Exciting News for film “Murph: The Protector”

I am so excited about this. Back in March, I saw this film during one of its limited showings and I was so deeply moved by it, I could not stop telling everyone I know about it. See my earlier post:Lt. Michael P. Murphy and Other Role Models.

On Veterans Day, it was announced that “Murph: The Protector” is under consideration for 4 Academy Awards: Best Feature Documentary, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, and Best Film Editing. It is so well deserved.

In addition, “Murph: The Protector” will be available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and digital platforms on January 7, 2014.

Currently, you may pre-order the DVD or Blu-Ray versions at Wal-Mart for a discounted price.

It is so very important that we do not forget the sacrifices that our military and their families make. I am happy that his legacy will live on in this film and that he will be an inspiration for generations to come.

 

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Veterans Day 11 November 2013

As many of you know, I am a proud supporter of our military and veterans. I have the utmost respect for the sacrifices that they make and am so grateful for the freedom that they fight to defend. Last year, I spoke about the fact that many schools have opted out of celebrating Veterans Day, which I still find truly appalling, especially when they take time to celebrate Columbus Day, a day celebrating a man for bringing about the genocide of Native Americans and introducing slavery to North America (click here for last year’s blog post).

When we look at US society, what does it tell us about how we treat our veterans? Well, we celebrate by offering an optional Federal holiday (see last year’s post containing my fury over schools opting out of recognizing Veterans Day) and offering a multitude of sales for non-veterans and service members. There are those companies that offer free meals and discounts to veterans and active duty military on Veterans Day but those don’t nearly stand out to me as much as the companies that offer discounts throughout the year. Yes, Veterans Day is celebrated on Nov. 11, but is that the only day we should thank our veterans for their service and sacrifice? HELL NO! As a rule, veterans are not looking for handouts and charity. Recognition for the service and sacrifices that they made mean so much more. Letting them know that they matter, that they may have seen and experienced atrocities that civilians cannot even come close to imagining and survived is just one of the ways in which these men and women are heroes. But even more importantly, treating them like human beings, talking to them like normal people and not some media-created scary figure that will at any moment freak out in a fit of violent PTSD.

The truth is any exposure to trauma can lead a person to suffer from PTSD. It is not something that only occurs among the military although the media over-represents military in their PTSD coverage. Not everyone with PTSD engage in violent behavior, although again our popular media over-represents the correlation between violence and PTSD. Would you stop buying ice cream in the summer months when you learn of the strong positive correlation between ice cream sales and homicide rates in the summer months? No (that is a spurious correlation ignoring the important variable of temperature and remember correlation does not equal causation). Thus we should not treat our veterans and military with suspicion because of the popular media’s skewed reporting of information.

We are not doing our veterans any favors by perpetuating the myth of the violent and out-of-control veteran. In truth, it reflects very poorly on us civilians as well because rather than embrace the men and women who sacrifice so much for our freedoms, we would rather turn our backs to them and keep them segregated from society whether it is through unemployment, homelessness, or discrimination of other forms. Being a veteran should be a badge of honor not something a person seeks to hide for fear of discrimination. Here is a blog post by Kate Holt that was posted on 6 March 2012 that is worth reading: “The ‘Dangerous’ Veteran: An Inaccurate Media Narrative Takes Hold.”

We have a long way to go in our society regarding the treatment of our military and veterans. We civilians should be embracing the skills and characteristics that are honed and necessary for military service. We should remember and honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice. We should help our military and veterans reintegrate into society by accepting their perspectives as valid, by acknowledging the strength they have to endure, by respecting their service and sacrifice, and by integrating them into jobs and schools. We can learn so much from these brave men and women and the fact that society chooses not to is very disappointing. As an educator, it is my duty to facilitate the learning of my students and foster the critical thinking skills necessary to succeed in life. As a society, we have a duty to accept all members of society and not turn our backs on those who we ask to make the ultimate sacrifice only to revile them for their actions when they return survivors.

I try to make it a point to speak with at least one veteran a day besides my family members and friends who have and are currently serving. I try to ensure that issues that affect our troops and veterans remain at the forefront of our consciousness by sharing information about some of the amazing programs out there, including but not limited to Wounded Warrior Project, Team Rubicon, The Mission Continues, Operation Gratitude, and The Gary Sinise Foundation. It is the very least I can do to express my gratitude for the freedom that I enjoy.

To the veterans and active-duty military I offer my most sincere thank you for your service and sacrifice. I know that I would not be here today if it were not for you and I would not enjoy the life I live if it were not for your sacrifice. Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart. Stay safe and be well.

Memorial Day

As Memorial Day approaches, we are all reminded of the sacrifice that so many of the men and women of our armed forces make and the real cost of the freedom that we enjoy. Well, at least I hope that is the message being received. Unfortunately, too much emphasis is placed on consumerism and having a day off from work (unless you work in the retail or food service industry, among others).

In my humble opinion, I think Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Armed Forces Day, and Independence Day should be celebrated every day. I don’t mean with sales and fireworks, rather in the fact that we cherish the freedom that we often take for granted. We should truly support our troops and veterans and by support I mean beyond putting a sticker on your car and pressing like on facebook. Make a difference in the lives of those who sacrifice so much. Thank them for their service and sincerely mean it. Our military are not looking for charity or celebration rather they deserve the just gratitude from those who are unable or choose not to fight and defend our country.  Let them know that their sacrifice matters, that they are not simply a number in a uniform, a faceless soldier.

So as politicians, news media talking heads, and others contemplate and support a rush to violent action, remember the cost that moving forward with that decision has. It is not only a financial consideration although that seems to be the main point that is brought up when the debate arises. It is the human cost: the loss of life, the loss of peace of mind, the loss of sobriety, the loss of family unity, the loss of national pride, and the loss of innocence. When we send our soldiers to war or any violent conflict, remember that the cost is so high. Regardless of your thoughts of the reasons our soldiers are sent to battle, they do one of the most difficult jobs there is and pay a price that so many are unwilling to pay.

We must never forget the sacrifice that our troops offer and that our veterans, alive and dead have given.

I feel like I can never thank our troops and veterans enough. My thanks whether in terms of volunteerism, monetary, or verbal seem insufficient. I appreciate my freedom ever single moment of every day. I take time every day to think of the human cost of war. I just wish our politicians, news media talking heads, and others did as well.

Thank you to our troops and veterans. Thank you to the families that support and have sacrificed their loved ones in the protection of our freedom and pursuit of human rights and justice. Thank you to the many organizations out there that support our troops, veterans, and military families.

For those who have given the ultimate sacrifice, if you monitor from beyond, please know that your sacrifice was not in vain, that your courage is to be revered. You are not forgotten and will never be forgotten.

 

The Blame Game

The explosions at the Boston Marathon today were an act of cowardice. It is truly horrible that we live in a world where congregating in groups makes you a target for terrorists. But sadly, this is the world we live in. We need to stay vigilant and not get so bent out of shape over security measures aimed at keeping people safe. Inconvenient? Maybe but in the end, if it ensures safety, I’d opt for that inconvenience. When I was in Belfast, Northern Ireland, I saw first hand the security measures in place to help deter attacks and protect civilians. When it came time for me to leave, upon entering the airport, I was met in a large room that only had one empty table and 4 fully armed British soldiers, all aiming their automatic weapons at me as I was frisked and my bags emptied and examined. While I was not exceptionally pleased at looking down the barrel of 3 automatic rifles while the 4th soldier examined my luggage, I must say that once I was allowed to continue into the airport, I felt more secure than I have felt walking down the streets of Chicago. Bottom line is that these security protocols are suggested and implemented to ensure safety so instead of arguing with those that are doing their jobs and putting their lives at risk to protect the civilians, we should thank them for their vigilance.

As I watched on television the coverage of the aftermath of the explosions in Boston today, I was struck by a few things. The first and most notable was the dozens of people who ran towards the blasts to offer help. These are true heroes to join our first responders at a time of uncertainty and chaos. While I find so many daily examples of incidents that make me weep for humanity, watching those brave people give me hope for the future. Maybe there are more heroes out there than we know. Maybe we are personally capable of doing more than we think we would. I should stop here but I feel it is necessary for me to address the parts that do make me weep for humanity.

Several news stations continually ran photographic and video footage of the explosions and the areas after the explosions on loops for hours. If the reporters had pointed out the people running to assist the wounded, I may not have been so cranky about this but I did not hear a single mention of that. Instead, our attention was repeatedly drawn to the wounded themselves as well as the blasts. Next come the talking heads discussion who is to blame and attacking the vocabulary used by government officials in this aftermath. I hope that we elect officials who we feel are competent in their jobs and as leaders, it is essential to remain calm in the face of chaos and disorder. It is essential for our sanity to not jump to conclusions and speak on official terms as to what you may personally be thinking is happening within minutes and even hours after chaotic events. We want answers, I know, but how many times do we go after officials months, even years later as to how they reported inaccurate and untrue information following tragedy? Too many. In the interest of spreading truthful information, it is best not to jump to conclusions. Finally, this is not a time to jump on some political bandwagon to get your agenda sponsored. I was immediately greeted with several graphics and statements about how gun control contributed to the events at the Boston marathon. Any soldier in the military knows that a gun does not protect you from a bomb that you are unaware of. I mean, really, there are many more important items to report on and pay attention to rather than try to use such a tragedy as the groundwork for any political platform, liberal or conservative.

So stop your hate-mongering and let’s come together in support of those whose lives have been altered by the events of today. Let’s focus on the heroes of today and not the race, ethnicity, religion, or nationality of the unknown perpetrators. I have confidence that the individual or individuals will be brought to justice.

So it is with sadness that I must share the following links with you once again as our nation struggles in the aftermath of tragedy. Please be cognizant of who is watching this news footage and take the time to talk to and have a true, conversation with your children about these events.

Here are links for parents and teachers to help with talking to children of all ages about such tragic events as well as for those who may find these events and their coverage to trigger emotional distress. There is no shame in seeking help.

Talking With Kids About News

Helping Students Navigate a Violent World by Sean McCollum

Listen, Protect and Connect: Psychological First Aid for Teachers and Schools (www.ready.gov)

American Psychological Association “Talking to Your Children About the Recent Spate of School Shootings”

National Association of School Psychologists Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “Coping with Stress”

SAMHSA Coping After Traumatic Events Helpline 1-800-985-5990

My thoughts and prayers go out to all of the families of the victims and survivors as they cope with this tragic event. My thanks go out to all of the first responders who risk their lives every day and face the horrors that some members of society insist on perpetrating on the innocent. Thank you to the good Samaritans who ran towards the blasts to help the victims. And finally, my most humblest thank you and appreciation to the men and women of of armed forces, whether active duty or veteran. Your sacrifice is not in vain. I appreciate the risks you take not only physically but psychologically in doing what so many others lack the fortitude to do. Thank you and stay safe.

Lt. Michael P. Murphy and Other Role Models

Today, I traveled 80 miles to see the film “Murph the Protector” and it was well worth the commute. This film is a documentary about the life and death of US Navy SEAL Lt. Michael P. Murphy who was also awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. After listening to family, friends, and fellow military personnel discuss this young man’s truly inspirational life, as I drove home, I found myself becoming increasingly embittered. I’m bitter because if you stop a child or teen and ask who their role models are, the likely answer would be Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, Snookie, Lindsey Lohan, Justin Bieber, and Barry Bonds among other celebrities and professional athletes. However, what is the reason for their fame? Definitely not their personal behavior nor the example they set for others. Who are the heroes of our children? The rich, spoiled, bullying, cheating, and self-involved individual. Altruism, teamwork, sacrifice, loyalty, honesty, tolerance, and community-building are all foreign notions to so many of our young people. Our society is not improving or progressing in a positive direction.

We need to hear more about true role models, individuals who embody the ideas of teamwork, sacrifice, tolerance, loyalty, justice, community-building and hard work. We should be hearing more about true heroes, our first responders who risk their lives every day for a yearly salary equal to a monthly mortgage payment for many celebrities. We should be hearing about nurses who work long hours with little support in an effort to keep patients comfortable. We should hear about our soldiers who sacrifice not only their physical existence but their emotional well-being. Our heroes are not the ones that we see on television, in movies, and online, they are not the ones earning even a middle class wage much less the exorbitant earnings of the celebrities. They are the bystanders that step in to protect the bullied and victimized. They are the educators that keep our children grounded in the reality that while we live with freedom, the cost was mighty.

With the media’s continual obsession with negative images and stories about our military, our first responders, our teachers, our nurses, and whistleblowers, the message to all is clear: be individualistic and keep to yourself, those who need help are undeserving. This is not a message I want the next generation believing. I want to see a new generation of courageous individuals who will sacrifice individual interests for the benefit of the group, who will work as a team, who will stand up against injustice and intolerance. I want to see a generation of accountability. People being aware that their choices have consequences and even if you are wealthy, if you break the law, you should expect to receive the same punishment as those who are not wealthy. Instead of ignoring or assaulting the homeless and poor, embrace our social contract and offer help even if it is simply to give the individual  a pair of clean socks.

We must support our heroes. We must make them visible even if they themselves shy away from the spotlight (in fact, many true heroes do). We must remember them, their lives, their accomplishments, their determination, their heart, and their legacy along with their sacrifice.

Thank you to our soldiers, our veterans, our first responders, our nurses, our educators, our whistleblowers, and other heroes. I am humbled by your sacrifice. I owe my freedom and security to you. You will never be forgotten.

I would also like to extend a special thank you to the filmmakers, family, friends, and fellow military personnel who participated in the creation and distribution of the film “Murph the Protector.” Thank you for sharing the life story of a truly inspirational and remarkable young man whose bravery and sacrifice should never be forgotten.

For more information including a list of Medal of Honor recipients and their stories, visit the US Army Center of Military History

The Case Against Torture

I have struggled with whether to write about this subject on this particular blog for several months now, but I am itching to get my opinion out there beyond my student and colleague base. To start with, I must admit that I still have not seen the 2012 film “Zero Dark Thirty” directed by Kathryn Bigelow, which has brought the effectiveness of torture to the attention of the mass media.

Let’s start with what is torture. Torture is the when emotional, psychological, and/or physical stress is applied to the body. The goal is to not only produce pain (physical, emotional, and/or psychological) but to increase the anticipation of future pain and distress. In some cases, torture is employed as a method of extracting information. Additionally, it is done as a form of entertainment for the torturer or others. It may also be employed as a method of revenge. I have tried to define torture to encompass all forms that are found not only in contemporary times but in historical times.

There is a long history of the use of torture in human history and in many cases, the torture and response of the tortured has been well documented, i.e. during the Spanish Inquisition. Torture has been used by governments and other powerful groups to extract information and has been purportedly employed by the British Government, the Argentinian Government, as well as the U.S. government in the battles against paramilitary organizations, terrorist organizations, and against the general populace to discourage seditious ideologies.

The main argument with torture is: do the ends justify the means? In my opinion, NO. The general thought experiment is if you have someone in custody who has information about a bomb or attack that may lead to the deaths of thousands of civilians, would you use torture to get the information to prevent this attack? First of all, this is a highly unlikely and completely hypothetical scenario. Secondly, how do you know this person is indeed reliable, meaning having the desired knowledge? While you may encounter situations where valuable information is gained for the short term, in the long term, this tactic will undermine the legitimacy of your movement and ideology. I refer you to the 1966 film “The Battle of Algiers” directed by Gillo Pontecorvo, in particular to the Criterion Collection’s three-disc special edition. Included is a roundtable discussion of torture by Richard A. Clarke, Michael A. Sheehan, and moderated by Christopher E. Isham.

In any conflict, victory not only relies upon the exertion of power and domination over your opponent but also in gaining the support of the sympathizers of your enemy. Torture does not gain sympathy. In many cases, in the pursuit of information, innocent and uninvolved citizens may be tortured. What happens to those individuals upon release if they are released or even to their family members and social groups once they become aware of the torture? They tend to sympathize not with the side of the torturer but the other side. What you effectively do is promote the ideology and build the support base for your enemy by demonstrating the barbaric methods you employ to gain information.  The conflict in Northern Ireland would be a good example. When overt violence is perpetrated against a civilian or group of civilians, you lose legitimacy and support. On January 31, 1972, the event known as Bloody Sunday occurred in Derry, Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association planned a peaceful march to protest gerrymandering of election lines and inequality among employment and housing practices. The British government responded by sending paratroopers to overlook the march. At one point during the march, the paratroopers began firing upon the unarmed crowd, successfully ending the peaceful civil rights movement and building the ranks and support for the Provisional Irish Republican Army. Several inquiries later over several decades, it was finally uncovered that indeed the civilians were unarmed contrary to initial reports by the British government. This was a black spot in British and Irish history and marked the beginning of one of the most deadly years in the history of the Troubles. I refer you to the writings of Tim Pat Coogan, John McGarry, and Brendan O’Leary and the 2002 film “Bloody Sunday” directed by Paul Greengrass. Please note that I have many more references for this information, but for the sake of space and time, I am noting just a few. A fictional depiction of the impact torture has on a movement can be found in the 2006 film “Catch a Fire” directed by Phillip Noyce which takes place during the time of Apartheid in South Africa.

Finally, the issue of reliable information comes to the forefront in any discussion of torture. Any well-organized paramilitary organization, government-sponsored or trained or otherwise, will train its soldiers in methods to survive torture without compromising the overall mission or information. It may not have the capability to train all soldiers, but certainly the ones with the most valuable and accurate information will be trained to withstand torture while maintaining the integrity of their mission and movement. How does one do this? First by providing information that is of low value but may be verified as being true, and then give information that might be of high value (true or not) but cannot be appropriately verified. Thus, the torturer has a problem with deciding to act on the information they have procured because it is unclear whether this information is true and accurate.

In regards to the issue of the U.S. war on terror and the use of torture, I stand by my statement that torture should not be used if we want to avoid future attacks. Ultimately, this will defeat any attempt the U.S. makes in trying to demonstrate that the democratic values that we uphold are superior or in the best interests of human rights than our enemies. By using torture, we automatically become hypocrites in any suggestion that we stand in defense of human rights. The only way to gain ground in this protracted conflict is to demonstrate how our ideology supports human rights and life-affirming and life-enhancing peaceful initiatives.

As someone who has lost friends in the September 11, 2001 attacks as well as in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq following these attacks, my personal resolve to find justice for the loss of life is quite strong. However, whenever we are embroiled in an emotionally-charged situation dealing with issues that we are passionate about, it is important to step back and think about the issue from a rational perspective if we truly want redemption and not simply revenge. So much attention since 2001 has been placed on international terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda but the bottom line is that the U.S. has suffered more attacks and more loss of civilians perpetrated by domestic terrorist organizations than international terrorist organizations. We need to set our emotions aside and step back to look at this issue from a distance. Not only should we consider any short-term gains from the tactics employed but also the long-term consequences of our choices in tactics. We need to consider the experiences of other organizations engaged in similar conflicts and assess the effectiveness of the approaches and tactics used. Bottom line, torture is not effective as a method of extracting information. Its long-term consequences will inevitably erode our legitimacy, the information procured may not be accurate and reliable, and finally, we will continue to support the use of violence in its most barbaric forms as a method of solving problems. It is no wonder that so many individuals in recent times have resorted to the use of violence as a method of revenge or making some type of personal or political statement. The cost is the loss of innocent lives from Aurora, CO to Newtown, CT.

Veterans Day is November 11, 2012

I have always been a staunch supporter of our military. While I have personally never served, I have several family members who have and I cherish the fact that they were among the lucky ones to physically survive. I make sure I do all that I can to support our military, those who are currently serving as well as those who are veterans. It is disheartening that as Veterans Day approaches, so many fail to recognize the importance that our military plays in our lives.

In recent years, the latest trend in education has included the removal of Veterans Day as a holiday for Pre-K to 12 students. A local school district in Northern Illinois claimed that the removal of that day off from school was due to the fact that students did not seem to appreciate or understand why they were getting the day off. To this day, I find that the fact that Veterans Day is not celebrated as a day off in public schools to be highly disgraceful and abhorrent. If school officials feel that students are not appreciating the meaning behind the day off, then as educators, maybe they should spend less time on test prep for NCLB and more on substantive material, such as the importance of supporting our troops. Clearly those who make these decisions have no connection with the military and the sacrifices that our servicemen and servicewomen make. It is not simply the physical sacrifice of placing oneself in harm’s way but the psychological and family sacrifices as well. Military families suffer tremendously as their loved ones are deployed around the world. The separation takes its toll on the spousal relationship as well as the parental relationship. In addition, when our troops come home, their biggest challenge awaits in trying to return to “normal” whatever “normal” is. The expectation is that our servicemen and servicewomen will be able to handle the transition back without any difficulty but that is so far from the reality of what our brave soldiers experience. Our military sacrifice their souls for their country and in return they come home to often high unemployment, stigma over potential mental health issues such as depression and PTSD, among other challenges. Unless you have personally been in a battle zone, there is no possible way you could understand how that changes a person and with so much emphasis on our soldiers being strong and resilient, asking for help has become a major taboo.

I will never forget the first time that I visited Washington, D.C. I was 21 years old and attending a conference over Memorial Day weekend. I drove from Chicago to D.C. in one day and after checking into my hotel, I immediately took the metro to see the Vietnam Wall War Memorial. Seeing the war memorials was indeed my top priority outside of my conference responsibilities. I will never forget that evening as I walked to the Vietnam Wall. I passed so many veterans, clearly homeless and begging and my heart broke. In them, I saw the faces of the comrades that my relatives who had served spoke of. As I approached the wall and began looking at all of the names and looked around at others who were visiting, people dropping off flowers and stuffed animals. I began to cry, overwhelmed by how many made the sacrifice and for how many survived their sacrifice but were not listed and perhaps were sitting in the cold on the streets around the country. I watched others walk quickly by the homeless veterans, not even looking at them, as if they were not there. As if these veterans were not even human. My heart broke that day and I felt like I had aged years in a matter of hours. As night fell, I began my trek back to the hotel, only having spent time at the wall, too overwhelmed to see the other memorials.  The next day, after my presentation, I headed to Arlington National Cemetery and spent the afternoon walking around, taking in all of the tombstones, all decorated with flags for Memorial Day. As I watched the change of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, I cried again. I walked back to the Vietnam Wall and as I crossed the Potomac, I saw how the wall really did appear to be a scar on the earth, a reminder of the wounds that our country suffered at the hands of war. I visited the Korean War Memorial and saw more homeless veterans. I gave them what I could afford and headed back to the hotel after thanking them for their service and sacrifice. I wondered how many people did such a thing. I visited Washington, D.C. frequently over the next decade depending upon how close I lived to the area and have always taken that walk to the war memorials. My last visit was after the World War II Memorial had been completed and I took so many pictures to share with my grandfather, a WWII veteran. I shared those photos with his friends at his local VFW post as well as the pictures I had taken from earlier visits. As hard as it is on me every time I visit those memorials, I feel like it is the very least I can do to honor those who have sacrificed so much.

I try to make sure I take time to speak to veterans, to know that I appreciate their sacrifices, to know that someone cares how they are currently doing and not just wanting the gory details of what they have seen and survived. I want them to know that they matter and I truly feel that it is imperative that we keep the Veterans Day holiday in the forefront as a way to show our veterans how much they matter to us, because they have done what we did not do, regardless of our reasons. They put their lives on the line for us and the least we can do is thank them for all they have done.

It breaks my heart that our education system cannot allow for time to discuss our brave military, have the students write cards or letters to our deployed and our recovering veterans. We distract ourselves with the latest television show, celebrity gossip, and technological advances while ignoring those that made all of this possible. It is because of the sacrifices of our military that we enjoy the freedom and security that we currently experience. So let’s take our heads out of our secure little bubbles and take some time to appreciate those who sacrifice so much for us. There are so many wonderful organizations out there that help support our troops, whether they are veterans or actively deployed. It does not take much to show our military that we care about them and thank them for the sacrifices that they make. See my favorite links page for some links to a few of the amazing organizations out there.

To our military who are currently enlisted and our veterans, thank you so very much for all that you have sacrificed for our freedom and security. You matter more than you may realize even to those who you have not met and may never meet. Stay safe and be well brave men and women of the armed forces.