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Opinion: The Moral Injury Veterans Suffer From war Is Not Worth the Fight

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Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr.

We just celebrated Veterans Day, paying tribute to the young men and women who have served our country. Across the country, families gathered at the grave sites of those who gave their lives. Veterans drank toasts to their fellow soldiers.

In football and basketball stadiums, crowds offered a moment of silence for the fallen. The rituals are heartfelt, but far from complete.

Too often ignored is the far greater number of lives that are lost not on the battlefield but at home, not from the enemy’s guns but from our veterans’ own hands.

Now, in the sober aftermath of the celebration, there should be a reckoning.

On an average day, a staggering 20 veterans commit suicide. The deaths from suicide outnumber the losses on the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The risk to veterans who served in combat holds true for all generations.

It doesn’t matter if the war is popular or unpopular; the veterans celebrated or controversial. Even the Greatest Generation that fought in World War II suffers current suicide rates four times that of civilians.

In a stunning essay, Matthew Hoh, an Iraqi veteran who came close to suicide himself, tries to put this in perspective.

The famous Vietnam Memorial, he writes, “is a wall that contains 58,000 names. It would have to be lengthened by some 2,000 feet to include the 100,000 to 200,000 plus Vietnam vets who are estimated to have been lost to suicide, while keeping space for those yet to come. VA data reveals that almost two Afghan and Iraq veterans die by suicide each day on average. That adds to an estimated 7,300 veterans who have killed themselves since just 2009, after coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq, a number greater than the 7,012 service members killed in those wars since 2001.”

The military is aware of the depth of this horror and has dedicated a billion dollars in trying to solve it.

The New York Times reports that the Veterans Crisis Line (VCL) is incredibly active, staffed 24/7 at 800-273-8255. This service, only available since 2007, has helped stave off hundreds of thousands of potential suicides. More than 30 times a day, VCL responders call police, fire or EMS to intervene in a suicide situation.

Thirty times a day.

There are many explanations offered for why veterans — and the families of veterans — are at greater risk of suicide: the difficulty of readjusting to civilian society; the macho military culture that keeps soldiers from seeking help; the post-traumatic stress disorders that result from combat.

Hoh, wisely in my view, offers a broader explanation: that veterans suffer from a moral injury — a shock to their own sense of themselves, their basic moral values from what they have done or have not done in combat: The killing of the enemy, the failure to save the life of a comrade, the mistaken shooting of the innocent.

‘Thou shalt not kill’ is a basic precept of all religions.

In war, the state gives soldiers the mandate to kill. The military has perfected ways of conditioning young men and women to be able to kill in combat.

Yet, Hoh argues, the conditioning does not prevent some from seeing themselves in the enemy, from feeling deeply the violation that comes from violence.

There is a lesson from this.

We should reject the easy assumption that the U.S. military should police the world, that we’ve perfected ways of fighting wars with drones and air power and with limited U.S. casualties from “boots on the ground.”

The national security managers who too often have never served in the military should be far more constrained in sending our soldiers into combat.

War is hell. It is hell for those who fall in combat — and for their families and friends suffering their loss. It is hell for those who survive it — and for their families and friends dealing with their struggles on return.

Risking lives constantly in endless wars is a moral violation and strategic failure.

If we are truly to celebrate the service of our veterans, we should demand that war not be a routine part of American policy, but a last resort used rarely and only to defend our people when attacked.

The best tribute to our combat veterans would be to create fewer of them in the future.

Art

MC Arts Gallery Opens During the Marin Open Studio

The Gallery and its website display the art of a number of Black artists which includes: TheArthur Wright, Lumumba Edwards, and Maalak Atkins. Zwanda and Mitchell Howard also display their art at the Gallery. 

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From top: Oshalla Marcus (director/curator, MC Arts & Culture) with Osiezhe’s drawings to the right of the photo, Zwanda, Mitchell Howard , ISOJI’s Art Is Health Band: Carlton Carey (drums), Mwanza Furaha, (vocals), Jack Prendergast (bass), Ricardo Moncrief (keyboard), James Moseley (guitar, vocal). Photos by Godfrey Lee.

The MC Arts Gallery, located on 100 Donahue St. in the Gateway Shopping Center in Marin City, is open during the Marin Open Studios, which took place on Saturday and Sunday, May 1 & 2. 

The Gallery and its website display the art of a number of Black artists which includes: The Arthur Wright, Lumumba Edwards, and Maalak Atkins. Zwanda and Mitchell Howard also display their art at the Gallery. 

Zwanda seeks to be creative as she expands her ideas as a sculptress and painter. She is inspired by the human figure and dancers and is fascinated with music and the instruments themselves. Her art is a way to express this love and to share it with others.

Mitchell Howard studied art at San Francisco State University and the Computer Arts Institute of San Francisco. He was an art director at Cummingham & Walsh in San Francisco and has displayed his paintings at the Hannah Gallery, worked on the Rocky Graham Park Mural and has taught art at the Martin Luther King Jr. Academy Elementary School.

“Art can bring people together and illustrate things that people can relate to,” Howard says. “Art can also be powerful in sending social messages to society. Art makes you think, it expands your horizons and makes you use your imagination. People may see different things in the same painting.”

Osiezhe, Shakira Gregory’s son, will be displaying his drawings at the Gallery.

The ISOJI’s Art Is Health Band played last Saturday afternoon with Mwanza Furaha as their guest vocalist.

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Art

City Council Approves $480,000 in Arts Grants

The city made the announcement Tuesday about the grants, which will support 772 distinct arts events and activities that will expose more than 110,000 participants to cultural programming.

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The Oakland City Council approved $480,000 in grants to 17 Oakland-based non-profit organizations and 20 individual artists through the city’s Cultural Funding Program, Neighborhood Voices.

The city made the announcement Tuesday about the grants, which will support 772 distinct arts events and activities that will expose more than 110,000 participants to cultural programming.

The grant program seeks to bring Oaklanders together to create and support a sense of belonging within a community, to foster social connections that lift people’s spirits, to encourage community well-being and offer visions for a collective future, according to the announcement.

The following individual artists each won $7,000 Neighborhood Voices awards:

Frederick Alvarado; Karla Brundage; Cristina Carpio; Darren Lee Colston; Maria De La Rosa; Elizabeth D. Foggie; Rachel-Anne Palacios; Laurie Polster; Hasain Rasheed; Kweku Kumi Rauf; Carmen Roman; Michael Roosevelt; Fernando Santos; Teofanny Octavia Saragi; Kimberly Sims-Battiste; Cleavon Smith; Lena Sok; Babette Thomas; Ja Ronn Thompson; Joseph Warner.

Each of the following organizations received $20,000 Neighborhood Voices awards:

Asian Health Services for Banteay Srei;

Beats Rhymes and Life;

Chapter 510 INK;

Dancers Group for dNaga GIRL Project;

Dancers Group for Dohee Lee Puri Arts;

Dancers Group for Grown Women Dance Collective;

East Oakland Youth Development Center;

Higher Gliffs for Endangered Ideas;

Hip Hop for Change;

Junior Center of Art and Science;

Mycelium Youth Network;

Oakland Education Fund for Youth Beat;

Oakland Theater Project, Inc.;

Sarah Webster Fabio Center for Social Justice;

The Intersection for Alphabet Rockers;

Women’s Audio Mission;

Youth Radio/YR Media.

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Art

Student Work – Nayzeth Vargas

There is freedom with the Zentangle; there is no expected visual outcome and students are less prone to creative blocks and self-criticism. 

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This piece was created by Nayzeth Vargas, a senior at Oakland Technical High School. The Zentangle Method is a therapeutic technique which uses combinations of contrasting patterns and values to create an image. Students were introduced to the Zentangle Method to offset the mental stress they were experiencing due to the COVID-19 pandemic and social isolation.  

There is freedom with the Zentangle; there is no expected visual outcome and students are less prone to creative blocks and self-criticism. 

Nayzeth is enrolled in the West Oakland Legacy and Leadership Project, an integrated arts program that supports youth in developing thoughtful, educated voices for their communities. Though art, youth practice mindfulness and boundless creativity. Enrollment for the West Oakland Legacy and Leadership Project is open to youth ages 13-18 through AHC, for more information visit ahc-oakland.org/legacy.

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