Saturday, June 28, 2014

Gun Abuse is Like Substance Abuse, Only Worse

This Facebook link to a tragedy in Kentucky could be anywhere in America, any day of the week. 
A Kentucky mother stepped outside of her home just for a few minutes, but it was long enough for her 5-year-old son to accidentally shoot and kill his 2-year-old sister with the .22-caliber rifle he got for his birthday, state officials said. 
The shooting that took the life of Caroline Sparks in southern Kentucky has been ruled an accident, Kentucky State Police Trooper Billy Gregory said. 
"It's just one of those nightmares," he said, "a quick thing that happens when you turn your back." 
Young children in the area are often introduced to guns at an early age, Gregory said.
Ferguson: Irresponsible humans, not guns 
"In this part of the country, it's not uncommon for a 5-year-old to have a gun or for a parent to pass one down to their kid," he said.
The reader can go to the link for more details.  This is as much as I need to see.

I'm starting to understand how the populations of Germany and Japan allowed themselves to take part in the mad sequence of events that became World War II. The same human characteristics are as apparent today as in the past.

Gun abuse is as prevalent as substance abuse, but unlike other destructive, toxic human behaviors, no one wants to call it for what it is -- a social sickness crying out for correctives. But those of us calling for more effective gun safety and abuse controls are demonized as unpatriotic, ignorant, stupid and worse by others who in historic terms are as misguided as the well-meaning Germans and Japanese who watched fellow-citizens, neighbors and family members shape the politics of pre-war Germany and Japan.

A garrison state is being built to protect what is now an American Empire.We have several armed forces -- Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard -- replacing the historic two: army and navy. And that "well regulated militia" referred to in the Second Amendment, which we now call the National Guard, is now as numerous as the number of states. And that does not include actions of the CIA, Special Forces and other ancillary covert operations.

We also have multiple police forces and sheriff's departments in most places in addition to the police. Additional law enforcement functions are in every town, county, parish, township and state. Yet for many, all these protections are not sufficient, despite the fact that they are composed of other Americans, often serving in a part-time reserve capacity while maintaining their civilian jobs and identities.

And despite all this, for many it will never be enough. I no longer find it puzzling. It's just sad. I feel the same helplessness I feel watching others destroy lives with drugs, gambling, even sometimes a well-meant dedication to career-building, for which they pay a bitter price.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Don't Bite Off More Than You Can Chew

This post speaks for itself.
Two Twitter messages too good to miss.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

"Glimpse of Iraq" Notes

This post is mostly a backup file of material from Hootbuddy's Place, my old blog, which tells the story of my chance encounter with another blogger, an Iraqi man, with whom I became close friends -- at least as close as one might be via the Web. We never met in person and at this writing have not even exchanged messages for several years. But current developments in Iraq and a Facebook conversation have reminded me of this story. And since I no longer have any control over the old blog I'm creating a backup copy here in case the originals somehow vanish.

First,, the Twitter message, image and Facebook conversation that triggered this post.

Brian: Proves that people left alone, without the zealous radical agendas of religious and political leaders being hyped and dictated to them, always find peace and love and are able to rationally reason and live and work together for generations. There are examples of each being demonstrated across the world.

John Ballard:   Absolutely. It's true all over the world. Following the breakup of Yugoslavia I hired two ladies from Sarajevo, refugees sponsored by a local church, one of whom was Christian and the other Muslim -- and they were good friends. Both said that prior to the conflict, triggered in part by sectarian differences, mixed neighborhoods and families were commonplace.

Even now, just yesterday, I read reports that in Baghdad, where Sunnis and Shiites are physically divided by a cement wall (a la those apartheid walls in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank), Sunni houses IN THE SHIITE SECTOR were being marked with painted x's and getting messages passed under their doors to get out. So even until now, in Baghdad, mixing was still happening.

At the outset of the Iraq war I made friends across the Web with an Iraqi man who, among other insights, validated the same thing -- that in Iraq, like most of the world, everyday people don't allow their religious identity to overshadow their common humanity. Here is a link to a Father's Day post from 2005.
Here are the two links that are the backstory of my friendship with this man. (A few years later he revealed his real name and self-published a book about Iraq which is listed in the sidebar at his blog.)

It makes me feel sad to revisit these old posts...


SUNDAY, JUNE 19, 2005
File: Abu Khaleel

For Fathers Day I publish an exchange of emails between two fathers, one in Iraq and one in America, trying to find a way to leave a better world behind when they die. Our children and grandchildren face problems enough without those we are multiplying today. I was fortunate to be in the Army in Korea during the Vietnam era, years after real combat. My tour of duty was a cakewalk compared with those of many of my peers, and it marked me deeply -- and for the better -- for the rest of my life. Abu Khaleel's comment is to the point: It is truly sad that so few of the US boys and girls here in Iraq have not had the chance that you had in Korea to meet and know people.

I comb the internet looking for indications that cultural bridges are being built rather than destroyed. Unfortunately I find mostly a struggle for hegemony between ancient cultures and the forces of technology, economics and political domination.

* * * *  Here is the response I received from Mr. Khaleel to myThursday post...


[Before I get to that post, here is my original post and response from Abu Khaleel that started this whole sequence.  This is the most important of all the material in this record. There are too many lessons to count. If the reader is scanning, please take time to stop and read this part closely.]

TUESDAY, JUNE 07, 2005
Footnote from Iraq

This story has been haunting me for two days. I don't want to comment on it. But I also don't want to lose track of it. I expect a time to come when this story and its origin will vanish. A footnote...
Nihad Had to Die
Nihad was a young man aged 23 who lived in a small town. He made his living by collecting fresh milk from the countryside and delivering it to a wholesaler in Baghdad.

While going through one such round, he was about 300 yards from an American army convoy when the convoy was hit by some explosive device. The soldiers started shooting at anything in sight. Nihads car was targeted (I saw the car and counted 19 bullet holes in it, eight in the windscreen). He received a bullet in the thigh. A second bullet brushed against his head. 
Nihad threw himself from the car, crawled into a drainage canal and made his way to a near-by village where the people took him home. 
During that time, someone passing by, who knew Nihad's car, went into town (about 15 miles away) and told his father. The father rushed to the scene with two of his other sons and was desperate when he saw his son's blood on the cushion but no sign of the boy.
He approached the American soldiers and tried to gain any information from them. It was difficult through the language barrier. One of the US boys slipped him a small piece of paper. A few days later he showed me that slip. It was 3x1" scrap with something like (x Inf Div 186 PC) -) hurriedly scribbled on it. I can't remember the numbers exactly, but the father still has that piece of paper. 
I know Nihad's father well. I saw the young man a few days later and was amazed at the incredible sight of the bald patch on the crown of his head, left by the near-fatal bullet. I urged the father to take the matter up with the US army authorities (US soldiers are not subject to Iraqi legal jurisdiction), but he wasn't interested; he had no faith in the Americans! 
Nihad pulled through. 
On the 40th day of the first incident, Nihad was driving through his own town at 9:30 pm. He was several hundred meters from his home. There was what they call a foot-patrol of some 10 infantry men going through the same road. Apparently, Nihad failed to see them or failed to stop. They shot at him. Again, he was injured and, again, he threw himself out of the car. One of the soldiers came close to him and, standing over him, fired five bullets into his chest and head. His brain was splashed onto the pavement.

There were quite a number of people out in the street at the time. More than a dozen people had a clear view of the proceedings. They were quick to point out to others the almost-vertical bullets in the road surface. 
Nihad's body was taken away by the soldiers and returned to his family the following morning by the Iraqi National Guard. 
When I saw his father again about a week after the incident, he showed me another piece of paper. It was a typed, A5 size page expressing the regret of the US army at the incident caused by Nihad's failure to stop at a check point. The father, again, refused to take the matter up legally with the US army authorities. 
About two weeks later, the Army sent Nihad's father an envelope with $2,500 in cash in it. The father took the money and gave it to someone in town whom he knew to be with the resistance.

Posted by Hoots at 7:13 PM
1 comment:
Abu Khaleel said...
I happened to come across your blog while following links to my own.

I found your comment on my little story rather intriguing! I hope it is not too impertinent of me to ask why you expect the story and its origin to vanish!
6/15/05, 5:18 PM

Glimpse of Iraq

In response to my post citing Nihad had to die I received the following comment:
I happened to come across your blog while following links to my own.
I found your comment on my little story rather intriguing! I hope it is not too impertinent of me to ask why you expect the story and its origin to vanish! Abu Khaleel
My post opened with:
This story has been haunting me for two days. I don't want to comment on it. But I also don't want to lose track of it. I expect a time to come when this story and its origin will vanish. A footnote...

* * * *
* * *
When I said "vanish" I did not have destruction in mind. It was a whimsical attempt to describe the information storm in which we live. Putting the story into my blog is my way of grabbing a shell from the beach and taking it with me so I can remember having been at the beach. All those shells left behind do not disappear, but to me they have "vanished." But the one that I took with me will always remind me that I was once on that beach, that the experience had meaning, and I don't want to forget.
Thanks to a thoughtful note from Mr. Khaleel, I have added his excellent blog to my already too big collection. At least for a while I will try to pay attention as he writes. I spent some time last night visiting the site and being impressed again that I have found another of those people of whom I became aware years ago that I think of as "trans-national citizens." They can be found all over the world, living orderly lives of quiet understanding, not dependent upon false notions of class, nationality or economics for their being. These are the people able to see clearly into the hearts and minds of other people, and by doing so they are able to connect with others in ways that most people cannot imagine.
I have met people like him everywhere I have been. I have read and heard about them in places where I have never been. I have been privileged to meet some who came into my life from other countries, from Europe, Africa, Asia or South America...and in every case I have sensed that in addition to their individual national identities, they are also -- I know it sounds trite, but it is really so -- citizens of the world.
If you spend some unhurried times reading someone's blog you get a sense of who is doing the writing. Between the lines you will discover qualities about the speaker -- peace, pain, tension, frustration, nervousness, power, quiet confidence, patience, whatever -- qualities that help explain what you are reading in a deeper way than just the flow of words. Take a look at this:
Ever since I was involved in farming decades ago, I repeatedly came across what country folk referred to as "Arab Reckoning" 
The use of the word “Arab” in this context has nothing to do with race or ethnicity! In colloquial Iraqi, the word is used in three different modes in addition to the normal ethnic usage: 
• People talk about "The City" and "The Arab" - meaning the countryside.
• In the countryside people would say "someone lives in that Arab" - meaning that village or settlement or tribal 'deera' (home or area).
• "Someone comes from such “Arab” or "What Arab are you from?" or "He is from our Arab" - meaning "tribe".
The phrase "Arab Reckoning" (or Hsaab Arab) refers to one of two distinct things:
• Approximation in arithmetic calculations and, most frequently, in multiplication or division and area calculations.
• Farmer's almanac.
We all probably do this at one time or another. Say, for example, that you wanted to multiply 2.5 by 3. You would say: 2 times 3 is 6. Then half of 3 is 1.5 so, the result is 6 plus 1.5 which is 7.5. Some people can do complex arithmetic mentally, sometimes using their rosaries as an aid. The division of tribal money dues, fines or income of say 3 million dinars (around $2000) among the members of a small clan of 237 members can be done in a few minutes.
It is always amusing to watch two elderly fellows in the process - one reminding the other of things, bickering and then agreeing on a final figure.
In settling my own farming accounts with my share-croppers in the early 80's, I soon gave up using a calculator when going over the individual accounts with some of them. They could not catch up with the speed of electronic calculation. So, I would do my calculations at home with the aid of a calculator (and later using my desktop) but would go over them using their own method, verbally.
It goes something like this: "You cast three and a half "wazna" (100 kg weight) of wheat at 12,000 dinars a wazna. Three waznas are worth 36,000 and the half is worth 6,500... which means 42,500 dinars". I then pause and wait for him to nod his agreement. "What was the last sum?" The figure is recalled, the new number added to it and mentally stored again before proceeding to the next item. This is performed for all income and expenditure items, including any sums received in advance, returned items, etc. It can be quite tedious and may take the best part of an hour. There was a time when I had to do it with more than 25 people, 8 or 9 of them couldn't read or write.
The speed varied with the person concerned. One particular wily character, Na'eem Jabbar, who is still working on my farm, keeps an updated account of all items memorized in his head. I can ask him at any time about his income or expenditure account and he would give me a figure that always agrees with my books. On "account settlement day" I just give Naeem his balance sheet and the money due. The whole process takes less than a minute... unless he challenges one of my figures!
The highlighted part tells me that I am reading the words of someone who carries his authority very lightly. These are the words of a man who has power over others, enough power to erase them from his life should he choose. And yet there is something in his spirit that balances that power with the need to be understood and respected by those with whom he deals. Just as it takes time to read the example to grasp an idea that is bigger than a soundbite, he is willing to invest whatever time it takes to insure that those with whom he is dealing do not feel jerked around or taken advantage of.
This, to me, is a revelation of character. There are other treasures among his posts, but I leave them for others to discover. (Here's one, for starters. Don't miss... Before leaving the main gate, a girl soldier leaned out of the side window, face flushing red from the heat, smiled and shouted: " Hey, we want to be your friends!" and waved. After translation, one of the younger men there remarked that he didn't mind being friends with her!)
[That last link is a goodie. Mr. Khaleel's story is not long and the images are universal. I know this is already a long read, but his story is like a drink of cold water on a hot day.]
. . . .
In the meantime, the poignant account of Nihad's tragic death is the shell I have taken away from his beach. It represents for me a parable of our time. It causes me to peer into the sky, shake my head and wonder how long, how long before we see that too much innocent blood is being poured out in our name? Too many people who are not enemies are being killed. And too many more are being inoculated against ever being our friends.
You certainly took me by surprise! I was only looking for an explanation of the “vanishing” aspect you referred to in your earlier post… and didn’t expect anything like your in-depth analysis!! Frankly, I was taken aback! 
I was also humbled by your magnanimity of spirit and your piercing insight that allowed you to cut through all the cultural barriers and look into the soul of another human being thousands of miles away, using as metrics his own words! But I must say… you give me more credit than I deserve. 
You are right in the most important aspect that I was perhaps unconsciously trying to put across: I actually do see myself as a citizen of the world. Yes, I do love my country deeply, but I see no contradiction whatsoever with belonging to the human tribe at large. It is something like loving your family not necessarily leading to hating your neighbors! Like you, I have seen many people from many different corners of the world. They talk differently, they frequently dress differently, they sometimes have widely differing spiritual beliefs and funny social customs… but I am frequently amazed and amused by the numerous similarities I can see between them. 
It also makes me sad that I believe that I will leave this world and I know for certain that it is not going to be the world that I want my children and grandchildren to live in!
I found your words: “Too many people who are not enemies are being killed. And too many more are being inoculated against ever being our friend.” particularly apt and touching. I hope you don’t mind if I use them sometime. I guess they summarize much of what I have been trying to say so economically! 
On the other hand, looking at the other, more positive side, here we are, total strangers, thousands of miles apart and ‘on different sides’ of this ugly war, exchanging views and comments (and personality analyses!) This new connectivity, made possible by this wonderful American invention is already changing the world, isn’t it? I think we can all already see that. 
It is always a joy to communicate with someone who is so eloquent and has such penetrating insight. I will certainly try to keep up with your musings on your blog.
Thank you again for those kind words.
Warm wishes from Baghdad
* * * *
* * *
There is a Continental elegance to this exchange. I love it. Maybe I was born a century too late. I wrote to Mr. Khaleel asking his permission to publish our correspondence...

Thank you for your wonderful reply. May I have your permission to publish it on my blog? I think that our dialogue may be of some value for others to read.

I would like to know more about you. I presume that if you were dealing with sharecroppers in 1980 you are a man of some importance and also no longer a youngster. Also, your command of English is better than most who claim to be English speakers, so you must have spent some time -- years, in fact -- in some English-speaking environment. That is my blessing since I speak only English. Your blog is very well-done.

My only time in another country was as an Army medical corpsman in Korea, 1966-67. It was there that I realized that there were people whom I would call "world citizens" through a family that basically adopted me as their own for over a year. Since I was using my off-duty time to teach English conversation in a high school to a handful of students who wanted to do extra work, I know that if they had any ulterior motive it was to have someone around with whom their two older children, especially the son who was still living at home, could practice English. But far beyond the subject of English, there was a world of learning and discovery. I was able to receive from them and a few other Korean friends a personalized, world-class inside look at Korean history, geography and culture. And when I came home, I did so as a different person. To this day, now nearly forty years later, I still have a deep affection for Korea and its people. I have lost contact with my friends there, but their influence in my life is indelible.

I'm sure that if you have lived in another country, and I sense that you have, you must know what I mean. I like what you said about seeing no contradiction between loving your country and belonging to "the human tribe at large." I have a feeling that the word "tribe" has a more powerful meaning in Iraq and the Middle East than in America. Incidentally, feel free to publish anything I write you as you see fit. If you get it wrong, I will simply try to clarify my meaning as well as possible and hope for the best.

I think for the sake of safety it may not be wise to be too precise about exactly who and where we are. I can share that information on this end with those whom I trust, and you, I am sure, can do the same. But since I am known to have some serious objections to wars in general, and this one in particular, I am certain that there are people here willing and able to silence me, particularly for corresponding with a "potential enemy." George Bush can hold hands with the king of Saudi Arabia, but I don't have his level of influence and protection.

Looking forward to knowing you via internet.

* * * *

* * *
And he replied...
Please go ahead and publish what you like of our communications. I fully agree that they may be of value to others. Regardless of what concerns dictate policies of states and their actions, I believe everything ultimately results in affecting lives of ordinary people like you and me and others like us. So basically it is people that matter. This is why I think that democracy (true democracy) is so far the best system of government that there is! 
Your guesses about me are again correct in essence. Yes, I did spend 9 years in England in my youth in the 70’s… and I still retain warm feelings for the country and its people. I will copy you a profile of myself I once wrote in response to a request by a reader: 
I was born and raised in Baghdad and still live here. I have spent most of my life in Iraq. I am married with three children. The eldest, a girl, is a business graduate, the second is a junior doctor and the third is a teenager, still at school. I deeply love Iraq, both emotionally and intellectually, and will never live anywhere else if I can help it.
I was as rebellious as any other teenager regarding religion! Baghdad was so secular in the 1960's! When I was around 30, I started getting interested in history. Iraq is so old and complex that you cannot understand much (of even everyday occurrences) without some historic background. I think it was then that I developed a deep respect for religion, after realizing the enormous positive effect it had on the morality of mankind generally.
I do not think it is a coincidence that the major religions generally sprang from the east. Iraq is at the hub of much of this. You may recall that much of the Old Testament was written in Iraq. Abraham was born here. Ezekiel is buried here (near Babel) People in this corner of the world generally "need" their faith. It is an important aspect of their lives. 
This is unfortunately often overlooked by others who try to "engineer" (or nation-build) their world for them or by those who are trying to combat those fanatics who have hijacked Islam and are trying to turn it into a killing-manual. The communists never understood this aspect because it contradicts a fundamental dictum in their doctrine. It is the main reason that communism never established roots in these parts despite the presence of so many of the other ingredients – including a deep mistrust of American policies in the area.
Religious orientation: I will borrow the description of a reader I corresponded with some time ago: I am more of a spiritual person than a religious one. I am a Muslim in name but not a practicing one. My wife is more or less the same but she turns "devout" during the fasting month of Ramadan!
In the countryside (where I spend much time) I am regarded as a liberal. In Baghdad, I am regarded as conservative by friends and acquaintances. In America, I guess I would not fit anywhere in their red-blue map… I think I would look like a weird mixture of left and right.
I was convinced in 1982 that Saddam was leading the country to ruin. I resigned from government research (nothing sinister) after the war with Iran. Since then, my main source of livelihood (and joy) has been a farm I had inherited. My other source of joy is poetry, mainly classical Arabic poetry – something that non-Arabic speakers will unfortunately never have a taste of since the blend of words and the music in them is such an integral part of it that it cannot be translated. I find that particularly sad. I think I was 16 when I fell in love with Shakespeare. Macbeth has always been my favorite.
You are also correct in assuming that the word “tribe” has a more powerful meaning in Iraq than in America. This is particularly more profound in the countryside. There was a time when (like most people who are raised in the city) I thought it was something backward and primitive. Later, when I had the chance to know those people better and understand their way of life from a broader perspective, I had to change my mind. I now view it as a sort of ‘cooperative’ of mutual social benefit. This has been borne out by the events of the past two years. When chaos almost reigned in the cities, life in the countryside went on as if nothing had changed… simply because the social relations were strong enough. I have tried to convey that in my blog. I don’t really know how successful I have been. 
As regards security, I am glad that you not only understand but have similar apprehensions! Will it surprise you to know that, in today’s lawless liberated Iraq, you can get someone killed for as little as $50? 
It is truly sad that so few of the US boys and girls here in Iraq have not had the chance that you had in Korea to meet and know people. It was mainly through no fault of theirs. Most of them found themselves operating in a hostile environment that was produced by mistakes made through the incompetence (or ill intentions) of politicians!
By this account there is an important difference between rural and urban Iraq. The following part of his letter is worth repeating:
There was a time when (like most people who are raised in the city) I thought it was something backward and primitive. Later, when I had the chance to know those people better and understand their way of life from a broader perspective, I had to change my mind. I now view it as a sort of ‘cooperative’ of mutual social benefit. This has been borne out by the events of the past two years.When chaos almost reigned in the cities, life in the countryside went on as if nothing had changed… simply because the social relations were strong enough. 
As regards security, I am glad that you not only understand but have similar apprehensions! Will it surprise you to know that, in today’s lawless liberated Iraq, you can get someone killed for as little as $50?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

About The Bowe Bergdahl Hatebomb

The release of Bowe Bergdahl by the Taliban in exchange for five Guantanamo prisoners set in motion a frenzy of anti-Obama rhetoric that even the administration appears not to have anticipated. Talking heads were running out of material, but yesterday's release of the Taliban video of the event had the effect to tossing gasoline into a fire, and by sundown Bergdahal's little home town of Hailey, Idaho canceled a "welcome back" event after residents and city officials were overwhelmed with messages that can only be described as a hate-bomb. 

Every war in history has produced people disgusted by the ugly realities of war. Their actions and voices are usually overlooked and forgotten, particularly if they live to tell their stories, since those who die attain the status of heroes no matter how they died. Some, like Ambrose Bierce, are later remembered for literary or artistic merits. Some, like our current Secretary of State or the Senior Senator from Arizona, succeed in reinventing their past to serve them well in a political career. Over time historians make forensic determinations but even those are subject to later revision Meantime, short memories and hate bombs abound and those of us in sympathy with the anti-hero hunker down and wait for the storm to blow over.

As the plot-line of Dances With Wolves and the memory of Jane Fonda's anti-Vietnam activities plays in the background, I remembered a post I wrote in 2005 which helped me remember how easily complicated issues of the past get oversimplified, often with important details forgotten altogether. (The current collective memory loss of the Tienanmen Square killings, now twenty-five years past, is a good example.) 

Garrison Keillor's little five-minute radio spot is one of the few programs that I take a moment to listen to attentively, even in the middle of a conversation. There are few predictable diversions giving so much reward, having a beginning and end in the space of a few minutes.

Today we are reminded that Abe Lincoln's Gettysburg Address was delivered November 19, 1863. Keillor's remembrance and tribute are worth a few minutes of your time as well. If you don't have the time or inclination to read, there is a link to the audio.
It was a foggy, cold morning on this day in 1863. Lincoln arrived about 10 a.m. Around noon the sun broke out as the crowds gathered on a hill overlooking the battlefield. A military band played, a local preacher offered a long prayer, and the headlining orator Edward Everett spoke for over two hours, describing the Battle of Gettysburg in great detail, and he brought the audience to tears more than once. 
When Everett was finished, Lincoln got up, and pulled his speech from his coat pocket. It consisted of ten sentences, a total of 272 words. Lincoln did not mention any of the specifics of the war or any of the details of the battle of Gettysburg. He did not mention the North or the South. He did not mention slavery. Instead, he explained, in ordinary language, that our nation was founded on the idea that all men are created equal, and that we must continue to fight for that principle, in honor of those who have died fighting for it. 
Unfortunately for Lincoln, the audience was distracted by a photographer setting up his camera, and by the time Lincoln had finished his speech and sat down the audience didn't even realize he had spoken. Lincoln was disappointed in his performance, but the next day Edward Everett told the President, "I wish that I could flatter myself that I had come as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes." The speech was reprinted in newspapers around the country, and it went on to become one of the most famous speeches in American history.
It would be tacky to point out the parallels between that tragic time and events of our own time, but the similarities bear thinking about. We are again engaged in a great civil war, but this time it is that of another country. Today's cost in casualties is very small compared with the tens of thousands of past wars. [This was written in 2005, and there was no way to know we were commencing the longest war in US history. Many casualties would follow. Even now veterans are committing suicide daily, often due to war-related causes.]  The Battle of Gettysburg alone took the lives of six or seven thousand men. I suppose civilization is creeping along, but there is a long, long way to go.

As an aside, the current debate over torture and atrocities can be put into historical perspective by knowing what has occurred in past wars. Lest we too quickly point the finger at our enemies, it would be wise to take a look at some of our own dirty linen. And I'm not referring to today's despicable but historically unremarkable reports.

Last year Donald Sensing did some research following the release of the movie version of Cold Mountain, coming upon some pretty disturbing history from our own Civil War era.
I am sort of a stickler for historical accuracy in movies that derive the context from history. I found the Home Guard portrayals very offputting. (Other Home Guard detachments of the state hound Inman as he makes his way home.) I had never read of such brutalities being done by during the war by Confederate states to their own people, and reacted to this part of the move - and a major part it is - with scorn. This, I thought, was a fatal flaw of the story. While I had no doubt that Confederate authorities did try to capture deserters, I dismissed the idea that Home Guard "brownshirts" ever had the authority simply to shoot down deserters on the roadside or savage Southern civilian families. So I Googled"confederate home guard" today. And discovered Cold Mountain is accurate. Consider:

Allen Lowery was born 1795 in Robeson County, NC. He died 9 Mar 1865 in Robeson County, NC from Shot to Death by the Robeson County Home Guard and was buried in Lowery family cemetery near Pembroke, NC. 
... Allen and his son (William) was killed by the Robeson County Confederate Home Guard, because they where believed to have helped Union soldiers during the Civil War.
Confederate deserter Henry Tucker joined the Union forces following bad treatment by the Alabama Home Guard for failing to respond to the "callup" for men to fight for the Confederacy. He made the mistake of coming home for a visit where he was caught...
... arrested by the Home Guard at his home in Marion County and tortured to death. He was tied to a tree, castrated, his eyes removed and his tongue cut out before he was literally skinned alive. He is buried at Hopewell Cemetery, south of Glen Allen, Ala.
But Tucker's vicious death was avenged. 
Home Guard leader Stoke Roberts who personally directed the torture of Tucker, was eventually caught by a group of unionists near Winfield. They took a long iron spike and drove it through his mouth and out the back of his head and nailed him to the root of a big oak tree.
We can be in denial, but there are apples today (uh, acorns?) that didn't fall too far from that tree.
This, a personal footnote, now vanishes into the big cyber-swamp which is the Web.
But who knows?
At some distant place, long after I have gone, it may turn up like one of those fossils I once collected as a boy, enshrined as in fossil-ferrous limestone covering parts of Kentucky.