The Wounds of War

Originally published at The Progressive, Sept. 29, 2019: progressive.org
Recovering from a broken hip, peace activist Kathy Kelly reflects on her experiences with people disabled and traumatized by war.
by Kathy Kelly

wheelchair-bound copy

People disabled by war are a common site in Kabul. Here a man arrives in a wheelchair to receive duvets given out to help families survive the cold winter.

Its economy gutted by war, Afghanistan’s largest cash crop remains opium. Yet farmers there do grow other crops for export. Villagers in the Wazir Tangi area of Nangarhar province, for example, cultivate pine nuts. As a precaution, this year at harvest time, village elders notified the governor of the province that they would be bringing in migrant workers to help them collect the nuts. Hired laborers, including children, would camp out in the pine nut forests, they informed the officials. They hoped their letter could persuade U.S. and ISIS forces, which had been fighting in or near their villages, not to attack.

On September 17, 2019, exhausted from a long day of work, the migrant workers reached their rest spot for the night, and began building fires and making camp. In the early hours of the following morning, a U.S. drone attacked, killing at least thirty-two people. More than forty others were wounded. The U.S. military claims that ISIS fighters were hiding among the farmers who were killed.

I followed this story while recuperating from surgery after breaking my hip on a train from Chicago to Washington, D.C. Before the train even reached the first stop out of Chicago, kindly emergency services workers had bundled me off to the Memorial South Bend hospital. I was well cared for, and now a physical therapist is already helping me with movement and exercise.

I read about the laborers who survived the attack on the pine nut forest. According to Haidar Khan, the owner of the pine nut trees, about 150 workers were there for harvesting, and some are still missing. One survivor described people asleep in tents pitched near the farm when the attack happened. “Some of us managed to escape, some were injured but many were killed,” said Juma Gul, a resident of northeastern Kunar province and one of the migrant workers who had travelled to harvest and shell pine nuts.

I can’t help but wonder: Where are the missing? What care was available for wounded survivors? How many were children? Did a nearby facility offer X-rays, surgery, medications, clean bandages, prostheses, walkers, crutches, nourishing food and physical therapy?

I remember on visits to Afghanistan watching disabled victims of war in the capital city of Kabul as they struggled along unpaved roads, using battered crutches or primitive prostheses. They were coming to collect free duvets being distributed to people who otherwise might not survive the harsh winter weather. Their bodies so clearly bore the brunt of war.

In Kabul, earlier this month, my twenty-one-year-old friend Muhammad Ali reminded me of the importance of asking questions. Wanting me and others to understand more about the impact of war on his generation, he prodded: “Kathy, do you know about Jehanzib, Saboor, Qadeer, and Abdul, these brothers who were killed in Jalalabad?”

The brothers, ranging from twenty-four to thirty years of age, were killed by an Afghan “strike force” trained by the CIA, according to the news. In Jalalabad, two of them worked for the government and two ran their own businesses. The squad that entered their homes beat them severely and then killed them.

“They were kind and humble people, anyone who knew them loved the boys.”

Family and friends felt sure the brothers had no links to militias.  “They were kind and humble people, anyone who knew them loved the boys,” Naqeeb Sakhizada, who owns a shop in the area and knew the brothers for more than ten years, told Al Jazeera.“They cared for people and also had a good sense of humor.”

In her WWI memoir, Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain wrote about volunteering as a nurse toward the end of WWI. Her clinic, in France, received European soldiers from the western front who arrived mutilated, maimed, exhausted and traumatized. One day, she thought she must be imagining the line of soldiers who marched past the clinic tents looking robust, upright and well fed. Then she realized they were from the United States.

New recruits come, and the war machine grinds on.

Looking forward, perhaps we won’t see so many lines of U.S. soldiers marching through villages and cities in Afghanistan. A soldier operating a drone can continue the United States mission from afar.

We must still bear in mind Vera Brittain’s pertinent comments about the realities of war:

“I have only one wish in life now and that is for the ending of the War. I wonder how much really all you have seen and done has changed you. Personally, after seeing some of the dreadful things I have to see here, I feel I shall never be the same person again, and wonder if, when the War does end, I shall have forgotten how to laugh. The other day I did involuntarily laugh at something and it felt quite strange. Some of the things in our ward are so horrible . . . one day last week I came away from a really terrible amputation dressing I had been assisting at—it was the first after the operation—with my hands covered with blood and my mind full of a passionate fury at the wickedness of war, and I wished I had never been born.”

I look forward to going on with my life, once I recover from this broken hip. I can only imagine Vera Brittain’s overwhelming ordeal. And I can only imagine the trauma of a child laborer awakened by an aerial attack in a pine nut forest, racing through the trees in hopes of escape, and perhaps surviving in great pain without a limb, or missing a brother, or wishing he had never been born.

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Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

Read more by Kathy Kelly

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Drones Quilt Project Tours Germany

On display in Villa Heike

The Drones Quilt Project began a tour of Germany in January 2019 and has been shown in several cities, among them Mockernkiez, Berlin, and Dresden. A German website (https://www.drohnen-quilts.de/?p=1) has been created to contain the schedule for the Drones Quilt Project, many photos of the quilts on exhibit, and information about drones in general.
There is a well organized and significant activist movement in Germany which opposes U.S. combat drones, and the U.S. presence in Germany, particularly the mega base in Ramstein which is the site of frequent demonstrations.

Drones Quilt Project Turns 5

It’s hard to believe, but the Drones Quilt Project was first exhibited at the Veterans For Peace convention in Madison, Wisconsin, August 2013. Since then, it has been to every VFP convention (just finished St. Paul!) and graced the cover of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) magazine “Peace and Freedom” in the Fall/Winter 2013 edition. It has crisscrossed the country from Alaska to Maine, and been shown in over 60 cities. Venues included lots of libraries, peace houses, universities and churches, as well as some more unusual places like a bank! The quilts have been carried in marches, draped on the steps of the NY state capitol building in Albany, and used as backdrops for press conferences.
But no matter where they are shown, they have a poignant effect on people. Seeing the names instantly humanizes the victims–they are real people, not just a number, or “collateral damage.” Many of the artists said that the process of making the blocks was a very moving for them. Unfortunately, we don’t even know the names of about 80% of the victims, so we memorialize those deaths in blocks labeled “Precious Son,” or “Loving Father,” or “10 year old boy.”
We need to remember also, that in addition to the fatalities, there are so many other ways that people are being victimized. Children become orphans. Homes are destroyed. Injured are not able to work. Parents keep their children from going to school. They experience a kind of mental torture as the watch and hear the drones circling overhead, never knowing when a missile will be fired.
I have been asked how long the project will keep going…I don’t see an end in sight.

Drones Quilts Exhibited at 3 Conferences


The Drones Quilt Project exhibited recently at the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) Congress in Chicago, the Democracy Convention in Minneapolis, and the Veterans For Peace (VFP) Convention in Chicago. There are now 12 completed quilts, so there are enough to be displayed in more than one location at once.

Future showings are scheduled for Minneapolis, Dallas, and for the first time, outside the U.S. in London.

There are many openings in the 2018 schedule–contact Leah Bolger if interested in hosting the exhibit. leahbolger@comcast.net

Rubbing Salt in the Wound

Yesterday was the opening day of the big drones exhibit at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space museum.  The Drones Quilt Project was to have been the counterbalance to the glorification of combat drones, but it was rejected at the last minute, because there wasn’t enough space.  Now that the exhibit is open, it is obvious that the reason to renege on the DQP was completely political, and had nothing to do with square footage.  The exhibit totally ignores the death and destruction wrought by combat drones, yet it was able to find space to display Lady Gaga’s “drone dress.”

To make matters worse, the New York Times reported on the exhibit with a lengthy article:  http://tinyurl.com/le6hz4f  The title of the article is “Drones Kill, Yes, but They Also Rescue, Research and Entertain.  The NTY seems to believe that their readers are already fully informed about how drones kill, because it says nothing more about it.

In another example of one-sided emphasis, the museum will be hosting a special event featuring the authors of the book “Drone Warrior: An Elite Soldier’s Inside Account of the Hunt for America’s Most Dangerous Enemies” by Brett Velicovich and Christopher Stewart.  “For nearly a decade, Brett Velicovich was at the center of America’s new warfare: using unmanned aerial vehicles—drones—to take down the world’s deadliest terrorists across the globe. In Drone Warrior, he shares his harrowing experiences with Pulitzer Prize–winning Wall Street Journal writer Christopher S. Stewart. Hear Velicovich and Stewart discuss their captivating book and the experiences recounted within.”

This exhibit would have been the perfect opportunity to educate and inform the public about the real damage drone warfare does–the thousands of men, women and children who have been killed, the destruction of their property, the mental torture imposed on people living below their patrols, the emotional toll on American drone operators who are now suffering from PTSD.  The damage is so deep and incalculable, maybe they don’t have space enough after all.

DQP Rejected by Intrepid Museum

Last July the Drones Quilt Project was contacted by the Aviation Curator of the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space museum expressing interest in exhibiting the DQP as part of their 2017 exhibit on drones. (See post from 4 Oct 16 on this site). He said that the Intrepid Museum was “endeavoring to show both sides of the armed drone controversy as equally as possible.” He went on to add that they felt “…that the power of the quilt project is exactly what they required to give this debate a level argument.”
However, in mid-March, 2017, the project was notified that the quilts would not be displayed after all, because there was no room for them in the museum’s drone exhibit.

It extremely disappointing that the museum has decided not to include the DQP.  The exhibit will be seen by thousands of people, and now those people may never know about the illegal and immoral use of combat drones. This was a one of a kind opportunity to expose the public to another side—one that our government will never acknowledge. Hellfire missiles launched from combat drones are responsible for the murders of thousands of people.

It is difficult to believe that the decision to reject the project was truly based on a lack of space, and not because the exhibit is being sponsored by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), an aerospace lobbying body whose corporate supporters include a number of firms involved in U.S. weaponized drone systems production, including Honeywell International, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon Company and the Boeing Company.   John R. Treichler, president of the IEEE Foundation board, is the president of the Raytheon Applied Signal Technology business unit. https://www.ieeefoundation.org/about/board/biographies

4th Year Anniversary of the Drones Quilt Project

Maezol Khan by Toby Blome

The Drones Quilt Project was created 4 years ago as a way to remember the thousands of people who have been murdered by missiles launched from American combat drones. The use of combat drones is immoral, illegal and ineffective, yet the U.S. continues to use them, killing countless people whose names they don’t know, and don’t want to know.
Combat drones were first used by President Bush, then expanded rapidly during the Obama administration. Recently President Trump gave carte blanch to the CIA to target and kill people with drones.
As long as people continue to be murdered by drones, the Drones Quilt Project will continue in an effort to educate the public, and to remember the victims, named and unnamed.