Natural Born Killers?

“Confessions of a Drone Warrior,” is one of hundreds of articles on the military’s use of Unmanned Ariel Vehicles (UAV), which began in the early 2000s. In many ways this new form of combat embodies the psychological distancing that typifies killing in the twenty-first century. The story about Airman First Class Brandon Bryant recounts his first day in a Nevada bunker, when the 22-year fired on two presumed Afghani insurgents on the other side of the world. An early recruit in this new kind of warfare, Bryant “hunted top terrorists, but always from afar” –– killing enemies in countless numbers, but not always sure what he was hitting. “Meet the 21stcentury American killing machine,” the story concluded.[i]

Of course, notions of aversion to fighting don’t sit well with either military doctrine or public belief. Behind America’s infatuation with high-tech weapons lie long-cultivated attitudes toward violence itself. In a class I teach on this, students often will express common sense views that fighting is “natural,” deriving from humanity’s animalistic origins, and often the only way of resolving conflicts. One sees this kind of thinking evident in permissive attitudes toward everything from boyish rough-housing to violent sports. The gendered aspects of violence receive less attention than they should, and will be addressed at length in Chapter 9. Suffice to say that aggression often is expected of men and boys, while also reflected in popular culture. Along with political partisanship, these attitudes help explain the deep divisions within the U.S. electorate over gun control and so-called “stand your ground” laws. Since even scholars often disagree over the issue of human violence, it helps to break the question into subcategories –– and to also point out how knowledge has changed over time in the fields of biology, psychology, and cultural analyses of violent behavior.

Continue reading “Natural Born Killers?”

Transgender soldiers

New studies show that transgender civilians enlist in the military at twice the rate of the non-transgender population, but that transgender veterans are 20 times more likely to commit suicide. These findings are discussed in today’s Mother Jones, excerpted below:

“Transgender soldiers and sailors largely fly under the radar, but they are hardly uncommon.images-4In a recent surveyby the Harvard Kennedy School’s LGBTQ Policy Journal20 percent of transgender people contacted said they had served in the military—that’s twice the rate of the general population. A 2011 study estimates there are nearly 700,000 transgender individuals (about three people per thousand) living in the United States. Meanwhile, theAmerican Journal of Public Health (AJPH) is scheduled to release a report today, which drawsfrom Department of Veterans Affairs data, showing that the number of veterans accepting treatment for transgender health issues has doubled in the past decade. (While viewing the full report requires a subscription, an abstract should be available online as of today.)

“These two new peer-reviewed studies indicate that, beyond being discriminatory, the military’s current policy starves the armed services of some of their likeliest recruits, and puts transgender people who serve at greater risk of discrimination, homelessness, and assault than those who don’t. Continue reading “Transgender soldiers”

Guantanamo shame continues

At least 106 of the 166 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay detention center are reported to be on hunger strike, with 45 currently being force-fed, reports todays LA Times.imgres

“A recently published report by the Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment, to which we contributed, found that the practice of forced feeding at Guantanamo was “a form of abuse and must end.” A member of the task force, Dr. Gerald Thomson, described the process: “You are forced physically to eat, by being strapped into a specially made chair and having restraints put on your arms, your legs, your body and your head so that you cannot move. [You have] a tube inserted into your throat that extends into your stomach, and you’re trying to resist that with the only muscles that are free — in your throat.” Detainees have said that it is intensely painful.

“When the restraint chairs were first introduced to Guantanamo in December 2005, the force-feeding process was reportedly especially punitive. Several detainees said that guards kept them in a restraint chair for hours after the tube feeding ended — sometimes for as long as six hours. Continue reading “Guantanamo shame continues”

Deployment and suicide

The military suicide numbers, from the years 2008 to 2011, upend the popular belief that a large increase in suicides over the last decade stems from the psychological toll of combat and repeated deployments to war, reports today’s Los Angeles Times

“To researchers trying to unravel the causes of the rise, the statistics suggest that the mental health and life circumstances of new recruits are at least as important — and possibly more so — than the pressures of being in the military. It is clear that some enter with a predisposition to suicide and that stressors other than war are pushing them over the edge, experts said.imgres-1

“A lot of the risk for suicide in the military is the stuff they bring with them,” said Dr. Murray Stein, a psychiatrist at UC San Diego who is studying suicide in the Army. Among the unanswered questions: Did the type of people volunteering for service change after 9/11, when going to war — and dying — went from being an abstract possibility to a significant risk? One theory is that more recruits have backgrounds and psychological histories that make them prone to suicide. “Wartime is almost certainly going to be different than peacetime,” said Ronald Kessler, a Harvard sociologist and suicide authority.

“The Times interviewed relatives and friends of five service members who committed suicide without having gone to Afghanistan or Iraq. All were men who married young. In four cases, their relationships were over or crumbling. They struggled with the direction of their lives and joined the military in search of purpose or meaning, their relatives and friends said. And they concealed their psychological problems. Four of the men longed to go to war, and the disappointment of not being sent only heightened a sense of desperation.For Michael Griffin, enlisting in the Army at age 25 was a last-ditch effort to right his life. A former skinhead, he was struggling to find work, and he and his wife had separated. Active-duty military suicides reached a high in 2012, and a significant number of inactive reserve and National Guard troops also took their own lives. Continue reading “Deployment and suicide”

Veterans’ PTSD options are lacking

The Department of Veterans Affairs is being criticized for the shortfall in care for almost a million veterans who can’t get timely compensation and have been waiting hundreds of days for help, often to no avail, reports NPR today.images

“Frustration with the agency came to a head last Thursday when VA Secretary Eric Shinseki was called before a closed-door meeting of the House Appropriations Committee.”We are aggressively executing a plan that we have put together to fix this decades-old problem and eliminate the backlog, as we have indicated, in 2015,” Shinseki said after the meeting.“So this is a challenge [and] we’re making tough decisions that make it possible for more people to apply for and receive benefits.

“Glenn Smith, a 28-year-old Army veteran from St. Louis, joined the military in 2004.”I joined because I loved tanks, believe it or not,” Smith tells Jacki Lyden, host of weekends on All Things Considered.Smith was deployed to Iraq twice between 2006 and 2010; he spent most of four years in combat. He now has an irregular heartbeat, and attributes it to one of the many IED blasts he went through. The irregular heartbeat, discovered during a routine training exercise, led to him being discharged last spring.

“Smith described an anxiety attack in March in which “things just [closed] in” on him. It’s even happened while he was driving.”I didn’t feel like I had any release or way to break free of it,” he says. “I’ve had memories and nightmares of my experiences while I was in Iraq. Any all that just came rushing to the surface.”Smith also says he has a bad case of PTSD. His PTSD has been so debilitating, he needs help navigating the VA. He submitted his initial claim about a year ago, but still lacks regular treatment for the disorder. Continue reading “Veterans’ PTSD options are lacking”

Pentagon recogizes Autumn Sandeen

In a story appearing on International Day Against Homophobia (May 17), it appears the Pentagon for the first time has officially recognized transgender service members. The move is being hailed as a breakthrough by the LGBT community, reports The Daily Mailimages-3

“The acknowledgement came in the form of a letter to veteran and transgender activist Autumn Sandeen confirming that the Navy had updated its records to show she is a woman.

“While still a long way from open transgender service in the military, OutServe-SLDN, an organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender service members and their families labeled the move ‘symbolic.’

“The letter from the Navy official, dated May 2, read: ‘Per your request the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) has been updated to show your gender as female effective April 12, 2013.’

“Sandeen’s military identification card now reflects the change.

‘The fact that a process exists [to change the gender listed] indicates that there are people in the Department of Defense who are aware of the needs of transgender retirees and who are working to see those needs met,’ OutServe-SLDN executive director Allyson Robinson told BuzzFeed.

“‘And, in that sense, the significance of this symbolic act for our broader work and for our goal of open service becomes I think a little bit more apparent.'”

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2325737/Autumn-Sandeen-Pentagon-recognizes-transgender-service-members-time-symbolic-LGBT-community.html#ixzz2TathbWnG

America’s 1,000 Plateaus

Outside the United States, the Pentagon controls a collection of military bases unprecedented in history, reports todays Le Monde. “With U.S. troops gone from Iraq and the withdrawal from Afghanistan underway, it’s easy to forget that we probably still have about1,000 military bases in other peoples’ lands. This giant collection of bases receives remarkably little media attention, costs a fortune, and even when cost cutting is the subject du jour, it still seems to get a free ride.

“With so much money pouring into the Pentagon’s base world, the question is: Who’s benefiting?images

“Some of the money clearly pays for things like salaries, health care, and other benefits for around one million military and Defense Department personnel and their families overseas. But after an extensive examination of government spending data and contracts, I estimate that the Pentagon has dispersed around $385 billion to private companies for work done outside the U.S. since late 2001, mainly in that baseworld. That’s nearly double the entire State Departmentbudget over the same period, and because Pentagon and government accountingpractices are so poor, the true total may be significantly higher. Continue reading “America’s 1,000 Plateaus”

Dissent, the draft, and today’s military

Might America’s current “volunteer” military service be neutralizing opposition to the nation’s war-making? An article in today’s Salon.com says that the U.S. may be lacking to will to protest its involvements abroad because of the resulting appearance of “support” for it’s antagonisms.

“Few probably recall the name Dwight Elliott Stone. But even if his name has faded from the national memory, the man remains historically significant. That’s because on June 30, 1973, the 24-year-old plumber’s apprentice became the last American forced into the armed services before the military draft expired.images-2

“Though next month’s 40-year anniversary of the end of conscription will likely be as forgotten as Stone, it shouldn’t be. In operations across the globe, the all-volunteer military has been employed by policymakers to birth what Gen. George Casey recently called the “era of persistent conflict.” Four decades later, we therefore have an obligation to ask: How much of the public’s complicity in that epochal shift is a result of the end of the draft? Continue reading “Dissent, the draft, and today’s military”

The New “mean world syndrome”

Decades ago media theorist George Gerbner coined the term “mean world syndrome” about a mindset of disproportionate fear among individuals.

Now the mean world syndrome is taking on international proportions. The communist enemy, with the “world’s fourth largest military,” has beentrundling missiles around and threatening the United States with nuclear obliteration, writes Tom Englehardt in today’s issue of Le Monde.  Guam, Hawaii, Washington: all, it claims, are targetable. The coverage in the media has been hair-raising. The U.S. is rushing an untested missile defense system to Guam, deploying missile-interceptor ships off the South Korean coast, sending “nuclear capable” B-2 Stealth bombers thousands of miles on mock bombing runs, pressuring China, and conducting large-scale war games with its South Korean ally.

Only one small problem: there is as yet little evidence that the enemy with a few nuclear weapons facing off (rhetorically at least) against an American arsenal of4,650 of them has the ability to miniaturize and mount even one on a missile, no less deliver it accurately, nor does it have a missile capable of reaching Hawaii or Washington, and I wouldn’t count on Guam either. Continue reading “The New “mean world syndrome””

On transgender military service

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s announcement just weeks before leaving office that he would bring an end to the policy of excluding women from combat assignments surprised, well, everyone. To call this move historic is to put it mildly. Today’s Huffington Post carried the following article on the last frontier’s of military equality: the ability of transgender service people to serve openly:Unknown

“Not long after that, he made history again, bringing a measure of equity to the benefits offered to same-sex military families before leaving D.C. to return to his much-loved walnut farm in California. History will remember Panetta’s tenure at the Defense Department favorably for these decisions to change policies that no longer reflected the reality of our wars or, just as importantly, the values of our nation.

“As a woman veteran, I was elated with these changes. As the wife of a woman veteran (my wife Danyelle was a West Point classmate of mine and served as an Army officer with honor and distinction), I felt encouraged by them.

“But as a transgender veteran, and an advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) service members, veterans and their families, the changes that Secretary Panetta brought about in his last days in office have left me emboldened. Here’s why: As the combat exclusion for women comes to an end and open service for gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans edges closer to truly equal service, it becomes more and more obvious that there is no longer any rational basis on which to bar qualified transgender people from serving in our armed forces. Continue reading “On transgender military service”

The end of blimps

And so ends the U.S. military’s dream of mega-blimps strapped with powerful surveillance gear. The Army confirms to Danger Room that it’s killed the last of those lighter-than-air ships, so says DangerRoom

“Say goodbye to the Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle, or LEMV. Built by Northrop Grumman, it’s a

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dimpled blimp as long as a football field; seven stories high; and carries a price tag of over half a billion dollars. The plan was to use the blimp over Afghanistan, where its gondola could haul seventons of cargo — including advanced camera gear able to see dozens of square miles of terrain with crystal-clear resolution at a single blink. It would stay 20,000 feet above the warzone for weeks at a time, something beyond the capabilities of any spy plane, manned or piloted. Trials over Afghanistan were slated for early this year. Continue reading “The end of blimps”

Making the invisible visible

 The Invisible War has done something exceptionally rare. Rather than tackling an issue that’s safely in the past, Kirby Dick and his subjects have confronted an ongoing culture of sexual violence and grotesque indifference in one of the country’s most respected institutions, reports todays Daily Beast.“And instead of being dismissed as Hollywood liberalism, or creating a temporary spike in awareness that dissipates shortly after its release, The Invisible War is helping push forward action in Congress and substantive reform in the military itself.imgres

“It’s one thing for a movie in Oscar contention to get snared in politics, or to seek out political relevance as a way of linking a film to a larger narrative. … Since The Invisible War’s release, federal action on sexual assaults in the military has instead accelerated. On January 23, the House Armed Services Committee held hearings on the investigation into Lackland Air Force Base, the site of the Air Force’s basic training: a staff sergeant stationed there was convicted of rape and sexual assault last summer, and 32 instructors are alleged to have sexually coerced or formed relationships with their students that violate military regulations. The New York Times wrote “that they are doing so is in large part a tribute to” The Invisible War, though Dick said he was frustrated that so many congressmen left the hearing to attend a vote, skipping the part of the program where assault survivors testified about their experiences.”

 

Full story at: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/02/07/the-invisible-war-how-oscar-s-military-rape-documentary-might-change-everything.html

Strong public support for women in combat

Nearly three-quarters of Americans say that, given the opportunity, they would vote “for” allowing women to serve in combat roles.These results are from a Gallup survey conducted just after U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that the Pentagon is lifting the ban on women serving in direct combat. Gallup states that:”The findings, from a quick-reaction poll conducted as part of Gallup Daily tracking on Jan. 24, also show that men and women are equally likely to favor allowing women to serve in combat roles.

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“There are modest partisan differences. Democrats, including independents who lean Democratic, are more likely than Republicans and Republican leaners to support allowing women to serve in combat — 83% vs. 70% — although clear majorities from both parties favor it. Those who are younger are more likely to favor the policy than are those who are older. Among those aged 18 to 49, 84% favor the policy, compared with 63% of those aged 50 and older — a difference of 21 percentage points. Continue reading “Strong public support for women in combat”

Pentagon scanning brains of dog recruits

Dogs do it all for the military: sniff for bombs, detect narcotics and rescue hapless humans. But to recruit the best canine squadmates, the Pentagon’s blue-sky researchers are working on a plan to scan their brains — and figure out how dogs think. Belly rubs won’t cut it anymore.

According to a new research solicitation from Darpa, the project — adorably called FIDOS, for “Functional Imaging to Develop Outstanding Service-Dogs” — touts the idea of using magnetic image resonators (or MRIs) to “optimize the selection of ideal service dogs” by scanning their brains to find the smartest candidates.imgres “Real-time neural feedback” will optimize canine training. That adds up to military pooches trained better, faster and — in theory — at a lower cost than current training methods of $20,000, using the old-fashioned methods of discipline-and-reward. Continue reading “Pentagon scanning brains of dog recruits”

Women to serve in combat

imgres-1 “Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is lifting the military’s official ban on women in combat, which will open up hundreds of thousands of additional front-line jobs to them, senior defense officials said Wednesday,” reports the New York Times.

“The groundbreaking decision overturns a 1994 Pentagon rule that restricts women from artillery, armor, infantry and other such combat roles, even though in reality women have frequently found themselves in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, where more than 20,000 have served. As of last year, more than 800 women had been wounded in the two wars and more than 130 had died.

“Defense officials offered few details about Mr. Panetta’s decision but described it as the beginning of a process to allow the branches of the military to put the change into effect. Defense officials said Mr. Panetta had made the decision on the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Continue reading “Women to serve in combat”

The spy who loved me

In days gone by, vulnerability to blackmail was one of the reasons advanced for keeping LGBT people out of positions of responsibility. But global culture is remarkably variable and asynchronous. Russia Today reports that until this year the Russian Republic of Georgia had been using this technique in it’s efforts to manipulate celebrities into doing its bidding. As Russia Today states:

“Georgian prosecutors claim President Saakashvili’s military police created a network of gay agents who started relations with famous people and later used blackmail to ensure their loyalty to the authorities.

“The Georgian prosecutors’ office on

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Tuesday alleged the project involving gay agents had been instituted by the Military Police department of the Defense Ministry.Three top Military Police officers have been released on bail after appearing in court in connection with the case, the report said. The prosecutors claim the former head of the Military Police, Legis Kardava, instructed some high-placed officials of his agency to gather information on homosexual men. Specially selected gay agents seduced their victims and took them to apartments equipped with audio and video recorders where they ‘secretly and illegally recorded fragments of private lives’ of these people. After this the records were used to force the people to cooperate with the special services.

“The investigators say the provocateurs chose famous people, though no names have been disclosed. It is also claimed that the ultimate objective was to force the Georgian celebrities into demonstrating loyalty to the existing political regime, headed by President Mikhail Saakashvili. Prosecutors allowed some of the video from the case to be shown on national TV after the identities of participants were concealed. Prosecutors also stated that the gay honey trap practice existed until the latest parliamentary elections that took place in October 2012. The poll was won by opposition party Georgian Dream and recent constitutional changes ensure that Mikhail Saakashvili has very little real political power even though he will remain on his post till October this year. After the elections the new parliament declared a major amnesty and, despite Saakashvili’s attempts to veto the move,freed about 200 inmates who were recognized as political prisoners. Several officials from Saakashvili’s administration were detained and charged with abuse of power and torture. Georgian Dream’s victory allowed the return of Irakliy Okruashvili, the former defense minister who was forced into exile after he claimed Mikhail Saakashvili was involved in political assassinations.”

 

Full story at: http://rt.com/politics/georgian-law-bust-undercover-026/

 

Global wealth in the new millennium

imgres-1In his now well-known book The Post-American World, Fareed Zakaria popularized understandings of shifts in the global landscape, especially in economic terms. The book explained that while the U.S. was retaining it’s military superiority, the country was draining itself financially – as other nations were quietly prospering. Today’s edition of Le Monde carries an article by Serge Halimi giving further details:

“Today’s emerging powers are not worthy successors to their anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist ancestors. The countries of the South control a growing share of wealth, which is only proper, but its distribution is so inequitable that income differences are even greater in South Africa and China than in the US. The money Continue reading “Global wealth in the new millennium”

Diagnostic quandaries and PTSD

In what follows, Elspeth Cameron Ritchie discusses PTSD with a degree of nuance not always seen in mainstream journalism. Ritchie notes her ambivalence over the frequency with which the diagnosis is assigned to milirary personnel, inasmuch as other disorders can go untreated as a consequence. As she writes, “This is the last in my series of posts on the ethics of treating posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (the first simply outlined ethical issues for military mental-health personnel; then I wrote about the right time to send a service member back into combat; Continue reading “Diagnostic quandaries and PTSD”

War and Infidelity

“Spectators will try to make this scandal about many things: the arrogance of powerful men; conniving mistresses; the silent epidemic of sexual assault in the armed services. But these explanations obscure an underlying problem: the devastating influence of an open-ended war — now in its 11th year — on the families of U.S. service members.” This, from military spouse Rebecca Sinclair in today’s Washington Post. The story entitled “When the Strains of War Lead to Infidelity” continues:

“Rebecca Sinclair is married to Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, a former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan, who is being tried at Fort Bragg, N.C., on charges including adultery and sexual misconduct.

“Like most Americans, I’ve been unable to escape the current news cycle regarding several high-ranking military generals entangled in sex scandals. Unlike most Americans, however, for me the topic is personal. My husband, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, is one of the officers.

“Let me first address the elephant in the room. My husband had an affair. He violated our marriage vows and hurt me tremendously. Jeff and I are working on our marriage, but that’s our business.

“Jeff also needs to answer to the Army. That is his business, not mine, and he accepts that. I believe in and support him as much as ever.

“I wish I could say that my husband was the only officer or soldier who has been unfaithful. Since 2001, the stress of war has led many service members to engage in tremendously self-destructive behavior. The officer corps is plagued by leaders abandoning their families and forging new beginnings with other men and women. And many wives know about their husbands’ infidelity but stay silent.”

Israel is the world’s most militarized nation

Israel tops the list of the world’s most militarized nations, according to the latest Global Militarisation Index released by the Bonn International Centre for Conversion (BICC). This information is detailed a story in today’s Asia Times entitled “Israel ranked as most militarized,” with brief excerpts below:

“Singapore ranks second, followed by Syria, Russia, Jordan, and Cyprus, according to the Index, which is based on a number of weighted variables, such as the comparison of a country’s military

“Israel’s main regional rival, Iran is far behind at number 34.

Six of the top 10 states, including Israel (1), Syria (4), Jordan (5), Kuwait (7), Bahrain (9), and Saudi Arabia (10) are located in the Middle East, while yet another of Iran’s neighbors, Azerbaijan, made its first entry into the militarized elite at number 8.”