#MeToo

New Orleans   Like a good percentage of families gathered together for Thanksgiving around the United States, the #MeToo conversation about women’s reality and the experience of sexual harassment in societal and workplace interactions was a mandatory discussion topic. Included in the family were veterans of the hospitality industry as well as a big office-based insurance company and the director of a human relations department for a manufacturing operation with plants in two states.

The conversation wasn’t exactly a revelation except for the disturbing fact that it was almost mundane and assumed as par for the course by women in life and work. Stories of women talking together in the office about men to avoid, men to make sure were never alone with you in the elevator, men who were always too handsy. The standard operating procedure for years in the insurance office was just to bond together because no one believed that the human resources department would ever act. The best part of this story was a sort of justice done. He messed with a particular woman who was known in the office as standoffish and somewhat of what they called an “old maid” at the time, but in this case it was the wrong woman, and she immediately went to the HR department, and the creep was almost as immediately fired. The moral in some ways was mixed. The HR folks weren’t the heroes. It was more the right woman and the wrong man meant that her credibility was unquestionable.

Asking the service industry veterans about whether this attention and the #MeToo phenomena would really create change was more sobering. One immediately responded, “it may change things at the office, but nothing is changing on the ground.” Her head shook definitively. On the restaurant floors where tipping is still the muscle on skeletal paychecks, a certain level of flirting and almost sexualization in the workplace, is part of the business model. Her position was that there needed to be a complete societal change about how women and their roles and work are seen, and it was hard to see if that kind of movement was emerging from this moment.

The HR director chimed in later that as soon as the #MeToo trended she had sent a note to all employees in the company’s email system that they needed to report any instance of this kind inappropriate behavior immediately. Nothing has popped in her inbox yet, but at least she has communicated the no-excuse policy.

Meanwhile the list of the high and mighty who have fallen continues to take the headlines, but clearly women – and the men who care about them – in the trenches are battling at the barracks for change on the ground, so if this moment isn’t a movement, there may be a movement coming.

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Death and Destruction without a Number or a Memorial

New Orleans  If, as I’ve argued, we understate the calamity and huge personal costs of injuries from shooting incidents and traffic crashes, in order to soften the blow and delay corrective action and permanent change, we shouldn’t be surprised to find that when violence, death and destruction are a fundamental part of the mission the avoidance is even more fundamentally apart of the package. Here we are talking about military engagements and their special shock and awe.

In an elaborate and independently reported investigation that ran in the New York Times, two researchers spent eighteen months and visited 103 sites in Iraq where there had been bombing strikes to determine the extent of civilian casualties from these strikes. To their credit, they had the cooperation of the joint forces, including the US military in their search. They found that the reported number of civilian casualties by the allied forces was thirty times less than what they were able to find from their efforts. It was hard to get a fix on the exact number, because in many cases the record keeping was lax to nonexistent and lacked any central database.

I found this incredible. Remember, we’re talking about the military, where everything is counted and recorded in triplicate. It would be kind to say that civilian casualties were overlooked in the fog of war or because of sloppiness in the field reports and the chain of command. Clearly, civilian casualties were not rigorously counted as a matter of military policy from all coalition partners. After all, no reason to seriously count deaths on the ground from airstrikes that you don’t want to know or admit.

Politically, horrific numbers of civilian deaths and the attendant destruction of lives and homes, puts a lie to any concept of precision in implementing the airstrikes. Bad politics makes for bad press, and the worsening optics then decreases support for such strikes and lowers funding, and it’s all just a hot mess. It also cost money. International law requires compensation for such victims of collateral damage, both dead and alive. Not counting is connected to not knowing, and knowing causes a reckoning and reparations.

Sure, there are going to be mistakes, wrong estimates on the ground from imperfect information, and bad intelligence. Stuff happens. I’m not arguing blame here, but advocating for a real effort at truth and a real effort to provide justice as a memorial to the dead – and their survivors, well or wounded – as something more than zombies living in a category called “collateral damage.”

We count our own dead and wounded. We need to make the same effort with civilians, dead and wounded. Not counting is not caring. It’s the least we can do.

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