By Helen Young
As we’re all painfully aware, the VA is staggering under the strain of all the suffering veterans in need of help. Unable to get the conventional help they need (and perhaps not really benefiting from the nature of that conventional help), many vets are falling through the cracks. It is suspected that far more veterans than actively seek help are suffering from PTSD and similar conditions - and of those who do seek help, many do not receive it. This is an extremely worrying situation, given the scale of the problem. However, some veterans are getting help from alternative or unconventional therapies. We’ve already covered some of these in passing, but here I’d like to take a closer look at one such treatment method: pet or animal therapy.
Animals and Mental Health
There have been many studies into the effects of animals upon our mental health. It seems that animals with which we form an emotional connection - particularly dogs - are capable of having a beneficial and even transformative effect upon our state of mind. Animals can calm us, reduce our stress levels, boost our moods, play a significant part in banishing conditions like depression, lower our blood pressure, improve our physical health, raise our self-esteem, and even help us to get over addictions. The reasons behind this are varied, and have a lot to do with our precise relationship with the animals in question. Although therapy animals brought in to meet patients who do not know them frequently do have an uplifting effect (and we’ve all heard the anecdotes about how things like swimming with dolphins and communicating with horses can enact healing ‘miracles’) - it’s generally agreed that those in need feel the most benefit from animal therapy if they have a permanent to semi-permanent relationship with the animal. For this reason, some organizations are offering ‘service animals’ for veterans suffering from war-related mental trauma.
Given the long and extensive relationship humans have enjoyed with dogs, our brains tend to be better equipped to connect on an emotional level with dogs than with other animals. This is not to say that people cannot form deep and beneficial bonds with non-canine buddies, but in general dogs are the favored option for service animal organizations. Not only are they capable of great bonding, communication, and emotional understanding with humans, they can also be trained to fulfil roles which may actively help to improve or avoid PTSD symptoms and triggers. For example, a PTSD assistance dog could be trained to recognise specific sights, sounds, and smells which may provoke a reaction from their handler. Given the enhanced sensory repertoire available to canines, it is likely that the dog would be able to sense the trigger before their handler did, and lead their handler away from it. Many former service men and women have also noted that the presence of a dog makes them feel as though they can relax and ‘drop their guard’ a little more than they otherwise would. Hyper-vigilance being quite a large problem for many veterans, this is a considerable advantage. On a more ephemeral level, dogs (and many other animals) can help the traumatized to reconnect with their emotions, to develop their communication skills, and to generate confidence in themselves. Being loved and relied upon by an animal gives both a sense of responsibility and a sense of self-worth which is invaluable for those who have experienced trauma. Some have also said that their animals help them out socially by providing a ‘safe’ talking point, thus enabling them to re-integrate more effectively into society.
A Burgeoning Business
As yet, there are no official routes by which one may obtain a PTSD assistance animal. But there are charities and other organizations springing up which help those in need to find and train assistance animals in accordance with their needs. Some people train their own family dogs to help them out in specific ways, while others are assigned or choose puppies from the relevant organization. Due to the highly individualized ways in which service-related trauma presents itself, one cannot train a ‘general’ assistance animal in this respect. Instead, dog and handler must go through the training process together from day one. For most, the training process itself is very therapeutic, not only helping dog and handler to bond, but also allowing the veteran to learn about and perhaps start coming to terms with their own triggers and issues.
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Originally published at www.SOFREP.com on December 4th 2015
As the conflict with radical Islam’s newest creation continues, the U.S. remains divided on the solution. President Obama has stated emphatically that his administration will not be flooding the region with conventional troops, preferring to increase the frequency of air strikes and the deployment of special operations units. On the right side, several Republican senators, including John McCain from Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and presidential candidates such as Donald Trump, have called for the insertion of a large contingent of ground troops as a supplement to the air strikes currently underway. Meanwhile, ISIS has expressed their deep desire to meet the U.S. and its allies on their turf, a marked difference from al-Qaeda’s mission to bring the war to our shores.
This time around in the continued War on Terror, despite the fact that the U.S. can now count on the cooperation of France and possibly Russia, the script remains largely the same: We’re once again facing off against radicalized Muslims hell-bent on the destruction of anything resembling Western culture, fixated on the establishment of Sharia-based state. Our previous reaction was to go balls-deep in Afghanistan to destroy the Taliban and capture the much-reviled Osama Bin Laden. However, the Bush administration was obsessed with what they believed was a clear and present danger to U.S national security and insisted, despite UN (and ironically French) opposition, on the departure of Iraqi president and former U.S. ally Saddam Hussein. Bush got what he wanted, though at a great cost in American lives (4,400+ killed/32,000+ wounded) and to the American treasury (immediate cost of $1.7 trillion, not including interest and VA costs). That’s not to mention the foreign-relations disaster the war caused when it was realized the evidence Colin Powell presented to the UN, which ruined his political career, was based on faulty intelligence (and I’m being very diplomatic with that description).
The original intent was to establish a democratic Iraq, with the hope that democracy would spread throughout the Middle East and thus ensure a more secure world for all. The outcome was decidedly different than our objective; we not only failed to increase world security, but we inadvertently created an enemy far more brutal and savage than our worst fears could imagine—ISIS.
After over a decade (and still counting) of bloodshed and unprecedented spending to eliminate the threat of terror for Americans and the rest of the free world, the U.S. is an even larger target for the world’s Islamic radical. The American-brand Iraqi government and military, forged by our blood and treasure, quickly succumbed to ISIS, despite being better equipped and being vastly larger in number. The only adversary to ISIS of any consequence in the region was, and remains, the Kurdish militia, who despite being outnumbered and virtually surrounded, have continued to make a stand against ISIS in Iraq as well as in Syria.
However, the Kurds are despised and officially unrecognized by their neighbors, which include Iran, Iraq, Syria, and American ally Turkey, which attacked Kurdish positions in Syria via air strikes this year. This only adds to the increasing diplomatic strain inside the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, which includes our former Cold War nemesis, Russia, whose own relations with Turkey continue to deteriorate. Let’s hope we can emulate our grandparents and put aside these fundamental differences and disagreements to unite against a common enemy. At the moment, this doesn’t seem very promising.
We must consider the results of the 2003 intervention in Iraq and the deployment of conventional forces in large numbers; the outcome was a disaster of epic proportions. The use of surgical air strikes, though effective, will not win this war by themselves. No war has ever been won without boots on the ground, as history attests. The U.S. has inserted special operations forces and continues to do so to support coalition efforts to strike at ISIS targets in the region. However, with every new attack executed by members of ISIS (officially or otherwise), the clearer it becomes that more is needed.
The question remains: What must be done, in addition to current operations, to ensure the annihilation of ISIS? How can we secure victory in the region while avoiding the catastrophic outcome of the war in Iraq? In addition, how can we ensure the security of our nation at home without sacrificing our national ideal of freedom? Should we close up our borders, withdraw within, and introduce a period of Wilsonian isolationism, rejecting any and all immigrants despite our long history as the destination for the world’s huddled and yearning masses fleeing from tyranny? Will we allow ISIS to fundamentally transform this nation into something hardly recognizable to our founding fathers? And will that actually produce the victory we all so desperately want for ourselves, our children, and our children’s children? More importantly, will this latest sacrifice—to include more bloodshed of tens of thousands of American lives and more spending pushing us ever closer to total financial ruin—be worth the cost? Will it produce the outcome we seek, or are we doomed to repeat the disaster that was the Iraq War?
This increasingly complicated issue is poised to affect the lives of millions for generations to come. Not since the Cuban Missile Crisis has America been in such threatening and complex circumstances, and not one of the current candidates inspires like Kennedy. Let’s hope the new administration we elect to the White House is stacked with this country’s best and brightest. They, and we, are gonna need it.
Written by Helen Frazier
We’ve spoken at length about the power of art to treat traumatized veterans. Nor are we the only ones to appreciate art’s potential in this arena. However, what works for some may well not work for others - particularly when it comes to something as complex and individualized as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The VA and the government tend to stick strictly to evidence-based medicine when recommending PTSD treatments (and why should they not?). However, their facilities for actually providing these treatments are sadly lacking - due largely to overwhelming demand. Do not despair, though. If art therapy is not helping you to heal, and you’re struggling to get conventional treatment, there are other options out there. Here are just a few ideas which may help you.
Yoga & Meditation
Yoga and meditative practices are becoming widely accepted as treatments - even in famously conservative military circles. So much so that you may actually find that you’re covered for it if your yoga/meditation treatment comes from a recognized provider. While it doesn’t work for everyone, an astonishing number of suffering people have said that they found their symptoms diminished and their quality of life considerably improved by yoga and/or meditation. How can this be? Well, yoga and meditation help people to break negative or traumatic thought cycles. Yoga in particular can force the brain to quit worrying and relax. It does this by essentially working backwards from body to mind. By deliberately inducing symptoms of calm in the body - i.e. steady breathing, a relaxed heartbeat, smooth movements - the body sends signals to the brain that everything is absolutely fine and it can calm down. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it works. Meditation has a similar effect. What is more, both yoga and meditation can send the brain into a ‘safe space’ - a calm, unpressured level of thought in which negative emotions and experiences can be processed by the psyche without excess trauma being expressed through the consciousness. Needless to say, this can contribute enormously to the healing process.
There are several charities out there which are pioneering the use of assistance dogs for those with PTSD. Animals - dogs in particular - are known to be good for the mental health of those who love them. On one level, interacting with and being responsible for an animal gives one a sense of purpose. They also bestow pride, give companionship, allow the expression of love (which many traumatized individuals struggle with), draw out emotions, help communication, soothe stress and much more. The simple act of stroking a pet can lower both your stress levels and your blood pressure. In addition to these benefits, trained PTSD assistance dogs can aid their masters in more specific ways. Hypervigilance, for example, can be put on hold if the patient knows that their dog is there to take on some of that burden. Furthermore, dogs can be trained to recognize their owners ‘triggers’ and either warn their owners or those around them of an impending PTSD situation. According to many sources, these dogs do an awful lot of good.
While the practice of sticking needles in someone to alleviate their troubles may sound dubious, acupuncture actually appears surprisingly effective in treating PTSD. Further trials are certainly needed in order to scientifically establish the efficacy of acupuncture in this field, but experiential evidence is generally positive.The scientific and spiritual theories behind acupuncture are too complex to go into here, but (put very basically) acupuncture is supposed to alter and smooth the flow of both liquids and more ephemeral forces around the body. It’s certainly been proven to have an effect upon the circulation, and may improve blood flow to the brain - something which could be of enormous help for those with mental trauma. On a less cellular level, acupuncture is also very soothing. It’s generally acknowledged to help patients to sleep deeply and well, which is in itself an immensely healing process. It will also fight stress, and help the patient to relax. Crucially, it can help the patient to reconnect with their own vulnerabilities, to accept them, and to trust. For those who have suffered mental trauma following combat, this can be invaluable.
Originally published at www.SOFREP.com on March 21st, 2016
These are some of the most haunting two-syllable words the English language has ever produced. They have been screamed out by thousands of men and women across the battlefields of years past and will continue as long as man rules this planet.
It was an episode of “Band of Brothers” that first inspired me to want to be a medic. Maybe you’ve seen it. Episode six highlights the world in which Doc Roe lived during the fateful battle in the forests outside Bastogne. What amazed me most was watching how, when the shelling started and all the men of Easy Company were diving for their foxholes, Doc Roe was jumping out of his, running to the cries of “Medic!” and “Doc!” After seeing that, I was hooked. Becoming a medic was my purpose—my calling, if you will.
Now, I am no Doc Roe, friends. Though I have my share of fateful encounters and combat stories, and though I hope my work as a medic ranks on the good side, there are medics from across the decades that provide truly jaw-dropping inspiration. With that in mind, I want to showcase the actions of what were ordinary men (boys, really) who rose to accomplish the extraordinary. Their motivation was not for fame, riches, or glory, but simply for the love that is the brotherhood—a bond that defies reason and propels men to heroic feats beyond comprehension. Just maybe, one of these stories will provide the inspiration for America’s next generation of combat medics and corpsman, perhaps even one who will save your life or those of your children should they answer this nation’s call.
World War II
CPL Thomas J. Kelly—U.S. Army
Assigned as an aidman (medic) with the 1st Platoon, Charlie Company, with the 48th Armored Infantry Battalion, 7th ID, CPL Kelly and his platoon were performing a flanking maneuver, advancing down a small open valley near the town of Alemaert, Germany. This valley, overlooked by wooded slopes, was hiding enemy machine guns and tanks, which quickly attacked with murderous fire—inflicting heavy American casualties. Ordered to withdraw, CPL Kelly reached safety with the uninjured remnants of the unit. However, upon realizing the extent of his platoon’s casualties, he voluntarily retraced his steps and began evacuating his comrades under direct machine-gun fire.
He was forced to crawl, dragging the injured behind him for most of the 300 yards separating the exposed area from a place of comparative safety. Two other volunteers who attempted to negotiate the hazardous route with him were mortally wounded, but with complete disregard for his own life, he kept on with his Herculean task, dressing the wounded and carrying them to relative safety.
In all, he made 10 separate trips through the brutal fire, each time bringing out a man from what would have been certain death. In addition, he encouraged and guided seven more casualties who were able to crawl by themselves, aiding their escape from this hailstorm of fire.
After he had completed this heroic and completely self-imposed task, and while near collapse from fatigue, he refused to leave his platoon until the counterattack had resumed and the final objective was taken. CPL Kelly’s gallantry and intrepidity in the face of seemingly certain death saved the lives of many of his fellow soldiers and was a shining example of bravery under intense enemy fire.
For these incredible acts of courage, CPL Thomas Kelly was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The Korean War
HC3 William R. Charette—U.S. Navy
In the early morning hours, while participating in a fierce encounter with a cleverly concealed and well-entrenched enemy force occupying positions on a vital and bitterly contested outpost far in advance of the main line of resistance, HC3 Charette repeatedly and unhesitatingly moved about through a murderous barrage of hostile small-arms and mortar fire to render assistance to his wounded comrades.
When an enemy grenade landed within a few feet of a Marine he was attending, he immediately threw himself upon the stricken man and absorbed the entire concussion of the deadly missile with his body. Although sustaining painful facial wounds, and undergoing shock from the intensity of the blast—it ripped the helmet and medical aid kit from his person—Charette resourcefully improvised emergency bandages, tearing off part of his uniform and gallantly continued to administer medical aid to the wounded in his own unit as well as those in adjacent platoon areas.
Observing a seriously wounded comrade whose armored vest had been torn from his body by the blast of an exploding shell, Charette selflessly removed his own battle vest and placed it upon the helpless man, fully aware of the added danger to himself. Moving to the side of another casualty who was suffering excruciating pain from a serious leg wound, Charette stood upright in the trench line and exposed himself to a deadly barrage of enemy fire in order to lend more effective aid to the victim while he was evacuated to a position of safety. By way of his indomitable courage and inspiring efforts on behalf of his wounded comrades, Charette was directly responsible for saving many lives and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor
The Vietnam War
SPC Alfred Rascon—U.S. Army
Specialist Four Alfred Rascon distinguished himself by way of a series of extraordinarily courageous acts on 16 March, 1966, while assigned as a medic to the Headquarters Company, Reconnaissance Platoon, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry, of the 173d Airborne Brigade. While moving to reinforce its sister battalion under intense enemy attack, his platoon came under heavy fire from a numerically superior enemy force. This intense enemy fire from crew-served weapons and grenades severely wounded several soldiers. Specialist Rascon, while ignoring commands to stay behind shelter until covering fire could be provided, bravely made his way forward.
He repeatedly tried to reach the severely wounded point machine-gunner laying on an open enemy trail, but was driven back each time by the withering fire. Disregarding his personal safety, he jumped to his feet, ignoring flying bullets and exploding grenades to reach his comrade. To protect him from further wounds, he intentionally placed his body between his casualty and the incoming enemy machine-gun fire, sustaining numerous shrapnel injuries and a serious wound to his hip. Disregarding his serious wounds, he then dragged the larger soldier from the kill zone.
Next, after hearing the second machine-gunner yell that he was running out of ammunition, SPC Rascon, under heavy enemy fire, crawled back to the wounded machine-gunner, stripping him of his bandoleers of ammunition, giving them to the operational machine-gunner, who was then able to continue his suppressive fire. Specialist Rascon, fearing the abandoned machine gun, its ammo, and spare barrel could fall into enemy hands, made his way to retrieve them. On the way, he was wounded in the face and torso by grenade fragments, but disregarded these wounds to recover the sensitive items, enabling another soldier to provide added suppressive fire to the pinned-down squad.
In searching for the wounded, he saw the point grenadier wounded by small-arms fire and grenades thrown at him. With continued disregard for his own life and his numerous critical wounds, SPC Rascon reached this casualty and quickly covered him with his body to absorb the blasts from exploding enemy grenades, saving this soldier’s life. In the process, SPC Rascon sustained additional wounds to his body.
While making his way to the wounded point squad leader, grenades were hurled at the sergeant. Again, in complete disregard for his own life, he reached and covered the sergeant with his body, absorbing the full force of the grenade explosions. Yet again, SPC Rascon was critically wounded by shrapnel, but without regard to his own wounds, he continued his search to aid the wounded. He remained on the battlefield, inspiring his fellow soldiers to continue the fight. After the enemy broke contact, he disregarded aid for himself, instead treating the wounded and directing their evacuation. Only after being placed on the evacuation helicopter did he allow aid to be adminstered to him.
For these heroic acts of valor and sacrifice, SPC Alfred Rascon was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Written by Helen Frazer
We’ve known for millenia that art is can be a powerful tool for healing. However, precisely how this healing works is hard to define in scientific terms. As a consequence, art therapy has been rather left on the periphery of the therapeutic disciplines - used generally inconjunction with or as a tangential aspect of other, more scientifically understood therapies. Now, however, scientists, psychologists, and psychiatrists are beginning to make inroads towards discovering what, precisely, is occurring within our brains when we make and view art. Why IS art so profoundly healing? Why does it affect us in the way that it does? And how can we use it to enhance our own wellbeing?
Art As Therapy
We already know through personal experience that the creation of art can be very therapeutic. Those who have suffered mental trauma during combat will frequently have problems including (but not limited to) processing their problems, expressing their pain, and communicating with the outer world at large. Art can help with all of these issues, and more. A great many charities and veterans’ organizations utilize the healing power of art to help suffering individuals to heal their psyches. Art therapy helps people to get thoughts and experiences which may be ‘stuck’ on endless repeat out of their heads and into physically expressed form. The baggage which is cluttering up the unconscious is similarly incorporated into the art, leaving the sufferer with a clear mind (or so the theory runs). What is more, the creation of art gives those who may be feeling worthless a skill, and something to live for. After traumatic combat experiences, this can be invaluable.
The Neuroscience Of Experiencing Art
Scientists have for a while been pondering the neurobiology of art. Art is a perplexing problem, scientifically speaking. It affects us all differently - suggesting that our opinions of it are based upon considered individual experience - but there does appear to be a ‘gut reaction’ component to art-viewing, meaning that the phenomenon cannot be put down entirely to experiential differences. What happens when we view art, and why do we react in different ways to different pieces? Why do some people sob at music which leaves others cold? Why does your mother hate that painting you’ve hung in your hall? Why do you cringe at your friends’ aesthetic choices? Well, scientists are not entirely sure - but they’re having a damn good crack at finding out.
Researchers all over the world are gathering information from brainwave measurements, brain scans, neural probes and many more sources to try and find the common factor which may unlock the mystery of art’s effect upon the psyche. We do know that the brain decides incredibly fast (faster even than our consciousness realizes) whether or not it likes a piece of art (much the same phenomenon, interestingly, can be observed when the brain encounters new people). And while the brain can change its judgement, to do so requires a degree of considered exposure combined with positive associations. We also know that different kinds of art light up different portions of the brain. A painting or sculpture with plenty of dynamic, swirly or diagonal lines will wake up the brain’s visual motor cortex (which deals with movement). A painting which resembles a sad face will bring out an empathetic response in our minds. And looking at a piece of art we enjoy (unsurprisingly) brings the brain’s reward circuits to life.
Although we do not yet quite understand why our brains respond in the way that they do when viewing art, it is clear that our minds are very engaged with it. If they’re this engaged with simply appreciating art, it stands to reason that they can be powerfully transformed and healed through the even more intense process of creating it.
Art And The Soul
But do the precise neurobiological mechanisms involved in art creation and appreciation really matter? We know - and have known since the first shamans encouraged their patients to draw on rocks - that art is good for the soul. Will trying to pinpoint, analyse, and break down its effects into scientifically delineated components really make a difference to this essential knowledge? Will it enable the scientific community to ‘tap into’ our creative, healing mechanisms and help more suffering people? Or will it simply reduce art into something cold and clinical - something which art currently is absolutely and profoundly not? The answer to this no doubt depends on what (if anything) the scientists discover. In the meantime, we must continue to create, to heal, and to teach others through art.
The U.S. military has come under fire as their stated objectives in the world have failed to materialize in the eyes of many, both at home and abroad. According to a report by American journalist Gareth Porter, the violence in Afghanistan has continued to increase, with civilian casualties hitting a record high of more than 11,000 last year. The Pentagon’s mission of peace and stability through military intervention seems to have fallen short of success. Some, like Porter, have labeled it a total failure.
What’s more, according to a Gallup poll released on Presidents’ Day, less than half of Americans believe the U.S. military is the strongest in the world. Experts believe this reflects Americans’ concerns about the heightened risk of terror attacks at home, as well as those carried out around the world. The vast majority of Americans believe the U.S. needs to have the strongest military, though just over a third want to increase funding to achieve it.
It seems as though our military is having an existential crisis following their performance in Iraq and Afghanistan, a crisis not seen since the Vietnam War—another U.S. intervention that many consider the worst failure in American military history. To be clear, this perceived failure rests mainly on the shoulders of top-echelon brass and policymakers from both sides of the aisle, not on the faceless masses of troops who more often than not performed brilliantly in spite of the impossibility of the mission: bringing peace to a region plagued by conflict since time immemorial.
I am reminded of a warning given by two presidents separated by more than 170 years. During his farewell speech and among a list of warnings, General Washington advised to “avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments, which under any form of government are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to Republican liberty.” Wise advice, and as relevant now, two centuries later, as it was then, on the heels of the war that founded this nation.
Similarly, as the curtain closed on his presidency, Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of a great threat to democratic liberty: the military industrial complex. In a speech televised from the White House, Eisenhower recognized the dawn of a new age for America. He saw the need to maintain a military force to ensure peace, a force so mighty it would discourage potential aggressors without firing a shot.
However, Eisenhower saw a dark potential that could lead this newly minted superpower to its own destruction: the rise of misplaced power fueled by the unmitigated growth of the military industrial complex. President Eisenhower stated, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
He goes on to say, “[w]e must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”
As the 21st century marches on, the importance of these warnings has not faded; on the contrary, they are more critical than ever. These words, voiced by two of this nation’s most powerful, influential, and admired military generals (both five-star generals, though Washington’s was awarded posthumously), will resonate for generations.
Both Washington and Eisenhower knew that a strong military is vital to ensuring the security of this nation. Eisenhower saw firsthand the necessity of maintaining a force which, by its might alone, could deter foreign aggression. The perception of Russian military weakness after their costly victory in Finland was a defining element in Hitler’s ultimate decision to invade. The same perception of military weakness was one deciding factor in Japan’s attack on America’s navy at Pearl Harbor. They reasoned that if America’s navy could be dealt a crippling blow, her citizens would force the hands of even the most hawkish in Washington, a gamble that proved a disaster for the empire but at the cost of many American lives. This was a cost Eisenhower saw avoidable in the future by maintaining a military of overwhelming force.
However, the conventional threat facing our nation has evolved. It is no longer a sovereign power with conventional forces that we must guard against, a threat which may be deterred by maintaining a force so powerful, no rational nation would risk their own destruction by attempting to overthrow it. Now we face a threat that leverages what on the outside seems a weakness—small in size and lacking massive resources—and exploits what we thought was our strength: our massive resources and size.
This new enemy has been more successful at forcing the hands of policymakers than all others combined, all while spending a tiny fraction in comparison to the U.S. military. Deterrence through military might has kept us safe in the past, but has proven impotent in our War on Terror.
As we complete our withdrawal of forces in Afghanistan and contemplate our continued role in the region and around the world as the world’s last superpower, the words of these two great military leaders should be carefully considered and applied as needed.
Sources: The Hill, RT.com, The Huffington Post
Originally published at www.SOFREP.com on February 23, 2016
Dear The Honorable Congress of these United States of America,
I am not a politician, nor a formally educated person. I am not a rich man, nor could I call myself poor by any means. I am one of the masses, part of the now dwindling American middle class and I am a patriot of these United States having bourn the burden of service in our military and bore witness to the horrors of combat. This is who I am.
Today I spent some time watching a film that I have seen a few times, a film by Steven Spielberg, called Lincoln. For some reason, watching it this, perhaps the tenth time or so, brought up within me a swelling growl at the times I, and my children, now live in. Watching this film and witnessing the power that was the man, Abraham Lincoln, angered me at what we have done with the sacrifices of our forefathers. As one who has seen what war is at its heart, it sickens me to think what we have and continue to waste. The hundreds of thousands of men and women who have bled so we might build a better life, for all. ALL, not some, but ALL.
Paraphrasing a quote by Dr. Benjamin Franklin, it is perfectly fine to insult a man in private, he might even thank you for it. However, if one insults a man in public, he tends to think one is serious. As I am certain I would not garner an audience with each of you individually and to further stress my seriousness, I thought a public insulting might be in order. I truly hope the staffer reading this encourages you to take some time to read this email for at the very least it will provide you with a better understanding of the minds of what might be a majority of your constituency.
This Nation of ours, the resources we have for the benefit of so few in world comparison, and to hear that the top 400 richest people have more wealth than the bottom half of our country, it sickens me as it should those who have been tasked to serve on our, the PEOPLE of THESE UNITED STATES. But the opposite is true. These men and women, YOU men and women of MY congress are saddled and being ridden, freely of your choice, by these wealthy few. YOU, honorable men and women of OUR Nation’s congress have been bought and now serve those with which their main focus, their determination is the further enrichment of themselves. The enrichment of their SINGULAR, selfish desires for more and more and more again. Shame you have brought to your individual, your body and the great office each of you now hold. Think of who has come before you, the greatness that is each of the offices you hold, the blood that was spilled to create the body you now serve in. Shame in the fact that the resources you have at your disposal, the education you were given is far, FAR greater than that of which those who came before you, yet still you have done near nothing, NOTHING of what they accomplished and in most cases, far less time and under far easier circumstances. Shame, Honorable Senator and Representative, shame. And those of you who claim to be Christian, to pursue nothing but the further enrichment and empowerment of those who have their share, for you know this has no truth in it. Malice toward none, Charity for all. When I hear the words of some of those who wish themselves to be our next President (Paul Ryan) say that his primary reason for entering politics was the writings of Ayn Rand, it appalls me that we have given such power to such mindless and incapable individuals. (See Ryan's quotes here courtesy of The Young Turks.)
This fault lies not entirely in your hands for we as a people have allowed men and women of such depravity enter these hallowed halls to represent us. I take on this blame with full knowledge and allowance as only a true and patriotic citizen should. For I have cast ballots for some of you, for President even and twice for this administration who is certainly not without blame or shame. Each of us should feel discontent and disappointment at what you all lack as a body and what each of you lack as an individual, selfless service to those who you represent, the PEOPLE not the corporation. The mass of your constituency, not the richest among us. For a man said, it is the least of you that will inherit the kingdom of God and whether you think Him man or God, his teachings not only inspired billions for millennia but the very founders in whose steps you now should be following. _
I challenge every one of you in the Senate and House of Representatives to truly take account of yourselves and reach back into history at the office and desk you now occupy. Who has come before you and what have they accomplished with much less and for much MUCH more than merely to get re-elected or fill some coffers and pockets. Our Nation deserves more than what you as a body have done. The richest among us have their spokesperson, it is the money that lies within their bank accounts. You, Senator, are here for the masses within your districts, those that cannot speak and be heard, that is your responsibility. I dare each of you to fulfill the promises of the oaths every last one of you have taken to hold your office. I can look back with pride on fulfilling my oath of enlistment, can you?
Therefore, it is with heavy heart that I watch this proud Nation travel down the road further serving corporations more than people, further serving those who have servants than those that are. You have the power to represent the masses that are these United States, to be one that history and this Nation will not forget. Each of you has it within you to be a voice and man or woman that truly bears the honor, faith and duty of your great office. The question is, will you or will you simply be or become just another politician that serves themselves over all.
With Due Respect To Your Office,
As a post-script, watch Lincoln again and see what may lay within you as you hear Daniel Day-Lewis recite some of his speeches or at the very least, watch ten minutes starting at 1:44:20, the magnificence that I am sure Lincoln himself had is inspiring and you can blame that scene for this email as well as myself. In addition, a review of the HBO series, John Adams, could provide another inspiration. These men, most younger than many of the present Congress, achieved much with the full might of the British Empire looming over them to include certain execution for their service to our new nation. These present some food for thought and if nothing else, provide an insight to the lives of those who have come before you.
Celebrating the Heroes of the Cold War
Each Memorial Day, called that since 1971 when it began a federally recognized holiday and was changed from Decoration Day. Since then, Americans have been sleeping in late or heading out to the stores early to catch the sales advertised for weeks on TV and all over newspapers. For many of us, though, this day means more than barbecue pits, 60%-off sales or a day without work. It is a day to remember the sacrifices of others over the years in the dozen or so wars our nation has fought. For civilians it is a time to give thanks to those who donned the uniform so they wouldn’t have to. For veterans, it is a time of reflection on the courage of their brothers and sisters who gave all so we could survive and have the honor of this reflection.
However, there is another fallen hero that has not only been forgotten but long overlooked. Their sacrifice and existence denied by the very nation they gave their life for, not because of ingratitude but the very nature of their devotion required it. So, I thought I would write this in honor of them, the forgotten patriot, the cold-war spy.
After WWII two superpowers emerged that could not have been more different, the US and USSR. For the decades between 1945 and well into the 1990’s (and some might say continue to this very day), the men and women of each nation’s three letter acronyms silently (and sometimes not-so-silently) fought throughout the world, each one trying to undermine the other and infiltrate to destroy. Each side had their defectors and some of these defections cost the lives of untold hundreds as the USSR executed those working for the west.
These men and women, who grew up in the shadow of the hammer and sickle, took their life (and many times the life of their families) in their hands and became inside agents for the United States, secretly reporting on intelligence they bravely uncovered while living in the midst of their fraternal enemy. Some, no doubt, did it for money, but more often than not, many of these courageous patriots only motivation was their realization of the horrors of their own country’s leadership and the destruction it would reap on the world if it ever wrested total control.
So on this Memorial Day, when you fire up that barbecue pit and slap on the hotdogs and hamburgers, take some time to remember those who never got to enjoy the freedoms they gave their life for as they grew up in Soviet Russia or Communist-Controlled Eastern Europe or East Germany and their hope of one day living the freedoms we take for granted was erased as they were led away to their executions in the cold winters of Moscow. Below is a partial list of those who were executed because they helped our nation defeat what many living during the Cold War thought undefeatable, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
-On Behalf of a Grateful Nation, We Salute You, Our Forgotten Patriots-
It has been over a year since we have updated our blog and I must apologize to our supporters for my disappearance. It has been a tough couple of years for this project and specifically for me personally. That being said, our team is recommitted, I am recommitted to this project, this cause.
Over the next few weeks we will be updating the website and restarting this blog. A rebirth of sorts. And being a rebirth, I find it fitting that it happens on Mother's Day.
With that in mind, we have included an article from a blog written by a new friend of the project whom we met during the West Point event in March, LTC Peter Molin. We will be featuring his writing from time to time on our blog and we encourage all of our fans and supporters to check out his work at http://acolytesofwar.com.
To the Moms, the Whole Love
Moms come up quite a bit in writings about the war, I’ve discovered. Not surprisingly, authors are sensitive to how military service touches those whose children do the fighting. For example, here’s how Benjamin Busch in Dust to Dust describes his mother’s reaction to the announcement that he has joined the Marine Corps:
“My mother took a deep breath, her hands clamped to the edge of the table as if she were watching an accident happen in the street. Her father had been a Marine, had gone to war and almost not come back.”
How to describe a mother’s anxiety about her child’s deployment? Kaboom author Matt Gallagher’s mom, Deborah Scott Gallagher, writes:
“’I will be stalwart,’ I had said to myself on the drive home from the airport the morning I said goodbye to him. “I will be steadfast. I will read and listen to the reputable war reporters, and I will write my senators and congressmen, but I will not lose faith in my country. I will concentrate on sustaining my son rather than myself, and I will not confuse self-pity with legitimate worry and concern over him and his men. I will be proud, justifiably proud, but I will not be vainglorious! And I will never, never, never let him know how frightened I am for him.’
“But, within moments of returning home, I had broken all but one of these promises to myself. I was doing laundry and, as I measured detergent into the washer, the Christmas carol CD I was playing turned to Kate Smith’s magnificent contralto, singing, ‘I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.’
“‘And in despair, I bowed my head,’ she sang. ‘There is no peace on earth, I said. For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.’
“And, at that moment, for only the third time in my adult life, I began to sob — not cry, not weep — but sob uncontrollably, sitting on the floor of my laundry room, surrounded by sorted piles of bed linens and dirty clothes.”
And if the child comes back wounded? Siobhan Fallon, author of You Know When the Men Are Gone, describes a trip to Walter Reed to meet injured soldiers and their families:
“And there were mothers. Unlike the military members and their spouses, who somehow all seemed in great and hopeful spirits, the mothers looked stunned. They seemed to be trying to grip their emotions tightly, but their faces hid nothing. Their faces said: ‘Why did this happen to my beautiful boy?’”
And how does a veteran describe his mother, a lover of language and books and authors and ideas, as he watches her fade late in life? Benjamin Busch again:
“She had been a librarian. All of the books and conversations about the importance of written words swelling inside her head like a star undergoing gravitational collapse into a black mass, its light still traveling out into space but its fires already burned out. Nothing left but ash.” Then he recounts her last words: “‘Oh my baby boy.’”
So much hurt. So much damage. So many memories. So much love.
Posted May 11, 2013 by Peter Molin
Visit, www.acolytesofwar.com, for more of Peter Molin's work or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Benjamin Busch, Dust to Dust: A Memoir (2012).
Matt Gallagher, Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Dirty Little War (2010)
Deborah Scott Gallagher, In a Hymn, Words of Courage, New York Times, December 23, 2011.
Siobhan Fallon, You Know When the Men Are Gone (2011).
Siobhan Fallon, A Visit to Walter Reed, March 29, 2012.
Conflict Art: Bridging the Cultural Divide Between Civilian and Warfighter
The cultural chasm separating the civilian and the warfighter has never been wider. Most of the conflicts in 20th Century American history have relied on conscription, better known as the draft, to fill the ranks of our armed forces. The Global War on Terror of the 21st Century has been and continues to be fought by an all-volunteer force and because of this, the gap continues to grow as more and more professional soldiers shoulder the weight of a decade of conflict.
Image Courtesy of Zoriah Miller
The typical soldier joins the military right out of high school, most have never lived outside of the town they grew up in and even fewer have visited another country. These men and women are just out of childhood when they join the military and many of them have fired a weapon in combat multiple times before their first drink in a bar at age 21. The military culture is all they know of adult life and once they are separated from this family of sorts, the civilian world is as alien to them as the sands of Iraq were when their boots first hit the ground. After multiple years in combat, witnessing man’s inhumanity to man, they are forever changed and trying to relate to their generational civilian counterparts is almost mission impossible. This is the divide, the cultural gap that separates those who have witnessed the horrors of combat firsthand and those who have simply watched the events unfold on CNN. We, as a nation, must construct a bridge over this divide to bring together this fractured generation and not let yet another war separate so many of our military heroes from their civilian brothers and sisters. Art, in its many forms, can be that bridge we so desperately need and art is what inspired our project, the Graffiti of War, which aims to bridge the divide and join our nation together like never before.
West Virginia University - Winter 2011
The idea we began with was a simple one: to collect and document the art from across the conflict zones in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan and to showcase these vastly different works of art to the American public. What started as just an idea between friends during our deployment to Ar Ramadi, Iraq in 2006 had evolved into a multinational project with goals surpassing the original aim of creating a simple coffee table book. After the initial months of slowly collecting images from our growing base of veterans and military members, we realized we must travel to Iraq before the proposed withdraw of Coalition Forces in 2012. With the assistance of some experienced and world renowned journalists such as Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger (of Restrepo fame) and Zoriah Miller, we were able to secure just under a month in Kuwait and Iraq by the Department of Defense. We were able to capture thousands of images in several different areas including over 100 photos of murals by local Iraqis in Basra, the expedition was a huge success. After returning to the U.S., our team discovered a new avenue in which to raise awareness, one city at a time: art exhibits. Through the fall of 2011 to the spring of 2012, we showcased dozens of the images we captured since the inception of the project to hundreds of people, both civilian and military alike. It was through these exhibits that we truly began bringing the cultures together. Veterans would view the images with their friends and family and begin talking about their experiences as it related to that particular piece of art, it was incredibly inspiring.
Wolfgang Gallery - Spring 2012
As we prepare for another year of exhibits in 2013, including a fall show at West Point, we continue to strive towards building an ever widening bridge. Art is therapy, whether by creating it or viewing the creation, it transcends barriers and inspires unity. Each show that we do is more satisfying than the last as we connect the civilian with the military veteran and promote a greater understanding of the dedication and sacrifice that these brave men and women have endured on behalf of each citizen of this great nation. Art allows our military and veterans to express the inexpressible, to speak the unspeakable and provides a way for civilians to comprehend the incomprehensible. Arts therapy can change the world we live in and changes the lives of those who defended that world.
Courtesy of The Atlantic Council
We stand at the precipice of a bold new direction in the care for our invisibly wounded warriors and now is the time for each one of us to work collectively and unite the countless organizations out there supporting our warriors and veterans. United we stand but divided we will fall. We must have the courage to join together as one to combat the struggles set before us as we strive towards a new avenue of treatment for those who have bravely sacrificed their lives so others may live peaceably and without fear of harm. This generation of heroes became the 1% so the remaining 99% could carry on with their lives, we owe it for their sacrifice. As George Washington said, “A Nation will be judged by the way it treats its veterans.” How will we be judged?
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