Climate Change and The Taliban

What does climate change mean,  how do people define global warming? Do we think of melting ice caps in terms of rising ocean levels, threatened animal habitats, violent unpredictable weather? Do we think about it at all? Are we confused by anti warming propaganda, suspicious of scientific proof? How many ponder a connection between climate change and the Taliban?

Founded in 1994 by Mohammed Omar, iron fist Taliban fundamentalism seized control of Afghanistan in 1996. Brutal Taliban justice, horrific oppression of women, terrorist agendas, outraged the global community long before 9/11. One of the first Taliban edicts – eradicate all opium poppy fields as an offense to Islam. From 1996 to the American ousting of Taliban rule in 2001, Afghan farmers who once supplied of 60% of world heroin, grew wheat crops.

Unfortunately 2001 coincided with a period of unprecedented drought in Afghanistan. Devastated farmers had families to feed – the Taliban needed money, soldiers and safe havens. Fragmented Taliban forces came up with a solution. In exchange for “taxes”, recruits and absolute indifference to caching weapons or hiding insurgents, they would protect impoverished farmers choice of crops. Opium poppies thrive on 1/6th the water of wheat.  Drought resistant poppies sustained a population whose only choice became Taliban loyalty or starvation.

Far from suggesting Afghanistan’s untimely drought was a direct result of climate change – it’s worth considering implications beyond rising sea levels. Religious fundamentalists outlawed opium poppies when rain fell, weaponized poppies by allowing starving farmers to plant them in exchange for loyalty.

Ponder climate change as a weapon. Consider ramifications of weaponizing crops We can ignore mind numbing climate change rhetoric, or wrap our heads around drought and Taliban support.


Veterans Transition Network

When we least expect it clarity, compassion and understanding sneak up and slap us in the head. Moments like this are hard to define, lacking framework of anticipation or reference they vanish in the blink of an eye. We recognize it changed us but need to digest it for a day of two.

Yesterday was one of those days. I ran an event at the Foster Eastman Gallery in Vancouver, a fundraiser for Veterans Transition Network (VTN).  Having many military events under my belt, I arrived void of the slightest inkling this cocktail party would enrich my core. Expecting to see some familiar faces, looking forward to a new venue, interested in the art – I walked inside and was greeted by Foster.

I’ve never given much credence to auras but if Foster Eastman has one it radiates pure joy. Instantly at ease – dare I say under a spell powerful enough to wash your troubles away, my attention turned to the gallery walls. Blissfully unaware Foster Eastman was the artist , not simply a name on the door – I begged those walls to stop distracting me.

Setting up the party, the next hour allowed time to absorb my surroundings. Little by little, layers of comprehension set in. Foster Eastman wanted to honor Canadian soldiers – inspiration became the brainchild of his mural project,  Lest We Forget CANADA! a poignant installation covering an entire wall. 162 paper mache panels, each with the name of a fallen soldier and how they died. The first layer of each panel are pages torn from military “pams” – pamphlets with instructions on hand to hand combat or how to carry a wounded soldier to safety.

His mural now the centerpiece for Veterans Transition Network fundraising. VTN is a non profit organization supporting “transition” from military to civilian life. A three month program, with support, counseling and coping mechanisms for PTSD sufferers, employment and education strategies or simply a shoulder to lean on.

Eastman’s multi -media vision of IED explosions play out along the gallery walls. Cheeky, layered, practically sculpted compositions of individual ketchup packages stamped Afghanistan form Canadian flags beneath thick lacquer. Canvases literally blown up, peppered with rusty nails – uneven edges, imperfections, nasty fall out – all coated in impossibly thick lacquer.

By now a few young men have arrived – it takes a moment to realize they’re soldiers. Dressed in civilian clothing, good looking, cheerful – about the same age as my children. One carries a few boxes of packaged military meals, opening one and carefully displaying the contents on a table. I start a conversation with another who arrived with a dog wearing a vest reading “service dog in training-do not pet”. He tells me he’s been training it for 3 months and has had the dog for 5 years. Like an idiot I blurt out ” wow-it’s going to be tough to give him up”. His matter of fact response was “I’m training him for me-I’m the one with PTSD” The dog knows to walk in front of him in crowds, forcing people to move aside – he doesn’t do well in crowds. The dog knows to check a room before this young man enters and can sense oncoming panic attacks. When speeches began I learned this soldier was the subject of one of Eastman’s pieces – a mural of soldiers carrying the coffin of his close friend.

We’ve all heard of post traumatic stress – I can’t begin to imagine what these young men witnessed or form any reference point to the reality of war. I do know that meeting these young people gave it a face. My heart went out to them but it wasn’t pity, it was pride and gratitude. As Foster Eastman said “Where is our Canadian patriotism? Do we not want to talk about it? Oh, I don’t believe in war. Well, nobody believes in war”.


Turtle Ships

In 1592 Japan invaded Korea, managing to take control of the Korean Peninsula. Undaunted, Korean admiral Yi Sun-sin got busy, building a tiny fleet of “Turtle ships” to defeat the Japanese. Completely enclosed with a reinforced “shell” of iron and thick timbers, turtle ships were studded with sharp iron spikes to prevent the enemy from jumping aboard. With rowers, sailors, and cannons safe beneath an impenetrable shell – Korea sent Japan packing; in one battle alone, 12 turtles said goodnight to over 125 Japanese ships. Like the “Little Engine That Could” , perseverance and ingenuity prevailed against all odds.

History is littered with accounts of great battles; from the Battle of Marathon between the Greeks and Persians in 490 BC, to Waterloo, and Stalingrad – battles have shaped history. Battles were won or lost based on strategy, cunning, and leadership.

Great generals, military strategists, and good old fashioned ingenuity have been replaced by computer models;  followed by “shock and awe”, black ops, drones, and sniper fire. I don’t advocate war,  but do ponder the outcome of conflict if left in the hands, good or bad, of the Pattons, MacArthurs, and Norman Schwartzkopfs of this world?

I admit to having some difficulty properly expressing this ponder. With zero experience, and little military knowledge to back this up – a thought crossed my mind and I’m going with it. In no way intending to offend or make light of heroic contributions by our soldiers, my observation rests instead on the manner in which war is approached. It seems to me that plans are made inside high tech towers, thousands of miles from the battlefront. In decades past Generals on the front lines would have been household names. Today, I honestly can’t recall the name of a single Canadian or American commander on any battlefront; I can however say that more American soldiers have committed suicide on American soil after returning from war in the Gulf and Afghanistan conflicts, than were killed in action. I know Canada has dubbed the 401 in Ontario the “Highway of Heroes” to honour soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

I wouldn’t wish the horror of ancient battles, the first, second, Korean, Vietnam, or Gulf wars on any soldier; I simply ponder how technology has altered the playing field. Once upon a time there was a leader on the ground who cared about his men, using ingenuity and bravado – whatever it took to get the job done. Those men still exist, yet we hear nothing about what they’re up against. Instead it’s all about the “air strike”, missile fire, and drone attacks.

Pardon me but if I were in the thick of it, it would really piss me off.