Baghdad Burning : Girl Blog from Iraq by Riverbend

baghdad burningBaghdad Burning should be compulsory reading for every US, British and Australian citizen.

It clearly describes how those nations helped destroy peoples’ lives and culture, all in the name of family Bush and those nations who followed them based on blatant falsehoods.

The book should be compulsory reading for political or military leader who think their invasion of another country is in the best interests of the people of that country.

While published as books in two volumes, Baghdad Burning was originally written as blog entries, as events unfolded, by an Iraqi woman as the life she knew was destroyed by the Bush family invasion of her country and its aftermath.

Well written. Grippingly informative. Devastatingly frank. Even at times joyful and humorous.

It’s not easy reading.  It can’t be read quickly. It requires regular breaks to reflect on what has been said. To reflect on the injustice, outright criminality and corruption all carried out in the name of “freedom” and “democracy”.

The blog is still available on line, don’t forget to start at the beginning by using the menu on the side bar, and don’t read in reverse order by starting at the opening page and working downwards.

https://riverbendblog.blogspot.com.au/

 

However if you are interested in the books volume one is available here, at the time of writing this it was half price: https://www.bookdepository.com/Baghdad-Burning/9780714531304.

Volume 2 almost half price: https://www.bookdepository.com/Baghdad-Burning–v–2/9780714531335

 
BB vol 2

When Michael Met Mina, by Randa Abdel-Fattah

xwhen-michael-met-mina_jpg_pagespeed_ic_zjJ5EpJVBN

Humour, poignancy, foreboding, joy.

Just a few relevant words that come to mind to describe this book.

I could also add complex, but I wouldn’t want to give the wrong impression that its a difficult, confusing reading experience. The complexity relates to the issues explored, where face-value judgements are never helpful and people don’t always live up to stereotypes.

It is highly entertaining but is much more than mere entertainment; hopefully testing the reader’s preconceptions and biases.

There is a tiny hint of Romeo and Juliet in the story of Michael and Mina. They come from opposite sides of a political/racial divide. One is an Afghan refugee, a “boat person”; the other is the son of politically active parents who established the Aussie Values party devoted to “stopping the boats” and keeping Australia free of the taint of multiculturalism.

Michael first sees Mina on the opposing side during a confrontation between “Aussie Values” and an anti-racist group at a protest gathering. The kind of protest that is becoming increasingly familiar on Australian news programs. There’s no way he can realise how that brief glimpse of a Muslim girl will change his life.

Chapters alternate between the viewpoints of the title characters, starting with Michael, then moving on to Mina. Each chapter helps build up their stories to show us what has shaped their lives and current situations, and also how their developing relationship brings change.

I found the book very relevant in an Australia obsessed with “border control” where election results can be turned upon glib, three word slogans of exclusion. It has relevance when fear and racism can win votes.

It was one of those un-put-downable novels that  was a pleasure to read.

 

Author’s website: http://www.randaabdelfattah.com/

Publisher’s website: http://www.panmacmillan.com.au/9781743534977

Words I Find Annoying (1)

COHORT:  A word that I’m hearing and reading more and more, especially on ABC radio interviews; a word that seems to be used to describe a group of friends and acquaintances.

When did the increasing use of this word start to become so (annoyingly) prevalent?

A Rose for the Anzac Boys

a-rose-for-the-anzac-boys

In A Rose for the Anzac Boys  Jackie French vividly depicts the horror and heartbreak of battle at the Western Front during WWI. While not glorifying the violence, she doesn’t compromise at all with the gruesome truth of it.

The story concentrates on Margery (Midge) MacPherson and her experiences in France, serving tired and wounded troops near the front lines.

When war starts, Midge is away from her New Zealand home and lives at a school for girls in England. She and her English school friends decide to leave school so they can play their part in the war effort by setting up a canteen for the troops in France, not realising how much their lives will be changed.

Partly told in the form of letters, the realities of war are made clear, as Midge corresponds with family and friends at home and at the battle front. I found the letters to be a powerful and convincing part of the book, fitting in naturally with the ongoing narrative of Midge’s story. They had an authenticity comparable to the real letters and diary entries I’ve read before and were some of the more moving portions of the books. Maybe my desk at work during tea and lunchbreaks wasn’t the best time and place to read these sections.

While the book is set behind the lines, some of the letters from soldiers give us a glimpse of life and death at the front, while Midge’s experiences take us into the world of the many volunteers who worked as caterers, ambulance drivers, VADs and nurses. We see that few were left unaffected by the cost of the war and that the effects continue through following generations.

After the story, French includes a 19 page “author’s note” to give some historical  context to Midge’s story, bringing to the reader’s attention the neglected, but significant role women played during World War I.

How many women fought in World War I?

We’ll never know. But there were thousands, or even million – as many, perhaps as the men who fought there too.

Few women in World War I carried weapons. But these days we say a soldier ‘fought’ in World War I or II if they were in transport, or administration, and not just one of the relatively small portion of soldiers who actually faced the enemy. The women of World War I fought in other ways, and often in battles as hard as the men’s. And most their war was unrecorded.

 

VAD

With a degree of poignant synchronicity, I read the last part of the book on the 100th anniversary of the battle of Fromelles, probably the most tragic single day in Australia’s military history, where almost 2,000 Australian troops lost their lives and many thousands more were wounded. There were more Australian casualties on that one day than in all post WWII campaigns combined.

 

(see my other blog for more about Fromelles: https://onesimusfiles.wordpress.com/2016/07/19/battle-of-fromelles-centenary/  )

The author’s web page related to the book:  http://www.jackiefrench.com/#!a-rose-for-the-anzac-boys/o3kat

Publisher’s page :  http://www.harpercollins.com.au/9780732285401/a-rose-for-the-anzac-boys/

 

Baghdad Burning

An article in the Guardian, “Top 10 books about the Iraq war”* made me aware of the Baghdad Burning blog:

https://riverbendblog.blogspot.com.au/BB vol2BBurn vol1

The blog content has been released in book form, with two volumes. After reading through the first few entries on the blog I didn’t hesitate to order the books.

 

 

Thursday, August 21, 2003 posted by River

EMAILS

Most of the emails moved me to… gratitude. Thank you for understanding… no, thank you for even *trying* to understand. Other emails, on the other hand, were full of criticism, cynicism and anger. You really don’t have to read my blog if you don’t want to and you certainly don’t have to email me telling me how much you hate it. It’s great to get questions and differing opinions- but please be intelligent about it, and above all, creative- if I want to hear what Fox News has to say, I’ll watch it.

And keep one thing in mind- tanks and guns can break my bones, but emails can be deleted.

____________________________

 

* https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jul/13/top-10-books-about-the-iraq-war-chilcot-report

Notes on an Exodus, Richard Flanagan

xnotes-on-an-exodusNotes on an Exodus : an essay is a small book by Man Booker prize winning author Richard Flanagan, illustrated by Ben Quilty.

Flanagan and Quilty travelled to the Middle East and Europe with World Vision, visiting refugees in camps and on the road, who were escaping from the violence of their homes in Syria.

While described as “an essay” in its subtitle, the book is more a collection of brief written portraits of the people Flanagan and Quilty met on their journey.

People who had fled villages, towns and cities to escape either the day and night bombing by Assad supporting Russian planes, from the violence and oppression of Daesh (ISIS), or both.

People who had fled prosperous lives to live in makeshift tents constructed from recycled garbage.

People who once owned productive farms and orchards but now have to survive on meagre rations of bread and tea or scraps collected from the floors of vegetable shops. Where a family survives (barely) with the help of their nine year old son, working as a welder for $3 a day. who has half his weekly pay retained by his employer to ensure his return the following week.

These are the kind of stories that we in the west prefer not to know so we don’t have to see the refugees as REAL people with REAL lives who probably weren’t so different from other people we know. Individuals we can’t disguise and dehumanise as a “flood”.

Flanagan’s vignettes of people he met bring focus to the plight of millions who have been driven from their homes and homelands. They should stir similar feelings to those stirred by the photos of the small body of Alan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish beach that briefly moved the conscience of the world. But sadly they won’t. All too quickly our collective hearts have rehardened.

Suspicion and hostility against the flood have been restored.

Alan_Kurdi_lifeless_body

 

Refugees are not like you and me. They are you and me.

Richard Flanagan,  Notes on an Exodus, p 53

________________

This has also been posted on my other blog: The Onesimus Files

Our Vietnam Nurses by Annabelle Brayley

vietnam nurses
I’ve moved slightly out of order.

I read Our Vietnam Nurses before I started Minefields and Miniskirts. Originally I’d intended to writer a single article combining details of Sharon Bown’s speech, and the books I’ve read recently about military nurses. However I found there was too much for one post, so I decided to split that intended post into three.

The disadvantage I’m now facing is that my memory of this book isn’t as clear as I’d like it to be to do it justice.

Each chapter of Our Vietnam Nurses concentrates on a different group of nursing staff who served during the Vietnam war. The story is told more or less through their own words by the author, based on interviews she conducted with both military and civilian nurses.

This link gives access to a radio interview with the author that gives far better insight into the book and its content than I could give. : http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2016/06/09/4478666.htm

Minefields and Miniskirts by Siobhan McHugh

minefiledsRecently a friend closed down his second hand bookshop specialising in military books. I asked him if he had anything about military nurses. One of the books he recommended was Minefields and Miniskirts, a book about the experiences of thirty five women from various backgrounds who were  involved in the Vietnam War, including entertainers, journalists and consular staff as well as nurses.

In addition to inevitable references to the brutal human cost of battle, this book shows another dark side of a war zone; one of racism, gang rape and torture. Where women aren’t safe in their own camps , and even performing on stage to entertain the troops can be fatal.

…a young Australian had only been two weeks in-country when she was shot dead on stage.

A GI killed her by mistake. He was actually shooting at his commanding officer, and she came into the line of fire while she was performing and died instantly.

The book  also looks at the post war experiences of women, from health issues (PTSD, high rates of cancer, chronic illness, infertility, still births, early menopause…) and the lack of recognition of their service throughout the war.

Helen [Keayes] ran into Dr Peter Edwards, Australia’s official historian of the Vietnam era.

‘I said to him, “I was there. I was there for two years”, and he said, “That’s interesting”. And I said, “Well, aren’t you going to talk to me about it?” And he said, “oh no, I’m writing the official version of the war”.’

If the experiences of those in a war zone weren’t confronting enough, the families left at home have some of the saddest stories to tell.

Fom the loneliness of being left behind in military housing where the known absence of the “man of the house” could encourage prowlers intent on disturbing the wives and children of serving soldiers; to the changed personality of returned servicemen. Once gentle and amiable men turned violent and withdrawn, their newly expressed hostility often being picked up and mirrored by their children.

At first the children shrank from Tom’s outbursts, but the, Beryl realised to her horror, they started imitating him.
‘Instead of living with one Vietnam veteran, it was like I had three…’

As a Christian, I was saddened by one of the experiences described in the book, where some of those affected by the war in Vietnam confess to a loss of faith and an inability to continue believing in God.

“…I don’t believe in God anymore after my personal tragedy…”

While I can understand that loss, I see it results from an inadequate understanding; based on a belief that God’s primary function is to take care of us and keep us all from harm – that He should be at our beck and call to ensure the well-being of mankind. That in some way His existence is conditional upon the beneficence of the world around us. In other words, if terrible things happen, then God can’t exist.

But I see things in a different way. It’s up to us to conform to GOD’s ways and not for Him to dance to our tune, fixing the problems mankind causes. And it is mankind’s abandonment of God (as He GENUINELY is) that lead to the atrocities of war as well as the everyday, more mundane risks we face throughout life.

“I have worn their blood”

The words of a military nurse inspired my year and a half interest in the wars of the past century. I saw them at the Australian War memorial when I visited for the first time since the 1980s

They were printed on the wall near to a large painting by Ben Quilty  in the Afghanistan exhibition. I’d gone to the memorial primarily to see that painting. I’ve now been back many times, and those words haven’t lost anything despite becoming so familiar.

They come from a predawn service address given by Wing Commander Sharon Bown on Anzac Day 2104 at the War Memorial.  The full quote from her speech is:

I have awaited their return and tended their wounds, never able to fully comprehend the darkness of man that they encountered upon their journey.  I have witnessed their adrenaline fuelled highs of survival and their immense depths of despair at the loss of a mate.  I have laughed reservedly at the often black-humoured stories of soldiers who photograph their legs before a patrol, just in case they never saw them again; and faced the reality of their need to loosely wear a tourniquet on each limb, ready to stem the almost inevitable haemorrhage that could end their life.  I have been privileged to hear of unimaginable acts of bravery and self-preservation; and I have stood by silently to attempt to pick up the pieces when it all falls apart.

I have worn their blood.

So many of us have worn their blood.

Those last two sentences still give me goose-bumps in their graphic, yet poetic simplicity in summarising the personal cost and horror of military conflict. The cost to the combatants, but also to those tasked with (literally) putting the human pieces back together again.

My experience described above happened in the lead up to the Anzac centenary. It initiated my curiosity about the meaning of the commemoration and set me on the path to satisfy that curiosity. My journey through the Anzac story has regularly taken me back to that starting point and the experiences of those who “wore” the blood of others. (see  https://outshadows.wordpress.com/category/nurses/)

I’m now impatiently awaiting release of Sharon Bown’s book One Woman’s War and Peace : A Nurse’s Journey Through the Royal Australian Air Force due for release towards the end of the year.

http://www.exislepublishing.com.au/9781925335316.html

one womans war

The full speech by Wing Commander Bown can be read here:

https://www.awm.gov.au/talks-speeches/sharon-bown-anzac-day-2014/