Another View of the Iraq War

Thursday 15 December 2011

With the Iraq war now officially over, I thought it would be a good time to revisit my 2004 short documentary on the subject.  Still relevant today?  Maybe less so, but I think a good look from a point of view often absent when you’re sitting in the U.S. hearing about this topic.

Living in America: International Students Talk About Iraq

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the message moves forth slowly…

Wednesday 20 May 2009

Moving (again) to a large city/metropolitan area, I’m now dealing with larger news outlets than the small circulation regional newspapers like The Crescent News I left behind in NW Ohio.  But even so, after reading this op/ed piece by Ariel Cohen in Monday’s The Baltimore Sun, I felt compelled to respond, hoping that my response might actually be printed.  Opening the paper today, I was hopeful but not too optimistic — and then surprised to see my name under a letter to the editor titled “U.S. must recognize suffering of Palestinians.”  (Click the links to see the two different pieces.)

I was happy to see it there, and not really wanting to read it since I had written it, after all.  But then I did read it, and I was again a bit disappointed at a few of the edits the paper had made, likely in consideration for “length.”  Those getting the print edition might notice, like myself, there is room enough in the letters column for at least another sentence or two, which would have been easily enough for at least one of the other main points I made.

First, I was most disappointed to see that The Sun cut off my writing just before what I’d call the thesis of my letter — certainly the main, concise zinger: “Until citizens of Israel and the U.S. begin to recognize the institutional terror and oppression carried out on Palestinians by our two countries, the hostilities held by Arabs throughout the world are likely to continue.”

Secondly, The Sun failed to publish an important, and I think little known, fact about the Obama administration’s peace vs. military ambitions: “The White House’s request to send $2.775 billion to Israel in support of their oppressive military in the upcoming fiscal year hardly seems to be in line with an administration truly working for peace in the region.”

And really, the things the paper didn’t publish are the most contentious and things the public doesn’t hear much about — so why should I be so surprised that was what The Sun decided not to publish?  (Maybe I should have reversed the order of content in my letter — maybe I’ll try that next time. c:)  And did you notice the lengths of the two pieces?  If number of words are any indication of the point of view a newspaper supports, there would be a clear signal displayed in these examples.

Overall, though, I am glad that something made it in to the paper, and maybe even some who read my letter in the paper might find this post and get to read my full letter.  I hope this is another small part in getting the world to understand what is going on in Palestine and the creation of pressure for Israel and the U.S. to make changes to their policy and actions.

Here, get the opportunity to read my unedited and complete letter below:

On Monday, The Sun decided to print the slanted, pro-Israel message of Ariel Cohen just as new Israeli PM Netanyahu and new U.S. President Obama were meeting in Washington to discuss each country’s role in the Middle East.  Sun readers would be slighted if this were the only point of commentary they were to receive in relation to this meeting, so let me supply some thoughts from a differing perspective.

Ms. Cohen mentioned three mistakes she felt the current administration is making, skewing the situation for her own agenda in the process.  First, she felt the administration is ignoring hostility by Arabs and radical Muslims.  While I agree such hostility exists, I think the administration’s efforts to seek peace squarely attack that issue, for actions by both Israel and the U.S. are significant reasons (if not the reason) for such hostility.  A large part of the hostility held by the Arab world has to deal with Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank – including settlement expansion and the construction of the Wall, which in reality annexes much land to Israel – along with the continued blockade on the Gaza Strip, where Israel controls all that can enter or leave and virtually nothing does.  As for the U.S., the continued war in Iraq and a seemingly unconditional support of Israel in the past make it a major target for hostility in the Arab world.

The second mistake mentioned was a perceived “arm-twisting”of Israel to gain favor with Iran.  This, however, again seems to only be the administration’s effort to curb the hostility mentioned earlier.  Why would Iran accept any of President Obama’s gestures as sincere of U.S. continued to unquestioningly back Israel, a country with longstanding hostilities with Iran?

The third mistake Ms. Cohen mentions in the administration’s path to peace is that it rewards terrorism.  There is a cruel irony that Ms. Cohen chooses to mention “terror attacks, which killed nearly 1,200 Israelis since 2000” – a number that is still less than the number of Palestinians killed in Gaza during Israel’s bombardment the month leading up to President Obama taking office.  Until citizens of Israel and the U.S. begin to recognize the institutional terror and oppression carried out on Palestinians by our two countries, the hostilities held by Arabs throughout the world are likely to continue.

Like Ms. Cohen, I, too, am critical of some of the administration’s tactics.  The White House’s request to send $2.775 billion to Israel in support of their oppressive military in the upcoming fiscal year hardly seems to be in line with an administration truly working for peace in the region.

I will concede to Ms. Cohen that there are certainly no “instant solutions.”  However, until Israel begins to allow for Palestinian self-rule and self determination by ending settlement expansion, withdrawing Israeli settlers and occupation forces currently in the West Bank, ending annexation of lands through the construction of the Wall, and removing border restrictions to Gaza, the United States needs to make clear, in word and deed, that the current oppression is not acceptable and will not be tolerated of a country wishing to remain a democratic ally in good standing with the administration – and the people – of the United States.


a few videos

Saturday 20 September 2008

First, I must make a correction (for the better) about my last blog — one of the things I said I could put up as my status was that I left my spinach at the store, but as life should have it, that ended up not being the case at all!  Thus, my spinach (except for the bit that I’ve already eaten) is now safely stored in the refrigerator.

So let me tell you what happened:
I woke up the next morning (Friday) and was thinking about my cereal choices, thinking how I had also purchased some cereal at the store, though I didn’t see that around either.  Had I left it, too?  I wondered.  Then I thought how I had rearranged my groceries to bike back home, and I recalled putting the cereal box in my plastic bag with a bag of chips, which, too, weren’t to be found.  However, I distinctly remembered having the plastic bag held down in my left hand as I carried my canvas bag on my shoulder.  So I had to have brought it, right?  And then the light bulb went off — so I took out my keys, walked out the back door of basement room, and there I found the plastic bag with the missing cereal, chips, and, thankfully, spinach.

So all’s well with that, and I didn’t lose $1 on misplaced spinach.

But as the title of my post says, this is about videos, not spinach!  I recently found the digital/computer copies of the short video projects I made in a few of my film classes in college, and I decided I’d put them up on YouTube to see what (if any) response I get.  I still need to get up the copy of “Call Me Al,” my favorite of the bunch about the great Al Parcell who was a card swiper at my college dining hall and passed away this past winter at 92, but it’s coming.  For now, enjoy the following!

The Applicant
My group-made video project.  A fun, satirical look at the noir, 60s detective film genre based on a script about a weird job interview.  I did a lot of the editing, which I love.

Killing You Inc.
The second group project, made with the same people.  I wrote the script for this fake commercial, which I’m really proud actually got made.  I did a good portion of the editing, too, and though we all co-did everything, I was the guy who lit the bit where she’s playing video games.

Living in America: International Students Talk about Iraq
My first project for my documentary film class.  I did it all in this project, since it’s all based on sit down interviews, so you can give me credit or blame, depending on your take.

And while I’m sharing videos, I was also part of a video sketch comedy group — NSTV — my last two years of college, helping do camera, lighting, and sound on quite a few sketches.  Here are the ones on the NSTV YouTube page that I was a part of.
Spoons and Puzzles — Offbeat but hilarious (in my mind).  I did the camera work for the montage.
Murder Mystery — I wasn’t scheduled to help out with this one, but I showed up anyway because I knew it was going to be cool and got to do the racking (which means I changed the focus on the camera as it moved between people and parts of the scene).
Mr. Kriegel — Not one of my favorites, but I was a part of it.
(And my favorite NSTV sketch of all time, though it was made before my time): Ben & Jerry’s Socially Conscious Ice Cream

Enjoy!!!


my protest

Wednesday 19 March 2008

As we mark today the 5th anniversary of the start of the current US war in/occupation of Iraq, (hopefully) a million or more will take to the streets around the country and the world as a protest to this war many call a quagmire. I’m all for taking it to the streets, and I think it’s a very valuable and necessary thing to do, but right now I wanted to take a portion of my lunch break to offer up my protest.

Did you hear of the “Winter Soldier” event held this past weekend? It brought together Iraq War veterans to speak about their experiences. The stories I listened to were heartbreaking, and I know the brought tears to many eyes. This story by Jon Michael Turner was perhaps the worst for me:

“On April 18, 2006, I had my first confirmed killed. This man was innocent. I don’t know his name. I called him ‘the fat man.’ He was walking back to his house, and I shot him in front of his friend and his father. The first round didn’t kill him, after I had hit him up here in his neck area. And afterwards he started screaming and looked right into my eyes. So I looked at my friend, who I was on post with, and I said, ‘Well, I can’t let that happen.’ So I took another shot and took him out. He was then carried away by the rest of his family. It took seven people to carry his body away. We were all congratulated after we had our first kills, and that happened to have been mine. My company commander personally congratulated me, as he did everyone else in our company. This is the same individual who had stated that whoever gets their first kill by stabbing them to death will get a four-day pass when we return from Iraq.” (More of his stories can be found here.)

Democracy Now! has been covering this story all this week (including Tuesday and Today), but as DN noted “Although Winter Soldier was held just outside the nation’s capital, it was almost entirely ignored by the American corporate media. A search on the Lexis database found that no major television network or cable news network even mentioned Winter Soldier over the weekend, neither did the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times or most other major newspapers in the country. The editors of the Washington Post chose to cover Winter Soldier but placed the article in the local section.” If we ever come to prosecute for war crimes in relation to this war, will we hold these sources as accomplices? And as John Michael Turner said, “… any time we did have embedded reporters with us, our actions would change drastically. We never acted the same. We were always on key with everything, did everything by the books.”

And while we’re talking about the media, what about Lynndie England chastising the media for their role in uncovering the Abu Ghraib prison scandal? In her words: “If the media hadn’t exposed the pictures to that extent then thousands of lives would have been saved.” There was definitely retaliation by insurgents after the photos were revealed, but does that mean they should have been hidden instead? That’s almost like blaming the fire department for the water damage they left in your house as they attempted to put out the fire instead of looking at the arsonist who actually set the blaze. Why do we so easily fail to look at the root causes of situations and instead blame intermediaries (i.e. we blame the homeless war veteran instead of the one who sent her or him to war in the first place)?

We must open our eyes to the world around us. We must examine the motives of all people — those we despise and those we hold dear. We must work to put people in leadership positions who will truly work for the betterment of ALL people, not just “the rich,” and not even just Americans. As H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama said, we are to contribute to others’ happiness, and he gives no distinction to nationality or other barriers. If we want a revolution — as another great peacemaker said — “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” (Ghandi) Let’s actually be that change.


the hands that have prepared it

Friday 22 February 2008

Last night I was in a group where a prayer was said before the meal. Now the pray-er said many thanks, including thanks for the food and “the hands that have prepared it.” Now I have heard that phrase hundreds of times before, but it struck me as odd this time because the two people who had cooked the food had already been mentioned by name. So even though it was probably just a few perfunctory words from the pray-er, it got me thinking: “Did she mean to pray for them again, or did it mean something else?”

And right then and there I realized how restrictive my thinking had been (as many of our thoughts tend to be) in including only the chef as the preparer of my food. I thought of the worker who had picked the lettuce and peas and broccoli that made up my salad. I thought of the farmers who had planted the various ingredients that had combined to make my dinner. I even thought about the people at the store and the drivers who transported my food as being necessary for my dinner that night.

Do you stop to think about where you food comes from? Maybe the recent beef recall has made you think at least a little bit about what your food goes through before it hits your plate. And maybe not. In all likelihood, you read the story and maybe saw the video, got disgusted, but soon forgot about it — maybe even before your next meal. I still vividly recall seeing the horrible conditions of many chickens raised for eggs and meat while watching the documentary The Natural History of the Chicken in a morning film class and then walking to the dining hall to feast on one of their best meals: juicy, sauted chicken breast. I saw the food and saw the irony of the situation, but at that moment I wasn’t yet ready to eliminate animal flesh from my diet (that came about a year later).

But what of “the hands?” The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is a Florida group fighting for fair wages for the work they do to bring us a portion of our food. According to a recent Oxfam America post, workers earn only about $4.50 an hour on a good day. The CIW had been fighting with Taco Bell and McDonald’s for increased wages, a battle they won, but Burger King has yet to agree and continues to stall the process.

Whatever the reason, we are a people who have a hard time seeing beyond the immediate. In addition to the conditions of workers in our own country, we fail to recognize the horrible conditions of children and others in virtual “slave labor” factories around the world. We turn away from the atrocities of people in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine (among others) who suffer in the face of occupation forces. We recall not the homeless as we crank up the heat in our houses with rooms no one uses and forget the homeless as we throw away food because we took too much from the all-you-can-eat buffet. “Out of sight, out of mind.

So I encourage you to think about the implications of all your actions. Check the labels to see where your clothing was made. Investigate the route your food took to reach your plate. Read the stories of the oppressed, share what you read with your family and friends, and they go do something about it. Let us not feign blindness by merely closing our eyes or act like we don’t hear when we are really only stopping our ears.

There is work to be done; go and make a difference so that others might soon give thanks for that which your hands shall prepare.


Iraq in perspective

Monday 4 February 2008

U.S. Says It Accidentally Killed 9 Iraqi Civilians

Usually articles like these just make me shake my head, sigh, and think, “Should I really be surprised?” But this time I let the headline sit with me a little longer, and it got me thinking about things a little differently.

What would the reaction of Americans be if the title said instead, “Iran Says it Accidentally Killed 9 American Civilians,” or even better, “U.S. Says It Accidentally Killed 9 American Civilians.” If they were American civilians — just normal people, trying to live their lives — that were mistakenly killed by the government of another country (or its own), wouldn’t there be complete and utter outrage? But why do we not have the same outrage for the killing of innocents in other countries around the world? A recent study suggested that over one million Iraqis have died since the U.S. invasion began in 2003. That is equivalent to about 833 Holgate — the town I grew up in — sized towns. Or think about it another way: how many people do you know? Do you know one million people? Probably not. And what if every single person you know was killed? How would you react to that? And that still wouldn’t be enough…

I think a large part of the problem is that we remove ourselves so far from what’s happening that it becomes little more than numbers and statistics, lacking any kind of human context (I’ve written about this before). I recently saw Charlie Wilson’s War, and in it, the politicians don’t sympathize with the plight of the Afghan refugees during their conflict with Russia until they actually went to visit their refugee camps. I have heard of similar experiences from those who’ve traveled to places like Palestine, Columbia, and Iraq (to name a few). If it’s not right in front of us, it’s easy to ignore. But that surely doesn’t mean we should ignore it!

When people get interested and concerned about a topic, they pour energy into it and get other people riled up about it, too. We can truly create change if we actually see the horrors our country is committing and speak out that we want change. Are you willing to spend a little less time on the Internet or watching TV and use that time to let your voice be heard? I challenge you to speak out for the change you desire, no matter how far away it may seem now. Without our voices, what will ever change?