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VETERANS DAY: With Gratitude & Respect for Those Who Have Served

November 11th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


“The Army might screw you and your girlfriend might dump you and the enemy might kill you, but the shared commitment to safeguard one another’s lives is unnegotiable and only deepens with time. The willingness to die for another person is a form of love that even religions fail to inspire, and the experience of it changes a person profoundly.”
― Sebastian Junger, War

“To generalize about war is like generalizing about peace. Almost everything is true. Almost nothing is true. At its core, perhaps, war is just another name for death, and yet any soldier will tell you, if he tells the truth, that proximity to death brings with it a corresponding proximity to life. After a firefight, there is always the immense pleasure of aliveness. The trees are alive. The grass, the soil—everything. All around you things are purely living, and you among them, and the aliveness makes you tremble. You feel an intense, out-of-the-skin awareness of your living self—your truest self, the human being you want to be and then become by the force of wanting it. In the midst of evil you want to be a good man. You want decency. You want justice and courtesy and human concord, things you never knew you wanted. There is a kind of largeness to it, a kind of godliness. Though it’s odd, you’re never more alive than when you’re almost dead. You recognize what’s valuable. Freshly, as if for the first time, you love what’s best in yourself and in the world, all that might be lost. At the hour of dusk you sit at your foxhole and look out on a wide river turning pinkish red, and at the mountains beyond, and although in the morning you must cross the river and go into the mountains and do terrible things and maybe die, even so, you find yourself studying the fine colors on the river, you feel wonder and awe at the setting of the sun, and you are filled with a hard, aching love for how the world could be and always should be, but now is not.” 
― Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

“He ran as he’d never run before, with neither hope nor despair. He ran because the world was divided into opposites and his side had already been chosen for him, his only choice being whether or not to play his part with heart and courage. He ran because fate had placed him in a position of responsibility and he had accepted the burden. He ran because his self-respect required it. He ran because he loved his friends and this was the only thing he could do to end the madness that was killing and maiming them.”
― Karl Marlantes, Matterhorn

“Bombardment, barrage, curtain-fire, mines, gas, tanks, machine-guns, hand-grenades – words, words, but they hold the horror of the world.”
― Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front

“Society can give its young men almost any job and they’ll figure how to do it. They’ll suffer for it and die for it and watch their friends die for it, but in the end, it will get done. That only means that society should be careful about what it asks for. … Soldiers themselves are reluctant to evaluate the costs of war, but someone must. That evaluation, ongoing and unadulterated by politics, may be the one thing a country absolutely owes the soldiers who defend its borders.”
Sebastian Junger, War

Posted in American voices, War, writers and writing | 2 Comments »

The Invisible War: Rape in the Military – by Matthew Fleischer

June 22nd, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


A San Diego Navy vet speaks out in a deeply important and shattering new film

by Matthew Fleischer

“When you get raped in civilian life, you go to a court that’s independent and unbiased to seek justice and recourse. When you get raped in the military, your only recourse is to go to your commander, who knows you and likely knows your rapist.”
–Amy Ziering, producer, “The Invisible War”

Navy veteran Allison Gill says she was violated three times during her military service in the early aughts: once when she was raped by a fellow service member, once when she tried to report the crime and was told to go away, and a third time when she tried to get the Veterans Benefits Administration to acknowledge her sexual assault-based PTSD and authorize treatment—only to denied and stonewalled for three years and counting.

“To go to countless therapy sessions and truly get to the place where you believe that this is not your fault, and then to be denied and denied and denied,” she tells WitnessLA, “it sets you back in your therapy. That’s a devastating thing for a survivor, to tell them ‘we don’t believe you.’”

Gill is one of the dozens of military victims of sexual assault featured in the new documentary The Invisible War, which opens nationwide Friday. The film offers an astounding portrait of military veterans living with the trauma of sexual assault—perpetrated by their brothers in arms. This epidemic of rape in the military is seemingly impossibly widespread. Since World War 2, nearly 500,000 military men and women have reported being raped during their service. 3,000 military on military rapes were reported in 2011 alone—and authorities think the actual number could be six times higher.

Almost worse than the act itself is the treatment these victims receive from military authorities when they attempt to report these crimes. I ran into Gill at a recent screening of The Invisible War at the Los Angeles Film Festival, and we spoke about the film and about her ordeal. “When I went to report my sexual assault to military police, I was told I was silly,” Gill remembers. “They said I’d been drinking, I’d put myself in a bad situation and I should ‘suck it up.’ They threatened that if I filed a report and it was found to be false, I could be dishonorably discharged. They talked me out of it.”

According to the film, 80 percent of military rape victims do the exact same thing—stay quiet.

“The thing that hits me like a ton of bricks was the barrage of women in the film who said the exact same thing as I did,” says Gill. “I’ve never met anyone that went through what I went through. It blew me away that everyone’s story is the same.”

That story too often includes Gill’s problem of getting the Veterans Benefits Administration to acknowledge she suffers from sexual assault-induced PTSD from her attack. She first filed her claim 2009, was denied, she appealed, was denied again, and is still waiting for the results of her second appeal three years later.

Gill happens to be graded 30 percent disabled by the VBA, based on other injuries she suffered during her service, which entitles her to free medical care at the VA. But because the VBA refuses to acknowledge that sexual assault is the cause of her PTSD, she has to pay for any meds her therapist prescribes for treatment out of pocket.

It could be much worse. Military sexual assault survivors who have their claims denied, are not graded 30 percent disabled or more, or do not meet the minimum service threshholds, do not receive free care from the VA at all. They are subject to co-pays and other fees for PTSD treatment and other basic medical care.

Gill is very clear in distinguishing between the difficulties she’s had with the Veterans Benefits Association and the actual VA hospital system. Despite her ordeal, after getting out of the Navy, she wound up working for the VA in San Diego, a job that she loves.

“I’m a pretty patriotic person,” she says. “I wanted to serve my government in some capacity. I wanted to give back something. It made sense to me to give back to my country and serve veterans at the same time.”

Gill has found one unusual form of therapy to heal the mental wounds the VBA declines to acknowledge: standup comedy. The local press in her adopted hometown of San Diego has dubbed Gill the city’s “funniest woman.” (Incidentally, if you’re too busy to drive south to check out her act, she’s going to be at the Hollywood Improv on Friday August 10th.)

“The way I cope is I fill my life up with stuff to do, so I don’t have time to sit and think,” she says. “After my service I went back to school to get my master’s degree. I go to yoga 6 times a week. I’m always doing something, or on my way back from doing something. Some people medicate with drugs or alcohol. I medicate with having shit to do.”

Posted in Veterans, War, women's issues | 17 Comments »

For All Our Service People, Present and Past, With Gratitude

May 28th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

Above is Karl Marlantes, the author of the excellent Vietnam novel,
Matterhorn and, more recently, his nonfiction book, What It’s Like to Go to War.

And this is the author Tim O’Brien, author of many fine books,
but author most indelibly, most immortally of The Things They Carried, about his time in Vietnam. They don’t come much better than this book.

Both are works that help us understand and honor our combat veterans better.

It is our job to do so.

PS: Yes, we know that it’s Memorial Day, not Veterans’ Day, but were taking this opportunity anyway.

Posted in War, writers and writing | No Comments »

Veteran PTSD Stigma, Homeboy & the Solar Industry, and Twitterature…

May 25th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


In honor of Memorial Day–and because it’s an issue of great import–we thought veteran PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and the attached stigma an appropriate topic. PTSD is not given the same validity as visible injury. Veterans who return home from service with invisible injuries such as PTSD are often perceived as weak, instead of deserving of honor and support. Maybe if we were to stop stigmatizing our veterans, we could move next to understanding our inner city kids with PTSD on par with that of service members.

Time’s Frank M. Ochberg addresses the issue. Here’s a clip:

There are a few dozen of us who are considered the pioneers of the modern era of traumatic-stress studies, and most of us are worried  – deeply worried — on behalf of the current generation of veterans with invisible wounds.

We thought that by now there would be access to care whenever needed. We thought that by now there would be clear understanding that PTSD is a wound, not a weakness. We thought that a veteran who served honorably and received a compensable medical diagnosis for PTSD due to his or her service on the field of battle, would receive a medal for sacrifice.

But instead of honor, there is stigma. And this stigma must stop.


Chris Warren, editor of a photovoltaic magazine called Photon, chanced upon two seemingly out of place Homeboys at a solar panel convention in Huston, TX. Warren approached them and learned of Homeboy Industries and the Homeboys’ preparatory training for careers in the solar power industry.

Photon’s Chris Warren’s editorial introduction to the article, alone, is a very worthwhile read. Here’s a clip of the actual article (which made the cover story, but is not available online without a subscription):

In a weak economy, many struggle to get jobs. But the task is much more daunting for those who have been in prison or involved with gang activity. Since 2008, Los Angeles, California-based Homeboy Industries has provided in-depth training for former inmates and gang members to become PV installers. Despite successes, placing graduates in jobs remains difficult.


The New Yorker is testing out Twitter literature with Jennifer Egan, author of 2010′s big prize-winning novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad‘s new story Black Box. The New Yorker fiction feed (@NYerFiction) will tweet 10 daily installments (the first was May 24th), each beginning at 5:00p.m. PST and lasting an hour.

The L.A. Time’s book blog has more details. Here’s a clip:

Each evening’s Twitter postings constitute one installment, and that installment will appear on the New Yorker’s revamped book blog, Page-Turner, after the installment has finished. Read it there or complete, in the magazine, when it hits newsstands May 28 — look for the science fiction issue, dated June 4 and June 11.

That’s the logistics: In real time (or real-ish time) on Twitter over 10 nights, or serialized on a blog, or all at once in print. It’s an interesting experiment, one which seems designed to cover all the bases — if you don’t have the patience for the online serialization, just read the printed version.


Posted in Books, Gangs, Homeboy Industries, medical care, PTSD, Uncategorized, War | 1 Comment »

Initiative to Revise 3-Strikes Takes First Step Toward Nov. 2012 Ballot

November 3rd, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

Stanford Law School’s Three Strikes Project, along with a group of Stanford lawyers
and other supporters, hope to get an initiative on the November 2012 ballot that would amend California’s Three-Strikes law—the harshest in the nation— so that it is aimed at dangerous repeat offenders, not hapless former thieves who, on impulse, snatch a floor jack from a tow-truck, or shoplift a $2.50 pair of socks.

Tracy Kaplan of the San Jose Mercury News, reports that the long-planned ballot initiative has been given to the California Attorney General’s office for review. Supporters intend to start collecting the necessary 504,760 signatures in mid-December .

Here’s a clip from Kaplan’s story:

An effort to limit California’s tough Three Strikes Law is gaining momentum, with a proposed ballot initiative that would reserve the toughest penalty — 25 years to life — for the baddest of the bad, including murderers, rapists and child molesters.

The initiative, now under state legal review, was carefully crafted by a group of Stanford University law professors and stops far short of the extensive changes proposed under a previous reform measure that narrowly failed in 2004.

The Legislature and voters passed the Three Strikes Law in 1994 after several high-profile murders committed by ex-felons sparked public outrage, including the kidnapping from her Petaluma home and strangling of 12-year-old Polly Klaas. Since then, the courts have sent more than 80,000 “second-strikers” and 7,500 “third-strikers” to state prison, according to the state Legislative Analyst’s Office. Though third-strikers make up just 6 percent of the prison population, they are responsible for a disproportionate share of the state’s spiraling prison health care costs — at least $100 million annually — as they age and need more medical attention, according to the California auditor.

If passed, the initiative would still trigger a life sentence for rapists, murderers, and child molesters with even the most the most minor of third “strikes.’ But it would eliminate the notorious inequities that the existing law has produced in which former felons are locked up for life after shoplifting or breaking into a soup kitchen, with the California tax payers paying the tab.

LA District Attorney Steve Cooley wouldn’t tell Kaplan whether or not he supported the proposed initiative. (He opposed a more ambitious initiative aimed at amending 3-Strikes in 2004.) However, Cooley did give her a verbal wink, noting that the new initiative was very similar to SB 1642, a legislative effort to reform the law that he supported in 2006.

Like me, Kaplan was part of a May 2011, Journalism Fellowship (sponsored by New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice), in which two-dozen reporters chosen from all around the state met with experts on all sides of the 3-Strikes question. Cooley was one of the experts who met with us and, even back then, he made it clear he welcomed a wisely constructed revision of the 1995 law—as long as it didn’t go too far.

“A lot of judges are looking back at some of those [3 strikes cases] and saying, ‘You know what? I’d like to have that one back again,’” said Cooley.

Here’s a clip of Cooley answering questions from a gaggle of us who cornered him on the topic.

Posted in criminal justice, immigration, Sentencing, War | 1 Comment »

Memorial Day: Thinking About Wounded Warriors

May 30th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

If you want to do something concrete today for the American service men and women,
I recommend a donation—small or large— to these excellent folks.

Posted in War | 2 Comments »

Iraq and Afghanistan Vets of America to Honor Tim Hetherington at Heroes Gala

April 27th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America were already planning to honor photojournalist Tim Hetherington and author Sebastian Junger
at the IAVA’s yearly gala dinner—their Heroes Dinner—that will take place tonight at 7 pm at on the Twentieth Century Fox studio lot. The two are being honored for their work in general, but specifically for their film, Restrepo, which follows one platoon of soldiers stationed in the Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan, a location generally considered to the the most dangerous of the Afghan war.

Both veterans and those in active military service embraced Restrepo with an unusual amount of affection. It was a film that really got it, they said, that really showed with no b.s. what it was like to be in combat in the 21st century. The official Twitter feed of the U.S. Army Reserve tweeted in support of Restrepo after it was nominated for an Oscar, as did IAVA’s founder and executive director, Paul Rieckhoff, who had come to regard Hetherington as a personal friend.

Then, on April 20—just a week ago—Rieckhoff got the call that Tim Hetherington had been killed in the Libyan town of Misrata.

Although most veterans have known more than their share of death, still the news about Hetherington was a blow.

Reickhoff posted the following statement online late that same day:

The IAVA family is deeply saddened by the loss today of our dear friend Tim Hetherington. Tim was not only a renowned filmmaker and photojournalist, but also a tremendous leader, advocate and partner to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans everywhere. He was one of the few journalists willing to risk his own life to tell our toughest stories. Tim understood the harshest realities facing troops on the front lines because he stood there right alongside us in the fight. Our community has lost a brilliant journalist and a true brother. From his Oscar-nominated film Restrepo to his involvement with military and veterans charities, Tim lived his life with unparalleled passion, energy and commitment. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Tim’s family and friends. His legacy will live on through his historic contributions to our community and to the world at large. He never forgot us. And we’ll never forget him.

Now, in addition to the recognition of the two filmmakers, the glittery gala will will include a memorial retrospective of Hetherington’s work and life.

It should be a good night, but a bittersweet one.

Posted in American artists, media, Middle East, War | No Comments »

Heartbreak: “Restrepo” Co-Director Tim Hetherington Killed Covering Libya

April 20th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

“In it’s desire to sanitize war, society dehumanizes it….I’ve come to realize the war machine is, in fact, very human. Take a group of young men, train them together, put them on the side of a mountain and they will kill and be killed for each other.”

– Tim Hetherington, November 2010

The brave and brilliant photojournalist Tim Hetherington, who co-directed with Sebastian Junger the profoundly affecting and deeply humanizing war documentary, “Restrepo,” about U.S. soldiers in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan, was killed Tuesday in Misrata, Libya.

This is terrible, terrible news.

Here are the details from Reuters.

Photojournalist Tim Hetherington, the co-director of Oscar-nominated war documentary “Restrepo,” died in the besieged Libyan town of Misrata on Wednesday, doctors said.

Getty photographer Chris Hondros was in critical condition in intensive care, doctors at the hospital where he was being treated said. He had suffered brain injuries.

The photographers were among a group caught by mortar fire on Tripoli Street, the main thoroughfare leading into the center of Misrata, the only major rebel-held town in western Libya and besieged by Muammar Gaddafi’s forces for more than seven weeks.

“It was quiet and we were trying to get away and then a mortar landed and we heard explosions,” Spanish photographer Guillermo Cervera said.

UPDATE: Chris Hondros has died of his injuries. Hondros was a finalist for the Pulitzer in 2004 for his photos of conflict in Liberia, and got the Robert Capa Gold Medal for photography in 2005 (among others) for this amazing set of images.

This is from the Human Rights Watch statement:

Hetherington was a brilliant photographer and videographer who covered many of the world’s most critical human rights stories: conflicts in Liberia, Afghanistan, Darfur, and now Libya. In every assignment, he demonstrated a remarkable sensitivity to his subjects, a tender insight into their human ordeals, and a keen sense of how visual imagery could be used to effect positive social change.

“Tim Hetherington was much more than a war reporter,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “He had an extraordinary talent for documenting, in compassionate and beautiful imagery, the human stories behind the headlines. We are saddened by his death and extend our deepest condolences to his family and countless friends.”

Roth reiterated Human Rights Watch’s call on the Libyan government to cease unlawful attacks against civilian areas in Misrata.

Hetherington lived in Monrovia, Liberia for eight years during the brutal civil war that engulfed Liberia and neighboring countries. The film that Hetherington co-directed, “Liberia: An Uncivil War,” and his book, “Long Story Bit by Bit: Liberia Retold,” did more than any other body of work to tell the complete story of the conflict, focusing on individual Liberians and allowing them to tell their own stories in their own words.

And here’s Hetherington in his own words in an OpEd from last year.

Posted in journalism, War | No Comments »

Happy Veterans Day, With Deep Gratitude

November 11th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

To those who have served, and those who still serve.

Posted in War | 26 Comments »

Wednesday Fresh Picks

September 22nd, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


CNN’s Michael Ware is one of the most courageous, insightful and brilliant war reporters working. Now an article in the Brisbane Times plus a new documentary on Australian TV let us in on the cost of his work—and recount the incident that was “too hot to broadcast.”


Callie Schweitzer, the editor-in-chief of Annenberg’s Neon Tommy, made her first visit to Homeboy Industries on the day that the office was reeling and grief stricken because friend and employee Irvin Panameno had been fatally shot the morning before.

Interestingly, Schweitzer saw the staff’s reaction to the tragedy as indicative of the program’s strength. After researching and interviewing further, she came back with an excellent report detailing the various signs of fiscal recovery in evidence at Homeboy, as it continues to deal with the cash flow problems that reached their nadir on that heartbreaking day last May, when Father Greg Boyle was forced to lay off 330 employees.


Well, let’s hope they’re right. Here’s the link to the news analysis by the NYT’s John Schwartz.

The NYT also has this editorial on the disheartening defeat of the repeal of an irrational and unjust practice that discriminates against so many fine and courageous people who serve in our military.


Or so the LA Times’ Richard Verrier reports and it’s a hard observation to dispute. But, hey, if H’Wood wants to be FOP—friend of parks—for its own selfish reasons, y’all com’on down! We’re tickled to have you. LA’s kids who need and deserve park access get the benefit—as will the rest of us.


The LA Times Steve Lopez decides to walk in a cop’s metaphorical shoes by taking a video-simulator training session on deadly force at the LAPD academy at in Elysian Park.

His only regret at the end of the day was that he didn’t get to then help frog march Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo out of his house in handcuffs” and/or smash in the door of Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez with a battering ram.
(An entirely understandable regret. I’d've liked to have been there to do a little bashing myself.)

Posted in media, Middle East, War | No Comments »

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