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Thursday, August 26, 2010

"Mental Health in the Army" An American doctor, and personal friend, serving in Iraq guest blogs at Adam's Zionist Journey (Pt. 9)


I am now safely back at Balad Air base and am back to my usual schedule which means I work 4 days shifts followed by 7 night shifts after which I will leave for another part of Iraq on a short term basis. Either to the green zone to do some work with a navy officer who is training Iraqi Special forces,a base called talil near Baghdad to train army medics, or just do some c-130 missions to pick up patients throughout Iraq.

As mentioned before I wanted to briefly write about mental health issues in the army as I have written about a suicide and a suicide attempt and have evacuated a very large amount of soldiers to Germany for mental health issues.

The facts are the following: The army has gone from having a suicide rate lower then the general population to having a suicide rate that is HIGHER than the general population. As casualties fall here mental health issues are on the rise. The army knows this is a problem and recently finished a very large intensive study about suicide and mental health in the army. They know it is a problem and are desperately trying to make a dent. Their findings (if you Google army suicide study you can read about it yourself) essentially placed the blame on support services and the higher level enlisted and officer corps for not being sufficiently attentive. But the study did not really talk about WHy this is happening. In my conversations with psychologists, enlisted, the medical community and the patients themselves I have gathered my own opinions.

Let me begin by saying the army has done a wonderful job here. They have born the brunt of the fight and have been responsible for really defeating the insurgents as a force that could fight and hold territory. The insurgents still cause frequent death and destruction but it is always via suicide bombings and roadside bombs and is extremely scattered. They do not threaten the political or social system like they did back in 2007-08..Additionally the vast majority of army troops seem to be in excellent mental health. Still, a growing number have very dire mental health issues. It seems important to understand the reason.

(1) Prolonged deployments-Where the AF deploys for 90 to 180 days the Army deployments are always for 12 to 15 months and occur very frequently. In a cumulative fashion these deployments cause family stress and difficulties with relationships. The Army understands this fact and has shortened tours from 15 months to 12 months and are trying to decrease further to 9 months.

(2)Lower operational tempo in Iraq-Paradoxically the changing war in Iraq has led to challenges from a mental health perspective. In the past Iraq was a very "hot" war. Soldiers were outside the wire (base) every day being shot at, knocking down door and going directly after the insurgents. These kind of operations were intense, made time go quickly, did not leave time for brooding about personal issue and helped the soldiers develop a strong feeling of camaraderie. The situation now is different in that they are mainly supporting the Iraqi army, going on patrols for months and months without enemy contact and doing 'busy work" at the base. Many soldiers report a lack of fulfillment in this job as well as large ammount of time to focus on problems at home. Also with the decreased sense of camaraderie (which came from being in combat together) relationships among the troops tend to fray. This increases the risk of mental health issues

(3) PTSD-some soldiers have underlying PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) that is made worse by being back in Iraq. When they were in combat the PTSD sensations of being on the edge and being hyper alert was actually in some way beneficial. but with decreased combat but being back in Iraq their sensations are triggered in a more peaceful environment. This is obviously very stressful for those affected

(4)"YOUNG" Army-It is seems to me that a large portion of the young soldiers with mental health issues would not have been deployed 3 or 4 years ago. The army faced a need for more troops at a time when the war here was going poorly and the us economy was good. As a result some soldiers enlisted who may have not been allowed to enlist in prior years. The included some troops with prior histories of mental illness who (in retrospect) may have been more prone to have problems.

Again, the army is heavily engaged in reversing this problem. We have briefings constantly about mental health and suicide as well as pamphlets throughout the base and commercials around the clock on armed forces network. They have policies in place for all soldiers to meet with counselors and also to be confined to the home base upon return to be observed and meet with mental health teams.

On a lighter side..I have included some pictures of me being given a tour of an F-16 ("VIPER") by one of the pilots and a picture of us filming a commercial for the university of Pittsburgh to be played before the game on 11sept.


PS-almost 70% done!!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Guardian's Jewish Defamers of Israel, and A Letter To My Teenage Nephew

This essay was published at CiF Watch, and cross-posted at Augean Stables, and Solomonia.
CiF’s Jewish Israel defamers
When joining the team here at CiF Watch, and attempting to understand why Jewish writers for the Guardian are often among the most vociferous in expressing their contempt for Israel, and so willing to demonize the state’s Jewish supporters, I had to get up to speed on the term Theobald Jew.”
I soon learned that:
According to the Benedictine monk Thomas of Monmouth in his The Life and Miracles of St. William of Norwich (1173), it was an apostate Jew, a certain Theobald, who, swore that Jews had killed twelve-year old William, a tanner’s apprentice, to fulfill their “Passover blood ritual” in the fateful year of 1144—the first recorded such episode in a long line of murderous defamations.
The CiF contributors I refer to include Naomi Klein, Neve Gordon, Richard Silverstein, Antony Lerman, Seth Freedman, Tony Greenstein, among others. These Jewish writers don’t merely critique Israeli policy, but routinely engage in hyperbole, vitriol, and gross distortions. Their rhetoric is often spewed with hate towards the Jewish state, all but ignoring the behavior of her enemies - the terrorist and reactionary movements who openly seek her annihilation. Such commentators often infer that the democratic Jewish state (the most progressive nation, by far, in the region) is almost always in the wrong, is usually motivated by a hideous malevolence, and represents a national movement which they, as Jews, are ashamed to be associated with.
Freedman, for instance, has suggested that Israel is a theocracy – one which is on moral par with Hamas, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda. Gordon has on several occasions accused Israel of ethnic cleansing - once advancing such an ugly calumny in the radical anti-Zionist magazine, Counterpunch. Tony Greensteinhas ardently defended the ugly comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany, typically advanced by extremists. Richard Silverstein has called the behavior of Israelis serving in the IDF subhuman“, and has defended Hamas from “charges” that they are an extremist movement. Naomi Klein actually accused Israel of being so cruel and sadistic as to “bury children alive in their homes.”
While, for the Guardian, employing the services of Theobald Jews serves to inoculate them from charges of anti-Semitism, such Jewish writers, in return, receive the progressive and universalist credentials they so eagerly seek.
The Misnomer of the “Self-Hating Jew”
To be fair, I always found the term “self-hating Jew” to be at best misleading, at worst a complete misnomer. First, because we typically have no way of knowing these writers‘ inner-thoughts. But, more importantly, I never thought that it was an apt description of the anti-Zionist Jews I’ve met over the years. If anything, most seem to possess a belief that they are indeed “better Jews” for being hyper-critical of Israel, opposing their own community, and rejecting the very idea of a Jewish nation-state.
Many seem singularly focused on being seen as a “progressive”. And, as the progressive movement has moved further and further away from identification with Israel – and, to some degree, further away from identification with Jews as such – the need to be seen as progressive (“righteous”) in the eyes of others, has taken precedence over the seemingly parochial desire to identify with, and defend, their own community.
I have thought long and hard about the phenomenon of Jews who oppose their own community, have read and written about it, and there appears to be four dynamics worth exploring:
1. Moral Vanity
I was particularly inspired by Anthony Julius’s long two-part essay published at the American Jewish Committee site, Z Word. The piece was called Jewish anti-Zionism Unravelled: The Morality of Vanity. (Pt. 1 & Pt. 2). Julius also rejects the notion of such Jews as being “self-hating”. Instead he refers to them as moralisers who continually desire affirmation from the non-Jewish world as to their righteousness.
The moraliser makes judgments on others, and profits by so doing; he puts himself on the right side of the fence. Moralising provides the moraliser with recognition of his own existence and confirmation of his own value. A moraliser has a good conscience and is satisfied by his own self-righteousness . He is not a self-hater; he is enfolded in self-admiration. He is in step with the best opinion.
2. The Temptation of Innocence
Ruth Wisse, in her book “Jews and Power“, identified the tendency of some Jews to vociferously oppose their own community as a dynamic which she, in part, attributes to a Jewish uneasiness with the projection political power and a tendency to almost fetishize the Jews’ history of powerlessness. Wisse concludes that Jews who endured, or know the history of, the powerlessness of exile are in danger of mistaking it for a requirement of Jewish life or, worse, for a Jewish ideal. This puerile desire not to be corrupted by the complexities, and occasional compromises, necessitated by possessing moral agency is described by Pascal Bruckner as “The Temptation of Innocence.”
3. Jewish Fear: Assimilation and Altruism as an Inoculation from Harm
More recently, Barry Rubin, director of the GLORIA Center (Global Research on International Affairs), in an illuminating and penetrating piece, entitledExplaining Jewish Political Behavior“, said:
"[historically] Jews were attacked for allegedly having too much power, even when they had little or none, the emphasis was on being eager to make concessions, not to gain victories through threat or pressure.
…How would this strategy try to succeed? By proving Jews were good citizens, by showing they were unselfish and sought nothing for themselves, by demonstrating their willingness to dissolve the bonds and customs of their own community…and by showing that being nice to them would benefit everyone or almost everyone. In other words, altruism was a central element in the strategy
“…A key element of the assimilationist doctrine has been to deny there was a [Jewish] collective communal interest, and to avoid making collective demands.
Rubin, who, it should be noted, fleshes out his argument more fully in his book, Assimilation and Its Discontents, continues:
large parts of the Jewish elite are proud to stand aloof from their own people and deem it virtuous to abandon it and reject any notion of communal interests (including Israel and religion). Indeed, they think they can best prove their credentials by championing the causes of other groups even–sometimes especially–those in conflict with Jewish interests.
…The elite Jew’s emphasis is often to escape identification with the community, proving he is a cosmopolitan with a universalist identity, being the first to demand the dissolution of any community loyalty and viewing the embodiment of Jewish peoplehood—Israel—as an impediment to those goals. While antisemites charge that all or almost all Jews in positions of power pursue a distinctively Jewish interest, the exact opposite is the truth. This explains how left-wing Jews extol multiculturalism and self-determination for other peoples even as they hold the exact opposite attitude toward their own people, whom they are determined to show are not their own people.
…many Jews, particularly in elite positions, are eager to prove their credentials by criticizing their own people or Israel.
4. The Adversarial Jew: Skepticism and relativism disguised as reasoned political thought
I think there’s one last dynamic at play – an insight I came upon as a result of an email exchange I had with my 16-year-old nephew recently.
He reached out to me to seek my advice on this phase he was going through.It seems that he’s going through an early “existential crisis” of sorts – a frame of mind (I warmly noted to him) that most don’t arrive at until college. He mentioned that, lately, he’s been questioning everything – every social convention, everything he’s ever been told, and wondering whether the wisdom, mores, and customs he‘s been brought up by his parents to believe in and abide by are indeed worthy. He said that, since this struggle, he wasn’t misbehaving, but had resigned himself to merely “going through the motions” – but wasn’t really buying into what he always believed to be true. He wanted to know what I thought.
In my reply, I assured him that what he’s going through is perfectly normal, and was a sign that he possessess a vibrant, active, and healthy mind – and, that, indeed, such existential crises were the inspiration for great works of poetry, literature, and philosophy through the ages. I said that I also went through a similar mental orientation - that I, during the first couple years ofcollege, questioned everything ever taught to me by my parents and my community. I even looked down on the adults in my life, and their seemingly conventional thinking. In my arrogance, I said, I believed that I saw things they didn’t see…had arrived at answers to questions that had perplexed not only my a parents and relatives, but the most brilliant minds in my time and in generations past.
However, I also told him that I eventually learned to have a bit of humility about it all, and eventually realized that I didn’t know much about life, at that early stage in my life, at all. And, that my parents, the older I got (and as my adolescence receded) seemed to become wiser and wiser with each passing year – in what I increasingly identified as their decency, sobriety, and plain common sense.
So, I asked my nephew if he would at least try to avoid the audacity of imagining that he alone possessed the wisdom and insight that has eluded his community – the Rabbis, sages, political, and community leaders – in his generation and though the ages. I asked that he not assume that because his father claims that something is true, that the opposite must indeed be what’s actually correct. I asked that he be patient and assured him that, with time and experience, he’ll eventually not be so quick to question the intentions of those who guide him. I expressed confidence that he will come to see that a healthy skepticism about “conventional thinking” is indeed normal, but that he’ll eventually understand that such thoughts need not devolve into a knee-jerk rejection of all the traditions and values of those who have come before him and have guided generations of Jews through often dark and harrowing times.
Julius, in his Z Word essay, dissected the potential moral pathos of many such renegade Jews:
He holds that the truth is to be arrived at by inverting the “us = good” and “other = bad” binarism. He finds virtue in opposing his own community; he takes the other point of view. He writes counter-histories of his own people. It is not enough for him to disagree, or even refute; he must expose the worst bad faith, the most ignoble motives, the grossest crimes. He must discredit.
My nephew is a smart, decent, and level-headed young man. And, I have no doubt that he’ll maintain his bearings during this intellectual “crisis” and not allow himself to surrender to hubris, nor develop a malevolence towards the family and community that has supported, nurtured, and guided him through the complexities of everyday life – those who love him dearly and have tried with all their heart to provide a path to protect him from the maddeningly complicated world he lives in.
It’s a simple lesson perhaps, but a vital one. And, its wisdom that many of the Jews who write for the Guardian, quite shamefully, don’t even meagerly possess.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Deheisheh Refugee Camp, Revisited: "My enemy, enemy of the sun, I will not compromise and I will resist till the last pulse in my veins”

Back in July I posted an essay, on this blog, about a personal tour I was given of the Palestinian Refugee Camp near Bethlehem, called Deheisheh. In the post, I noted both the hospitality of our host, and others we met on the tour, as well as the disturbing messages, throughout the community, often displayed on public buildings, promoting violence and hate. Well, due to a show aired on Israeli TV alleging that other educational institutions at Deheisheh promoted such messages, Haaretz wrote a story about the issue - which was then picked up by the blogger, Elder of Ziyon. Since I took photos at the camp, I was able to provide Elder with an image which at least confirmed that such messages were certainly part of the Deheisheh landscape. 

So, here's my blog post at CiF Watch on the incident.

The indispensable Elder of Zyionbrought to our attention to a story in Haaretz concerning a show aired by the Israel Broadcasting Authority which was deeply critical of UNRWA activit ies in refugee camps

UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency), it should be noted, was established by United Nations General Assembly 1949 as a temporary measure to carry out direct relief and works programs for Palestinian refugees. Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of their funding comes from the EU.

Research by NGO Monitor has demonstrated that such funds are often used for nefarious purposes:
UNRWA schools and other facilities are often used to teach hatred and encourage incitement; the evidence demonstrates that UNRWA staff allowed terror related activities in its camps.

The Haaretz story reported:

The United Nations’ relief agency for Palestinian refugees, lashed out Tuesday at the Israel Broadcasting Authority for airing what it called a dishonest portrayal of the organization on Saturday in “Ro’im Olam” on Channel 1 television. 
Right-wing journalist David Bedein's "For the Nakba", UNRWA said, contains numerous inaccuracies about its operations in Palestinian refugee camps and educational institutions. It depicts large graffiti that lionize Palestinian suicide bombers and includes an interview with Palestinian children who profess a desire to become "martyrs."
…Bedein [said] Palestinian kids…study the materials from the textbooks at a young age, and the mural of the suicide bomber was seen at the entrance of the UNRWA school at the Deheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem. 
…Prior to the airing of the show on Channel One, UNRWA’s [Christopher] Gunness wrote that, “UNRWA schools do not contain murals of suicide bombers.” 

Elder then presented evidence which contradicts the denials by Gunness about UNRWA concerning the “Nakba” narrative by linking to an official UNWRA newsletter which indeed promotes the “Nakba.”

Elder does note, however, that he has no way to verify whether the specific institutions in question, at Deheisheh, contain such murals, nor whether the charges concerning school textbooks are indeed accurate. I, also, don’t have any specific information on the educational institution in question.

However, last year, I was taken on a personal tour of Deheisheh and took this picture at this UNWRA sponsored community center, near the entrance of the camp.

It should be noted that the community center where this very large mural appears, depicting a Palestinian who’s about to throw an explosive device, was filled with Palestinian children on the day I visited.

Perhaps Chris Gunness should visit such places before launching into expressions of outrage in response to future reports on UNRWA funds being used for incitement against Israel.

Per Elder of Ziyon, here’s an English translation of the Arab writing on the mural:

“My enemy, enemy of the sun, I will not compromise and I will resist till the last pulse in my veins”

Monday, August 9, 2010

To remind my fellow immigrants what we are doing, why we are doing it, and that we are neither the first nor the last

"Shall I compose an idyll of the Land of Israel for him? And the other one said, That I leave to the poets and the tourists and I ask you all, are you the only ones sufering? Aren't there people here who came before us, and if we tell all the troubles that befell them, time would run out. They came to a wilderness, a place of harsh malaria, and gangs of highwaymen, and harsh laws and evil governors. If they built themselves houses, the king's oficials came and destroyed them. If they sowed, their neighbors came and threw their beasts on the grain. If they drove them out, they went to cry to the government that the Jews attacked them....
"But they didn't despair and they endured all the troubles and they maintained the Yishuv through their suering and turned the deserts of the Land of Israel into homes and vineyards and fields. And as he mentioned their sufering, he told of their heroism....Thus they sat and told tales about afflictions and tales about heroism,....It is small our Land, and how great are its troubles. And since they were tell about the settlements, they told about their founders. And as they were telling, they were amazed at themselves that they hadn't noticed the hoerism of those founders before now.
"How Isaac loved that hour when he sat in the Land of Israel in the presence of laborers of the Land of Israel who were telling of the building of the Land o Israel. The Land of Israel was acquired with sufering, and he who loves the Land of Israel and lovingly accepts her suffering, is privileged to see her being built."
Shai Agnon, Only Yesterday, completed in 1943, published first in 1945.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

"Extraction Training" An American doctor, and personal friend, serving in Iraq guest blogs at Adam's Zionist Journey (Pt. 8)

(This is the 8th dispatch from my friend Andy, an American doctor serving in Iraq with the Air Force Reserves)
Hello. Today we had training with the Army, but I hope I'll be leaving before I have to use what I've learned. It is called "extraction training" used when a patient has to be extracted from a "hot" (under fire) LZ (landing zone). The training took place in our customary 120-130 degree heat - while wearing full battle regalia.
As the team medic, I had to be comfortable (or more comfortable) functioning in this enviroment. First we were given a 30 minute lecture explaining the differences between trauma response in the military vs. the civilian side. The first point reieterted over and over was to supress enemy fire before caring for the patient.They showed footage from early in the Iraq campaign of a well meaning medic going out to help a fallen comrade and subsequently being shot. The main emphasis was to stop the bleeding using either local pressure or a tournequiet, starting an IV quickly if pulses were decreased (signalling decreased BP) and attending to the airway last as, reportedly, hemorrhage is the cause of 90% of battle deaths.
After the lecture they brought us outside and had our team of 4 leave the helicopter..go to a hot landing zone..supress enemy fire and care for our patient. We had to make sure not to be so focused on the patient that we forgot about what was going on around us. Also if we were attacked, and the patient could not move on his own, we were to (against our better instincts as physicians) leave the patient until the enemy was "supressed" or, at least, out of the area.
I felt like a poorly prepared extra in a war movie while I was stalking through the LZ with my M-16 Rifle..which I had only touched once on a deployment with the Marines, while in the nation of Chad. But the army guys were taking this very seriously and having us walk in staggered formation with 360 degree coverage.
When we identified the patient we first had to win the firefight (they were firing blanks from rifles and, frankly, I HAD NO CLEAR SENSE OF WHERE THE FIRING WAS COMING FROM) and then manuuver the team to the patient.
With the heat, the army guys (who have fought in two wars) instructing us, and sporadic blanks in the distance, it was as close a sensation to a real firefight as I ever want to have. The patient had a right leg amputation for which we applied a tournequit, he than lost his pulse - for which I started an IV (a real IV-these guys are tough). And, after abandoning the patient while under attack (as instrcuted) we dragged him to the waiting chopper.
I frankly felt hapless as a soldier but the army guys were very charitable in saying that I hit the ground quick under fire and abandoned my patinet as required. They kindly said I should probably shoot my weapon every now and again "just to help the team and keep the enemy honest". They were very impressed with my effeciency in starting an IV in the field quickly on the first try. After that we had an opportunity to teach the army folks some basic theory about drugs, management of low blood pressure and respiatory failure.
These guys absolutely love their job. They also speak glowingly of their wives and little kids but are away from them way too long. While some of those serving here in the Army have serious mental health issues (as noted before..which I will address), the vast majority of troops I have met absolutely LOVE their jobs..despite the sacrifice.
It was somewhat touching that these hardened warriors were spending so much time (and taking seriously) teaching me how to function in their environment - and, in a very respectful fashion. They were great teachers. Its yet another experience I will simply never forget.