Saturday, July 14, 2007

Richard Johnson -- Canadian artist in Afghanistan

It's been a while since I linked to a milblog, not by any deliberate omission on my part but simply because we have so little in the way of common interests. But I appreciate good work where ever I find it and Richard Johnson's sketches are top-notch. His blog, Postings from Afghanistan, a Kandahar Journal, which appears online in Canads's National Post, is three months old. That is where he posts sketches, both written and drawn, describing his experience as a reporter/artist assigned to Canadian forces in Afghanistan.

This morning, drilling into an old post I took another look at Argghhh!!! blog (the name of which defies description). The blogmaster linked to The Torch, a group blog where member Damian Brooks pointed to Richard Johnson's work. The Torch, incidentally has excellent reference maps of Afghanistan in the sidebar for anyone wanting to know the details of ethnic/tribal or military distributions there, as well as an atlas-type geographic map. Very detailed when enlarged.

Readers are urged to look at Richard Johnson's work and words. His up-close and personal descriptions show the human side of war that usually gets circulated only among warriors.

Another day another perfect blue sky - bleeding to beige/red as it meets the land. I did a little laundry, some archiving, some emailing, some shaving and then started thinking about some of the photos I have waiting for me from which I hope to create some of the bigger art pieces. I looked unenthusiastically through them for a few hours and then sketched Francis Silvaggio in his Olympic standard slouch behind me at his desk.

In the afternoon I heard back from Lieutenant (Navy) John Nethercott (one of the PAFOs I had emailed) that he had received clearance to allow me into the base hospital. It was only a short walk away.

There I met Aziz.

Aziz is six-years-old.

A month ago, on the day I arrived into Kandahar, Aziz was shot twice through the abdomen by coalition forces during a skirmish with the Taliban. He was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and was caught in the crossfire. His life was saved by the same machinery of war that almost took it.

Aziz has had a tempestuous month since then. He has had multiple surgeries and complications from those surgeries that have taken him close to death a number of times. He has become very frail, his muscles have atrophied and his eyes have sunk deep into his head. Still he manages to smile and give a thumbs up to the nurses.

Aziz is the only child in a ward full of men. They are all fairly seriously injured. Some are Afghan National policemen with concussions and broke bones, caused by IEDs. Some are Afghan National Army soldiers with shrapnel scars and abdominal bullet wounds. One is a Taliban soldier who slept while a Canadian soldier sat at the bottom of his bed.

I am introduced to his Aziz's father Hajibaba and an interpreter explains to him what it is that I wanted to do. Hajibaba looked numbly at me, but agreed to let me draw his son. From the nurses I learned that his father has not left his side in a month. Someone also explained what I am doing to Aziz.

I spent a little time just standing out of the way and watching him. The nurses and doctors came and went with the rhythm of the ward. Aziz smiled and looked brave and gave a thumbs up for the men, but grimaced and reached for the hands of the women who attended him. One of the nurses, Jo-Anne Hnatiuk a Navy lieutenant from Fernie, B.C. told me she thought he needed his mother. She also told me that he had recently "turned a corner" and that this was one of his better days.

I stood at the foot of his bed and drew him while he looked at his father. I had to stop and move a number of times as his morphine infuser continually tripped an alarm and someone rushed to reset it. Periodically he grimaced in obvious discomfort. He is a favourite for many of the medical staff, as a steady stream of on- and off-duty soldiers of all nationalities came by to say hi during their shift change. One woman had made him an origame bird mobile (His favourite was the crow with the orange beak). I continued to draw as the foot traffic ebbed and flowed.

I would like to capture one of his sketches for this post, but I think they are not available to be reproduced without permission. At least the usual "properties" says "Unavailable" when I looked for the link. But that's not important. What is important is that readers go and look at this man's work and appreciate it for what it is: wartime journalism at its best.

As I was putting together this post I heard a theme playing in the background of my mind: Why do you, a card-carrying conscientious objector and openly critical opponent of this and all wars, feel the need to point to a milblog and war journalism?
Part of the answer lies in little observations I made along the link journey.
The milblog community -- and yes, it is a community, rather closed off and isolated from outside influences and quite defensive about criticisms -- is more than a collection of soldiers and their supporters. It is an extension of war itself. Suggestions that war is in any way not the best way to resolve conflict are quickly conflated into an unpatriotic, possibly subversive effort to undermine the troops and argue for defeat. The word propaganda is invoked in a flash, even though the discussion may very well be restricted to an internal forum not likely to be of any influence to undecided recipients of the discussion.
Also, I didn't have to look far to come across a not-so-oblique macho reference to sex in one of the links. Pin-up girls have been part of morale-building resources for all wars, and this picture, along with the mildly salacious (and completely normal) comments it draws from appreciative readers, illustrates the point. One of the links in my aggregator is to a blog from one such contemporary princess that I think is cute as she can be...but there is no denying that the connection between girls and guns has a visceral stimulating impact on those who lay their very lives on the line in uniform.
My purpose in linking here is simple. I hope that by showing the human elements of both sides of what has become the most divisive political conflict of our time I can build bridges of understanding between them. Otherwise I am contributing to the rhetoric that continues to divide the country.
One afterthought: In the same way that the Republicans have handed the immigration issue over to Democrats, my instinct is that Democrats are trying to delay the end of the Iraq war in order for a Democrat president to be credited for having ended it. If that makes me a cynic, so be it. No one has said such openly, but I can easily believe that at the upper reaches of political party strategy planning such a scheme has been openly discussed, perhaps even acted upon. That would be a great scent for some clever political reporter-sleuth to sniff.


Anonymous said...

So, Hoots - what defies description about... Argghhh!!!?

8^ )

John of Argghhh!


Hoots said...

Thanks for visiting and commenting. You may regard that phrase as a rhetorical flourish with litle or no meaning.

Not to put too fine a point on it, what I said later might apply...

The milblog community -- and yes, it is a community, rather closed off and isolated from outside influences and quite defensive about criticisms -- is more than a collection of soldiers and their supporters. It is an extension of war itself. Suggestions that war is in any way not the best way to resolve conflict are quickly conflated into an unpatriotic, possibly subversive effort to undermine the troops and argue for defeat. etc.

Scrolling down your current home page it didn't take long to come across this:

"Experience proves that the man who obstructs a war in which his nation is engaged, no matter whether right or wrong, occupies no enviable place in life or history. Better for him, individually, to advocate 'war, pestilence, and famine' than to act as obstructionist to a war already begun.... The most favorable posthumous history the stay-at-home traitor can hope for is -- oblivion."

~~ Ulysses S. Grant, Personal Memoirs

That would be referring to people like me, conscientiously opposed to war in general, this one in particular, and a son of the old Confederacy (mentioned in the post as well). I'm trying to face oblivion with a sense of dignity.

Anonymous said...

Heh. Did you read the *comments* to the post - since I asked in that post, "Whatcha think?"

You might find more diversity of opinion and freedom of expression at my place than you allow for with the very broad brush you just tarred me with.

I saw a few visits from your site and dropped by to see the linkage, and was curious what you meant.

And, *does* the Grant quote really apply to you - in the context of the post - and the comments, which I'm assuming you did not read, from what you said in your comment here?

It applies if you're a Copperhead - someone who opposes the war for political expediency. It does not if you're not.

You won't find me excoriating anti's simply because they're anti.

I suggest you read the comments to the post you've decided sums up my blog and my weltanschauung - to include the "Rulez" in the commenting box.

You might also consider the implications of the lead item in this post, and see how that dovetails into the lens you've used to filter, sort, label, and categorize me.

Though I'll easily admit your characterization of the general milblogging community isn't completely off-base - I'll tell you your side of the aisle is no different.

We all live in our bubbles, and briefly nipping into hostile territory and jumping back into our comfort zones does *not* do much to change the perceptions.

You found a post that matched what you were expecting/seeking to find - and dug no further, methinks.

8 ^ )


John of Arghhhh!

Hoots said...

Point taken. I don't spend a lot of time slogging through places that I find disagreeable. So thanks for venturing out of a comfort zone once again bearing a corrective.

Yes, before posting I read the comments thread as well as the Copperhead link. The level of commentary is head and shoulders above most. I especially appreciate your own clear opposition to what are euphemistically tagged "preemptive" actions.

If I came across as tarring you with a broad brush, forgive me. I think you will agree that the public is not looking for nuance. Soundbites and quickies are the order of the day. (Which may be why the story of the Korean hostages has sunk from view. Commercial media source won't risk commenting about it lest the story blow up in their face before the revenue stream flows.)

You have been blogging much longer than I and have a large following, the majority of whom would consider my blog somewhere between boring and outright offensive. However I respect that reality and thank you again for stopping by. Maybe one day we can share more common ground.

Anonymous said...

We'll see - I invited people over for a look.

Most of my longtime commenters and hangers-out do so precisely *because* I keep a lid on pointless invective and incessant point-scoring.

That doesn't mean they can't pile on in some overkill sometimes. We've had some real donnybrooks - but we manage it without personal attacks.

And I keep my readers, despite the fact that many of them don't agree with my view on the Iraq campaign which, distilled, is: We shouldn't have started it, but having done so, we've got to make an honest effort at making things right.

I'm consistent on the issue. I didn't like Kosovo for much the same reasons I didn't like Iraq.


John of Argghhh!

Eric Wilner said...

Speaking as a civilian, and a member of the risk-averse community ("coward" is so judgmental), I take issue with your characterization of the milblog community as isolated and defensive about criticisms.
If approached with an open mind and a non-confrontational attitude, the milblogs are, by and large, accessible, and the bloggers amenable to constructive discussion, even with visitors who take strongly dissenting positions. Just make sure, if you're arguing, that you're working with specific, verifiable facts... hostile outsiders who barge in and spout well-known, but false, "facts" are about as welcome as young-Earth creationists on science blogs, and for much the same reasons.

Hoots said...

It's an Arrgghhh!-lanche!

Hi, ya'll. Thanks for stopping by.
I'm posting from work during my lunch break and don't have time to be long-winded.

Make yourself comfortable and look around. Fix yourself a drink and enjoy the visit. Try not to make a mess...
See you tonight.


Anonymous said...

I *live* to throw traffic to people.

Especially people who've thrown traffic to me.

But having good ideas, well and tastefully argued, helps immensely.

Though funny is good.

Either laugh with... or, I admit, chuckle at...

;^ )

John of Argghhh!

Hoots said...

It's about 9:30. Looks like about fifty or seventy-five extra visits from your link, and one comment other than ours.
Thanks, again. It's been fun.

Interesting to be reduced to a four-letter label: anti. I guess the shoe fits but there is more to me than that.

My hope was that someone among the extra traffic would pick up on the Korean hostages story. That continues to be the issue that lays on my mind. Nothing to be done, of course, but pray and commiserate. But as in many cases, there is too little awareness.

If the Taliban is techno-savvy enough to use the Internet, they must also be sensistive to their image beyond blackmail at the thug level. Commercial news sources are not in a position to profile the story but blogs and emails not dependent on selling the story risk little by raising the profile. Armies of Davids notwithstanding, blogs still have a lot of untapped power.


Speaking of ideas, I want to take credit for that last paragraph regarding domestic politics. I am cynical enough to believe that Democrats as a group are perfectly willing to delay the end of the war in Iraq simply to get credit for having ended it when that finally happens.

That is terrible to suggest, especially in light of today's record violence. I wish I had something more constructive or optimistic to contribute. I hate making observations like that.

Changing the subject again, incidentally, I notice the Pundit Drome tag in your sidebar. Scott Ferguson put that to bed some time ago. My blog was there, too, but cool as it was Pundit Drome pulled down it's shingle. I'm not sure why but I liked it as a secondary aggregator to Bloglines.

Excuse the rambling. My head's more clear in the morning.

Keep in touch.


Anonymous said...

Heh. You picked an odd pic and post to complain about the juxtaposition of ladies and firearms at Castle Argghhh!. Chief Bill's 'Hot Mamas' pic would be a much better jab at us.

The Castle is a wierd place. Oh, I'm ry, last active member of the CCC(Castle COntrarian Corps). I'm on the road right now so I;ve not been contributing as much. Correct for a parralax a little and you shall see that there is a continium of opinion ranging from centre-left libertarianism into hard core conservatism over at The Castle. We're harmless, mostly.

On aQ and other terrorists being 'above mere thugery'. One would think that. But history shows otherwise. And it cuts well across ideological motivations. Old groups that were based on radical communist/socialist ideology, claiming to do it 'for the proles' often found themselves doing the worst things to the proles. Bader-Meinhoff. Red Army Faction. The Weather People. SLA. And look at the terrs of today. They have shown they are not above mere thuggery. They kidnap, extort, and do other things that really are akin to street punks running amok in downtown LA than an army.
(start with the biblio for a book called 'The New Terrorism'--it's 20 years old--- to check my reasoning if you'd like).

A common mistake all of us make is substituting our values and morals for someone else's. Dangerous when talking about foriegn policy. Mere thuggery may not be 'mere thuggery' to them and as such means something totally different to them. First rule of sociology: different society, different mores.
take care,

Anonymous said...

1. I’m Oldloadr and I’m the token Enlisted Zoomie (retired) that hangs out at the Castle. I will be the first to admit that my political views are a little to the right of Rush Limbaugh. I was born a Southern Democrat but suffering through a military run by the “Peanut Man” disillusioned me somewhat; then when the Nat’l Dems started caring more about killing babies, taking away guns and calling immorality a civil right than they cared about the working folks they claimed to care about, I had an epiphany.
2. Enough about me: Whenever I state a fact on a blog, it is with a citation of a credible source or it’s personal observation (I have spent over 4 years of my life in the Middle East). John of Arggghhh! does this, as well. I don’t see this same commitment to truth over ideology everywhere on the web (on either side).
3. On the Korean missionaries: Their biggest problem in the MSM is that they are Christians. They went to Afghanistan to both help the people there and to spread the Gospel. The MSM doesn’t have much respect for religion in general or Christianity in particular. The existence of Missionaries confronts them with the fact that there might someday be an accounting of their lives here on this earth and they may be weighed in the scales and found wanting. They also have trouble understanding why missionaries would risk their lives to help (both physically and spiritually) those who would kill them.

Thanks for inviting us in; I hope I didn’t overstay my welcome.


Anonymous said...

"You have been blogging much longer than I and have a large following, the majority of whom would consider my blog somewhere between boring and outright offensive."

Heh. Not buying it. You're not even slightly boring, and not necessarily agreeing with you doesn't mean I'm offended, or you're offensive.

Just another Castle reader who dropped by, but I've bookmarked you. I like the slightly offbeat and you're defintely that.