Thousands of injured and ill soldiers sent home from Iraq and Afghanistan are not being counted in the Pentagon’s official tally of the wounded because they are considered “non-hostile” casualties. Some say that if they were included, it would triple the total casualty count. The Pentagon claims that until NOW’s request, it hadn’t been asked for those numbers. But, critics say these often debilitating injuries are not being reported to keep Americans from getting a clear picture of the human cost of war. NOW’s Michele Mitchell profiles these soldiers who may spend the rest of their lives scarred and disabled, but whose sacrifices are not being counted by the nation they served.
The government of Sudan has been blamed for tens of thousands of deaths and for driving more than one million villagers from western Sudan. Amid continued reports of rape, massacre and torture, the UN has called the crisis one of the world’s worst. As the rainy season bogs down the already beleaguered delivery of relief supplies, government experts are projecting that an additional 300,000 to 1 million people there may die. Is it already too late to do anything to stop what some are calling genocide? NOW gets the on-the-ground perspective of veteran journalist Julie Flint, who recently returned from the region where she was on a fact-finding mission for Human Rights Watch.
Many young Black and Hispanic voters will go to the polls for the first time this November, and political analysts on both sides are trying to figure out what will motivate them. Some are looking to The Hip Hop Political Conference for answers. The convention, held this week in Newark, NJ, will attempt to mobilize this new generation of voters. Among the speakers is Michael Eric Dyson, a University of Pennsylvania professor, cultural critic, and Baptist minister who has been described by the WASHINGTON POST as belonging to “a group of young intellectuals who may yet define our view of Black American culture as did their predecessors Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray.” You can access the original Web page for this program at the archived NOW with Bill Moyers website.
BRANCACCIO: Welcome to NOW. Tonight we’re going to talk about our troops wounded in Iraq. Just today President Bush visited an army base and then a military hospital in the state of Washington, trying to boost morale.
But a NOW investigation has found the Pentagon is not telling the public the whole story about how many soldiers are being injured on a daily basis.
Getting at the truth is more urgent than ever given the headlines. This week we heard one of the primary reasons the Bush administration gave us for going to war in Iraq was false.
The independent 9/11 Commission has found “no credible evidence that Iraq and Al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States.”
We know from former anti-terrorism chief Richard Clarke that the intelligence community never believed such a link existed. But from the beginning, the administration used that, along with sketchy intelligence about weapons of mass destruction, to justify the war.
An editorial in the NEW YORK TIMES yesterday said “President Bush should apologize to the American people, who were led to believe something different.”
And so a week and a half before America turns Iraq back to the Iraqis, we want to look at the war and the toll it’s taken on our troops. Correspondent Michele Mitchell and producer Peter Meryash prepared this report.
MITCHELL: How do you figure out the human “cost” of war?
Sometimes, it’s brutally obvious when the wounded scramble out of a tank hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.
Two marines were injured in this attack. One lost his right eye.
The Pentagon keeps a close watch on the grim tally in Iraq and Afghanistan. The latest figures: 922 killed. 5,457 wounded in action. And the press reports those numbers.
But there’s another figure neither the Pentagon nor the press are talking about — the more than 11,000 soldiers coming home disabled, injured, sick who aren’t on the Pentagon’s casualty list because the military says they weren’t injured in combat.
BREWER: It’s a tough story to tell because, really to coin the phrase from A FEW GOOD MEN, you can’t handle the truth.
MITCHELL: The truth, as Susan Brewer sees up close and firsthand, of broken and damaged soldiers returning from the war.
BREWER: If you saw the things that we see, it’s hard for the public to want to dwell on that, and really, a lot of times, to even maybe make a difference and help.
MITCHELL: Susan Brewer is not in the military but after learning about the condition of these soldiers, she moved to Washington and dedicated her life to making a difference in theirs. In April 2002, she set up the volunteer organization to help them, called America’s Heroes of Freedom.
How many wounded, sick, injured soldiers do you think you’ve seen since you started volunteering?
BREWER: Oh, thousands. Absolutely thousands. You watch the C-17 come in on the runway and the big bellied plane latch goes down the back. And you see the intubated patients which would need a trach tubes and very severe things where you weren’t sure if they were gonna make it.
And then you would see the next level. You know, a little bit better off. And then I watched two Army — mind you they’re still in their combat uniform. They maybe just have a bandage or a broken arm or a broken leg. I watched them get down and kiss the ground and get back up and then go to the hospital.
MITCHELL: One of those hospitals where returning soldiers come is the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Injured soldiers are usually evacuated out so fast, they don’t have time to collect their clothes, money or other personal items.
So Brewer and her volunteers try to meet some basic needs. Everything from Gatorade to underwear, even stuffed animals.
Often, Brewer just listens.
Do you think that most Americans understand the total human cost of this war?
BREWER: No, absolutely not. As a matter of fact it’s concerning, it can’t be out of sight out of mind. We go about our daily lives and we don’t recognize and realize really what goes on every week at Andrews Air Force Base when all branches of the military come home wounded and sick. It’s a day in and day out. Anybody that’s working in reserves and meeting the troops at Andrews Air Force Base can tell you that it’s traumatic. The cost is great.
MITCHELL: The cost is great and far higher than the approximately 5,000 wounded-in-action the public has been hearing about.
BENJAMIN: The number of casualties from Operation Iraqi Freedom are exponentially higher, thousands and thousands of soldiers higher than what the Pentagon seems to say the casualty numbers for Operation Iraqi Freedom are.
MITCHELL: Mark Benjamin is the investigations editor at U.P.I. For the past year, he’s traveled to American military bases to report on how the military counts casualties.
BENJAMIN: It just seemed to me from walking around on military bases that the human cost of the war was a lot higher than what I had been reading.
Essentially just the numbers didn’t seem to add up.
MITCHELL: Didn’t add up, says Benjamin, because the Pentagon only reports as casualties those soldiers who are wounded-in-action. Those hit, for example, by enemy fire or improvised explosive devices.
What’s missing in the Pentagon’s count of the wounded are all the other soldiers — at least 11,000 more, injured or sickened in what the Pentagon considers non-combat circumstances.
BENJAMIN: If your son rolls over in a hummer outside Baghdad tomorrow and breaks his back, he may not be a casualty according to the Pentagon. But if he’s your kid, he’s a casualty.
There are lots of soldiers getting hurt in accidents. Or lots of soldiers getting sick. Lots of soldiers they’re getting strokes. They have heart attacks. They have heat exhaustion. They don’t get enough water. They are having mental problems because of extreme duress.
The large number of people that are serving in this war, Operation Iraqi Freedom, that are coming home with serious, serious mental problem, physical problems that are going to last them the rest of their lives, are not showing up in these numbers.
MITCHELL: One of those soldiers not showing up in the Pentagon’s tally of wounded is army specialist Denver Jones.
A veteran of the Panama invasion and the first Gulf War, Jones believed he had a duty to re-enlist after September 11th.
JONES: I have four military job skills, and, I thought maybe I had something to offer my country one more time.
MITCHELL: Jones was assigned to a transportation unit in Iraq. And one day, while on a mission carrying supplies, the truck he was in hit a hole in the road.
JONES: My head came up, hit the ceiling, jammed my neck down, I came down and hit on my tail in the seat, and it broke some seat brackets out from under the seat, and I pretty much was, you know, pretty hurt after that.
MITCHELL: It turned out, Jones had three ruptured discs, and two fractured vertebrae. He was eventually medivaced to the army’s Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, DC where doctors operated and fused part of his spine.
Jones does physical therapy daily now, but his doctors tell him this is as good as he’ll get.
JONES: I feel like a 90-year-old man trapped in a 35-year-old body. That’s the way I feel physically.
I’ve put on 40 pounds. My arms have atrophied. I have hardly any, you know, upper muscular structure like I used to have. It’s hard for me to walk, it’s hard for me to sleep, it’s hard for me to sit, stand.
MITCHELL: Denver Jones’ life has been forever changed, so why doesn’t the Pentagon include him in its official count? The reason? The Pentagon doesn’t consider these types of wounds combat-related.
WINKENWERDER: These are, obviously, there are serious injuries that take place.
MITCHELL: Dr. William Winkenwerder is the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs. Among his responsibilities, keeping track of non-combat sick and injured.
WINKENWERDER: Those kinds of things, unfortunate as they are, happen everyday in the military across the world. There’s risk involved in performing those types of duties. Training and, as well as, as being active in the field.
MITCHELL: But in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are no front lines and every mission, every task carries with it the potential for getting hurt.
ROBINSON: It’s not because you were on a safari, looking for lions.
You’re in a combat zone. And these motor vehicle accidents that are occurring aren’t just happening because people are forgetting how to drive their Humvee.
MITCHELL: Steve Robinson is a former army ranger who served in the first Gulf War. He now runs an advocacy group for veterans of both Gulf Wars.
ROBINSON: When you’re in a combat zone, and you’re delivering information, goods, services, there’s a risk that you will lose your life every moment you go out to do your job. How can that not be a combat related accident?
MITCHELL: Take the case of first Lt. Jullian Goodrum, a veteran of the first Gulf War, who says when he arrived in Iraq this time, it was a lot different.
GOODRUM: In this situation, the enemy was 360 degrees. So, you was always on guard, and always aware. And running missions, not fully combat ready, was an extreme stressor. So, sure, I was definitely mentally and physically exhausted.
MITCHELL: Goodrum was medivaced out because of non-combat injuries to his hands and wrists.
But there was another injury, one that Goodrum couldn’t see right away.
The stress and exhaustion of Iraq, the guilt over the death of a fellow soldier, it piled on and on.
Goodrum says it was not until he got back to the states and had trouble getting treatment for his injured hands that the real crisis hit.
GOODRUM: Uncontrollable crying, panic attacks. I could hardly breathe. Heart racing. Could not concentrate. Just a feeling of betrayal by the military. I felt useless, and helpless, you know? And you know, been in 15 years this October. You know? Been in two wars. Never questioned my orders. And I served proudly. Highly decorated.
MITCHELL: Goodrum says he suffered a nervous breakdown.
GOODRUM: It’s to the point of dysfunctional. I was driving up and down the interstate, turned around. Would drive several miles, turn around, drive back, and drive back. Just driving in circles basically.
Eighteen-wheeler locked up behind me. Came inches of running over me. I looked out the speedometer. I was going five miles an hour on the interstate.
Goodrum was eventually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.
MITCHELL: Veterans’ groups warn as more soldiers return from war, there will be a wave of post-traumatic stress disorder cases. And none of those soldiers will be showing up in the Pentagon’s tally of wounded either.
So what is the true cost of the war? The Pentagon makes it hard to find out because unless a wound is classified as ‘combat related,’ it isn’t publicly reported.
Just look at the Pentagon Web site that tracks the casualty count. The number of wounded-in-action is listed, but the line for ‘non-hostile’ casualties is blank.
BREWER: I don’t know why you’re not hearing those numbers. I can’t really tell you why you’re not. But I’m telling you that they are very large.
MITCHELL: UPI’s Mark Benjamin says it’s very difficult to get those numbers from the Pentagon.
BENJAMIN: The Pentagon has made the numbers, and when I say the numbers, I mean the casualty numbers, into such a morass of figures, that they have made it virtually impossible for reporters and the American public to figure out what’s going on.
MITCHELL: The Pentagon denies that. And in fact, Dr. Winkenwerder claims we’re the first to ask about the number of non-combat injuries.
It’s not a readily available number to the public. Is that something the public should know so they have an idea of what the human cost is for the war?
WINKENWERDER: Yeah, well, in the past, we considered those reports as medical reports that are useful for medical personal to take care of the service members. We’re certainly are willing to look at that issue if we’ve been never requested of such information before, to my knowledge.
MITCHELL: But Benjamin has asked the Pentagon for that information repeatedly.
BENJAMIN: I was shocked when I called the Pentagon and said ‘what is the number of casualties from operation Iraqi Freedom?’ And they said to me, ‘We at the Pentagon do not have that number. You can call the individual services and see what they say their casualties are. But we don’t know.’
MITCHELL: The Pentagon also told us to call the individual services: together, they report more than 11,000 sick and injured in Iraq, in addition to the more than 5,000 wounded in action.
That’s about 5 percent of the roughly 300,000 soldiers who have served there, about one of every 20 soldiers.
Veterans’ advocate Steve Robinson says it shouldn’t be so hard to get the true numbers and he thinks the Pentagon is making it difficult for a simple reason.
ROBINSON: They believe that by putting this information out, it’s somehow going to affect public opinion.
MITCHELL: He says it’s all part of a larger pattern to keep unpleasant news and images of the war out of the public eye.
Take for example what’s happened at Dover Air Force Base. Reporters and photographers have been prevented from covering the return there of flag-draped coffins arriving back from Iraq and Afghanistan.
It took a Freedom of Information Act request to get these photos released.
Robinson says it’s that same kind of stonewalling that’s happening with the casualty count.
ROBINSON: I love my country. I served 20 years. I don’t have an agenda with, you know, whether the war was right or wrong.
I do have an agenda with misrepresenting the facts. And it’s not possible that they are not aware, or that this is not a purposeful attempt to skew, or prevent people from understanding the bigger picture.
MITCHELL: Dr. Winkenwerder denies the Pentagon’s hiding anything.
WINKENWERDER: We certainly are not seeking to keep any information from the public that would be helpful to people to know.
MITCHELL: But, Winkenwerder says he’s worried the larger casualty number might be misunderstood.
WINKENWERDER: When you release information, present information, I think it’s important that there be some context for that information so that people understand what does it mean.
MITCHELL: What would that context be?
WINKENWERDER: Well, probably one of the appropriate reference points would be, well, at what rate did people get sick or injured when they’re not deployed? And we’d have to dig those statistics out. I can’t give that to you right off the top of my head.
MITCHELL: But despite repeated requests, the Pentagon failed to provide that information. In the end, these numbers represent lives.
BREWER: It’s touched my heart forever to see what I see. To see young men and women, really our sons and daughters, that are fighting for our freedom that are over there that are paying the ultimate sacrifice.
And they come back with many issues. And I believe as an American we have an obligation to address those things.
MITCHELL: Hopefully, Denver Jones will be back to his life soon, with his family in Caldwell County, North Carolina.
But he doesn’t expect he’ll be able to return to his job as a mechanic.
It was a good job, earning him about 65 thousand dollars a year. Now, he’ll be lucky if he gets close to half of that from his military disability pay.
JONES: I have a lot of deep-seated feelings of failure and what I’m gonna do with my life now.
MITCHELL: Feelings of failure, you said.
MITCHELL: What would you have possibly failed at?
JONES: Providing for my family.
MITCHELL: For now, Denver Jones has come to a sort of peace with his injuries.
JONES: But I don’t have any regrets for what’s happened to me. I mean, that’s one of the casualties of war.
MITCHELL: But he wants his sacrifice to count and he wants the Pentagon to count it.
BRANCACCIO: We want to turn now to the human costs of another war on another continent.
At this moment, a humanitarian crisis of staggering proportions is unfolding in Africa. The people of western Sudan say their own government has declared war on them. Hundreds of thousands are on the run and now international relief groups say as many as a million people are at risk of starvation and death. And most of us have barely heard about it.
These Sudanese refugees — all Muslims — have no place else to turn. Civil war has forced more than 100,000 of them to flee their homes for the desperate existence found in this and other refugee camps.
They came in droves, by foot and on donkeys, through the windswept desert of Sudan to these makeshift refugee camps in the neighboring country of Chad. They came from the western Sudanese region of Darfur. Over a million more have fled their homes and remain trapped in Darfur, where the United Nations reports a critical shortage of food, water and shelter for the vast majority of the population.
Human rights groups have raised a worldwide alarm. They call the situation in Darfur ethnic cleansing, well on the way to genocide. Earlier this week veteran British journalist Julie Flint, on behalf of the group Human Rights Watch, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
FLINT: I spent 25 days in Darfur.
BRANCACCIO: She recently undertook a dangerous mission: she snuck into Darfur without government permission and spent a month conducting interviews, shooting video tape and surveying the destruction in Darfur.
FLINT: Women of all ages had been raped often in front of their husbands and children, and everything that made life possible, sustainable had been systematically destroyed.
BRANCACCIO: Flint, the Human Rights Watch team and others documented bodies of villagers and livestock… along with rows of mass graves like this one, scenes of total devastation.
I spoke to Julie Flint about what she saw while in Darfur.
You have been covering atrocities, war zones for 30 years. Where do you place Sudan, the current situation in the Darfur region in terms of the things you’ve seen in your career?
FLINT: It’s as bad as anything I’ve ever seen. There’s no doubt about that. I expected it to be bad when I went there, because of the very sporadic, scattered reports we were getting.
Information was still quite thin when I went in. But to my astonishment, I found a land which had no human life. It was completely empty. And that, in a way is as bad, it’s a land which is full of blood and war, it was just an empty land. All human life had been removed. And I found that profoundly shocking.
BRANCACCIO: How many villages did you see?
FLINT: I probably saw about 17. But it’s hard to move. I mean, I moved with a force of probably about 100 men. Some close to me. Some further out. Some in advance.
It’s a huge, Darfur — the size of Texas. It’s very hard to know what’s going on. And it’s very hard to be blanket. Because I think not every area, the war will not be the exactly the same in every area.
So, I basically selected a block. And I looked at the 60 square kilometer, 25 square mile block, which had 14 villages. And I visited all those villages but one. Eleven had been burned. And if there were huts remaining, it was a handful. All the others had gone.
BRANCACCIO: Let’s take a look at some of the video that you were able to record when you got into the Darfur region. What are we looking at here?
FLINT: That’s a village called Harewajip in the Masalit area of Darfur. And the Masalits are one of three African tribes that form the backbone of the rebels, the Sudan Liberation Army.
And they’re being systematically targeted by the government, and the pro-government militia fighting side by side, working hand in glove. I don’t know how many people died in that village. But it was completely empty. The mosque had been burned. I was told that Korans had been torn up and defecated on.
And everything that made life sustainable had been destroyed. There were a few huts, which were still standing, but food stores had been systematically broken, looted, destroyed.
Even the little glasses they used for drinking tea had been smashed. It was impossible to go back to that place.
BRANCACCIO: I see nobody there.
FLINT: No. Everybody has gone. Everybody has gone. What shocked me was that I was basically going to do a human rights report inside Darfur. I had to keep on crossing the border back to Chad. Because there was no one to speak to in Darfur, apart from rebels. I was there, in and out for 25 days.
BRANCACCIO: Everyone was either dead or driven out?
FLINT: Yes. I was there for 25 days. I saw 12 civilians, who were going back to their village, to dig up food stores they buried. People began burying their food a few months ago, knowing that they would be attacked, and their food would be looted. And they decided it was better to risk death, by going back to dig up their food, than to go begging along the border in Chad.
[VIDEO WITH VOICE OVER]
BRANCACCIO: In Chad, Julie Flint interviewed scores of refugees. One after one, they testified to the abuses they had witnessed and experienced.
Twelve-year-old Hussein fled with his family from Sudan after 27 of their fellow villagers were killed in Darfur. He reported that when he and some other kids saw soldiers, they hid behind a tree. The soldiers found them. Hussein was shot three times at close range, in the face, then in the arm, and then his leg. He says soldiers killed three of his friends, and wounded six others.
This man is an imam, a Muslim holy man. He confirms that armed gunmen have been swarming to villages and killing imams, destroying mosques, including his own, and burning copies of the Koran.
And who is attacking the black Sudanese Muslims? Arab Sudanese Muslims, allied with the Arab-dominated government. The government has inflicted harsh treatment for years on the blacks of Darfur, whom it considers inferior.
Last year, some — calling themselves the Sudanese Liberation Army — responded with a rag-tag rebellion, government forces attacked ruthlessly, and the attacks continues to this day. They are accompanied by fearsome allies: an armed Arab militia known as the Janjaweed has been terrorizing villages: swooping in like a murderous, medieval warrior horde.
The Janjaweed, these are Arab raiders, often on horseback, sometimes on camel who are…
FLINT: I wouldn’t call them raiders anymore.
BRANCACCIO: What would you call them?
FLINT: Well, the word, “Janjaweed,” has been used for a long time. And basically, it referred to a sort of a motley bunch of different groups, camel herders, encroaching on the farming lands of settled, African tribes.
And it was largely economic conflict.
But in the last few years, the Islamist government have harnessed these militias, who they know have pre-existing disputes with the settled, African farmers, and have used them, especially since the rebellion began, as counter insurgency militias. And what I found of which I’m absolutely certain is that the vast majority of these lethal attacks are done by government forces, and the so called Janjaweed forces, working together. These are no longer hit and run attacks by Arab nomads. They’re systematic attacks by the government and the militia, often with air support.
BRANCACCIO: So, you saw evidence, and from your interviews, that the government of the Sudan is working in concert with these Janjaweed?
FLINT: Yes. That was the most striking thing. I interviewed scores and scores of people, civilians, as well as rebels of course, and documented 14 instances of large scale killings in a six month period. Those weren’t the only instances of large scale killings. But they were the only ones I corroborated in the time I had.
BRANCACCIO: How many people?
FLINT: Almost 800 people died that I know of. There will be more. And in all but two of those instances, the Janjaweed and the government attacked together.
And the civilians said, “They’re partners now.” And I said to the chief of one village, the headman, “Why do you say they’re partners?” And he said, he looked surprised that I even asked. And said, “They arrived together. They fight together. And they leave together.”
BRANCACCIO: And you saw evidence in these villages of a systematic campaign, not just to wipe out the village, but really to prevent it, to make it impossible for people to ever return?
FLINT: Yes. It was striking that even in villages where some huts had not been burned, all food stores had been destroyed. In all the villages I visited, I didn’t find a single food store that hadn’t been completely destroyed. You can rebuild a hut. But if there’s no food, you can’t go back.
BRANCACCIO: And of course, in the spring, people plant. And then they eat that later in the year.
FLINT: It’s not possible. And now they’re all displaced. And even if they’re too late for next season planting at this stage as well. No, we’re going to need a year and a half of emergency aid at best.
BRANCACCIO: To make up for the harvest that will never come?
FLINT: Yes. If you get them back to their homes. First of all, you have to get them back to their homes, in safety, and enable them to plant, and harvest in safety. And they can’t do that while the Janjaweed are roaming about, hand in glove with the government.
BRANCACCIO: If you take a look at more of your film here, we have what are we looking at?
FLINT: You’re looking at rebels of the Sudan Liberation. The vast majority of the rebels I met were people who had been burned out of their homes. Men of 30, 40 even 50, plus members of the Sudan Army and police. For example, I met a lovely man, an African, who had been in the Sudanese Army for 22 years. He’d stayed in the Army despite the fact that his Arab colleagues were promoted, got pay raises. He didn’t. He stayed as a bog standard soldier, while the Arabs were promoted.
But when the Army came, burned his village, killed a number of people including his brother, he left, and he joined the rebels. Similarly, I found policemen in the same situation. My translator was a lawyer, who had lived in Khartoum, who lost nine members of his family, dead and wounded when the government bombed the town. I met a doctor, whose clinic had been burnt by the government. It was an interesting group of people.
BRANCACCIO: And these members of the Sudan Liberation Army served as your entree into this area?
FLINT: They did. I had no other way to get in. And also, because civilians often know a very small part of the overall picture, and because many civilians would go and meet the commander of the SLA simply to tell him what had been happening in his area, because past possibly, their sons, their relatives would… having been burnt out, were now in the Army. He had a good, overall picture. The rebels had a good, overall picture.
I then verified that picture by going without armed men, to speak to the civilians in Chad. But the civilians in Chad could give me very small pictures. I wanted to try to get the big picture, which I’m sure I got. I have no doubt.
BRANCACCIO: One term being used here is ethnic cleansing. From what you’ve seen, is that accurate?
FLINT: Oh, definitely. The countryside is empty. There’s nobody there. It has been ethnically cleansed.
BRANCACCIO: What about the international community. You don’t really see, for instance, the United Nations breathing fire everyday about this humanitarian crisis.
FLINT: The United Nations initially led the way. They made some very strong statements. Kofi Annan, a while ago, on the tenth anniversary of Rwanda made some very strong statements suggesting that military intervention might be needed. There have been some excellent reports by the U.N. from teams that have gone into government controlled areas and have reported on ethnic cleansing, mass burning, mass killing, extra-judicial execution.
Everything I have said from the rebel side, they have said from the government side. And one delegation said this: they had never seen such fear ever as the people of the African people of Darfur have of the Janjaweed. But certainly stronger United Nations’ action is needed.
It’s very important that at this time, when U.S. credibility in some parts of the world is not high because of Iraq that the U.N. is seen to take a very strong leadership role here. Something has to be done quickly. It’s not necessary that 300,000 people die.
There are things that can be done, air drops, cross-border access, much greater pressure on the government of Sudan. We know who the war criminals are.
And these as Human Rights Watch said are crimes against humanity. The Sudanese government reacts to pressure. One thing that could and should be done is to draw up a list and details of the people responsible for the grave abuses, crimes against humanity in Sudan, to bring them to justice, all possible pressure on the government of Sudan to stop playing games with relief access.
BRANCACCIO: Why is it not being done? That’s the part I don’t understand. You make a very good case. And it’s happening before our eyes. What is slowing down the European response, the U.N. response, maybe the U.S. response.
FLINT: There is a fear that excessive, unwelcome, emphasis on Darfur could still derail the north-south peace.
[VIDEO WITH VOICE OVER FROM BRANCACCIO]
That “north-south peace” involves yet another Sudanese civil war, this one between the Arab Muslim north, and the mostly Christian South. This war raged for over two decades, taking two million lives before a peace treaty was concluded just last month. But the hard-earned peace between the north and south remains extremely fragile.
BRANCACCIO: The international community’s worked really hard to try to establish some peace in the other Sudanese conflict.
FLINT: Yes, absolutely, a lot of energy’s been invested in the north-south peace. And whether it proves lasting or not it’s a great respite for the people of the south. And many countries, especially in Europe, fear that this peace might fall apart if too much pressure is put on the government of Sudan.
I think there are indications that the U.S. is no longer of that opinion and think it necessary to make peace in Darfur even if this jeopardizes peace in the south. But you can’t have peace in the south on the backs of the people of Darfur. But there are other reasons, I think, for the lack of action.
The press were very slow in getting onto this. And I think quicker and better reporting of Darfur might have prompted quicker action. As so often, it’s only when you get to the stage of babies dying that the press are interested. When you have disaster pornography photos on television of dying people that the press gets involved.
BRANCACCIO: You call it disaster pornography?
FLINT: Yes, I mean, I’ve been writing about Darfur since August 2002. It was there. It was happening. It was possible to do.
It wasn’t reported on. So, the relative silence of the press and the emphasis of the international community on let’s have a foreign policy success in southern Sudan conspired to cast a blanket of silence over Darfur. And of course, there’s also coming back to the fact that it’s very hard to get in there. The government simply doesn’t let you view what’s happening. So, you have to be quite inventive.
BRANCACCIO: Well, I know some other very intrepid reporters who’ve tried. And there they are arrayed along the Chad border with the Sudan. They can’t get in. You did?
FLINT: You walk across a valley. It’s easy. Sorry, it’s really easy. I’d like to tell you I’m a heroine. It’s not. It’s easy.
BRANCACCIO: And so many lives are at stake that these are perhaps risk the media should take?
FLINT: Definitely yes, definitely, the attention is welcome now. But it’s late.
BRANCACCIO: U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell refused to be draw in recent days about whether or not what’s going on in the Darfur region counts as genocide. He wouldn’t really engage the term. He didn’t rule it out. What do you think? Has this risen to that level? Do we have a Rwanda on our hands possibly?
FLINT: I have to say I really don’t like this emphasis on labeling. If whoever decides it’s not genocide, does that mean one doesn’t act? I don’t like it.
BRANCACCIO: Well, the argument is with that label, it might help rivet international attention, and motivate the international community to take stronger action.
FLINT: Anything which does that, frankly has to be welcomed. So much time has been lost. The best-case scenario now, I believe is 350,000 people will die this year.
And we’re not talking about fresh conflict. We’re talking about death and disease.
BRANCACCIO: Julie Flint, thank you very much.
FLINT: You’re welcome.
BRANCACCIO: One of the things that keeps political strategists up late at night is trying to figure out what motivates young people, including young Hispanics and African-Americans. Many will be voting for the first time in November. In a poll conducted by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found one-third of African-American voters between the ages of 18 and 25 identify themselves as Independents.
So much at stake, both Republicans and Democrats are trying to divine what issues really matter to this large block of voters. One place to start is the National Hip-Hop Convention now underway in Newark, New Jersey. Artists, activists and veteran organizers hope to mobilize a new generation of young people to political action.
Thousands are taking part. And to earn a seat, a delegate had to register at least 50 people to vote. Our next guest addressed the convention yesterday. Michael Eric Dyson has been pulling together the strands of culture, analysis and activism for a long time. He’s the author of ten books on the black experience, religious thought, philosophy and music as it reflects our culture.
His latest is called MERCY, MERCY ME: THE ART, LOVES AND DEMONS OF MARVIN GAYE. The WASHINGTON POST calls him a superstar professor. He now teaches at the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Dyson also has street cred. He grew up in Detroit, became a teen father, spent two years on welfare and worked in factory jobs before starting college at the age of 21. Professor Dyson, thanks for joining us.
DYSON: Thank you for having me.
BRANCACCIO: Now, you hear that younger people are disconnected from the political process. What’d you see at the Hip-Hop Convention? Any sparks of activism there?
DYSON: Sure. Well, there’s a great hunger among young people to be connected to their political process, especially if it can be proved that that political process has something good for them. That is their investment, their stakes in the system can repay them and reward them with sufficient bonuses, benefits and incredible payoffs.
Now, the hip-hop community says, “We want to use all these billions of dollars, $10 billion industry, and try to leverage some authority.”
And they’re trying to figure out does that mean Bush, does that mean Kerry? Or can it be some Independent person like Nader.
BRANCACCIO: That may in itself come as shocking to some people. The notion that they identify many of them as Independents. Not as Democrats.
DYSON: Right. Well, you know, you have to remember, for this hip-hop generation, those people born, say, roughly after 1965, that for them, the Democratic Party doesn’t have the vaunted history and the legendary appeal that it holds for people my age, 45 and older. Where we, of course, are frustrated by the continual volleyball between the Democrats and the Republicans.
But they don’t even have that historical memory. That institutional memory that says the Democrats have been on the side of African-American people at least ostensibly. And that our interests are connected to them. These young people say, “Look, we see that there is little difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. We’re trying to figure out where to fit in.”
As they say in hip-hop, “Get in where we fit in.” We’re trying to figure out who has a bigger space for us. Whose tent accommodates us. And how can we leverage the authority we’ve accumulated culturally to make sure that the interests we have interests for poor people.
So, when you think about this culture, they are certainly intensely interested in figuring out their relationship to the political process. And one of the advantages of being neophytes, so to speak, is that they come with a fresh view. The downside could be that they don’t have the historical arguments in place to know where the bodies are buried and figure out how they can get in.
BRANCACCIO: Who has to move further? Maybe the politicians, those running for office, need to move a little bit towards this population instead of asking people gathered for this convention to read history and start to understand things more.
DYSON: Well, true. Well, on the one hand, that we presuppose that some of these people haven’t already grasped the necessity for reading their history. Some of the most interesting and brilliant insights, historically and theoretically in that culture, come from those artists who are politically attuned.
I wrote a book on Tupac Shakur, HOLLER IF YOU HEAR ME. And he was the son of a Black Panther. And here was a guy who could talk about partying. He could talk about getting cars. But he also said, “Just the other day I got lynched by some crooked cops. And to this day, them same cops on the beat get major pay. But when I get my check, they’re taking taxes out so we’ve got to pay the cops to knock the blacks out.”
He said, “Look, you’re subsidizing your own oppression. Let’s stop that.” So, I think that there’s already a political base… legendary figures like Chuck D back in the late ’80s who talked about the necessity for black people to be mobilized.
And now, even in our own day, Lauryn Hill, Mos Def, Bahamadia, these are all artists who have been arguing for the political consciousness of young people to be raised. And this is another thing that’s quite interesting when you make the point about crossover. What hip-hop has proved is that young people have created a culture where the bigs, the big companies, the big cultural figures, have to come over to their side.
Unlike their predecessors in the Civil Rights generation who figured out how to be integrated into the larger circle of American privilege, they have created such a synergy of culture and charisma in their particular culture that they are now forcing people to take them seriously. John Kerry and George Bush at least have to bid an acknowledgement to this incredibly powerful culture. And how they are now becoming mobilized. So, yeah, I think it’s some give and take on both sides. But certainly they are a constituency which should not be overlooked.
BRANCACCIO: I’m sure you saw this. The legendary entertainer, Dr. Bill Cosby speaking last month at a 50th anniversary commemoration of Brown versus Board of Education.
BRANCACCIO: And he had some very pointed words about the culture of poor people, really. He said, this is part of the quote, “They’re standing on the corner and they can’t speak English. ‘Why you ain’t? Where you is?’ And I blame the kid until I heard the mother talk. And then I heard the father talk. Everybody knows it’s important to speak English except these knuckleheads. You can’t be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth,” Dr. Cosby said. What are we to make of that?
DYSON: Well, I think that first of all, Dr. Cosby has earned his right to speak his mind because he has put his money where his mouth is.
BRANCACCIO: Given a lot of money to historically black colleges, for instance.
DYSON: Absolutely. His philanthropy is remarkable. His record of commitment to these communities, especially since he emerged from one, is quite remarkable. I made some equally tough remarks in response to Dr. Cosby in THE NEW YORK TIMES where I talked about those remarks as being classist and elitist and betraying a generational warfare that is being prosecuted in African-American culture.
I think since that time, both Dr. Cosby and I reflect upon the fact that we’re on the same side even though I choose to use a different approach to trying to get at some of these issues. There’s no question that poor people are and have been responsible for their lives. Most poor people are.
One of the remarkable features of American life is the fact that these people, despite the economic and social misery to which they have been subject to which Dr. Cosby was subject and so was I, have been able to make it. Have pulled upon spiritual resources. Have pulled upon intellectual and social supports that allowed them, despite their misery, to live a good life, to become morally sophisticated and to be able to call upon a God, whether in a church, a temple or synagogue and the like.
I think there is a war on poor people in America beyond Dr. Cosby’s comments in two ways. There’s a class divide in black America between the have-gots and the have-nots. I’m not suggesting that all criticisms of poor people emerge from those who are upwardly mobile like myself. Or upper middle class and above.
Because the many of the severest critiques against poor people come from within. But having said that, there is a class divide that is huge in this country between those who are permanently poor. Or what sociologists term the ghetto poor. And those who have been able to make it.
And I think that there is a bit of afro-amnesia. A kind of black forgetfulness about the conditions and circumstances to which these people have been subject. I am part of that generation that was subjected to that economically.
Number two, there is a generational divide between Martin Luther King, Jr. and Snoop Doggy Dog. And people are trying to figure out is this what we marched for? Did we actually engage in the sustained struggle against white supremacy, economic inequality and social injustice to see a rapper talk about pimping? Of course, that would be quite ludicrous to those people and even egregious.
BRANCACCIO: And you saw it played out over at the Hip-Hop Convention, right?
DYSON: Oh, no question about it.
BRANCACCIO: The generational tension.
DYSON: There is a huge generational tension even among those, say, black power figures, among Civil Rights figures. And against those people within the hip-hop generation. What’s interesting, there is solidarity forged between Civil Rights and black powers which were sometimes at each other’s throats in their consternation with this young generation.
The huge generational divide reinforces the fact that we have to learn on both sides. Younger people need to appreciate what older people have done to make sure that the path of the progress has been cleared. But older people need to also take note of the different circumstances.
Even to Dr. Cosby I would suggest there’s a different circumstance of poverty for people now when you have outsourcing and downsizing that creates a gulf even in the middle class between, you know, a paycheck and living well and being on the welfare line. So, the point is that global capitalism has really shrunk the resources for poor people.
So, we can’t just simply blame them for not doing the right thing. I would like to see Dr. Cosby and me join forces to say let’s deal with the issues that really confront poor people. Not simply buying Rims or, you know, using their disposable income to buy a pair of shoes as opposed to Hooked on Phonics. What about the social economic and political misery to which they are subject that makes those trinkets look desirable?
It’s not that we can’t be critical of the kind of commercialization of young culture. But at the same time… and of poor culture. But we gotta figure out a way not to simply blame them and beat up on them. And I think we need to focus on them as opposed to lamenting or at least lambasting those people who are poor.
BRANCACCIO: With those crucial issues out there, who are these younger people gonna ultimately vote for? Juan Williams, the NPR commentator also works for Fox News Channel, was writing about this the other day.
BRANCACCIO: And he thinks that there’s a chance, if he plays it right, for President George W. Bush to grab some African-American votes.
DYSON: Well, if he plays it right. He’s certainly… that is, Mr. Bush or the Republican Party, more broadly, has Don King to help with the black vote now.
BRANCACCIO: The legendary fight promoter.
DYSON: The legendary fight promoter. So, I guess they figure they’re into a bigger pugilistic contest than who wins the heavyweight championship. But I think that black people are more savvy than that. I think they’re more sophisticated.
I think that George Bush has to prove himself as the end of Mr. William’s commentary in THE NEW YORK TIMES. He said, “But he’s gotta want to.” That’s the critical point. Of course, any of these candidates could have a huge black vote if they wanted to.
And wanting to is not simply having a desire in abstraction or in a vacuum. Wanting to means getting out in the streets, seeing the real conditions that these people suffer from and trying to address them. Of course, were Mr. Bush to have that kind of inclination and not to be in retrogressive begrudgement of black voters for not standing with him in the last election.
Well, get over that. The reality is, is that black people have suffered enormous infamous crimes against them and disrespect from the Republican Party and being taken for granted from the Democratic Party. So, yes, the times are pregnant for such an intervention. But I doubt whether the Republican Party will be able to really exercise their influence.
Here’s where they will have a foothold. And that’s on these political conservative and morally centrist concerns. Gay marriage. They might be able to wedge a few votes out of that. Black people for that, you know, any time you can throw Jesus’s name into something and say, “Oh, it’s against the Bible and it’s terrible,” and me being an ordained Baptist minister, trust me, I’ve seen this routine more than once.
Some people are able to extract some kind of commitment. But, by and large, if political leadership among African-American people is up to snuff, and that’s the question, especially in these black churches where most ministers are now concerned about the same thing that Dr. Cosby and others will be critical of the hip-hop culture for. The bling-bling, the cameras, the lights, the action of diamonds and furs and cars.
The conspicuous consumption that is being justified theologically in many black churches, quite frankly is no different than Jay-Z saying “When the Remmy is in the system, ain’t no telling will I love them or will I diss them.” Which simply means that I’m gonna get, you know, get some wine out here, get some diamonds and have a good time with my girlfriend.
So, the point is that the huge cultural divide there allows Mr. Bush to exploit the moral center by saying, “Look, I’m against gay marriage. I know you black people are. I’m for vouchers and I know many of you black people are.” So, if he can use those wedge issues culturally, he might be able to translate them to political…
BRANCACCIO: He’s also done very well with appointments of African-Americans to very powerful high positions in government.
DYSON: No question. And I think this reinforces the fact that black people have always understood it’s about the political and moral contents of who we are as human beings, not simply about race. Because if you have some black people in office who don’t represent the majority of African-American people.
If Mr. Bush got about what? Less than seven percent of the vote I think last time around. Then the black people he’s appointed to high office don’t necessarily represent the 94 percent of the people who were left behind. Colin Powell has tremendous, not only face recognition and name recognition, but support as a human being of high character in African-American communities.
But people have been critical of his association with the Bush Administration, especially Condoleezza Rice whose forthright, aggressive hawk stands have contradicted some of the more peaceful practices of the Civil Rights community from which she emerged and from African-American communities.
But I think that black people understand that appointing black faces to high places don’t represent the race. You’ve got to deal with the issue behind the scenes. Just making a few black millionaires, so to speak, or a few black politicians the recipients of your noblesse oblige doesn’t speak to the issues that everyday black people have to confront.
BRANCACCIO: Now, the Hip-Hop Convention, I didn’t see either President Bush or John Kerry on the list of speakers. It might have been a place that they should have shown up for at least to engage in an important dialogue.
DYSON: No question. And it would have been a good place to show up just to suggest that this is an extraordinary thing, first of all. Something like 4,000 people there. 3,000 of whom registered 1,000 delegates at a hip-hop convention. Hip-hop coming to maturity. All the criticisms being launched against it.
Oh, you’re not political enough. You’re not concerned enough. You’re only concerned about diamonds and cars and rims and shoes. Now, they want to leverage their authority and to use that political authority in ways that are helpful to their constituencies.
Of course, Mr. Kerry and Mr. Bush should have been there and could have had a huge advance I think in their in-roads into that community. Because that is a very vote-rich community. And if this is the first time many of them are being registered and subsequently will vote, they’re there for the taking.
And if, as Juan Williams says, they have the desire. And that’s a very critical reason that they were not there. I think they lack the sufficient desire to move beyond rhetoric to reality. Beyond slogans to substance.
BRANCACCIO: Professor Dyson’s latest book is MERCY, MERCY ME: THE ART, LOVES AND DEMONS OF MARVIN GAYE. Michael Eric Dyson, University of Pennsylvania, thank you very much.
DYSON: Thanks for having me.
BRANCACCIO: That’s it for NOW. We’ll be back next week. I’m David Brancaccio. Thanks for joining us.
This transcript was entered on August 20, 2015.