"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

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Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Analysis: A Deadly Prelude to Bush's Second Term

Washington - The deadly attack on a U.S. military base in northern Iraq yesterday scrambled the Bush administration's hopes to show progress toward stability there, while making clear that the war is creating a nasty array of problems for President Bush as he gears up for an ambitious second term.

Despite weathering criticism of his Iraq policy during the presidential campaign, Bush is heading into his next four years in the White House facing a public that appears increasingly worried about the course of events there and wondering where the exit is.

And as he prepares to take the oath of office a second time and to focus more of his energy on a far-reaching domestic agenda, he is at risk of finding his presidency so consumed by Iraq for at least the next year that he could have trouble pressing ahead with big initiatives like overhauling Social Security.

At the same time, Bush faces fundamental questions about his strategy for bringing stability to Iraq. How can the United States - with the help of Iraqi security forces whose performance has been uneven at best - ensure the safety of Iraqis who go to the polls on Jan. 30 when it cannot keep its own troops safe on their own base?

And are Bush and his defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, more vulnerable to criticism that they have failed to provide U.S. forces with everything they need to take on a fast-evolving enemy that, as yesterday's attack showed, continues to display a notable degree of resilience?

The situation has left the White House sending two somewhat contradictory messages. One, alluded to by Bush at his news conference Monday and stated explicitly by other administration officials yesterday, is that no one should expect the violence to abate after the first round of elections on Jan. 30 or for the United States to begin bringing troops home next year in substantial numbers.

"There should be no illusion," Secretary of State Colin Powell told journalists yesterday, "that suddenly right after the election the Iraqis are going to be able to take over their own security. Certainly, we're going to be there through '05 in significant numbers."

The other message is that progress is being made in Iraq, that the insurgency will eventually be quelled and that there is no reason to change course.

"The idea of democracy taking hold in what was a place of tyranny and hatred and destruction is such a hopeful moment in the history of the world," Bush said yesterday after visiting injured troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. "I'm confident democracy will prevail in Iraq."

But Bush also said it was "a time of sorrow and sadness."

For a year, the administration has suggested that Iraq would move closer to stability as it reached one milestone after another: the capture of Saddam Hussein; the handover of sovereignty and the appointment of an interim government; the deployment of Iraqi security forces; the military campaign to expel the insurgents from strongholds like Fallujah, and the first round of elections next month for a constitutional assembly.

Yet most of those milestones have passed with little discernible improvement in the security situation. Now some analysts are concerned that the elections could make the political situation in Iraq even more unstable by producing an outcome in which the Sunni minority feels so marginalized by the Shiite majority that it fuels not just further violence against Americans and Iraqis working with them, but more intense sectarian strife or even civil war.

The Iraqi elections on Jan. 30 will be sandwiched between two critically important moments for Bush: his second inaugural Jan. 20 and the first State of the Union Address of his second term, probably in the first week of February.

As a result, the degree to which the elections come off smoothly or not, and whether they move Iraq toward stability or even greater chaos, could well put an early stamp on Bush's new term. And the elections and whatever violence surrounds them could compete with or overshadow his calls for action on Social Security, rewriting the tax code, revising the immigration laws and stiffening educational standards, among other domestic plans the White House intends to begin rolling out.

Supporters of Bush dismissed the idea that his Iraq policy was proving wrongheaded or that the difficulties in Iraq would torpedo the rest of the president's agenda by sapping his political support.

But polls have shown for months that majorities or near-majorities of Americans think invading Iraq was a mistake or not worth the cost in lives, money and U.S. prestige abroad.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll published yesterday found that 56 percent of respondents felt the war in Iraq was "not worth fighting," versus 42 percent who said it was worth fighting. Fifty-seven percent disapproved of Bush's handling of Iraq, versus 42 percent who approved.

Richard W. Stevenson
The New York Times

Bernard Kerik Resigns From Giuliani's Consulting Firm

NEW YORK -- Former police commissioner Bernard Kerik resigned Wednesday from Rudolph Giuliani's consulting firm, less than two weeks after his nomination as U.S. homeland security chief collapsed amid a rash of allegations of personal and professional improprieties.

At a news conference in Manhattan, Kerik said he had apologized to the former New York mayor for being a distraction because of his messy withdrawal as a Bush Cabinet candidate.

"After careful consideration, I have decided that it is in the best interests of my family, my colleagues and our clients that I resign my position with Giuliani Partners and (affiliate company) Giuliani-Kerik," Kerik said.

Giuliani said he had not asked for Kerik's resignation.

"He made the decision," the former mayor said at a later news conference. "The impetus came from Bernie. I think he made the right decision for himself and his family. No one or anyone can take away from him the incredible bravery."

Kerik, a former New York correction commissioner, said he told Giuliani his resignation would be effective immediately. He said he would seek other unspecified business opportunities, write a book and spend time with his family.

"The events surrounding my withdrawal have become an unfair and unnecessary distraction to the firm and most importantly to the work they do at the firm," he said. "I am confident that I will be vindicated from any allegation of wrongdoing."

Kerik's scandal-tarred nomination had become a political embarrassment for Giuliani, a rising star in the GOP who had recommended his friend and business partner to President Bush. At a White House Christmas dinner with Bush nearly two weeks ago, Giuliani apologized to the president for the problems with the Kerik nomination, although he did not meet with Bush for the express purpose of apologizing, his spokeswoman said.

Kerik, 49, was tapped by Bush earlier this month to head the Department of Homeland Security. He abruptly withdrew his name Dec. 10 after revealing that he had not paid all required taxes for a family nanny-housekeeper and that the woman may have been in the country illegally.

A rash of other scandals soon followed, including allegations that he had connections with people suspected of doing business with the mob and accusations that he had simultaneous extramarital affairs with two women.

Recently, the city Department of Investigation said it had been reviewing Kerik's tenure as police commissioner. According to DOI findings, Kerik submitted a background form when he became commissioner of the Department of Correction in 1998 but did not fill one out when he was appointed police commissioner two years later.

Columbia University public affairs professor Steve Cohen said the Kerik affair was "clearly a stain on the mayor's reputation."

"For Giuliani, it's an incredible turn of events for a man known for a zero-tolerance policy," Cohen said. "It is the last act (Kerik) can do to create some distance between him and Giuliani so Giuliani can remain a viable national candidate."

After leaving the police department in 2002, Kerik joined Giuliani Partners, becoming a security consultant and then signing on to help launch the Iraqi police force.

When Kerik left for Baghdad last May on a $140,000-a-year contract for the Department of Defense, he told reporters he expected to be there for six months. He departed after four.

"Everything that had to be done that I could possibly do, it was done," he said when he returned.

Giuliani Partners LLC has advised business and government agencies on security, leadership and other issues. The consulting firm advised Trinidad in its battle against a rise in kidnappings and murders and was paid $4.3 million by Mexico City officials for advice on reducing crime there.

In a statement Wednesday, Giuliani said Giuliani-Kerik LLC, an affiliate of Giuliani Partners, would be renamed Giuliani Security & Safety. Kerik had been CEO of Giuliani-Kerik.

The managing director of Giuliani Partners, Daniel Connolly, a former special counsel to the city's law department, will replace Kerik.

© 2004 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

FBI Files Implicate Bush in Iraqi Jail Abuses

VIOLENT abuse of prisoners by US forces in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay was widespread as recently as four months ago, according to documents released yesterday.

Secret FBI memorandums, which the Bush Administration was forced to release by a court order won by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), reveal the disgust of FBI officials who witnessed the abuse.

They also show that violence against prisoners, including the use of snarling dogs and forcing detainees to defecate on themselves, was still an interrogation tactic months after the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal caused outrage in April.

The White House denied an allegation in one memo that President Bush had signed a “new executive order” authorising “sleep management”, stress positions, use of dogs, sensory deprivation and “yelling at subjects and prisoners with hoods on their heads”, methods forbidden for FBI agents.

A White House official said: “What the FBI agent wrote is wrong. There is no executive order on interrogation techniques.”

One of the most damning memos, dated June 24 and addressed to Robert Mueller, the FBI director, and other senior bureau officials, gave the account of someone “who observed serious physical abuses of civilian detainees” in Iraq.

It “described that such abuses included strangulation, beatings, placement of lit cigarettes into the detainees’ ear openings and unauthorised interrogations ”.

The documents — mostly by FBI agents present at interrogations in Iraq and the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and sent to their superiors — indicate that such tactics must have been known to government officials in Washington.

They make the official government line — that abuses were the action of a few low-ranking mavericks — increasingly hard to sustain.

“Top government officials can no longer hide from public scrutiny by pointing the finger at a few low-ranking soldiers,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU.

In one memo, FBI agents allege that military interrogators impersonated FBI officials, apparently to avoid possible blame in subsequent inquiries.

One FBI agent wrote that the impersonation technique was approved by “DepSecDef”, a reference to Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy to Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary. That allegation was denied by a Pentagon spokesman.

Tim Reid in Washington
NY Times

Israeli Parents: Just Say No

A letter signed by 97 Israeli parents urges their army-age children not to serve in the West Bank or Gaza Strip.
The letter calls serving in the territories part of an immoral occupation. In the open letter, to be published Friday in Ha’aretz, the parents say they will support their children if they refuse to serve in the territories.

“We have educated you to love Israel and to contribute anything to the country including three years of army service. We have educated you to fulfill your duties as law abiding citizens. Now we say to you — listen to your conscience,” the letter says. Soldiers who refuse to serve in the West Bank and Gaza Strip face jail time.


What is Bush's Real Goal in Iraq?

Our most urgent challenge in Iraq is convincing the insurgents that we will pack and leave once a directly-elected government is installed. Distrust of U.S. intentions is the root cause of the bloody rebellion that seems to gain strength each month. Is the Bush Administration honest in stating that its objective is a stable, democratic Iraq? Or is that just a cover for permanent military bases that will enable the U.S. government to dominate Iraq far into the future.

Here are a few of the reasons why Iraqis distrust U.S. intentions:

Headlines and newscasts are replete with forecasts by administration officials that U.S. troops will be needed in Iraq for years.

"Neocons" in the Defense Department long ago urged an invasion of Iraq as a step toward U.S. control of the Middle East. Retired U.S. General Anthony Zinni, former chief of the U.S. Central Command, publicly stated recently that "everyone" in Washington knows that oil and Israel are the real reasons for the war.

Beginning with the thunderous, devastating "shock and awe" opening round, U.S. military assaults have left over 100,000 Iraqi civilians dead, with other thousands wounded and/or homeless, and vast areas, including the great historic city of Fallujah, in ruins.

No serious shakeup or reprimand in high places followed the disclosure of U.S. torture and humiliation of detainees.

Administration officials handpicked the interim Iraqi government in its entirely. The Prime Minister, Ayad Allawi, resided for a long period in the United States, had close links with the CIA, and earlier was a close colleague of Saddam Hussein, once serving as the dictator’s hatchet man in Europe.

At the end of the 1991 Gulf War, the U.S. government urged the Iraqis to overthrow Saddam. This prompted a strong uprising, but the U.S. government refused to provide support in any form. This refusal prompted Saddam to use helicopter gun-ships to slaughter dissidents by the hundreds.

For a decade after the Gulf War, U.S. fighter planes enforced severe sanctions that led to immense civilian suffering, including the death of at least a half-million Iraqi infants.

In the l980s--the height of Saddam’s cruel treatment of Kurds and other Iraqi citizens—the U.S. government served as the dictator’s silent, uncomplaining partner, helping him battle Iran.

Before invading Iraq in 2003, the Bush administration ignored offers of conciliation from Saddam emissaries.

President Bush has failed to make any moves to redress what is seen as America’s anti-Arab/Muslim bias. Bush talks of independence for Palestinians but continues to support without complaint Israel’s brutal treatment of them.

Distrust of the U.S. government is virulent throughout the Arab world and beyond, not just in Iraq, and our government does almost nothing to dispel it.

If the administration fails to establish credibility, the rebellion will intensify. The best first step is to convince the Iraqis quickly that we will leave the minute the new directly-elected government wants us out. President Bush must pledge, without qualification, that the timing and extent of our withdrawal will be controlled by Iraq.

To make this promise believable, Bush must state clearly that our government will withdraw all U.S. military forces and all U.S. contractors and dismantle all U.S. military bases within a few weeks after the new government takes office. The only exceptions should be military units or contractors the new Iraqi government may wish to remain. Such units will remain only as long as the new government wishes.

Our government must also promise unequivocally that once the new Iraqi government takes office, the U.S. diplomatic mission, now bursting with a staff of ominous size--more than 2,000 persons, the largest in recorded history--will quickly be reduced to a standard level.

Whatever his original motives, Bush must take prompt, rigorous steps to erase Iraqi fear of U.S. colonialism. Otherwise, his page in history will be bleaker than President Lyndon Johnson’s legacy from the Vietnam War.

In Iraq, trust--not military manpower--is the greatest and gravest shortage. More troops will inspire more insurgency, not less.

Paul Findley, a Member of the US Congress 1961-83, writes and lectures on Middle East issues. His book, They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby, a 7-week bestseller on the Washington Post list, has sold over 300,000 copies

The Exploitation of Soldiers

Grow like savages – as soldiers will,
That nothing do but meditate on blood.
~ William Shakespeare, King Henry V

Those who defend warfare tend to see it only as an abstraction, a game pitting strategists from opposing collectives against one another in furtherance of contrived objectives. The ugly details of orchestrated butchery and torture are to be suppressed, lest persons of humane sensitivities become upset and demand a cessation of the game. But facts have ways of insinuating themselves into the most carefully devised schemes, causing the sordid nature of warfare to move from the abstract to the concrete. When this occurs – as it did in the My Lai massacre or, more recently, at Abu Ghraib – the political establishment is quick to look for scapegoats or explanations that do not implicate war itself. To the state, the professed ends of any given war are both irrelevant and fungible: it is the war system that requires protection.

One thing I found annoying during the Vietnam War years was the hostility directed by some anti-war activists to individual soldiers. I was opposed to that war – as I am to all wars – but I thought there was something cowardly about those who focused their anger on the soldiers rather than upon the politicians and the political establishment that manipulated the atrocities of warfare. Clearly, many war critics did direct their attentions to the system itself, but too many chose to concentrate their animosities upon the veterans rather than the architects of such villainy.

One sees this same moral cowardice in those Republican politicians who are calling for the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld over his flippant remarks to a soldier in Iraq, who complained about a lack of adequate equipment for their protection. In the face of increasing hostility to the war from both American civilians and soldiers, three Republicans – Trent Lott, Susan Collins, and Chuck Hagel – decided it was time to offer up Rumsfeld as a token sacrifice, rather than proposing the impeachment of President Bush for his pattern of lies, forgeries, and other deceptions that fomented the war. That Lott and Hagel – who voted "guilty" in Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial for lying about his relations with Monica Lewinsky – could don moral blinders for the more sinister lies of George Bush, reflects the cravenness of people who take a stand on "principle" only when it is safe to do so. Such people are akin to the "animal rights" advocates who berate Beverly Hills matrons for wearing fur coats, instead of confronting "Hells Angels" motorcyclists for wearing leather jackets.

The "pecking order" of an institution works in both an "up" and "down" direction. A sergeant will be sacrificed for the good of a general, a general for the benefit of a secretary of defense, and the latter for the sake of a president. If the initial level of scapegoating is not sufficient to end the criticism, one proceeds upward to successive levels in the hierarchy until it is perceived that the wrong has been rectified.

My words should not be misinterpreted as a suggestion that the soldiers of any war are not responsible for their acts. Neither am I ignoring the fact that many American soldiers have engaged in unpardonable atrocities against unarmed civilians, whether in Vietnam or Iraq. Each of us is responsible for the consequences of our actions for one simple reason: we are individually in control of our energies. A soldier who participates in the systematic killing of others is accountable for what his behavior has produced because he is the one who acted.

That said, however, I am far less interested in browbeating teenagers who, whether as conscripts or volunteers, decide to partake in the excitement of war. For millennia, politically-structured societies have conditioned their young men to look upon war as a glorious and noble undertaking; an expression of heroic sentiments; a source of meaning to life that allows you to "be all you can be."

Such attitudes are so deeply engrained in the culture that relatively few parents have seen fit to question their sons’ expected role in the war system. I recall fathers, during the Vietnam War years, expressing shame that their sons chose to depart for Canada rather than accept their "obligation" to be conscripted into the war machine. In the feminist-inspired insistence that women not be deprived of their "equal" right to be blown to pieces in some foreign land, daughters will also become incorporated into this state-serving mindset. That parents can accept such twisted thinking, and can love the state more than they do their own children, must rank near the top of the list for moral degeneracy!

Politically-structured societies wallow in lies and, in so doing, tear apart the fabric of decent social behavior. War, by its very nature, is sociopathic, as are those who plan for and execute the systematic slaughter of millions of persons. The idea of a "just" or "moral" war is so palpably absurd as to make even its suggestion a basis for questioning the sanity of its advocates. War makes "heroic" and "honorable" that which, if done privately, would render one a despicable criminal. We rightly condemn the serial killer who murders ten or twelve victims, while rewarding those who plot the political murders of hundreds of thousands with high political office or the Nobel Peace Prize!

War dehumanizes people – soldiers and civilians alike – and, for this reason, I have never understood the willingness of parents to allow their children to become part of such a dispirited, hostile, life-destroying system. I can understand how a teenager – whose limited life experiences are not sufficient to see what is implicit in warfare – might fall for the heroic imagery that gets reinforced in computer games. I do not understand this child’s parents – with many more years of awareness – not protecting him or her from this force that devastates the lives even of its survivors.

Why are so many war veterans – particularly those who saw deadly combat – unwilling to relate, even to their families, what they went through in wartime? Why do they not openly brag of their exploits, as do older men in recalling the athletic accomplishments of their youth? And why, knowing of the brutalizing nature of the war system, do parents who would not allow their sons to join an urban street-gang, take pride in their children being given over to the likes of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and neocon schemers, to be exploited and disposed of as best suits their arrogant temperaments?

It has been encouraging to observe, in recent months, the emergence of an apparent awareness among many American soldiers of the insanity of the war system, particularly as it has been playing out in Iraq. Soldiers have refused to obey orders that would send them on life-threatening missions; others have spoken out about the lack of adequate armor and protective equipment; still others have questioned the national purpose and/or morality of their participation in the killing of innocent people, particularly children. A number of soldiers have brought a lawsuit challenging the continuation of their service beyond the original commitment. Not surprising, National Guard officials announced that enlistments have fallen well below anticipated levels.

The issue of ineffective armament has become a focal point for the disaffection of so many soldiers, who complain of having to scour dumpsites in search of old armor plate with which to refurbish their combat vehicles. It is open to question whether the government’s indifference to the plight of these soldiers was best reflected in Rumsfeld’s aforementioned disdainful response to questioning, or in the Army’s court-martialing – and imprisonment – of six reservists for removing scrap metal and bullet-resistant glass from abandoned vehicles in order to augment their own. Rush Limbaugh – who has fashioned a lucrative career out of missing the point on just about every issue – saw fit to criticize the soldier’s inquiry of Rumsfeld not on the merits of the question, but on the ground that a member of the media had given him the question to ask! In such an atmosphere of rampant disregard for the well-being of the troops, I half-expected Rumsfeld to drag out the old "duck-and-cover" strategy by which American school-children – in the early Cold War – were advised to protect themselves in the event of a nuclear attack!

Perhaps the most interesting news story involves a Pentagon report that more than 5,500 Army or Marine Corps servicemen have chosen to desert rather than go to Iraq. Like their Vietnam War counterparts who avoided the draft, a number have gone to Canada. I suspect that Limbaugh and the FoxNews war-whoopers will attribute these mass-desertions to "cowardice" on the part of the soldiers involved. But if they took the time to read or listen to these men – instead of dismissing their interests – they would discover otherwise.

One young man, Pfc. Dan Felushko, began his military training shortly after 9/11, and was prepared to fight in Afghanistan. But when he discovered there was no connection between the 9/11 attacks and Saddam Hussein, he questioned his participation in a war he believed to be wrong. He then fled to Canada. "[N]obody should make me sign away my ability to choose between right and wrong," he said, declaring the contract he had signed with the Marines to be "a devil’s contract."

A recent high school graduate, Brandon Hughey, joined the Army believing that the war against Iraq "was necessary if they did have these weapons, and they could end up in our cities and threaten our safety." He was prepared to die, he said, "to make America safe." But when the truth about Iraq’s alleged "threat" became known, "[i]t made me angry, because I felt our lives were being thrown away as soldiers." Echoing the sentiments of the Nuremburg principles, Hughey stated: "[p]eople should have a right to say ‘I’m not fighting in that war. That’s an illegal war. . . . I’m not going.’" He, too, left for Canada, adding "I have to say that my image of my country always being the good guy, and always fighting for just causes, has been shattered."

Patriotic types – who see no further than beyond the fringes of their flags – have always been quick to condemn those who adhere to their deepest principles. Like the members of a crazed lynch mob, they fail to see dissenters as the protectors of the values that make a society decent and productive. It has been America’s loss, and Canada’s gain, that men who insist upon the inviolability of their principles have been driven from the country. There is no more important time in the life of an individual or a nation than wartime for men and women to follow the bumper-sticker advice to "question authority."

The life-sustaining value to insubordination is most clearly revealed in the face of death. As Samuel Johnson stated, "when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully." It is unfortunate that most of us wait until our lives are threatened to energize our consciousness, rather than seeing the dangers implicit in the prior behavior of our revered systems.

An example of how the questioning of authority saved a person’s life was reported to me a few weeks ago. I was speaking with a woman whose friend was working in a WTC tower when one of the planes hit. She immediately headed for the doors and stairways to get out, but was told by her supervisors and colleagues to "stay where you are," that everything was going to be all right. This woman responded: "are you crazy? Can’t you see what is happening, here?" Disobeying her bosses, she fled the building to safety. Her coworkers who stayed behind all died when the building collapsed.

I would like to meet this woman, as well as the many young men who, over the years, have chosen expatriation as the price for living a principled life. Perhaps in their eyes I will see the reflection of the values that led my ancestors to leave their European homelands for the opportunity to live as free and responsible human beings owing their lives to no earthly powers.

The American political establishment – whose interests transcend Republican and Democratic party lines – seems as intent on pursuing its violent ambitions for world domination as did ancient Rome, prior to its collapse. The consequences of such an undertaking will be rendered all the more troublesome by the unwillingness of most Americans to "just say no!" to the narcotic of state power. Still, there is some hope for the future when a remnant of humanity realizes that their physical and spiritual survival are to be found in being masters of their own lives.

Perhaps, in the example of the woman at the WTC, the rest of us may discover that our lives depend not on fighting authority, but on walking away from the crumbling structures in which we are expected to remain.

December 21, 2004

Butler Shaffer [bshaffer@swlaw.edu] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law.

Copyright © 2004 LewRockwell.com

Battle Scars

"When I saw the stumps, I thought, `Damn, both of them?' Then I looked at my leg and I was trying to figure how to put a tourniquet on it because I didn't have any hands."

The rocket-propelled grenade that ripped off James Eddie Wright's hands and tore into his left leg ended the war for him and changed his life forever.

In a way, Wright, 29, personifies the new veteran coming home from Iraq. Many hundreds are amputees and, according to The New England Journal of Medicine, one in six suffers from a stress-related disorder. More often than not, today's veteran has that thousand-yard stare that soldiers have been carrying home for years - a mask for the gnawing confusion and anguish that can blow apart a smooth return to civilian life.

Unlike the young draftees of earlier wars, many of these men and women are older, with families. For them, this morphing from a fighting machine ducking bullets into a mommy or daddy packing school lunches presents a special challenge. This time the government tapped the National Guard and the Reserve to augment regular forces. Some returnees - proportionately many more than in Vietnam - have left limbs and slices of sanity on an urban battlefield as strange as the Iraq war itself. Improved body armor kept many troops out of body bags in Iraq after they were ravaged by roadside bombs and shoulder-mounted rocket launchers.

A varied lot, these returnees. Among them: A freshly retired soldier struggling with anger and guilt as she desperately tries to fit back into the lives of her husband and three kids. An ex-soldier who shuns humans in favor of his dogs. A star basketball player who lost her shooting hand. A lifer from North Miami who can't spit out the smell of death. A guy with a John Wayne fantasy. A seven-year Marine fighting to keep his shattered arm.



No prosthesis for me, says John Dale, 29, of Coconut Creek, Fla. So far, his left arm is still his. He's had eight surgeries to save it. The next one's due in three months.

"It felt like someone hit me with a baseball bat," he recalls. It was April 4, 2003. His unit, the 2nd Tank Battalion, assigned to the 1st Marine Division, was taking heavy fire on the way to Baghdad on the first day of action during the invasion.

The battleground was surreal, like an arthouse war flick: oil burning in roadside ditches, smoke blotting out the sun and screening the enemy, the Marines moving forward in their Humvees.

The Iraqis would pop up and shoot. Dale would machine-gun their hideout from his seagull view in the turret. Such a sweet target. An AK-47 round shattered the humerus, the long bone of the upper arm.

His arm was left dangling, blood seeping through his chemical suit and flak jacket and racing down to his fingertips, forming large claret pools on the Humvee floor. A corpsman lifted him into an ambulance. But he had to give up his space to a Marine who had been shot in the face.

"I had to crouch behind a tank until a Humvee drove by. I hitched a ride with them," Dale says.

The firefight fanned out as he sank helplessly in the back of the vehicle. He didn't panic and he didn't pray. Everything was gonna be all right, he thought, but it would be an hour and a half until a medevac chopper arrived. Dale counted three friends among the severely wounded. Nearby, a corpsman was pushing to save a tank commander. But the officer's body was already adapting to meet death.

Dale's arm is now held together by a metal plate that travels from shoulder to elbow and is attached to the bone by 13 metal screws.

He sleeps as if time is rationed. Nightmares mess with his mind. The doctors call it post-combat trauma. He and two other Iraq war veterans meet weekly at Dale's home with Patrick Murphy, a team leader at the Vet Center, a government counseling service.

Three weeks in combat changed him forever, the sergeant says. He no longer puts things off. Like furthering his education. The South Broward High grad says he's going back to school. He likes the medical field.



Valencia Knox-Davis' voice is soft but her delivery is halting. Her eyes wander, never stopping on other eyes.

Knox-Davis, 46, had an eight-month stint in Afghanistan. Then, after five months at home, she was shipped out to Iraq. She came home in March to her husband, Jack Davis, 49, and their three kids in Richmond Heights, a Miami-Dade neighborhood.

A Florida State University graduate, she's a social worker at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. She joined the Army Reserve in 1983 as an administrative specialist and helped set up and run postal services.

In 2002, when she was in Bagram, Afghanistan, son Bryan, then 14, fired off questions: Why are you there? What's the war about? And from Faith, 11: When are you coming home? James, 4, didn't grasp what was going on. Her husband, who works for U.S. Precast, a construction company, tried his best to pick up the slack. It was hard.

He's struck by the life-after-Iraq personality of a wife who, in off moments, still hears the ever-closer thumps of distant mortar rounds. She's got a precise way of doing things now, constantly checking the time, and clinging to the family. Other times, she doesn't want them around. She explains it in clinical terms: the guilt of being gone so long; missing out on so much of their lives; not being able to replace the time. "After I came home from Iraq, I used to internalize my anger. And I had no patience, no tolerance. I was curt with the kids and I was distant."

Knox-Davis, who retired as a sergeant first class in September, is being treated for post-traumatic stress at the Veterans Administration in Miami. "They want you to talk, but it's hard to open up because I mistrust people. The administration tells you the war is over and when you get there it's not. Being over there was just so stressful. And yet my mind still wanders back to Iraq and I worry about the troops. I hope these issues aren't permanent."



On Oct. 5, Marco Hernandez of Homestead, Fla., mourned his oldest, Nellie Bablushuka. She was 15, a toy poodle. Now he dotes on his two younger dogs, Charlie, a Lhasa apso, and Shortie Hernandez, a Shih Tzu. "He lives for them," says Vet Center team leader Patrick Murphy, who counsels Hernandez for post-combat stress. "They give him a sense of being able to count on something." They also are helping him glue himself back together.

Before his deployment to the Middle East, Hernandez, 37, a Guatemala native, lived a far different life. He had an associate's degree in business administration, a wife and big plans to go up the ladder in the U.S. Army.

Today he has no job, no wife, no plans, no social life. He suffers from depression, mood swings, panic attacks, nightmares, mind-blowing headaches and a welter of pains he attributes to a truck accident in Kuwait.

In January 2003, Hernandez, a specialist 4th class with the 25th Aviation Regiment, was assigned to Camp Udairi, a barren desert compound in Kuwait. He was there to repair radar on helicopters. But there was little work, "no mail, no news, either," he says. They were camped behind God's back.

Eventually, he went into Baghdad, riding through enemy wreckage with limbs and flesh "like shredded paper" everywhere. The detritus of the fall of Baghdad included shards of his mind.

His tour over, Hernandez eagerly flew home to his wife. She was waiting for him - with divorce papers.

He can't even get a job - overqualified, they say. There are nights when he dreams he picks up a rifle during a chat with someone "and when I'm about to pull the trigger I wake up."

His "children" are his salvation. They "are helping me get out of this feeling of emptiness. I am forcing myself to walk with them. My feet, legs, hips, back and head hurt all the time, plus the fact that I do not want to see anybody or do anything, but because of my children I am pushing myself to go back to an almost normal life.

"I walked them last night. It took about 95 minutes and I was tired and in pain. But Shortie and Charlie were running and jumping. That tells me that they are happy and I feel good about myself."



Luis Robles, 27, of Pembroke Pines, Fla., stashed in his helmet a line from the Bible: No weapon that is formed against thee he wrote "me" shall prosper (Isaiah 54:17).

"You have your battle buddies, but you also need spiritual upliftment," Robles says from his desk as a supply sergeant at the National Guard armory in downtown Miami. "Every time I went into battle, I became spiritually inspired."

If mom Irene Bustamante had known that, she might not have fingered the worry beads when he called her home in Tijuana, Mexico, around Mother's Day 2003 to say he was going into combat. Born in San Diego and reared in Tijuana, Robles had enlisted in the Army at 19 despite her objections. Now she's telling him, as he's about to leave for Iraq with the 53rd Infantry Brigade: "I can't believe you're fighting a war that's not yours."

"I'm a soldier," he reminded her.

On Nov. 23, Robles was in charge of perimeter security at an observation post in Ramadi when he and a buddy thought they heard a car with a bad muffler. It was incoming mortars. Shrapnel fractured his skull.

When he came to, he worried that someone would call his mom and tell her. Someone had. His speech was so blurred that he had to practice saying, "It's just a scratch, Mom."

He was at Walter Reed Medical Center for 2-1/2 months.

For a while, Robles had a short fuse. He still has migraines and poor concentration. He continues to see a neurologist and the combat stress is in remission. Just don't come by with any firecrackers - or a bad muffler.

When he's off duty, Robles takes business administration classes at Broward Community College.

That quotation from Isaiah has worked. He and God are real tight now.



In the desert, the heat's overpowering - especially if you pull security duty on the roof of a police station in Baghdad.

Danielle Green, 27, of Chicago, remembers that heat as she lies in a ward at Walter Reed. That sun. That rocket. That burning sensation.

It's May 25, 2004, five months after the 571st Military Police Co. arrived at the Al-Sadoon police station to train Iraqi volunteers. Green, a specialist 4th class, and a buddy are stuck with rooftop guard duty in temperatures well above 100 degrees. It's the buddy's turn to find a spot of shade. Green's alone.

Maybe it was a yen for adventure that made her quit her teaching job and join the Army in January 2003. She had been an ace basketball player at Notre Dame, where she earned a psychology degree.

Now she's on the roof, surrounded by sandbags, unaware that her post has become a target. The first rocket-propelled grenade hits a nearby building. She grabs her rifle, but her body goes numb. The second rocket has hit home. "I thought I was going to die," she says. "I could see that my left thigh was busted open."

Green speed-dials God: "If you can get me out of this situation, I'll change my ways."

Within seconds, Green, a lefty, realizes her left hand is missing. The limb is found later - with her wedding band still shining - under seven inches of sand.

The next day, she learns the leg can be saved, and calls her husband, Willie Byrd, 59, a retired teacher in Chicago. "She told me, `I need you to be strong. Don't cry,' " he recalls. "So I knew something was wrong."

It's still wrong.

"There are more questions than answers" about the future, she says bitterly. "It's tough on me mentally, so I'm still trying to figure what's important. Maybe I'll attend grad school and return to education. Maybe when kids tell me they can't do it, I'd pull off my prosthetic arm and say, `If I can do it, you can do it.' "

Last June, Green and 21 other Walter Reed amputees were invited to the Disabled Sports USA clinic in Long Beach, Calif., where she impressed Bryan Hoddle, head track and field coach of the 2004 U.S. Paralympian team.

"Danielle definitely has that drive and potential to be a great Paralympian," Hoddle says.

"But I have to figure out how to juggle school, train and also make money," she says brightly. "Maybe, at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, the headline could read `Notre Dame student-athlete, American hero, makes Paralympian team.'



The infantry is not a place for the ordinary Joe. It is where heroes go beyond their pain, where character is ultimately defined. Brian Wilhelm, 22, of Manchester, Iowa, found himself in that zone.

It was 2:30 in the afternoon on Oct. 7, 2003. When he awoke that morning "stuff didn't seem right," he says now. The kind of stuff that causes nerves to wobble. You get a vibe like that, you'd better keep it to yourself. The Iraqis were playing it close to the chest, too. They were about to ambush his mechanized unit, a three-vehicle convoy from the 4th Infantry Division. His unit was en route to RPG Alley (a rocket-propelled grenade hellhole) on a beat-up road in Balad. A patrol was depending on them for security and replenishments.

"They opened up with a volley of RPGs. I got hit in my left calf. There was a big hole in my leg, but I wasn't feeling pain."

Adrenaline, the Army sergeant says, sparked his next move. "I got out of the truck and started firing. I'm in the middle of the road and my gunner is on the truck backing me up on the 50-cal machine gun."

Wilhelm is in no man's land for 20 minutes, blood draining the leg of color. He's firing clip after clip of ammo. Because there was no initial pain, "I thought I was dead, so I figured I better have some fun to keep my buddies alive," he says. Eventually, the gunner got him back on the truck and applied a tourniquet.

Doctors at Walter Reed tried to save the leg. He waved them away. "It was either that or a couple of years of surgery," he says. "I wanted to get on with my life."

A prosthesis got him walking two weeks after the amputation.

Wilhelm now chauffeurs a general and helps with reenlistments at Fort Carson, Colo.

After work, he goes home to his wife, Jennifer, an Army MP, and their 14-month-old daughter, Alison, in Fountain, Colo.

Does the war intrude? Does he have psychological scars?

"None," he shoots back. "Losing a leg is no big deal. People who feel sorry for themselves need to grow up."

He's counting on his new family, his own family back in Iowa, and the counsel of Vietnam veterans to forestall post-combat problems. He has been allowed to re-enlist.



It happened about midday on April 7 in Fallujah, where hatred for Americans is stacked up like the rows of buildings that crowd the streets and alleys. Enemy mortar and rocket teams blended into the population, and that day the 1st Recon Battalion was trying to ferret them out.

Marine Cpl. James Eddie Wright, 29, of Seattle, rode point in a Humvee with four buddies. When he saw skittish motorists ahead of them spinning around and going the other way, he smelled an ambush. Gunfire raked the convoy, followed by mortars and rockets.

It felt like a knockout punch screaming off his jaw when a rocket-propelled grenade slammed into Wright's M-16 rifle. It blew off his helmet and goggles. His arms were cut down to smoldering stumps and his left foot had a gaping wound. "When I saw the stumps, I thought, `Damn, both of them?' I looked at my leg and wondered how I could apply a tourniquet because now I don't have any hands."

He almost died three times on the trip back home. They gave him 39 units of blood and doctors saved the leg. He's still in rehab at Walter Reed. "The experience has taught me to be thankful for what I have," he says. "My life, my family, my fiancee and support from patriotic Americans."

He plans to resume his education, but wedding bells are first. He and Donette Mathison, an Air Force staff sergeant, are to marry in May.



Hubert Louizaire of North Miami tasted the exhilaration of victory on his first tour in Iraq in 1991. Now, after another war, the lingering smell of death is stronger - "like meat burning on a barbecue with no kind of spice at all."

Born in Haiti 48 years ago, he relocated to Brooklyn, N.Y., at age 15. He enlisted in the Army in 1980 and stayed on active duty for 12 years, then became a reservist. He joined the Veterans Administration police in Miami and was called back to Iraq in March 2003 with the Fort Lauderdale-based 724th MP Battalion.

Back in Desert Storm, he was a gun chief with the 31st Field Artillery, blowing up Iraqi tanks, 55 in all, burning many of the crewmen to death.

"He loves Army life," says his wife, Eveline, 47, a VA file clerk. Army life dragged him away from her and their two daughters twice, heaping an extra load on her.

Last year when she had to get the roof fixed and the house painted, "they contractors took advantage of me," Eveline says. "And they took their sweet time."

Meanwhile, Louizaire was supervising 7,000 POWs, including 300 generals, at a camp in Um Quasar. "The prisoners were treated so well, they ate better than us," he says. "We eventually released the generals, but they came back to thank us for the way we handled the whole prison population."

But the camp had a problem with escape artists and criminals. The battalion would shuttle the criminals to the overcrowded Abu Ghraib prison, where many were killed during Iraqi mortar attacks on the prison. He learned of the abuse there later. "Maybe that's why prisoners would beg us to take them back to Um Quasar."

In all of this, he's never taken a bullet or been bogged down by bad memories.

"If you think about what you did, it'll affect you," he says. "But if you don't think, it won't be on your mind."



Rob Sarra grew up on war movies in Chicago. He dropped out of college after two years and followed a fantasy to Iraq in March 2003. His armored unit, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, had its first contact with the enemy in An Nasiriyah, running and gunning through the city in 15 minutes. It was exciting. Running the gauntlet, as the Marines call it, each Amtrac sheltering 18 Marines and gobbling up killing fields, town after town, four in a row.

Lethal air strikes, the gift of artillery, the choppers darting in and out of view, all the true sounds of combat that Hollywood has yet to perfect. "He," Marine Sgt. Rob Sarra, "not" John Wayne, was the hero now.

Things soured when 32-year-old Sarra and his buddies, on patrol in Ash Shatra, shot at civilians.

"I fired on a woman coming out of a building," he says. "She kept coming. She wouldn't stop."

The woman in black, her face covered, slumped to the ground. Sarra walked up to her. She was clutching a white flag. That moment, that death, upended Sarra's life, and turned him against the war.

He was discharged in April 2004 and joined the Philadelphia-based Iraq Veterans Against the War. Lifers in the military likely would say that Sarra has kidnapped and twisted patriotism. Sarra wouldn't care.

These days you can catch his drift on college campuses like Ithaca, Notre Dame, the University of Illinois, anywhere the public, students mostly, is willing to listen to his revelations about, in his words, "the occupation."

Sarra and all Iraq war veterans are defined by the unique theater in which they served - as are all veterans of all U.S. wars.

However, they are all connected by the personal war that follows all wars.

Knight Ridder Newspapers
© 2004, The Miami Herald.

JESUS a Historical Figure

Each year at this time, the media turn to ''religious scholars'' in an attempt to paint a different picture of the first Christmas, one that was invented by early Christians using existing mythology as their mold. While writers theorize that Christ's birth is rooted more in fable than in historical fact, they fail to mention that these doubt-inspiring disclaimers simply do not measure up to the scrutiny of historical investigation.

The premise behind these stories is that the early Christian beliefs about Jesus were just variations on older religious themes. Pagan ''mystery religions'' had emerged from Roman, Greek and Egyptian cultures, with teachings that focused on mythical hero-gods such as Osiris. Some writers suggest that Jesus was an invented figure, patterned after such gods.

It is hypothesized that Christian doctrines developed through a repackaging of existing legends. A recent Newsweek feature article asserts that the New Testament writers were ''confronted with a literary problem that had to be solved'' and thus created the story of Christ's birth. The apostle Paul is frequently cited as a likely reviser and partial ''founder'' of Christianity, allegedly having meshed prevalent paganism with teachings about Jesus. The implication is that the core beliefs of classical orthodoxy are inventions of men rather than revelation from God.

But consider the facts revealed upon closer examination: The New Testament deals with actual persons and historical events open to investigation. The mystery religions dealt with mythical figures, having no historical ties whatsoever. In contrast, Jesus' birth is tied to such things as real people (Herod of Judea), real places (Bethlehem, Egypt, Nazareth) and actual events (``a census by Caesar Augustus''), and it's corroborated by verifiable details (``when Quirinius was governor of Syria''). Further, none of the myth-based ancient religions ever claimed to be reported via eyewitnesses, as does the New Testament's presentation of Christ.

The belief that early Christians borrowed from the paganism of their times rests on the assumption that mystery religions were pervasive and influential in Palestine during the first century. But even the skeptical Albert Schweitzer concluded of those who interpret Christianity in this manner, ``They manufacture out of the various fragments of information a kind of universal mystery religion which never existed, least of all in Paul's day.''

C.S. Lewis rejected the mystery religion thesis, observing that Christianity originated ''in a circle where no trace of the nature religion was present.'' Religion scholar Mircea Eliade concluded, ``There is no reason to suppose that primitive Christianity was influenced by the Hellenistic mysteries.''

Christianity not a myth

Why is it important that we consider such things at this time? The difference between Christianity and ancient myth is worth noting because it illustrates how unique the Christian message truly is. Even 2,000 years ago, the mystery tales were known to be fables. On the other hand, Christmas reminds us that at a precise point in history, Christ came bearing the gift of Himself.

2 Peter 1:16 demonstrates the solid base on which Christian faith rests: ''For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.'' Here we have eyewitness testimony to actual events. It does not matter that many years separate us and the earliest Christians; we, too, may personally meet history's most important figure, who bears life's most relevant message.

The Gospels present a genuine Savior, demonstrating genuine love, coming to a world possessing genuine spiritual need. None of the so-called savior gods of the myths died for someone else. Do note, too, that Jesus died once and for all. The mystery religions portray gods that died repeatedly, depicting cycles of nature. Unlike the mythical heroes, Jesus died voluntarily, and His death was a triumph, not a defeat. Christ's death provided atonement for sin, a concept utterly foreign to the mystery religions.

Alex McFarland is the director of teen apologetics at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs

Taking Christ out of Christmas

Somewhere between the Try our new whopper and Free HBO marquees, Marcus Marconi’s beef with the way people phrase the most wonderful time of the year stands sentinel over an annual celebration that increasingly celebrates inclusion.


The black lettering below the Marconi’s Auto Sales sign at First Street and Rood Avenue in Grand Junction sums up what the 35-year-old Grand Junction man wants so much for the world to embrace.

“It’s something I’ve been meaning to do,” Marconi said. “Christ is the reason why we celebrate. It’s not about going out and buying your kid a Nintendo.”

Plenty of customers and passersby have applauded his marquee. One young man asked him what it meant.

That’s reason enough to keep it up, he said.

A few people objected to his four-word diatribe.

But that’s their problem, he said. He feels strongly enough about the way he sees the holiday going to pipe up and put his frustration in writing.

“It’s not ‘X-mas,’ ” Marconi said. “It’s not ‘Season’s Greetings.’ It’s not ‘Happy Holidays.’

“It’s ‘Merry Christmas.”

The move to stifle any and all Christian elements of the holiday disturbs him.

“They’re almost afraid to say that Christ actually exists, that they might offend somebody,” Marconi said.

The push to celebrate the holiday without promoting religion seems to have taken on more fervor this year, while inviting heightened outcry from those who fear losing Christmas.

“We live in a society where we say that we’re tolerant — until we feel offended,” said the Rev. Rob Storey of River of Life Alliance Church in Grand Junction. “We live in a culture where we believe we have the right not to be offended.”

The trend toward trimming Christmas from the Christmas tree and yuletide expressions void of Christmas illustrates a secular country’s move away from all things sacred, he said.

“This has been coming a long time,” Storey said.

“There’s no pretense anymore that we are a Christian nation.”

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper ruffled feathers when he suggested the city display “Happy Holidays” in place of its traditional “Merry Christmas” sign next year.

Religious-themed floats didn’t float with parade organizers at Denver’s Parade of Lights this year.

Grand Junction’s annual Parade of Lights featured several floats that depicted the nativity and Jesus as “the reason for the season,” and carolers sang of his birth.

No protests were reported. Cheers, not boos, accompanied all the entries, whether it was Santa or Gabriel waving to the Dec. 4 crowd.

The city of Grand Junction showered all its parking meters in red plastic for the shopping season. Shoppers don’t pay for parking wherever “Season’s Greetings” greets them.

The city’s use of holiday decorations and expressions has never been an issue, city spokeswoman Sam Rainguet said. At Grand Junction High School’s holiday concert earlier this month, choir students sang a slightly altered version of a modern arrangement that describes the nativity.

Students replaced the songwriter’s mention of Christ as “our Redeemer” with “a little child” in “Candlelight Carol.”

“We decided it was more appropriate,” said 17-year-old Elysia Pruett, a senior who’s considering being a music teacher. “We could say it’s happened, but not press that on other people. We say when Jesus was born, but we didn’t say you had to believe in him.”

The change caused a few murmurs among students, she said.

Palisade High School choir teacher Patty Anderson said she held nothing back when treating her audience to sacred music this December.

Much of the repertoire at the Bulldogs’ holiday concert last Tuesday spoke of Christ’s birth, she said, including the song, “Mary, Did You Know?” The song asks Mary, the mother of Jesus, rhetorical questions about what “this sleeping child you’re holding” would do and become to all men.

“You can’t get any more religious than that,” Anderson said.

Steve Schultz, assistant superintendent for District 51 schools, said each school aims to be sensitive with students’ diverse faith backgrounds.

“We don’t get a lot of complaints at the district level,” he said.

Separation of church and state demands District 51 schools not put one religion or belief above another, he added.

Audiences of District 51 music programs will hear a variety of music, sacred songs included.

“We have to be smart about it as a public school (system),” Schultz said. “We have to maintain a balance.”

The Rev. Scott Hogue of First Baptist Church in Grand Junction said it’s important that Christians who bemoan the absence of “Merry Christmas” among holiday tidings remember their faith does not hinge on an expression.

“When we say ‘happy holidays,’ what we’re doing is we’re changing the meaning of a celebration,” Hogue said. “We’re saying it’s no longer about Jesus Christ. It’s a secular holiday that’s mostly wrapped up in marketing.”

Christians can’t protect Christmas from a secular world, but the secular world “has to let us have our day,” he said.

The fact there’s no longer room for Christ at Christmas- time is disheartening, Storey said.

But such an acknowledgment brings him hope as well, that Christians who recognize they no longer live in a Christian nation will sense a new urgency to share the Christmas story.

“I’m going to call it Christmas in my home,” Storey said. “My prayer is that more people will.”

DANIE HARRELSON The Daily Sentinel

Away With the Manger

To many, it seems Christ has been removed from Christmas

As Dec. 25 approaches, many Americans find themselves amidst the annual, frenzied season of marathon shopping, endless gift giving and compulsive overeating -- in other words, overindulgence in all things Christmas.

Except, it would seem, for one thing: Jesus Christ.

Which raises an important question: Is the inherent religious message of this holiday -- the birth of a savior, the Prince of Peace -- drowned out more than ever in the swirl of marketing hype, commercialization and supporting the fourth-quarter profits of big business?

There's no doubt about it, in Rich Forney's mind.

"Everyone can see it, especially with the advertising and the stores. They start putting up things in August for Christmas. They're trying to make money on the gifts and decorations, and that's their business," says Forney, director of The Salvation Army, 946 N.H.

"But we need some time to be reminded of what we actually are celebrating: the birth of Jesus Christ, the gift of God to mankind. Many people forget that and get lost in the parties and the gift giving."

And the drumbeat of consumption seems to pick up the pace every year, agree some members of the clergy in Lawrence and other Christians.

"There seems to be just a gargantuan need to spend money and buy gifts, and that agenda is set by Alan Greenspan (chairman of the Federal Reserve) and the Wal-Mart specials more than by a spiritual aspect," says the Rev. Marcus McFaul, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, 1330 Kasold Drive.

"As a result, we max out the credit card, and when we open our credit-card statement we ask, ‘Now, why did we do this?'"

Santa displacing savior

But it's not necessary to be a pastor to be disturbed by the encroaching commercialization of Christmas, diluting its essential connection to the cornerstone of Christian faith.

"I think we've lost the religious aspects in all the parts of our lives, to some degree, and so Christmas isn't much different," says Judy Davis, a Lawrence therapist pausing for a break at a downtown coffee shop. "Money has turned into something we revere. Everywhere you go, it's ‘buy me, buy me.'"

Bill Browning, a student at the Washburn University School of Law and a Lawrence resident, sees much the same trend.

"I would say that our contact with the holiday, as Americans, is necessarily commercial. You're reminded by commercials on TV that it's Christmas and that we're supposed to buy things. They've been marketing Christmas in October since long before I was born," says Browning, 39.

In the face of the culture's largely secular treatment of Christmas, Davis and her family try to maintain a spiritual focus.

"We celebrate it by acknowledging that Jesus represents the coming of light and love in the world and that it's available at all times," she says.

"We light candles and play music, have a good dinner. It's a celebration, but the emphasis isn't on how much a gift costs. Our family's tradition is to make things for each other."

Even Santa himself -- or the closest thing you'll find to a "real" Santa in Lawrence -- is dismayed that the jolly old elf has become the embodiment of Christmas.

"I really feel that we have got to bring love back to this holiday, showing the love for each other," says Larry Kline, a Lawrence resident who has played Santa Claus off and on for 30 years, making appearances at nursery schools and nursing homes during the Christmas season.

"This is what we're celebrating, the birth of Jesus Christ. It's what Christmas is all about, the love of Jesus."

Meaning and purpose

The biblical nature of Christmas -- the celebration of the Nativity -- wasn't always pushed to the extreme margins of the holiday.

The Rev. Bill Hurlbutt remembers what it was like when he was growing up.

"Christ was the main emphasis of Christmas at my house. My mom baked a birthday cake, and as kids we used to sing ‘Happy Birthday' to Jesus," says Hurlbutt, senior pastor of Christ Community Church, 1100 Kasold Drive.

But society's celebration of the holiday seems to have grown ever more secular and consumerist since Hurlbutt, 49, was a child in upstate New York.

He suggests that Christians these days might want to consider an alternative way to celebrate the true spirit of the holiday.

"We tend to think of giving (only) in the realm of our own families and friends, but I know people who have adopted other families that they know are less fortunate. They take some of their blessings, and they bless somebody else at Christmas," Hurlbutt says.

McFaul urges Christians to let their religious convictions and deepest beliefs guide their choice of gifts to others, such as donating money in a person's name to a charity that works to provide for basic human needs.

"That's a gift that's a little bit more meaningful than a Salad Shooter or another Jessica Simpson CD," he says.

And people should try to keep in mind the holiday's real meaning: Jesus.

"All of this does indeed go back to the birth of the Christ, who came to bring with himself the kingdom where the poor get good news brought to them, the brokenhearted are healed, captives are delivered and the blind receive sight," McFaul says.

"That's the message. We are giving a party for someone like Jesus, if we can only remember who it was."

Jim Baker, Journal-World

Evangelicals Use Courts to Fight Restrictions on Christmas Tidings

Jonathan Morgan handed out candy canes with the story of Jesus to his fourth-grade classmates in Plano, Tex., on Friday. But it took a court order.

After years of legal assaults on municipal displays of Nativity scenes and Christmas observances in public schools, Christian groups are now mounting court challenges in the other direction.

From Mustang, Okla., to Maplewood, N.J., they are filing or threatening lawsuits to win the inclusion of manger scenes in school plays, Christmas carols in school concerts and Christmas trees in public buildings.

"The pendulum has swung completely," said Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the nonprofit First Amendment Center in Arlington. "There's a push-back by many conservative Christians, perhaps emboldened by the recent election and by the increasing presence of evangelical Christianity in the public arena. They're saying the secularization of our society and public schools has gone too far and become hostility to their religion."

Last year, a school administrator stopped Jonathan Morgan at the door to his classroom because the "goody bag" he had brought to a school party on the last day before Christmas vacation contained candy canes with a religious message attached. Titled "The Legend of the Candy Cane," it said the candy was shaped in a J for Jesus and bore a red stripe "to represent the blood Christ shed for the sins of the world."

This year, the 9-year-old and his evangelical Christian parents went straight to court. They were among four families who persuaded Judge Paul Brown, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, to issue a temporary restraining order on Thursday securing their children's right to hand out "religious viewpoint gifts" at school-sponsored holiday parties.

The family had some high-powered help. Two conservative nonprofit law firms, the Liberty Legal Institute and the Alliance Defense Fund, took the case free of charge. The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice also wrote the Plano Independent School District last week to say it was investigating its "alleged refusal to permit students to distribute religious messages during school parties and on school property."

Kelly Shackelford, the Liberty Legal lawyer who argued the case, said in a telephone interview that Supreme Court decisions since 1969 clearly have established that students do not give up free-speech rights when they walk through the school door. Expressions of religious faith that would be unconstitutional coming from a teacher in a classroom are acceptable among students as long as they do not "materially and substantially disrupt" school operations, he said.

The Plano school district's lawyer, Richard Abernathy, maintained that school administrators can impose reasonable restrictions on the "time, place and manner" of students' religious speech.

"This area is predominantly white, and it's predominantly Christian. Frankly, it's pretty conservative Christian," he said. "We have to be careful, though, that those students who are Hindu or Islamic or Jewish don't have their rights trampled on."

Doug Morgan said his son was a victim of "political correctness spiraling out of control." He noted that the school had informed parents that only white paper plates and napkins -- no Christmas red and green -- would be allowed at the generic "Winter Break" party.

"They are so determined not to offend anyone," he said, "that we're being silenced and made to feel that what we want to share is not appropriate to share in a public environment."

That is an increasingly common holiday sentiment, said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, a legal advocacy group founded by the Rev. Pat Robertson.

Twenty or 30 years ago, Sekulow said, the vast majority of lawsuits over Christmas displays were filed by secular groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, to block the placement of religious symbols on public property. Though there are still some gray areas, he said, those cases established fairly clear precedents about what does and does not violate the First Amendment's prohibition on government establishment of religion.

Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 20, 2004; Page A01

Torture Reconsidered: Shock, Awe and the Human Body

PARIS - A historian in the future, or a moralist, is likely to deem the Bush administration's enthusiasm for torture the most striking aspect of its war against terrorism.

This started early. Proposals to authorize torture were circulating even before there was anyone to torture. Days after the Sept. 11 attacks, the administration made it known that the United States was no longer bound by international treaties, or by American law and established U.S. military standards, concerning torture and the treatment of prisoners. By the end of 2001, the Justice Department had drafted memos on how to protect military and intelligence officers from eventual prosecution under existing U.S. law for their treatment of Afghan and other prisoners.

In January 2002, the White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales (who is soon to become attorney general), advised George W. Bush that it could be done by fiat. If the president simply declared "detainees" in Afghanistan outside the protection of the Geneva conventions, the 1996 U.S. War Crimes Act - which carries a possible death penalty for Geneva violations - would not apply.

Those who protested were ignored, though the administration declared it would abide by the "spirit" of the conventions. Shortly afterward, the CIA asked for formal assurance that this pledge did not apply to its agents.

In March 2003, a Defense Department legal task force concluded that the president was not bound by any international or federal law on torture. It said that as commander in chief, he had the authority "to approve any technique needed to protect the nation's security." Subsequent legal memos to civilian officials in the White House and Pentagon dwelt in morbid detail on permitted torture techniques, for practical purposes concluding that anything was permitted that did not (deliberately) kill the victim.

What is this all about? The FBI, the armed forces' own legal officers, bar associations and other civil law groups have protested, as have retired intelligence officers and civilian law enforcement officials.

The United States has never before officially practiced torture. It was not deemed necessary in order to defeat Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan. Its indirect costs are enormous: in their effect on the national reputation, their alienation of international opinion, and their corruption of the morale and morality of the American military and intelligence services.

Torture doesn't even work that well. An indignant FBI witness of what has gone on at the Guantanamo prison camp says that "simple investigative techniques" could produce much information the army is trying to obtain through torture.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Bush administration is not torturing prisoners because it is useful but because of its symbolism. It originally was intended to be a form of what later, in the attack on Iraq, came to be called "shock and awe." It was meant as intimidation. We will do these terrible things to demonstrate that nothing will stop us from conquering our enemies. We are indifferent to world opinion. We will stop at nothing.

In that respect, it is like the attack on Falluja last month, which - destructive as it was - was fundamentally a symbolic operation. Any insurgent who wanted to escape could do so long before the much-advertised attack actually began. Its real purpose was exemplary destruction: to deliver a message to all of Iraq that this is what the United States can do to you if you continue the resistance. It was collective punishment of the city's occupants for having tolerated terrorist operations based there.

The administration's obsession with shock and awe is a result of its misunderstanding of the war it is fighting, which is political and not military. America's dilemma is a very old one.

It is dealing with politically motivated revolutionaries, in the case of Al Qaeda, and nationalist and sectarian insurgents in the case of Iraq. It has a conventional army, good for crushing cities. But the enemy is not interested in occupying cities or defeating American armies. Its war is for the minds of Muslims.

Destroying cities and torturing prisoners are things you do when you are losing the real war, the war your enemies are fighting. They are signals of moral bankruptcy. They destroy the confidence and respect of your friends, and reinforce the credibility of the enemy.

William Pfaff
The International Herald Tribune

When the Right Is Right

One of the most conservative, religious, fascinating - and, in many ways, admirable - politicians in America today is Sam Brownback, the senator from Kansas who is a leader of the Christian right.

Sure, Mr. Brownback is to the right of Attila the Hun, and I disagree with him on just about every major issue. But 'tis the season for brotherly love, so let me point to reasons for hope. Members of the Christian right, exemplified by Mr. Brownback, are the new internationalists, increasingly engaged in humanitarian causes abroad - thus creating opportunities for common ground between left and right on issues we all care about.

So Democrats should clamber down from the window ledges, roll up their sleeves and get to work on some of these issues. Because I'm embarrassed to say that Democrats have been so suspicious of Republicans that they haven't contributed much on those human rights issues where the Christian right has already staked out its ground.

Take sex trafficking. Paul Wellstone, the liberal from Minnesota, led an effort with Mr. Brownback and others to pass landmark legislation in 2000 to battle sex slavery around the world. But since Mr. Wellstone's death in 2002, the leadership on the issue has passed to the Christian right and to the Bush administration.

Or Darfur. Conservative Christians have been jumping up and down about Sudan for years because of its repression of Christians. So when Sudan's government launched its genocide in the Darfur region, Democrats were slow to speak out, perhaps perceiving it as a conservative issue.

Then there's North Korea. Democrats have properly lambasted Mr. Bush for his disastrous approach toward North Korea, which has reacted to his policy by turning into a nuclear arms assembly line. But it has been Mr. Brownback and other conservative Christians who have turned the heat on North Korea's human rights record and laid the groundwork for more radio broadcasts to undermine the regime there.

So, all in all, I find Mr. Brownback perhaps the most intriguing man in Washington - so wrong on so much, and yet such a leader on humanitarian issues. He is also working with liberals like Ted Kennedy to press for immigration reform, prison reform, increased funds for AIDS and malaria, construction of an African-American history museum and even an apology to American Indians.

The other day, Mr. Brownback told me enthusiastically about his trip to northern Uganda and urged me to write about brutalities there. I was disoriented - I thought I was the one who tried to get people to pay attention to remote places.

So why is a conservative Kansas senator traveling to the wilds of Uganda?

"I had a health issue a few years back, and it really made my faith real," he said, referring to a bout with cancer. "It made me think, the things that the Lord would want done, let's do. His heart is with the downtrodden, so let's help them."

Yet a larger shift is also under way. Liberals traditionally were the bleeding hearts, while conservatives regarded foreign aid, in the words of Jesse Helms, as "money down a rat hole." That's changing. "One cannot understand international relations today without comprehending the new faith-based movement," Allen Hertzke writes in "Freeing God's Children," a book about evangelicals leaping into human rights causes.

Sure enough, looking at the most important national issues - Iraq, terrorism, budget deficits - I can see why liberals feel suicidal. Moreover, the Christian right's ventures abroad strike me as deeply misguided in some areas: "pro-life" policies lead to women dying in botched abortions, and squeamishness about condoms leads to teenagers dying of AIDS. The conservatives' cutoff of money for the U.N. Population Fund has meant less contraception, more abortions and more mothers dying in childbirth.

But the biggest obstacle to American engagement on international issues has been a lack of constituency for them, and that may be changing - if both sides can hold their noses and cooperate. Frankly, Democrats aren't going to accomplish much on their own over the next four years, but by working with the likes of Mr. Brownback they might register real progress on sex trafficking, an African-American history museum, malaria and immigration reform. That would be a much better use of the next four years than sulking.

Published: December 22, 2004
E-mail: nicholas@nytimes.com

Rare Pneumonia Found Among U.S. Soldiers in Iraq

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A rare and sometimes deadly pneumonia has hit 18 U.S. soldiers deployed in Iraq, and Army medical investigators are at a loss to explain the cause, according to a study published on Tuesday.

In a report appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center said two of the soldiers had died from the rare illness, called acute eosinophilic pneumonia, or AEP.

No common source was found for the outbreak that occurred between March 2003 and March 2004 among the soldiers in Iraq. The study covered only that time period and there was no indication whether cases have continued to show up since then.

The 18 victims studied ranged in age from 19 to 47 and all used tobacco, with three-quarters recently taking up the habit. All but one reported "significant exposure to fine airborne sand or dust" while in Iraq.

While only 18 cases have been reported among 183,000 troops deployed in Iraq during the time period involved, the authors said the cases are still significant because the disease is very rare in the general population.

The illness was not immediately diagnosed in several victims, who suffered fever and respiratory failure. Several had to be put on mechanical ventilators to help them breathe and were administered corticosteroids. Months later, a few reported continued breathing problems or wheezing.

"Inquiries to the Iraqi health officials did not suggest that AEP was occurring in the local population or that there has been an unusual increase in the incidence of pneumonia of any kind during the study period," the report said.

The report's author, Dr. Andrew Shorr, warned the illness can strike suddenly and mimic more common ailments such as acute respiratory distress syndrome or community pneumonia.

The report follows another battle zone study in November that found an unexpectedly high number of U.S. soldiers injured in the Middle East and Afghanistan had tested positive for a rare, hard-to-treat blood infection.

Army doctors at that time said 102 soldiers were found to be infected with the bacteria Acinetobacter baumannii. The infections occurred among soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and three other sites between January 2002 and August.

Although it was not known where the soldiers contracted those infections, the Army at that time said the outbreak highlighted a need to improve infection control in military hospitals.

Eighty-five of the bloodstream infections occurred among soldiers serving in the Middle East and Afghanistan, the report said. Normally military hospitals see only one such case every year, it added.

Andrew Stern

© Reuters 2004. All Rights Reserv

Ten More Years?

Senior MPs warn British troops will be in Iraq for a decade, as Blair in Baghdad proclaims: 'We are not a nation of quitters'

Tony Blair flew into Iraq yesterday, promising democracy. But, outside the ring of security that escorted him, another day of gruesome violence was unfolding - including a rocket attack on a US base in Mosul that claimed at least 24 lives.

And, against a backdrop of continuing carnage, The Independent has learned a cross-party group of MPs has returned from Iraq convinced British troops may have to be deployed there for at least another 10 years.

Unlike the Prime Minister, the Commons Defence Select Committee was unable to visit Baghdad because the security situation was too dangerous.

One senior member of the committee said: "It will take 10 to 15 years at least [before troops can be fully withdrawn]. It is another Cyprus. The Iraqis just cannot cope with the security situation and won't be able to for years."

As Mr Blair was proclaiming Britain would stay the course, a bloody illustration of the dangers encountered by US and British troops was playing out in the northern city of Mosul.

At about noon yesterday, insurgents hit a dining hall tent at a US base, killing at least two dozen US and Iraqi soldiers and contractors and injuring 60. Amid the screaming and smoke that followed, quick-thinking soldiers turned their lunch tables upside down, placed the wounded on them and carried them to the car park.

At a press conference with the Iraqi interim Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, Mr Blair declared that Britain was not a "nation of quitters". He was speaking after becoming the first foreign head of government to visit Iraq since the installation of the interim government in June, and the first British premier to go to Baghdad since Winston Churchill.

Mr Blair said that he would not be deterred by the recent and lethal wave of suicide bombings. He declared: "What I feel is that the danger people are facing is coming from the insurgents who are trying to destroy the possibility of the country having democracy. Where do we stand in that fight? On the side of democracy.''

Asked how he felt about his entry under maximum security, 20 months after the fall of Saddam Hussein, Mr Blair acknowledged: "Security is very heavy. You can feel the sense of danger, people live in here.''

But he added: "What I feel more than anything else is coming from the terrorists trying to stop this country becoming a democracy.''

Congratulating Mr Allawi, United Nations personnel and other international staff for working towards next month's elections, Mr Blair added: "I just feel that people should understand how precious what is being created here is.''

He added: "Whatever people feel about the conflict, we British are not a nation of quitters. What is obvious to me is the Iraqi people are not going to quit on the task either. They are going to see it through.''

Officially, the Government has continued to raise hopes that normality is returning to Iraq with the clear implication that after the UN mandate runs out with more elections in December next year, the foreign troops may start to be withdrawn.

But MPs who have visited Iraqsay such hopes are wildly optimistic. Mike Gapes, a Labour MP on the committee, used a pre-Christmas debate in the Commons yesterday to warn it could "take years" before British troops could be withdrawn, in spite of the progress he claimed he saw in Iraq.

Mr Gapes said: "My assessment is just as in Kosovo and Bosnia, we are not talking about a commitment of one or two years, but several years. We have to honestly say that we started this business and we have to see it through."

A Tory member of the committee, Richard Ottaway, said: "There will need to be a continuing commitment from foreign forces for 10 years at least." An anti-war Labour MP Alice Mahon said: "I don't think there is any hiding place from this. The Prime Minister is there today but there is bloody chaos in Iraq."

Later, on a visit to the Shaiba army base in Basra the Prime Minister climbed on a table to tell about 1,000 assembled British troops: "A big thank you to you all. I know you are going to be away from your family and loved ones over Christmas. I am sorry about that but, my God, it's a job worth doing.'' Mr Blair added that all the troops could be "very proud of what you are doing''.

Donald Macintyre in Baghdad and Colin Brown
22 December 2004