Flipping between reality television and footage of the war in Iraq, Susan Collins was inspired to pen The Hunger Games. The dystopian young adult trilogy has been a runaway success both of page and screen: book sales number in the tens of millions, and in 2012, the first film took in nearly $700 million worldwide. (The next film, Catching Fire, releases tomorrow.)
Initially, I resisted the books for fear they were too violent — but then, at the urging of friends, family, and coworkers (all of whom I believed to have respectable taste), I devoured them in a weekend, and my husband did the same. The Hunger Games are literary alchemy, a breathless amalgam of all the tropes I loved as a child: romance, survival, and the poster child for strong female protagonists, Katniss Everdeen. When the first film came out, my husband and I rushed to the multiplex.
Collins’ trilogy provides, at turns, masterful commentary on class disparity and violent voyeurism: Katniss and her companions excoriate the citizens of the Capitol for their decadence and rabid consumption of the Games. (Their disdain was contagious: for weeks after reading the books, I found myself asking, “Would someone from the Capitol do this?” before doing or saying anything.)
But while watching the films, my husband and I felt uneasy. This discomfort ran deeper than the typical distaste any reader feels when watching a beloved book adapted for the screen. Watching children slaughter each other was very different than reading about it.
The National Catholic Register asked prominent Catholic intellectuals Michael Novak and George Weigel to address the current U.S. involvement in Syria and its involvement with Iraq 10 years ago. While both supported the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003, they have a different take on the current situation with Syria.
First, George Weigel;
There were obviously a lot of things that could have been done better in securing the peace after the regime fell,” he acknowledged, in a reference to the Bush administration’s inadequate planning for both an on-going jihadist threat and the costs of rebuilding a battered nation.
“But anyone who thinks that the world or the Middle East would be better in 2013 with Saddam Hussein in power in Baghdad, having re-ramped-up his WMD [weapons of mass destruction], is living in a fantasy world.”
Writing for National Review Online, Andrew Doran looks at how Christians have become “convenient scapegoats” and targets of violence for Islamists in Egypt, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. A consultant for UNESCO at the U.S. Department of State, Doran says that “had the Muslim Brothers not been stopped, they would have continued to radicalize and Islamicize Egypt, further isolating and persecuting their enemies — secularists, liberals, and religious minorities, especially Christians.” More:
The peaceful rising of the Egyptian people against the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohamed Morsi constitutes the first popular overthrow of an Islamist regime in the Middle East. Beyond revolution, it was a restoration of Egypt’s heritage of secular moderation. Had the Muslim Brothers not been stopped, they would have continued to radicalize and Islamicize Egypt, further isolating and persecuting their enemies — secularists, liberals, and religious minorities, especially Christians. Egypt is the largest nation-state in the Arab world, with strong traditions of secular governance and a Christian minority that constitutes approximately 10 percent of the population. That this was the site of the first revolution against an Islamist regime is of inestimable significance, not merely for Egypt but for the Arab world, whose moderates look to Egypt as the standard bearer. If moderation fails in Egypt, it bodes ill for moderates elsewhere.
As Joseph Kassab, a Chaldean Christian and human-rights advocate, has observed, Christians are vital to the Middle East because they are a bridge to the outside world. Without Christians and other minorities, the entire Middle East would soon come to resemble the uniform extremism of Saudi Arabia, perhaps the most brutal and oppressive regime in the world — a state sponsor of extremism, anti-Semitism, and arguably terror. According to Amnesty International, crucifixion still occurs in Saudi Arabia. The fact that such regimes do not advance American interests ought to be self-evident. Apparently it is not.
Read “In Solidarity with Egypt’s Christians” by Andrew Doran on NRO.
Violence from Muslim extremists is causing Christians to flee the Middle East in staggering numbers. In the early nineties, there were 1.3 million Christians living in Iraq and today there are less than 200,000. Senior staff writer at Legatus Magazine, Sabrina Arena Ferrisi, addresses this in the latest Legatus Magazine.
The Middle East is experiencing a new kind of exodus. This time it’s Christians who are leaving the region in droves, driven out by Muslim fundamentalists. Christians make up less than 5% of the population today, down from 20% in the early 20th century, according to a 2010 BBC report. If the exodus is not stopped, it will empty the Middle East of the oldest Christian churches on the planet.
The Vatican reported in May that a staggering 100,000 Christians around the world are martyred annually for their faith, and human rights groups claim such anti-Christian violence is on the rise in Muslim-dominated countries like Iraq, Syria and Egypt.
While enjoying time off this weekend, why not take some time to learn more about America’s military sacrifice in defense of liberty? Many of the best books I’ve ever read have been about American military history. When I worked for former Congressman Gene Taylor in Gulfport, Miss. one of my favorite parts of my job while working constituent services for veterans was listening to stories about battles from places like Okinawa, Khe Sanh, and Hue City. I’ve read all of the books compiled below and all of them tell magnificent stories of virtue, honor, sacrifice, and leadership. Obviously this is not a comprehensive list but I worked at including different conflicts and service branches. While I could expand it, I’m asking readers to add your own recommendations in the comment section.
1) The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: This is easily one of the greatest books on Naval Warfare ever written. The author, James D. Hornfischer, weaves together a dramatic David and Goliath battle in the Pacific, where a force of U.S. destroyers and cruisers took on a Japanese fleet over ten times its size. It was perhaps the U.S. Navy’s finest hour during WWII, but it came with a monumental price. The sacrifice of these sailors deserve to be honored and forever remembered.
2) Joker One: A Marine Platoon’s Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood: A Great account by Donovan Campbell about his Marine platoon in Ramadi, Iraq in 2004. This is an excellent book that offers Christian themes rooted in love, servant leadership, and sacrifice. I reviewed Joker One for the PowerBlog in 2009.
3) Bury Us Upside Down: The Misty Pilots and the Secret Battle for the Ho Chi Minh Trail: A thorough and riveting look at the air war over Vietnam along the Ho Chi Minh Trail that uncovers lots of new information about the conflict in Southeast Asia. I particularly appreciate the exhaustive research the authors did about the families of these heroic pilots who sacrificed their lives in Vietnam.
4) One Square Mile of Hell: I don’t understand how this narrative about the Battle of Tarawa by John Wukovits has never been made into a movie. The account is vivid and suspenseful with its description of the short lives for many Marines who landed on the Tarawa Atoll in 1943. This book too does a tremendous job of telling the stories of a few of the families who sacrificed their lives. It was also the first WWII battle that showed the bodies of dead Americans in newsreels to the public back home. Special permission had to be granted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to show the dramatic loss of life on film from this battle.
5) We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young: A great chronicle of the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley in 1965 and the courageous men who served in the 1st Battalion of the 7th Cavalry. Written by retired Lt. General Harold Moore and war correspondent Joe Galloway, this book tells the stories of numerous heroic men like John Goeghegan and Willie Godbolt who paid the ultimate price in Vietnam. A popular movie based on the book was released in 2002.
6) With the Old Breed: Eugene B. Sledge was a superb writer and this is some of the best war literature you will ever find. Few accounts capture the human emotion of combat like With the Old Breed. I reviewed the book for Veterans Day in 2010.
7) House to House: This is simply a riveting account on the intense urban combat that wracked Fallujah, Iraq in November 2004. The battle is often referred to the Second Battle of Fallujah. I debated including this work over some other books because of some excessive cussing, but in the end I couldn’t keep it off the list. It’s an emotional and intense read and captures well the courage and sacrifice of so many who fought and died in Iraq during the bloodiest years of the war. SSG Bellavia paid tremendous tribute to the men that fought by his side.
On the National Catholic Register, Joan Frawley Desmond has a round up on the deepening crisis in Syria. She writes that Pope Benedict XVI, on his recent visit to Lebanon, “urged rival political, ethnic and religious groups to overcome their differences and find common ground for the sake of peace.”
The Vatican soon announced that it would send a papal delegation to Syria, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, was selected to join the group that was called to express “fraternal solidarity” with the Syrian people and foster efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The escalating violence in Syria resulted in a postponement of the delegation’s departure, and the USCCB has since confirmed that Cardinal Dolan will not join the group.
Nina Shea, the director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom in Washington, said Pope Benedict’s visit to Lebanon was important and that his strong statements underscored the danger that the Syrian conflict posed for the stability of the region and the survival of Christian minorities.
“The Pope drew attention to the fact that Christians are in peril. The West seems paralyzed and can’t speak up for them,” said Shea. “Syria is one of the four largest Christian-minority countries in the Middle East. But, after Iraq, there are fears for the survival of another Christian minority in the region. The smaller the minority gets, the more vulnerable it gets — and the more likely it will be eradicated.”
Read Ray Nothstine’s interview with Shea, titled “A Rare and Tenuous Freedom,” in Religion & Liberty.
Over at Patheos, Joel J. Miller’s “Prayers of the persecuted church” reminds us that “the lull in aggression toward the church since the fall of communism might have dulled Western memories to the horrific slaughter and repressions of the twentieth century, but the lull seems over, and the church around the world is experiencing intense persecution.” Miller goes into some detail on the horrific martyrdom of Fr. Fadi Haddad and cites the Acton Institute interview with Metropolitan Hilarion posted here yesterday.
Also see “The plight of Syria’s Christians: ‘We left Homs because they were trying to kill us,’” a report by the Independent, a UK newspaper.
In an interview in Our Sunday Visitor, an official with the Catholic Near East Welfare Association said refugees from Syria into Lebanon are increasing “tremendously” because of the military conflict. Issam Bishara, vice president of the Pontifical Mission and regional director for Lebanon and Syria, told OSV about the “perilous situation in Syria and how the local and global Catholic Church is responding.”
OSV: What has life been like for local Christians in Syria?
Bishara: Christians or non-Christians, they are fleeing the shelling. The Christians would have an additional worry — they are not sure of the future. The experience of Christians in Iraq was horrible. If something similar happens to the Christians in Syria then they would be in a very difficult situation. Most of the Christians who fled Iraq went to Syria and Lebanon. The question is, what if the Christians in Syria were displaced? What we hear from them is that they worried about their future, about the form of the new regime and the new government — would there be a democratic regime, a fanatic Muslim regime? They’re not sure.
OSV: What is CNEWA doing to assist the refugees?
Bishara: We are assisting 2,000 families in the regions of Homs, the Christian Valley, Tartus and Damascus. We work through the infrastructure of the local church — the Greek Orthodox Church, which is the largest Christian community in Syria, and the Greek Catholics, the Melkites, and through the different sisters and the Jesuit fathers as well.
OSV: How has the Church responded?
Bishara: The Church has responded in a very good way. We are trying to utilize their social workers and priests and the sisters and try to raise funds and pass it through them. They are purchasing all of the commodities that we agree on and putting it in boxes and taking care of distribution. They are extremely accountable and very strict in terms of who gets what. We’re very happy with the way they are presenting their reports. We are in almost daily contact with them.
In an Aug. 2 report, the director of programs for International Orthodox Christian Charities affirmed this dire picture. “There is a palpable sense of urgency and people are worried about the growing violence throughout the country,” said Mark Ohanian. IOCC is working closely with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and all The East and Syrian relief partner, Al Nada Association, in an effort to reach as many people as it can and to determine what the most immediate needs are for the growing number of displaced and vulnerable families. (more…)
Lieutenant Colonel Mike Strobl began his 2004 essay “Taking Chance” by saying, “Chance Phelps was wearing his Saint Christopher medal when he was killed on Good Friday. Eight days later, I handed the medallion to his mother. I didn’t know Chance before he died. Today, I miss him.”
HBO turned Strobl’s essay into an emotional film about the journey of Chance’s body from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to his home in Dubois, Wyoming. Taking Chance is excellent at depicting the dignity, honor, and respect involved with the preparation and transport of an individual in the military who have been killed in action. Every military KIA is given a military escort that accompanies the remains of the deceased to their final resting place.
In the film Lt. Col. Strobl is played by actor Kevin Bacon. Bacon does a tremendous job playing a U.S. Marine officer who exudes leadership and professionalism. Normally senior officers don’t serve as escorts, but for reasons explained in the film Lt. Col Strobl volunteers to serve as the escort for the all too young 19 year old Private First Class Chance Phelps, who was later promoted to Lance Corporal posthumously.
One of the real moving parts of the film has to do with Strobl’s encounters with the civilians he meets along the way as he accompanies the fallen Marine whose remains travel in the cargo hold of a commercial flight. Many of the civilians just want to pass their sympathies on to the family and let them know that people are thinking about and praying for them. Still others want Strobel to know what the military has meant to them or want to share with them some sort of experience that has touched them. A particularly moving scene is when a Northwest flight attendant hands Strobel a crucifix for him to keep that obviously is a possession that means a lot to her. Strobel passes it on to Chance’s mother who places it on the top of his casket before burial.
Another moving scene from the film comes early on as the hands and feet of Chance are being meticulously washed at the military mortuary at Dover Air Force Base. This evokes an excellent piece that Chris Jones wrote for Esquire Magazine in May 2008 titled, “The Things That Carried Him.” The article by Jones is a descriptive account of what happens during the final homecoming for one Army Sargent. In his piece Jones also wrote generally about the intimacy and honor for those who prepare the remains of the fallen:
Karen Giles tells a story about another young airman, who was polishing the brass on a dead soldier’s uniform jacket. He was using a little tool, a kind of buffer, to make sure that every button shined. A visitor complimented him on his attention to detail. ‘The family will really appreciate what you’re doing,’ the visitor said. But the airman replied, ‘Oh, no, sir, the family won’t know about this.’ The airman told him that the family had requested that their son be cremated, and just a short while later, he was.
Interestingly, if the story in this film was to happen right now instead of 2004 it would be remarkably different. As of Jan 1, 2007 the Holly Provision, a part of the 2007 Defense Authorization Act, changed the law when it comes to how the remains of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines killed in the line of duty are transported to their final resting place. The Department of Defense must use a military transport plane or charter flights because of the concerns raised about proper respect. Remains can no longer be transported by a commercial carrier.
There is little dialogue in this film, and part of the allure of the film is the pageantry the military provides for its fallen. It almost has to be a film with considerably less dialogue to keep the focus on Chance’s sacrifice and journey home. The slow salute is very moving and well executed by any U.S. Marine in their dress blues, and is very emotional in this film.
While this HBO portrayal is ultimately about Chance Phelps and his heroic sacrifice it emphasizes several other important points. When Strobel meets a Marine veteran from the Korean War who came to pay his respects to Chance, we see the camaraderie and special bond between fellow Marines no matter the age, rank, or theater of service. Marines love and cherish their traditions and their accomplishments on the field of battle. The famed nickname for Marines is “Devil Dog,” a moniker of respect they earned by defeating a war hardened and entrenched German enemy at the Battle of Belleau Wood in 1918. The Germans on the front lines sent dispatches to their headquarters saying the Marines fought like “hounds from hell.”
The courage, tradition, and fighting spirit of the Marines today shows just how dedicated they are to the principles that made our country free. When my own brother was in Iraq with the Marines and I was living in D.C. a few years ago, I decided to go to Arlington National Cemetery. Just months before I had remembered reading a special report about the fresh graves from Iraq and Afghanistan in section 60.
I felt like I should pay my respects since I was mostly just enjoying a warm D.C. summer. As I walked through the headstones the newness of it all was very haunting, some just buried days before. Flowers, teddy bears, letters, and pictures adorned section 60. This section is tucked away from the notable attractions and graves tourists visit at the cemetery. There was an eerie stillness and quietness there. And then I saw a picture of a very attractive young girl against one particular headstone. I read the name and date and realized the girl in the picture was buried below me. She was only eighteen and killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq while serving in the Army. It’s times like that when war is just too overwhelming and heartbreaking for those even somewhat distanced from it. I believe that is why Taking Chance is a film worth watching, it also celebrates a nation that often struggles to show just how thankful they are of those who make the ultimate sacrifice.
It is appropriate that Donovan Campbell offers an inscription about love from 1 Corinthians 13:13 at the beginning of his book, Joker One: A Marine Platoon’s Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood. That’s because he has written what is essentially a love story. While there are of course many soldier accounts from Afghanistan and Iraq, some that even tell more gripping stories or offer more humor, there may not be one that is more reflective on what it means to be a leader, and what it means to love the men you serve and lead.
This book is receiving considerable press attention and Campbell’s ability to convey love the way he does has to be a big reason for the popularity of the book. Campbell movingly says about his own Marines in the opening chapter, “And I hope and pray that whoever reads this story will know my men as I do, and that knowing them, they too might come to love them.”
Campbell’s account looks at the seven and a half months in which he serves as a platoon leader in some of the fiercest fighting of the Iraq war, which occurred in Ramadi in 2004. Before the Marine Corps, Campbell was an undergraduate at Princeton who spent a summer completing the Marine Corps Officer Candidate School (OCS) because he thought it would look good on his resume. Campbell says he hated the entire program, and didn’t think twice about joining since he hadn’t taken any money from the Corps, and therefore didn’t owe them anything. He would ultimately change his mind however as graduation approached.
If love and leadership are recurrent themes, it is often discussed from a faith perspective, and Campbell is somebody who has thought seriously about his own faith and what that means for him and his men. Campbell talks about how before each combat mission he huddles up with his platoon for prayer, which often included reciting the twenty-third Psalm. “I had a responsibility to my men to provide for all their needs, and those included their spiritual as well as their material ones,” says Campbell. He also discusses some of his early thoughts on the prayer ritual before each mission:
Deep in my heart, I believed that prayer would work without fail, that if together Joker One prayed long and hard enough, God would spare us all from Mac’s fate [another Marine seriously wounded by a road side bomb]. What I know now, and which didn’t occur to me then, was that by praying as I prayed, and hoping what I hoped, and believing what I believed, I was effectively reducing God to a result-dispensing genie who, if just fed the proper incantations, would give the sincere petitioner (me) the exact outcome desired.
This book is masterful at tracing the growth and experience of Campbell’s theological progression just as it does concerning his leadership skills, decision making ability, and the moral questions he asks himself. Where prayer before was focused more on personal safety, He says it changed even more as the chaos and random violence surged. “To those who sought it, the prayer also provided some comfort that God was in control, that their lives had worth and meaning stemming from an absolute source,” says Campbell.
After one of his own Marines, Lance Corporal Todd Bolding was killed in action, Campbell understandably lost much of his enthusiasm to continue the mission. He had promised himself that he would bring all of his platoon home. He says:
For whatever reason, [Private First Class Gabriel] Henderson’s tender heart kept a close watch on me, and one day, roughly two weeks after Bolding’s death, he walked up to me and said out of the blue: ‘Hey sir, you know that none of the platoon blames you for what happened to Bolding. It’s okay, sir.’ I didn’t know what to say to that. Henderson broke into a smile. ‘Bolding’s in heaven now, sir, and I know that he’s smiling down at us right now, just like he always smiled at us when he was here. He’s okay, sir. Don’t worry, sir. He’s okay. And someday you will get to see him again, sir.’ I had to turn away to keep from crying. I think that Henderson’s profound, simple faith was what finally allowed me to pick myself back up, and, in some very real sense, regain my own faith.
This book deals with a lot of raw emotion, the frustrations with all the problems in Iraq, and tragedy. At the closing of Campbell’s account, he does a beautiful job of articulating the greater-love principle from John’s Gospel (15:13).
In seminary I took a class on leadership and I know Campbell’s book teaches more lessons about leadership than classes or many other books could. His account is a strong reminder that some of America’s best, regardless of policy debates or politics, are the ones silently shouldering a heavy burden in America’s current conflicts. While much of the country goes to the mall, shops, and attends sporting events, there are those who suffer and have to make quick life and death decisions where the consequences of combat often result in bad or worse.
This is definitely one of the best books of 2009. The narrative is somewhat similar to Nathaniel Fick’s book from 2005, One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer, in that both authors do a wonderful job at baring their heart and telling the stories of young men who do courageous acts solely for others and not themselves. Interestingly enough, both authors were officers in the Marines who came out of Ivy League schools. All of the wonderful sacrifices Campbell’s platoon made for a largely unappreciative civilian Ramadi population in 2004, and the havoc they wreaked on their foe, is a reminder of the truth that rings out from the great unofficial U.S. Marine motto, “No greater friend, no worse enemy.”
Here is quite the unique story from 13WMAZ in Macon, Georgia. The clip highlights what Army Staff Sergeant Jeremy Snow is doing to help those in need during the Christmas season. While serving in Iraq, Staff Sergeant Snow and friends from his unit have been shopping online and sending food, new clothes, and even mp3 players back to his mother, who is retired military. Margie Snow then unpacks and hands the gifts over to the local Loaves and Fishes ministry for distribution. “Everyday he calls about a different box on its way,” she says.
While the story is unique, in light of all the care packages that leave the U.S. for Iraq, it is not surprising when you consider the character of so many who serve in our Armed Forces. One of my first reactions after reading the story and watching the news video is that there is little excuse not to give after learning about Staff Sergeant Snow’s first class generosity. It is of course common knowledge that those who serve in the military do so with a modest salary, especially among the enlisted ranks.
In life, I think it’s always helpful to think about how you want to define yourself, how would you like other people to perceive you, and who would you like to emulate? Giving is one of the clearest examples I can think of that reflects your inner and outward character.
Also always deserving a mention is the United States Marine Corps Reserve and their 61 year program of bringing the joy of Christmas to needy children nationwide through their Toys for Tots Foundation. Below is a great commercial promoting their charity.