Friday, April 29, 2005

Affix a Yellow Ribbon to That Old SUV

Trivia 101 on the Iraq War:
· Has anyone been keeping a recent count of the number of American soldiers that have been killed in Iraq?
If you answered that correctly, you may proceed to the next question:
· How many American soldiers have been wounded in Iraq?
If you’re up on your war news, you may advance:
· What is the estimated percentage of soldiers returning with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
· How many soldiers have committed suicide in Iraq?
· How many soldiers have committed suicide since returning home?
Finally, for the grand prize:
· How many are estimated to be in the IBC Iraqi Body Count?
(The answers to all of these questions will appear at the bottom of this article).

According to a report buried close to the back of The Kansas City Star this morning, where we receive news about the Iraq War, the Department of Defense has finally released the images taken of flag draped coffins carrying our nation’s dead home from Iraq and Afghanistan. This action is in response to Freedom of Information requests.
The article did not say if these images will be displayed on the news as more coffins arrive home, nor could the article tell us what, if any effect these images will now have on the American public.
As we drive around in our gas guzzling SUV’s (yes, I drive a small SUV too out of necessity to get to our remote cabin, but I want a hybrid), with the yellow magnetic stickers affixed that say, “Support our Troops,” I have to wonder what these people are doing to support our troops.
With memories of Vietnam still prevalent in most people’s minds, does this mean simply not protesting the war and not showing up to spit on soldiers when they return home? For people who oppose the war, does this mean showing up on the Plaza every Sunday afternoon to pray for peace and pray that these soldiers come home alive and in one piece? Or does it just mean draping these words on our cars?
More needs to be done. Although we have a large number of Veteran’s in this country who have seen the horrors of war first hand, America is still woefully uninformed about the real cost of wars, especially when they are usually waged on foreign soil.
For the most part, Americans have gone about their daily lives, maybe taking the time to read newspapers, magazine and international online articles about the war in Iraq. But I guess that what the majority of the public knows about the war is contained in a five-minute spot on the evening news (or worse yet, FOX Views).
Kudos can go to the people who have organized drives to send letters of support to help keep morale high; care packages to send some basic needs our government should be providing them and people who have organized charitable drives for the civilians caught in the cross fire. Kudos can even go to the people who send their daily prayers.
However, there is something more that needs to be done for these Vets when they return home. According to an article in the L.A. Times, many doctors and other professionals within our own VA system are saying that our VA mental health system is overburdened. It was bursting before the Iraq War, mostly with Vietnam Veterans, but that new federal cutbacks, along with the rise in new Veterans seeking treatment is causing an emergency within the system. I’ve read other articles that describe the VA health system as being at the “breaking point” and “ready to collapse.” Dr. William Wishing, a psychiatrist for the VA system in L.A. was quoted in the L.A. Times article as saying: “It’s absurd how much they’ve cut-and it’s absurd how much they continue to cut.” That hospital has went from being able to accommodate 450 psychiatric patients per day down to 90. “They” refers to our lawmakers, most of whom are happy to play “God Bless America” and wear little American flag pins to show their support for our troops during election season.
Is this how we want to “support our troops?” America needs a wake up call and so do our lawmakers. American citizens who claim to support our troops need to demand that these same soldiers are supported when they come home.
The flag draped coffins are only part of the story. We need to open our eyes to the walking wounded as well.
Until this mental health crisis is viewed as an American problem that affects us all, rather than just a Veteran’s problem, or just a government problem, I’m afraid that Americans will continue riding along in their yellow-ribboned-SUV’s, oblivious to the world around them.
American Dead in Iraq as of 4/29/05: 1,574
American Wounded in Iraq: 11,664 (although watchdog groups say this could be as high as 20,000)
Estimated Number of Iraq War Veterans returning with PTSD: 14 percent and climbing
Number of American Soldiers Who Have Committed Suicide in Iraq: 13
Number of Soldiers Who Have Committed Suicide Since Returning Home: 25
Number of Iraqi Civilians Killed Since 2003: 21,000-24,000
(Numbers were gathered from,,

Friday, April 22, 2005

Spitting Just as Wrong 30 Years Later-Even if it is Hanoi Jane

I’m not a fan of Jane Fonda’s. Then again, I’m not a fan of the Vietnam War, either.
Still, what Vietnam Veteran Michael Smith did this week by spitting tobacco on Fonda at her book signing in Kansas City was appalling. He disgraced himself as a gentleman and a Marine.
(Just as wrong is pie throwing and anything else that constitutes assault by anyone on any side of the political aisle. Fight your battle with words and non-threatening protest, that’s what “Free Speech” means).
Smith brought to the forefront once again, in the national spotlight, of why people outside of K.C. view our fine Mid-western town as a “Cow town.”
I admit, when you’re brought up in a family that runs deep with military blood, as I was, it’s hard to get over the fact that the young Jane Fonda made nice with the North Vietnamese and posed for pictures on top of weapons that were killing our young soldiers.
However, although right wing conspiracy theorists (including Charlton Heston, who wrote a book about it) like to blame everything that went wrong in Vietnam on the vast left wing liberals and their anti-war efforts, not every challenge our soldiers faced during the war or after had anything to do with how most of the people felt about the war –or had anything to do with “Hanoi Jane,” as Veterans call her.
And this just isn’t tripe coming from one of those unpatriotic, Godless left-wingers, who, if I hadn’t been just a tot during Vietnam, probably would have been one of those war protestors myself.
My family was one of those that paid the ultimate price for Vietnam. My brother, Steve, fought there and although he returned breathing, he left his soul. (I know, it may come as a great shock to fanatical right-wingers, but yes, Liberal blood runs red, white and blue too).
Steve was intelligent and witty when he left for the Army at age 17 in 1969. The worst trouble Steve had gotten into was that of most teens: skipping school, drinking and staying out too late.
When Steve came home from Vietnam, where he served as a gunner in an artillery unit, he had a heroin addiction and suffered from early signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Our family didn’t recognize his new sullen personality. None of this can be blamed on Hanoi Jane, since Steve came home a few months before her now infamous trip.
Michael Smith has been in print and on television (Has Bill O’Reily and FOX Views gotten him on yet?) defending his actions by saying that he suffers from PTSD and the effects of Agent Orange. And this is Jane Fonda’s fault because…..
As I write in the book about my brother’s life after the war (‘No Immediate Threat: the story of an American Veteran,’ read the prologue on my website, Vietnam was a long series of bad policy dating back 400 years. Unfortunately and tragically, it culminated with the Cold War and resulted in 58,000 Immediate American casualties.
The truth is, Vietnam was a mess long before Jane Fonda set foot on North Vietnamese soil. Fonda did not give ready access to opium and heroin to our troops at $1 a hit, nor did she hypnotize our soldiers into believing they experienced the horrors of war so they would come home with PTSD. She didn’t spray Agent Orange laced herbicide throughout a land that still suffers the effects of the cancer-causing agent.
Fonda simply believed what the majority of the nation by 1972 believed: The war was wrong, it was costing too many lives and it needed to end.
Did she commit treason by visiting North Vietnam or did she just use her celebrity and resources and make a terrible judgment? Since she was never convicted, much less tried for treason, it boils down to terrible judgment. She admits it, she apologizes for it during almost every single public appearance and she says she regrets it.
It’s more of an apology than the Veterans and their families have received from members of the U.S. government regarding their bad judgment for putting us there in the first place.
Fonda has taken her place in history. Instead of actually being everything that was wrong in Vietnam, she has come to symbolize it. Her grace under fire for refusing to press assault charges against Smith shows she has come to accept that.
No one knows better than my family that the war will never be over for some of these Veterans. But how can Veterans and their families condemn people who spat in our face and the faces of our loved ones when they came home and then praise what Smith did to Fonda this week?
Where will it end?

Friday, April 15, 2005

Terrorism: Is it Really US vs. Them?

There will be no Guantanemo Bay for Eric Rudolf. No label affixed to him as an “enemy combatant,” or “jihadist” and ironically, no death penalty for a man who smugly admits to killing a woman at Olympic Park with a bomb in Atlanta in 1996, killing a police officer in a separate bomb at a women’s clinic in Birmingham and maiming and wounding hundreds of others during his 1990’s reign of terror.
Ironic because the country’s current President is the former Governor of Texas who oversaw more deaths on his State’s death row than any other sitting Governor in recent history. Ironic because just a few short years ago, this President’s pick for Attorney General, John Ashcroft, insisted that federal prosecutors seek the death penalty whenever possible.
Where is the radical right protestors who believes in the death penalty for any and all killers?
As a matter of fact, although he killed and maimed more people than did Scott Peterson, Rudolf has received far less press and the public seems to care far less as well.
Is it because Rudolf is a self-proclaimed “Army of God” member, a segment of the far right Christian movement in this country that believes it is perfectly acceptable to use violence to get across their message that abortion and homosexuality is morally unacceptable to them?
First, let’s take a look at Rudolf’s innocent victims.
· In July 1996, Rudolf set off a bomb at Atlanta’s Olympic Park, killing Alice Hawthorne, a 44-year-old mother. In the attack, 100 others were wounded.
· In 1997, he set off a bomb at a women’s clinic and a lesbian nightclub in Atlanta.
· In his deadliest attack, he set off two bombs an hour apart at a women’s clinic in Birmingham. The blast killed Robert Sanderson, an off duty police officer guarding the clinic. Emily Lyons, a nurse at the clinic, lost an eye in the blast.
Rudolf was a member of the shadowy extremist group “Army of God” and he told the judge during his plea agreement this week that he set off the Olympic Park bomb to embarrass a government in a country that allows abortion on demand. His smug demeanor told the public he gave no thought to the excruciating grief and pain he inflicted on his victims.
Kent Alexander, the U.S. attorney in Atlanta at the time of the bombings was quoted by CNN as saying he was surprised by the plea agreement, which will send Rudolf to prison for the rest of his life. He said although he was sure the Bush administration wanted a death sentence in a domestic terrorism case, he said that he didn’t think the administration “necessarily wanted to make a martyr out of Eric Rudolf.” Why? Because he claims to be a Christian instead of claiming to be a Muslim?
Alexander cited “cultural factors” such as opposition to abortion that could have made a death sentence difficult to obtain.
Over the past 3 ½ years, since the terrorist attacks of 9-11, the American people,
have accepted that there is an extremist block of people claiming the Muslim faith who are engaging in a self-proclaimed jihad against the West. We look at the 9-11 terrorist attacks and the Madrid bombing and shake our heads and say “How terrible. How could anyone kill in the name of their God?” We look at people of darker skin with suspicion and we wonder just how many of “them” there are.
We conveniently forget that prior to 9-11, the worst act of domestic terrorism until that time was perpetrated by a single white male, a member of the radical far right militia movement. And we ignore Eric Rudolf.
Is it because we, as Americans, the majority of whom have been raised as Christians know that these people are anomalies to our faith? Or is it because they look like the majority of the rest of us?
Recent events in the U.S., including the gay marriage ban movement, which has now passed in 39 states and the disturbing indifference to Rudolf and his crimes should have us fearing how many of “us” are out there.
Truth be known, “we” pose a more serious threat than “them.”

Saturday, April 09, 2005

We're Not All Right in Kansas

Kansas and Missouri made it through the “off” election season.
Not surprisingly the ballot initiative to ban gay marriage passed easily in Kansas. And not even more surprisingly, the religious zealot right in the state is saying this is just the beginning of things to come. Oh, joy. I can hardly wait for the campaigns against gambling, drinking, birth control, stem cell research and abortion to get into high gear, as if it hasn’t already. And, this all from a right wing agenda that has aligned itself with a party that claims it doesn’t want government interfering in our lives. I guess they only want not to interfere if we believe as they do.
However, the gay marriage amendment initiative might have some people who voted for it complaining in the future. Even if they don’t know any people who are gay and believe that homosexuality is a “lifestyle choice” rather than part of who these people are, they might know someone or have family that is (gasp) co-habitating with someone of the opposite sex.
The Kansas ban on gay marriage is even more disturbing than Missouri’s because voters who voted “yes” for this amendment was also voting to exclude people from enjoying the benefits of domestic partnerships. No one but married people, according to the wording of the amendment, will be able to claim benefits from their partner. What does this mean for heterosexual couples that choose not to marry? No one knows for sure, but conservatives who supported the measure before April 5 were saying they didn’t think it applied to heterosexual couples and that the controversy over that portion of the amendment was a last minute “scare tactic” by liberals. Judging from people who have been writing on online blogs and those that have written letters to the editor in the papers, they’re afraid that the amendment might require them to take costly legal action to allow their partners to visit them in hospitals and make decisions in their medical care, to share equal rights with them on home and property ownership and to seek insurance benefits. Some companies, which appropriately offer benefits for domestic partners, say that their benefit programs will not be affected.
People who work with civil rights say there will more than likely be a court challenge to the amendment in the near future. Stay tuned.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Twilight Zona

Being a woman and an avid shopper, I was intrigued by the prospect of Zona Rosa, the new shopping “community” in the Northland. I call it a community because it is modeled to look like a small town. The streets are pedestrian friendly and are lined with quaint street lamps. There several free parking lots on the “outskirts” of town, but there are also parking spaces in front of the shops, complete with meters. High priced lofts above some of the shops complete the “neighborhood” feel of the area.
Zona Rosa is pretty enough, but there are some things about the feel of the small town square that just seemed, well, more like the Twilight Zona, than a real small town. When we first drove up, the first thing we saw was a huge Dick’s Sporting Goods store, where we decided to park, for its free parking.
Fair enough, many small towns now have big box stores and it made my husband happy on a trip that he wasn’t too keen on taking. The weather was beautifully mild, so we headed out for the “town square.”
Maybe it was the huge dirt berms surrounding the perimeter of the town that reminded me of hills, or maybe it was the exceptionally clean streets, but I immediately felt like I was in a tourist movie set at Universal Studios in California. I fully expected, at one point, to look up and see the infamous “Hollywood” sign on one of those berms.
Huge retail chains, some I’ve never heard of also lined “Main Street” and all of the streets in between. The other thing we immediately noticed was that most of the shops were clothing stores catering to the younger set.
Now, as a 40-something, who was recently told by my 30-something sister in law that I need to start dressing in “something a little tighter that fits me better,” I’m well aware that I’m past the tween-35 ages that retailers, advertisers on radio and television and most everyone else considers hip. Still, we 40-somethings have to wear clothes, too right?
We did see “American Eagle Outfitters” and thinking it might be some type of a “Northern Reflections” (an outdoorsy chain that I’m still mourning the passing of) type of store, we jaywalked across the street and headed in. Wrong! It was another teenybopper store full of clothes I haven’t been able to wear in a good 15-20 years. If there were any stores in the Twilight Zona that addressed me or anyone above 21, I couldn’t immediately find them.
The other thing sorely lacking in the Twilight Zona was the small town feel of the mom and pop stores. All of the shops (probably rent priced to exclude a family owned business) are national retail chains. I find it ironic that the big national retailers, which have driven out most of the mom and pop stores that used to grace real town squares in real small towns, were now imitating what they have destroyed.
It just made the place feel all the more creepy.
Unfortunately for most of the obvious target market of Zona Rosa, the younger generation, this will be the closest they ever come to seeing a small town and that is sad.
For us, the next time we have the yearning to go to a town square or browse some quaint stores and sit and have an ice cream cone while a bad band strums some tunes on a Saturday night, we’ll head out to a real small town. At least in those, we can still find some family owned antique shops and vintage jewelry and we won’t feel like we’re cast on the set of the Twilight Zone.