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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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.

 

Mental Health Awareness Month

Compared to other countries, the U.S. is definitely more accepting of mental health issues however, there remains a strong negative stigma associated with mental health issues. For anyone who has ever been treated for anxiety, depression, even flying phobias, your medical records will indicate that you were treated for a mental illness and thus labeled as uninsurable according to the health insurance companies. Health care is not considered a human right in the U.S., the land of the free.  I will table my tirade and comments on the U.S. health care system for another time. It is these types of obstacles that feed into the negative stigma of mental illness and further dissuade people from seeking help.

For some reason, it is seen as a sign of weakness to seek help for a wide number of things from help with parenting, relationship issues, depression, job issues, etc.  And that is just naming a very limited few of the issues that civilians may battle. How about individuals who work in high-stress jobs or jobs that may require the taking of another life or exposure to the absolute worst examples of humanity – i.e. air traffic controllers, police officers, firefighters, nurse, doctors, paramedics, and of course, our soldiers? If an individual who works as an administrative assistant views seeking counseling for anxiety as a sign of weakness, what about the individual who is expected to be the brave ones, the first responders, the defenders of freedom, the life savers? We need to eliminate this stigma.

Some may argue that they see no problem. It is up to an individual to take care of himself/herself. I disagree. This stigma has resulted in high unemployment for groups of individuals who may be viewed as mentally ill or unstable, which leads to high poverty rates and homelessness for these individuals (as a result of joblessness and inability to obtain health insurance to cover medical care and possible medications), and in a small number of cases, individuals may resort to violence. Unfortunately, the media plays a terrible role in all of this. By sensationalizing the small number of incidents of violence perpetrated by someone who may be suffering from a mental health issue, the media has stoked the fire of fear in our society against those who are suffering from mental health issues, even though most of them are non-violent. Further, by portraying only the violent symptoms that some (not all) soldiers, veterans, first responders, and others who suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), these men and women often find themselves discriminated against in anything from finding a job to adopting a child.

Some politicians have called for legislation to be passed that restricts the rights of individuals who suffer from mental illness. What they do not seem to understand is that mental illness is not a fixed, static category of disorders and conditions. The official classification system is found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association. Since its first publication in 1952, it has undergone several updates and revisions. Over the years, conditions have been added and removed from the classification system of mental illness. For example, homosexuality was considered a mental disorder until it was officially removed from the classification in 1986. Another example is with ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) which officially appeared in 1980 but partially appeared in 1968 under a different designation (hyperkinetic reaction of childhood). The next DSM will be released this month with several changes including the addition of gambling disorder and changes in the definition of PTSD. See the American Psychiatric Association website for more information.

The bottom line is that mental illness is viewed as a sign of weakness, a form of deviance from social norms, and treated with fear and avoidance. There is no shame in asking for help. The world has changed dramatically and even civilians may experience traumatic events that may forever change their outlook and mental health. Do we punish those who witness acts of violence? In theory, no, in practice yes and it is done through the continued discrimination and negative portrayal of mental illness. This needs to stop and the sooner the better. If the media insist on sensationalizing mental illness, they MUST get their facts straight and present all of the information, not just what will attract the most viewers and be considered the most scintillating. Society must be shown and educated about mental health issues. We need to spread the news about how inaccurate the media’s portrayal and resulting societal treatment of the mentally ill is damaging our society, not only socially, but within the judicial, economic, and education institutions among others. We need to promote tolerance and respect not fear and ignorance.  And for those battling with what may be considered mental health issues, remember that you are not alone.

Here are some links that may be of interest:

Bryan A. Wood “Sometimes The Hardest Part to Going to War is Coming Home”

Myke Cole “What PTSD Is”

Kate Holt “The ‘Dangerous’ Veteran: An Inaccurate Media Narrative Takes Hold”

Veterans Crisis Line

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Finding Help for Mental Illness

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE)

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Mental Health

Mental Health Help Hotlines

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.

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.