Our veterans are much more economically diverse than most people imagine, says Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "They're not all broke and uneducated and from a housing project or trailer park." Himself a graduate of Amherst College and a former Wall Street employee, Rieckhoff served as an infantry platoon leader in Iraq from 2003 to 2004. Since then he has become an advocate for veterans' rights and a critic of the war in Iraq.
In his Big Think interview, Rieckhoff told us that veterans need help transitioning after their time in the service. He emphasizes that they have tremendous skills and leadership abilities and could easily be reintegrated into the civilian workforce with a just a little more support. They are not all "ticking time bombs," says Rieckhoff. "We have to break the crazy, volatile, Rambo veteran stereotype that was really perpetuated after Vietnam." Part of this image problem is related to the way veterans are portrayed in popular films, he says. Hollywood depicts them as "either a villain or a victim—one or the other." For a more accurate portrayal, you have to look to documentaries like "Restrepo" by Sebastian Junger.
Rieckhoff also told us that the troubling spike in army suicides is indicative of a larger failure by the government and the public to support the troops. Soldiers are being sent for repeated tours, which takes a tremendous toll on families, and when they finally return home their prospects might be dim—divorce rates and unemployment are both disproportionately high among veterans. There hasn't been the history of philanthropy for veterans affairs like there has been for, say, poverty or AIDS, but it is our duty as Americans to do more, Rieckhoff says. "When you send folks to war there's a moral obligation to care for them coming home"
Because we have a volunteer army—essentially a warrior class—the American public doesn't have to feel any of the effects of the war. "This is damaging to our social fabric," says Rieckhoff. He doesn't necessarily think there should be a draft or any mandatory service, but something must be done to involve the American people. A national call to action by the President is one idea, he says.
Rieckhoff also weighed in on some of the pressing issues in the news. Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, has "blood on his hands," he told us. He also said that it's ridiculous to think that there will be any resistance when the military repeals Don't Ask Don't Tell: "Our military is highly professional and will execute on the orders put down to them."
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A new study explores how certain personality traits affect individuals' attitudes on obesity in others.
- The study compared personality traits and obesity views among more than 3,000 mothers.
- The results showed that the personality traits neuroticism and extraversion are linked to more negative views and behaviors related to obesity.
- People who scored high in conscientiousness are more likely to experience "fat phobia.
The rise of anti-scientific thinking and conspiracy is a concerning trend.
- Fifty years later after one of the greatest achievements of mankind, there's a growing number of moon landing deniers. They are part of a larger trend of anti-scientific thinking.
- Climate change, anti-vaccination and other assorted conspiratorial mindsets are a detriment and show a tangible impediment to fostering real progress or societal change.
- All of these separate anti-scientific beliefs share a troubling root of intellectual dishonesty and ignorance.
The history of the Geneva Conventions tells us how the international community draws the line on brutality.
- Henry Dunant's work led to the Red Cross and conventions on treating prisoners humanely.
- Four Geneva Conventions defined the rules for prisoners of war, torture, naval and medical personnel and more.
- Amendments to the agreements reflect the modern world but have not been ratified by all countries.
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