A Nation of Grinning, Gun-Loving Fools

For almost anyone, anywhere in our country, a gun is easier to get than treatment for mental illness…

(CNN) — The gunman who killed two others before police ended his life in a shootout near Texas A&M University had been battling mental health issues on and off for years, his mother said.

Police say Thomas Caffall, known to his family as “Tres,” killed a constable and a bystander and injured four others Monday before police fatally shot him.

His mother, Linda Weaver, said the family became worried after Caffall quit his job in January and announced that he would never work again.

“We had been very concerned about him,” Weaver told CNN.

Caffall had withdrawn from the family, and the fear was that he might attempt suicide, his mother said.

There are many parents who fear for a child who can’t get help anywhere. It’s rightly difficult to involuntarily commit a person who refuses treatment, and the abuses of the past are something we shouldn’t repeat. But the bar to help is more financial than legal. Decades of cuts to health care have reduced the options for people with mental illness and strained the organizations that offer help.

On the other hand, decades of lobbying by the NRA have removed restrictions, such as the assault weapons ban, from anyone who wants to be their own loose-cannon militia.

Jesus’ General, a satirical site that tracks the extreme right, posts page views from Thomas Caffall’s Facebook page. Did anyone who knew him see this and figure out where he was headed? It’s all too clear now.

Where are we headed, a nation served violent images– real and dramatized– every day from every screen. We’re promised war without sacrifice, where the volunteer military suffers the wounds and our smart weapons kill only the ones who deserve it.

We’re at a point where stay at home spectators get to play war games on a new reality show– a concept so imperial that a group of Nobel Peace Prize laureates have petitioned NBC to cancel this embarrassment…

Signers of an open letter to the network include Nobelists Desmond Tutu, Dr. Shirin Ebadi, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Jose Ramos-Horta, Jody Williams, Mairead Maguire, Oscar Arias Sanchez, Rigoberta Menchu and Betty Williams.

“That might seem innocuous since spectacular, high budget sporting events of all types are regular venues for airing new products, televisions shows and movies,” the Nobelists’ letter explains. “But ‘Stars Earn Stripes’ is not just another reality show. Hosted by retired four-star general Wesley Clark, the program pairs minor celebrities with US military personnel and puts them through simulated military training, including some live fire drills and helicopter drops. The official NBC website for the show touts ‘the fast-paced competition’ as ‘pay[ing] homage to the men and women who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces and our first-responder services.’

“It is our belief that this program pays homage to no one anywhere and continues and expands on an inglorious tradition of glorifying war and armed violence. Military training is not to be compared, subtly or otherwise, with athletic competition by showing commercials throughout the Olympics. Preparing for war is neither amusing nor entertaining.”

Glenn Greenwald at Salon brings back some journalistic cautions from the Iraq War, and the circular relationship between bombs and ratings. And a voice from the past…

Experiencing great fun and pulsating entertainment from sending one’s military off to war is hardly unique to our time. Adam Smith lamented this warped dynamic back in 1776 in his Wealth of Nations:

In great empires the people who live in the capital, and in the provinces remote from the scene of action, feel, many of them, scarce any inconveniency from the war; but enjoy, at their ease, the amusement of reading in the newspapers the exploits of their own fleets and armies. To them this amusement compensates the small difference between the taxes which they pay on account of the war, and those which they had been accustomed to pay in time of peace. They are commonly dissatisfied with the return of peace, which puts an end to their amusement, and to a thousand visionary hopes of conquest and national glory from a longer continuance of the war.

Now even the taxes don’t inconvenience us, unless we are of the class that is taxed by cuts in ‘entitlements’ like disability, education, and, yes, mental health.

‘Stars Earn Stripes’ cynically pretends to be a tribute to ‘our troops’. It’s better for ratings to have a celebrity wave a gun than to interview a veteran, as
Nicholas D. Kristof does in this past Sunday’s New York Times…

IT would be so much easier, Maj. Ben Richards says, if he had just lost a leg in Iraq.

A car bomb in Iraq in May 2007 left Ben Richards, then a captain, with a severe concussion. A second concussion left him with debilitating injuries.

Instead, he finds himself losing his mind, or at least a part of it. And if you want to understand how America is failing its soldiers and veterans, honoring them with lip service and ceremonies but breaking faith with them on all that matters most, listen to the story of Major Richards.

For starters, he’s brilliant. (Or at least he was.) He speaks Chinese and taught at West Point, and his medical evaluations suggest that until his recent problems he had an I.Q. of about 148. After he graduated from West Point, in 2000, he received glowing reviews.

“Ben Richards is one of the best military officers I have worked with in 13 years of service,” noted an evaluation, one of many military and medical documents he shared with me.

Yet Richards’s intellect almost exacerbates his suffering, for it better equips him to monitor his mental deterioration — and the failings of the Army that he has revered since he was a young boy.

The fact that ‘homeless veteran’ is a cliche says a lot about how we support our troops.

Just like the war tax went under the radar to be exacted in the most destructive way– eroding the foundation of social equality– the cost of war falls on a volunteer military. Traumatic brain injury is the signature wound, mental illness the invisible scar. And every year less help and more guns.

For anyone who follows the links, Salon and Jesus’ General,the picture of gun-waving celebrities grinning like fools is interchangeable with Thomas Caffall’s Facebook page. These violent outbreaks are not random and not unexplainable.

Cranking up the fear helps to sell guns, helps to build walls, helps hate groups and extremists justify their invitation to circle the wagons and retreat from a free and open public life.

Whether there’s intention, or toxic philosophies growing in a toxic spin of addiction to violence, we need truth tellers to remind us that it is a violation to put a bullet into a human being, and that war is not glorious for those who know firsthand the cost.

Memorial Day, Remembering

Sgt. Jason Ross by artist Victor JuhaszMichael D. Fay of the New York Times keeps faith…

We introduce ourselves simply. We’re war artists and have been out in the fight multiple times with you guys; living under the same conditions and capturing your combat experiences in art. We then give them our basic vision of why we’re here: You guys are still in the fight and what you do every day to recover and make the absolute best of your new reality is important to your fellow Americans. The wounded Marines get it.

The three Marines we’ll draw over these two days will allow us to observe and record them in what most would consider the worst possible conditions. One is paralyzed from the waist down; one has had 30 surgeries in the last nine weeks to put his face back together; and one has lost both legs mid-thigh and his right hand is virtually unusable. But, we know these Marines are consummate warriors, and we watch them attacking their disabilities and wounds with the same dogged determination they used every day humping the hills and fields of Afghanistan.

It’s a reminder that every day of the war in Afghanistan, every day our soldiers are in harm’s way anywhere in the world, carries a cost that they and their families will live with for the rest of their lives. Once a war is started, there is no telling the outcome or the consequences. We were too long getting our troops out of Iraq, too long in Afghanistan. May each Memorial Day remind us of the sacrifices of our veterans, and let us never again enter a war of choice.

The Joe Bonham Project is a year-and-a-half-old group dedicated to documenting the experiences of wounded service members. see the artist’s work here.

The drawing above is of Sgt.Jason Ross by artist Victor Juhasz.

The Silent Passing of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

The following is from Kmareka’s West Coast correspondent, Elaine Hirsch.

Elaine Hirsch is kind of a jack-of-all-interests, from education and history to medicine and videogames. This makes it difficult to choose just one life path, so she is currently working as a writer for various education-related sites and writing about all these things instead. Currently, she writes for onlinephd.org.

The Silent Passing of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Ten days after the solemn ceremony commemorating the tenth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks, a momentous piece of legislation was enacted in the United States. Any student of history should remember September 20th, 2011 as the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and as the beginning of a new era for gay rights in America, but instead the moment was eclipsed in the national news.

The history of DADT and its eventual repeal is an important chapter for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights community. In the all-male American military service of yore, sodomy was considered a grave violation which merited discharge, but homosexual preferences or tendencies were not specifically addressed until around World War II. Military psychiatrists deemed homosexuality a deviant behavior, and thus not suitable among servicemen. This rather extreme and disparaging view was soon eschewed and replaced by a more tacit “no sex between servicemen” regulation, although gay members of the military continued to be unfairly discharged. The issue of homosexuality in the military was mostly an afterthought during the Vietnam War era, when simply maintaining troop levels was the main concern.

The notorious cases against Fannie Mae Clackum and Leonard Matlovich of the United States Air Force led to the adoption of a policy by the Department of Defense which essentially outlawed homosexuality in the military. By the 1990s, the LGBT rights community raised awareness of this unfair policy and public opinion began to sway against the narrow-minded stance it represented.

It took the brutal murder of a gay sailor serving in Japan to bring the issue to a level of national interest. Radioman Petty Officer Third Class Allen R. Schindler, Jr. was only 22 years old when he was stomped to death by a shipmate because of his sexual orientation in 1992. The young sailor’s murder prompted presidential candidate Bill Clinton to announce his intention to repeal anti-gay military policy, but Congress quickly moved to make it federal law instead. This was a shrewd political move that forced the Clinton White House to attempt a repeal. The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy is the compromise reached in lieu of overturning the gay ban in the military.

Originally the policy was called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue.” This was the phrase chosen by sociologist Charles Moskos, who was instrumental in drafting a policy that didn’t explicitly permit homosexuals to serve in the military, but neither allowed them to be discharged as long as they “served in silence.” The original name of the policy was shortened almost as soon as the policy was adopted, but it was also known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Harass.”

As an official policy, DADT was challenged numerous times. The inadequacy of the policy was depicted in at least two films: Serving in Silence (1997) and Soldier’s Girl (2003). Serving in Silence is based on the life of Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer, an Army nurse who served in the Washington National Guard. Colonel Cammermeyer was honorably discharged in 1992 against her will when she came out as a lesbian. She appealed the discharge in federal district court and was reinstated and allowed to retire.

Soldier’s Girl portrays the tragic murder of Private First Class Barry Winchell, an infantryman in the 101st Airborne Division who was brutally murdered by a fellow soldier who believed PFC Winchell was involved in a relationship with transgendered showgirl Calpernia Addams. PFC Winchell’s murder infuriated President Clinton, who immediately ordered a review of the DADT policy. Lieutenant General Timothy Maude, a top Army officer who sympathized with the LGBT military community, personally met with PFC Winchell’s grieving parents.

The White House under President George W. Bush didn’t do much to advance the repeal of DADT, but presidential candidate Barack Obama made it a campaign promise. In 2010, efforts to repeal DADT and grant homosexuals the right to serve in the US military began in earnest. The efforts were silent but swift, and ultimately successful. The lack of news media attention shouldn’t detract from the sheer significance of the change represented by the repeal. The end of DADT marks a major achievement in the progress of civil rights in America. It may’ve passed in relative silence, but it should be remembered with fanfare.

Some Are More Equal

Some dark thoughts on a sunny third of July…

Years ago I worked in photofinishing, retouching portraits for a fast-talking photographer who had a studio at the Newport Naval Base.

I felt kind of like a spy, being a sort-of hippie, pacifist, lefty art type person. I tried to keep undercover. I had a photo ID taken for the guard at the gate, and when I forgot it I showed my husband’s college ID and got in, although we are different colors.

The commuter bus from Providence was always full. The route passed through a housing project, almost everyone in the neighborhood was Black. The Base was a more integrated workplace than any I had been in before, more young, more working-class. The military is a first step up for countless Americans, more so in hard times and the age of the ‘volunteer military’.

The Base, besides being young and integrated, was a culture unto itself. I’d go to the cafeteria and get a sandwich– super cheap and with about a pound of lunch meat crammed into it. Everyone seemed to drink beer at lunch. Even the 17-year-olds had some kind of near-beer, as the legal age was being raised from its Vietnam-era low of 18.

It was a testosterone-infused world, full of old men in uniforms exuding authority and young men trying to be somebody. My boss pushed his expensive portraits on young sailors looking for something to send the folks back home. There was a store full of military trinkets and souvenirs. One big display was cigarette lighters with macho slogans.

I remember that, a lighter that said, ‘If it doesn’t fit–force it’.

Am I being paranoid to see a threat there?

Professor Kurt Walling is on leave from the Naval War College for a lecture caught on YouTube, where it was too public an embarrassment to slip by as most such statements do…

Karl Walling’s lecture, given in May, was partly on Machiavelli’s views on leadership and insurgency and counterinsurgency.

At one point, Walling paraphrased some of Machiavelli’s theories on dealing with enemies, using Machiavelli’s famous analogy of Fortuna — Machiavelli’s term for the enemy, which he portrays as female that, according to Machiavelli, must be controlled at all costs or defeat will be certain.

And then, paraphrasing again, Walling used what the Navy called an offensive metaphor to explain Machiavelli’s belief that real leaders will take Fortuna when they want to whether or not the goddess likes it.

“What does a leader do when the b—- won’t put out? I do not mean to be vulgar, but rather to get to the heart of the matter from Machiavelli,” Walling said in the lecture. “If Fortuna will not cooperate, then make her do so. Real men, real leaders do not take no for an answer. Fortuna, said Machiavelli, is a woman, and when it is necessary if one wants to hold her down, to beat her down, moreover, she will like it.”

Women in the military are saving lives. Women are giving their lives. Just one name among the 4,411 Americans killed in Iraq as of today is Holly Charette, of Cranston, RI killed by a roadside bomb on June 23, 2005.

One wounded veteran of the war is Jessica Lynch, who served her country not only by fighting, but by refusing to lie about her capture and rescue when facts got in the way of a heroic myth invented to promote the war. One of the dead is her friend, Lori Piestawa, a Native American who joined the military to make a better life for her children.

None of our soldiers are expendable. None are second class. We owe it to all of them to renounce the bias and prejudices we tolerate in civilian life as too dangerous and disruptive to afford in life and death situations.

If Professor Walling were not caught on tape his words would just be another dig at the women in the class and a stroke to the men. It happens all the time. One way to build cohesion is to bond around race, class or gender– define who you are by who you are not. It works. It costs. From the Army Times…

The military has come under fire for repeated problems with sexual abuse at the service academies, in units stationed abroad in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan or Bahrain, and at military installations. Detainee abuse allegations have also included sexual assaults.

The Air Force Academy in Colorado is still struggling to recover from complaints that dozens of female cadets were assaulted and then punished when they reported it. And a recent survey by the Veterans Affairs Department showed that six in 10 women who served in the National Guard and Reserves say they were sexually harassed or assaulted.

Yes, we can afford to build morale by singling out some soldiers for persecution. As long as we consider some soldiers to be expendable. Wars will be fought, and victory declared. A few will suffer at the hands of those they call comrades, but most will suffer in silence. The best and the bravest women join the military. They know they will have to deal with being a minority and will have to prove themselves. They enlist to be soldiers, not victims.

A teacher who tries to be popular with a wink and a nod to the worst prejudices of his students is unworthy. He’s drawing a target on our own troops and hurting the solidarity they will need when they have to depend on each other. Women are saving lives and risking their lives. They shouldn’t have to fear their own.

We hope and pray for our soldiers to come home. We want them to get back into civilian life and be good citizens. We don’t want them to come back with harm inflicted by their fellow soldiers, or the knowledge that they have committed crimes against our own. They need good teachers and leaders.

We at home need to think of those we send every day. Their families do, but so many of us can disengage in the age of the ‘volunteer’. Every soldier who serves, abroad or at home, serves in our name. May we find our way to peace.


Happy Veterans Day to all who served, all their families and friends. May we find the way to peace. Happy Veterans Day to my Dad and Father in Law, and all the people I meet in elder care who have stories to tell.

It’s off to work today. I’m watching the health care bill move through Congress with one eye closed and my hands over my face. It’s looking less like sausage making than sausage digestion. But I have to hope that we will make things better. Remember that the Veterans need to come back to a home where there are jobs and where their families will not be dumped in some emergency room for lack of anyone who values the health of working people.

We’re all connected. We all serve. We are all needed.