A U.S. Soldier Died in Niger. What on Earth Are We Doing There?

endless-war-niger

Kenny Holston 21/Flickr

In our military-revering culture, it’s a strange thing for a president to start a war of words with the grieving families of slain soldiers.

Strange, yes. But from Donald Trump’s campaign season feud with the parents of Humayun Khan, who died protecting fellow soldiers in Iraq, to his recent feud with the mourning widow of La David Johnson, who died on patrol in Niger, it’s no longer surprising.

At root in the latest spat is a comment Trump made to La David’s widow Myeshia Johnson: “He knew what he signed up for.” Myeshia thought that remark was disrespectful — she later said it “made me cry.”

Beyond insensitive, though, there’s a good chance it simply wasn’t true.

Why, after all, should La David have expected to die in a dusty corner of Niger — a Saharan country most Americans (and, one suspects, their president) couldn’t find on a map? And where the U.S. isn’t actually at war?

If you were surprised to learn the U.S. has nearly a thousand troops in Niger, you’re not alone. Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who serves on the Armed Forces Committee, told NBC he “had no idea.” Neither did Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s top Democrat.

Well, the surprises may keep coming.

The New York Times notes that the U.S. now has “over 240,000 active-duty and reserve troops in at least 172 countries and territories.” Count it again: 172 countries, out of 193 UN member states.

Most of us remain at least dimly aware that we still have thousands of troops in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in Cold War outposts like Japan, South Korea, and Germany. But what about the 160-plus others? And where are the nearly 38,000 troops whose location the Pentagon lists as “unknown”?

We catch an occasional glimpse of this global footprint when a U.S. service member dies someplace surprising — as Ryan Owens did earlier this year in Yemen, and a Navy SEAL did several months later in Somalia. More rarely we catch darker reminders still, when our wars abroad come home in the form of terrorist attacks. But mostly the American people remain every bit as in the dark as Graham and Schumer.

Americans like to imagine ourselves as citizens of a democracy that rejects the colonial ambitions of Old World powers like France and the UK. And yet we’ve deployed troops to literally most of the planet, and our leading lawmakers — tasked by the Constitution with the exclusive right to declare war — don’t even know about it.

Worse still, Congress appears to be abetting its own irrelevance.

Earlier this year, House Speaker Paul Ryan quietly killed an amendment by Democrat Barbara Lee that would’ve revoked Congress’ post-9/11 Authorization of Military Force, which has been used as a fig leaf of legality for this global war making. And last month the Senate voted 2:1 to reject an amendment from Republican Rand Paul that would’ve done the same.

Odds are, the real victims from our post-9/11 wars live in countries we seldom see or hear about. But as veteran and Army strategist Danny Sjursen writes, “the potential, and all too pervasive, deaths of American service members demand a public hearing” too. Especially when 16-plus years of war doesn’t appear to have made the world any safer.

When our soldiers kill and die in fruitless wars we don’t know about and can’t end, we’re not a democracy anymore — we’re an empire. And perhaps a fading one at that.

The post A U.S. Soldier Died in Niger. What on Earth Are We Doing There? appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

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‘Blood and Earth,’ by Kevin Bales – New York Times


New York Times
'Blood and Earth,' by Kevin Bales
New York Times
With naked guesswork, Bales ascribes 40 percent of global deforestation to slave labor. He then assumes that if modern slavery disappeared, this deforestation and other environmental destruction now done by unfree workers would also end. But where …

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Hell on Earth

MLK_BlackLivesMatterAs a progressive person of faith, I’ve had an interesting week. Pope Francis released an encyclical that called on the global human community to practice compassion, for each and for our common home. In it, the Pope asked that our actions should be carried out in light of our “deepest convictions about love, justice, and peace.” It was inspiring and hopeful.

But the encyclical was released merely hours after a young, white man entered a historically Black church in Charleston, South Carolina and opened fire, killing nine people inside. We now know the shooter had long talked of sparking a race war and wanting segregation reinstated.

A day after this horrific event, I attended my weekly Bible study group, where we talked about motivations of the human heart with little mention of what happened in Charleston. We closed the meeting with a prayer, during which we said, “God, we will never understand why these things happen. And we may never know what motivated the person who carried out his terrible act.”

But we do understand. We understand this person committed an act of terror because of the narrative that has permeated our country since its founding – those who are different from us are less human than us, and we can treat them accordingly.

And we do know. We know the shooter was motivated by a conviction that Black people in America don’t deserve the same things as White people in America.

To claim – as people of faith – that we don’t understand or we don’t know is to abdicate our call to be a prophetic voice to the world. We would be failing to act out of love, justice, and peace, as the Pope calls us to.

On Sunday morning, I’m going to sit in a church, like I do most Sundays. Many Christians around the country will do the same. Pastors will lead us in prayer for peace and for comfort. But many of them will neglect to mention the hate-filled narrative against people of color or low income people that is embedded in our structures and systems in this country.

Many pastors will abdicate their call to speak the truth because racism is too uncomfortable and too difficult to talk about from the pulpit. Some won’t want to risk offending people or losing parishioners. It is certainly not “seeker-friendly.”

As people of faith, we are complicit to hate and to racism when we don’t act to dismantle the systems and structures that perpetuate it. We are complicit when we don’t speak hard truths about what’s wrong with the world because it’s risky and uncomfortable.

The places of worship where people of faith go to take refuge from the world are no longer safe. And we, as people of faith, can no longer turn a blind eye. We can no longer leave race conversations out of the pulpit – and our Bible studies – because violent, destructive racism literally came into a sacred space this week, and brought hell on earth.

We have to take courage and speak – like the prophets of old – against the injustices of this world. We have to take up the task of demanding love, justice, and peace even when – especially when – it is too risky to do so. It is, simply, our calling and our divine purpose.

There are great ideas on how to move forward at BlackLivesMatter or FergusonAction. For resources on how to have conversations about race in faith communities, visit gcorr.org/resources.

The post Hell on Earth appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Elaine de Leon Ahn is a graduate of Wesley Theological Seminary, where she studied public theology (the intersection of theology and public issues).  She is also IPS’ Communications Director.

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Spinning the Future: How Ancient Weaving Techniques Save the Earth – Huffington Post


Huffington Post
Spinning the Future: How Ancient Weaving Techniques Save the Earth
Huffington Post
The women wear bright red jackets as they tend to the vats, samples of already dyed wool are laid out — from blue to saffron to purple — and a weaver stirs a pot of deep moss-green wool with a long wooden pole. Chinchero … Until recently, many of

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The salt mines, hell on earth for the disabled in South Korea – AsiaNews.it


AsiaNews.it
The salt mines, hell on earth for the disabled in South Korea
AsiaNews.it
Far from the glittering steel-and-glass capital of Seoul, they were now hunted men on this remote island where the enslavement of disabled salt farm workers is an open secret. "It was a living hell," Kim said in a recent series of interviews with The

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Remembering “Harvest of Shame” – Mother Earth News

Remembering "Harvest of Shame"
Mother Earth News
Many of these scenes are far from pretty, children left unattended and uneducated while their parents go work in the fields all day harvesting vegetables and fruit for little pay, families of six living in their cars sleeping in the woods on the side

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Labor Abuses Common in Palm Oil Industry – Earth Island Journal

Labor Abuses Common in Palm Oil Industry
Earth Island Journal
Investigations by Amnesty International, the International Labor Rights Fund, Humanity International, the US State Department, and the magazine Bloomberg Businessweek paint a disturbing picture of conditions on palm oil plantations. Local labor is

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Earth Sense: Coffee trends continuing to shatter market stereotypes – Gainesville Times

Earth Sense: Coffee trends continuing to shatter market stereotypes
Gainesville Times
Brazil, with the world's largest resources of tropical rainforest, continues to lose thousands of square miles each year to deforestation. But the pace seems to be slowing. Coffee production is extremely labor-intensive, with its own set of dangers

and more »

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Homesteading on the Cheap, Part 1: Finding Land – Mother Earth News


Mother Earth News
Homesteading on the Cheap, Part 1: Finding Land
Mother Earth News
Pasture is necessary, of course, if your home food production is to include ruminants, unless you are able and willing to provide your animals with ample barn space and pre-harvested grass (hay) and grain. In some … But pasture land can be expensive

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Homesteading on the Cheap, Part 1: Finding Land – Mother Earth News


Mother Earth News
Homesteading on the Cheap, Part 1: Finding Land
Mother Earth News
At the Sow's Ear, nearly 30 years of home food production have seen us go from growing some tomatoes in the backyard garden to overseeing a large, four-season organic garden, pastured poultry, a small intensively grazed Jersey herd for meat and dairy

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