US Homeless Veterans – Anyone Cares to Talk about Them Now?

homeless-veteran-new-york-cityIt was in 2007. I was entering Washing DC when I saw at a signal a man standing with a placard. The message read, “I’M A HOMELESS VIETNAM WAR VETERAN.” I was literally shocked to see an American war hero begging for survival at the nerve centre of American/world politics. ‘Richest’ country in the world having their retired military personnel wandering around with a begging bowl!

First thing that suddenly occurred to me was the way India treats its men in uniform. When in service, they are moderately paid and under-equipped. However, after their retirement they are well-taken care of. Good service pension, good compensation if injured or deceased and monthly supplies including alcohol. They can also avail of military canteen where things including home appliances are available at a discounted rate. Besides, they are certainly to get a job, especially in companies that supply security personnel. They have reservation in government jobs. I have never seen a single Indian military retiree in a dire state like his American counterpart whom I mentioned above.

What I witnessed in the country’s capital was not a stray incident. US official statistics say there are as many as 200,000 homeless veterans who make up almost a quarter of the country’s homeless population. Majority of these people have served in the Vietnam war. While, some served in Korea or even World War II. Nearly, 2,000 served in Iraq or Afghanistan. These poor souls sleep under bridges, on grates, park benches and at bus stations. Some sleep in laundry rooms and wash themselves in fast food restrooms. All happening in the United States of America! Can you believe it?

Veterans’ homelessness became an issue during the presidential campaign. First raised by Democratic candidate John Edwards, it was talked about by Hillary Clinton and President-elect Barack Obama. Yeah, it was debated and discussed over and over and again. Now none talks about them. Everybody is busy bailing out the Wall Street and fixing the economy. And, the veterans – have they now become a forgotten entity?

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Israel, It’s Time to Change Your Course

gaza-24What happens when an animal of peace is cornered? It attempts a final life-saving charge. It doesn’t matter whether or not it succeeds. Nor does it matter, if it is an animal of prey or predator. For the animal, it is its last resort.  But, it might be fatal to those who corner it. Then, what if the animal is one of ferocity? The consequences might be far reaching and more dangerous. People in Palestine and Gaza are a cornered lot. In despair, they might resort to anything to save their lives. It might be a matter of time and resources. What if someone from the Middle East goes nuclear and crazily nukes Israel to elimination?

We learn from history that no people can be suppressed forever. If not today, tomorrow the will of the people will prevail. It will survive the crushing boots of soldiers, oncoming tanks and firing arms. As a community the Jews were persecuted almost all over the world, especially in Europe, for over two millennia. But, they survived all adversities, including the Nazis who avowed to eliminate Jews. They founded a nation on their success and their ability to survive. That is the will of the people. Now, at the receiving end are Muslims. Islam and Muslims have been made  synonyms for terrorism. Muslims everywhere are suspected to be linked to terrorism. Their lives are probed into, their businesses meticulously sabotaged in some places, and very conveniently they have been made look the very cause of all troubles in the world. Their telephones are tapped and privacy breached even in Western democracies. They are now the Jews in the Middle East. They are what the Jews had been in Europe.

When your continued bombardments kill innocent people, what would be the reaction of the relatives of the dead? It will be the same or graver than your reactions when terrorist rockets kill your people. You have the right and duty to protect the lives of your people, but not certainly at the high expense of Palestinians. Like yours, theirs is also an elected government. They have chosen Hamas to govern them. You should respect their right to choose their own government. And, like yours, the credibility of the Hamas government rests on their ability to defend its people.

You often forget that your deterrence is their provocation. Imagine a time of no food, water and electricity. Imagine a situation when you are frisked and your documents are checked whenever you move out of home. Imagine a situation where your land is walled out. If you can imagine these situations and step into the shoes of the sufferer of all these odds, you will stop – will stop all acts of violence and excesses.

Because, history shows your violence has never been effective to ensure peace. Nor has it brought down terrorist attacks on Israel. Your targeted assassinations and bombardments have rather aggravated violence and caused deaths of your own kin. Since the beginning of the second intifada in 2000, it has been a tit-for-tat situation.

For instance, your assassination of two leading Hamas militants in Nablus on July 31, 2001 ended a nearly two-month Hamas cease-fire, which in turn led to the terrible August 9 suicide bombing in a Jerusalem pizzeria. On July 22, 2002, just before your unilateral cease-fire declaration, you killed a senior Hamas leader, Salah Shehada, and fourteen civilians (nine of them children) in an air attack on a crowded apartment block in Gaza City. On August 4, there was a suicide bombing. On June 10, 2003, you attempted to kill senior Hamas leader Abdel-Aziz al-Rantisi, which wounded him and killed four Palestinian civilians. This led to a bus bombing in Jerusalem on June 11 that killed sixteen Israelis.

Yes, your violence begets more violence. It abets senseless fidayeen attacks. It is high time you realized the seed of all terrorism lies in aggression and occupation. Terror sprouts when freedom and basic human rights are denied.  Will it be wise to use words instead of arms, Israel? There is nothing that peaceful and sincere talks can’t resolve. You need to change the course, my dear friend – to attain peace.

Tunnel Dwellers in New York City

tunnel-dwellersIt is a parallel world hidden beneath the skyscrapers of New York City. Its population, called the ‘mole people’, is not a unified force now. They remain scattered in the urban wilderness of abandoned sewage lines and long-forgotten subway tunnels. Many of these homeless Vietnam-era veterans might walk among us on the deceitful ‘topside’ world. But, they prefer to live right under our feet. They are close to the city’s din and clamor, but find peace and tranquility in a fascinating labyrinth of eighteen levels of tunnels and 468 open or abandoned subway stations. Until a few years ago, before 9/11 to be exact, they were like an organized community. With the terror strike, city official began to tolerate the mole people less and cracked down on tunnel dwelling. Still sporadic homesteads are there in these gloomy bowels of the city, remnants of a subculture that spread under the city like a fantasy world. It is amazing to see how the human mind and body adapt to unfamiliar conditions and strange things.

Watch: ‘Dark Days’, an eye-opening documentary made by Marc Singer, who spent two years living with tunnel dwellers and became a part of the subculture.

Watch: ‘The Tunnel Dwellers of New York,’ a documentary by Chantal Lasbats, who travels through narrow portals into a maze of corridors and passageways to meet a few hardy denizens of this hidden world who continue to live there

Read: ‘Mole People: Life in the Tunnels beneath New York City’ by Jennifer Toth