Archive Page 2

Behind The Barbs

(Germany, 1943)

Dead bodies piled into mounds, thrown into trenches, wreaking of decay and death; emaciated bodies filing into chambers that will soon fill with clouds of gas.  An automatic image is formulated upon hearing these accounts.  We all know what it spoken of.  We all shudder.  The Holocaust, existing during the second world war; the Holocaust, an event that is so horrific it seems fictional.  Condemned to a fate perhaps worse than death, entire families were split apart and shuffled off to work down to their mere bones.  Justifications for these astonishing actions were understood by few, and the deviants were at anomalies.

Never again; the world said never again to the mass internment of a populace.

The population of Sri Lanka is 21,324,791.
21,035,791 citizens live in their respective entities.
289,000 of Sri Lankans live behind barbed wire fences.

Interned men, women, and children are held in camps and detention centers scattered across the northern region of the Asian state, under shotty allegations, and shaky claims.  Conditions for the displaced are as expected, full of grime, lacking proper water, waste facilities, and people living upon people, living upon people.  International humanitarian groups, the UN, International Red Cross, etc are forbade from entering the country and having any sort of access to the camps.  Hm.  Fishy?  Yes, highly suspicious, if these camps merely exist for the reasons the government defends they do.  They cite two reasons why they have imprisoned their own citizens.  First, being newly war-free there are supposed mines that need to be deactivated, and it is unsafe for people to move to certain areas until they are de-mined, however the plucking and relocation became the fate of one neighbor, and not of the other. ??? Hm.  Seems hardly a legitimate reason for disallowing third parties, especially those parties weary and on the search of human rights violations.  Second reason, the Sri Lankan government is conducting screening to determine who is and who is not a Tamil Tiger.  But, no one knows who has already underwent this screening, how the process is conducted, and what is general this screening process encompasses.  These internment camps are not death camps, no, but isn’t the idea the same?  The heart of the issue is that forced relocation and confinement is an inherent human rights abuse.

I reaffirm my previous statement, in my opening post, regarding our world citizen status; these Sri Lankans — the men, their wives, and children — are living, breathing world citizens, does this not count for anything?  In retrospect we are appalled and ashamed Nazi Germany rose to such power and enabled the Holocaust to reach such heights as it did, and we regret the internment of the Japanese during World War II on our own soil.  Even from comfy suburbia, from our college campuses, from our desks, can we not at least push for this violation of international (and Sri Lankan) law to end?  Tigers or not, people are people and no one is fully human when held behind barbs like an animal.

(Sri Lanka, 2009)

International Crisis Group
2009
Full Article

“Casualty” – Redefined

Violent conflict takes various forms; it is true however that in whatever setting it showers negativity upon those of all walks of life.  Causalities of war and violence appear on different faces — the young, the old, the soldier, the vagabond, the mother and the child.

With war comes death, and these deaths mount astonishing numbers regardless of the conflict.  In one fictional, historical account, penned by modern author Stuart D. Lee, The Ghosts May Laugh, we see just how death is dealt with in the trenches and on the front line of, in this case, World War I.  It is common to hear of casualties, those dead or dying, those missing in action; it is a phenomenon, or maybe a staple, of war.  In the play, we become aware of the effects of a casualty, not only through the dialogue of the characters, but through the over-looming sense that those who are deceased hang around even beyond death.  Death manifests in Miller, Saunder’s brother, and each of the officer’s respective story ghosts. Casualties of war become common-place, and seem to be chatted about with an air of detachment.

JENKINS. Hmm, right. (Pause.) You heard about Miller I suppose?
JONES. Yes.
JENKINS. Damned shame that. (Pause.) Still, if you’re going to play silly
arses with a sandbag on the parapet what do you expect? (Pause.) Still,
damned shame. Damned damned shame. (pg. 5).

The context varies, but death haunts the play in its entirety.

And back to Africa we go.
Unrest takes a different form in the states of the continent of Africa.  Across its vast plain a number of countries are struggling under conditions that are less than desirable, with a horrible plague: forced evictions. Citizens of Angola, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe face similar situations forced displacement through the violent force of evictions by their governments. In Chad, one man gives account:

“I bought this place more than 38 years ago. On 29 February, some policemen and the people from the mayor’s office came and covered the walls in paint. They told us that we had six days to leave. When we asked them why, they said we did not have the right to ask questions because it was a state of emergency. We could not get together and talk about it among ourselves, it was forbidden. The residents took their personal belongings and left. Some of them who have money will not have any difficulty in renting another house, those without money will go to their village or to Cameroon.”

These episodes, when executed, leave thousands homeless, and yet there is no accountability for this heinous violation of human rights.

We are use to hearing of casualties of war, violence, disaster, and we are used to hearing of them as deceased.  But, how much of a person is stripped and left when one is forcibly removed from their home, placed in foreign lands, or even worse, left to nothing?  Traditionally, we think casualty, we think death, but perhaps a casualty is anyone who is left a former version of oneself because of unjust actions.  Perhaps through new acts of violence classic terms associated with disaster claim new definitions.

Amnesty International
2009
Full Article

From England to Cuba

Letters, telegraphs, telephone calls, the parchment takes various forms, but connections to those at home, when in wartime provide a comfort to those who are far from the lands they call home, the things familiar and meaningful, and the loved ones there.

In Vera Brittain’s era, early-mid 20th century, handwritten letters were the primary source of communication between those at home and their sons, boyfriends, husbands, and friends who seemed a world away.  Scenes of war became vivid when correspondence was maintained between domestic parties in England and soldier immersed in the war.  In the case of our heroin, Vera, the reader witnesses the demise of her innocence and naive idealism as she maintains her role as devoted girlfriend of Roland.  They exchange letters often, and although Roland never vocalizes how vital he considers her letters, it can only be imagined what it would be like to be in a foreign land without a connection or communicative abilities to those we know best.  Having Vera has his confidant allows him to speak freely of his thoughts, and deepest woes — undoubtedly miseries that are difficult to live with.  Vera is not void of Roland’s reality and this is evident; fore he writes:

” . . . no longer a dream but a reality, and found in My lady of The Letters a flesh-and-blood Princess. . . . I am feeling very weary and very, very triste — rather like (as I said of Lyndall) ‘a child whom a long day’s play has saddened.’ . . . There is sunshine on the trees in the garden and a bird is singing behind the hedge. I feel as if someone has uprooted my heart to see how it was growing.” (pg.193)

In addition to receiving Roland’s letters, Vera pens thoughts to him, too, of her daily activities, her thoughts, and at times poetry she feels appropriate.  Her, and her letters serve as his the connection to the thing that he wants to come home to.  Her letters are normalcy.  Her letters never stopped being sent, until the very end.

Flash-forward to modern day Cuba.  Remember when former President Bush rounded up so-called enemy combatants . . .  or were they prisoner’s of war? Don’t worry, just logistics, heh.  Geneva Convention, what?  Anyway, these men have been detained in Cuba since 2002.  That is over half a decade away from their homelands and families.  The ICRC (mentioned in the previous post) has inaugurated an initiative allowing detainees to make video-calls home, to immediate family and relatives.  The calls, employing video capabilities, allow the two parties to not only talk, but see one another for the one-hour duration of the call. “Although nothing can replace the face-to-face contact of personal visits, this video link offers detainees and their families a new way of communicating with each other,” said Jens-Martin Mehler, the ICRC delegate in charge of visits to Guantanamo. “Wherever the ICRC visits detainees, it seeks to ensure that they have the possibility of maintaining contact with their families (ICRC, 2009).  The ICRC hopes to eventually launch more branches of this humanitarian initiative to connect 30 different locations in 20 various countries.  Be on the lookout!

Detainees, enemy combatants — whatever the political term — these people are now enjoying a link back to their homelands, a place they hope to one day view again, and not just on a video monitor.  Most recently President Obama has put a one-year closing date for the center.  Until then, the detainees are in limbo.  Crossed fingers that video conferencing will soon end, and face-to-face contact can resume.

ICRC
18 September 2009
Full Article

Modern Day Veras

I thought for this (isolated) post I would deviate away from presenting a melancholy humanitarian situation and focus on an awesome organization working to remedy the situations I primarily write on.
The International Red Cross (ICRC) brings together a plethora of international citizens, all with the single-minded goal, as stated in their mission statement: an independent, neutral organization ensuring humanitarian protection and assistance for victims of war and other situations of violence.  Each volunteer is a small component of a force relentlessly working to improve conditions for their world neighbors.

In Vera Brittain’s memoir, Testament of Youth, she volunteers herself through her donation of time to the war effort, a cause much bigger than she expects upon becoming a voluntary nurse.  Although she primarily gave her resources as a V.A.D. to a stationary hospital, Camberwell, she was part of an organization that mirrored the ideals of the Red Cross.  She joins the war effort as best she can by volunteering.  Through this experience Ms. Brittain gains insight into the workings of the war machine first hand, not just through Roland’s letter-written accounts, as she had for so long.  Vera formulates feelings, intimately her own, after working long shifts absent of sleep, operating with a shortage of doctors, and dodging, sometimes unsuccessfully, illness in the wards she comes to know quite well.  Even though she was only one person, her Army hospital service not only benefited others, but was a vital component in her metamorphosis from provincial town girl, to real woman.

The International Red Cross operates slightly differently than the domestic American Red Cross, or what setting Vera volunteered in.  Although it is composed of a more highly specialized work force, 1,400 members are currently executing field missions, while 11,000 local personal work behind the scenes locally as support staff.  The ICRC commits itself to a number of humanitarian crises fronts, such as: Afghanistan, Somalia, Gaza, Yemen, and Pakistan.  Maintaining a neutral stance, the ICRC and its members can offer a presence of “good will,” if you will.

International Committee of the Red Cross
2009
ICRC

What constitutes a moral imperative?

Displaced Camp

Heads hang low when there’s an escalation of conflict in the Middle East or Gaza Strip.  Similarly, the world looks on wearily when Mother Nature asserts her power with a deadly disaster.  The world mourns for the millions  murdered in Sudan; so why does the world seem to ignore the death of millions in the Democratic Republic of Congo?

The devastation of the humanitarian crisis in the Congo is second to only WWII.  Over 5.4 million deaths have been documented since 1998.  Warring factions have left hundreds of thousands dead, or displaced; but the majority of the 5.4 million deaths are related to malnutrition, cholera, malaria, and pneumonia  — all, of which, are preventable if proper food and health care are available.  It seems that war doesn’t only ravish a land, and a people, but so do the things that arise in the shadows cast by it.  Conditions are made even more unpleasant when everything, down to the tiniest detail of life, seems impossible to cleanse.  War and interrupted normalcy go hand-in-hand.  British poet, Rosenburg, penned a lackluster account of war in “Louse Hunting.”  It exhibits how terrible a tiny louse can be.  The true distress lice inflict is strong in the imagery of the crawling vermin:

“Soon like a demons’ pantomime
The place was raging.
See the silhouettes agape,
See the gibbering shadows
Mixed with the battled arms on the wall (pg. 14).”

The situation in the Congo correlates with the unrest of the soldiers in Rosenburg’s work.  Even when not immersed in the chaos of war, one is still amidst a battle.  The imagery of men writhing instills a sense of impossible unhappiness, and war — to me — is the epitome of moroseness.  The plague of diseases, which find breeding ground, in the constant war-zone of the Congo, could easily be prevented with proper medical facilities.  These ailments take the form of Rosenburg’s louse, the constant pest, the reason for added, unnecessary discomfort that is present in addition to raging violence.

Finally, I have been contemplating the notion of a moral imperative.  (From my Macbook’s dictionary) I’ve broke it down for easier dissection; moral: derived from or based on ethical principles or a sense of these, imperative: of vital importance.  If we consider ourselves good human beings, do we not have an ethical duty to do good to those who deserve our good will?  Or, are we excused, in this case, because we will never see the faces of those who desperately need our aid?  Nobody wants to focus on anything that could mitigate their morality.  I believe it is imperative to at least be aware of efforts for change.  I, personally, love grassroots movements, because they encompass the notion of: YOU can make the change you want to see.  Let’s mobilize, let’s spread the word, let’s donate (time, resources — there’s my plug for Amnesty International).  Anything to keep from sitting stagnant.  And with that, I’ll now step off my soap box.

International Rescue Committee. (2007, April). Retrieved September 15, 2009
http://www.theirc.org/congo-crisis-glance

I don’t know nothin’ about nothin’ that ain’t American.

“There were many ways of not burdening one’s conscience, of shunning responsibility, looking away, keeping mum. When the unspeakable truth of the Holocaust then became known at the end of the war, all too many of us claimed that they had not known anything about it or even suspected anything.”

An earmark of the 21st century, the “Final Solution” executed by Adolf Hitler — the Holocaust —  is one of the most horrific events to ever occupy a slot of time throughout history.  A slot the worlds populace regrettably recalls.  A slot the worlds populace wishes could have been prevented.  Perhaps a slot that became part of our world’s history because certain sections of the populace looked on with blissful, oblivious eyes.

I think sometimes people forget the power of one; or more so, they forget how an individual’s strength can affect another individual, and in turn another, and another, and so on.  Okay, so perhaps I am playing the card of the idealist.  But at least, amidst my cynicism of humanity I do propose a remedy that despite lacking absolute solvency to the plague of our world’s problems, can offer some hope, and quite possibly help humanity gain some integrity.

Conflicts abroad seem incredibly distant to the average suburban soccer mom, businessman and father, or college attendee.  Is it a myth to say that we, Americans, have a shallow feed of information regarding foreign issues, and this is why we cannot connect with them in a way that we should?  Is the problem ignorant Americans? Or, maybe our inherent ignorance to obtain international news?  Enough questions, though.  I do not want my rapid fire of inquiries to take away from the real point.

Let us take a moment to consider this: if a mass genocide perpetuated by the American government, and executed by a party (say, our version, of the Sudanese Janjaweed), occurred, what hope would we have of ever being free people again?  First of all, this could never happen to us, right?  Never say never.  Second, we would certainly expect our fellow world citizens to rush to our immediate aid.  Maybe small, less influential countries, such as Sudan, don’t have hope quite as high as ours.  Maybe because they have no reason to.  It has taken the U.S. nearly half a decade to address the atrocities in Sudan.  We keep reviewing our policies towards them, flirting with trade embargoes, composing make-shift aid packages, and turning our eyes to the peacekeeping forces of the U.N. . . an arguably ineffective instrument in itself . . . but that is an entirely different subject.  It is argued, former President G.W. Bush addressed the issue; yes, I guess acknowledging that the conflict exists is technically addressing it, but that was quickly discarded and Washington moved on to more pertinent things.

In this blog I will attempt to address a number of world issues, most specifically centered around human rights abuses and violations, as well international issues that go overlooked by the majority.  Over the past few years, in debate forums, through studying International Relations, and by becoming quite a fan of Reuters, Crisis Watch, and Amnesty International, I have developed an affinity for anything human liberties based.  I find these issues relevant because a good majority of them come from countries where a general unrest, peaceless state exists; a perfect ground to harbor violations of the worst kind.  I chose to follow the three above sourced feeds (Reuters, CW, and AI) because they are of great interest to me, and quite relevant to the concept of human rights.  I also am following  the major news source, Christian Science Monitor; fore this has always been a standout information feed, in my opinion.  Additionally, I am frequently planning on tuning into podcasts through NPR, covering a vast area, but mostly focusing on foreign/international news.  To keep up to date on an issue of human rights violations that is domestically based, I have chosen to subscribe to the search query: “U.S.A Patriot Act.”  I plan on finding appropriate military blogs of soldiers based within countries of the target topics I cover in the weeks to come.  As of late, I have subscribed to various military blogs of men and women based in the Middle East, and if that isn’t an area where human liberty violations have taken place, then I do not know what is.  I will draw from the material presented and covered in class by drawing connections between the historical texts and the dynamics of current issues.

Finally, let’s focus our attention on the quote by Richard von Weizsaecker (from above).  I deeply hope we, as a generation, as world citizens, never utter words to reflect the same concept as this.  Before we must proclaim such regrets, maybe we should lace the pages of history with the power of a generation.  Let us not crutch any longer on the idea that we cannot make stark changes.  A good start could be surfing around the ‘net, from the comfort of our own homes, of course, obtaining some awareness of international conflicts. Follow this link. It’s relatively painless, I promise.