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New Year's Eve: Silly or Serious?

Reposted from December 31, 2007:

It's the same procedure as every year: Millions of Germans watch "Dinner for One" every New Year's Eve since 1972. It is "as big a tradition in Germany as the crystal ball drop is in New York's Times Square," writes Patrick Donahue for Bloomberg. You can watch the 10 minutes British comedy on Youtube. It is so funny, it never got dubbed into German. As Observing Hermann points out: "A bit strange maybe, but aren't most traditions - when they're not yours, I mean?"

Many in the media write every year that this New Year's Eve tradition is strange and that this silly slapstick never got popular in the UK or the US. Of course, I could point out that US upholders of moral standards probably do not like to broadcast all that drinking and the sexual reference in the end. But that is all silly and not important.

The end of a year should be a time for reflection, I believe. It's worthwhile to remember all the unknown people who have done good in the real Marla Ruzickaworld. I try to ignore the many "year in review"-articles that feature silly people that made the headlines.  The media does not write much about the many relief workers in war and natural disaster zones around the world. At least not while they are alive. Marla Ruzicka from California got big press coverage after she was killed in a car bomb explosion in Bagdad in April 2005.

December 31 was her birthday. Read last year's Tribute to Marla Ruzicka and other Idealists Risking their Lives out there. 

Actually, seriousness and silliness serve both their distinct purposes. It's all about finding the right balance in life between work and entertainment. Marla would definitely agree. And with these superficial words of wisdom 2007 comes to an end. Thank you for reading Atlantic Review. Stay tuned in 2008. All the best for the new year.

Atlantic Review Used for MA Thesis

An Irish student emailed me that he his going to reference an Atlantic Review blogpost in his MA thesis: Are Americans More Willing to Make Sacrifices Than Europeans?

It was one of my better blogposts, written in 2007, but still up-to-date. I was discussing transatlantic attitudes towards war and sacrifice and concluded that Americans are more optimistic than Europeans and that Americans are moving towards a post-heroic society, in which Europeans already live.

On the one hand, I am honored that this blog post will be referenced in an MA thesis, even though the reason might just be that I was discussing an issue with the prefix "post." Academia loves terms like post-constructivism, post-Cold War era, and now post-heroic. On the other hand, I am not sure, if it is a good sign for academia if blogposts are used as references. Next, someone will use a tweet to argue that the Pope is Catholic.

Tribute to Marla Ruzicka and the Nameless Aidworkers Around the World

When Marla Ruzicka got killed in Bagdad on April 16, 2005, many US newspapers had long and impressive obituaries about the founder of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC), who convinced Congress to create an Iraqi War Victims Fund.

Rolling Stone Magazine described her as a "youthful representative of a certain kind of not-yet-lost American idealism" in a good, balanced and heart-wrenching biographic article. The Boston Globe wrote:

Virtually alone, she directed attention and resources to the invisible victims of war. She moved the military without using force, galvanized official Washington without powerful connections, and motivated the press without sensationalism.

Four years later not a single newspaper reminds us of her untimely death, according to Google News, even though CIVIC is still very active around the world and blogs as well.

Unfortunately, the media does not write much about the many relief workers in war and natural disaster zones around the world. The nameless humanitarians, who don't just talk and write, but risk their lives to help others don't get awards or much press coverage. Their sacrifice is often only acknowledged, when they get killed or as a statistic, like earlier this month, when several media outlets covered the new report from the Overseas Development Institute (pdf), which states that 2008 was the most dangerous year on record for humanitarian aid workers:

Last year 260 humanitarian aid workers were killed, kidnapped or seriously injured in violent attacks - the highest annual toll on record. Kidnappings have increased 350% since 2006 and the fatality rate of aid workers from malicious acts surpassed that of United Nations peacekeeping soldiers in 2008.

More about Marla Ruzicka's accomplishments in these Atlantic Review posts:

Tribute to Marla Ruzicka and other Idealists Risking their Lives out there 

"Sweet Relief" - A New Book about Humanitarian Activist Marla Ruzicka 

Marla Ruzicka: Civilian Victims of War

Are Americans More Willing to Make Sacrifices Than Europeans?

According to Henry Kissinger, the real transatlantic difference is that "European governments are not able any more to ask their people for great sacrifices." That's why Europe readily opts for a "soft power" approach to so many foreign policy issues. This will, of necessity, make it harder for Europe to reach a consensus with the U.S.

Asked whether "an all-out effort to restore the Cold War-era level of trans-Atlantic comity within NATO, would be a good investment for the U.S.", Mr. Kissinger expressed skepticism regarding the prospects for success. Kissinger's views on diplomacy in the post 9/11 era are described in a Wall Street Journal article (HT: Joe) by David Rivkin, a lawyer based in Washington, who served in the Justice Department under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Are the differences between Americans and Europeans regarding sacrifice really that big? Germany is certainly a post-heroic society. The Bundeswehr Institute of Social Sciences has even a research procejt on "Armed forces in a post-heroic society." Though, isn't America quickly moving towards a post-heroic society as well? Compared to WWII or Vietnam the casualties in Iraq are pretty small, but the calls for withdrawal are already very loud.

Continue reading "Are Americans More Willing to Make Sacrifices Than Europeans?"

Tribute to Marla Ruzicka and other Idealists Risking their Lives out there

Marla RuzickaToday, December 31st, was supposed to be Marla Ruzicka's 30th birthday.
Marla has founded the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) and convinced Congress to create an Iraqi War Victims Fund
. Lawmakers realized that financial compensation for families of civilians accidentally injured or killed by the U.S. military is important for helping them cope financially. A compassionate response might convince the families that Americans feel sorry about their loss; therefore they might not hate Americans, i.e. Marla was advancing US interests. Newsweek's Baghdad bureau chief wrote that "Marla was alienated from much of the human rights community because she chose to work with the military instead of always against it." As Peter Bergen wrote in the Washington Post:
Ruzicka initially came off like a blond surfer girl (she was much given to exclaiming "Dude!" and "You rock!"), but underneath the effervescent exterior was a tough-minded humanitarian advocate who had little tolerance for leftist anti-war demonstrators. Ruzicka understood that wars happen despite the demonstrations, and she wanted to do something concrete to alleviate the subsequent damage to human life.
Rolling Stone Magazine described her as a "youthful representative of a certain kind of not-yet-lost American idealism." It's a good, balanced and heart-wrenching biographic article.
Continue reading "Tribute to Marla Ruzicka and other Idealists Risking their Lives out there"

"Sweet Relief" - A New Book about Humanitarian Activist Marla Ruzicka

Various search engines continue to send many readers to the Atlantic Review's past posts about Marla Ruzicka, which indicates that there is fortunately still a lot of interest in this "youthful representative of a certain kind of not-yet-lost American idealism" (Rolling Stone Magazine).
Marla founded the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) and convinced Congress to create an Iraqi War Victims Fund, which was named in her honor after her tragic death in April 2005.
"Marla was alienated from much of the human rights community because she chose to work with the military instead of always against it" said Newsweek's Baghdad bureau chief.

Her friend Jennifer Abrahamson has just published the book Sweet Relief: The Marla Ruzicka Story ( |
Marla Ruzicka was a free spirit, a savvy political operator, a wartime Erin Brockovich. Fiercely determined to improve the lives of the less fortunate, the twenty-something blonde was instrumental in convincing the U.S. government to pass historic legislation aiding civilian victims of war.
Sweet Relief recounts Marla's journey from an idyllic childhood in a small California town, through Latin America and Africa, and finally to the war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq. Whether she was Rollerblading the halls of Congress to secure funds for civilians in Iraq or throwing parties for journalists in Kabul to raise awareness of her cause, no one who came within a hundred yards of Marla missed her. Her friendly smile and indefatigable pose were ubiquitous in Afghanistan and Iraq where Marla managed a door-to-door effort to identify war victims. While Marla worked tirelessly to care for others, in many ways she neglected herself. A diagnosed manic-depressive, Marla battled extreme emotional lows and an eating disorder. And although she brought love into the homes of the aggrieved, she often struggled to find a love of her own. Marla gave the invisible victims of war a voice and, in the process, helped to win them millions of dollars in unprecedented aid. Tragically, Marla was killed by a suicide bomber on Airport Road in Iraq in April 2005. Weeks later, the U.S. government named the program she fought so hard to establish The Marla Ruzicka Fund. Her life and legacy are an inspiring reminder that love and determination can conquer all.

A movie about Marla Ruzicka, starring Kirsten Dunst, is in the making. "The screenwriter is finishing up her script and has relied heavily on the book", writes Jen Abrahamson.
For more background on Marla's life, work and achievements, here are two of the Atlantic Review's previous posts: Marla Ruzicka, Civilian Victims and Reconciliation and Marla Ruzicka and the Iraqi War Victims Fund.

US Soldier Receives Bavarian Lifesaving Medal - and other Military News

•  Bavaria's state prime minister awarded the Bayerische Rettungsmedaille to Specialist Joshua Smith. From the First Infantry Division (HT: Davids Medienkritik):
SCHWEINFURT, Germany – Flames burst through the windows on the roof, and before his buddy could finish the question, "Should we go help?" SPC Joshua Smith was racing toward the burning building. (…) For his heroic effort on that early morning last July in Kitzingen, Smith, with the 57th Signal Company, received the Bavaria Lifesaving Medal from the state prime minister, Dr. Edmund Stoiber, in a Munich ceremony May 15. Smith, a fellow Soldier and an off-duty police officer risked their lives to save a woman who had slipped and fallen while trying to escape the blaze.
It is not all that special for a soldier to risk his life to save other people's lives, but it does not fit into the set of stereotypes described in part in the Atlantic Review post: Tagesspiegel Blames Haditha partly on a Military Dominated by "White Trash" and Minorities.

• Shawn, who blogs at Asia Logistics Wrap, has emailed this article on a Department of Defense website about a German Bundeswehr officer, who wants to join the Marines as an enlisted person:
All freedom-loving people have a stake in the war against terrorism, [German 1st Lt. Jens] Praetzas said. He added that he believes the conflict constitutes a struggle of democracy versus tyranny. He said his heart goes out to U.S. servicemembers who've paid the ultimate price for freedom while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. (...) A possible hurdle that could thwart his goal of joining the Marines is obtaining a U.S. residence certificate, or "green card." He's sought to obtain one -- so far unsuccessfully -- via the lottery process. Praetzas recalled making friends with U.S. servicemembers when he was in charge of a detail of German soldiers that had taken up guard duties at U.S. military installations in Germany at the end of 2003. This operation freed up American troops for deployment for other war-related duties.
• The Chicago Tribune wrote on July 23rd that a Franco-German company won a contract from the U.S. army:
France and Germany opposed the war in Iraq, but that's not stopping their corporate interests from seeking to arm U.S. troops. The Franco-German company European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co. (EADS) last month won a helicopter contract from the U.S. Army potentially worth up to $2 billion. And the company isn't stopping there. (...) To soothe the opposition, the Europeans regularly form alliances with U.S. defense companies and promise to open factories and create jobs on American soil. EADS, for example, will expand a facility in Mississippi to build helicopters currently produced in Germany.
Last but not least DefenseNews wrote in July: "The German government has agreed to lift its opposition to the sale to Israel of German-made Dingo 2 armored vehicles."

Marla Ruzicka: Civilian Victims of War (UPDATE)

One year ago -- April 16, 2005 -- a suicide terrorist murdered Marla Ruzicka in Bagdad, a young woman from California, who was working to get aid to Iraqi civilians accidentally harmed by U.S. military operations. Sarah Holewinsky, the executive director of Marla's NGO Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) writes in the Washington Post:
Congress created the Marla Ruzicka Iraqi War Victims Fund and a similar fund for Afghanistan, with a total to date of $38 million for families and communities of those injured and killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. This program, coupled with our larger humanitarian aid in Iraq (the community action program) is building a post-Saddam Hussein society through small-business loans, education for orphans, new homes for displaced families and other projects. (...)
The brutality of the insurgency has also made it much harder for humanitarian workers such as Marla to help victims of war in most parts of the country. Worse, in some areas insurgents have threatened to kill Iraqis who accept help from Americans. Although experienced military officers have learned that treating civilians well is critical to their mission, the U.S. search for an exit strategy may encourage tactics that put civilians at greater risk -- including more reliance on airstrikes to target insurgents. (...) With increasing airstrikes, U.S. military planners must also do more to assess the risk to civilians before launching attacks, and should include in post-attack reports any available information on civilian casualties. The current lack of data makes the improvement of those procedures difficult. (
HT: David from Dialog International)
CNN video of Marla in Iraq.
Our related posts on Marla's work: Young US humanitarian activist killed in Iraq and Marla Ruzicka, civilian victims and reconciliation.

UPDATE: After the terrorist attacks in London on July 7, 2005 the photo campaign We're not Afraid ("Show the world that we are not afraid of what happened in London, and that the world is a better place without fear.") became an internet phenomenon, followed by Sorry Everybody after the 2004 elections.
Now Marla's NGO started a new photo campaign I care, which is worth participating:

This photo campaign is not about being for or against the war. It is a campaign of compassion. Every day, ordinary women, children, and men are caught in the crossfire. We believe that civilian casualties are the most tragic consequences of war. And each injury, destroyed home, and death should be given the weight it deserves. Please join our campaign and send a loud and clear message to our leaders as well as to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. All over the world... We are watching. We stand in solidarity. We care.

UPDATE II: Obviously we care about civilian casualties in Israel, Palestine and elsewhere as well. The Jerusalem Post writes about the latest terror victims in Israel (via Elder of Ziyon via Israpundit). YNet News has a series of profiles of some of the victims (via Salomonia). More at Crossing the Rubicon2 and A Blog for All.