Yellow Birds: a stunning tale of American soldiers in Iraq

Renewed involvement of US military might in Iraq must have been one of the tougher decision President Obama ever made. Insistently limiting the intervention to airstrikes but pledging not to send ground troops gives a measure of the balance of pros and cons he must have considered before relinquishing his promise to the American people to pull out of Iraq. I believe he does not want ground service men to endure the ordeal of private Bartle, the central character of Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers, trying in vain to prevent his platoon sergeant bullet riddle a car driven by an elderly man, with an old women in the backseat.
I stumbled over Yellow Birds by accident, After the first few lines I was hooked. The words cast the shadow of a threat that became more envasive as I turned the pages. Kevin Powers engulfs the reader in a powerfully written literary adventure that journeys between Bartle’s native Virginia, Iraq and the transit in Germany on his way home. The strenuous military training has taught him to manipulate weapons, to run for cover, to respond to orders, but has left him unprepared for the warfare he encounters. This is the focal point of the drama. The literary palette changes as the story moves between Virginia, Iraq and Germany. The change of tonality underscores Bartle‚Äôs mental disorientation. A few rapid brushstrokes suffice to bring alive the Virginian hometown. The reader hears the leaves quivering in the wind; he feels the caress of the water flowing in the creek; he smells the changing seasons and he walks with Bartle in the town store to buy cigarettes and beer. The German episode has the tone of a surrealistic dream as guilt haunted Bartle visits a church and a brothel. The scenery in Iraq is a grotesque abstraction of threatening targets. Towns, fields, orchards, people alive or dead bathe in sand and dust, hiding booby-traps, mortar fire and snipers. Killing and dying are casual events. Still, the gruesome culmination of the story opens the way to Bartle’s redemption. Yellow Birds has done to me what For Whom the Bell Tolls did to me half a century ago.


In a much celebrated poem, Victor Hugo recounts a war anecdote his father, a general in Napoleon’s, armies told. Accompanied by one of his aides, General Hugo surveys the battlefiled when he hears emerging from the dead bodies laying on the ground a feeble voice asking for a drink. He spots a badly wounded soldier from the defeated Spanish Army. Fetching his canteen from his horse’s saddle, he asks his aide to offer the wounded a drink. As the aide leans with the drink the Spaniard grabs his pistol and fires a shot at General Hugo barely missing him. Upon which General Hugo orders his aide: ” Give hin to drink anyway.” You can read the poem in the original French with an English translation at
This little story is a metaphore of Israel’s conduct of the Gaza conflict. As the battle rages it allows the supply of medecine. food, fuel, water, electricity to the supposedly besieged Gazans, without being able to control whether the goods are delivered to the population or to the combatants. A makeshift hospital was even set up to treat the wounded. Why does the UN Human Rights Council choose to ignore that Israel fulfills its compassionate humanitarian obligations toward the Gaza population?

Premonition come through

The first part of what I wrote in my premonition post has already become the current reality. Mortar shells were fired from Gaza onto Israeli territory before the cease-fire had expired. Hamas denied having fired. Escalation is now well underway. Mr. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon I hold you “accountable” for the future course of the conflict. Your one-sided diatribe on the casualties inflicted to UNWRA facilities fueled the Hamas rejection of any negotiated agreement.

From Gaza the deaths scoreboard

The August 6, 2014 edition of The New York Times – – analysizes the categorization of the Gaza death toll reports. The article includes Israeli estimates of the proportion of combatants among the victims. A quick look at the figures shows 16% children and 11% women among the casualties. These percentages are far below their percentages in the population. The statistics support Israel claim that strikes were selectively target against combatants.


The most potent weapon in the hands of Hamas is heralding the death toll that “Protective Edge” inflicted on Gaza as it provides an easy justification for a wall to wall condemnation of Israel and unleashes atavistic antisemitism. Israel’s sensitivity to World opinion and pressure by its large peacenik sector weakens its opportunities for resolving by negotiation the security issues that were the causes of the bloodshed. With this logic in mind, I believe renewal of the hostilities is not far away. It will start with mortar shelling or opening of a new tunnel by a so-called ” break away” group, with no or meek Israeli reprisal. The next step is a long range rocket salvo that draws Israeli fire. Escalation ensues toward the next cycle of “carnage”, cease fire, renewed rockets spiraling down into Dante’s inferno. My utmost wish, I am wrong.

More casualties and outrage

An airstrike aimed at a school sheltering refugees is a barbaric act. This statement implies a condemnation. Emerging from the reports: an airplane shot a missile, there was an explosion at the entrance of a school, 10 people died and many were injured. As long as the relation between these facts is not established casting a judgment is prejudicial. Beyond the inquiry to determine responsibility, I expect from the Israel Defense Forces to evaluate candidly whether the intended target justified the high risks of a tragic stray hit.
Regardless of what really happened in the UNWRA school, it remains an isolated event among the reported 1800 deaths and the extensive destruction by Israeli fire. Let’s not forget the ultimate responsibility for the suffering endured by the Gazans rests on Hamas who initiated the violence.

Nothing new under the Sun

Excerpt from Wikepedia’s description of the fall of Constantinople.
“After these inconclusive frontal offensives, the Ottomans sought to break through the walls by constructing underground tunnels in an effort to mine them from mid-May to 25 May. Many of the sappers were miners of German origin sent from Novo Brdo by the Serbian despot. They were placed under the command of Zagan Pasha. However, the Byzantines employed an engineer named Johannes Grant (who was said to be German but was probably Scottish), who had counter-mines dug, allowing Byzantine troops to enter the mines and kill the Turkish workers. The Byzantines intercepted the first Serbian tunnel on the night of 16 May. Subsequent tunnels were interrupted on 21, 23, and 25 May, and destroyed with Greek fire and vigorous combat. On 23 May, the Byzantines captured and tortured two Turkish officers, who revealed the location of all the Turkish tunnels, which were then destroyed.”