Tag Archives: military

Deals With the Devil: Should We Negotiate With Groups Like Boko Haram? (Opinion and Poll)

On April 14, the anti-western militant group Boko Haram kidnapped over 270 teenage girls from a boarding school in Nigeria. Since then, reports have come out that the girls are being auctioned off as wives to their captors for as little as $12 a piece.

This incident seems to have really brought the brutality of the group to the forefront, despite the fact that less than a month earlier, Boko Haram shot and burned 59 male students at another Nigerian boarding school, telling the girls to leave and go find husbands (Boko Haram is extremely conservative, believing women should not be educated and should play a traditional domestic role in the family).

Masked Boko Haram gunmen

Earlier today, the Obama administration announced that it would be increasing its role in the search effort, sending a team of military, intelligence and law enforcement personnel to assist the Nigerian government.

I’m all for doing anything that might increase the chance of returning the kidnapped girls to their families, but please excuse me for being cynical about this latest news. For me, it immediately recalls memories of the botched #Kony2012 campaign.

If you need a refresher, back in 2012, the non-profit group Invisible Children launched a campaign with the goal of raising awareness about Josef Kony, leader of the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army), and his practice of kidnapping young boys and turning them into child soldiers.

One of the graphics from the Kony 2012 campaign

Following the explosion of the #Kony2012 campaign, both local forces (like the Ugandan army) and specialized foreign units (like the U.S. Special Forces) stepped up their activity in the region, with hopes of capturing Kony and ending his reign of terror once and for all. Two years later, he is still at large (most likely in a remote area of the Central African Republic), with many of his LRA soldiers still with him.

My point is this- when we hear about horrific crimes like Boko Haram’s recent mass-kidnapping, we respond with our most unrefined emotion: anger.

We get pissed off that such backwards and extreme ideologies like those espoused by Boko Haram even still exist in our modern world. We get pissed off that the local governments are either too corrupt, too scared or simply too apathetic to really do anything about the crimes. We get pissed off that some people aren’t as pissed off about the tragedy as we are.

When we get mad, we get vindictive. We hear about the horrific things being done to the girls in begin to equate justice with vengeance, while completely losing track of the real issues here.

Everybody seems to want to send in all our best guns (figure of speech) and shoot Boko Haram out of the jungles where they’re hiding- this is simply unrealistic. The central region of Africa has millions of square miles of virtually uncharted “bushlands” (African use the term “the bush” to describe uninhabited dense areas of forest).

Trying to track down Boko Haram and the kidnapped girls would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack… if that needle was constantly moving locations and was way more familiar with the layout of the haystack than you.

The American government is famous for saying it won’t negotiate with terrorists (even though we’ve done so on many occasions). If Obama were to announce right now that we were negotiating a ransom for the girls, he would likely be blasted in the media as a spineless terrorist-appeaser.

White House Spokesman Jay Carney announcing the United States’ new increased role in the search for the kidnapped girls at daily White House briefing on Tuesday (Photo: Susan Walsh / AP)

But would that really be so bad? Try to remove your emotions from the decision- nobody likes the thought of rewarding people for committing heinous crimes like this kidnapping, but we’re already three weeks removed from the original crime: what are our chances of recovering even a fraction of the girls (alive) using force? I’d say that chance is almost zero.

Boko Haram promulgates a message that western culture (specifically western education) is evil, and that western powers like the United States are trying to spread evil progressive ideologies and create modern-day forms of colonialism. We cannot give them more ammunition for their propaganda machine.

One thing our foreign policy “experts” haven’t seemed to grasp in recent years is how we constantly create more enemies for ourselves by taking the bait of fringe militant groups. Look at Al-Qaeda for example: how many future insurgents did we create from all of the “collateral damage” (ie. civilian deaths) that resulted from our stubborn obsession with eradicating this group?

Not blaming Bush here, just illustrating a concept. Our foreign/military policy is pretty consistent regardless as to which party is in in office

One of the biggest reasons why we are disliked by many people in other countries is that we are perceived as a schoolyard bully who is constantly trying to police the whole world. Sending in our special forces to fight a guerilla war in the jungle with an army that has no uniform and is full of young kids is just asking for trouble.

Boko Haram’s leadership would use this move as proof that the U.S. cared less about the girls’ well-being than about their own strategic interests in the region. And they would definitely make sure to publicize all of the graphic images, especially the ones of dead children (even if the kids were child soldiers).

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau appearing in one of many homemade propaganda films (Photo: AFP)

Because of these factors, I think that negotiation is clearly the better option. It has the highest likelihood of recovering the girls safely and the lowest likelihood of becoming another black eye on our foreign policy record. Plus, it would show we cared more about the principles of equality and universal education than we do about maintaining a military presence around the world.

And if it was successful, why couldn’t we just go after Boko Haram afterwards? They would no longer have any leverage in the situation and the fact that we made sure to secure the girls first would probably make it a lot less likely that people would be suspicious of ulterior motives.

Obviously, we can’t ignore the fact that we would be, in effect, helping to fund Boko Haram by paying them a ransom for the girls. But we have to ask ourselves what’s more important to us: the lives of the girls, or revenge against Boko Haram. The latter will always be an available option, but we may be quickly running out of time to accomplish the former.

A Government Spy Plane Just Caused A Computer Glitch That Re-Routed Hundreds of Flights

Yesterday evening, a U-2 spy plane, a Cold War-era aircraft that is still in use by the U.S. government today, entered air space monitored by the Los Angeles Air Route Traffic Control Center.

Upon entering this airspace, the U-2 caused a glitch by overloading a computer system at the center.

As a result of the glitch, the system re-routed hundreds of flights in an attempt to avoid the spy plane, despite the fact that it was flying at an altitude of 60,00 feet (about 20,000-30,000 feet higher than passenger aircrafts).

Los Angeles Air Traffic Control Center (Photo: Daily Mail)

The glitch caused delays and headaches for tens of thousands of travelers arriving to, departing from and/or passing through the Los Angeles International Airport.

Sources told NBC News that the spy plane had a U.S. Defense Department flight plan, and confirmed that the aircraft was a “Dragon Lady”, a nickname for the U-2.

Image courtesy of Lockheed Martin

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not spoken officially about the incident or released many details yet. FAA spokeswoman Lynn Lunsford did respond to an e-mail from Reuters with this:

“We aren’t confirming anything beyond what we already said about it being a software issue that we corrected.”

Read more from Reuters here.


The Unbelievable Story of the Japanese Man Who Survived BOTH Atomic Bombs

Tsutomu Yamaguchi may very well have been both the luckiest and most unlucky man ever.

On August 6, 1945, he was riding a small trolley across the city of Hiroshima. Yamaguchi recalls hearing the roar of an aircraft engine in the skies above during the ride, but thought nothing of it, since warplanes were constantly flying overhead during that time.

What Yamaguchi didn’t know was that this was no Japanese plane- it was the U.S. Bomber the Enola Gay, preparing to drop a 13 kiloton uranium atom bomb on the city.

Yamaguchi stepped off the tram at approximately 8:15 a.m. He looked up and saw the Enola Gay passing overhead. Then he saw two small parachutes (these chutes were attached to the warhead, though he couldn’t see the bomb itself).

The Enola Gay and some of its crew (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Seconds later, the scene turned to chaos. Here’s Yamaguchi describing the moment of impact:

“[There was] a great flash in the sky and I was blown over.”

Yamaguchi was less than three kilometers away from the bomb when it detonated. The shock waves from the explosion ruptured his eardrums and the bright flash of light left him temporarily blinded. The heat from the warhead also seriously burned on the left side of his upper body. The last thing he remembers before passing out is seeing the mushroom cloud rising skyward.

Hiroshima before and after the bomb. Each circle represents 1km from the center of the explosion
Hiroshima before and after the bomb. Click to enlarge

He eventually regained consciousness, and was able to crawl his way to an air raid shelter, where he spent the night. Upon arriving at the shelter, he found his three work colleagues who had also survived the blast. All four of them were engineers from Nagasaki who had just happened to be sent to Hiroshima for work that day.

The next morning, Yamaguchi and his three colleagues left the shelter, wanting desperately to return home to try to make sense of what had just happened. On their way to the train station they passed horrific scenes of destruction, including countless charred and dying bodies.

Burnt and blackened bodies in the streets of Hiroshima. The delivery truck in the top left of the picture had its front grill melted of by the intense heat. Click to enlarge

They finally reached the station, boarded the train, and made the 180 mile journey home to Nagasaki. Yamaguchi, who was in a pretty bad state upon returning home, had his wounds tended to and bandaged as soon as he arrived back in Nagasaki.

Despite the seriousness of his injuries, Yamaguchi decided he was well enough to return to work on August 9th, just three days after the Hiroshima explosion. Upon returning, Yamaguchi recounted the tale to his boss and co-workers, who were horrified yet amazed at the same time. When he described how the bomb had melted metal and totally evaporated parts of the city, Yamaguchi’s boss Sam simply couldn’t believe it. He asked Yamaguchi,

“You’re an engineer. Calculate it. How could one bomb…destroy a whole city?”

According to Yamaguchi, it was at the exact moment that Sam asked this question (11:02 a.m.) that another blinding flash of light penetrated the room they were in: the second bomb had just been detonated in Nagasaki.

The mushroom cloud above Hiroshima and a before and after picture of the city (the numbers represent number of meters away from the detonation point). Click to enlarge

Though many people are unaware of this, the second bomb’s original target was the city of Kokura, but since Kokura was obscured by clouds that morning, the U.S. military switched the target city to Nagasaki.

Miraculously, not only did Yamaguchi survive the second blast, but so did his wife and baby son. The family spent the next week or so in an air raid shelter not far from the ruins of their home.

Yamaguchi was one of about 160 people who survived both blasts, but is the only one who was officially recognized by the Japanese government as an eniijuu hibakusha (double bomb survivor) in 2009, a year before his death.

Tsutomu Yamaguchi shortly before his passing in 2010

After the war, Yamaguchi spent the rest of his life speaking out against nuclear proliferation. Speaking about his experiences a few year before passing away, Yamaguchi decribed his life as a, “path planted by God,” and said,

“It was my destiny that I experienced this twice and I am still alive to convey what happened.”

Yamaguchi finally succumbed to the radiation poisoning in his body in 2010, when he passed away from leukemia just two years after his wife died from liver and kidney cancer. He was 93 years old.

Read more from the Surviving History blog here.

March 2014 was the First Month in 11 Years Without a U.S. Fatality in Iraq or Afghanistan

According to an article published by Time:

“There were no American troop casualties in Afghanistan or Iraq in March (2014), for the first time since February 2003, ending 133 straight months when at least one U.S. service member was killed. “

Fortunately, the death count has been significantly lowering steadily in both these areas seemingly leading to near peace. If the areas are  near peace it did come at a price, also according to Time…

“The deadliest year in Iraq for U.S. troops was 2007, when 904 perished. In Afghanistan, 2010 was the grimmest, with 496 dead. A total of 4,486 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq, including in accidents and other non-hostile events. The toll in Afghanistan stands at 2,315.”

Comparatively, the number of civilian deaths on the Iraqi side was estimated at 115,000 by the UK-based group Iraq Body Count. However, a group of university researchers from the United States, Canada and Baghdad teamed up with the Iraqi Ministry of Health to obtain an estimate that,

“covers not only violent deaths but other avoidable deaths linked to the invasion, insurgencies and subsequent social breakdown,”

according to this Huffington Post article. The number they came up with was closer to half a million.

Hopefully we have more months in the future of zero U.S. Service Member deaths, and maybe even some months with no deaths at all.

War is the result of fear, fear of the unknown. But at the end of the day, the average person in every country is trying to do the same things: provide for their family, advance themselves and enjoy life. Once we see this we will realize how mutually destructive war is to our pursuit of these basic, common motivations.

Check Out the full article to see detailed data on the fatality counts here: March Was First Month Without U.S. Fatalities in Iraq or Afghanistan In 11 Years


Russia Annexes Crimea and Gets Kicked Out of G8; Ukraine Preparing for War

Here’s a quick timeline of the most recent events in the Russian-Ukrainian crisis.

On Sunday (March 16), residents of Crimea voted on a referendum of whether to leave Ukraine and join Russia- the measure passed by upwards of 90%. It is important to note, however, that all signs point to a pretty illegitimate vote.

For one, the ballot didn’t even include an option to stay with Ukraine- the two options were to leave Ukraine and join Russia, or leave Ukraine and become independent.

Secondly, it’s obvious that there was plenty of intimidation involved- Russian soldiers and armed “unmarked militia” (that pretty much everyone agrees are pro-Russian forces) patrol the streets of Crimea. This blog from Jon Lee Anderson at The New Yorker describes some of the intimidation tactics he saw employed by the “thugs” in the streets of Crimea.

Armed men, believed to be Russian servicemen, march outside an Ukrainian military base in the village of Perevalnoye

Lastly, some of the actual results are simply ridiculous. For example, 123% of the major Crimean city of Sevastapool cast votes on the referendum. Mykhaylo Malyshev, chair of the committee overseeing the vote, announced on the evening of the 16th that 1,250,426 people had voted, but said that figure did include Sevastopol’s electorate. Including that city, he said, 1,724,563 total people voted.

The difference between these numbers (474,137) should be the number of votes cast in Sevastapool, right? Well, last year’s census put the voting-age population of Sevastapool at 385,462…very suspicious to say the least.

The next day (March 17), Defense Minister Ihor Tenyukh responded to the results of the referendum by saying,

“Crimea was, is, and will be our territory.”

Ihor Tenyuhk (Photo: Ukrainian Ministry of Defense)
Ihor Tenyuhk (Photo: Ukrainian Ministry of Defense)

When asked if Ukrainian troops would fight to defend Crimea, he replied carefully, saying,

“The armed forces will execute their tasks… Ukrainian forces will stay [in Crimea] until all their tasks have been completed.”

While Tenyukh said that Ukraine would “do everything possible to prevent war”, he noted,

“the threat of war is real…We are strengthening our defense capacity. Ukraine is ready to defend its territory.”

Then earlier today (March 18), Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a treaty which effectively annexed Crimea, making it a part of Russia.

Putin speaking in front of Russian parliament earlier today (Photo: BBC)
Putin speaking in front of Russian parliament earlier today (Photo: BBC)

Putin said the moves corrected a “historical injustice”, as well as saying that Crimea has “always been a part of Russia”.

Naturally, the Ukrainian foreign ministry responded, saying,

 “We do not recognise and never will recognise the so-called independence or the so-called agreement on Crimea joining the Russian Federation.”

A few hours later, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced in an interview with Europe-1 radio that the other members of the G8 (a forum for the 8 leading industrialized countries) had decided to suspend Russia’s membership.

Fabius did, however, say,

“We are continuing dialogue with the Russians, despite the fact that we do not agree with them.”

BONUS: After the US announced (relatively inconsequential) sanctions against some Russian officials including the freezing of their American visas, Putin’s top aide said:

“The only things that interest me in the US are Tupac Shakur, Allen Ginsberg, and Jackson Pollock. I don’t need a visa to access their work. I lose nothing.”

Props for being a Tupac fan at least!



Ukraine Latest: Crimea Votes to Join Russia, Russia Sinks Their Own Ship

Earlier today (3/6/2014), the parliament of Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula in the Black Sea at the center of the current situation with Russia, voted to secede from Ukraine to become part of Russia.

The issue will be put to a referendum in 10 days, when the citizens of Crimea will decide whether or not to approve their parliament’s decision.

Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, immediately denounced the move as having no legal basis in Ukrainian law, saying,

“Crimea was, is and will be an integral part of Ukraine.”

Arseniy Yatsenyuk (Photo: Sergei Chuzavkov- AP)

While European Union leaders echoed this sentiment, calling the move unconstitutional, there doesn’t seem to be anything they can do about it without provoking violence, as Crimea is currently occupied by the Russian military.

On Wednesday, Russian sailors pulled an old anti-submarine vessel out of a junkyard and sank it in the strait that connects the Black Sea to the Donuzlav Lake, preventing Ukrainian ships docked nearby from being able to go to sea.

Russia’s scuttled vessel (Photo: AP)

While the European Union has presented plenty of tough rhetoric, they are hesitant to actually do anything.

Why? Well, because Russia is one of their biggest trading partners, and also provides a substantial portion of the EU’s gas and oil- putting economic sanctions on them would hurt the EU indirectly.

So despite that President Barack Obama called Russia’s intervention a “violation of international law,” and said that,

“the resolve of the United States and our allies and the international community will remain firm,”

it seems that he might actually be on his own with this one.

Related articles:

Russia, Ukraine, the Prostitution of Media Coverage and the Dangers of Ultimatums

If you have been following the situation in Eastern Europe, you’re probably aware that some pretty crazy things have been happening the past few days. If you haven’t been following the situation here’s a quick rundown.

Shortly after the ouster of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin deployed a number of troops and tanks to the Crimean peninsula in southern Ukraine. Crimea is an important strategic position for Russia, which is why they have a naval base there.

Cities of the Crimean Peninsula

Whether or not the Crimeans want Russia’s involvement is up for debate. Some sources say they don’t, others say they do. It’s difficult to really get a sense of what is true and false in this conflict, since so much of the coverage is hinged on the attitudes of the citizens involved.

Both the pro-Russian and anti-Russian factions know this and will use their media outlets to paint a picture of the situation that is most favorable to them. Also, in tense situations like this, media outlets tend to be way more concerned with being the first to cover a story than they are with actually checking the factual accuracy behind it.

Remember, news channels are businesses too, so take everything you read about this situation with multiple grains of salt, and ask yourself who stands to gain from a particular story, both from an economic standpoint (ie. making money off breaking a big story), and a geopolitical standpoint (justifying certain military/political moves based on a story).

A comparison of Russia and Ukraine's militaries
A comparison of Russia and Ukraine’s militaries

This murkiness of truth was evidenced perfectly today. Early this morning, a report from Russia’s Interfax agency came out that Alexander Vitko, commander of Russia’s Black Sea naval fleet (which has a base in Crimea), gave the following ultimatum to Ukrainian forces in Crimea:

“If they do not surrender before 5am (3am UK time) tomorrow, a real assault will be started against units and divisions of the armed forces across Crimea.”

Naturally, the internet freaked out. Within hours, this story was plastered all over the front pages of major news outlets across the world. A few hours later, however, the very same Interfax agency quoted Russia’s Defense Minister as saying the report about the ultimatum was “total nonsense”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin observing war games (Photo: AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin observing war games (Photo: AP)

Then this evening, the EU followed with it’s own deadline, giving Russia 48 hours to withdraw their troops from Crimea. William Hague, Britain’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs was a part of that meeting. He said,

“In the absence of de-escalating steps by Russia, the EU shall decide about consequences for bilateral relations between the EU and Russia and will consider further targeted measures.”

It’s assumed that these “targeted measures” will mostly be harsh economic sanctions. Russia’s economy already took a huge hit today. The Moscow stock market fell almost 11%, costing Russian business more than $60 billion dollars (the Sochi Olympics, at $50 billion, were by far the most expensive Olympics ever).

The Russian currency, the ruble, also hit record lows today as its value dropped alongside the stock market.

Exchange rates for the ruble (Photo: Radio Free Europe)
Exchange rates for the ruble (Photo: Radio Free Europe)

The only thing that is certain in this situation is that nothing is certain. The more coverage there is on a situation this complicated, the easier it is for misinformation to become very real in its consequences; this is the biggest danger of sensationalized news coverage.

Also, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about politicians over the years it’s that their biggest fear is losing face. Too many times I’ve seen a President or Prime Minister make some arbitrary “red-line” or deadline to give off the impression that he or she is strong-willed or tough on [insert issue or country here].

While some may see this as a sign of strength, I see it as a sign of foolishness. These issues are usually extremely complex, and drawing a line basically says, “I don’t plan to take into consideration anything that happens after I make this speech.”

I think most of them don’t think that the line will ever be reached or crossed, but when it is, they find themselves trapped in a self-induced political corner. Either they don’t follow through and are lambasted as being weak (even if this choice makes much better sense), or they do follow through, usually taking a step that only escalates the situation further.

Russian troops entering Crimea (Photo: Reuters)
Russian troops entering Crimea (Photo: Reuters)

Real diplomacy is dying as geopolitics becomes more of a reality show than anything else. Politicians’ number one concern is their public image, and more often than not they make decisions that will maintain their image, even if they know the decision will have a negative effect in the grand scheme of things.

We can’t know exactly what’s going on in the streets of Russia, Ukraine and Crimea. But we can use what we know about politics and the media to put the situation in perspective.

Remember, there’s always more than one side to a story…and usually, there’s hundreds.

To read more, check out these stories: