April 14, 2009

Here is the list of the ten comments that I made on my classmate’s blog:

That’s a Wrap

April 14, 2009

This blog has really made a connection for me between our readings and current events that I never previously had. I have learned about how themes from the books we have read have translated into world politics, international relations, and how war affects people today all over the globe. This has been very interesting, particularly in the scope of wars that not many people talk about (Sri Lanka) and conflicts that maybe aren’t wars yet but are still worth mentioning in the context of violence and suffering internationally (North Korea, Somali pirates).

RSS technology was something I knew nothing about before my class experience, and I have to say that it really opens up a world of information to a user. Rather than manually searching through the entire Internet to find what one is looking for, RSS technology delivers right to a central location that is easy to sort through and work with. I plan on using RSS technology for other classes research, as well as for my own personal use to learn about topics that I am interested in.

Overall, this blog has made technology and curriculum go hand in hand for me, and I think the way I think about war and peace has become more mature through the class, the research, and the blog itself. This has been a very useful learning tool, and I am excited that I was presented with the opportunity to use it in this class.

What Constitutes War?

April 14, 2009

Not all wars come in the form of violence and slaughter, and some wars can have very unique setting. It is questionable whether these bloodless wars constitute war at all, but I think they deserve mention in this blog. In the same vein as the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, wars can occur that are very dangerous and fierce, but not involve any bloodshed.

Right now, something similar is going on in the country of North Korea. That country has an authoritative government that has been very repressive to its own people, and it has now tried to enhance its position internationally by trying to create nuclear weapons, as well as the capacity to hit other countries, including the United States, with them (Security Council condemns North Korea Rocket Launch).

As shown in Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five (which did involve violence, but not so much for the main character Billy Pilgrim), there can be many kinds of wars. If North Korea decides it wants to threaten the world with nuclear strikes, which certainly does constitute nuclear war, then there will be open debate about whether real war should be declared against North Korea.

Vonnegut uses humor to ridicule violence and the nature of war in his book and other works, and I think even he would see the humor in the North Korean government’s aggressive behavior as very similar to the behavior of Nazi Germany during World War II. Proxy wars have erupted in the past over this behavior. I think it is important to note that wars can happen so easily. The consequences of war are not necessarily considered by government leaders who happen to have their fingers on the trigger, and the tinderbox that is international politics can explode at any second This world is just a few small events away from widespread tragedy, and that is a sad fact.,2933,515196,00.html

Hidden Wars

April 14, 2009

One of the most terrible wars, yet the least publicized in the United States, has been the civil war taking place in Sri Lanka, largely along ethnic lines. The war has been fought for years,  and the destruction in the country has been massive. As per Al Jazeera News today in the article “Sri Lanka rebels call for ceasefire,” there has finally been an inkling that perhaps the bloodshed will stop. I am willing to bet that if you asked most Americans about Sri Lanka, they would have no idea that there was any sort of war there whatsoever.

In A Long Way Gone, the conflict was also all by itself, out of the media spotlight because it took place in a remote location where most superpowers internationally have no interests. These kinds of wars are apt to be the most violent, since there is little outside pressure for the war to stop. Both sides have painted the opposition as inhuman, awful people that deserve death in both wars, and as a result even the Geneva Conventions rules regarding warfare have been largely ignored. What is to stop these conflicts? When one side is totally destroyed, or when both don’t have enough energy to fight?

The theme of these people being all on their own is very prevalent. In A Long Way Gone, there is little indication that any help is coming for the those affected by the war, and that hopelessness makes the situation of Ishmael and his fellow child soldiers seem even more tragic. In Sri Lanka, I bet it seems very lonely, left only to their own warring country. Since the details of A Long Way Gone were so gruesome and cruel, one can only hope that Sri Lanka can emerge from their civil war as soon and as peacefully as possible.

Remember Zimbabwe? Torture = War Crime

April 14, 2009

Over the past few year, Robert Mugabe’s reign in Zimbabwe has made that country one of the poorest, violent, and repressed in the world. With hyperinflation making the country’s currency essentially worthless, the country has reverted into a Middle Ages war zone for all intents and purposes.

Mugabe has been known to use torture and killings on his political opponents, but recently the opposition party has been able to get a foothold in the government, offering hope to many in the country. This hasn’t stopped Mugabe from torturing the opposition party, in hopes that they will be able to get amnesty for their previous crimes, and avoid prosecution by international courts, as is detailed in the New York Times article “Mugabe Aides Said to Use Violence to Get Amnesty.”

This reminds me a little bit of the book “Night,” and the horrors of the Holocaust that took place before and during World War II. The international community was largely unaware of just how bad things were for the Jews in Nazi Germany, and while on a smaller scale, I fear that some of the same kind of stuff is happening in Zimbabwe right now. The international community right now doesn’t have the will to go into Zimbabwe to interfere, even though historically people have suffered immensely under the tortures of Mugabe, and it appears that that sort of suffering may be continuing still.

In Night, inhuman cruelty took place because the only authority was radical and violent, and it wasn’t ended until foreign armies came in and intervened. War will eventually end in Zimbabwe, but it seems that a more peaceful, humane end to conflict might be reached if international aid could come into the country and protect peaceful people from torture. These kinds of cruel leaders always exist, whether it be Hitler or Mugabe, but it takes concerted effort in order to protect the innocent. They won’t be saved on their own.

A Pirate’s Life for Me

April 14, 2009

The news has been ablaze in the past few days over the hijacking of an American merchant vessel off the coast of Africa by pirates from Somalia. After taking the American captain hostage, the small group was defeated by the US Navy, but pirates continue hijacking foreign ships in the area, then demanding large ransoms to further expand their operations. The pirates have declared an unofficial war on merchant ships in the area, not an idealogical one, but a war driven by profit.

The BBC piece “Somali pirates living the high life” exposes another side to war, the exploitation some people use war for. The article goes to talk about how in Somalia, these pitrates are almost like celebrities, living in luxury from the massive ransom payments they receive. So many wars are driven  by a hatred of a people or by political events, but this “war” is driven by one side looking to escape the impovershed conditions that exist in Somalia, where everyone is poor and there is no semblance of a national government.

While the civil war in A Long Way Gone is driven by one group fighting against the other, in the book it seemed to Ishmael that there was no real reason to want to fight the rebels other than survival. For Ishmael and the normal soldiers who were fighting on the front lines, the war was more about successfully capturing towns so that they could be looted, and hence give direct benefit to all the soldiers. There was less of an emphasis on fighting an immoral enemy, even though the leaders tried to use that logic, and more of a focus on short term gain. Even though there is a difference between the two fights, obviously the pirates are acting on their own choice, which the child soldiers were not,  but once war starts, profit, money and luxury become just as much of a factor as does beating the enemy for the sake of victory over one’s opponent.

Legally Trapped in a Combat Zone

April 14, 2009

Not everything about war is the violence, death and destruction. There are crimes against humanity that exist outside of slaughter, though they may be less public during a time of conflict because they are much more subtle. This is exactly what is happening right now in the Gaza Strip. As per the Al-Jazeera article “Israel accused of ‘new Gaza crime'”, “Richard Falk, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, said Israel had confined Palestinian civilians to the combat zone in Gaza, a unique move which should be outlawed.”

This is a unique idea, trapping a people in a combat zone which may be their homes, but they still want to leave. Traditionally in history, at least as I understand it, civilians are allowed to evacuate war zones,  because they are only in danger of being accidently killed for no real reason. If this is true, it is almost like Israel wants to trap innocent civilians in the combat zone, both as a morale weapon and as a tool to put more Palestinians in danger.

On the surface, this is almost comical, in the vein of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. The concept of not letting innocent people travel freely so as to escape war seems completely ridiculous, almost like a joke on the nonsensical nature of war. I understand why Israel would want to do this from a military strategy point of view, but it seems like basic human compassion would let these repressed people seek sanctuary somewhere else.  If Vonnegut was alive to hear about this, I can only imagine the story he could craft. It seems like Israel is keeping an entire people captive in a very small area, like sheep in a pen. I wonder what Israel’s real intentions are with this, but hopefully the international community can rally around the crime that this really is.

Making It Through In One Mental Piece

April 14, 2009

One aspect of war that has always been interesting to me, and has been a theme of the course throughout the semester, has been how people that are involved in war, particularly soldiers, grapple with their experiences mentally both during and after the conflict. In The Things They Carried, I love the passage towards the beginning of the book where it is desribed what all the soldiers carry as  a “necessity,” meaning what each soldier brings to remain healthy mentally and physically. “Until he was shot, Ted Lavender carried 6 or 7 ounces of dope, which for him was a necessity. Mitchell Sanders, the RTO, carried condoms. Norman Bowker carried a diary. Rat Kiley carried comic books.”

Each soldier brings one important item that they would think is important,t that would remind them of home even when they are so far away, fighting a gruesome war in Vietnam. In contrast, battle fatigue and trauma are not only a mental challenge, but they can be physical at the same time. In my fellow classmate’s blog “God’s Away on Business,” the author describes the trauama that Palestinian refugees in Lebanon experience every day of their lives, by saying “Lebanon has over 400,000 Palestinian refugees within its borders, making up 10% of the country’s total population. Having spent most of their lives in U.N. camps throughout the country, they are some of the most repressed people in the world. Because of their nationality they are refused jobs and benefits many of the natural born citizens of Lebanon are given. They are also unable to return to their homes in Israel because: their homes no longer exist, their national papers have been destroyed, and most importantly the governing bodies in Israel refuse to allow them to do so.”

No matter how successfully these people can deal with the war mentally, they cannot change the fact that they arew homeless, and may be homeless for their entire lives.  This isn’t just mental trauma, this is very real, sustained physical trauma. These people are resilient, just like the soldiers in Vietnam, but at least the American soldiers have a home to return to if they manage to survive.


April 14, 2009

War affects everyone that it touches, and in a trying and terrible way. Men are forced to fight them, women are forced to help win them, and families are forced to hold their breaths, hoping against hope that their loved ones will not be claimed by war’s senseless hammer. The BBC did a great story called “Little hope in Gaza aftermath” ( In the story, the Palestinians of Gaza are living life, essentially prisoners in the Gaza Strip because their neighbors, Egypt and Isreael, will not allow them to come in one way or the other. Israel limits the building materials and other supplies that come through, so many people are forced to permanently live in tents until the restrictions are lifted.

The civilians are always adversely affected while everyone else is off fighting the war, and the same is true in A Long Way Gone. Mattru Jong is a peaceful, normal town that minds its own business, but when there are rumors that the rebel army will soon reach the town, “With the absence of so many people, the town became scary, the night darker, and the silence unbearably agitating…The majority of the town’s population was in hiding for a week.”

When the rebels finally did arrive at Mattru Jong, they burned the village, killed and pillaged most everyone there, and everyone left after they came through pretty much had a smoldering ruin to call their home. When Israel bombed the life out of Gaza earlier this year, people lost their homes, and don’t even have the chance to rebuild them. When a war or conflict drags on for so long, people can lose hope for leadin the lives that they once lived. Whether it is in the Middle East or in Africa, war affects everyone, not just the soldiers who fight it. Destruction can ruin the livelihoods of virtually anyone in the war zone, and in A Long Way Gone, as well as the Israeli-Palestinian, that includes pretty much everyone.

The Things a War Does

April 14, 2009

One of the more fascinating, and disturbing things that have been a constant through the semester are the truly terrible things that war can make people do, especially people who are otherwise very civilized, reasonable people. In the New York Times article from April 10, titled “Suicide Attack Kills 5 G.I.’s and 2 Iraqis in Northern City,” the story is told of how insurgent Iraqi’s, fighting for what they believe is just and moral, packed a truch with 2,000 pounds of explosives and ran directly into an entrance to a military base, killing five Amerivcan servicemen and two Iraqi security personnel. 70 people were also hurt in the blast, including many innocent residents.

In A Long Way Gone, similar terrifying things happen to Ishmael and his fellow children who are trapped in the civil war of Sierra Leone. In the book, an older lieutenant explains to a group of people why they must fight against the “rebels” by saying “They have lost everything that makes them human. They do not deserve to live. That is why we must kill every single one of them. Think of it as destroying a great evil. It is the highest service you can perform for your country.”

Because of this speech, and how they were forced to after it, small children who were completely innocent, if underprivleged, are forced to take up arms against other small children. They become murderers. Just like in Iraq, people who grow up innocently are somehow shaped by their environments, the people around them, and the events that affect that, and can temporarily become monsters capable of almost inhuman cruelty. This is reinforced by the fact that after Ishmael was able to leave the war and make it to the United States, he became civilized, intelligent, and passionate about the issue of child soldiering. When he came to Grand Valley to speak, it was hard to imagine the same boy murdering others. War can truly shape people in a way that nothing else can.’s%20and%202%20Iraqis%20in%20Northern%20City&st=cse