More Civilian Deaths in México than in Afghanistan and Irak combined between 2007-2014: The War on Drugs.

As Frontline reports, there were more civilian deaths between the intervall of 2007-2014 in Méxcio within its current domestic political context of the War On Drugs, than in the same period in officially declared international war zones Afghanistan and Irak taken together. Frontline, a public broadcast service (PBS) policital documentary series in the USA, pointed out this relationship by referencing a recent release of the Mexican government of numbers of deaths in their country.

Méxican political magazine Sin Embargo commented on this with a headline saying: The war is neither in Afghanistan nor in Irak, México has more deaths.

imagen 305México has found itself in a constant and everyday battle against the organized crime for a long time. Various gangs and cartels conducting drug transfers, trade of persons, and fights over the regional dominance in the USA, México and great parts of Central and South America cause a climate of terror, fear, violence and oppression. While the comparisn of these numbers obviously doesn’t intend to ridicule the suffering and deaths in war states in the middle east, the fact that, without the same attention of media and press (even less in Europe!), what is happening in México has, for a long time, more than reached the proportions of an inner-country war, is more than alarming. Once more, it raises the quesiton where the interests of the people in charge lie, if this isn’t a proper issue to be taken care of.

The foto shows a fence on top of one of the border bridges connecting Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, and El Paso, TX, leading over the Rio Bravo. Border regions are of high interests for the organized crime groups who are transfering drugs, weapons and people from or into the US.


Tl, dnr: According to Mexican governmental data, the number of civilian deaths during 2007-2014 in México has outreached the combined number of civilian deaths in officially declared international war zones Afghanistan and Irak.


Aprox. 40% of war zone-escaping asylum-seekers suffer from PTSD

According to data from the German Federal Chamber of Psychotherapists, about 40% of the asylum-seekers entering Germany suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The prevalence of this condition stems from the experience of a huge number of stressful and traumatic events they experienced a.) in their homeland, under the conditions of war, violence, poverty and various kinds of deprivation and b.) during their flight to a safer country, including harassment, stigmatization and persecution.

Commemorating the World Refugees Day on June 20th, that was installed by the United Nations General Assembly in 2001, the Federal Chamber of Psychotherapists released a press statement demanding amends in the treatment of refugees seeking asylum in Germany.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is one of the few mental disorders where the influence of an external life event by definition is a causal (or etiological) factor for developing the disorder. Symptoms include hyperarousal, hyper-vigilance, impaired memories of the traumatic event while at the same time experiencing intrusive memories of certain aspects, to the point of full-blown flashbacks.

Eptsd beitragsbild2tiological models of PTSD state that the intensified neurobiological stress reaction during the traumatic situation impairs the encoding of episodic memory aspects, which later on leads to an impaired memory recall. As a result, in certain situations affected people aren’t able to distinguish between the memory of the past traumatic event and the perception of a present situation. When triggered, they repeatedly feel caught in the perception of an immediately impending thread, just as it was during their traumatic experience, again and again during their everyday life. This means that even when these people escaped the lifethreatening situations they experienced, the terror of fearing for their life stays in their minds, not just as a memory, but as actually present.

As the research of Neuner and colleagues shows, there is a strong connection between the number of experienced traumatic event types and the development of PTSD symptoms. In a sample of West Nile Refugees, they found that while 23% people reporting three or less traumatic events types developed an PTSD, it was 100% of the people who reported 28 or more traumatic event types showed the symptoms of the disorder. Therefore they conclude: (…) if the cumulative exposure to traumatic events is high enough, these results indicate that anybody will develop chronic PTSD. We conclude that there is no ultimate resilience to traumatic stress (…). In other words: The development of this mental illness for these people does not depend on any individual factors as their growing up or mental state. At some point, experiencing too many of these kind of situations WILL lead to the onset of this illness.

These findings are of high relevance especially in the context of refugees escaping from war zones, as they are most probable to have been exposed to a variety of different types of traumatic events (violence, persecution, witnessing of killed or dying people, assaults, rape, and others).

Sources & further literature:

Gäbel, U., Ruf., M., Schauer, M., Odenwald, M. & Neuner, F. (2006). Prävalenz der Posttraumatischen Belastungsstörung (PTSD) und Möglichkeiten der Ermittlung in der Asylverfahrenspraxis (Prevalence of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder among asylum seekers in Germany and its detection in the application process for asylum). Zeitschrift für Klinische Psychologie und Psychotherapie, 35 (1), 12-20.

Neuner, F., Schauer, M., Karunakara, U., Klaschik, C., Robert, C. & Elbert, T. (2006). Psychological trauma and evidence for enhanced vulnerability for posttraumatic stress disorder through previous trauma among West Nile refugees. BMC Psychiatry, 4 (34), full text availiable online

Spiegel: Gewalt in Flüchtlingsheimen: Traumatisiert und eingepfercht (German article describing the tensions in asylum-seeker camps due to their mental strass and acommodation conditions)

Spiegel: Therapie für traumatisierte Asylbewerber: „Ich kann leider nichts für Sie tun“ (German article dealing with the extremely limited possibilites to treat traumaticed asylum-seekers)

Is the Ugly German Back? Flames of Hate Haunt a Nation (English article on the violence attacks on asylum-seeker camps and shelters.

Tl, dnr:
Refugees and asylum-seekers are an incredibly vulnerable population, escaping from circumstances that not only threatened their physical but also their mental health. This has to be considered in the procedures and treatments they receive when looking for a safe place to stay.

GoodKill (Movie-Review) – On Survivor Guilt & ‘Proportionate Strikes’ via Joysticks

The movie GoodKill follows a military pilot fighter (Ethan Hawke) returning from combat zone to his home near Las Vegas, Nevada. While experiencing an emerging survivor guilt, his military unit at home begins to operate unmanned drones in Afghanistan in order to eliminate possible terrorists. By following the protagonist reflecting on the moral justification of his doings, the movie shines light on the subjective experiences of the people who work as soldiers in order to protect their country.

There’s a certain group of people who go to the military because it seems to be the most promising option for their future. If there aren’t enough resources at their home – neither in their families, their social class or their homeland –, enterying the military appears advantageous. It does not only free their families from a burden – the military offers them money, an education, and job perspectives – but at the same time, it also provides them a huge moral incentive and purpose for their lives, an increase of reputation: to serve their homeland. The whole concept of entering the military is deeply morally charged for them on various levels.

In the case of GoodKills protagonist, the viewer doesn‘t exactly know the previous history of Major Thomas Egan. What we do know is, that he’s having troubles because he feels that this moral justification is questioned by the change of type of the missions he is participating in. Having been a fighter pilot in combat zones, the fact that he was risking his own life fighting, and maybe (purely speculative) thinking that his enemies had fairer chances in the conflict of killing or being killed, gave him a moral justification to do what he was ordered to do.

In this new scenario, where he is sitting with his military unit in an airconditined container somewhere in the surroundings of Las Vegas, Nevada, this moral justification is taken away from him. There are various sarcastic comments about shooting people, finishing at business hours and getting home to the wife and kids to have barbecues, or various allusions to joysticks, or first person shooter video games. What for the other combatants is a joke, in Thomas Egans eyes, these comments only enforce his scepticism and amplify his survivor guilt.

Additionally to this change of the location of the operations, there is a change of command in the unit of Egan. His superior describes it with the words: They [the CIA] progressed from what they like to call a personality strike, where we know for sure that our target is a fucking bad guy. Now they’ve come up with something that they call a signature strike. What that fucking means is, that it is a hit based not on a suspicion of guilt, but on a pattern of behavior. So you may be called upon to fire at any dumb in Warziristan who is carrying an AK 47. Even though we all know that everyone and their mother in Waziristan carries an AK 47.

goodkill1The most striking term in this quote is a pattern of behavior, an allusion to psychological research and statistical analyses. One of the most basic forms of statistical analyses of behavior (and one of the most used) is linear regression. By using mathematical means in order to make the best possible prediction about the connection of two variables with each other, it is tried to find the best mathematical method of connecting them via a line. In other words: How can we find out certain aspects or behaviors of persons, that, in the past, were linked with other persons who commited terrorist acts, in order to identify future terrorists? Which statistical variables (carrying a gun, visiting a certain house, to be of a certain age, gender, political opinion) have the best predictive value in order to predict whether a specific person will commit a terrorist act? I’m pretty sure that the CIA will have advanced methods of data analysis then the pretty simple linear regression analyses. But still: These statistical analyses only can indicate relationships (based on past data), not causalities. Statistical analyses implicate relationships based on numbers and figures, not on aspects of the content of the variable.

In this context, the military language in this movie is also remarkable. Targets, proportionate strikes – these terms seem (and intend) to express that the decisions that are made – which are human, evaluations of impending danger, subjective interpretations based on statistical data – rather appear as objective, even scientific statements, in order to reduce or distribute the individual subjective responsibility for the actions. It is implied that these decisions stem from a scientific certainty. But this certainty does not exist. And Major Thomas Egan begins to get a notion of this.

goodkill2It is so easy to judge on the basis of a Hollywood movie. I’m not saying that the movie is a realistic depiction of what is going on – I’m not in an informed position to judge (and yet I’m supposed to be an informed voter on similar topics in my country). Especially the characteristics of modern warfare- without announcements, no confrontation of two identifiable professional armys, but paramilitary groups acting in spontaneous and desorganized ways, not distinguishing between military and civil population –  have to be taken into consideration. One might just as well dismiss the whole movie as an anti-war hippie leftist intellectual feelgood movie, or an populist conciliation movie for the guilt-feeling audience to have something to be upset about (and then go on with their everyday life, reliefed for the feeling that – at least – they reflected critically on the topic). And I wouldn’t exclude myself from that.

But what this movie illustrates imho is not only the question of war, the question of whether there is a concept like a „just war“, or „proportionate actions“. To me, on the one hand it’s about how authority, the use of de-subjectivication, the pretense, that science is absolutely objective, are used in the movie in order to manipulate people. On the other hand, it’s about the deeply subjective perception of an individual standing in the middle of so much noise, so much information, and so little certainty. Trying to make sense of it, and trying to find a position of his own.

To find more information about the actual practise of drone strikes in the USA, check out the New York Times article from earlier this year.

Another detailed review of GoodKill can be found here.

tl; dnr
GoodKill offers reflections on the use of scientific findings in the context of war, on the way military language tries to reason subjective decisions with allegedly objective scientific certainties, and how the wish to identify with his job on a moral level affects an individual soldier.

Sources images:

The Salt Of The Earth (Sebastião Salgado)

„I learned one thing. Having a photographer in front of my camera, it is very different from shooting everyone else. Not standing still, doing himself. No. For professional bias, react and respond, using his weapon, his camera – he shoots back. In this case, it was not just me, fotographing. Two of us had a target.“

(Wim Wenders on filming with Sebastião Salgado)

A few weeks ago I went to an Open Air Screening of The Salt Of The Earth, an excellent documentary on the life and work of Brasilian photographer and photojournalist Sebastião Salgado.

The-Salt-of-the-Earth.aspxThe movie depicts various phases of his career that he dedicated to various social, political and human topics (famine, migration, war). After having shot war photography for various decades, he found himself in a state of desperation and resignation. It was not until he began to concentrate on nature photography and capturing untouched, intact natural landscapes all over the world, that he found a new sense of purpose for his work. Since then, his most recent work intends to appeal to the world to protect these places (one example for this is his recent exhibition Genesis in c/o Berlin.

As if that wasn’t already enough of intensity, the movie was co-directed by German director Wim Wenders and Salgados son, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, who was present at the movie screening I attended. Even though it was never explicitly stated neither in his personal and candid introduction nor in the movie, I got the sense that this project was not only to pay tribute to his father. It seemed to be the project of a son in search of his father, the man that he (not least for his fathers job) never really knew. As Juliano Salgado says: “For me, there is Dad and there is Sebastião; the photographer and the guy at home,” (…) “I had a grudge and a problem with the guy at home, but I always admired the photographer.” (Source:

Wim Wenders documentary The Salt Of The Earth does not only depict Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgados life and his career change from social war photography to environmental activism, but also hints at the consequences his job had concerning the relationship to his son and co-director Juliano.

(Source Poster: © Sebastião SALGADO / Amazonas images //