Curtain Raiser

To the Boys & Girls of 2014, Colltalers

It’s been a tough for year teenagers, and we’re not talking about their choice of iPhone here. Around the world, the plight of adolescents often accurately reflected the state of their societies, either by achievement or, most likely, by the relentless sacrifice of their lives.
Using demographics to pinpoint the ills of our times may not be the most comprehensive way of going about it. But the past year has shown, with stark clarity, the kind of world we’re setting up for those we’re breeding to occupy it. And the picture is bloody.
There has never been a time when being an adolescent was easy, regardless of what a certain brand of parenting may prescribe. Since the post-Industrial Revolution era, that ever evolving segment is constantly oppressed between their innocence lost and the brutal awaking to a world mostly indifferent to their needs and aspirations. Some perished, by the dozen, while some excelled.
In the U.S. and the Americas, in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, their voices have been heard, but only briefly, and usually right before being silenced by the thunder of gun barrels and the proselytizing of homicidal leaders, pursuing their intolerant agenda.
Thus it was a small miracle that, at the year’s end, a courageous 14-year Syrian boy, Usaid Barho, refused to ignite his suicide vest inside an Iraqi mosque. For most of the months prior have been a story of lives destroyed before they even reached their 20s.
Take the U.S., for instance. Throughout the year, scores of black teenagers have been shot and killed by police, joining the ever open graves of racially-motivated murders, whose numbers are already inflated as if we were all back in segregated times.
For such an underprivileged segment of the American society, 2014 has gone to the books as a blood-red blotch, as law enforcement institutions continue to downplay their own lack of preparedness to deal with this country’s glaring racial inequalities.
Since crime has been on a statistically downward trend, and even recent fatal shootings of cops, albeit tragic, remain rare, how come so many black youth have been killed in the streets, and thousands more continue to swell the jail population to record levels?
The young is always getting into trouble, one may say, brains still forming and all. But what we blame on them is exactly what governments and societies use to manipulate them into being unquestioning soldiers, loyal militia members, and gun-bearing vigilantes: their idealism, cluelessness towards danger, longing to belong. In 2014, we’ve betrayed them even more than usual.
Consider the more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls, kidnapped by a terrorist outfit, Continue reading

Bloody Throes

The Hiroshima Reminder
& the Age of New Killings

Capping a few particularly blood-drenched weeks for thousands of civilians around the world, today’s the 69th anniversary of the mass killing of almost two hundred thousand residents of Hiroshima, by the first ever U.S. atomic bomb attack. It sealed the end of the World War 2 and started the nuclear age.
Meanwhile, Israel’s has withdrawn for now its ground troops from Gaza, but bombs continue to rain over Ukraine and Iraq. Plus, 100 years ago last Monday was the beginning of WW1, while around the same time, 50 years later, the first American combatants were sent to Vietnam. Blood soaked time, indeed.
Yet, for a breed of beings that’s been waging war since its inception on this planet, we’re surprisingly coy to call this game of mutual extermination for what it is. When it comes to rile up the troops and send them to the slaughtering fields, we’re often like bad parents, and lie to them that it won’t hurt. But it always does.
We insist in giving the carnage a catchy name, and promise it won’t last, but it always does, no matter how jazzed up the latest campaign is marketed to be. Remember ‘Shock and Awe?’ Almost like what the schoolyard bully would promise to do with us, at the end of the classes.
The writer H.G. Wells, best known as one of the forefathers of modern sci-fi literature, could’ve spared his legacy from a tragic miss, when he gave that first international conflict a pompous sobriquet: ‘the war to end all wars.’ 37 million dead, and two decades later, he couldn’t believe the world was ready to have another go at it.
To bury Japan’s imperial dreams of taking over where Hitler’d left off, the U.S. leveled two entire cities – Nagasaki was destroyed three days later, with almost another hundred thousand killed -, using atomic power, and justified it by claiming that such a power could not be topped, and it’d be forever a deterrent against war.

WHERE LIFE’S CHEAP, WAR’S MOST FOUL
And yet, many more followed. Speaking of justification, the Vietnam War, perhaps the most traumatic conflict the U.S. got ever involved, was triggered Aug. 4, 1964, with a confrontation with North Vietnamese forces at the Gulf of Tonkin, by covertly operating American ships.
The incident prompted Congress to give an unfortunate carte blanche to President Lyndon Johnson, and later Richard Nixon, to escalate a war that even now remains difficult, to well, justify. Coincidentally, Nixon signed the end of the war in 1973, and resigned from office 40 years ago this coming Saturday.
What we didn’t know then was that the only thing that the atomic bomb could possibly sustain was fear. Out of it, another war lingered, the Cold one, just enough to reset borders and redesign political alliances. Once we were done with it, Continue reading

Who’s the Ass Now?

But They Blow Up
Donkeys, Don’t They?

When news broke in Gaza that the Israeli army had blown up a donkey, claiming it had been loaded with explosives by Hamas, it’s likely that few thought much of it. After all, way before Jesus got to Jerusalem mounting one, animals have been butchered for the sake of humans.
But for reasons that have little to do with biblical tales, and a lot with the way life cheapens at the sight of a gun barrel, a disturbing poignancy about such a minor casualty refuses to remain unnoticed, at least for those not concerned about their immediate survival.
That’s us, if you wonder. For while some may say that exposure to horror, to too much blood and gory, desensitizes and freezes our empathetic bones, we too refuse to swallow the brutality, however common, if only to vainly assert to ourselves that we haven’t gone completely numb. Not yet, anyway.
Horses, a better regarded member of the family, have had big roles in wars, of course, dutifully used to transport, terrorize, conquer, and run away from whatever human tragic folly is at hand. And so have elephants, camels, dogs, birds, pigs, rats, dolphins, and sea lions. All forced to slave and soldier on even where humans fear to tread. By the way, cats apparently refused to be enlisted.
But jackasses, or mules or burros or jennies or, well, you get the gist, despite their lower ranking, have been used mainly for work, not to be treated as bomb mule, pardon the pun. They have in fact this almost beatific status among impoverished communities around the world, to which they serve and are vital.
Asses are smart too, according to Continue reading

Battleground Masters

“You’re Welcome But
You Can’t Crash Here.”

If you’re one of the thousands of veterans returning to the U.S. from Iraq, welcome back. You’ve probably already heard it before, but let’s restate the fact of how grateful we all are for your sacrifice.
Now, there’re a number of facts that can be said about you: you’re coming back from a few tours in Iraq e possibly in Afghanistan too, but you know of many who did not.
You also know of some who did it but with serious physical and psychological wounds; you think you’re fine but perhaps have considered the possibility of seeing someone to help you cope, too. Despite the medals you’ve earned over there, you’re still not sure of what to do with your life from now on; and you’ve already been told at least twice, that there’re no jobs available.
Now, a few things you may not have heard about what’s going on around here, and we must warn you, they may hurt: regardless of what you’ve been told, most people have all but forgotten you were even there.
HOME WHERE YOUR HELMET IS
There’s a record number of Americans living under the poverty line, and the national unemployment levels match those of 70 years ago. Continue reading

10-Year Blood Stain

The Jail That’s Made
the U.S. Forget Itself

The most shameful remnant of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the detention camp at the Guantánamo Bay’s Naval Station, reaches its 10-year anniversary today, as brutally misguided and utterly unconstitutional as ever.
Now that the U.S officially ended its disastrous military adventure in Iraq, the 171 prisoners still being held there, including the 89 already cleared of any charges, remain the single most eloquent, and tragic, discrepancy between the thrilling Senator from Illinois who promised to close it, and the way more conservative President Barack Obama, now running for reelection.
Worse, his deeply embarrassing failure to enforce the rule of law for allegedly enemy combatants, as an example before the world and the judgement of history, has now officially spilled over to Americans too.
At the dawn of the year, the president signed one of the most authoritarian pieces of legislation ever signed by the U.S. government, with threatens with indefinite detention and with no access to the Continue reading

Combat Pets

Soldier Dogs With Same
Traumas as U.S. Troops

We breed them. We treat them as equals, as gods or slaves. We love and we fear them. And we’ve been eating them for ages.
Since we’ve been around, we’ve done with animals as we damn well pleased. Including being killed in our wars, often instead of us.
Elephants, horses and dogs. Dolphins, sea lions and pigeons. Primates and pigs. Even cats and bats have died in wars or in weapon labs.
Now, like the canary in the mine, dogs are sounding the alarm. Some of those deployed in combat are suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
DAMAGED HOUNDS
It’s a disturbing, if predictable, consequence of their loyalty to the military. And more so than with the troops, these warriors may have been psychologically hurt for life.
Counseling therapy, of course, won’t work with them. In fact, in many cases, treatment is a guess work, at best, and to expect a full Continue reading

Active Duty

We Owe Them Much
More Than a Parade

Their sacrifice will never be repaid. Their blood will never be recovered. Their lives will never be restored.
We may fill the air with our grandiose words, and bring our families to show support, and cover our cities with flags. Nothing will ever compare with what these people did for us.
We could all have gone, but they were the ones who actually went. We could all have fired but they were the ones who took the bullets. We could have matched their intent but never their courage.
While we safely slept and dreamed, they we’re standing in the rain of gun powder. While we were putting our kids to bed, they were sorting the bodies of fallen comrades.
So many of them have been here for years, but we never told them Continue reading