population. Yet, overall public interest in the two year long Syrian civil war seems rather low, with a whopping 23% of Americans having no opinion about force either way.

The Syrian conflict began back in 2011, gaining minimal attention a midst other similar rebellion happenings in what would later be coined the Arab Spring, which included such countries as: Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, as well as Syria.

Also, more recent events have drawn the public eye away from the Syrian conflict, including the Boston Bombing, Gun Control Debate, North Korea, and so on.

Nonetheless, as more evidence surfaces of chemical agents being used on a civilian population, American interests could spike, especially concerning U.S. military involvement. The Obama administration acknowledged  that there’s evidence the Syrian government had used chemical weapons. President Obama had warned Syria not to cross that “red line,” and now some Washington lawmakers are urging the president to take forceful action — including military intervention.

But as Washington examines what to do next; we’re faced with two precarious issues. Dealing with Syria and their use of chemical weapons, and the broader issue of, dealing with Syria in general.

You can find the full Pew Research poll here:

http://www.people-press.org/2013/04/29/modest-support-for-military-force-if-syria-used-chemical-weapons/1/