News: Summer 2007

The War After the War That Rages in Soldiers’ Heads

photo: casulties of war

The nightmares that tormented Segeant Walter Padilla after returning home from Iraq in 2004 prompted extensive treatment by Army doctors, an honorable discharge from the military and a cocktail of medication to ease his pain. Still, he could not ward off memories of the people he had killed with a machine gun while perched on his Bradley fighting vehicle. On April 1, he withdrew to the shadows of his Colorado Springs home, pressed the muzzle of a pistol to his temple, and squeezed the trigger.

Padilla had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder at nearby Fort Carson Army base.

Friends and family say Padilla complained that antidepressants and painkillers were no substitute for talking with someone who understood what it was like to kill.

“He told me that the doctors weren’t helping him,” said his mother, Carmen Sierra. “He told me that they couldn’t understand him, that he was still having those nightmares.”

Veterans for America, an advocacy group that has lobbied the Army and Congress on behalf of returning soldiers, said the Army must do better, particularly at Fort Carson, where soldiers with the stress disorder have spoken of being punished by their commanders.

“Fort Carson is overwhelmed with men and women coming home from Iraq with psychological injuries from war, and there are unit commanders here who don’t understand these medical conditions,” said Steve Robinson, director of veterans affairs for the group.

Col. John Cho, the base’s chief medical officer, said Fort Carson had treated 1,703 soldiers for post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, since 2003. He disputed the assertion that problems at Fort Carson are widespread. “We’re never going to fully eliminate the stigma associated with PTSD, but the leadership at Carson has been fully supportive of getting soldiers the help they need.”

The Army reports seven suicides of active duty soldiers at Fort Carson since 2004 but says it does not know if any were linked to the disorder. Sergeant Padilla was not included among the seven because he died after being discharged.

Most recently, Staff Sgt. Mark Alan Waltz, who was being treated for post-traumatic stress, was found dead in his living room on April 30. An autopsy of Casualties of warSergeant Waltz, 40, is pending, but his wife, Renea, believes her husband died from a reaction to the antidepressants he was taking for stress and painkillers prescribed for a back injury. Ms. Waltz is also convinced that the psychological wounds he carried from battle played a part in his death.

Mrs. Waltz said her husband was reluctant to seek treatment after returning from Iraq in 2004 because he thought a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder would cost him his rank. She said the condition was eventually diagnosed and he was referred for treatment. Even then, she said, he was “picked out, scrutinized and messed with continually” by his commanding officers. “It’s not right that our guys are going over to Iraq, doing their job, doing what they’re supposed to do, and then when they come back sick, they’re treated like garbage.”

Lt. Col. Laurel Anderson, a psychiatric nurse in charge of behavioral health at Fort Carson’s soldier readiness center, said the number of soldiers referred for mental health screenings had risen from about 12 percent of those seen at the center to 25 percent over the past year. (Based on a report for The New York Times by Dan Frosch.)

One in Eight Iraqis Dies Before Fifth Birthday

The mortality rate among Iraqi children younger than five rose 150 percent between 1990 and 2005, according to a report released in May by the humanitarian aid group, Save the Children. The group estimates that one in eight never makes it to his or her fifth birthday.

The report also said inadequate prenatal care has caused more birth defects and deaths, and that Iraq faced a grave humanitarian crisis even before the latest war. But most physicians here agree the four-year-old conflict has had an unmistakable impact.

Iraq’s child-mortality crisis is distressingly visible in Sadr City, a sprawling and embattled Shiite slum of 2 million residents in east Baghdad, home to many of the country’s poorest people.

Pediatricians at Ibn Al-Baladi said leaking sewage and the lack of potable water has contributed to a dramatic increase in such water-borne diseases as typhoid, which can place children at risk for circulatory failure, infections and possibly death if not properly treated.

Shortages of medicines, equipment and doctors have made things worse. The 34 pediatricians at Ibn Al-Baladi cope daily with hundreds of cases, often without antibiotics, intravenous drips, cardiopulmonary monitoring equipment, CT scans or MRI machines.

UK and US Must Quit Iraq Quickly: Former Ambassador

The British and American military presence in Iraq is worsening security across the region and should be withdrawn quickly, the UK’s former ambassador to Washington warned in June.

Sir Christopher Meyer acknowledged that leaving Iraq would be “painful,” but said the mission was not worth the death of one more serviceman. “I personally believe that the presence of American and British and coalition forces is making things worse, not only inside Iraq but the wider region around Iraq. The arguments against staying for any greater length of time themselves strengthen with every day that passes.”

He added: “I think the Iraqis are in fact sorting themselves out – often bloodily – independent of what we’re doing.”

The former diplomat was giving evidence to the Iraq Commission in London.

Acknowledging that foreign policy decisions were always “fraught with risk,” Sir Christopher noted: “It always seemed to me this was one of the key moral arguments in Iraq, that however bad things were … the overriding requirement for us was to be able to say to parents and relatives in Britain, your sons and daughters did not die in vain. I think we have now crossed the line – we now have to say the mission is no longer worth another life of a British or American serviceman.”

Sir Christopher’s book, DC Confidential, argued that the coalition failed to plan for securing and rebuilding Iraq in the aftermath of the invasion.

Russian Church Reunion

Four days of services marking the reunion of the Russian Orthodox Church and an migr church that broke away after the Bolshevik Revolution culminated in Moscow on the 20th of May in a liturgy held at the Cathedral of the Dormition in the Kremlin.

“Even in those years when the church in the Fatherland and the church abroad were not in full communion, we never forgot that we have one faith, one tradition handed down from the holy fathers, one homeland, one history,” said Patriarch Alexei II at the service in the 15th-century cathedral that is a center piece of the Kremlin and stands at the heart of Russian history. Tsars were crowned there and patriarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church enthroned and buried there.

An act of canonical union was signed on 17 May. It provides for the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) to maintain its name and administrative structure. It will choose its own leaders, but they will be approved by Moscow.

In his greeting to Metropolitan Laurus of the ROCOR, Patriarch Alexei called the cathedral “the heart of Russian Orthodoxy,” a sacred place that helped overcome the rift that divided the churches for 80 years.

On 19 May, a service was held at Butovo, a Stalinist killing field outside the Russian capital where at least 1000 Orthodox Christians were shot for their religious faith in 1937 and 1938. Of them, 323 have already been canonized as new martyrs of the Russian Orthodox Church.

In 2004, the laying of the cornerstone of a new cathedral on the site of the massacre by Metropolitan Laurus and Patriarch Alexei was a catalyst in reunion talks.

Until the canonization of the martyrs in 2000, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia had accused the Moscow Patriarchate of failing to come to terms with the Soviet past.

The churches split in 1927 after Metropolitan Sergius, in an effort to stave off further destruction of the church, declared the church’s loyalty to the Soviet state. (Sophia Kishkovsky / ENI)

Patriarchs plead for protection from Islamists

Christian leaders in Iraq have been issuing increasingly desperate pleas for help as Islamist militants put them under ever-greater pressure either to convert to Islam or leave. Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Emmanuel Delly and Mar Dinkha IV, Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, issued a joint statement denouncing an al-Qaida-led insurgent group for the rising violence.

“Christians in a number of Iraqi regions, especially those under the control of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq, have faced blackmail, kidnaping and displacement,” said the statement. The Islamists were gaining ground in Baghdad “while the Government has kept silent and not taken a firm stance to stop their expansion,” it said.

Patriarch Delly, who had kept a low profile since the Iraq war began in 2003, complained earlier this month that “Christians are killed, chased out of their homes before the very eyes of those who are supposed to be responsible for their safety.” He did not spare United States military forces either, saying: “The Americans came to Iraq without our consent. God does not appreciate what you have done and are doing in our country …” He was especially critical of US forces for taking over the Chaldeans’ Babel College in Baghdad after the seminary there moved to Kurdistan for safety in January.

Reports from church sources in Iraq say the Islamists have scoured Christian areas of Baghdad, threatening residents to convert or leave and putting up posters telling women to wear the veil. Some families are told to pay a monthly protection tax of about $200. One report said families who refuse to convert must quit Baghdad immediately, leaving all possessions behind. Several families are reportedly taking refuge in local churches.

Another Islamist tactic is to force churches to remove their crosses or be burned down.

The United Nations said in January that half of the 1.5 million Christians in Iraq before 2003 had fled the country and many of the rest were moving to “safe areas” in Kurdish regions of northern Iraq. But house-to- house searches for Christians have spread to Mosul and smaller towns in the north.

Bishop Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Aleppo, Syria, has also spoken out against the campaign against Iraqi Christians. “The forced emigration of Christians is terrible and not accepted by either Islam or Christianity or by reasonable human beings,” he said.

Cyprus Archbishop Offers to Mediate Between Pope and Patriarch

The Orthodox Archbishop of Cyprus, Chrysostomos II, said in June that he might be able arrange a meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and Patriarch Alexei II of the Russian Orthodox Church.

“I think I can be useful for a future meeting between the pontiff and the Patriarch,” Archbishop Chrysostomos told journalists after a conversation with Pope Benedict at the Vatican.

Archbishop Chrysostomos is scheduled to meet Patriarch Alexei in Moscow on 13 July.

Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, often spoke of his dream to visit Russia but met resistance from the Moscow Patriarchate, which accused the Vatican of seeking converts and infringing on its jurisdiction by creating Roman Catholic dioceses in Russia.

Italian newspapers have speculated that a meeting, if it happened, might take place neither in Moscow nor Rome but in a third city.

In a joint statement after their meeting, Pope Benedict and Archbishop Chrysostomos said the upcoming Catholic-Orthodox theological meeting in Ravenna would “face the more difficult questions which marked the history of division” of the Church. One of the issues on the agenda is the status of the papacy.

Nonviolence a Law of Life, Says Pope Benedict

Citing the teachings of Tertullian on nonviolence as “a law of life,” Pope Benedict XVI said that the ancient writer’s works have great relevance today amid fervent debate on religions. The reflection was given at a general audience in St. Peter’s Square on May 30.

“Tertullian’s work bore decisive fruits, and it would be unforgivable to undervalue them,” Benedict said. “His influence is developed on many levels: linguistically and in the recovery of the classic culture, and the singling out of a common ‘Christian soul’ in the world and the formulation of new proposals for living together.

“[Tertullian] shows the triumph of the Spirit, who pits the violence of persecutors against the blood, suffering and patience of the martyrs.

“Martyrdom and suffering for the truth are victorious in the end and more effective than the cruelty and violence of totalitarian regimes.”

Benedict noted the tragedy that Tertullian gradually left communion with the Church and joined a Montanist sect.

“From a human point of view, one can speak of Tertullian’s drama. With the passing of time he became more demanding of Christians. He expected them at all times, and above all in times of persecution, to act heroically. He rigidly held his positions, criticized many and inevitably found himself isolated…. It is evident that at the end he lacks simplicity, the humility to belong to the Church, to accept his weaknesses, to be tolerant of others and with himself.

“[Even so,] Tertullian remains an interesting witness of the first years of the Church, when Christians found themselves true subjects of a ‘new culture’ between classic inheritance and the Gospel message. His famous phrase states that our soul ‘is naturally Christian’ (Apologeticus 17:6), where Tertullian evokes the perennial continuity between authentic human values and Christian ones. And his other reflection, taken from the Gospels, says ‘the Christian cannot hate, not even his own enemies’ (Apologeticus 37), where the moral implication of the choice of faith, proposes nonviolence as the law of life: And who could not see the relevance of this teaching today in light of the fervent debate on religions.”

Risk of Nuclear Warfare Seen Rising

The world’s top military powers are gradually dismantling their stockpiles of nuclear arms, but all are developing new missiles and nuclear warheads with smaller yields that could increase the risk of atomic warfare, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said in June.

In its annual report on military forces around the globe, the institute said the rising number of nations with nuclear weapons is raising the risk such arms could be used.

“The concern is that countries are starting to see these weapons as useable, whereas during the Cold War they were seen as a deterrent,” said SIPRI’s Ian Anthony.

The US, Russia, China, France, Britain, Pakistan and India are known to have nuclear weapons, while Israel is thought to have them.

For the first time SIPRI counted North Korea among the world’s nuclear countries, because of its test explosion last October.

Iran is a potential member of the nuclear club if it decides to turn its uranium enrichment program to military use, Anthony said. This is something the US and its allies suspect is the Tehran regime’s plan but Iranian leaders deny. “Iran could appear on this list, but at the earliest five years from now,” Anthony said.

The report estimated those nations had 11,530 warheads available for delivery by missile or aircraft at the start of 2007, with Russia and the United States accounting for more than 90 percent – 5,614 in Russia and 5,045 in the U.S.

Both countries are reducing their stockpiles as part of bilateral treaties, but are developing new weapons as they modernize their forces. Britain, France and China also plan to deploy new nuclear weapons.

India, Pakistan and Israel each have dozens of warheads, but their stockpiles are believed to be only partly deployed, the institute said. “India and Pakistan are both thought to be expanding their nuclear strike capabilities, while Israel seems to be waiting to see how the situation in Iran develops.”

The US remained the world’s biggest military spender last year, devoting about $529 billion to its military forces, while China overtook Japan as Asia’s top arms spender. US military spending grew from $505 billion in 2005 mainly because of the “costly military operations” in Iraq and Afghanistan, SIPRI said. “This massive increase in US military spending has been one of the factors contributing to the deterioration of the US economy since 2001.”

The US was followed by Britain and France in military spending, while China’s expenditures reached nearly $50 billion, making it the fourth biggest arms spender in the world, SIPRI said. Japan was fifth at $43.7 billion.

SIPRI estimates that Russia has spent $34.7 billion on arms.

M.L. King’s Niece Urges Anti-Abortion Resolution

The niece of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. appealed in July to the national convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to adopt a resolution passed by the group’s chapter in Macon, Georgia, that addresses the impact abortion has had on the African American community.

The Macon NAACP chapter urges the national body to undertake efforts to reduce the high abortion and infant mortality rates in the black community and to reduce the disproportionately high black inmate population.

“The NAACP has always been about justice,” said Dr. Alveda King. “Today, there is no greater injustice facing black people than abortion. It’s as if a plague swept through our cities and towns and took Dr. Alveda Kingone of every four blacks,” she said.

“The national leadership of the NAACP needs to address what abortion has done to the African American community and our nation as a whole, even if it means making some people in high positions uncomfortable.

“In my travels across the country, I have met countless fellow NAACP members who are praying and marching for justice for all, including justice for unborn babies,” concluded King. “The National Board of the NAACP needs to know that its membership loves our children and wants what is right for them, and what is right is for them to be allowed to live.”

King, whose father was brother to the late Martin Luther King Jr., noted that over 13 million African Americans have died as a result of legalized abortion.

In 2006, over 500,000 babies were aborted in the African community – a number of unborn lives that could have populated a whole city, according to the African American church leader Pastor Luke J. Robinson.

Although black women represent 12 percent of the female population in the country, they have one-third of all abortions, noted Peggy Harshorn, president of the crisis pregnancy group Heartbeat International. Furthermore, for every five African American women that get pregnant, three will have abortions.

“The problem is that, for many African-Americans, the pro-life movement is perceived as a white, Republican, conservative movement,” the Rev. John Ensor, “and that group is on the wrong side of the civil rights movement.”

US Catholic Bishops Urge Amnesty Int’l to Repeal Abortion Stance

US Catholic bishops appealed in July to human rights organization Amnesty International to reverse its decision to support abortion.

Following an overhaul of its policy on sexual and reproductive rights earlier this year, Amnesty has been calling for the decriminalization of abortion in all cases and says that women should be free to choose abortion particularly in cases of incest, rape or other instances of human rights violations.

Bishop William Skylstad, president of the US Bishops’ Conference, said that Amnesty International’s decision to back abortion was “deeply disappointing.” He urged AI to restore its neutral position on the issue.

“The action of the executive council undermines Amnesty’s longstanding moral credibility, diverts its mission, divides its own members, and jeopardizes Amnesty’s support by people in many nations, cultures and religions.”

East German theologian warns on ‘friendly embrace’ of capitalism

Rev. Heino Falcke, an East German Protestant leader who played a leading role in the movement that led to the end of Communism and the Berlin Wall in 1989, has warned against the church becoming seduced by the “friendly embrace” of capitalism.

“What are the dominant interests in the church: self-preservation, maintaining its position, increasing its profile or service for others?” Falcke said at a conference at the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt in eastern Germany.

The gathering on 30 June was held to mark the 35th anniversary of a keynote speech by Falcke at a national Protestant church synod, where he spoke of the need for a “socialism that could be changed for the better.”

To the East German authorities, Falcke’s speech in 1972 sounded too much like the “socialism with a human face” in Czechoslovakia that Warsaw Pact tanks had suppressed four years earlier. Falcke himself was placed under observation by the Stasi, the East German secret police. He was regarded as “highly dangerous.”

Falcke was the Protestant Provost of Erfurt for 21 years until his retirement in 1994. As the leader of Erfurt’s Protestant church district, he became well known for his support for opposition peace, human rights and environmental groups in East Germany.

It is now more difficult for the church to withstand being exploited by the dominant powers, Falke told the conference, than it had been under Communism, when there was mutual suspicion on both sides. The church is now challenged by the “friendly embrace” of capitalism.

“It was then a question of making socialism more human, now it’s a question of making capitalism more human,” said Falcke. “Today, capital at the international level needs to be integrated within a social framework. That’s not possible within neo-liberal principles that are in force today.”

Red Cross Report Says Israel Violates Humanitarian Law

The International Committee of the Red Cross, in a report about East Jerusalem and its surrounding areas, has accused Israel of a “general disregard” for “its obligations under international humanitarian law, and the law of occupation in particular.”

The Red Cross said Israel is using its rights as an occupying power under international law “in order to further its own interests or those of its own population to the detriment of the population of the occupied territory.”

With the construction of the separation barrier, the establishment of an outer ring of Jewish settlements beyond the expanded municipal boundaries and the creation of a dense road network linking the different Israeli neighborhoods and settlements in and outside Jerusalem, the report says, Israel is “reshaping the development of the Jerusalem metropolitan area” with “far-reaching humanitarian consequences.”

Those include the increasing isolation of Palestinians living in Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and the increasing difficulty for some Palestinians to easily reach Jerusalem’s schools and hospitals.

The Red Cross committee, recognized as a guardian of humanitarian law under the Geneva Conventions of 1949, does not publish its reports but provides them in confidence to the parties involved and to a small number of countries. This report was obtained in May by The New York Times.

The Red Cross report notes that the separation barrier “was undertaken with an undeniable security aim,” but adds, “The route of the West Bank barrier is also following a demographic logic, enclosing the settlement blocs around the city while excluding built-up Palestinian areas, thus creating isolated Palestinian enclaves.”

One Billion May Be Displaced in the Next Four Decades

At least one billion people may have to flee their homes over the next four decades because of conflicts and natural disasters that will worsen with global warming, a relief agency warned in May.

In a report, British-based Christian Aid said countries worldwide, especially the poorest, are now facing the greatest forced migration ever, one that will dwarf those displaced by World War II.

In what at the time amounted to “the largest population displacement in modern history,” it said, 66 million people were displaced across Europe by May 1945, in addition to millions more in China.

Today there are an estimated 163 million people who have been displaced by factors like conflict, drought and flooding as well as economic development projects like dams, logging and grain plantations, it said.

“Forced migration is now the most urgent threat facing poor people in the developing world,” said John Davison, author of Human Tide: the Real Migration Crisis.

The figures include 645 million who will be forced to migrate because of development projects, and 250 million because of phenomena linked to global warming like floods, droughts and famine.

It said the conflict in western Sudan’s Darfur region, which has displaced more than two million people, was not just driven by political forces but also by competition for increasingly scarce water and land to graze animals.

Climate change, it said, will drive the growth of grain-producing plantations as rich countries will raise demand for bio-fuels over crude oil in a bid to reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

Christian Aid was created to help refugees from World War II.

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from the Summer 2007 issue of In Communion / IC 46

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