Occupation Breeds Inhumanity
On my mother’s side, my Jewish grandparents escaped the Nazis during Hitler’s Anschluss. On my father’s side, my Iraqi grandparents endured British occupiers. And my Iraqi cousins still suffer the impact of the illegal US-led invasion of Iraq. Based on my research, family history, collaborative work with anti-war veterans, and my own experiences in Iraq, I have found that military occupation breeds inhumanity, regardless of who is occupying whom. One way or another, that inhumanity affects everyone involved.
“Healing Invisible Wounds,” by Samuel Hughes [Sep|Oct 2015] sheds much needed light on the epidemic of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suicide among military veterans of the “Global War on Terror.” The piece also describes the important efforts of US General Mark Graham to improve diagnosis and treatment of such mental-health issues within the military system. But the Gazette article had two major omissions.
First, the morbidity and mortality sustained by thousands of American soldiers and Marines in Iraq was wholly preventable, since the US-led invasion of Iraq was a war of choice. The invasion was illegal, violating the US Constitution and the UN Charter, while countless violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention (governing protection of civilians) occurred during the course of the US military occupation. The attack on Iraq was a war of aggression on a sovereign country that posed no threat to us—a “supreme international crime” as defined by the Nuremberg Tribunal—which should never have taken place.
Second, the article failed to acknowledge the overwhelming majority of PTSD victims in Iraq: the millions of Iraqis we occupied. Their trauma came not only from our weapons and airstrikes (which continue today) but also house raids, displacement, food and water insecurity, and loss of friends and family members.
Understandably, Hughes’ feature on Penn graduate Yochi Dreazen C’99, who worked as an embedded reporter in Iraq, focused on his experiences with the US military. But it should be noted that such one-sided bias is inherent to embedded reporting. Journalistic standards of objectivity and impartiality are jeopardized when one’s life depends on the armed forces one accompanies in an occupation, which is the filtered view the Pentagon wants.
Since WWII, an estimated 90 percent of the casualties of war are unarmed civilians; one-third of them are children. More children are maimed or killed in modern warfare than soldiers. In that context, Dreazen’s enthusiasm for war as an adrenaline rush and as “potentially one of the coolest things I would see in my adult lifetime” demonstrates ignorance, callousness, or both.
More problematic was Hughes’ inset, “From Fallujah with Love,” describing how Dreazen met his wife through their “adventures in Iraq.” Rabbi Andrew Shulman, Jewish chaplain in Baghdad, connected them by circulating a picture of the bachelorette who he deemed “pretty hot.” There’s something disturbing about this spiritual adviser operating as a matchmaker for Washington elites while his soldiers’ lives are on the line in a war zone. But even more distasteful is a story of romance between two Americans (one a Pentagon employee) set in the ruins of a nation destroyed by unlawful US military aggression.
There is no silver lining to what we did in Iraq. None. The suffering of the Iraqi people (and the Afghan people as well) has been inflicted in our names in the “War on Terror.” The least we can do is acknowledge it.
Dahlia S. Wafsi M’97 Dover, DE
Samuel Hughes responds:
The fact that my article focused on alumnus Yochi Dreazen, the Graham family’s tragedies, and their work on the serious mental-health issues in the US military—the subject of Dreazen’s book—is hardly an example of “one-sided bias.” Many books and articles have been and should be written about the bogus rationale behind the invasion and its horrible effects on the Iraqi people. Expanding mine to tackle those enormous subjects would not have done justice to any of them.
A Commendation for General Graham
General Mark Graham is to be commended for being willing to discuss the unthinkable loss of both sons and for being willing to try to do things differently at Ft. Carson. The indoctrination about what to do when one is hurt starts in boot camp. The top three things to do are “do the mission, do the mission, do the mission.” If one is hurt, the response is to “suck it up.” This approach reflects the reality that there are no injury time-outs in a firefight.
PTSD is a form of injury not easily diagnosed. Yet, it can impair and wound as much or more than a broken femur. This goes directly against doctrine received in boot camp, even if the suicide rate reflects the damage from PTSD. It’s not surprising that General Graham did not get his third star. Change is not always well received in large, hierarchical organizations, even if it is the right thing to do.
The active duty soldiers’ loss with General Graham’s departure is the veterans’ gain in helping with PTSD and related post-combat challenges at Rutgers.
David B. FitzGerald WG’80 Gainesville, FL
The writer adds this note: “I am a full time neurologist at the Veterans Administration in Gainesville, where I work with veterans with [traumatic brain injury] and PTSD. My opinions are my own and not that of the Veterans Administration or the federal government.”—Ed.
Two Different Kinds of Suicides
Suicide bombing is used as a weapon against us in the countries that we have invaded, and, sadly, our soldiers have been killing themselves as the result of their experiences in those countries.
Perhaps we should not invade other countries, especially ones that have not attacked us.
Alan Kennedy W’72 Santa Monica, CA
Leave That Stuff, Like, Out
The human side of surrogacy in Trey Popp’s “Baby Mama” [Sep|Oct 2015] provided a new and interesting insight.
But even if Melissa Brisman does speak with, like, so many verbal disfluencies, the author didn’t need to, like, inflict them upon readers. They diminished Brisman’s credibility by making her seem immature and unprofessional, and disrupted the flow of the article.
Wendy Lathrop GGS’98 Bala Cynwyd, PA
Same Teenage Brains, Different Fates
The article on neurologist Frances Jensen and her book, The Teenage Brain, mentions that Jensen’s sons each made mistakes as adolescents—but their parents’ affluence, knowledge, and prestige helped set them on a better path in life [“Plastic Fantastic,” Sep|Oct].
When a youth from a less well-off family, especially one of color, makes a mistake, he could spend a good portion of the rest of his life in prison.
Daniel Nussbaum II C’63 Rochester, NY
Although previously cognizant of his status as a Penn alum, I was happy to see the essay submission of Nick Lyons, “Wharton and Everything After” [“Alumni Voices,” Sep|Oct 2015], and learn that he was also a Wharton grad. I proudly reflect on the fact that we both have “cast” aside our Wharton education for something far more natural and soulful: fishing.
And therein lies my ageless appreciation of his entertaining vision of angling as exemplified in his numerous books. I strongly suggest that all readers of the Gazette take a chance and read one of his various literary works. As both a professional captain/licensed fly-fishing guide and dedicated recreationalist, I assure you that his stories will make you laugh and smile.
Chuck Brodzki W’76 Bozeman, MT
Pay Attention to More Sports
So, I read the Gazette with relish each time I pull it from the mailbox. However, your Sep|Oct 2015 “Sports” column was quite puzzling. Penn track has produced a 2015 NCAA national champion who was also dubbed the NCAA’s track-and-field national scholar-athlete in late spring 2015. Additionally, Penn track tacked on three NCAA All-Americans and two Academic All-Americans (Sam Mattis, Noah Kennedy-White, Kelsey Hay, and Mike Monroe).
However, this big news went unnoticed by the Gazette. Penn has not had a national champion in over 12 years and has not placed this many kids in the big show for a very long time. The Ivy League has never had a male NCAA national scholar-athlete until this year, and he belongs to Penn. Worthy of some Penn pride and attention? I think so.
Please pay attention to the kids and coaches who are making a difference outside of the myopic lens of football, baseball, soccer, and basketball. Pay attention to the entire Penn sports community who are making such great national athletic and academic noise that deserve your focus. Reporting on a couple of new, yet unproven, coaches, as the latest column did, is fine—but in my opinion proven and dedicated student athletes are more worthy of your attention.
Marlon Mattis, parent East Brunswick, NJ
Unfortunately, this news came out in June, just too late to make it into our Jul|Aug issue; and the Sep|Oct column usually looks ahead to fall. However, Gazette sports columnist Dave Zeitlin did write about senior Sam Mattis’s NCAA championship for our blog last summer. That story, with accompanying video, can be seen here. —Ed.
Mark Deserved More
Penn alumna Mary Ellen Mark died over the summer [“Obituaries,” Sep|Oct 2015]. Given her importance to her field of photography, I was hoping for something more substantial than a single paragraph obituary.
For me, Mark stands out in her art by achieving a precarious balance between nonjudgmental acceptance of and engaged involvement with her subjects. Illustrating the former are her 1986 photographs of the Aryan Nations commune in Idaho. Her images portray both her subject’s racist Aryan beliefs, vividly apparent in their clothing, as well as their undeniable humanity. That the two can co-exist in a single image is unexpected, and memorable.
Engaged, involved photography had a long history before Mark took it up. What she added was emphasis on follow-up. As she wrote in her book American Odyssey (1999), “I gave them my phone number and they would call collect now and then to tell me what was happening in their lives. Photographing the same people over many years can be a very intense experience.”
So often, photographs, even the best ones, seem like an isolated movie still, a fragment torn from the continuum of time and space. So, too, I thought, with “Tiny in her Halloween costume, Seattle, Washington, 1983,” one of her best-known photographs. But Tiny called collect and so, in American Odyssey, we see Tiny, and her children, again in 1993 and then again in 1999.
As Mark’s subjects live on, so, too, I hope, will the significance of her photographs.
Paul Laub Gr’95 Sarasota, FL
Huber Obit Left Out Fraternity
The long obituary notice for Michel Huber [“Obituaries,” Sep|Oct] was fully appropriate. Mike had an unparalleled desire and capacity to connect people to Penn, and this was recognized. Yet one fact routinely appearing in Gazette obituary notices was missing: his fraternity. Mike was a devoted member of Beta Theta Pi. For decades he arranged parties during Reunion Weekends for Betas who were members of Phi chapter in the 1950s, and scores of these men returned to Penn also knowing that they would see old friends at these gatherings. It was one more potent way by which Mike kept alumni in touch with the University.
Daniel A. Baugh C’53 Williamsburg, VA
(Way) Inside Baseball
In the Sep|Oct 2015 “Letters,” Mark McCart questions the accuracy of our book title, stating “If The Nats and the Grays, profiled in the Gazette’s book section [“Briefly Noted,” Jul|Aug 2015], is truly about post-World War II Washington, DC baseball, and not the current version, I hope the fact-checkers did a better job with the body of the book than they did with the title.”
It is unfortunate that he did not read our book prior to questioning the historical accuracy of the title. My coauthor and I clearly go through the lineage of every team that has called DC home, including the current Nats franchise (the former Montreal Expos), which plays in the National League and for which the book is not named. However, contrary to his claim, the title of the book is correct regarding the team that forms the main focus of the book, also clearly stated in the “Briefly Noted” blurb: The American League Washington franchise during WWII was owned by Clark Griffith.
Mr. McCart, a self-described Midwesterner perhaps unfamiliar with the DC franchise, makes the mistake of thinking Griffith’s team was officially the “Senators.” In our book we clearly cite evidence that from 1905 through the mid 1950s, the team was officially the “Nationals.” Interestingly, unlike many of today’s teams that have their official names emblazoned on their uniforms, Griffith’s “Nats” uniforms simply had a “W” on them. Included in our research was memorabilia from the collection of longtime media expert, DC broadcaster Phil Wood, who generously provided us with a “Nationals” 1956 Press-Radio-TV Guide, among other things.
The historical record is quite clear on Griffith’s “Nats” until his death in 1955, but the mistake McCart makes is a common one among baseball fans. I encourage him to read our book. He would enjoy the meticulously researched history within the pages of The Nats and the Grays, and, after learning about Griffith’s “Nats” (not “Senators”), its cover, too.
Joshua Harry Drazen C’95 and David E. Hubler East Haven, CT
Bad Memory Lingers
The Gazette provides well selected, informational, and enjoyable reading that I look forward to receiving. Thanks for the effort that it must take to produce such a periodical.
It is rare to read an alum experience at Penn that is less than recollections of exultant nostalgia. However, Marshall Sikowitz W’71’s submission, headlined “No Water from a Dry Well” [“Letters,” Sep|Oct 2015], about his less than pleasant experiences as an undergraduate, prompted me to add my recollection of an event that has remained with me for 55 years.
Back in the spring of 1960, when I was a freshman dental student, the class had to take a course in gross anatomy (given at the Medical School). The passing grade was 70. My grade was 69. Consequently, I, along with many others who had “failed,” was offered the opportunity for a re-examination after the summer, which would be graded on a pass/fail basis.
That summer saw me caring for a terminally ill mother and holding down two jobs, all the while studying intensively for the re-exam. Being already married, failing was not an option for me. My anguish was palpable.
I was prepared for most of the questions, did well, and felt secure that I would pass. Immediately after taking the re-exam, all of us who were “in the same boat” gathered in the corridor to compare recollections of the questions and the various answers that had been given. Many answers that I overheard indicated to me that too many had not prepared.
When the results were posted a few weeks later, everyone passed. Although I was happy for myself, and that my friends and classmates would continue into our sophomore year, I realized that the faculty had predetermined the outcome. It was a cruel joke that they played. It flavored my vision of the school for the remainder of my tenure, and even until now.
Robert Dubman D’63 Lake Worth, FL
A Busy, Hardworking—and Good—Time
As a former employee of HUP (17 years) and a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania BSN program, for me “The Link” [Jul|Aug 2015] evoked many great memories. I have always said that HUP (and of course the Medical School’s significant influence) was where I received the very best nursing/medical “world” education.
To have the privilege of being in the midst of such well spoken, deeply caring, profoundly knowledgeable, and skilled “beyond words” medical professionals as Dr. Francis C. Wood is indescribable. Dr. Wood was an absolute gentleman, so wise and with an enormous body of knowledge and skill. I was always humbled to have the opportunity to be present on rounds with him.
Of course there are/were others: I never worked directly with Dr. Clyde Barker but was in awe of his work; and Drs. Sylvan Eisman, C.W. Hanson, the Rosato brothers, and so many others … my mind’s eye sees them, but their names for now are beyond me; not to mention the throngs of medical students, interns, and residents.
I hope you do not mind my reminiscing … it was a busy, hard working time in my life but an extremely good one, for which I am forever grateful.
Rose Waxler Nu’71 Gettysburg, PA