Nov 17

(Matty P had two guests posts related to the firebombing of Dresden. To read all our posts on A Week of Human Tragedy: The Firebombing of Dresden, please click here.)

The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Rules of Engagement” opens with Commander Worf wandering the halls of the USS Defiant. The corridors are littered with his fallen comrades. The enemy raises their weapons in triumph. Forcing his way to the bridge, he doesn’t find fallen comrades or fallen enemies there, but slain children. Worf wakes up from the dream, awaiting trial for the murder of civilians. (For those who are worried, Worf didn’t kill the civilians, it was a ruse to break him.)

But his inner struggle hits a chord with our discussion on Dresden and civilian bombings. After On Violence’s week on Dresden, I realized something still bothered me. Not something that was said, but what I let go unsaid. There was more to the moral issue than simply citing the Geneva convention. We left untouched the issue of honor in warfare.

For the unfamiliar, the Klingons are an archetypal race based on war and conflict from the Star Trek universe. Klingons adhere to warrior codes and honor, in much the same way the ancient samurai balance war and tranquility, the ultimate “war is war”-iors. But they do not see war as hell; it is glorious. War is the ultimate test of character, personal strength, and most of all; honor. In much the same way many young American see joining the military as a rite of passage, battle and service is the right of passage for a Klingon.

In “Rules of Engagement,” Worf believes he had done the unthinkable in his or any culture. He has murdered civilians. It was an accident: they’re ship wandered onto a battle field. While, by their religion they had died gloriously, by all accounts, his actions are dishonorable. Worf faces the same punishment we should expect here and now: imprisonment and a dishonorable discharge from service.

Honor is not a term I use lightly. Honor is more than a social conditioning or personal code. It is it a distinguishing between right and wrong. Between the ethical and unethical. As the son of a soldier and warrior; of combat veterans, the concept of honor was ingrained. Seemingly small things. You don’t kick someone when they’re down (figuratively or literally). Be gracious in victory and defeat. Commend personal sacrifice. Protect and don’t bully the weak. They’re the same basic tenants that any parent teachers their child, we just had a word for it.

It is also a basis for military conduct. We respect and honor our service members for their willingness to sacrifice their safety for others. The ribbons on a soldier’s chest are not for decoration, they are to distinguish honorable service. The men who guard and handle our nation’s banner are the Honor Guard. And the Medal of Honor is this nation’s highest honor. Honor is the military’s highest tradition.

When I think of Dresden and the civilians that died, I’m am saddened. I think, for a both a Klingon and a member of our United States military: there is no honor in this...

Oct 19

(Today's post is a guest post by longtime reader Matty P. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines. We look forward to publishing reader posts on future Tuesdays.

Matty P. is continuing our series A Week of Human Tragedy: The Firebombing of Dresden.)

When Michael asked me my opinion on Dresden, I was under the impression that my opinion should be universal and obvious. Killing civilians is bad. No circumstance could change that. The concept of war with regard to just war theory, the questions of when to go to war, and the discussion of viable targets could be considered admittedly complex but the targeting of innocents couldn't be argued. Or so I thought.

There’s a discussion on the wisdom of bombing Dresden. It’s been suggested that the city qualifies as a military target because it housed military barracks. I read one post that suggested that Dresden broke the spirit of the German people in much the same way Hiroshima and Nagasaki broke the will of the Japanese. And one forum spouted such gems as “War is hell” and “Who cares? They were Nazi’s.”

Michael addresses these concerns very analytically. With logic akin to a cost-benefit analysis he comes to the conclusion that killing civilians is a no-no. My response is more emotional.

As I was formulating this I thought, “Are you s***ting me? I have to be that guy who says: no, never, not under any circumstances?” We have rules of engagement, the Geneva Convention, and any number of monotheist, polytheist, and atheist philosophical belief sets that all dictate that killing innocents is wrong. This issue lack complexity.

First, the US abides and recognizes the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC). Which means every US citizen is mandated to recognize and follow these rules. Within the LOAC, there is a section about “distinction.” Simply put, distinction dictates lawful targets in armed conflict. For example; non-combatants, civilians, prisoners of war, and enemy wounded are not viable targets. Further, there is a specification that bombing military targets must not cause damage to civilian targets. ie. You cannot bomb an a military barracks if it will destroy a hospital.

Second, the Article 3 of the Geneva Convention states not that civilians and enemy wounded are not only discounted as enemy targets, but are guaranteed safety, personal property, and dignity. It even goes so far as to mandate that sick and wounded are to be allowed care by a humanitarian third party.

Third, I can think of no religion or philosophy espouse by any non-deviant human being that would allow the ending of innocent life. As a Christian, I cannot believe a merciful Christ who humbled himself to death would be fine with bombing 35,000-100,000 civilians simply because it broke Germany’s will to survive. I’ve no doubt the same is true of all schools of thought that value human life.

Finally, consider that the ordinance dropped contained magnesium and phosphorus. These are terrible to inflict upon enemy combatants, to say nothing of turning them on innocents. The fires were reported to burn so hot in Dresden that people flung themselves into the city’s fountains hoping the water would protect them. These people were boiled alive as the water evaporated. Eric C has asserted that taking a life should break your heart. How much worse is the murder of civilians?

Oct 04

(Today's guest post is by Joseph McAtee, Communications Coordinator for the National Resource Directory. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines. We look forward to publishing reader posts on future Tuesdays.

Quick note: The views of guest writers are not necessarily the view of Michael C or Eric C. In today’s post, though we are glad to host The National Resource Directory.)

Earlier this year, a report from the chairman’s staff of the Congressional Joint Economic Committee laid bare the challenge. On the left side of the graph, a muted red bar noting the unemployment rate was ominous enough.“8.5% - Non-Veterans, 18 and older.” But beyond that stood a taller, darker, more imposing bar.  “10.9% - Post-9/11 Veterans.”

In June, The New York Times reported that during a hearing before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, a Congressional Budget Office analyst suggested in her testimony that the annual cost of caring for Veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars would could rise from $1.9 billion in 2010 to $8.4 billion in 2020.

Citing recent data published by the Department of Veterans Affairs, a USA Today article said the number of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans who are “homeless or in programs aimed at keeping them off the streets” has doubled three times since 2006.

Whether it is employment, health care, housing or any of the other myriad factors that apply to Service Members, Veterans and those who care for them, the challenges that face the military community are unique.

In order to meet those challenges, the Departments of Defense, Labor and Veterans Affairs created the National Resource Directory, a portal of nearly 14,000 resources that provide assistance to the military community from education and training organizations to resources that facilitate employment of Veterans to homeless assistance and more.

Michael C, one of the founders of this blog, has expressed his dissatisfaction with the culture of the Army and the role it played in his decision to leave the service, notably in “talking about ‘helping soldiers’ while not, and a refusal to acknowledge that the soldiers most in need of help are the ones getting dishonorably discharged.”  

That’s exactly what the NRD was created for. I can attest to its success, because I too recently ETS’ed.

A year ago, I was in Iraq; by February, I had completed my initial term of service and had been honorably discharged. I was lucky.  I was never harmed during my two deployments, I don’t suffer from the kind of mental and behavioral difficulties that so many I served with do, and I had graduated college before enlisting. Many, if not most, Service Members who make the transition back to the civilian side don’t do so with such stability.

Both Michael and Eric approach violence, contextually and logically, with a reverent eye toward history and logic. The question they’ve asked often (“What is violence?”) is one that from an academic perspective, from an intellectual perspective, engages an informed readership. The U.S. faces a similar question, one that challenges our responsibilities to Veterans: What do we owe those who face violence?

Judging by the number of organizations that do so much for so many in the military, it is apparent that Americans feel a responsibility to assist Veterans in need, to assist our wounded warriors. It is a question as much about “how” as it is “what.”

I know the contributors here often have answers to the questions they pose in their blog posts. I don’t. I don’t know how to ensure that every Veteran, Wounded Warrior, military spouse and child receives what they deserve (that in and of itself is a question to be asked…just not here and not by me). I do know that the National Resource Directory is part of that answer, and I’m glad to be a part of it.

Sep 12

(Today's post is a guest post by longtime reader Matty P. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines. We look forward to publishing reader posts on future Tuesdays.)

Because he could find no fault with the man many were calling the Christ, Pontius Pilate decided to offer the growing mob a choice. It was Pilate’s custom and right to offer the people one prisoner sentenced to death clemency, as a demonstration of Rome’s benevolence. He gave the rabble a choice between two men sharing the same name. One was Jesus Barabbas, an insurrectionist. The other was Jesus of Nazareth who was purported to heal the sick. Pilate offered freedom for one and death for the other. The people shouted. The people chose freedom for the one that inspired them, the one that could lead them; Christ went to his death.

This is the story of Barabbas paraphrased from the Gospel of Matthew. Over the Lenten season, I came across these events in Bible study. Traditionally, anti-semites have used this the tale has been used to propagate their hatred using the crowd’s choice of a criminal over Christ. But the story isn’t meant to convey blame, it’s meant to indicate our nature. The telling is about a choice, but not a choice between individuals, rather a choice between peace and violence; and mankind choose an insurrectionist over a healer.

Barabbas was a criminal whose crime against Rome and men warranted death. The manner with which the two Gospels refer to him indicate he was arrested for either inciting or being part of a riot against Roman authority. Biblical scholar Robert Eisenman noted that the manner to which Barabbas was referred to was reserved for revolutionaries. His name also tells us he was a Jew: Jesus meaning “salvation” and Barabbas meaning “son of the father.” So it begins to emerge that there is not just one potential savior in this story but two.

Christian tradition has demonized Pilate to the same level as Judas. Ironic considering the portrayal of Pilate’s attempt to avoid the weight of judging someone he considered blameless. Either because his wife’s warning or because speaking with Christ made clear that the accused was no threat to Rome, Pilate attempted two times to defer judgement. When the Jewish religious leaders brought Jesus before Pilate the first time, Pilate looked him over and sent him to Herod to be dealt with. When Jesus returned, he realized he would have to deal with this situation seeing a threat of violent protest in his courtyard. His strategy: maintain order by sating the crowd with a gift.

Author and Pastor Adam Hamilton called it “a choice between two saviors.” It must have seemed like an easy decision in Pilate’s mind as to who they would choose. Between the two, the crowd would surely cry for the freedom of the man they cheered for as a king as he entered the city just days before, throwing palm fronds at his feet. The choice between a criminal and a religious teacher.

Some say the Sanhedrin stacked the deck, that the crowd that day was organized. That the Pharisees rounded up their followers and those who had grievance against Christ to fill that courtyard. Men like the money changers that were driven from the temple or those with means who were told the meek would inherit the earth. But that’s too convenient an explanation and attempts to deflect the message. It ignores the nature of a mob which grows of it’s own accord and tends toward violence.

The story of Barabbas is an indictment of mankind’s nature. It shows that we are not just foolish, but violent by desire. More than just a telling of events, the story is a parable in itself. When faced with two potential saviors we chose not the man of peace, but the man of violence.

Apr 14

(Today's post is a guest post by longtime reader Matty P. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines. We look forward to publishing reader posts on future Thursdays.)

We stepped cautiously through the door at the behest of an Orange County Sheriff. Our patient, a fifteen year-old girl who took a razor blade to her wrists, walked down the stairs to our gurney with pressure dressings on her forearms, teary-eyed. We wheeled her out of the multimillion dollar home on the gurney, past the BMW her father bought her for her upcoming sweet sixteen birthday party, and loaded her into the ambulance so she could be evaluated for her wounds and depression.

I struggled to understand this phenomenon for a long time, wondering about kids or adults who have more than we even aspire to have are depressed and attempt to kill themselves. EMT’s working for minimum wage, I’ve noticed, find it particularly difficult to grasp. “Like their life was so hard,” we would say bitterly.

Why is it that America has little more than five percent of the population controlling more than thirty percent of household wealth, but has a higher rate of depression than any other country? The most reasonable hypothesis would seem to confirm the adage that money cannot buy happiness. In fact, is seems money only buys discord.

Abraham Maslow suggested human beings have a hierarchy of needs. At the most basic are the biological: food, water, air, etc. Following in that pyramid are needs of security, belonging, self-esteem, and finally self-actualization. When one level is attained, a human being struggles with ensuring the next. For example; a person is unlikely to worry about finding a permanent shelter if that person cannot guarantee a steady supply of nourishment. In the case of my patient, once food and safety are ensured, she struggled to fulfill higher level and more abstract needs such as belonging and self-esteem.

Maslow’s theory has evolved and my explanation is of course overly simplified. But the core concept remains the same: humans long to fill needs in accordance with what they have and what they do not. Happiness is then a counter cultural abstraction of faith and value, rather than the ownership and property. Complexity of thought rather than of trappings and lifestyle.

My patient’s life was full of everything money could buy, yet it wasn’t enough. Entanglement in the material, investing in our culture of more and better and faster as the means of happiness only revealed her wanting; her own solitude and disconnection. As for me, though at the time I lacked an understanding with what made her attempt to kill herself, I was happy with something simple. I was just happy that she didn’t succeed.

Apr 07

(Today's guest post is by Jennifer Hunt, author of "Seven Shots". You can read our review here. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines. We look forward to publishing reader posts on future Thursdays.

Quick note: The views of guest writers are not necessarily the view of Michael C or Eric C. For our take, please check out the comments below.)

The day after the World Trade Center disaster on 9/12, 2001, I got on the subway near 59th street. I was relieved to discover that there weren’t police or soldiers, armed with rifles and submachine guns, asking to see IDs. Democracy was intact. New York hadn’t turned into a police state. 

These days I’m not so sure.

The NYPD and Democracy

“I’ve never seen anything like this in more than twenty years on the job. It’s a police state down here!”  My friend in the NYPD told me over the phone. It was the summer of 2004. He was calling from his post at the Republican National Convention in Manhattan. I was ensconced in my apartment in Morningside Heights.

Having been warned by police friends that chaos could rein in midtown, I didn’t go out. By this time, I was beginning to question the police commissioner’s leadership and some of the changes he’d instituted.

Before the convention, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly had authorized detectives from the Intelligence Division to spy on nonviolent groups in other states without the knowledge of local cops and in violation of the law. During the RNC, he had approved mass arrests of peaceful demonstrators and any civilian who happened to be passing by. Nets were used to help capture large groups and transport them to a makeshift detention center until after the convention was through.

Although 90% of the arrests that took place during the RNC were thrown out of court, the NYPD continued to take photographs of peaceful protest groups. Later, the city denied the rights of nonviolent demonstrators to march against the war in Iraq in Central Park, a location that had a history of peaceful protest since the 1960’s, at least.

The police actions around 2004 and after effectively stifled dissent. Protesters were arrested or not allowed to march or gather in mass. As a result, the media could not capture their image and spread it across the globe.

Black-ops in the NYPD?

According to police journalist Lenny Levitt in a recent column, David Cohen, the CIA transplant who Kelly bought in to head the Intelligence Division, appears to have developed a squad officers who are allowed to act above the law. One  of Levitt’s sources suggests that a  “mini-CIA [exists] within a municipal agency without the safeguards to ensure that it does not break the law….What mechanisms are in place to ensure that the NYPD does not become a rogue organization?”

Detectives in Intelligence have been sent to other countries to gather “real time” intelligence, duplicating efforts by the FBI and escalating tensions with U.S agencies that have jurisdiction overseas.

In an incident in 2009, the NYPD undermined an FBI investigation of a serious Al Qaeda plot and forced the premature arrest of some of the conspirators. This included Najibullah Zazi who drove to New York City, planning to join his friends and detonate bombs in the subway.  Without informing the FBI, officers in the NYPD’s Intelligence Division contacted one of its informants and showed him a picture of Zazi. The informant then tipped off Zazi to the NYPD’s inquiries, prompting him to abort the plot. The FBI only learned of the NYPD’s interference because it had wire-tapped Zazi’s father’s phone and thus heard the warning call.

Despite the presence of multiple NYPD units 24-7 in the summer of 2010, a van carrying explosives entered the Times Square area undetected by police. Fortunately, the bombs didn’t detonate but turned to smoke and venders alerted the police. The FBI took over from there.


There are some practical solutions that would help address some of the problems that are plaguing the intelligence and counterterrorism efforts in the NYPD today, although politics will inhibit their being realized anytime soon.

l. Replace David Cohen as Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence. We do not need “a spook” in a position of power in the NYPD. There are other intelligence experts who respect the limits of law and can better negotiate important relations between local police and federal agencies. Communication and the sharing of intelligence.

2. Ray Kelly should step down. Kelly has been police commissioner for three consecutive terms. He has become besotted with his own power and influence and he is responsible for authorizing Cohen’s every move.

3. The Justice Department should begin an investigation of the NYPD Intelligence Division to determine if its bosses have ordered detectives to take action that violate the constitution and other state and federal laws.

4. Create transparency in the NYPD. Since Kelly took office in the wake of 9/11, the NYPD has been closed to scholars and journalists who are not willing to write what he wants the public to know.

5. Recognize that New York has a history of terrorism that proceeded 9/11. At some point there will be another terrorist attack. However, the victory for terrorists will not come from more lives lost but from the way such acts have effectively undermined democratic policing in New York.  Let us do what we can to maximize preparedness for terrorism while maintain a democratic police. 

Jennifer Hunt PhD is a sociologist and the author of Seven Shots An NYPD Raid on a Terrorist Cell and its Aftermath (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010). In addition to Seven Shots, she has written a book on ethnography and numerous articles in scholarly journals and popular magazines.

Apr 01

(Today's post is a guest post by longtime reader Matty P. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines. We look forward to publishing reader posts on future Thursdays.)

If you’ve surfed the internet, watched television, or listened to the radio within the last five years, you've heard the jokes. The hyperbolic ultra-macho exaltation of a once B-list action star, Chuck Norris.

Among my favorites:

- There used to be a street named after Chuck Norris. It was changed on the grounds that no one crosses Chuck Norris and live.
- Death once had a near Chuck experience.
- Chuck Norris' tears can cure cancer. Unfortunately, he never cries.
- Beneath Chuck Norris' beard, there isn't a chin, but another fist.

I'm sure you have your own favorites as well. If not there are websites that can help you find some. As impressive as the jokes make the man sound, the truth was much more impressive.

In college, I had a friend with a connection to this icon/demi-god. She never spoke of her affiliation with the action hero, but looking back, I should've seen the signs. She did after all, own a Total Gym. It was a connection we (a roommate and myself) were unaware of until it was too late.

I saw him first entering the room out of the corner of my eye. By that time it was too late to run. He was less than ten yards from us. Instantly, my fight or flight response was activated. The adrenaline sped my thinking. I assessed my options. Do I run or would that, in the same principle as facing a Grizzly Bear, only force him to instinctively attack (in earnest, I could not outrun my roommate either). Do I drop to my knees and beg for my life or would such an act disgust him to the point of ripping my heart from my chest? All my processing mattered little; I froze still considering my options. I clung to the hope that, just maybe, he was an illusion induced from the long drive.

My roommate saw him too by this time. He was not a figment of my imagination. Fear paralyzed me and the world championship fighter made the first move.

His hand extended. "Hi. I'm Chuck Norris," he said as if an introduction was necessary. (Eric C want me to clarify at the introduction, he did in fact use his full acting name). I took the hand that in all likelihood could crush mine without too much effort and shook.

My roommate took the hand when I was done, looked from person to person in the room and asked, "Are you serious?" We all laughed and he generously showed us around his home. It was as if we were meeting a friend of a friend, not an action hero.

Much like those popular jokes, most of the story above was exaggeration. And as much as I enjoy the jokes they fail to do him justice. In truth, what I saw was a gentle humility of a man who loves his family and his life. While I'm sure he finds it entertaining being referred to as the prototypical badass, I saw him as a really nice guy... who could kill me with a single punch... from the fist beneath his beard.

(Happy April Fools. There's no trick here, just a more humorous post than usual.)

Mar 03

(Today's post is a guest post by longtime reader Matty P. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines. We look forward to publishing reader posts on future Thursdays.)

Leaving the emergency room with an empty gurney in tow, I noticed a middle aged man hurriedly walking toward the Emergency Services entrance. He looked like a taller version of Kevin Pollock.

If you don’t work in a hospital or as an EMT, the Emergency Services entrance is reserved for police, fire, and emergency medical personnel because it grants direct access to patient rooms, the emergency room nursing station, and the rest of the hospital. Normally, it’s accessed via security code. Patients and family or other visitor have a dedicated entrance with a waiting room and access to a triage area.

So I stopped the guy. Our conversation went like this:

Me: Excuse me, sir. If you’re looking for the entrance to the emergency room, it’s behind you around the corner.
Man: It’s okay, the paramedics just brought in my dad through here.
Me: Yes, sir. But this entrance is dedicated for emergency personnel only. If you’ll go through the main entrance, the admissions people can take your name and get you a pass.
Man: What’s the problem?
Me: Sir, it’s really just a security issue. This entrance is for people who are cleared to use it. You really need to check in at the front desk.
Man: Security? What, do I look like a terrorist to you?
Me: Sir, what exactly does a terrorist look like?

I want to stress how polite I was trying to be. I did use “sir” every time.

By this time, the door had shut behind me and the man, foiled in his attempt at breezing into the emergency room, returned to the front entrance, leaving me to dress the gurney and clean my rig to prep for the next call. But the whole exchange got me thinking: what does a terrorist look like?

There’s no clear definition. The man’s implication was that there should be some discernible difference between him and a terrorist at first glance. Is there expectation for appearance? Should all terrorists mirror Islamic extremists? The notion would discount domestic terrorists like Jared Lougher, Ted Kaczynski, Timothy McVeigh, Lee Harvey Oswald, and James Earl Ray.

My rather-obvious-but-never-repeated-enough point is that there is no defining “look” of a terrorist, aside from the desire to inflict chaos and violence on a particular population. Appearance has nothing to do with it.