Sunshine Recorder

Link: Letter from Gaza by a Norwegian Doctor

Dearest friends,

The last night was extreme. The “ground invasion” of Gaza resulted in scores and carloads with maimed, torn apart, bleeding, shivering, dying - all sorts of injured Palestinians, all ages, all civilians, all innocent.

The heroes in the ambulances and in all of Gaza’s hospitals are working 12-24 hour shifts, grey from fatigue and inhuman workloads (without payment all in Shifa for the last 4 months), they care, triage, try to understand the incomprehensible chaos of bodies, sizes, limbs, walking, not walking, breathing, not breathing, bleeding, not bleeding humans. HUMANS!

Now, once more treated like animals by “the most moral army in the world” (sic!).

My respect for the wounded is endless, in their contained determination in the midst of pain, agony and shock; my admiration for the staff and volunteers is endless, my closeness to the Palestinian “sumud” gives me strength, although in glimpses I just want to scream, hold someone tight, cry, smell the skin and hair of the warm child, covered in blood, protect ourselves in an endless embrace - but we cannot afford that, nor can they.

Ashy grey faces - Oh NO! Not one more load of tens of maimed and bleeding, we still have lakes of blood on the floor in the ER, piles of dripping, blood-soaked bandages to clear out - oh - the cleaners, everywhere, swiftly shovelling the blood and discarded tissues, hair, clothes,cannulas - the leftovers from death - all taken away … to be prepared again, to be repeated all over. More then 100 cases came to Shifa in the last 24 hrs. Enough for a large well trained hospital with everything, but here - almost nothing: no electricity, water, disposables, drugs, OR-tables, instruments, monitors - all rusted and as if taken from museums of yesterday’s hospitals. But they do not complain, these heroes. They get on with it, like warriors, head on, enormously resolute.

And as I write these words to you, alone, on a bed, my tears flow, the warm but useless tears of pain and grief, of anger and fear. This is not happening!

An then, just now, the orchestra of the Israeli war-machine starts its gruesome symphony again, just now: salvos of artillery from the navy boats just down on the shores, the roaring F16, the sickening drones (Arabic ‘Zennanis’, the hummers), and the cluttering Apaches. So much made in and paid by the US.

Mr. Obama - do you have a heart?

I invite you - spend one night - just one night - with us in Shifa. Disguised as a cleaner, maybe.

I am convinced, 100%, it would change history.

Nobody with a heart AND power could ever walk away from a night in Shifa without being determined to end the slaughter of the Palestinian people.

But the heartless and merciless have done their calculations and planned another “dahyia” onslaught on Gaza.

The rivers of blood will keep running the coming night. I can hear they have tuned their instruments of death.

Please. Do what you can. This, THIS cannot continue.

Mads Gilbert MD PhD
Professor and Clinical Head
Clinic of Emergency Medicine
University Hospital of North Norway

Link: The Moral Responsibility of Volunteer Soldiers

The military services in the United States have been organized on a volunteer basis since 1973, when President Richard Nixon abolished the draft. The end of conscription came as a relief to most people—to young men, their parents, and eventually the leaders of the military services, which had been plagued by internal dissent and a lack of professionalism, partly as a result of having so many unwilling members.

Though isolated voices have always challenged the shift to a volunteer military, their criticisms have recently become more widespread and more vocal. The main objections come from two quite different directions.

Some critics argue that the reliance on an all-volunteer, professional army has led to diminished public concern and vigilance with respect to the wars the government decides to fight. Limiting the burdens of military service to volunteers has, according to these critics, weakened inhibitions against the use of military force. When the Iraq War was debated in 2002–3, most citizens were not concerned that they or their children would be required to fight. This eliminated a powerful constraint against the resort to war. According to these critics, the reintroduction of some form of conscription is necessary to reestablish greater democratic control over the practice of war.

Other critics come from the ranks of just war theorists. Their concern is not with diminished public vigilance but with individual moral responsibility. They argue that volunteering for military service in current conditions is morally problematic. Those who join the military may be motivated by a desire to serve their country; to prove, improve, or reform themselves; to have a steady income with benefits; to get an education; to carry on a family tradition; or some combination of these. Whatever their motivation, they are committing themselves to become weapons controlled by others whose purposes cannot be reliably predicted. Some just war theorists question whether it can be permissible for people thus to convert themselves into instruments for killing without knowing whom they may be required to kill, or why. In contrast to the problem cited by the first group of critics, this one would be exacerbated rather than resolved by the reintroduction of conscription.

I will focus here on the second, less familiar critique. I believe that the all-volunteer military can survive the challenge, but only if it undergoes significant reform and acknowledges a right of selective conscientious objection.

Traditional Just War Theory

The idea that voluntary enlistment in the military can be morally problematic derives from a neglected tradition of just war thinking. This approach to the ethics of war informed the work of some of the classical just war theorists, such as the 16th century Spanish philosophers Francisco de Vitoria and Francisco Suárez. It was, however, gradually abandoned by thinkers whose views together constitute what I call “traditional just war theory.” The traditional theory has been ascendant since at least the 18th century, but the older approach has recently been resurrected by a group of “revisionists.” The best way to understand revisionist just war theory is to contrast it with the traditional theory, which has had a profound influence in shaping common sense thinking about the ethics of war, in part because it was developed in tandem with the international law of armed conflict.

According to traditional just war theory, a soldier does no wrong by fighting in an unjust war, provided that he or she obeys the rules regulating the conduct of war. This theoretical idea finds powerful expression in public sentiments. For centuries it has been regarded as not merely permissible but conspicuously noble and admirable for a soldier to go to war without any concern for whether the war’s cause was just. Although the famous lines in Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade” refer to obedience to tactical commands within a war, they articulate a general Victorian ideal of soldiering: “Theirs not to reason why / Theirs but to do and die / … When can their glory fade?” Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes was even more explicit:

In the midst of doubt, in the collapse of creeds, there is one thing I do not doubt, that no man who lives in the same world with most of us can doubt, and that is that the faith is true and adorable which leads a soldier to throw away his life in obedience to a blindly accepted duty, in a cause which he little understands.

Traditional just war theory offers a theoretical basis for this familiar sentiment. A foundational tenet of the theory is that the principles governing the conduct of war (jus in bello) are entirely independent of those governing the resort to war (jus ad bellum). One implication of this fundamental dualism in traditional just war theory is that what it is permissible for soldiers to do in war does not depend on whether the war is just. Whether the cause is just or unjust, soldiers are prohibited, for example, from intentionally attacking noncombatants. And whether the cause is just or unjust, soldiers are permitted to attack and kill enemy combatants. Typically in a war between states, one state’s war is just while the other’s is unjust. Yet according to the traditional theory, the principles of jus in bello are neutral between soldiers on opposing sides and are equally satisfiable by all.

One rationale for this traditional dualism is provided by a view about responsibility. Soldiers cannot do wrong by violating the principles of jus ad bellum because, it is claimed, those principles do not apply to them. The principles of jus ad bellum govern decisions concerning the resort to war, but ordinary soldiers have no control over those decisions and thus are not responsible for them. Only those who are involved in making such decisions—political leaders—are capable of either violating or complying with ad bellumprinciples. But even though ordinary soldiers cannot be responsible for whether a war is fought, they are responsible for how it is fought. And according to the traditional theory, there are permissible and impermissible ways of fighting even in a war that is unjust.

The traditional theory seeks to reinforce its claim that one can permissibly fight in an unjust war in part by observing that all soldiers fighting in a war pose a threat to others. Because they pose a threat, even if they are fighting for a just cause, they forfeit their right not to be attacked. But even though they forfeit this right, they retain their rights of self- and other-defense. Hence all soldiers, including those who fight for unjust aims (unjust combatants), are permitted to attack enemy combatants because those combatants pose a threat and are thus liable to attack. The traditional principle of noncombatant immunity is an extension of this line of argument. Noncombatants pose no threat and thus do not forfeit their right not to be attacked. Hence no soldiers, even those fighting in just wars (just combatants), are permitted to attack noncombatants.

We can refer to the traditional theory’s claim that it is always permissible to fight in a war, whether just or unjust, provided that one obeys the principles of jus in bello, as the permissibility of participation. It is a moral principle that is echoed by a parallel permission in the law of armed conflict, which allows that it is legal to fight in a war that is itself illegal.

The Revisionist Critique

Revisionist just war theorists reject the permissibility of participation. They think it is in general impermissible to fight in an unjust war even if one complies with the principles ofjus in bello, interpreted in the traditional way. Consider the argument that unjust combatants are permitted to attack just combatants because all soldiers make themselves liable to attack by posing a threat to others. That argument for the permissibility of participation has no force. For it is false that posing a threat to another is sufficient to make a person liable to defensive attack. When, for example, a police officer, having no other option, attempts to kill a rampaging murderer, she does not thereby become liable to attack, and the murderer has no right of self-defense. If the murderer kills the officer, he will be guilty of another murder.

In addition to having no theoretical grounding, the permissibility of participation is implausible on its face. Can one really believe that a Nazi soldier did nothing morally wrong by invading Polish territory and killing Polish soldiers who, perhaps just a few days earlier, were civilians who enlisted to help defend their society against foreign conquest? More generally, how can it possibly be morally permissible to kill people who have done no wrong as a means of achieving ends that are unjust?

Traditional just war theorists respond by claiming that the moral principles that apply in war are different from those that apply outside the context of war. Yet there is no reason to suppose that morality is schizophrenic in this way. War is on a continuum with other forms of violent conflict, and traditional just war theorists have never offered a criterion for distinguishing wars from conflicts that fall just short of war that would explain why entirely different principles come into effect when a conflict crosses the threshold to become a war. Suppose, for example, that we could identify a point at which the violence in Syria ceased to be a domestic conflict and became a civil war. Can anyone explain why what occurred at that transition was sufficiently significant to suspend the application of one set of moral principles and bring a different set into effect?

If the principles governing the morality of killing in war were different from those governing killing outside of war, one would often be unable to determine whether an act of killing was permissible without knowing whether it was part of a war, or of a conflict short of war. Yet if a person were involved in a conflict and were deliberating about whether it would be permissible to kill another person, it would be absurd for him to base his decision on whether the conflict satisfied the criteria, whatever they might be, for being a war.

The traditional theory’s claim that the priniciples of jus ad bellum—principles about when it is permissible to resort to war—apply only to those who participate in decision-making about the resort to war is also false. Even though soldiers do not make decisions about whether their states will go to war, they can make decisions about whether they will go to war. Hence it is entirely coherent to suppose that the principles of jus ad bellum apply to those decisions.

The revisionists therefore argue, in my view correctly, that the permissibility of action in war cannot be divorced from the ends that the action serves. To use the language of just war theory: they deny that jus in bello can be independent of jus ad bellum. They reject the dualism that lies at the heart of the traditional theory. If military action serves ends that are unjust, and bad from an impartial point of view, and in particular if the means employed include attacking people who have done nothing to forfeit their right against attack, that action cannot be morally permissible.

These theorists add that unjust combatants, fighting for an unjust cause, cannot in general satisfy even the principles of jus in bello, properly understood. Consider, for example, the principle of proportionality. Simplified somewhat for purposes of exposition, this principle requires that the good effects that an act of war can be expected to achieve not be outweighed by the expected bad effects, mainly collateral harms to innocent bystanders. (In recent debates about Syria, for example, those who have argued against limited strikes on the grounds that they would cause excessive civilian casualties and provoke the Assad regime to commit further atrocities have, in effect, been denying that such strikes would be proportionate.) But when the aims that military action is designed to achieve are unjust, and bad from an impartial point of view, the action cannot be expected to have good effects that outweigh the bad. Hence it cannot be proportionate.

A final point about the permissibility of participation is practical. Not only is this doctrine theoretically indefensible, but its incorporation into common sense thought about the morality of war also has had terrible consequences. For, by reassuring soldiers and conscripts that they can always fight with a clear conscience, even if they are certain their war is unjust, it has facilitated the initiation of unjust wars.

Why Enlistment is Morally Contentious

If the revisionists are right that it is impermissible to fight in a war that is unjust because the aims it serves are unjust, then voluntary enlistment in the military is morally problematic. Some people draw that conclusion because they think that submission to authority is never permissible. As moral agents, we must always—they say—preserve our moral autonomy, which means that we should not act against our own judgment by submitting to authority. But that seems too extreme. Suppose you could be certain that your action would, over time, conform better to the requirements of morality if you were to obey some authority rather than be guided by your private judgment. Then it seems right to obey the authority. But even if we accept this more plausible view, we should still have doubts about the permissibility of voluntary enlistment in the military. For no government’s moral judgments about its own resort to war can be expected to be more reliable than those of a well-informed, impartial, and morally scrupulous individual.

The problem with voluntary enlistment is not so much that it involves pledging to obey another or committing one’s will to obedience. It is, rather, that by enlisting, a person assumes the risk of becoming an instrument of injustice, either because he will fail to perceive that a war in which he has been commanded to fight is unjust, or because he will recognize it as unjust but fight in spite of that knowledge. In short, if the permissibility of participation is false—if it can, contrary to the traditional just war theory be wrong to fight in an unjust war—then enlistment involves a risk of engaging in serious wrongdoing.

This risk is substantial. When soldiers are commanded to fight in a war that is objectively unjust, they almost invariably obey. There have been countless unjust wars but comparatively few instances of conscientious refusal to fight in them by active-duty soldiers. There are many reasons for this. One is that soldiers often lack access to relevant facts about the war. Another is that they are often lied to by their government—even in the most open, democratic societies. Yet they generally trust their government and their superior officers. And even if they knew all the relevant facts, they might still be unable to recognize that their war is unjust, for they are usually actively discouraged from engaging in independent, critical thinking about the orders they receive. Military life is filled with activities, such as drills, that are designed to ingrain habits of obedience. Furthermore, even soldiers who are rightly convinced that their war is unjust are likely to fight. Not only have they been trained to obey orders, but they also tend to believe that obedience is a professional duty that overrides other considerations. They feel loyalty to their country, to the military institution of which they are members, and to their comrades in arms. And they can usually expect to be punished, perhaps severely, if they refuse to fight.

Much of this was recognized by another Victorian, John Ruskin, who, in a lecture to a group of soldiers, observed:

you have put yourselves into the hand of your country as a weapon. You have vowed to strike, when she bids you … . all that you need answer for is, that you fail not in her grasp. And there is goodness in this, and greatness, if you can trust the hand and heart of the Britomart who has braced you to her side… . But remember, good and noble as this state is, it is a state of slavery… . In thus vowing ourselves to be the slaves of any master, it ought to be some subject of forethought with us, what work he is likely to put us upon.

Perhaps many of those who join the military trust themselves to be able to distinguish between just and unjust wars and to have the courage to refuse if they are ordered to fight in an unjust war. If so, all but a few of them are deluded. There is some reason, though far from conclusive, to believe that the majority of soldiers throughout history have fought unjustly rather than justly. This is suggested by the plausible claim that there are only three types of war: wars in which one side is just and the other unjust, those in which both sides have just and unjust aims, and those in which both sides’ aims are entirely unjust. (If the opposition to the Assad regime in Syria consisted exclusively of jihadists determined to impose an Islamic theocracy—which fortunately it does not—the current civil war there would be an example of the third type.) If, as I think is true, there cannot be wars in which both sides’ aims are wholly just, but there can be wars in which both sides’ aims are wholly unjust, that makes it probable that there have been more unjust wars than just wars, and thus that more soldiers have fought in unjust wars than in just wars. Yet the record of testimony by soldiers indicates that most soldiers have believed their war was just.

In particular cases, of course, the general statistics may be misleading. If one is considering whether to enlist, the probability that one will be led to fight in an unjust war depends substantially on the recent history of one’s state and the nature of its government. The moral risks are higher, for example, for those who enlist in the Sudanese army than for those who enlist in the Swedish army.

I hate the world and almost all the people in it. I hate the Labour Congress and the journalists who send men to be slaughtered, and the fathers who feel a smug pride when their sons are killed, and even the pacifists who keep saying human nature is essentially good, in spite of all the daily proofs to the contrary. I hate the planet and the human race—I am ashamed to belong to such a species.
—  Bertrand Russell, The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell

Link: Tony Judt: What Have We Learned, If Anything?

Far from escaping the twentieth century, we need to go back and look a bit more carefully. We need to learn again—or perhaps for the first time—how war brutalizes and degrades winners and losers alike and what happens to us when, having heedlessly waged war for no good reason, we are encouraged to inflate and demonize our enemies in order to justify that war’s indefinite continuance.

The twentieth century is hardly behind us but already its quarrels and its achievements, its ideals and its fears are slipping into the obscurity of mis-memory. In the West we have made haste to dispense whenever possible with the economic, intellectual, and institutional baggage of the twentieth century and encouraged others to do likewise. In the wake of 1989, with boundless confidence and insufficient reflection, we put the twentieth century behind us and strode boldly into its successor swaddled in self-serving half-truths: the triumph of the West, the end of History, the unipolar American moment, the ineluctable march of globalization and the free market.

The belief that that was then and this is now embraced much more than just the defunct dogmas andinstitutions of cold war–era communism. During the Nineties, and again in the wake of September 11, 2001, I was struck more than once by a perverse contemporary insistence on not understanding the context of our present dilemmas, at home and abroad; on not listening with greater care to some of the wiser heads of earlier decades; on seeking actively to forget rather than remember, to deny continuity and proclaim novelty on every possible occasion. We have become stridently insistent that the past has little of interest to teach us. Ours, we assert, is a new world; its risks and opportunities are without precedent.

Perhaps this is not surprising. The recent past is the hardest to know and understand. Moreover, the world really has undergone a remarkable transformation since 1989 and such transformations are always unsettling for those who remember how things were before. In the decades following the French Revolution, the douceur de vivre of the vanished ancien régime was much regretted by older commentators. A century later, evocations and memoirs of pre–Word War I Europe typically depicted (and still depict) a lost civilization, a world whose illusions had quite literally been blown apart: “Never such innocence again.”

But there is a difference. Contemporaries might have regretted the world before the French Revolution. But they had not forgotten it. For much of the nineteenth century Europeans remained obsessed with the causes and meaning of the upheavals that began in 1789. The political and philosophical debates of the Enlightenment had not been consumed in the fires of revolution. On the contrary, the Revolution and its consequences were widely attributed to that same Enlightenment which thus emerged—for friend and foe alike—as the acknowledged source of the political dogmas and social programs of the century that followed.

In a similar vein, while everyone after 1918 agreed that things would never be the same again, the particular shape that a postwar world should take was everywhere conceived and contested in the long shadow of nineteenth-century experience and thought. Neoclassical economics, liberalism, Marxism (and its Communist stepchild), “revolution,” the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, imperialism, and “industrialism”—the building blocks of the twentieth-century political world—were all nineteenth-century artifacts. Even those who, along with Virginia Woolf, believed that “on or about December 1910, human character changed”—that the cultural upheaval of Europe’s fin de siècle had utterly transformed the terms of intellectual exchange—nonetheless devoted a surprising amount of energy to shadowboxing with their predecessors. The past hung heavy across the present.

(Source: sunrec)

If we really saw war, what war does to young minds and bodies, it would be impossible to embrace the myth of war. If we had to stand over the mangled corpses of schoolchildren killed in Afghanistan and listen to the wails of their parents, we would not be able to repeat clichés we use to justify war. This is why war is carefully sanitized. This is why we are given war’s perverse and dark thrill but are spared from seeing war’s consequences. The mythic visions of war keep it heroic and entertaining… The wounded, the crippled, and the dead are, in this great charade, swiftly carted offstage. They are war’s refuse. We do not see them. We do not hear them. They are doomed, like wandering spirits, to float around the edges of our consciousness, ignored, even reviled. The message they tell is too painful for us to hear. We prefer to celebrate ourselves and our nation by imbibing the myths of glory, honor, patriotism, and heroism, words that in combat become empty and meaningless.
— Chris Hedges

Link: Chris Hedges: War is Betrayal

War is always about betrayal—betrayal of the young by the old, of idealists by cynics, and of soldiers by politicians.

We condition the poor and the working class to go to war. We promise them honor, status, glory, and adventure. We promise boys they will become men. We hold these promises up against the dead-end jobs of small-town life, the financial dislocations, credit card debt, bad marriages, lack of health insurance, and dread of unemployment. The military is the call of the Sirens, the enticement that has for generations seduced young Americans working in fast food restaurants or behind the counters of Walmarts to fight and die for war profiteers and elites.

The poor embrace the military because every other cul-de-sac in their lives breaks their spirit and their dignity. Pick up Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front or James Jones’s From Here to Eternity. Read Henry IV. Turn to the Iliad. The allure of combat is a trap, a ploy, an old, dirty game of deception in which the powerful, who do not go to war, promise a mirage to those who do.

I saw this in my own family. At the age of ten I was given a scholarship to a top New England boarding school. I spent my adolescence in the schizophrenic embrace of the wealthy, on the playing fields and in the dorms and classrooms that condition boys and girls for privilege, and came back to my working-class relations in the depressed former mill towns in Maine. I traveled between two universes: one where everyone got chance after chance after chance, where connections and money and influence almost guaranteed that you would not fail; the other where no one ever got a second try. I learned at an early age that when the poor fall no one picks them up, while the rich stumble and trip their way to the top.

Those I knew in prep school did not seek out the military and were not sought by it. But in the impoverished enclaves of central Maine, where I had relatives living in trailers, nearly everyone was a veteran. My grandfather. My uncles. My cousins. My second cousins. They were all in the military. Some of them—including my Uncle Morris, who fought in the infantry in the South Pacific during World War II—were destroyed by the war. Uncle Morris drank himself to death in his trailer. He sold the hunting rifle my grandfather had given to me to buy booze.

(Source: sunrec)

One might think that a period which, in a space of fifty years, uproots, enslaves, or kills seventy million human beings should be condemned out of hand. But its culpability must still be understood. In more ingenuous times, when the tyrant razed cities for his own greater glory, when the slave chained to the conqueror’s chariot was dragged through the rejoicing streets, when enemies were thrown to the wild beasts in front of the assembled people, the mind did not reel before such unabashed crimes, and judgement remained unclouded. But slave camps under the flag of freedom, massacres justified by philanthropy or by a taste for the superhuman, in one sense cripple judgement. On the day when crime dons the apparel of innocence–through a curious transposition peculiar to our times–it is innocence that is called upon to justify itself.
— Albert Camus, The Rebel

Book Provides Fresh Glimpse of Berlin’s Destruction

Following the end of World War II, photographer Hein Gorny took spectacular aerial shots of the ravaged German capital. His son Peter explains how Hein defied a flying ban imposed by the Allies and managed to snap the dramatic shots. 

I remember holding the small photo album in my hands. My father showed it to me when I was ten, shortly after the war. He had carefully glued in contact prints where the enlarged images were to be placed later on. It was the draft layout of a book. My father, Hein Gorny, worked as an advertizing and wildlife photographer and hardly ever took photos of the city. But this was his planned book on Berlin, showing pictures of the city before and after the war. I found the aerial photos particularly striking. Long black shadows from trees and jagged, shattered facades covered the black and white photographs. These were the first, if not only, photos of Berlin taken by a German photographer just a few months after the end of the war. At the time, in the winter of 1945/46, the airspace over the city was tightly controlled by the Allies, and German nationals were banned from flying over Berlin. Somehow, my father managed to get on a plane. I remember my parents commenting that he had done something which “was not really allowed.” I don’t recall how he did it it. My parents were getting divorced and my mother, my sister and I moved away from Berlin. But the shadowy aerial images remained etched in my memory. I also remember the photos had something to do with an American friend that my father probably met in the 1930s in New York.

(Source: sunrec)

The wrath of God lies sleeping. It was hid a million years before men were and only men have power to wake it. Hell aint half full. Hear me. Ye carry war of a madman’s making onto a foreign land. Ye’ll wake more than the dogs.
— Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian

Link: The World's Worst War

Last month, as I was driving down a backbreaking road between Goma, a provincial capital in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Kibumba, a little market town about 20 miles away, I came upon the body of a Congolese soldier. He was on his back, half hidden in the bushes, his legs crumpled beneath him, his fly-covered face looking up at the sun.

The strangest thing was, four years ago, almost to the day, I saw a corpse of a Congolese soldier in that exact same spot. He had been killed and left to rot just as his comrade would be four years later, in the vain attempt to stop a rebel force from marching down the road from Kibumba to Goma. The circumstances were nearly identical: a group of Tutsi-led rebels, widely believed to be backed by Rwanda, eviscerating a feckless, alcoholic government army that didn’t even bother to scoop up its dead.

Sadly, this is what I’ve come to expect from Congo: a doomed sense of déjà vu. I’ve crisscrossed this continent-size country from east to west, in puddle jumpers, jeeps and leaky canoes. I’ve sat down with the accidental president, Joseph Kabila, a former taxi driver who suddenly found himself in power at age 29 after his father was shot in the head. I’ve tracked down a warlord who lived on top of a mountain, in an old Belgian farmhouse that smelled like wet wool, and militia commanders who marched into battle as naked as the day they were born and slicked with oil — to protect themselves from bullets, of course. And each time I come back, no matter where I go, I meet a whole new set of thoroughly traumatized people.

Some are impossible to forget, like Anna Mburano, an 80-year-old woman who was gang-raped a few years ago and screamed out to the teenage assailants on top of her: “Grandsons! Get off me!”

Congo has become a never-ending nightmare, one of the bloodiest conflicts since World War II, with more than five million dead. It seems incomprehensible that the biggest country in sub-Saharan Africa and on paper one of the richest, teeming with copper, diamonds and gold, vast farmlands of spectacular fertility and enough hydropower to light up the continent, is now one of the poorest, most hopeless nations on earth. Unfortunately, there are no promising solutions within grasp, or even within sight.

I didn’t always feel this way. During my first trip, in July 2006, Congo was brimming with optimism. It was about to hold its first truly democratic elections, and the streets of the capital, Kinshasa, were festooned with campaign banners and pulsating with liquid Lingala music that seemed to automatically sway people’s hips as they waited in line to vote. There was this electricity in the air in a city that usually doesn’t have much electricity. In poor, downtrodden countries accustomed to sordid rule, there is something incredibly empowering about the simple act of scratching an X next to the candidate of your choice and having a reasonable hope that your vote will be counted. That’s how the Congolese felt.

But the euphoria didn’t last — for me or the country. The election returned Mr. Kabila to power and nothing changed. I came back less than a year later and hired a dugout canoe to take me up the mighty Congo River, where I saw 100-foot-tall stalks of bamboo and spiders the size of baseballs. In the middle of the country, I came to appreciate how shambolic the state of Congo’s infrastructure really is. Rusty barges that used to ply the river now lie on the riverbanks with weeds shooting up through their ribs. The national railway, which used to haul away all the coffee and cotton and bananas that this country produces, is all but shuttered.

I met a pair of soldiers who had chained a chimpanzee to a corroded railway tie, leaving the animal in a pile of its own feces, staring up at us with rheumy eyes as the soldiers howled with laughter. Congo is estimated to possess $24 trillion of mineral resources. Its soil is so productive that a trip through the countryside, past all the banana, orange, papaya, guava and mango trees virtually scraping the windshield, is like driving through a fruit salad. But without any functioning infrastructure, all this agricultural potential is moot. “How will you get anything to the market?” one local official asked me. “There’s only so much you can carry on your head.”

Later in 2007, I returned to write about a rape epidemic. In eastern Congo, which is savaged by dozens of armed groups, many of them scrambling for a piece of Congo’s delicious mineral pie, it is as if the real battlefields are women’s bodies.


The Balkan Wars: 100 Years Later, a History of Violence
The Balkan wars, which began on Oct. 8, 1912, are considered minor footnotes in 20th century history. But they mean so much more.
A century ago today, the Balkan wars began. On Oct. 8, 1912, the tiny Kingdom of Montenegro declared war on the weak Ottoman Empire, launching an invasion of Albania, then under nominal Turkish rule. Three other Balkan states in league with the Montenegrins — Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia — rapidly followed suit, waging war on the old imperial enemy while drawing upon a wellspring of national sentiment in each of their homelands. By March 1913, their blood-soaked campaigns had effectively pushed the enfeebled Ottomans out of Europe. Yet by July, Greece and Serbia would clash with Bulgaria in what’s known as the Second Balkan War — a bitter monthlong struggle that saw more territory change hands, more villages razed and more bodies dumped into the earth.
The peace that followed was no peace at all. A year later, with Europe’s great powers entwined in the fate of the Balkans, a Yugoslav nationalist in the Bosnian city of Sarajevo killed the crown prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Europe plunged into World War I.
“The Balkans,” goes one of the many witticisms attributed to Winston Churchill, “generates more history than it can locally consume.” To Churchill and many Western observers of his era, this rugged stretch of southeastern Europe was a headache, a geopolitical mess that had for centuries been at the crossroads of empires and religions, riven by ethnic tribalisms and the meddling of outside powers. Half a century earlier, Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck — the architect of the modern German state — expressed his disgust with this nuisance of a region, scoffing that the whole of the Balkans was “not worth the bones of one Pomeranian grenadier” in his employ.
But while these grand statesmen of the West saw a backward land brimming with ancient hatreds, the Balkans’ turbulent past, and the legacy of the Balkan wars in particular, perhaps offers a more instructive history lesson for our present than even World War I. This is not just because the Balkan wars spawned some historic firsts on the battlefield — such as the first instance when aircraft was used to attack an enemy (by the Bulgarians) or some of the first grim scenes of trench warfare in continental Europe (observers recount how, in one trench, the legs of dead Turkish soldiers froze into the ground and had to be hacked off). It’s because in many ways these battles fought a century ago reflect our world today: one where internecine and sectarian conflicts — in, say, Syria or the Democratic Republic of Congo — are enmeshed in the agendas of outside powers and where the trauma of that violence often augurs more of the same.
Article / Slide Show

The Balkan Wars: 100 Years Later, a History of Violence

The Balkan wars, which began on Oct. 8, 1912, are considered minor footnotes in 20th century history. But they mean so much more.

A century ago today, the Balkan wars began. On Oct. 8, 1912, the tiny Kingdom of Montenegro declared war on the weak Ottoman Empire, launching an invasion of Albania, then under nominal Turkish rule. Three other Balkan states in league with the Montenegrins — Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia — rapidly followed suit, waging war on the old imperial enemy while drawing upon a wellspring of national sentiment in each of their homelands. By March 1913, their blood-soaked campaigns had effectively pushed the enfeebled Ottomans out of Europe. Yet by July, Greece and Serbia would clash with Bulgaria in what’s known as the Second Balkan War — a bitter monthlong struggle that saw more territory change hands, more villages razed and more bodies dumped into the earth.

The peace that followed was no peace at all. A year later, with Europe’s great powers entwined in the fate of the Balkans, a Yugoslav nationalist in the Bosnian city of Sarajevo killed the crown prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Europe plunged into World War I.

“The Balkans,” goes one of the many witticisms attributed to Winston Churchill, “generates more history than it can locally consume.” To Churchill and many Western observers of his era, this rugged stretch of southeastern Europe was a headache, a geopolitical mess that had for centuries been at the crossroads of empires and religions, riven by ethnic tribalisms and the meddling of outside powers. Half a century earlier, Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck — the architect of the modern German state — expressed his disgust with this nuisance of a region, scoffing that the whole of the Balkans was “not worth the bones of one Pomeranian grenadier” in his employ.

But while these grand statesmen of the West saw a backward land brimming with ancient hatreds, the Balkans’ turbulent past, and the legacy of the Balkan wars in particular, perhaps offers a more instructive history lesson for our present than even World War I. This is not just because the Balkan wars spawned some historic firsts on the battlefield — such as the first instance when aircraft was used to attack an enemy (by the Bulgarians) or some of the first grim scenes of trench warfare in continental Europe (observers recount how, in one trench, the legs of dead Turkish soldiers froze into the ground and had to be hacked off). It’s because in many ways these battles fought a century ago reflect our world today: one where internecine and sectarian conflicts — in, say, Syria or the Democratic Republic of Congo — are enmeshed in the agendas of outside powers and where the trauma of that violence often augurs more of the same.

Article / Slide Show

Link: Preying On The Prayerful

Killings in the US are condemned, while American violence abroad is ignored or glorified.

The attack came early. Like any coward, the killer wasn’t interested in a fair fight, and chances are he didn’t even know whom he was killing. Having stalked his prey for reasons that even now aren’t entirely clear, he struck when his victims were most vulnerable: as they prayed in their house of worship. Within minutes, a once-peaceful place became a war zone, blood-smeared floors littered with the lifeless bodies of worshipers. And for what?

But Sarah Palin didn’t tweet about it. No major-league sporting events were interrupted with a moment of silence. Barack Obama didn’t issue a statement expressing his sorrow. Mitt Romney didn’t try to out-sorrow him. If anything, when reports of the carnage hit Washington, it only served as that famously overcompensating town’s afternoon Cialis. No flags were at half-staff, but something else was.

That’s because the victims of this particular massacre made the dubious decision to be born and raised in a suspicious land called Somewhere Else, a strange and often swarthy place where moral principles like “hey, try not to kill people, yeah?” need not apply to the natives.

"The drone fired two missiles and hit the village mosque where a number of people were offering Fajr (morning) prayer," Roashan Din, a village elder in the rural Pakistani town where the strike took place, explained to NBC News. At least 10 bodies were pulled from the wreckage, a direct consequence of President Obama’s decision to dramatically escalate the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Being suspiciously foreign - who would live in northwest Pakistan anyway? - those bodies aren’t associated with any names or faces or families or lovers. They’re just bodies, statistically better off dead than alive based on an algorithm developed by the CIA. And we sure as hell don’t mourn them.

What difference an arbitrary political border makes. And how glaring the hypocrisy of American elites - pundits, politicians and their corporate backers - when one of their discarded products does the same thing at home.

Three months after the country’s role-model-in-chief carried out that particular mass murder in Pakistan, a former US soldier, Wade Michael Page, opened fire on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, killing a half-dozen defenceless worshippers. If he’d done the same thing overseas, you’d be lucky to get a surrogate for the president or his challenger to comment. He might even get a medal and a Senate seat.

But the incident happened within US borders, not Over There, so the condemnation was swift. In a statement, President Obama said he was “deeply saddened” by the shooting, emphasising - because it was a shame? - that it “took place at a house of worship”. Just so we’re clear: this is the same person who but a few months earlier authorised the missile strike that took out that Pakistani town’s place of worship. But that’s okay: he also emphasised that this crime was different because the victims were part of “our broader American family”.

For his part, Mitt Romney, the Republican challenger in this year’s tediously dull, let-us-just-crash-into-the-sun-already presidential campaign, issued a statement lamenting “a tragedy that should never befall any house of worship”. He’ll walk that statement back once an adviser informs him that Iran has those too.


Is War Inevitable?
Human evolution has been defined by conflict, says E. O. Wilson, one of the 
world’s leading biologists. War is embedded in our very nature. Also see John Horgan’s response to this piece, “No, War Is Not Inevitable.” 
“History is a bath of blood,” wrote William James, whose 1906 antiwar essay is arguably the best ever written on the subject. “Modern man inherits all the innate pugnacity and all the love of glory of his ancestors. Showing war’s irrationality and horror is of no effect on him. The horrors make the fascination. War is the strong life; it is life in extremis; war taxes are the only ones men never hesitate to pay, as the budgets of all nations show us.”
Our bloody nature, it can now be argued in the context of modern biology, is ingrained because group-versus-group competition was a principal driving force that made us what we are. In prehistory, group selection (that is, the competition between tribes instead of between individuals) lifted the hominids that became territorial carnivores to heights of solidarity, to genius, to enterprise—and to fear. Each tribe knew with justification that if it was not armed and ready, its very existence was imperiled. Throughout history, the escalation of a large part of technology has had combat as its central purpose. Today the calendars of nations are punctuated by holidays to celebrate wars won and to perform memorial services for those who died waging them. Public support is best fired up by appeal to the emotions of deadly combat, over which the amygdala—a center for primary emotion in the brain—is grandmaster. We find ourselves in the “battle” to stem an oil spill, the “fight” to tame inflation, the “war” against cancer. Wherever there is an enemy, animate or inanimate, there must be a victory. You must prevail at the front, no matter how high the cost at home.
Any excuse for a real war will do, so long as it is seen as necessary to protect the tribe. The remembrance of past horrors has no effect. From April to June in 1994, killers from the Hutu majority in Rwanda set out to exterminate the Tutsi minority, which at that time ruled the country. In a hundred days of unrestrained slaughter by knife and gun, 800,000 people died, mostly Tutsi. The total Rwandan population was reduced by 10 percent. When a halt was finally called, 2 million Hutu fled the country, fearing retribution. The immediate causes for the bloodbath were political and social grievances, but they all stemmed from one root cause: Rwanda was the most overcrowded country in Africa. For a relentlessly growing population, the per capita arable land was shrinking toward its limit. The deadly argument was over which tribe would own and control the whole of it.
War, often accompanied by genocide, is not a cultural artifact of just a few societies. Nor has it been an aberration of history, a result of the growing pains of our species’ maturation. Wars and genocide have been universal and eternal, respecting no particular time or culture. Archaeological sites are strewn with the evidence of mass conflicts and burials of massacred people. Tools from the earliest Neolithic period, about 10,000 years ago, include instruments clearly designed for fighting. One might think that the influence of pacific Eastern religions, especially Buddhism, has been consistent in opposing violence. Such is not the case. Whenever Buddhism dominated and became the official ideology, war was tolerated and even pressed as part of faith-based state policy. The rationale is simple, and has its mirror image in Christianity: Peace, nonviolence, and brotherly love are core values, but a threat to Buddhist law and civilization is an evil that must be defeated.
Since the end of World War II, violent conflict between states has declined drastically, owing in part to the nuclear standoff of the major powers (two scorpions in a bottle writ large). But civil wars, insurgencies, and state-sponsored terrorism continue unabated. Overall, big wars have been replaced around the world by small wars of the kind and magnitude more typical of hunter-gatherer and primitively agricultural societies. Civilized societies have tried to eliminate torture, execution, and the murder of civilians, but those fighting little wars do not comply.
Archaeologists have determined that after populations of Homo sapiens began to spread out of Africa approximately 60,000 years ago, the first wave reached as far as New Guinea and Australia. The descendants of the pioneers remained as hunter-gatherers or at most primitive agriculturalists, until reached by Europeans. Living populations of similar early provenance and archaic cultures are the aboriginals of Little Andaman Island off the east coast of India, the Mbuti Pygmies of Central Africa, and the !Kung Bushmen of southern Africa. All today, or at least within historical memory, have exhibited aggressive territorial behavior.

Is War Inevitable?

Human evolution has been defined by conflict, says E. O. Wilson, one of the 
world’s leading biologists. War is embedded in our very nature. Also see John Horgan’s response to this piece, “No, War Is Not Inevitable.” 

“History is a bath of blood,” wrote William James, whose 1906 antiwar essay is arguably the best ever written on the subject. “Modern man inherits all the innate pugnacity and all the love of glory of his ancestors. Showing war’s irrationality and horror is of no effect on him. The horrors make the fascination. War is the strong life; it is life in extremis; war taxes are the only ones men never hesitate to pay, as the budgets of all nations show us.”

Our bloody nature, it can now be argued in the context of modern biology, is ingrained because group-versus-group competition was a principal driving force that made us what we are. In prehistory, group selection (that is, the competition between tribes instead of between individuals) lifted the hominids that became territorial carnivores to heights of solidarity, to genius, to enterprise—and to fear. Each tribe knew with justification that if it was not armed and ready, its very existence was imperiled. Throughout history, the escalation of a large part of technology has had combat as its central purpose. Today the calendars of nations are punctuated by holidays to celebrate wars won and to perform memorial services for those who died waging them. Public support is best fired up by appeal to the emotions of deadly combat, over which the amygdala—a center for primary emotion in the brain—is grandmaster. We find ourselves in the “battle” to stem an oil spill, the “fight” to tame inflation, the “war” against cancer. Wherever there is an enemy, animate or inanimate, there must be a victory. You must prevail at the front, no matter how high the cost at home.

Any excuse for a real war will do, so long as it is seen as necessary to protect the tribe. The remembrance of past horrors has no effect. From April to June in 1994, killers from the Hutu majority in Rwanda set out to exterminate the Tutsi minority, which at that time ruled the country. In a hundred days of unrestrained slaughter by knife and gun, 800,000 people died, mostly Tutsi. The total Rwandan population was reduced by 10 percent. When a halt was finally called, 2 million Hutu fled the country, fearing retribution. The immediate causes for the bloodbath were political and social grievances, but they all stemmed from one root cause: Rwanda was the most overcrowded country in Africa. For a relentlessly growing population, the per capita arable land was shrinking toward its limit. The deadly argument was over which tribe would own and control the whole of it.

War, often accompanied by genocide, is not a cultural artifact of just a few societies. Nor has it been an aberration of history, a result of the growing pains of our species’ maturation. Wars and genocide have been universal and eternal, respecting no particular time or culture. Archaeological sites are strewn with the evidence of mass conflicts and burials of massacred people. Tools from the earliest Neolithic period, about 10,000 years ago, include instruments clearly designed for fighting. One might think that the influence of pacific Eastern religions, especially Buddhism, has been consistent in opposing violence. Such is not the case. Whenever Buddhism dominated and became the official ideology, war was tolerated and even pressed as part of faith-based state policy. The rationale is simple, and has its mirror image in Christianity: Peace, nonviolence, and brotherly love are core values, but a threat to Buddhist law and civilization is an evil that must be defeated.

Since the end of World War II, violent conflict between states has declined drastically, owing in part to the nuclear standoff of the major powers (two scorpions in a bottle writ large). But civil wars, insurgencies, and state-sponsored terrorism continue unabated. Overall, big wars have been replaced around the world by small wars of the kind and magnitude more typical of hunter-gatherer and primitively agricultural societies. Civilized societies have tried to eliminate torture, execution, and the murder of civilians, but those fighting little wars do not comply.

Archaeologists have determined that after populations of Homo sapiens began to spread out of Africa approximately 60,000 years ago, the first wave reached as far as New Guinea and Australia. The descendants of the pioneers remained as hunter-gatherers or at most primitive agriculturalists, until reached by Europeans. Living populations of similar early provenance and archaic cultures are the aboriginals of Little Andaman Island off the east coast of India, the Mbuti Pygmies of Central Africa, and the !Kung Bushmen of southern Africa. All today, or at least within historical memory, have exhibited aggressive territorial behavior.

Link: Waiting for a Kill Shot 7,000 Miles Away

Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, N.Y. — From his computer console here in the Syracuse suburbs, Col. D. Scott Brenton remotely flies a Reaper drone that beams back hundreds of hours of live video of insurgents, his intended targets, going about their daily lives 7,000 miles away in Afghanistan. Sometimes he and his team watch the same family compound for weeks.

“I see mothers with children, I see fathers with children, I see fathers with mothers, I see kids playing soccer,” Colonel Brenton said.

When the call comes for him to fire a missile and kill a militant — and only, Colonel Brenton said, when the women and children are not around — the hair on the back of his neck stands up, just as it did when he used to line up targets in his F-16 fighter jet.

Afterward, just like the old days, he compartmentalizes. “I feel no emotional attachment to the enemy,” he said. “I have a duty, and I execute the duty.”

Drones are not only revolutionizing American warfare but are also changing in profound ways the lives of the people who fly them.

Colonel Brenton acknowledges the peculiar new disconnect of fighting a telewar with a joystick and a throttle from his padded seat in American suburbia.

When he was deployed in Iraq, “you land and there’s no more weapons on your F-16, people have an idea of what you were just involved with.” Now he steps out of a dark room of video screens, his adrenaline still surging after squeezing the trigger, and commutes home past fast-food restaurants and convenience stores to help with homework — but always alone with what he has done.

The Aleutians: Rare Photos From WWII’s Forgotten Front

Maybe it’s because the casualties, in relative terms, were light compared to those suffered in other theaters of conflict during World War II. Or perhaps the isolated front was destined to a gradual, ever-deepening obscurity because no storied battles with stirring names (Iwo Jima, Bastogne, Normandy, Saipan) were fought there. Or maybe it’s simply that, like countless other narratives in countless other wars, the story of the Aleutian Islands Campaign was gradually forgotten by those who did not fight or serve there, or by those families that did not lose a loved one there.

But in the early 1940s the Aleutian Campaign was news throughout the U.S. , as some of the islands in the North Pacific, in what was then the American territory of Alaska, had been invaded and occupied by Japanese troops. Was it a diversion ahead of another, critical attack elsewhere? Was it the vanguard of a far larger assault on America’s enormous, and perhaps fatally vulnerable, west coast?

Here, 70 years after Japanese forces seized control of Attu and Kiska islands early in the war, LIFE.com presents rare photos — most of which never ran in LIFE magazine — by Dmitri Kessel chronicling the day-to-day existence of Allied troops serving in the dramatic and forbidding landscape of the Aleutians.

Ultimately, long before the war was over, the Japanese were routed from the islands they did occupy. But Allied casualties (U.S. and Canadian) during the year-long campaign to push them off of American territory were in the thousands, with a grim percentage killed or severely wounded by the same hazards that troops have always faced when fighting in a wilderness thousands of miles from home: friendly fire; exposure; minor wounds that turn mortal when transportation proves impossible.

And then there was the fatigue; the sheer lethargy-inducing sameness of the place. The old characterization of warfare as long stretches of boredom punctuated by moments of terror might have been coined especially for the Aleutian campaign. Even the most adamant and dedicated nature lover could hardly remain enthralled, month after month after month, by the surroundings — endless snow-capped mountains, mud-filled tundra and water, water everywhere. As LIFE pointed out to its readers in the midst of the war, the weather and the landscape were relentless, monotonous enemies all their own:

The Aleutian Islands are a chain of high mountains rising our of the North Pacific between Alaska and Siberia. There, among fog and sudden storms, the world is still in the making. Volcanoes blow rings of steam. Islets pop out of the water and then mysteriously vanish again. Earthquakes make and unmake harbors, cliffs, beaches and caves.

The shortest route between the U.S. and Japan lies through Alaska and out the Aleutians. From Attu to Tokyo is only1,750 miles…. Whoever controls the Aleutians has a flanking position on the whole ocean. [In June 1942 Japan] seized Attu and Kiska and remained a constant threat to Alaska, Canada and the U.S. until August 1943 when they were finally driven off. To defend the Aleutians against another attack, thousands of Americans are still stationed there.

Of all the U.S. outposts the Aleutians are probably the wildest and most inhospitable. There are almost no trees on the islands. There are few animals. The temperature seldom drops below freezing in winter or goes above 60 degrees in summer. There are as many as 250 rainy days a year and as few as eight clear days.

Dmitri Kessel’s pictures, meanwhile, suggest that despite the spartan lodgings, the often impassable terrain, the ever-foreboding skies, the questionable food, the tricky climate, the grueling work and the ceaselessly challenging environment, thousands of troops, nurses and even some civilians stuck with it throughout the war years, and they made do.

In often primitive conditions, in one of the most unforgiving environments on Earth, they did what was asked of them. They are not forgotten.