Tag: Syria

Jean Carlin, M.D.

A few days ago, my husband’s great aunt died; she was the only of my in-laws who I called by a familial name (Aunt Jean instead of Jean) – as did the rest of *my* family. Ciro says she was difficult to get along with, but I guess I met her late enough in her life that it was less true (and I didn’t need to depend on her, so I could enjoy her company for what it was). She was incredibly kind to me, and I was in awe of her. The day we met, a large rare flower in her garden bloomed. I’ll miss her very much.

Ciro writes:

Two days ago, one of the pioneers of refugee and cross-cultural psychiatry, Dr. Jean Carlin, MD, PhD, died in her sleep at her home in Seal Beach, CA. She was 86 years old. She took with her a lifetime of experience and wisdom that inform our understanding of the human cost of war to this day, and during Vietnam in particular informed U.S. refugee policy. More than anything she felt called to her work because she saw clearly into the abyss and cared very deeply about people. She spent her life trying to help them.

I said she was 86 years old. She was born in 1930. That means she moved into her teen years during World War II, and that when she was entering medical school, it was in 1950s America. She was one of three women in her class. It was routine for students who weren’t making the cut to be informed via a terse postcard in their mailbox, with no explanation. She was a woman from a poor single-parent household, surrounded by privileged men, aware that she could be dismissed at any time for any reason, in an era when female doctors in America were so rare that people frequently thought she was joking.

She spent two tours in Vietnam at a village children’s hospital, treating victims of war and its attendant horror with inadequate supplies and no electricity (candles at the foot of the bed). Children burned, children maimed, children with cholera. Viet Cong attacks in the area were frequent. She recalled one night-time alert that came while she was trying to save the life of a dying baby girl. The attack forced her to carry the girl through a field of knee-deep mud and weeds in total darkness, compressing the tiny body rhythmically against her own chest to respirate her, until she could reach an emergency ward. The baby did survive, as did many others in her care.

She returned later to work in the refugee camps, and her time there lead to a senior consultancy on the relocation efforts of the U.S. government. I haven’t been able to find a complete count of citations of her work in research literature, but it’s over 100. I think about it a lot when I read about Syria, about profound trauma combining with dislocation and total loss of culture and identity, about it following the survivors through generations. It haunts me to see it so completely, as it must have haunted her.

After the war she moved into forensic psychiatry, working for courts and mental hospitals and social services, with survivors and casualties of a different kind. Budget cuts and political resistance meant this work was frequently unpaid, underpaid, or paid very late, but she continued to do it, for the same reason she went willingly into war zones.

She was also my great aunt, and she loved me like her own child, of which she had none, nor did she ever marry. The truth is she wasn’t easy to be around, and that made her perpetually lonely.

Which isn’t fair. It’s not fair that with a human compassion so fierce, with courage so great, with such a complete willingness to sacrifice, that she should ever have wanted for love of her own. I can’t get past how sad it makes me. I hope I was a comfort to her. I will miss her very much.


Eva Bartlett debunk

Hokay, looks like recuts of that appalling video of “independent Canadian journalist” Eva Bartlett are making the rounds again. Her name is never mentioned, but you may recognize the picture:

It’s propaganda; she’s paid by Russia and Syria, not a newspaper, and her claims are verifiably untrue. Suggest you read Snopes prophylactically and then bookmark it in case you find you need to inoculate someone else.

Or if someone hates Snopes, you have other options:

Channel 4


Pulse Media

The amount of desire you have to have, to think that video of aerial bombardments and children in ambulances is easy to fake, but a closeup of one white person in front of a paper background must be honest, even though you’ve never heard her name and she’s “independent” of press credentials…


Syria Is Not a False Flag. But It’s Complicated.

From the department of the for-some-reason not obvious: Syria exists. It is full of people.

I know it is hard not to view everything through the lens of US politics if you are in the US, but Syria was not invented by the US and if I hear one more “false flag” claim I’m going to go apeshit.

There is a civil war. It is real. Most observers, including from countries that aren’t the US, don’t think it will end until/unless Assad steps down. He has committed numerous war crimes, which, again, are well-documented, because it’s impossible to do something on this scale and not document it.

There have been other atrocities during the war by other factions, but those other factions are not currently the head of state. Presumably the conflict would also continue if one of them tried to name himself dictator.

Also, the forces of truth and justice, such as they are, are not the ones who have major weapons and an air force, so “let them fight it out” basically means Assad wins. Which is why it’s been going that way with non-intervention.

Maybe you want us to stay out of it. There are any number of good reasons to want that. Maybe you don’t trust the current administration to carry it out. (I mean, look who we’re dealing with here.) Maybe you straight up don’t want us to spend the money for a large-scale intervention. (It’s a lot.) Maybe you look at the situation and think that if we went all in, it would prompt a nuclear strike by Iran or Russia that would kill even more civilians, in even more places. Maybe you have a spiritual committment to nonviolence that makes you disbelieve any violent response, even to extreme violence, is ever warranted.

I could keep going. There are thousands of good reasons not to want war. It’s not like this isn’t thorny. The international response to the Syrian conflict has been confused and strange partly because the situation is a fairly direct challenge to ideas around sovereignty and nationhood; it’s not clear what, in Syria, counts as self-rule. We like the idea that we could just accept the inflow of refugees and write Syria off as a loss, but we want those refugees to assimilate and stop being Syrian. We don’t have the comfort of saying “well, Syria’s always been a mess” because it wasn’t. It was pretty economically stable, with a broad and educated middle class. There’s not a clear outside agitator, but also not a clear “brought it on themselves.”

I get why you have complicated feelings about it. I have complicated feelings. I don’t know an obvious right answer.

What I do know, to circle back, is that the Syrian conflict is not fake, and the arguments around it are not ingenuine. I would appreciate it if everyone could stay in the land of real arguments, instead of the comforting fantasy that this has all been made up – that the only real bad guys are some English-speaking politicians and journalists who you can fight with snarky e-mails and threatening to take your votes elsewhere.

Please see that what you are doing is trying to distance yourself from grief and a sense of guilt that these terrible things are happening and you don’t want to intervene. (Maybe it’s not the time. Maybe it would make things worse.) There’s a reason that “we just didn’t know, couldn’t trust what we were hearing” is a classic from a lot of genocides. It’s emotionally easier to pretend the deaths are lies and fantasies, and you can fight them by hating the politicians you already hate, supporting the social programs you already support, because you are a good person.

Maybe those truly are the best things we can do right now. I don’t have that answer. But I promise you the “false” and “sucker” narrative is the one that makes you feel better, makes you feel like you’ve solved it. If you feel anything other than awful, your understanding of the situation is probably wrong.

“Gassed” by John Singer Sargent

Today is the 100th anniversary of the United States’s entry into WWI, with a Congressional declaration of war. Fighting in Europe had been going on for three years at that point, and would continue for another year.

I don’t know how many people were already dead by the time the U.S. entered the fray. In the conflict as a whole, more than 17 million people were killed, about a third of which were civilians. That total does not include the deaths from a flu pandemic which took off in the stressed and mobile conditions, which killed another 20 to 40 million. Afterward, borders in Europe, Asia, and Africa were different, and some of the new governments were bloody, and there was starvation.

This is an oil painting called “Gassed,” by John Singer Sargent, one of my favorite painters, which he finished in 1919, based on time he spent with American Expeditionary Forces in Ypres (part of Belgium, which was supposed to be neutral, but was invaded). The clue that it’s Ypres is that it echoes another painting, “the Parable of the Blind,” by Pieter Bruegel, a Flemish painter from the Renaissance.


English speakers had trouble pronouncing Ypres (“E pruh”), so they nicknamed it “wipers.”

“Gassed” received some criticism from the literati for being too heroic. I don’t see it. I see helpless people hoping they’ll be led out of a tangled mass of limbs. I see mustard gas hanging in front of my eyes, and I know that mustard gas sometimes doesn’t blind you until two days later.

How can you, as a person, fight bombardment from the air? You can’t. And you can’t fight the air itself. This is why gas attacks are war crimes, this past. Against them, we are all defenseless children, even strong young men with guns, even soldiers. Yes, even enemy combatants.

Wipers your eyes, friends, wipers your eyes. Wipe your eyes and the burning is still there.

Is Assad Another Pol Pot?

If Hitler was a uniquely evil, inhman figure, what are we to make of Assad? Is he merely a Stalin? Was Stalin merely a Stalin because we were exhausted by war and didn’t have the resources to fight him, and it would be too much to say we let a Hitler get away with it? Are Assad and Stalin and their accomplices less shocking because they aren’t Western Europeans, and so weren’t really human to begin with?

‘The hospitals were slaughterhouses’: A journey into Syria’s secret torture wards” by Louisa Loveluck and Zakaria Zakaria, The Washington Post

2016 Films Seen in 2016

It’s challenging for me to see English-language movies right when they come out, given that I’m not in an English-speaking country, so I’ve only seen five 2016 films in 2016. (I’ve been catching up on 2015.) They were:

Hail, Caesar
10 Cloverfield Lane
The Neon Demon
Hell or High Water

I liked ’em. I was the most impressed with HyperNormalisation. My favorite 2016 film moment, which is unlikely to be challenged no matter how many more movies I watch, is this one, from Hail, Caesar. Would that it were so simple.