The Man Way: The stupidity of fighting terrorism with more terrorism

July 6, 2016

I don’t know who first said, “War is terrorism with a bigger budget,” but it seems profound these days. Smart bombs away! Boys love war. They’ll lead wars against poverty, against crime and drugs.  And don’t forget the war against terrorism. All of which have been miserable failures. And yet boys think more war is the answer.


When I was a boy, I loved war too. I played with G.I. Joe and my plastic machine gun. I did school reports on Sherman tanks and studied the dogfights of World War 1 pilots. I watched John Wayne in The Sands of Iwo Jima and The Green Berets. Like John, we boys played Vietnam War in the Georgia woods, only this time we won. I wondered what war I would fight in when I grew up. I imagined I’d be an Air Force pilot, safe above the clouds as I dropped bombs on the faceless enemy below. When I was 16, Ronald Reagan was elected on the promise of more and better wars and my testosterone pumped. Iran, Afghanistan, maybe even Mother Russia herself. But suddenly the 4 O’clock movie started to look like a reality and I began to have second thoughts about the thrill of war.

Then I grew up. In college I read Gandhi and Martin Luther King and The Gospel According to Matthew. And my love of war began to fade.  I met some of those soldiers I had romanticized and the dream of war became a nightmare. Over the years all the warriors I’ve met have told me tales of dead friends, sleepless nights, long waits at the VA, and 4th of July fireworks triggering PTSD. I haven’t met John Wayne once, just men and women who need support in managing the effects of politicians playing soldier.


So you will excuse me if Mr. Trump’s talk of “bombing the shit out of ISIS” just makes me want to puke. We’ve dropped countless bombs on the middle east and people are still being killed by terrorists in cafés and nightclubs. The war in Afghanistan is in its fifteenth year and the place doesn’t look that much different than when we showed up in 2001.  And today we learn that 8400 US troops will remain in Afghanistan in the war without end. (But war profiteers have made billions of dollars so don’t expect it to end any decade soon.) George W. Bush’s (and Tony Blair’s) idiotic invasion of Iraq that opened the door for ISIS and Obama’s “clean” drone strikes in the region have only made us less safe while funneling trillions of dollars out of the American economy. Do you think those dudes sing along when they hear Mavin Gaye ask “What’s going’ on?” Maybe they just giggle at the “War is not the answer” part.


The Obama administration released a report last week about civilians killed in drone attacks in Africa, Yemen, and Pakistan. They believe that between 2372 and 2581 “enemy combatants” were killed between 2009 and 2015. We trust that these “enemy combatants” were sociopathic terrorists who want to blow up shopping malls in Kansas and not kids who were forced into someone else’s jihad. For the same period, the administration estimates that between 64 and 116 non-bad guys (men, women, children, doctors, aid workers, etc.) were accidentally killed by our drones. Investigative journalists think that count may be ten times higher. And this does not include civilian deaths from the drone strikes in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria that are a daily terror. By the way, the going price for a remote controlled MQ-9 Reaper drone is $12, 548,710.60. (The 60 cents is for the pine scent.) And we wonder why we can’t “afford” free college or health care.

I think if I was a young man in Yemen and one of those 116 “non-enemy combatants” killed was my child, I might be a little angry. In fact, when I found out my child was killed by some American sitting in an air-conditioned office in Colorado, manning a flying robot bomb with a joystick, I’d want revenge. I’m like that. I’d find Al-Qaeda or ISIS, or whoever was screaming the loudest in my village and ask what I could do to strike back against these terrorists. Strap a bomb to my chest and walk into a crowded European airport? No problem. And I get to see my child again. I want them to hurt the way I’ve been hurt. It’s the cycle of pain that war perpetuates and we are all guilty.


It’s easy to talk about how Presidents Bush and Obama and Prime Minister Blair (and Secretary Clinton) have blood on their hands, but there’s plenty of blame to go around as we fan the flames of war in somebody else’s backyard. We don’t want to be accused of not “supporting the troops” as a another generation of young warriors gets sent into the meat grinder only to become the next generation of old vets standing on an offramp asking for spare change.  They’re keeping us free, right? Why should we stop that?

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So that brings us to Mr. Trump. After the mass shooting in Orlando, Trump renewed his calls for an all-out ban on Muslims entering the U.S.. Omar Mateen, the shooter, was born in Queens, New York, just like Trump, so I’m not sure what his ban would have accomplished. He repeatedly tells his crowd that his strategy will be to “bomb the hell out of them” and his sub-moronic loyalists scream in approval. The problem is the recent attackers in Turkey and Bangladesh (and Orlando and San Bernardino) did not come from the battlefields of Syria. Like Mateen, they were most likely radicalized online. So I guess Trump’s plan is to bomb the hell out of every Muslim with a laptop or a smartphone. Gee, I wonder what the unintended consequences of that type of genocidal violence might me.

Do you think President Trump might end up creating more terrorists than he kills? You could make the case that lesson should have been learned by Bush, Blair and Obama. Oh, never mind. His fans love war. Trump is John Wayne! More bombs! That’s the answer! Today, a sister of one of the British soldiers killed in Iraq called Blair, “the world’s worst terrorist.” Tony has some competition for that honor. (4,486 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq.) Maybe President Trump can win that title. Winning!


Of course, Trump wants to make this about Islam and not the conditions that push young men into war. (Our war on their terrorism or their war on our terrorism.) The attacks this week in Saudi Arabia should prove that ISIS is not a real Islamic organization any more than the KKK is a real Christian organization. What could be more anti-Muslim than blowing up Muslims in Medina on Ramadan? (Wait, is ISIS a Trump front?)

Scholars have described the bulk of the rank and file members of these jihadi groups as being either illiterate or barely literate. They’re not reading the Koran; somebody is telling them what it says. Sort of like that backwoods Pentecostal preacher telling some hill person that dancing with a poison snake will make Jesus happy (and killing gay people is God’s will). You don’t stop their anger at the world with more bombs.


“So what are we supposed to do, Professor Blazak?” Here’s the part you don’t want to hear. Terrorism is a complex issue, with a lot of moving parts (including a military part). But in an election year,  Americans want simple, bite-size solutions. Most could care less about the difference between Sunni and Shia followers of Islam. Just bomb the hell out of all of them. Am I right? Maybe not. Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the face by the Taliban, famously said, “With guns you can kill terrorists. With education you can kill terrorism.” But what does that kid know? And old guy in rural Georgia knows that our bombs can beat their bombs. “More war! (As long as I don’t have to go,)” he bleats.

Look, can we have a moment of national honesty? We’ve finally admitted that the War on Drugs was a horrible waste of lives and tax dollars. Republicans and Democrats actually have some agreement on this. Can we just admit the war on terrorism is sucking the soul of America dry and making the world less safe with every “smart” bomb we drop. Are we ready for a permanent state of world war or are we intelligent enough to imagine a more effective strategy? Just maybe war is the problem, not the solution. The answer is probably not going to come from a boy (or a girl who acts like a boy). I might listen to Malala. Just sayin’. War is over, if you want it.


Dad Love 7 – I need a pep talk.

September 29, 2015

About 15 years ago I was helping this young skinhead get out of a dangerous hate group. He told me he would pass the difficult act of assistance on to others. He became a social worker. You spend your entire adult life working to deconstruct the harm caused by racism, sexism, and homophobia, you hope something will come from it. I don’t mean a Nobel Peace Prize, just a sense that your efforts mattered. And they would end when you felt you were done.


I always trip up on the difference between empathy and sympathy. Can I have empathy for a person of color who has been hassled by the police? I have never been a person of color. Can I have empathy for women dealing with the low-grade burdens of patriarchy? I have never been a female. I can have a lot of sympathy, but can I have empathy? Some would argue that just being a human being allows you to have empathy for any other human being. I like that idea but it misses something.

The reason I mention this is I just got the notice that my unemployment benefits have run out and the pressure is now on to get Career Part 2 on its feet. You might remember in January I posted a slightly cryptic blog about needing a career change and then in May another post added some details to my unpleasant exit from my university home for twenty years. It wasn’t all grim. During that time I had my Kickstarter project for my new novel fully funded and got to teach an amazing anthropology methods class on Isla Mujeres. I didn’t get paid but it was a free summer on a beautiful Caribbean island with my family. I cherished every second of it.


Americans love adages; One door closes and another opens! Follow your dreams! It gets better! Don’t stop believing! The movies and TVs are filled with the rags to riches stories that prove that big dreams can happen. Just listen to an interview with the winner of your favorite reality show. “I knew that if I just kept believin’ I would be the next American Ninja Warrior.” What we don’t see is all the suckers who thought the same thing and got absolutely nowhere. When I lecture about social stratification, I discuss how the reality is that most American stories are rags to rags and riches to riches, like silver spoon man-baby Donald Trump (Trump reference!).

People don’t want to hear that. They want to believe that everything is possible with hope, God, good Karma, the right lottery numbers, friends, a good haircut, blah, blah, but the statistics just don’t back that up. But I am special! I’m not a statistic! You want to believe that there is something bigger and better just around the corner, just like Tony in West Side Story. (Spoiler alert! He got shot to death.) We will buck the trend.

I’m not on a bummer bender. (OK, maybe a little bit.) I had my dream. I was a tenured professor at a great university. It was a path I started on in my freshman year of college. I had a career that made a difference in the world. I won awards for my teaching and my research was in textbooks. I was the face of my university in the media and I took it all as serious as your life. Then a handful of people, for reasons I can only pretend to understand (the squeaky wheel gets the hammer), decided taking it all away was a worthwhile activity. They hurt my colleagues, my students (especially my graduate students who came to work with me), the school itself and, most of all, my family. My daughter’s financial security has been gutted. It’s a story so bizarre, someone should write a book about it.


Malala Yousefzai was on Colbert last week and she said she had forgiven the Taliban members that shot her in the face. That really shook me to the bone. If she can do that, I guess I could forgive a dean or a provost, but it’s not so easy. Not when I think of my savings account shrinking as I try and care for my family. Not when I think of the community work I could be doing instead of figuring out next steps. Forgiveness is the goal.

But there is a huge bright side. I’ve had all this wonderful time with my daughter that I would have spent working on campus or grading papers late into the night. She will be a better person because I was there. I’ve had time to write and cook for my wife and plan a wide open future. In a way it’s been a wonderful blessing. Instead of fantasizing about flying a plane into the administration building I want to thank them with a big sloppy hug. There is something wonderfully exhilarating about being zipped to a clean slate.

I can’t say there haven’t been moments of great challenge. Our wonderful health benefits were cancelled. Fortunately, thanks to Obamacare, were are all covered now and Cozy has a dentist appointment coming up. Andrea is back to work and I’ve got some great possibilities on the horizon but all involve us moving away from Portland, a community we both feel deeply connected to. I guess there’s a handy saying about that as well. Get out town before you get thrown out, or something like that.


This is where the empathy comes in. When I look at my beautiful child, who I love more every single second, there’s a sense of desperation that wells up. What if there’s not a better job out there? What if that was the most secure gig I will ever have? What if Cozy is destined to a life living in a van down by the river? I start to empathize with people who turn to crime to provide for their family, robbing banks and lemonade stands. I’m a long way away from becoming Jean Valjean or a character in a Springsteen song, but I get it. I would do anything for my kid, just like those Syrian refugees. Anything.

My brown wife laughs at all this and says, “Shut up. You’re a white male with a PhD.” I know I’ve got some assets that will keep us out of the shelter but I have to think about all those parents who are downwardly mobile. I’m sure each one of them felt special, too. “Everything will work out,” I can hear them say. But like Liam Neeson, I have a very particular set of skills. Yeah, I could land a job at Costco but I’m a teacher and writer. It’s a small lane to get back in to and make enough dough not to slip backwards.


So you start engaging in magical thinking. I could win Power Ball. I could get a massive publishing advance for the book I’m writing. My previous book could finally get made into a film and I could wave to university administrators from the red carpet. Ellen DeGeneres could give me a $10,000 gift card to Target. And there’s always the possibility that they’ll need a sociologist on a hastily assembled manned mission to Mars to collect water (sponsored by Nestle).

When I was a single guy, I just would have rolled with it, part of the grand adventure. Maybe moved to Prague to teach English or enrolled in assassin school. But when you have a family, it’s a whole ‘nother ballgame. It’s easy to panic and think the ship’s going down, like it has for so many other families.

But then my wife lays her legs across mine and Cozy crawls across my chest and I think, who cares about the rest of it. The work I’ve done has a life of its own and as long as my family is healthy and together, all the rest is just sprinkles on a cupcake. Besides, I have a enough crap to sell on eBay to pay the mortgage for years. Everything’s gonna be fine.


Children of the Earth, take this day.

December 10, 2014 The news can really depress the shit out of you (unless, by “news,” you mean Entertainment Tonight). But there are headlines that soften the global horrors. Reading this morning that Malala and Kailash Satyarthi have been given the Nobel Peace Prize gave me a moment of hope. So that’s where I’m going to live today.

The world is an especially cruel place for children. War, hunger, sex trafficking of minors, child soldiers, infant refugees, the list will shatter your soul. According to UNICEF, 2014 has been one of the worst years on record for children. The images coming out of Syria and Palestine are just a slice of the horror. “Children have been killed while studying in the classroom and while sleeping in their beds,” said Anthony Lake, the executive director of UNICEF. “They have been orphaned, kidnapped, tortured, recruited, raped and even sold as slaves.”

Unicef Calls 2014 One of Worst Years for Children

Andrea and I finished watching Long Way Down last night (me for the second time). We love Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s motorcycle rides around the world. We are road trip junkies ourselves (and I have a completely understandable man-crush on Ewan. I just think we should be friends.). There’s a part when they are in Kenya and visit a school that was attacked by guerrilla fighters in 2005. The older children escaped into the bush, but 22 small children who had no idea the evil of man were slaughtered. It was almost unwatchable. McGregor and Boorman serve as ambassadors for UNICEF, so there is value in telling these stories. It’s just a crushing reminder that from Rawanda to Sandy Hook innocent children are randomly used as targets for somebody else’s sociopathy.

These images are so much more meaningful now that I have a child. How can any parent view scenes of children starving and not be moved to action? I was at the Live Aid concert in London in 1985 and it was really great show, feed the world, blah, blah, blah. Bring out Bowie! It was really about a 4 month out girl, just like mine, dying in her mother’s arms. How do we let this happen over and over again?

I think about how my safe my daughter is in comparison to many of her peers. She has food and stable home. She will have access to clean water and an education. There are no bombs coming her way. She will still have to deal the the ugliness of patriarchy. Portland is one of the busiest hubs of sex trafficking in America. But she’ll have choices that girls in India and Thailand won’t. I want her to know about those girls and that their struggle should also be hers.


Malala Yousafzai is a true hero. I’m going to put a picture of her in Cozy’s room today. For simply trying to get an education in Pakistan, she was shot in the head by a member of the Taliban (You want a gang of sexist douchebags, the Taliban are King Bros). Now she is the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. In accepting the award today, she said, “It is for those forgotten children who want education. It is for those frightened children who want peace. It is for those voiceless children who want change.”

Kalish Satyarthi is no slouch either. His work on child labor around the world led to the creation of a labor standard known as Convention 182. It doesn’t end child labor (Wal-Mart would go out of business), but it does help to discourage some of the most abusive practices in the global market. And it should be pointed out child labor typically means girl labor that comes with a wide range of concurrent abuses of females.

So maybe today people will see this story and spend a little more time on it than the “Royals” in New York or Mark Wahlberg’s crusade to clear his own name. Maybe they will think about the children around the world and how it connects to their own parenthood. I don’t know. I just want to have a day to imagine the tide turning.