Monday, November 23, 2009

Ending War

Army Captain Paul K. Chappell attended West Point with an usual goal, "determined to study war the way a doctor studies an illness." What he found in his studies and in a war tour in Iraq was a pragmatic way of envisioning what it would take to create a cure for war fever. "In the U.S. Army, as in ancient Greece, the most admired trait in soldiers is not their ability to kill but their willingness to sacrifice for their friends," Chappell notes in his new book, Will War Ever End? A Soldier's Vision of Peace for the 21st Century (Ashoka Books, 2009). His book argues that soldiers and folks at home, in order to protect each other, should mount a concerted campaign to wind down warmaking, due to the massively deadly threat of military escalation in the nuclear age. A better way of dealing with international disputes, he contends, is to adapt nonviolent tactics to produce conflict resolution that de-escalates violence.

In an essay titled "How Patriotism Can Save America," posted earlier this year on The Huffington Post and other websites, Chappell summed up his call for peace actions in terms that echo the stance of Veterans For Peace and other antiwar vets groups: "With the survival of our planet now at stake, our country needs patriotic Americans to question, think critically, and pioneer this democratic experiment. Now more than ever, our country needs us to help it become a beacon of hope that exports peace instead of war." Chappell, who served seven years on active duty after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy in 2002, is the Peace Leadership Director for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

In his book, Chappell argues that the war on terrorism "can never be won with an army alone, because terrorism is not a place we can occupy or a dictator we can overthrow." He also notes "how multiple deployments have pushed many soldiers to the breaking point." He argues that military actions are stoking the hatred fueling angry people who use terrorism as a tactic in fighting for their beliefs and causes. "If we are going to win the war on terrorism ... the United States will require many more soldiers, and not just soldiers who are armed with guns. ... During the challenging years ahead, our planet will need soldiers of peace who understand this truth of our brotherhood, because our survival in an interconnected world will not depend upon our ability to wage war. The fate of humanity will depend upon our willingness to wage peace."

Chappell grew up in a military family, where his view of war's widespread consequences was shaped by his father's raging threats to shoot himself. His mother, he adds, grew up in Japan during World War II and then moved to Korea, where her family endured the Korean War, where Chappell's father began a 30-year military career, which also included combat in Vietnam. "Throughout my childhood, I watched my father lose his grip on reality ... Rage overshadowed his once peaceful nature, and when I heard him complain about violent nightmares, I realized that something called war had taken my gentle father from me ... when I was a teenager, I wanted to know if war will ever end."

At West Point, Chappell studied peacemakers as well as warmakers. Gandhi, he discovered, was a British army medic during the Boer War in South Africa, where he took close measure of the British military culture that he outmanuevered to gain India's independence with a nonviolent campaign. Chappell found that some other West Pointers had come to the same conclusion as Gandhi. His book quotes General Dwight Eisenhower's farewell address as president, in which he warned that "another war could utterly destroy this civilization" and that people must learn "to compose differences" without war.

Chappell found a model for banishing war in the 19th century campaigns to ban slavery. "Slavery existed on a global scale for thousands of years, but due to the courageous actions of our ancestors who fought this injustice, no country today sanctions slavery. Together we have the capacity to create a world where countries no longer sanction war."

He was struck by how hard the military has had to work to train and prod soldiers to fight a battle, rather than flee for safety. This is proof, he argues, that humans don't have a gene for waging wars. And he took note of General Omar Bradley's comment after leading armies in World War II: "Modern war visits destruction on the victor and the vanquished alike. Our only complete assurance of surviving World War III is to halt it before it starts." Reflecting on his own military career, which started at West Point and spanned two world wars, Bradley stated, in a 1948 Memorial Day speech: "Wars can be prevented just as surely as they are provoked."

In the foreword to Will War Ever End?, Lt. Col. (ret.) Dave Grossman noted "there is cause to hope, and believe, that there can be an end to war. The West has won the Cold War without resorting to mega-death ... In recent years we have exercised the choice to step back from the brink of nuclear destruction." Chappell is currently finishing a sequel titled The End of War, designed to offer what Grossman calls a "toolbox" of information on peace actions.

For more information:

(This article is also posted at Opinion Forum and at the Chicago Sun-Times.)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Veterans Day Talk

On November 11, 1918, my grandfather
on my father’s side was on a stateside dock
with his Army unit about to ship out
to fight in France,
when word was received
that the war had just ended.

Armistice Day, they called it.
Sometimes you’re lucky in war;
sometimes not.

On November 11, 1944, my mother’s
brother was killed in a Navy dive bomber
that crashed into the sea in a battle
near the Philippines.
There was no armistice
that Armistice Day.

Surviving war is no guarantee it’s over.
Never know when something from the war
may catch you unawares. A flare up,
a flashback, a smell from a bad day long ago.

With two bitterly contested wars churning out
more wounded, more dead, more veterans,
there’s still no armistice
on Armistice Day.

Veterans Day, they call it now—
as though all those war emotions
can be contained in a holiday.

In Vietnam, I was a Boy Scout
turned into Army radio specialist.
A communications breakdown
in a war zone can be fatal.
Communications failure among veterans
and our support network
of family and friends
can also have scary consequences.

That’s what we need to talk about today,
after the parades, the bagpipes,
the drums and trumpets, the bugle calls,
the solemn speeches, the moment
of silence, the hearty drinks at the bar—
when memories of war
still intrude into our dreams, our lives.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dying on the Home Front

An estimated 2,200 U.S. military veterans died last year because they lacked private health insurance or access to VA health care, a study by a Harvard Medical School research team found. In contrast, there were 155 combat deaths among U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2008, the researchers noted.

“On this Veterans Day we should not only honor the nearly 500 soldiers who have died this year in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also the more than 2,200 veterans who were killed by our broken health insurance system,” Dr. David Himmelstein, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard, said in releasing the report this week.

Himmelstein added that the proposed health care reforms being considered by Congress would do little to change the situation for veterans too young for Medicare, not making enough to afford private health insurance and not eligible for VA care, which is restricted to military service-related health problems. “These unnecessary deaths will continue under the legislation now before the House and Senate. Those bills would do virtually nothing for the uninsured until 2013, and leave at least 17 million uninsured over the long run,” he said.

“Like other uninsured Americans, most uninsured vets are working people – too poor to afford private coverage but not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid or means-tested VA care,” said Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, a Harvard Medical School professor who coauthored the study. “As a result, veterans go without the care they need every day in the U.S., and thousands die each year. It’s a disgrace.”

The Harvard study analyzed the U.S. Census Bureau’s March 2009 Current Population Survey data on Americans asked about insurance coverage and veteran status. It found 1,461,615 military veterans between ages 18 and 64 were uninsured nor received health care by the Veterans Administration in 2008. That includes about 10 percent of Vietnam era veterans aged 55 to 64.

Based on a recently published report in the American Journal of Public Health that found being uninsured raises the odds of dying by 40 percent, causing nearly 45,000 deaths in the United States annually among those aged 17 to 64, the researchers estimated there were 2,266 preventable deaths among uninsured veterans in 2008. More than half that estimated death toll was among Vietnam veterans aged 55 to 64.

The Harvard study on veterans followed an earlier study of health data on all Americans called “Health Insurance and Mortality in U.S. Adults,” published in September in the online edition of the American Journal of Public Health. These studies are pointed to by Physicians for a National Health Program as reasons for health care system reform.

Dr. Andrew Wilper, who worked on the larger Harvard Medical School study and now teaches at the University of Washington Medical School, said, “The uninsured have a higher risk of death when compared to the privately insured, even after taking into account socioeconomics, health behaviors and baseline health. We doctors have many new ways to prevent deaths from hypertension, diabetes and heart disease — but only if patients can get into our offices and afford their medications.”

Dr. Woolhandler, co-author of both studies and a primary care physician in Cambridge, Mass., noted: “Historically, every other developed nation has achieved universal health care through some form of nonprofit national health insurance. Our failure to do so means that all Americans pay higher health care costs, and 45,000 pay with their lives” annually.

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Veterans Day Town Meetings

On some issues that affect me personally, I do what I can to advocate for public education and sensible courses of action. Having lost a number of friends to the Vietnam war and its aftermath, this for me is a big one. What follows is a combination news release and resources list for war-injured veterans and families.

A drumbeat of recent news reports has called attention to rising rates of suicide among soldiers, post-traumatic stress disorder among veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and hardships of military families facing multiple deployments to war zones. How communities can help address these often shattering effects of war is the focus of public forums in several cities on or around Veterans Day.

In Hoboken, NJ, the Nov. 11 event is being held at the high school under the sponsorship of Mayor Dawn Zimmer and the Board of Education. It features a showing of “Leave No Soldier,” a documentary by Donna Bassin about veterans helping one another deal with troubling war legacies; a staged reading from a new play, “Flashback,” by Penny Coleman, about the emotional turmoil in families of veterans who killed themselves; and a panel discussion of veterans and counselors with the audience.

“It is important that we honor our veterans and remember the sacrifices they have made to preserve our freedom and our way of life,” said Zimmer. “Equally important is our support as they transition themselves back to their families and society after months or years of serving their country.”

Similar events are being held at the City Library in Manchester, NH; First Unitarian Church in Ithaca, NY; Cable Car Cinema in Providence, RI; Rutgers Prep School in Sussex, NJ, and First Unitarian Church in New Orleans, LA. The events were organized by local civic organizations—including Military Families Speak Out, Veterans For Peace, Pax Christi, Unitarians, municipal officials and students at a private school—as part of the Veterans Day Town Meeting Project. The project is directed by Donna Bassin and Jan Barry, coeditor of Winning Hearts & Minds: War Poems by Vietnam Veterans and a founder of one of the first Vietnam veteran support groups.

“Supporting our troops requires more than welcoming them home, but also listening and responding to their concerns,” Bassin said in offering her film for showings at Veterans Day town meetings. “A big concern for many soldiers and their families is how to handle the transition back to civilian life. A big concern for many older veterans and their loved ones is how to handle the emotional distress of flashbacks set off by current events.

“Among the most emotional of times for war veterans is Veterans Day,” she continued. “Community support is not complicated, but requires a welcoming space where veterans and family members can speak candidly and get feedback, and perhaps useful information and contacts, from a supportive audience.”

“Leave No Soldier,” directed and produced by Bassin, documents emotional journeys by two groups of veterans—Rolling Thunder, Inc. and Veterans For Peace/Iraq Veterans Against the War—that transformed a military oath from the battlefield to social activism. The two groups are divided by their politics, but united in devotion to their pledge to “leave no fallen soldier behind.” Bassin is a psychologist who aided 9/11 rescue workers and survivors of the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.

“Flashback” was created by Penny Coleman, Elana Michelson and Patricia Lee Stotter based on the book, Flashback, by Coleman. It explores issues of post-traumatic stress injuries from the point of view of widows of Vietnam veterans who committed suicide.

Veterans Day Town Meeting events:

Nov. 5, 6 p.m. -- City Library, 405 Pine Street, Manchester, NH
Nov. 7, 7 p.m. -- First Unitarian Church, 306 N. Aurora St., Ithaca, NY
Nov. 11, 7:30 p.m. -- Hoboken High School, 800 Clinton St., Hoboken, NJ
Nov. 11, 7 p.m. -- Rutgers Prep School, Easton Ave., Somerset, NJ
Nov. 11, 7 p.m. -- Rhode Island Association of Psychoanalytic Psychologies, at Cable Car Cinema, 204 South Main St., Providence, RI
Nov. 11, 7 p.m. -- First Unitarian Universalist Church, 5212 South Claiborne Avenue, New Orleans, LA

For further information:

Vets and Family Resources List
Coming Home Project is a non-profit organization providing care, support and stress management tools for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families.
Give an Hour asks mental health professionals to donate an hour a week to provide free mental health services to military personnel and their families.
National Veterans Foundation provides assistance and advice by veterans with experience from Vietnam to Iraq, trained in crisis management for PTSD and suicide prevention.
Service Women’s Action Network promotes services for women in the military and women veterans.
The Soldiers Project offers free psychological treatment to military service members and veterans of OEF and OIF, as well as members of their families and other loved ones.
Veterans for America sponsors Wounded Warrior Outreach Program and “The American Veterans’ and Servicemembers’ Survival Guide.”
Veterans Health Council, sponsored by Vietnam Veterans of America, provides information on health issues and programs for veterans and families.
Vets4Vets is a non-partisan veteran organization dedicated to helping Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans through the use of peer support.
Welcome Back Veterans is a Major League Baseball-sponsored project to help find jobs and job training for returning veterans and to raise funds for mental-health programs.
Wounded Warrior Project offers services to help injured veterans cope with combat stress or trauma.
War Related Illness and Injury Study Center in NJ is one of three VA centers that provide medical evaluations and information on difficult health problems from military service.
My HealtheVet is the gateway to health benefits and services at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
VA Vet Centers provide readjustment counseling and outreach services to veterans of any combat zone. Services are also available for family members for military related issues.
New Jersey Veterans Helpline Program -- 866-VETNJ4 (838-7654) -- provides free, confidential peer counseling and referrals for treatment to NJ soldiers and families.
Gateway to four nonprofit sites that offer PTSD information and resources, including the National Center for PTSD.
PTSD support site created by a Vietnam vet on how to navigate the VA system.
Veterans of Foreign Wars outreach on PTSD, how to contact the VA’s Vet Centers nationwide and VFW service officers for assistance.
Combat PTSD blog featuring research, news, resources, and events for returning veterans coping with post-combat reintegration issues.
Brain Injury Association of New York State’s Traumatic Brain Injury Training and Military Veteran’s Services Project is a resource for providers and families on the symptoms of and treatment for TBI.
Brain Injury Association of New Jersey helps returning military personnel and their families with information, support, resources, and training about traumatic brain injury.
Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) is a non-profit organization that offers grief support services to military families facing the loss of a loved one.

Complied by Veterans Day Town Meeting Project