Why you should never forget Iraq, pt. 34243


“With my brother in the mental state he’s in since Iraq, nothing would surprise me.”

That’s Matt Needham talking about his brother, a 25-year-old who reportedly served two Army tours in Iraq before coming home to a plush San Clemente condo and allegedly beating his 19-year-old girlfriend to death.

The Orange County Register reports that deputies fought with the unidentified suspect and used a stun gun to apprehend him before searching the home and finding the unconscious 19-year-old woman, who was taken to Mission Hospital where she died at 12:15 a.m., said Orange County Sheriff’s spokesman Jim Amormino.

Amormino confirmed the victim was the suspect’s girlfriend. The suspect lived in the condo with his father and brother.

KTLA Morning News interviewed Matt Needham at the scene this morning.

“He’s been really mentally unstable for the past few months,” he said of his brother, who was taken to Orange County Jail. “He’s no good since he got back, I’ll be honest.”

Needham said he knew a breakup with the girlfriend could be bad, but he “never saw this coming.”

“He’s my brother, we grew up in the crib together, I love him like no other … and it’s sad to know the person closest to me to completely write them off because they are crazy is sad.”

The point is not about the validity of being in Iraq or not. The point is not about which candidate should be elected or not based on their feelings about Iraq.

The point, simply, is this:

From this report, the clear sense is that a veteran should have received some help. It is not clear where, what or how this help should have been given, or even if it was something that was noticed. Perhaps it couldn’t’ve been. This could all be sad, sorrowful chance that was unavoidable no matter what could have been seen, and what has happened cannot be undone.

This story has already repeated itself too many times. Murders, suicides at worst, sad slides into depression, destruction, more. The casualty count from Iraq only counts so much.

If the necessity is for better training, more help, more assistance, more awareness — anything, everything that can or should be done to help — then it must be done. We, as a nation, as citizens, must see to it. Veterans themselves should be aware of their options. The government must — as a matter of principle — help in all ways possible, to help those who cannot help themselves, to provide assistance to those who can. And so must we.

Said it before and say it again — if you support our presence in Iraq, you support what must be done to help men and women in tragic situations like this, you do not write them off and ignore them, you HELP — in whatever way you can.

And if you do not support our presence there — and for many different reasons I do not — then you support what must be done to help men and women in tragic situations like this, you do not write them off and ignore them, you HELP — in whatever way you can.

There are no ifs, ands or buts about this. It is obvious we must all deal with what must be done in our lives. But as appropriate, as the time is found, you help.

And you should not need reminders of broken bodies and minds, of tragedy and murder, to do so.

While there are many possible resources to investigate, I suggest the Veterans Affairs Advocate blog, run by a Maine blogger named Greg Marlett, for numerous articles, links to organizations there to assist veterans, and ways to contribute.

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Some quick links for a Monday

If you’re at all interested in following my delicious.com feed (nothing to do with food, much) you’ll see I’ve been using that more recently to flag random stories of interest, usually mainstream media ones that I stumble across. Here are three I’ve just added right now, as examples:

  • A Washington Post story on modern feminism and sexual violence in India.
  • Another WP story, this one on John McCain, George W. Bush and how the former has to be seen as continuing from and totally distinct from the latter at the same time in order to succeed in the election.
  • An NY Times piece on the continuing impact of concussions as long-term injuries for troops who’ve served in Iraq. Essential reading.

In all cases the idea is not to say that each piece is deathless lit, merely something to note and keep in mind. There’s always more to learn, and consider.

A Sunday summary

Lots of things have been piling up and I’m still plowing through some work and errands to run today — then the next two days will be pretty heavy at work before I fly out for Terrastock on Wednesday. I’ll be doing some sort of blogging on the road, more on that later, just maybe not as actively!

So for now, some quick thoughts and a couple of links:

  • It is perhaps perversely appropriate that as we move into the final months of the current presidency the battleground where it all started following 9/11, Afghanistan, now proves itself to be on shaky ground once more. Complaining about how it seems the US has given up trying to find Osama bin Laden ignores the history of the region — the whole point is that it is easy to hide there, after all, and any student of past occupations of the area over the centuries can be summed up as ‘thin veneer of control in the cities, a lot more up in the air anywhere else.’ And we see it again, and only the historically blind should be surprised.
  • Meanwhile, Iraq. To repeat a point once more — wanting there to be more chaos and death means to be a fool, so I’m certainly pleased as punch that things are relatively calmer. And yet:

    The announcement came as Iraqi officials deployed tens of thousands of security forces across southern Iraq in response to the creation of the new Sadr group. The new secret paramilitary wing, which Sadr called “the special companies,” might start launching attacks within the next week, his aides said.

    In the holy city of Najaf, officials said 20,000 Iraqi soldiers and police officers were being put on high alert and deployed to protect the Imam Ali shrine and the grand ayatollahs. They said an additional 17,000 security forces were deployed in and around the nearby holy city of Karbala.

    And in the eastern city of Amarah, a stronghold of the Sadr movement, Iraqi forces massed in preparation for an operation against Shiite militiamen. U.S. officials have said Amarah, the oil-rich capital of Maysan province, is used as a center for smuggling weapons from Iran.

    Speaking about provincial elections, which are scheduled for this fall, aides to Sadr said the movement would support “technocrats and independent politicians” to prevent rival political parties from dominating local governments. But they said the movement would not put forward its own candidates.

    That ain’t stable. Combined with Maliki essentially saying ‘Would the US kindly stop thinking that theirs is the only wishes which should be heeded’ and the next few months will be interesting — in a very sad way, I suspect. We can but wait.

  • I have written bad headlines before. (I’ve written much more bad stuff than merely headlines.) But whoever came up for the headline for this NY Times story on a band I am sublimely indifferent towards, My Morning Jacket — “Out of the Comfort Zone, Into the Wild Rock Yonder” — deserves derision. That ranks up there with the instantly-moronic term ‘y’allternative’ from however long ago now.
  • Finally, a bit in this story about the imminent start to gay marriage in California on Tuesday that I think sums things up very well:

    “Straight people enter into dating and courtship with marriage always out there as a possibility throughout the relationship,” he said. “It wasn’t even a possibility for us, and then all of a sudden there’s this looming question: Do we want to get married? It’s this whole new commitment I hadn’t really thought about.”

    For gay couples, he said, the decision carries pressure to act quickly, since marriage will no longer be an option if a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage passes in November.

    “I think this whole marriage thing is causing more anxiety and fights among gay couples than anything has before,” he said.

    It’s a new frontier for a lot of folks. I still remember the words of an old roommate of mine in college, Steve, who was the first openly gay member of ASUCLA and who looked forward to the day when something like this might happen. I suspect he’s both thrilled and maybe a little surprised right about now, wherever he’s at. Hope he’s well.

Remember — and remember those still here

Memorial Day weekend is both a moment of celebration and reflection — which of course sounds contradictory, but that’s the nature of holidays. Griping about how people miss the ‘true meaning’ of the day to my mind is a bit pointless, simply because all official holidays are like that to one degree or another — the whole point is you don’t have to work on the day and therefore you can relax, which is what most of humanity wants to do anyway.

That sounds a bit dismissive, I realize, but as longtime readers know, I’m the product of a military family, and therefore I don’t take Memorial Day lightly at all. My dad’s uncle died in France in World War II, for example, while my mom’s father served in the Navy during the war, and his experiences there might well have contributed to his untimely passing when she was young — and of course my dad himself served in the Navy for thirty years after graduating from Annapolis, etc. For me to say ‘it’s just a holiday’ would be ridiculous. Still, we each negotiate the question of remembrance and the importance of the day as we do, and I am always quietly but profoundly grateful that my dad never found himself on a casualty list, or that I only knew him through photographs and others’ memories.

One who did find himself on a casualty list is the focus of a moving piece today over at the NY Times, Shurvon Phillip is his name:

In Iraq’s Anbar Province, in May 2005, Shurvon, who joined the Marine reserves seven years earlier at 17, partly as a way to pay his community-college tuition, was riding back to his base after a patrol when an anti-tank mine exploded under his Humvee. The Humvee’s other soldiers were tossed in different directions and dealt an assortment of injuries: concussions, broken bones, herniated discs. Along with a broken jaw and a broken leg, Shurvon suffered one of the war’s signature wounds on the American side: though no shrapnel entered his head, the blast rattled his brain profoundly.

In the explosion’s aftermath, Shurvon was airlifted to the American military’s hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, and then to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where Gail saw him for the first time since he was sent to war a few months before. By that point a portion of the left side of his skull had been cut away to relieve the pressure of the casing of bone against his swelling brain. “His head,” she told me, “looked like a ball with the air half out of it.” She was confronted, too, with a CT scan taken by the hospital. “I didn’t do much biology, but I’m thinking, That’s not a brain I’m looking at,” she said, describing her reaction. “Everyone has a right hemisphere and a left hemisphere, but this didn’t look like that. Do you remember Play-Doh? When children play with Play-Doh” — she slammed her palms together to demonstrate — “it’s just a gray blob. That was Shurvon’s brain.”

This is not a place for political discussion on the rights and wrongs of Iraq — I’ve said my piece and will continue to say it elsewhere on here as I see appropriate, so shall we all. The noting of the human cost — and this is one person among many, each case the story of an individual going through something that hopefully most of us will never, ever have to — is enough; the story in full says much more as to what that involves, and I strongly encourage you to read it.

I sense through this story, filtered through my thoughts on and observations of young servicemen and women in general, that Phillip would be profoundly embarrassed by this level of personal attention through the story to one degree or another — that he would rather we all focus on others he might feel were in worse situations, or on the memories of those he knew that were no longer here, or on the struggles of his family to see him through to the best of their abilities. But his thoughts and conclusions, above all else, are his own, and I do hope that he will yet be able to say them much more clearly. Strange to say, but this is a story of hope in the end, one that demonstrates that terrible truth that war does provide more in the way of medical advances, as new techniques and the reapplication of other ones provide possible routes forward.

But it is still one step at a time. Yet remember him, and remember them all who serve and have served. No placing on pedestals, please, no plaster saints, no projections of hyperpatriotism — but neither insults, mockery, smug senses of superiority, jocular dismissals. Those who serve are neither automatically elevated nor degraded by their choices, they are human, they have taken a particular path, and like us all must live with their decisions, sometimes with conviction and sometimes with regret. This is life.

And Phillip lives. Long may he.

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A nice bit of news from the Belgravia Dispatch

Folks who have visited my blog over the moons and clicked on the political site links might well have wondered why I’d been linking to a blog which hadn’t been updated since January 2008. As I mention in this old post of mine, the blog which Greg Djerejian runs, the Belgravia Dispatch, had long been a favorite of mine for these reasons:

…having begun with fierce arguments in favor of the need for the Iraq invasion, he found himself increasingly disgusted with the results and has for some years now delved into some often incredibly detailed (and very interesting for that reason) analyses of the stances of the main actors and rhetoricians involved, as well as the reports in general from the field. It is foreign policy-heavy but not solely, and the length of some of his posts makes this one I’m writing seem short, but that is precisely why I like it.

He also got the incredibly obnoxious Mark Levin riled up enough once to get him to post a ranting comment on the blog, which to my mind is a sign of success in general.

Anyway, tipped off by John at Balloon Juice, I’ve learned Greg’s posted a new update explaining his silence (keep in mind he and his wife had a baby last year!), as well as pointing to some ideas for the future:

In coming weeks/months I promise to better explain what I can honestly represent might be in store here at B.D., but I’m afraid professional and family commitments look set only to become more intense, not less, which doesn’t necessarily bode well for this space. Still, don’t count me out just yet, since the inception of this blog back in Belgravia in early 03 I’ve enjoyed the freedom to post on matters foreign policy, and being able to wade into policy debates on occasion remains important to me. But to blog with the requisite frequency and depth takes tremendous energy, and I’m afraid even super-human efforts would have me coming up short hours-wise. So, a different way forward will need to be determined, and I’ll be thinking through the ‘hows’ better once I come up for air.

He concludes with a link to a blog I’ve heard recommendations about from elsewhere, the Big Picture, so I’ll similarly pass that on without further comment. Anyway, good to hear back from him.

Hell has frozen over — Karl Rove and I agree on something

As I’ve kept saying — Iraq, economy, and those factors will decide the election in the end.

So today there’s this (mind you, as I muttered yesterday, any time I see the word ‘brand’ now my eyes glaze over):

Why is it tough sledding for Republicans? Public revulsion at GOP scandals was a large factor in the party’s 2006 congressional defeat. Some brand damage remains, as does the downward pull of the president’s approval ratings. But the principal elements are the Iraq war and a struggling economy.

He then adds later:

Has the bottom been reached? It’s too early to know. But Americans are acknowledging progress in Iraq, economists are suggesting the economy will be in better shape this fall, and a recent ABC/Washington Post poll found GOP identification rising.

Vague sentiments all but at least prefaced with the ‘too early to know,’ which is the core part. And there’s other stuff in the piece which is of general interest — otherwise, though, he’s coming pretty close to what I said a few weeks back:

  • If some combination of Iraq and the economy, or even one of them, gets so noticeably bad that the implications are inescapable, the GOP gets the blame because of the current inhabitant of the White House. McCain loses, the Democratic candidate wins.
  • If Iraq and the economy both maintain themselves at the level they are at now — causing discontent and some concern but not otherwise going obviously and immediately to hell in a handbasket, yet — then barring some complete disaster on his part, which I don’t rule out at all, McCain wins. He wins in a close election perhaps, but he wins.

Karl Rove in general is a bit like Rush Limbaugh, referring to my post just previous to this one — if you build him up as some sort of fearful overlord, he becomes that, at least in your head. He got out while the getting was good and is probably chortling at most everybody right now still at the White House. I might have thought of him as an arch-schemer at one point, now I think he’s a biased tea-leaf reader (hey, so am I, in my own small way).

And maybe we’re both totally wrong in the end — but it is refreshing to see someone on the right saying this rather than saying something like “We didn’t make our case clearly enough!” Trust me, all y’all did that already — which explains so much.

Random politically minded thoughts on a Thursday

A lot of amusing/interesting things in the last twenty four hours, actually, and while I was all geared up to talk about one or two in details, better just to do a catch-all in this instance:

  • The big news right this hour is the California decision on gay marriage, ruling that current state marriage laws discriminate. Personally I’ve long felt this was overdue, at the same time while I think ‘judicial activism’ is a wonderfully lame complaint — after all, it’s only ‘activism’ if it’s a decision you don’t like, and all but one of the justices was a Republican appointee anyway — I think there’s a larger point to be had regarding getting the right to gay marriage confirmed via a larger vote somehow. In Massachusetts this was done via the legislature; attempts here going that route have not been forthcoming yet but maybe third time will be the charm. Given the planned November initiative out amend the state constitution to disallow gay marriage, though, that’s one to watch — I suspect it would now be defeated where the original proposition on the matter in 1994 won with 61%. This in itself wouldn’t be a vote for gay marriage, of course, but it would knock the wind out of the sails of those saying that’s all down to the judges. Anyway, early days yet.
  • Rush Limbaugh has long been one of those people who I realized gains influence if you actually pay attention to him. John McCain figured this out a while back and has been having fun with it ever since, which is what makes this snippet of broadcast yesterday interesting, specifically this bit:

    We’re not going to vote for [Obama]. We’re not going to vote for Hillary. We wouldn’t vote for Al Gore. For some of us the question is, are we going to vote at all? But it’s entirely possible, this newly constituted Republican Party which stands for nothing but liberalism lite might end up winning because a lot of the country might look at this socialist bunch the Democrats are offering and say pooey, and want no part of it, and then where are we?

    Ignoring all his usual shtick, what’s interesting about this statement is the implied personal fear — it’s not so much ‘then where are we?’ as it is ‘then where am I?’ Combined with a lot of the malaise and complaints about the GOP I touched on yesterday — the generally head-scratch-worthy Mark Steyn put it succinctly today by saying “John McCain has decided in effect to run for president as an Independent. And, given the assumptions about the diminished appeal of the Republican brand, that might not be a bad idea…” — it will be fascinating to see over these next few months how much of this is simple and ultimately distracting kvetching that the left would too easily fall for (I remain convinced this is most of it) and how much of it is a certain group of self-described non-political purists who, having shaped the debate and perception of the GOP as others regard it all this time, find themselves squashed by the history they claim to boldly stand athwart. Way, way too early to say for sure, though.

  • Oddly enough, though, both Steyn and Iain Murray at NRO ended up today talking about something I’ve long wondered about, reacting to something interesting in a speech by McCain — the institution of the equivalent of Question Time, a core part of British and British-derived political processes, in particular what is known as Prime Minister’s Questions. To quote McCain:

    “I will ask Congress to grant me the privilege of coming before both houses to take questions, and address criticism, much the same as the prime minister of Great Britain appears regularly before the House of Commons….When we make errors, I will confess them readily, and explain what we intend to do to correct them,” McCain said. He also reiterated a pledge to hold weekly news conferences, a change from President George W. Bush’s practice of holding them roughly once a month.

    This is extremely canny of him, and also very welcome. The news conference point — which I admit I was previously unaware of — is a crucial step on its own in terms of PR, Bush having dug his own grave quite thoroughly with his sporadic and contemptuous appearances, though at the same time it all might be less striking than realized given McCain’s canny cultivation of the media over time — it would be a way to be more ‘public’ without having to risk much. Arguably Congressional appearances would be similar, at least in the Senate (the House, that would be…different).

    But in an era where there is a sense of wanting to know and participate more in the larger decisions of government, and where the means for it are available, something like Question Time could be of great interest. Murray’s analysis of it, if brief, notes the constitutional questions involved while arguing it could be of great help on a department/Cabinet secretary level, while Steyn suggests the Australian model would be the way to go. Neither folks are people who I agree on with much about anything else, but even so, I’m convinced there’s something here to consider down the line.

  • And finally, the other big McCain thing of the day, so far at least:

    In a speech in the heart of Ohio, a major battleground state in the fall election, Mr. McCain set forth a sweeping, extraordinarily positive vision of what the world will look like 2013, when he says he will have been in the White House for four years.

    “By January 2013, America has welcomed home most of the servicemen and women who have sacrificed terribly so that America might be secure in her freedom,’’ Mr. McCain said at the Columbus Convention Center. “The Iraq War has been won. Iraq is a functioning democracy, although still suffering from the lingering effects of decades of tyranny and centuries of sectarian tension. Violence still occurs, but it is spasmodic and much reduced.’’

    I will quote John at Balloon Juice on this one and leave it at that:

    McCain isn’t even President yet and he is dumping it off on another administration in 2013. That is all kinds of awesome.

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