Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Bulldogs are Peace Strong at Bowie HS

Thanks to the Bulldogs at Bowie HS, we had a great visit during lunch with our SOY materials and the t-shirt challenge that drew good participation from students.  We were glad to have the opportunity to engage in some discussion about causes of war, ideas for war prevention, and connections between militarism and environmental destruction.  The Penny Poll results from 57 student participants showed these priorities:  30% of the budget for Education, 25% for Health Care, 20% for the Environment, 13% for Humanitarian Aid and 12% for the Military.  Once again, if students could determine federal spending priorities, we could have higher education paid for all who wished it and health care provided for all who needed it.  We hope that students will think critically about why the actual US budget is so contrary to the will of the people.
In response to the question "What are some of the root causes of war?" the words that were most common were: water, money, oil and power.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Yes, there are cougars in Texas: Tabling at Crockett HS

We had a great visit during lunch with our SOY table and crew of 4 at Crockett HS today.  As always, I am impressed with the sincerity and the eagerness with which students engage with the issues raised in our materials -- thank you, Cougars!  

Speaking of cougars, we included a question in the t-shirt challenge about them --  and,once again, we were surprised that none of the students we talked with knew for sure where their school mascot lives in the wild.  The cougar is not only losing habitat, it is losing awareness among we humans.  Environmental science and biology are critical subjects.  On the question of what factors threaten the existence of the cougar, one student gave an interesting answer that I hadn't thought of: coal mining.

Penny Poll results showed the most concern for Health Care, which received 27% of the vote, followed by 24% for Education, 22.3% for the Environment, 14% for the Military and 12.5% for Humanitarian Aid.


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Back in the groove: SOY tabling at Austin High School

Today was our first day back at SOY tabling for the new semester.  We had a great visit at Austin High School!  Students were very engaged and seemed eager to check out the table, answering the t-shirt challenge questions.  They offered very thoughtful responses to the questions that asked their own opinions, and we were impressed with their quick ability to research information, too.  Thanks, Maroons!

Most of the t-shirts we used today were hand-screened by Malachi over the summer, using this image, created by Juanita:

Several school teachers and staff stopped by the table, too, to offer encouragement.  Susana had tweeted on the school site that we would be there today, which was a great idea.
We happened to be tabling today right across from a table of army recruiters -- that was a first for us at that school.  We welcomed the opportunity for students to compare and contrast between the army materials and ours.  One important concern, though:  the recruiters were soliciting contact information from students who were younger than 18, which they really should not be doing if they don't know whether a student's parent or guardian has requested on the SR290 form that their child's contact information not be given out to recruiters.  This is a loophole we are seeking to close through the school administration.
   Here are some of the items on the army recruiters' table.  Do all recruits receive $54,000 in education benefits?  No.   It means 8 years of enlistment and meeting certain requirements along the way.  Also, most veterans wind up making use of only a fraction of their GI Bill benefits because of a variety of reasons:  family responsibilities, health concerns, lack of time because of work, etc.  Students who are thinking of enlisting because of the education benefits must do their research to find out if all the promises made by the military are kept -- and should ask themselves if what they are exchanging for those benefits -- 8 years or more of their lives -- is worth it.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

War trauma strikes every generation

From yesterday's Washington Post:

Their war ended 70 years ago. Their trauma didn’t.

Tim Madigan, a freelance writer living in Texas, is the author of the novel “Every Common Sight.”

I sat in the suburban Dallas living room of Earl Crumby as the old soldier quietly wept. His wife had died a few years before, but Crumby said his tears that day weren’t for her. “As dearly as I loved that woman, her death didn’t affect me near as much as it does to sit down here and talk to you about seeing those young boys butchered during the war,” said the white-haired World War II veteran, who was 71 on that day in 1997. “It was nothing but arms and legs, heads and guts.”
“You’d think you could forget something like that,” said Crumby, whose own war ended with a shrapnel wound in the Battle of the Bulge. “But you can’t.”
There were also guys named Otis Mackey and George Swinney, and a half-dozen other vets who inspired my novel of the Greatest Generation that was published this spring. Each had survived Omaha Beach, the Ardennes Forest or the Pacific Islands, only to have the psychic residue of combat shatter their golden years.
They talked of night terrors, heavy drinking, survivor’s guilt, depression, exaggerated startle responses, profound and lingering sadness. The symptoms were familiar to the world by then, but post-traumatic stress disorder, the diagnosis that came into being in 1980, was widely assumed to be unique to veterans of Vietnam. “Bad war, bad outcome, bad aftereffects,” is the way historian Thomas Childers put it.
Those of age in the late 1940s would have known differently. Though it was referred to by other names (shell shock, combat fatigue, neuropsychiatric disorders) the emotional toll of World War II was hard to miss in the immediate postwar years; military psychiatric hospitals across the nation were full of afflicted soldiers, and the press was full of woeful tales. But with the passage of time and the prevailing male ethos — the strong, silent type — World War II was soon overshadowed by the Cold War and eventually Vietnam. By the 1990s, amid the mythology of the Greatest Generation, the psychological costs of the last “good war” had been forgotten.
Yet those costs, as hard as the nation tried to ignore them, did not go away. The soldiers I interviewed nearly two decades ago, and tens of thousands of others like them, were painful and often poignant proof of that. Though the reverential books of Tom Brokaw and Stephen Ambrose glossed over it, the hidden anguish of the Greatest Generation has always been there. “Our conceptualization of the Greatest Generation is that [the soldiers] came home and got to work,” said Paula Schnurr, executive director of the National Center for PTSD, who has worked with World War II veterans since the 1990s. “Many of them looked okay because they went to work, got married, they raised families — but it doesn’t mean they didn’t have PTSD.”
Of all the men and women who served in the armed forces during World War II, less than 6 percent, about 850,000, are still alive, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. World War II vets die at the rate of 492 a day. Before it’s too late, we ought to reach beyond the nostalgia and myth and embrace the truth of war and the Greatest Generation. Bad war, good war — for those who fight, it’s all the same — means death, disfigurement and horrors no human heart is equipped to bear.
‘When we got out, you couldn’t talk about things like that,” Otis Mackey told me in his East Texas living room. “You held it all in. I didn’t want to take it to my family. If you’d say anything, people wouldn’t believe half of what you say, anyway.”
He was rocking furiously, faster and faster, speaking of his first day in combat, when his best friend was shot through the neck and killed, and the day he watched fellow soldiers dismembered by landmines. “The leg with the combat boot and all . . . I had to duck,” he told me. “I seen it coming at me. I just ducked, and McGhee’s leg went flying right by my head. That has been one of my guilty points, because I was right there ready to step on that mine. I never could figure out why it was him and not me.”
Mackey drank heavily when he returned to Texas and worked three jobs as a machinist so he was too tired to remember his dreams at night. “I don’t know why my wife even stayed with me,” he said.
By the time we talked, Mackey had been in group therapy for several months with Earl Crumby and a few other World War II vets at the Dallas VA hospital. By that time in the 1990s, thousands of old soldiers had been finding their way to PTSD treatment.
“Most of the World War II men that I worked with came to me in their 70s or 80s, after retirement or the death of a spouse,” said Joan Cook, a professor of psychiatry at Yale and a PTSD researcher for Veterans Affairs. “Their symptoms seemed to be increasing, and those events seemed to act as a floodgate.”
For so many veterans, that was when they finally learned they were not crazy or weak. “Pretty much to a person, for them, learning about PTSD and understanding that people were researching it in World War II veterans was a real relief,” Schnurr said. “Many people felt isolated and crazy, and they thought it was just them. And they didn’t talk about it.”
Mackey told me that he generally felt better after VA therapy sessions with other haunted World War II vets. But there were still days when “I get that empty feeling, just deep down, and I don’t care whether I live or die.”
Seated on a sofa a few feet away, Mackey’s wife, Helen, began to cry. “He has not told me this,” she said, “that he doesn’t care if he lives or dies.”
Similar dramas have played out across the centuries, of course, a part of the literature of war going back to the Iliad. The psychic toll of war has been variously described as nostalgia, soldier’s heart, shell shock, war neuroses or simply exhaustion, and there have always been skeptics. Among them was Gen. George Patton, who in 1943 famously slapped two soldiers being treated for combat-related neuroses, calling one a “yellow bastard.” Patton was sternly reprimanded by Allied Commander Gen. Dwight Eisenhower.
The reality was that of the 16 million Americans who served in the armed forces during World War II, fewer than half saw combat. Of those who did, more than 1 million were discharged for combat-related neuroses, according to military statistics. In the summer of 1945, Newsweek reported that “10,000 returning veterans per month . . . develop some kind of psychoneurotic disorder. Last year there were more than 300,000 of them — and with fewer than 3,000 American psychiatrists and only 30 VA neuropsychiatric hospitals to attend to their painful needs.”
One of those hospitals was the subject of John Huston’s 1946 documentary, “Let There Be Light,” which said that “20% of all battle casualties in the American Army during World War II were of a neuropsychiatric nature.” The film followed the treatment, mostly with talk therapy, drugs and hypnosis, of “men who tremble, men who cannot sleep, men with pains that are no less real because they are of a mental origin.” Huston’s movie was confiscated by the Army just minutes before its premiere in 1946 and was not allowed to be shown in public until 1981. The government rationale at the time was protecting the privacy of the soldiers depicted, though Huston maintained all had signed waivers..
It’s true that millions of servicemen returned home and did exactly what Tom Brokaw described in his seminal 1998 book, “The Greatest Generation.” Through hard work and force of will, they created modern America. But in 1947, nearly half of the beds in every VA hospital in the nation were still occupied by soldiers with no visible wounds. While there were no reliable statistics on the topic, the epidemic of alcohol abuse was widely known. The country was also experiencing a divorce boom: In 1941, 293,000 American couples divorced, a rate of 2.2 per 1,000 people. That number doubled to 610,000 in 1946, 4.3 divorces per 1,000. It was the highest divorce rate in U.S. history until 1972, according to government statistics.
There was ubiquitous public discussion and concern for the complex issues facing the returning soldiers. Popular magazines such as Redbook, Ladies’ Home Journal and Life were full of articles about how to find a job, use the GI bill, or deal with a vet who suffered from nightmares, sudden rages and debilitating sadness. The film “The Best Years of Our Lives,” the story of the troubled homecoming of three World War II vets, won the 1947 Academy Award for best picture.
Yet that discussion was short-lived, and cultural amnesia set in. The economy recovered, and jobs were suddenly plentiful. The Cold War began. Through the 1950s, the troubled vet routinely surfaced as a character in film noir, often as the villain. But the lingering horrors of war otherwise retreated from the public conversation, often overshadowed by communism.
Yet as they went on with their lives, many struggling soldiers would not have recognized themselves in Brokaw’s eventual rendering: “Mature beyond their years, tempered by what they had been through, disciplined by their military training and sacrifices. . . . They stayed true to their values of personal responsibility, duty, honor, and faith.”
The Greatest Generation certainly deserved every accolade bestowed on them, Childers says, “but there is nothing to suggest how complicated those years were.”Or how difficult they continued to be. A 2010 California study showed that aging World War II veterans were four times more likely to commit suicide than those their age who had not served in the military.
Arthur “Dutch” Schultz, a hero of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge, went on to become a poster boy of sorts for the Greatest Generation, the basis of a character in the 1962 war movie “The Longest Day” and prominently featured in other World War II books. But there was much more to his story, including a long battle with alcoholism and two rocky marriages.
His daughter Carol Schultz Vento described his struggles in her 2011 book, “The Hidden Legacy of World War II.” She recently told me of the time she persuaded her suicidal father to put down his gun. “For all his bravado and success, dad had returned home from the war a shattered and broken man,” Schultz Vento wrote. Dutch Schultz managed to mostly conquer the demons of war before his death in 2005, but it took him half a century and, his daughter believes, required as much courage as anything he faced on the battlefield.
She and so many others of her generation also suffered quietly, not understanding the tension in their households, because the ghosts of the war rarely revealed themselves. This year, I published a novel that featured a struggling World War II hero as the main character. I wondered about the book’s relevance today, until I started hearing from readers across the nation who described the night terrors, depression, heavy drinking and silent pain of their fathers. A story about the hidden toll of the war helped them make sense of their childhoods. But those stories of the Greatest Generation remain mostly untold.
Earl Crumby and his fellow soldiers knew too well that when it comes to the human toll, war does not discriminate. A piece of a German shell tore through his shoulder, “but the deepest wound was right here,” he said, pointing to his head. “Lord, some nights I have nightmares, and I can still hear that shell going off in my head. There are just so many of us out there. I know they’ve got to be having the same problems I have.”

“If you get to digging,” he told me, “you’ll find that soldiers of all wars, they’re bothered with it, too.”

Friday, August 14, 2015

Great job by Texas Conservation Corps!

It was good to see the following article in this week's Austin Chronicle, about new sections of the Barton Creek hike/bike trail that have been created largely by young people working with the  Texas Conservation Corps, a local Americorps program through American Youthworks.  This Americorps program is a great way to work outdoors, help Texas become a more ecologically friendly place and earn money, too.   Just think of how many people will benefit from being able to use this trail!

Here's the article from the Austin Chronicle:

 Austin's newest trail system will make its debut Friday, Aug. 14, with the official opening of the first six miles of the Violet Crown Trail. When completed, the trail will extend 30 miles from Zilker Park into Hays County, passing through greenbelts, urban areas, and city-owned water quality protection lands. Spearheaded by the Hill Country Conservancy, which preserves open space by forging land preservation agreements, the project has been in the making since voters approved the first purchase of water quality protection lands in 1998.
In some ways the grand opening is symbolic: The trail's first five miles, from near Barton Springs Pool south to Gaines Creek, comprise the existing Barton Creek Green­belt trail. The HCC has reconstructed some damaged areas and added mile markers with maps and wayfinding signposts, paid for by the Austin Parks Foundation, to orient trail users. They've shared the signposts' GPS coordinates with the city to help emergency crews pinpoint a caller's location. And in partnership with mountain biking club Austin Ridge Riders, the HCC has assumed responsibility for the maintenance and cleaning of that section of the greenbelt.
One new mile of trail, connecting the Barton Creek Greenbelt trail to the new Violet Crown trailhead at Hwy. 290 and Brodie Lane, runs along Gaines Creek, south of Bar­ton Creek. The new trail, like the greenbelt, is a natural dirt surface and open to hikers, runners, mountain bikers, and leashed dogs. The labor on both sections has been done primarily by youth in the Texas Con­ser­va­tion Corps, an AmeriCorps service program of local nonprofit American YouthWorks.
Because the trail will eventually pass through environmentally sensitive water quality protection lands, where caves and karst features connect to the Edwards Aquifer, and where the endangered golden-cheeked warbler nests, the city commissioned the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center to assess the trail's proposed route and identify potential problems. That process has informed the planning particularly for later sections of the trail. The conservancy's goal is to complete the next seven miles, connecting the trailhead to the Veloway, by the end of 2016.
The HCC got into the trail business to get a new generation invested in preserving Hill Country land, says Executive Director George Cofer. "The more people we can get onto the lands, who will come to understand how beautiful and how sensitive from an environmental standpoint they are – that's good for recreational reasons, health reasons, and educational reasons."

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Fight for 15 is a step toward peace as well as justice

The latest issue of Draft Notices, the quarterly newsletter of San Diego-based Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft, arrived today.  As usual, it contains news and views pertinent to high school students.  This article by Rodrigo de la Rosa makes good connections between working for peace and working for justice:

The $15/hour Minimum Wage Campaign Is Counter-recruitment

— Rodrigo de la Rosa
More and more cities have begun to pave the way toward economic justice by supporting the nationwide initiative of increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Cities such as Seattle, Los Angeles, and Portland, OR, have committed themselves to this goal within the next few years. In states such as Texas, where the minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, this change would more than double income in households earning less than $15,000 per year. Although the campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour began as a fast food worker campaign, it has now been implemented in many other service sector jobs and has ultimately become a working-class campaign. In California, where the minimum wage is currently $9 per hour, a single mother or father earns $17,280 per year; that’s $6,570 below the poverty level for a single person without dependents. In San Diego the campaign to earn $15 an hour has been going for a little over a year and has already gained an outstanding amount of support.
This campaign not only advocates for economic justice, but it will also have an impact on military recruitment, because the most powerful factor that drives people in working-class communities into the ranks of the military is POVERTY.
High school students in low-income communities have programs such as JROTC that serve as a gateway and recruitment tool for the military. Military recruiters conduct more class visitations and attend more career fairs than college recruiters in low-income schools. Meanwhile, programs such as JROTC and military recruiters are much less present in schools in affluent communities.
Because the military has such massive exposure in high schools with a majority of working-class students of color, it becomes a much more likely option for them to become economically stable and perhaps have a career. Because these schools often have very limited guidance resources and their families face economic strain, it is difficult for students to see themselves developing a career by attending college. Many students, like me when I was in high school, then come to the conclusion that they are fated to either go into the military or become part of a low-paid workforce upon graduation. It is much easier for recruiters to entice young vulnerable students to join the military when the federal minimum wage is $7.20 per hour and the California minimum wage is $9.00.
If the minimum wage were to increase to $15 per hour, not only would it be a fair and dignified wage for the those who are currently the lowest paid workers, but it would also be more difficult for recruiters to make military salaries sound appealing compared to the civilian workforce. (According to a U.S. Army website, a soldier with less than two years of experience earns somewhere between $18,000 and $20,000.) It would give many young people a reason to consider alternatives to joining the military.
As more and more cities start to advocate and support the $15 per hour wage and the right to form a union at the workplace, it is important to understand the connection and impact that it will have on recruitment into the military specifically within the communities of color who are targeted by recruiters. By supporting the fight for $15 per hour we are not only advocating for economic justice but we are also supporting counter-recruitment demilitarization efforts.
For more information on the $15 minimum wage campaign, visit: Fightfor15.org
This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (http://www.comdsd.org/

Monday, July 13, 2015

Malala Yousafzai's words of wisdom

"Books, not bullets, will pave the path towards peace and prosperity"
- Malala Yousafzai on her 18th birthday