They are casualties too

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LCpl Rory Dalgliesh, USMC, 1990-2013.

 

My friend Rory was 23 when he took his own life two years ago. He had come home from his deployment to Afghanistan physically intact. But not all wounds are visible.

He went to Afghanistan in January 2011 as a member of Fox Co., 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines. By the time his unit rotated home in August 2011, Rory had spent much of his eight months in country walking combat patrols as a SAW gunner and then with an explosives-detection dog, tasked with finding IEDs before they could kill or maim his buddies.

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Rory in Afghanistan, 2011.

I don’t know much about what Rory went through during his tour; he held things close when he was home in Michigan. His parents knew some, and found out much more after he died, things they keep to themselves.

I think about Rory often, when I see his folks at church, when we share a meal together, when I read their posts on social media. Two years on, they continue to suffer; the pain of their loss still bites deeply. And there is little any of the rest of us can do to comfort them but offer love and support. And even that doesn’t feel like enough.

I think about Rory when I meet students in my classes who are themselves veterans of America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think about the burdens they might carry, what unseen scars they may bear.

And I think about Rory when I read stories like that which appears today at The New York Times, chronicling the agonizing struggle of another battalion of Marines that has been plagued by suicide in the years since returning from their own earlier deployment to the same region of Afghanistan where Rory served.

The Times report tells the story of the 2/7, the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, which went to Helmand Province in 2008 and who in eight months of combat duty suffered more casualties than any other Marine battalion that year. But the real story is about what happened when they came home. And their story in its basic outline is Rory’s story as well.

Almost seven years after the deployment, suicide is spreading through the old unit like a virus. Of about 1,200 Marines who deployed with the 2/7 in 2008, at least 13 have killed themselves, two while on active duty, the rest after they left the military. The resulting suicide rate for the group is nearly four times the rate for young male veterans as a whole and 14 times that for all Americans.

Suicides among former service members has reached epidemic proportions, but as the Times relates, recognition of the crisis has brought us no closer to knowing how to handle it.

For years leaders at the top levels of the government have acknowledged the high suicide rate among veterans and spent heavily to try to reduce it. But the suicides have continued, and basic questions about who is most at risk and how best to help them are still largely unanswered. The authorities are not even aware of the spike in suicides in the 2/7; suicide experts at the Department of Veterans Affairs said they did not track suicide trends among veterans of specific military units. And the Marine Corps does not track suicides of former service members.

The Times story is heartbreaking and important. Read it. And think about Rory, his comrades, and all those they have left behind.

They are casualties too.

Refugees and drugs tread the same paths

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We can understand a lot about the mechanics of Europe’s ongoing refugee crisis — in particular the routes refugees are taking as they flee war and misery in places like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Africa — by looking at the patterns of flow that carry other “illicit” traffic into the heart of the European Union, specifically narcotics.

refugee crisis mapFor the last several years now my colleague Byungwon Woo and I have been analyzing the patterns of international narcotics trafficking, particularly the routes and networks of transit states that link producers to consumers. The first article to grow out of this research was published last year. A second piece is currently under review.

Even a cursory glance at maps, like the one at right, diagramming the movements that make up the refugee crisis, show that the routes refugees are following are virtually identical to those used by narcotics traffickers.

Thus we can see the Balkan Route, which for decades has been used to bring heroin, opium, hashish, and other narcotics from Central Asia into the lucrative consumer markets of Central and Western Europe, is now also being used to move refugees to their preferred destinations in places like Austria and Germany.

Likewise we see refugees moving into Southern Europe following the same routes across the Mediterranean from North Africa that Algerian and Moroccan cannabis traffickers have long leveraged.

Just as with illicit narcotics, Europe’s system of open borders, once you manage to make it inside, facilitates the flow of people across national boundaries as easily as it does heroin or cannabis. As NPR noted in its reporting this morning, this puts the burden squarely on those states on the periphery of Europe to stem the human tide.

Which explains why more and more of the countries on the periphery, like Hungary, are moving aggressively to build fences along their borders to block refugees (Greece did so in 2012) and why others, like Macedonia, are employing heavy crackdowns by police to the same effect.  But again, as with narcotics trafficking, there’s a natural elasticity in the routes that refugees are taking. Analysts have described drug smuggling as akin to a balloon: when you squeeze it in one place it bulges elsewhere.

The same is true with the movement of refugees. The New York Times illustrates this very effectively, showing how the closing of safer routes into Europe have driven refugees into more and more dangerous journeys.

This raises one more point of comparison with the international trade in narcotics. As it has become more and more difficult for refugees to reach Europe legally, human traffickers have stepped in to meet the demand of desperate people. And make no mistake, this is a lucrative trade, estimated to be worth more than $1 billion a year, a figure which likely understates the real value given the exponential increase in human traffic into Europe this year. Traffickers currently charge about $3,000 per person for the arduous trip from the war zones of Syria to the safety of Germany.

Recognizing the parallels between the movement of people in Europe’s ongoing refugee crisis and the movement of drugs in the international narcotics trade also points us to the recognition that complex transnational problems require coordinated transnational action to have any meaningful impact. That kind of coordination has been lacking for decades on the narcotics front. And as we’ve come to see, there is so far little collective political will in Europe to manage this new crisis.

Jeb doubles down

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George W. Bush, keeping America safe.

 

It was one of those moments during last night’s GOP debate when I had to stop and ask: Did he really say that? OK, fine, there were a lot of those kinds of moments, but this one was … special.

In response to Donald Trump’s goading criticism of his brother’s administration, Jeb Bush responded with this:

You know what? As it relates to my brother, there is one thing I know for sure, he kept us safe. I don’t know if you remember, Donald. You remember the rubble? You remember the firefighter with his arms around him?

Yeah, I remember. That would be the rubble of the World Trade Centers.  That would be the rubble of the World Trade Centers that were destroyed by terrorists in hijacked airliners on 9/11. That would be Sept. 11, 2001. When George W. Bush was president.

screen_shot_20150917_at_2.39.53_pm.png.CROP.original-original.39.53_pmSo, according to Jeb, George kept us safe from terrorism by presiding over the country on the day it suffered the single worst terrorist attack in its history.

Now we have to acknowledge that Jeb was going off-script in this moment of the debate, and while he’s had some nine months now to prepare any number of effective responses to criticisms of his brother’s (or his dad’s) presidencies, every time he gets one of these he stumbles and fumbles his way into some awkward statement or other.

You’d think that in the clear light of the next day, Jeb would find a way to walk that bit of gross misstatement of the historical record back. Maybe emphasize that W kept us safe after 9/11, or something. But nope. Today he doubled down, sending out the tweet above.

Maybe there’s some signal of steely resolve that Jeb is trying to send here, I don’t know.

What I do know is that the families of some 3,000 Americans who lost their lives that day, and the families and friends of the thousands more service men and women who gave their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan in the Bush years that followed, might beg to differ.

You may now remove your tinfoil hat

reeducation campWhile you were waiting to be released from re-education camp, Jade Helm 15, the takeover of America (OK, mostly just Texas) by Obama’s jackbooted legions of special ops FEMA agents striking from bases in shuttered Walmart stores connected by secret tunnels, came to an end.

Or, as Steve Benen writing for MSNBC put it:

Congratulations, America, you managed to avoid a military takeover of the United States and the dictatorial imposition of martial law.

A spokesman for Army Special Operations Command, which led the summer-long military training exercise, described the operation as an overall success. Formal after-action reviews will determine what, if any, lessons were learned from the experience.

Until then, I’ve got a lesson for you: Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.