PBS Lets Vets Themselves Describe Life Inside the War Machine

'Going to War'Going to War. PBS. Monday, May 28, 9 p.m.

Served Like a Girl. PBS. Monday, May 28, 10 p.m.

So, an easy solution to the problem of Adderall abuse: It’s called “Afghanistan.”

“I think it’s hilarious that in America now, we have this big thing about medications and being present and all this other kind of stuff,” says a military veteran in PBS’ Going to War. “Because you’re never more present than you are in wars. Soldiers have figured this out eons ago. You have to be present to get shot at. I guarantee you are locked in.”

Going to War, produced by veteran documentarian Michael Epstein (LennoNYC) and spearheaded by commentary from war correspondent Sebastian Junger (Restrepo) and Vietnam veteran and author Karl Marlantes (What It Is Like to Go to War), is a collection of interviews with vets of U.S. wars over the past 60 years, plumbing their feelings about what to many was the most significant experience of their lives.

PBS has packaged it on Memorial Day with the peculiar but ultimately endearing tale of women back from the front, Served Like a Girl, the first directorial effort by filmmaker Lysa Heslov, airing as an episode of the Independent Lens series.

The relationship between soldiers and war is never as simple as outsiders make it out to be. Some certainly hate it. But others find a human resonance in war that otherwise eludes them: A sense of purpose, of brotherhood and even, paradoxically, of security. One vet interviewed in Going to War recalls that he felt safer in Vietnam, where “you know somebody’s got your back. In the world, it’s dog eat dog.”

That is, arguably, not a typical human response. But one of the most interesting things about the documentary is the frank admission of the soldiers—both male and female—is that they aren’t typically human, or at least weren’t when they were in the military. Going to war would be impossible, they say, if the military didn’t strip them of ordinary human sensibilities and rebuild them as a hive mind.

The whole point of basic training is aimed at obliterating any sense of individuality. “The ego, it has to go,” says one vet. When that’s accomplished, drill instructors begin levying collective punishments: If one soldier’s bunk isn’t made right, his whole unit has to do punishment marches. By the end, the vets say note approvingly, all notions of personal survivability have been erased. “The moment you have self-preserving thoughts,” says one, “everything’s going to hell.”

The near universality of the experience emerges in a segment of Going to War in which vets from different units, wars and decades are all asked the same questions and their answers edited together in a stream-of-conciousness rap. First thought upon entering a war zone: “What the hell am I doing?” Second: “What’s wrong with those guys I’m replacing?” says one. “Zoned-out zombies, a mean hard look on their face.” The third, at the sound of the first bullets: “My God, we’re being shot at.”

Within the common framework, of course, the soldiers have individual stories. One of the most chilling comes from Al Grantham, who quit his bricklaying job in Alabama to join the Marines and fight in Vietnam. Knocked senseless by a North Vietnamese bullet during the battle of Hue, he was loaded onto a stack of casualties on the back of a tank and hauled outside the city. It wasn’t until he heard a medic shout, “Hey, this one’s not dead yet”—Grantham’s first thought was, “that poor sumbitch must be hurt bad”—that he realized the rest of the passengers on the tank were corpses and the poor sumbitch was him.

Yet the thinness and easy erasability of the line between life and death were not, for many of the vets, the most frightening discovery. It was the realization that they were, in some fundamental way, broken. “You’re tired of being tired, you’re scared of being scared,” remembers one.

And a former Marine describes with agonizing calm a day in Iraq when six car-bombs exploded in 15 minutes around his unit’s urban position. When the explosions finally stopped, all that could be heard were the shrills of Iraqi women cradling their dead. The Marine officer, trying to count his men and plot his next move, could barely hear himself think. “Maybe, he wondered idly, “I could kill them to shut them up.” His next shocked thought: “What am I capable of? … My God-given conscience is not going to stop me from doing these things.”

Served Like a Girl, in the early going, seems almost whimsical by comparison. It follows the contestants in the Ms. Veteran America beauty pageant, which raises money to support homeless vets.

They seem, mostly, an ordinary collection of female twentysomethings with only the occasional crackpot loose end—notably the contestant whose mother’s nipple was pecked off by a chicken. (“He had my nipple and I had his butt,” she declares without rancor.) Backstage at the pageant, much of their conversation consists of which self-administered sex toys best stand up to the rigors of desert warfare.

But as the film continues, the scars left by their combat tours start to be revealed: Broken marriages and child-custody fights. Macabre nightmares. Crippling guilt that they walked away from an IED explosion and their companions didn’t. Not all the scars are emotional. It’s not until about a third of the way through Served Like a Girl that you realized that one principal character is missing her legs. The Miss America pageant will never look quite the same to me again.

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Amnesty Accuses Nigerian Army of Raping Women and Girls Rescued from Boko Haram

Thousands of brave women and girls who survived Boko Haram’s brutal rule while kept captive by the militant Islamist group have been raped by Nigerian soldiers who claim to be rescuing them, Amnesty International has revealed.

The human rights organisation has today urged Nigeria to act on claims that soldiers and members of the civilian militia have raped women and girls in remote camps for people displaced by Boko Haram.

Amnesty said it had gathered multiple testimonies about alleged abuse by the security forces, including claims that soldiers coerced vulnerable survivors into having sex in exchange for food.

Its report, ‘They betrayed us’, is the result of a two-year investigation, based on interviews with more than 250 people affected by the situation in north-east Nigeria.

The findings explain what happened to the hundreds of thousands of people, particularly women, who fled or were forced from areas controlled by Boko Haram. The Nigerian military ordered those it was ‘freeing’ to satellite camps, where various abuses, and even deaths, are alleged to have occurred.

The Nigerian military and Civilian Joint Task Force, a militia working alongside it, have carried out systematic patterns of violence and abuse, according to the report.

Women told Amnesty how they have been raped in exchange for food, and thousands of people, including children, have starved to death in the camps since 2015, it adds.

Security officials are alleged to have beaten women, and labelled them ‘Boko Haram wives’ when they complained about their treatment.

Women and girls, many of whom have been separated from their families, are vulnerable to sexual abuse and say rape is widespread both in and outside the camps, according to aid agencies.

Some non-profit organisations run family planning clinics, providing contraception, and say there are high numbers of sexually transmitted infections, abortions and unwanted pregnancies.

‘Scores’ of women told Amnesty that soldiers and civilian militia members coerced them into becoming ‘girlfriends’, which meant them being available for sex.

Sexual exploitation was at an ‘alarming level, as women remain desperate to access sufficient food and livelihood opportunities’, the human rights watchdog added.

Amnesty’s Nigeria director, Osai Ojigho, said: ‘Sex in these highly coercive circumstances is always rape, even when physical force is not used, and Nigerian soldiers and (militia) members have been getting away with it.’

He said it was time for President Muhammadu Buhari ‘to demonstrate his frequently-expressed commitment to protect the human rights of displaced people in northeast Nigeria.

‘The only way to end these horrific violations is by ending the climate of impunity in the region and ensuring that no-one can get away with rape or murder,’ he added.

But the government said the organisation was repeating false accusations.

‘This … is just a wild goose chase report, in essence … the report seemed like the one in 2015, and the one in 2016, and the one after that year, the same things being recycled again and again,’ presidential spokesman Garba Shehu said.

In November 2016, police vowed to look into allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation in the camps but several months later, the military rejected the allegations.

However, ‘it is not always clear if these investigations were carried out and no reports have been made public,’ the London-based human rights group said in a statement.

Nearly 1.8 million people have been displaced within Nigeria by the Boko Haram insurgency, which has killed at least 20,000 since 2009, according to the latest available figures to April 30.

When including statistics from neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger, the number of people forced to flee their homes by the violence reaches nearly 2.25 million, says the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

Military gains have wrested back control of areas previously held by the Islamist militants, laying bare the extent of the damage to farming and fishing on which most locals depend.

By the end of March, 3.5 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance, the UN said. Malnutrition cases with medical complications are expected to rise in the upcoming rainy season.

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Spike in Baton Rouge Killings Renews Concern About Outpacing 2017’s Historic Homicide Rate

After three separate killings in about seven hours during a bloody Sunday in Baton Rouge, residents and law enforcement leaders are hoping to reverse the current trend and avoid another year like 2017 — when East Baton Rouge Parish saw a historic spike in homicides at a rate outpacing Chicago’s.

“I’m surprised and disappointed at this year’s numbers so far,” said Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul. “{snip} We need help from the community to stop this culture of violence in Baton Rouge.”

The parish has seen 35 intentional and unjustified killings since the start of 2018, according to records maintained by The Advocate. That number is nine more than at this time last year when the total stood at 26.

{snip}

The three fatal shootings this weekend brought this month’s homicide tally to 10 — the highest number in one month since December. The Advocate tracks unjustified and intentional killings across East Baton Rouge Parish, but the current numbers could change in the future since some cases are still under investigation and could later be ruled justified or unintentional.

{snip}

“One of the things that stands out to me is that the community is sick and tired of these murders, and because of that they’re providing information to law enforcement,” [Paul] said. “There’s still some fear, but people are cooperating with law enforcement and we’re thankful for that.”

Chief Murphy Paul

{snip}

Paul also said he plans to reallocate department resources, adding homicide detectives and sending patrols into neighborhoods that see the most violent crime. He asked for public input on where and when that presence is most needed.

{snip}

The first killing occurred around 3 p.m. when Arvion Finley, 20, was fatally shot on Gus Young Avenue  — not far from an elementary school and across the street from a community center where dozens of people had gathered to celebrate a child’s birthday. He was pronounced dead on the scene, his body lying near the parking lot of a car wash as detectives canvassed the area and neighbors looked on.

Police arrested Robert Harrell, 40, in Finley’s death. He was booked Sunday night into Parish Prison on counts of second-degree murder, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and illegal use of weapons.

Harrell had texted Finley earlier Sunday and asked him to come by the shop to get some money, according to an affidavit of probable cause filed by Baton Rouge police. And Finley wasn’t the only one: Harrell also texted other shop employees to meet him at the location with “hammers,” which police believe to be slang for a firearm.

Harrell, of 1554 North 47th St., later told police that Finley had been threatening him and showed up at the shop with a gun, according to the affidavit. The man said he was wrestling the gun away from Finley when the weapon went off. That report is “inconsistent” with recordings of the shooting as well as several suspected gunshot wounds in Finley’s back, police wrote.

A witness who called 911 told police he was with Finley all day and did not see him with a firearm.

Robert Harrell

Just hours after Finley’s death, Baton Rouge police again responded to another fatal shooting, this time at the intersection of Main Street and North 17th Street.

Kelvin Howard, 41, was pronounced dead on the scene and another man was taken to the hospital with injuries. Both were shot outside an old bank building in a section of Mid City caught halfway between blight and redevelopment.

Police arrested Deandre Hollins on Monday after he turned himself in. Hollins was booked on counts of second-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder, illegal use of a weapon and aggravated assault.

According to Hollins’ arrest report, he was laughing and joking with the two victims but then became angry. He went to a van, armed himself with a gun and began shooting, police said in an affidavit for arrest warrant. Hollins then fled the scene in the van.

{snip}

DeAndre Hollins

The post Spike in Baton Rouge Killings Renews Concern About Outpacing 2017’s Historic Homicide Rate appeared first on American Renaissance.

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Superstition Stopping Ebola Victims from Seeking Medical Care

Health workers fighting Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo have run into an invisible but powerful hurdle — a belief system that deems the disease to be a curse or the result of evil spirits.

Some people are refusing medical care and turn instead to preachers and prayers to chase away the threat, they say.

The pastor of an evangelical church last Wednesday died several days after he “prayed” for an Ebola victim who went to him for help, a doctor said.

“Some sick people believe that the Ebola epidemic comes from sorcery — they refuse to be treated and prefer to pray,” said Julie Lobali, a nurse on the front line against the DRC’s ninth Ebola outbreak.

She is working in a hospital in Mbandaka, a port city on the Congo River in northwest DRC where the first urban case was reported last Thursday. Since the outbreak was declared in the remote area of Bikoro on May 8, 51 cases of Ebola have been reported with 27 deaths.

One superstition that has become prevalent in the city, she says, is believing that Ebola began in Bikoro as “a curse on those who ate stolen meat” — a wild animal hunted in the countryside.

Blandine Mboyo, who lives in Mbandaka’s district of Bongondjo,told AFP “a hunter put a curse on the village because his big game was stolen.”

“This curse is so powerful because it hits those who ate this meat, having heard about the theft or having seen the stolen animal,” added Nicole Batoa, a local vendor.

Another resident, Guy Ingila, observed that officials have said on the radio “this disease is incurable… It’s because it’s about witchcraft.”

For doctors and health officials these beliefs raise serious concerns, complicating efforts to contain and roll back the deadly Ebola virus.

In Geneva on Tuesday, African health officials said they were preparing to send anthropologists to the DRC to help with an Ebola vaccination campaign. A prototype vaccine will first be given to frontline health workers and then to people who have been in contact with Ebola cases.

“If we do not handle communication well, the vaccination programme may suffer,” John Nkengasong, head of Africa Centres for Disease Control (Africa CDC), told reporters in Geneva.

“So we are also assessing how in the next two weeks or so to deploy anthropologists to support the vaccine efforts.”

In DR Congo, as elsewhere in Africa, disease and death are often not looked on as natural phenomena.

“So many deaths is a sign of a curse and can only have been provoked by a bad spirit,” said Zacharie Bababaswe, a Congolese specialist in cultural history, explaining people’s perceptions of Ebola.

Before the expansion of evangelical churches in the country, Bababaswe says many Congolese would go see the witch doctor or village healer for treatment.

Today there is still widespread superstition — but, since the 1980s, it has taken a different form, with some people turning for help to a church or a pastor who claims to have healing powers.

Two people infected with Ebola from Bikoro went to the churches rather than a medical centre for help, local witnesses said. Another patient, who had been hospitalised in Mbandaka, left the medical centre to seek out a local healer, they said.

To brake the spread of Ebola, “we have to convince villagers that the disease is not a curse,” said Bavon N’Sa Mputu, an elected official from Bikoro, pointing to the key role that churches can play.

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