“War: The Home team or the Away Team?

A Look at the Effects of War

Loved ones left home
History’s Lessons

Beah Lecture

Oh Excuses, Excuses…Better yet, justification.

About peace this time: War free World?

You Never Know Who’ll Get One

Killer Blue II

Fight or Flight

Published in: on April 19, 2009 at 11:58 am  Leave a Comment  

Bouncing Betties

We have been mostly discussing the effects of war on American soldiers, especially concerning The Things They Carried. However, as I read through the book I came across a sentence that reminded me of another topic,

“All around us, the place was littered with Bouncing Betties and Toe Poppers and booby-trapped artillery rounds, but in those five days on the Batangan Peninsula nobody got hurt” (O’Brien 33).

The topic was of all those Bouncing Betties, Toe Poppers, and booby-traps that were left over after Vietnam and all those that are still laying hidden to this day in Vietnam. Although some like the old “poppa-san” who was the soldiers guide in the book learned to navigate the booby-trapped land, some weren’t and haven’t been so lucky.

After all this time Vietnam is still cleaning up. Since the end of the war in 1974 o “over 40,000 Vietnamese have been killed or injured by landmines and unexploded ordnance (explosives)…” (landmines…).

While American soldiers returning from wars face a slew of problems at least their families are safe from injury and they could return to the safety of their homes. So much can not be said for the people of Vietnam.

“Unexploded ordnance and buried landmines pose an ongoing and daily threat to the people of Vietnam, particularly in the Demilitarized Zone, the “DMZ,” which once separated North and South Vietnam. These munitions continue to inflict almost weekly injury and death on the farmers and innocent children of small villages like those in Quang Tri Province. Entire families suffer when the breadwinners of their families are incapacitated or killed by rogue explosives. After heavy rains or plowing, children wander through fields collecting unexploded munitions like toys, oblivious to their lethal power. Poverty and starvation now compound the problem, as farmers let lands go fallow rather than risk hitting a rogue mine while harvesting their fields” (landmines…)

I found this side of the war to be the most saddening as I read more about people’s lives to this day being destroyed by relics of a war that was over 25 years ago. It seems hard to believe that this is possible and we do not often think about what is being left behind when everyone else goes home.
However, it is not all doom and gloom. There are agencies and organizations working to raise money for the victims and help clean up the landmines, not only in Vietnam, but other countries affected by this unfortunate problem.

“Groups like the grassroots PeaceTrees Vietnam are working alongside the Vietnamese people to reverse the destructive consequences of the war in Vietnam through healing, reconciliation and mutual cooperation. Through the support of donors and volunteers, PeaceTrees Vietnam and other like-minded organizations, sponsor the clearance of landmines and unexploded ordnance and conducts environmental and community restoration projects, such as reforestation, landmine safety education centers for children and school renovation or resettlement activities” (Landmines…)

So to end on a relatively happy note PeaceTrees Vietnam motto is this, “Plant a tree…where a mine used to be,” and they have “removed over 1,500 ordnance items and planted over 8,000 trees” (Landmines…)


Landmines: War’s Lingering Menace

Tim O’Brien The Things They Carried.

Published in: on April 12, 2009 at 2:22 pm  Comments (7)  

Human Nature

For the past week in my Anthropology class we have been discussing human nature, specifically if violence is inherent to human nature. For this we were using A Long Way Gone as an example.

Many people contended that violence was not part of human nature and something that occurred in extreme situations such as Beah’s. However, some of us were also of the opinion that everyone is capable of violent acts, such as the ones Beah committed; a person just has to be pushed to their limits.

I am going to compare two very different cultures, America and Sierra Leone, and how cultures shape human behavior.

In American culture violence seems to be all around us from sporting events and big screen movies to causality reports from the wars. Maybe we live in a culture of violence or at least a culture of fear, which often leads to violent actions. So when I heard of the man in Washington State shooting his five children and then himself after his wife told him she was leaving him, it was just another story of someone who snapped and honestly I was not very shocked. These stories of shootings run rampant on the evening news, along with other grisly news from around the world. We see it, we internalize it, and we move on. What we see in our culture most definitely affects our mental well-being and can shape our actions. The idea of shooting another person seems less extreme, when somebody is being shot on every other channel on TV.

This brings me to Sierra Leone and Beah’s experience. From his description of Sierra Leone in his childhood it seemed rather peaceful. Close communities and strong standards of respect for their elders. From the picture described by Beah this was not a culture prone to violence, as we could argue more so about American culture. However, between political corruption and an aggressive revolutionary movement this seemingly peaceful culture erupted into one of fighting and distrust. Many people saw this degeneration of their culture and their loss of love ones and became capable of horrible acts themselves. At one point in A Long Way Gone Beah says,

“My mind had not only snapped during the first killing, it had also stopped making remorseful records, or so it seemed.” (Beah 122).

For Beah to act out as horribly as he did it had taken the slaughter of his family, friends, and culture and for James Harrison it took a little bad news and perhaps the bad economy. There seems like a vast difference in cause and effect there. My point being that some cultures may be more prone to violence. But regardless of culture it seems anyone who is pushed enough can be capable of violent behavior. Although how far someone has to be pushed before they act out, may depend on the culture. Over all these examples do show that nearly everyone is capable of violence and it is an aspect of human nature. We can all say we would never do such a thing, but Beah also thought that.

Beah, Ishamel. A Long Way Gone. New York: 2007.
US Father ‘shoots his children’

Published in: on April 12, 2009 at 12:30 pm  Comments (3)  

Children and Violence

The main topic of Beah’s book was that of child soldiers and as a consequence that of children affected by violence. The book gives the first hand experience of a child living in a culture of violence.

I saw this topic emerge again when I came across the blog of photographer, Daniel LeClair, who is in Guatemala covering violence. This particular blog was about the story of a little girl whose father had been shot while riding on a motorcycle. This sort of occurance is nothing new in Gautemala.

Guatemala’s National Police reports an average of 17 murders per day in the country of some 12.5 million inhabitants, giving it one of the highest murder rates among countries formally at peace.”

LeClair became focused on the little girl, Erica, who was lost in the fray of adults and how through all of the commotion she kept being left behind, crying and confused. LeClair wrote,

“Once again Erica seems lost and alone among a sea of adults, all in their own pain. Poor girl. I look around for someone to help her, anyone. Someone to hold her and tell her she’ll be alright, that the pain will go away.”

The story reminded me of all the instances through Beah’s book where he mentioned small children crying for their mothers and also just the experiences of the child soldiers.

“Mothers lost their children, whose confused, sad cries coincided with the gunshots” (Beah 23).

That sentence made me think about what happened to those children and whether they also became child soldiers. Just as LeClair’s story made me think of what is going to happen to Erica as she grows older and continues to see this violence. Will she perpetuate violence when she is grown up? Will she accept it as a part of life and seek no change?

This issue is not something reserved for foreign soil either. I recently watched a 20/20 report about the abundance of guns in America. Specifically there was a story brought to the attention of 20/20 by a small boy, Damon Weaver, living in Pahokee, Florida. Pahokee is riddled with gang violence and guns, which threatens the safety of everyone living there. Damon says this,

“By day, it’s safe for me to play outside, just as long as my friends and I stick together,” Damon said. “But at night, it’s a different story. Sometimes it’s like the Wild West out here.”

And this is yet another story of adults bringing children into the violence.  Gang members in Pahokee use teenagers like Damon’s older brother Marcus to buy guns for them or try to recruit them into their gangs. Marcus said this of being pressured into a gang,

“It’s like peer pressure because they want me to help them fight,” Marcus said. “They say it’s cool. They’ll help you fight, got your back when you’re in trouble. But I don’t like being around trouble, so I just don’t hang with them.”

Time and time again there are stories about children who lose loved ones to violence and are pulled into the cycle of violence. Beah is an exception; he was able to get out and is now educating others. But what about Damon and Erica? They are still young and still stuck in violent environments, what is going to happen to them?

This is a very worthy topic to focus on and discuss, because as cliche as it sounds children are the future of our world and if we are standing by as many are corrupted by violence, what kind of world is that going to leave us with?

Beah, Ishamel. A Long Way Gone. New York: 2007.

LeClair’s Blog

20/20 Report

Published in: on April 11, 2009 at 8:51 am  Leave a Comment  

Army Strong

As I have been reading The Things They Carried, I have also been thinking back to a past class where we discussed military recruitment ads. Every story O’Brien tells about men failing under the pressure of war, I think about what the military advertises a soldier as. An example is this Army ad , that we had watched in class.

The Army recruitment ad is telling people, mostly kids, that by becoming a soldier you will be a better, stronger person. The ad says, “There’s Strong. And then there’s Army strong” appealing to the egos and pride of people, especially men.

Next I looked at a Marine recruitment ad, Marines . Their message was an even stronger appeal to the ego, “There are those who dedicate themselves to a sense of honor, to a life of courage and a commitment to something greater than yourself.” It astounds me, because these promises are being made, but they are overestimating the ability of the human mind to handle certain situations.

An example of one of these situations from The Things They Carried is,

“After the chopper took Lavender away, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross led his men to the village of Than Khe. They burned everything. They shot chickens and dogs, they trashed the village well, and they called in artillery and watched the wreckage” (O’Brien 16).

The men in The Things They Carried were drafted, which makes it somewhat of a different matter, many of them were not there willingly. But, the U.S. military has always functioned to make people believe being a soldier and fighting in a war was a noble, honorable, and brave act. They will make people better versions of themselves, but how can a few months of boot camp make a normal person capable of enduring the act of war?

“A true war sory is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done” (O’Brien 68).


Tim O’Brien The Things They Carried.

Army ad

Published in: on March 30, 2009 at 1:02 pm  Comments (8)  

Gender Roles

After reading the letters from the chapter titled “I Took a War Job” in Since You Went Away it becomes very apparent how much work has changed the women’s lives positively. Working allowed them to cope with the war, gain independence, and experience more freedom.

Edith, one of the letter writers, was very direct with her husband about changes in her life. She said,

“I want you to know now that you are not married to a girl that’s interested solely in a home – I shall definitely have to work all my life- I get emotional satisfaction out of working; and I don’t doubt that many a night you will cook the supper while I’m at a meeting. Also, dearest – I shall never wash and iron – there are laundries for that!” (Litoff & Smith 157).

Speaking in terms of the time, men were not accustomed to hearing that. Women were expected to work inside the home. The gender roles were very specific; however, War always smudges gender roles. I was recently reading a war post from a female marine on this subject. She said,

“For some reason, when a Marine Security Guard detachment finds out it’s going to end up with a larger-than-normal number of female Marines, sometimes PEOPLE FREAK OUT. When I first came out on MSG duty, I was the second female at my detachment of about 10 and people talked about some “rule” that said only one female was allowed to be at each post. Obviously not, because there I was!” (The Semi-Normal….)

The idea she is getting at seems to be is that females are not as properly equipped for the job or perhaps capable. As well as that a MSG can only handle one female at a time, making females sound more like a liability, than a resource.

This relates back to how the men of WWI felt about their wives continuing work. All of these ideas are wrapped up in what we think our gender roles should be. Women do not fight, they do not go to work, they tend to home. Men are the soldiers, men make the income. This has led to the belief that women just aren’t capable of the roles men are ‘suppose’ to fill.

Just as Edith expected to be treated as an equal and continue to live as she pleased or in her words, “I Do as I damn please” (Litoff & Smith 157), the female marine made the point that men need to be able to deal with women in all factions of life. Just because they are in the military does not mean women will not be there and as she said, “Get over it!”

Although war carries with it a lot of tragedies, it also has a way of changing preconceived notions positively.

Litoff, Judy, and David Smith. Since You Went Away.

The Semi-Normal, Day to Day life of a Female Marine

Published in: on March 27, 2009 at 3:03 pm  Comments (2)  

Military Suicides


            I recently read an article about suicide prevention training becoming mandatory for every person in the U.S. Army. As I continued to read I found out this was due to the Army reaching its highest suicide rate since 1980 when the Pentagon began recording it (Tundel). This led me to another suicide about military suicides and I found a surprising statistic the rate of suicide of “military personnel has exceeded that of the civilian population” (CNN).  These articles explain how the stresses of war, life at home, and military life itself cause people to “feel like life just isn’t worth living” (Tundel).

            I began to think of Slaughterhouse-Five  when Billy Pilgrim is in the hospital with Eliot Rosewater. They express feelings like many military personnel coming back from the current wars or military situations in Iraq and Afghanistan,

            “They had both found life meaningless, partly because of what they had seen in the war. Rosewater, for instance, had shot a fourteen-year-old fireman, making him for a German soldier. So it goes. Billy had seen the greatest massacre in European history, which was the fire-bombing of Dresden. So it goes” (Vonnegut 128).

            War has always been understood as a horrible thing. However, soldiers mental well being is not often considered, because fighting for your country is a heroic act and they must be proud of themselves. Many soldiers through out the war of our country have suffered from PTSD and as one of the articles said,

            “In 2004, the U.S. Army reported 12 suicides; last year, 143. At this point in 2009, more soldiers have lost their lives to suicide than have been killed in combat” (Tundel).

            That is a shocking thought. War is not just about soldiers dying in combat, innocent bystanders also get killed and soldiers come home broken physically and mentally. These issues seem to get pushed to the wayside for the grander goal of the government. However, the Army is taking an important step by using the suicide prevention training program. Even so I find it hard to have full faith in this program. As rosewater said to the psychiatrist in the hospital,

            “I think you guys are going to have to come up with a lot of wonderful new lies, or people just aren’t going to want to go on living” (Vonnegut 129). 



Army responds to record number of suicides Nikki Tundel

‘Stressed and tired force’ linked to military suicide CNN

Published in: on March 22, 2009 at 3:25 pm  Comments (1)  

“The ghetto was ruled by neither German nor Jew; it was ruled by delusion.”

Through out both of the books Maus and Night Jews expressed disbelief in what was happening to their people. They never thought the Nazi’s would make it to their city or village and concentration camps were not fully understood. In Night Moishe the Beadle came back to warn the Jews of what happened to the in the forest and was ignored. Nobody wanted to hear it and nobody wanted to believe.
In Maus Valdek says referring to stories heard of Auschwitz said,

“Even from there – from that other world – people came back and told. But we didn’t believe.” (Spiegelman 88).

People look at the world around them and think, “That will never happen to me, not here.” We all seem to live in over complicated clouds of disbelief. It’s another world and someone else will stop it.

“I could not believe that human beings were being burned in our times; the world would never tolerate such crimes.” (Wiesel 33).

These made me think about other conflicts in the world, which are despite some involvement, have been tolerated. Large scale human rights violation in Africa and China are the first that come to mind. And other conflicts with in Russia and the Middle East. These issues are very familiar; there are always headlines and news reports. Movies, documentaries, books have all been done about Darfur and Tibet. Even though we read it and see it, it never actually feels real at least to me. It is easier to dismiss it as being partly truth and partly fiction, like the Jews did when news would filter in about what was actually happening. They knew there were ‘work’ camps, but they wouldn’t be that bad.

So it begs the question, why? I can find two million hits on Google for Videos concerning Tibet, but I read on article in Time yesterday morning that says the Dalai Lama recently announced, he’s “given up” (Elegant 40). Why has there not been more help for the Tibetans, so the Dalai Lama would hot have to give up? Why is there a blatant ethnic cleansing being allowed in Darfur? Why were so many Jewish people allowed to be ruthlessly exterminated? Are these not things that could have been stopped? Could the world not put politics aside for a moment to help? Or are we so ruled by politics, that we make ourselves believe there is nothing we can do or it makes it feel unreal. We just can not grasp the full extent of all these situations. There was a quote in Night that really struck me and maybe helps do some explaining,

“The ghetto was ruled by neither German nor Jew; it was ruled by delusion” (Wiesel 12).

The Pain of Tibet by Simon Elegan

Maus by Art Spiegelman
Night by Elie Wiesel

Published in: on March 4, 2009 at 10:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

From Vera to Iraq

Historically war has been a man’s domain, but regardless woman have always played a role. They have done everything from impersonating men in order to fight to working in parts factories creating machinery and supplies for an ongoing war. Though, despite their efforts women often times have faced societal opposition to their involvement in war. This societal opposition was and is wrapped up in the notion of a woman’s gender role in society. However, with each new generation and each new war, change is never far behind.

Vera Brittain’s is a perfect example of this change in a woman’s role. Her experience as an Army nurse during WW I opened up another invigorating world to her, one with out escorts, hard work, and trying to face the war as the men she loved had to. Her new role challenged her families’ view on polite society and how a lady should act. She wrote in her book, Testament of Youth,

“After twenty years of sheltered gentility I certainly did feel that whatever the disadvantages of my present occupation, I was at least seeing life. My parents also evidently felt that I was seeing it, and too much of it, for a letter still exists in which I replied with youthful superiority to an anxious endeavor that my father must have made to persuade me to abandon the rigors of Army hospitals and return to Buxton” (Brittain 213).

Her parents may have thought she needed to be protected and apart from the events of the war, but her active involvement was her effort to share in the war with men, specifically Roland and Edward. Her parents and most of society still thought a woman’s place was at home. Another excerpt from her book attested to this,

‘“Scottish Women’s Hospitals in France and Serbia had offered their service to the War Office in 1914 Women was to go home and keep quiet” (Brittain 195).

However, since then women’s role in the military has been growing. Due to the circumstances of the Iraq war women have moved from outside of their daily support unit tasks. In November PBS aired a documentary by Independent Lens, called “Lioness.” This documentary follows the lives of five women soldiers and their experiences. As one of the women from Lioness says,

“Women are evolving into roles that have been previously closed to us in the military and we are more than capable and ready to meet this challenge head on.” – Specialist Shannon Morgan

Another woman from team Lioness talks about their daily routines while in Iraq,

“We did more then our jobs on a daily basis, we also went on patrols with them in which we participated in raids and other combat missions, which included TCPs (Traffic Control Points) and Lioness missions. During those Lioness missions we (females) searched the woman and children and tried to hold conversations with them.” – Specialist Rebecca Nava

We have come to a point in history where gender roles for women and men are no longer strictly adhered to. These roles had previously made many woman believe they had to act a certain way and maintain an air of acquiescence. Vera Brittain’s experience in WWI and the members of Team Lioness’ experiences in the Iraq war are proof of this evolution.

Team Lioness

Link: Team Lioness

Published in: on February 4, 2009 at 4:56 pm  Comments (6)  

“For All We Have and Are”

Upon reading Rudyard Kipling’s poem “For All We have and Are”  I noticed it carried a tone similar to the one our country is feeling currently, in this poem Kipling is calling the people of England to action, asking them to stand up and fight for their nation and their people. And I could not help but make a connection to this poem and the inaugural speech of President Obama last Tuesday. In each a problem is conveyed and both state that it will not be an easy road, but it is the path we have to take. In America’s case it is not a great war against the “Huns” or rather the Germans, but the endeavor to rebuild our country and our foreign relations. The poem’s own title “For All We Have and Are,” was an underlying theme in Obama’s latest speech and both ask the hardest thing of a nation’s people, self-sacrifice.
In Kipling’s poem he begins by writing,

For all we have and are,
For all our children’s fate,
Stand up and meet the war.
The Hun is at the gate!
Our world has passed away
In wantonness o’erthrown.
There is nothing left to-day
But steel and fire and stone.

I believe Kipling is saying the old world is no more; it has been jeopardized by immorality and disregard. Now the English must face what has been created. The British had to face a bloody World War and now America is facing a slew of problems from the same origin of immorality (in the economy and government) and disregard for the world around us. We too must face what has been created and Obama asked us to do this very thing in his Inaugural speech,

“Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age…”

We are a damaged nation in the throes of change just as Kipling wrote of Britain during World War I and there is no easy way to face such disruptions in our daily lives. Kipling then goes on to write about how nations must once again “meet and break and bind a crazed and driven foe.” Obama’s message may not be a call to arms, but a call to purpose, the same idea of bringing a nation and other nations together against fear and the problems America and the rest of the world is facing,

“On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.”

The communal message seems to be, in the face of a great challenge we must stand together and “rebuild” in Obama’s words and “renew” in Kipling’s the great nations they belong too.

While Kipling leaves the English with prompting questions “Who stands if freedom fall? Who dies if England live?”, Obama leaves us with a promise. “All this we can do. All this we will do.”

Finally the repeated lines in Kipling’s poem are probably the most inspiring of all,

Though all we knew depart,
The old commandments stand:
“In courage keep your heart,
In strength lift up your hand.”

Though now we are entering a different stage in this country, the old virtues and hard work of our past still stand. Once again President Obama spoke the same thoughts that Kipling wrote nearly a century ago.

“America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come…”


Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address

Published in: on January 25, 2009 at 4:53 pm  Leave a Comment