The War Diaries

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Archive for the ‘America’ Category

Presidents

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President Barack Obama First Lady Michelle Obama George W. Bush and Laura Bush attend the ceremony in Lower Manhattan to mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11. While the Obamas remained composed throughout the Bush's displayed visible signs of emotion as the events of 9/11 were recalled.

President Barack Obama First Lady Michelle Obama George W. Bush and Laura Bush attend the ceremony in Lower Manhattan to mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11. While the Obamas remained composed throughout the Bush’s displayed visible signs of emotion as the events of 9/11 were recalled. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

New York- The American political system was dealt what many perceived as a devastating blow last night after years of fitful yet steady progress on a host of domestic and international policy issues. From normalization of relations with Cuba to the decriminalization of certain soft drugs on a state by state basis, many calcified issues held over from other eras have been de-stigmatized which has had the effect of getting US policy more in line with some of its more progressive Western counterparts. On major issues like guns or the death penalty this has not particularly been the case but while I was in the EU this past summer I felt a sense that the US, under years of Obama’s presidency, was more in line with European social norms than at any time in recent history.

The US was no longer viewed as the “hyperpuissance” (hyperpower) as it was derided at the apogee of neoconservative power in 2002-2003.  In short, things had chilled out on either side of the Atlantic. EU member states, with France most notably, had become much more active in exercising the use of military force since the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ took off in late 2010 but more properly early 2011. The amplification of already existing migration routes to the EU helped empower right and far right parties in states like Austria and Hungary that bore the brunt of the second phase of the migration routes from the greater Balkans to Central Europe.

The EU’s own fear of ‘the other’ complex has been both deepening and widening as masses of people storm the gates. To generalize–which carries its own inherent risk–peoples with starkly different views on gender relations, the cultural baggage of dietary restrictions, clothing restrictions for women, and religious traditions that are portrayed as incompatible with the increasingly secular voting populations of member states concerned who want to be seen as open societies within an increasingly borderless world. Those in the West who receive these individuals and families are ill equipped to determine who is a war refugee such as someone from Mosul, who is seeking political asylum such as a resident of Asmara, and those who are traditional economic migrants seeking to remit cash back to their countries of origin while getting a foothold in stable countries such as those from Bangladesh.

Despite the Russian Federation’s entirely illegal annexation of territory in Ukraine and Georgia, the notion of erecting walls and razor wire fences is an antipathy toward the post-war ideals that were fought so hard for and took decades of diligent diplomacy to implement. The ideas so poorly articulated by America’s next commander-in-chief are so far fetched as to be absurd. These next four years will be long, painfully embarrassing, and so chock full of political gaffs that comedians will have their hands full. They may also be marked by increasing radicalization within already marginalized immigrant communities whose communal identities are still reeling from the “with or against” blather that occurred during the onset of the terror wars. Integration is made more difficult when isolation is employed as a tactic in lieu of strategy. These proposed ‘policies’–which are not policies in any real form–cannot work.

Written by derekhenryflood

November 9th, 2016 at 4:41 pm

A Weathered #fabledcity

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A weather-beaten print I shot in Luxor, Egypt at the Temple of Karnak back in the spring of 2003 after getting out of Baghdad while the getting was good.

A weather-beaten print I shot in Luxor, Egypt at the Karnak temple complex back in the spring of 2003 after getting out of Baghdad while the getting was good. Click on image to be taken to my Instagram page. ©2016 Derek Henry Flood

New York- For close to two years now I’ve been putting up ink jet analog prints up around three of New York City’s five boroughs and in my favorite locales in EU Mediterranean states as part of my #fabledcity project about the glory of an antediluvian realm that in our time is the stuff of legend.

I plan to install more along the eastern seaboard in in the American Southwest as soon as I am able. The prints hail from before I purchased my first digital camera in January of 2005. I was way behind the curve in hyper competitive journalism terms. I simply couldn’t compete monetarily. While some journos acquired the first generation of DSLRs en route to northern Afghanistan in 2001, by February or March 2003, the big names/outlets had gone digital. I hadn’t.

When I departed San Diego from Iraq at the time, I faced a stark choice. I could either shoot the aftermath of the invasion or sit on the couch with a low quality DSLR at home. I chose the former. The #fabledcity project is about the arc of my analog photography before and thence after 9/11. Throughout the early years of the so-called ‘war on terror’ I remained enthralled by the allure of ancient sites. The politics of our time were a vehicle for me to experience the majesty of the ancients.

After decompressing in Amman, I quickly made my way down to Aqaba and on to the Sinai and the Nile Valley. Well I sunburned my back so badly snorkeling at the precarious Blue Hole outside Dahab I jumped on an overnight bus to Luxor. It was the essence of Mubarak-era Egypt. Checkpoints, mukharbarat, simmering palpable resentment among the native inhabitants of the Sinai. Upon reaching Luxor I had to run from shadow to shadow in the Great Hypostyle Hall because the sun hitting my t-shirt was unbearable. Finally I reached to Temple of Amun-Re where austere the god-kings stood surveying the stone. The nightmare in Iraq that was just getting underway was well behind me.

The original image of the pharaohs basking in the African sun. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

The original image of the pharaohs basking in the African sun. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

Nothing would stop me from seeing this world.

Written by derekhenryflood

February 14th, 2016 at 4:50 pm

Walk It Home

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A Lebanese woman looks at the ruins of her neighborhood in the Beirut suburb of Haret Hreik after the UN-mediated ceasefire between the belligerents made it possible to return home...or the rubble that was left of it. ©2006 Derek Henry Flood

A Lebanese woman looks at the ruins of her neighborhood in the Beirut suburb of Haret Hreik after the UN-brokered ceasefire between the belligerents made it possible to return home…or the rubble that was left of it. This image can be seen in the RedBull.tv film Walk It Home at 07:53. ©2006 Derek Henry Flood

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 6.51.55 PMNew York- A couple of photos of mine from the ‘Summer War’ in 2006-era Lebanon are featured in a new documentary film on The Wanton Bishops, a Lebanese blues band that subsequently tours the heartland of the blues in the southern United States.

The film, titled Walk It Home, also explores the Beirut music scene where to be a full time musician is neither easily done nor conceived of as normal is mainstream Lebanese society. Pursuing one’s rock dreams is difficult anywhere under the best of circumstances but to have accomplished such from the Beiruti milieu is a far greater task. I’m happy to have made a small contribution to this film.

A frame grab of an image I shot during the war between Israel and Lebanon in summer 2006. ©2006 Derek Henry Flood

A frame grab of an image I shot during the war between Israel and Lebanon in summer 2006 after a residential building was smashed in a massive Israeli bombardment of the Haret Hreik neighborhood. ©2006 Derek Henry Flood

Written by derekhenryflood

November 11th, 2015 at 5:16 pm

Ground Zero: My Photographs from 9/11/01 to 9/11/11

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Paros- Four years ago today I finished this decade-long documentary project about what was then called ground Zero in lower Manhattan. When 9/11 took place in my city, I told myself I would follow the story wherever I could for as long as I could. It took me to Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Hamburg, the Republic of Georgia, Jordan, Iraq, Bangkok, Malaysia, and countless other locales as the “War on Terror” unfolded. I then kept returning to New York City, my home, for each subsequent anniversary.

Ground Zero is now the site of One World Trade Center, a hub for New York City’s tourism industry. The city has been rebuilt where it was thrashed by the largest suicide attack in history. Ground Zero buzzes with curious visitors posting the requisite photos to social media but the memory lays there, heaving with silent grief underneath flowing water and cool black stone.

9/11 unequivocally changed our world. We are living in a less safe, less just world today in my judgement. Freedoms have been curtailed as the United States has evolved into a low key surveillance state in response. Afghanistan is still in a state of war. Iraq has been broken likely irreparably. Then the ‘Arab Spring’ happened. It resulted not in a well spring of democratic growth as many initially hoped but inadvertently acted as an enabling factor for the spread of cancerous salafi-jihadi ideology to the point of holding territory by the most vile of non-state actors.

9/11 must be remembered with calm dignity, not be opportunistically exploited with jingoism or crass populism. A vigil of the spirit.

A ghastly toxic plume of smoke and ash rises above Ground Zero after the total collapse of the North and South Towers of New York's World Trade Center on 9/11. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

A ghastly toxic plume of smoke and ash rises above Ground Zero after the total collapse of the North and South Towers of New York’s World Trade Center on 9/11. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

A Blackhawk helicopter flys above the plume surveying the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11. This never before seen image was made adjacent the River Cafe on Brooklyn's DUMBO waterfront at approximately 8pm after the suicide attacks killed nearly 3000. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

A Blackhawk helicopter flys above the plume surveying the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11. This never before seen image was made adjacent the River Cafe on Brooklyn’s DUMBO waterfront at approximately 8pm after the suicide attacks killed nearly 3000. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

Ruins of twin towers smoking as seen from the Brooklyn Bridge on 9/12/2001. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

Ruins of twin towers smoking as seen from the Brooklyn Bridge on 9/12/2001. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

On the six month anniversary of 9/11 the New York Stock Exchange is draped in a massive American flag. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

On the six month anniversary of 9/11 the New York Stock Exchange is draped in a massive American flag. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

The New York City police department bagpipe troupe marches over the Brooklyn Bridge at dawn on the one year anniversary of 9/11. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

The New York City police department bagpipe troupe marches over the Brooklyn Bridge at dawn on the one year anniversary of 9/11. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

A candlelight vigil was held in Brooklyn's Prospect Park on the evening of September 11, 2002 to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the suicide attacks that shook New York City to its core the previous year. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

A candlelight vigil was held in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park on the evening of September 11, 2002 to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the suicide attacks that shook New York City to its core the previous year. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

The towers of light on 9/11/03. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

The towers of light on 9/11/03. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

Despite conspiracy theories to the contrary most of New York's diverse communities were affected by 9/11. Here a pair of Hasidic men attand the ceremony held for the second anniversary of 9/11. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

Despite conspiracy theories to the contrary, most of New York’s ethnic and religious communities were affected by 9/11. Here a pair of Hasidic men attand the ceremony held for the second anniversary of 9/11. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

New Yorkers gather outside the void that remains five years after the destruction of New York's World Trade Center. ©2006 Derek Henry Flood

New Yorkers gather outside the void that remains five years after the destruction of New York’s World Trade Center. ©2006 Derek Henry Flood

People gather in remembrance of the 5 year anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks at the former site of the World Trade Center in Manhattan.

People gather in remembrance of the 5 year anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks at the former site of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. ©2006 Derek Henry Flood

The Towers of Light as photographed from across the Hudson River in New Jersey on the 5th year anniversary of 9/11. ©2006 Derek Henry Flood

The Towers of Light as photographed from across the Hudson River in New Jersey on the 5th year anniversary of 9/11. ©2006 Derek Henry Flood

A group of New York City firefighters pass by a Ground Zero outside the annual memorial ceremony on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks in lower Manhattan with the construction of a new tower finally begginning to arise from the void in the background. ©2010 Derek Henry Flood

A group of New York City firefighters pass by a Ground Zero outside the annual memorial ceremony on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks in lower Manhattan with the construction of a new tower finally begginning to arise from the void in the background. ©2010 Derek Henry Flood

Following the killing of Osama bin Laden the partially built new World Trade Center tower is lit up in the colors of the American flag. The lighting was prepared in advance of President Barack Obama's visit to Ground Zero to lay a wreath the following morning in remembrance of the nearly 3000 killed on 9/11. ©2011 Derek henry Flood

Following the killing of Osama bin Laden the partially built new World Trade Center tower is lit up in the colors of the American flag. The lighting was prepared in advance of President Barack Obama’s visit to Ground Zero to lay a wreath the following morning in remembrance of the nearly 3000 killed on 9/11. ©2011 Derek henry Flood

President Barack Obama exits the stage after giving an impassioned speech for the families of victims at the ceremony in Lower Manhattan to mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11. A sorrowful George W. Bush stands on the overhead screen. While the Obamas remained composed throughout the ceremony the Bush's displayed visible signs of emotion as the events of 9/11 were collectively remembered. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

President Barack Obama exits the stage after giving an impassioned speech for the families of victims at the ceremony in Lower Manhattan to mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11. A sorrowful George W. Bush stands on the overhead screen. While the Obamas remained composed throughout the ceremony the Bush’s displayed visible signs of emotion as the events of 9/11 were collectively remembered. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Families arrive en masse to the site of the former World Trade Center to grieve once more for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The attacks claimed victims from across New York's incredibly diverse ethnic and religious communities. Here an Latino family grieves for a lost member. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Families arrive en masse to the site of the former World Trade Center to grieve once more for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The attacks claimed victims from across New York’s incredibly diverse ethnic and religious communities. Here an Latino family grieves for a lost member. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Written by derekhenryflood

September 11th, 2015 at 3:20 am

Footprints

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A sampling of names at the 9/11 memorial. ©2015 Derek Henry Flood

A sampling of names that span the world at the 9/11 memorial. ©2015 Derek Henry Flood

New York- Milling around the the 9/11 memorial the other day, I looked at one random, small cluster of names engraved above on of the two massive cascading fountains where the roots of the twin towers once intertwined with the earth. Though 9/11 is described as an attack on the United States or an attack on the West as a whole. reading over this small list made it feel as if the mass casualty event in New York was an attack on globalization itself for lack of a better term.

In this sample of victims it jumped out at me that one of them–Ehtesham Raja–was Pakistani. Then scanning across, I read Karamo Baba Trerra which appeared to be a West African Muslim name. Indeed he was Gambian. Then there is Jie Yao Justin Zhao from Guangzhou, China. Then Joyce Rose Cummings. a Trinidadian. The sole American in the frame of my photo is Donald Joseph Tuzio who’d lost his job and was only in the WTC that day to take part in a job-hunting workshop that was a mandatory component of his buyout package.

The diversity in just these five names–two of whom were Muslim–demonstrates that 9/11 was a global event whose magnitude devastated families from the Caribbean to China, from West Africa to South Asia. When I would photograph the anniversaries over the years at what was then referred to as Ground Zero, I was always struck by the diversity of families who arrived to collectively grieve and remember. Al-Qaeda killed Muslims from the beginning. Many of the victims in the East Africa embassy attacks were adherents. Most of the victims of salafist terrorism today  are in fact Muslim.

While for me seeing the footprints of the towers evokes a somber feeling, the memorial is a place buzzing with life. Every visitor has a smartphone. People are smiling taking photos as tourists tend to do when on holiday. Then a policeman walks by and wipes the dewy spring moisture off of one particular name as if to honor it. I notice a rose on Mother’s Day wedged into the name of a victim who was carrying an unborn child. A place that once stood as global business incarnate with people from around the world is now host to every imaginable emotion in the spectrum.

Written by derekhenryflood

May 12th, 2015 at 10:19 pm

Posted in 9/11,America

Twenty Years

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The Oklahoma City National Memorial, photographed on a glorious spring day in May 2010. ©Derek Henry Flood

The Oklahoma City National Memorial, photographed on a glorious spring day in May 2010. ©Derek Henry Flood

New York- It’s such an obvious thing to say but it’s really hard to believe it’s been two solid decades since the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995. I viscerally remember sitting in the dormitory at San Diego State University when a friend had the news on. He was from Fontana but had Oklahoma roots and was deeply saddened. I remember that one crackpot analyst being so sure that it was Islamist (Salafist in today’s speak) in nature and how incredibly wrong he was.

That vast tragedy overshadowed the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in terms of both the number of casualties and the fact that it forced–for a time–a paradigm shift about how we think about terrorism. With the East Africa bombings in August 1998, the threat of domestic terrorism was once again diminished in the face of an external threat. Al-qaeda with its obscurantist worldview was seemingly more easily interpreted from a national security standpoint than those in league with Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. Those whose duty it is to protect the land from attacks must be analytically agile and intellectually nimble in order to reevaluate the constantly shifting threat landscape.

The memorial is beautiful yet somber. It is a symbol of tragedy and renewal.

The reflecting pool mirrors a crisp Oklahoma sky, engendering self reflection about life, love, and loss. ©2010 Derek Henry Flood

The reflecting pool mirrors a crisp Oklahoma sky, engendering self reflection about life, love, and loss. ©2010 Derek Henry Flood

Written by derekhenryflood

April 20th, 2015 at 4:07 pm

It’s Morning in Iran…Maybe

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Sunset in Tehran during the then President Khatami's Dialogue Among Civilizations era. Iran was sanctioned and isolated, but its hospitality among ordinary Iranians couldn't be stifled. ©1999 Derek Henry Flood

Sunset in Tehran during the then President Khatami’s Dialogue Among Civilizations era. Iran was sanctioned and isolated, but the hospitality bestowed upon me and fellow travelers by ordinary Iranians couldn’t be stifled. ©1999 Derek Henry Flood

New York- Regarding the planned nuclear deal to be reached by late June, Iranian President Hasan Rouhani announced “Today is a day that will remain in the historic memory of the Iranian nation.” Could a statement like this indicate the Islamic Republic is finally falling back into line with the Great Power political order after decades of U.S. estrangement? Possibly. Are there leagues of people who desperately seek to derail such an initiative? Undoubtedly.

Without getting into the granular details of the proposed quid pro quo arrangement whereby Iran will cull centrifuges in exchange for the letting up of sanctions, my angle is how the battle for Tikrit in neighboring Iraq and the coming battle for Mosul factors into this.

Part of what I suspect has changed the decades long game in toxic U.S.-Iran relations is the rise of the Islamic State. President Obama met one of his campaign foreign policy goals by fully withdrawing American military personnel from Iraq (minus those protecting the gargantuan embassy in Baghdad). Guantanamo hasn’t closed and Afghanistan is still festering. Iraq seemed like something of an accomplishment. But when I visited Iraq in mid-2013, it was clear to me that the Pentagon had left behind a fractious mess that was vulnerable to infiltration by non-state groups working to undermine both the Kurds and the then highly divisive Maliki government.

Then we have the twitter-fueled IS takeover of Mosul with a nascent state building to create a salafi-hihadi entity bent on perpetual warfare until an apocalyptic utopia can be achieved. Now as things stand, the Americans and Iranians are working together if purely by default. Notorious militias like the Badr Organization and Asaib Ahl al-Haq have been battling IS with bravado during the siege of Tikrit. Of course, American military planners don’t want to work with Iranian-backed war fighting groups in Iraq. War, however, is not about the ideal. It’s much more often about the pragmatic.

Military planning is constantly a re-evalutation of the lesser of evils on the battlefield. The least worst option always seems better than total defeat. In the Second World War, the Allies partnered with Stalin to defeat the Axis and achieve the near term goals of eradicating fascism from Europe and Pacific. This led to the death of tens of millions of Soviets both in the Red Army on the battlefront and then those who were felled in the Great Terror, Great Purge, ethnic deportations of nationalities collectively accused of Nazi collaboration and the Gulag system. The Cold War and the nuclear arms race immediately followed the Axis defeats.

For the US to preserve what little is has left in Iraq, it will have to work with those it has been fighting in the mid-2000s. This is not to the liking of the Israelis and their vast support network here in the United States. Nor does it please King Salman and the House of Saud who operate in a bizarre realm where the theological and geopolitical are conflated to the detriment of an entire region. In turn the U.S. is supporting the un-imaginitively named Operation Decisive Storm to rout the Houthis in Yemen which sort of proves that the Americans aren’t taking sides in ancient Sunni-Shia fitna. The Israelis and the Saudis have traditionally had a common goal of keeping the Iranians isolated by the U.S. but this paradigm looks to be both shifting as well as no longer sustainable.

I’m not saying the decades of mistrust will suddenly evaporate in a few months time. But the de facto cooperation for lack of a better term on Tikrit may be a prelude to the eradication of IS from Mosul. The Iraqi military simply isn’t up to the task. It has neither the willpower nor the esprit de corps to effectively carry out this mission in my view. One thing endemic to battlefields is that alliances shift with time owing to perceived necessity.

Written by derekhenryflood

April 4th, 2015 at 5:05 pm

Posted in America,Yemen

Tagged with , , , ,

The Beginning or End of Iraq

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An American tank occupying al-Shaheed (the martyrs) monument along the east bank of the Tigris. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

An American tank occupying al-Shaheed (the martyrs) monument along the east bank of the Tigris. I asked the soldier guarding makeshift checkpoint what the purpose was of having tanks in the particular space and none of them could give me a solid answer. If you go to Iraq looking for answers, it is likely you will find none. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

New York- I’ve been delving through my archives of late in preparation for an upcoming series of television appearances the rise of dictatorships mostly in the latter half of the twentieth century. Poring over my stock from Baghdad and thinking about the current offensive to retake Tikrit, it all just seems so utterly unnecessary. How many times can the Republic of Iraq be torn asunder? For years, people have predicted Iraq’s imminent: demise, federalization, breakup, fissuring, and even inevitable  unity based on the fact that Iraq has stayed together this long. The central government just seems to plod forward, rudderless, ill adept at maintaining control of the whole of its territory.

Whether Iraq will hold together as a single political geographic entity or can’t stop from breaking up is neither inevitable nor unthinkable. What is not terribly helpful is the sheer polarity of such predictions that often don’t consider the interests of ordinary Iraqis who have been in a state of war or siege essentially since 1980.

The Iraqis were literally telling the Americans in English that Iraq must remain a sovereign nation. The White House and the Pentagon in all their mixed messaging had said they were liberating the Iraqi public writ large from a tyrant. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

The Iraqis were literally telling the Americans in English that Iraq must remain a sovereign nation. The White House and the Pentagon in all their mixed messaging had said they were liberating the Iraqi public writ large from a tyrant. The writing wasn’t on the wall, it was on the banner. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

Written by derekhenryflood

March 13th, 2015 at 3:58 pm

Posted in America,Iraq