Alan Dershowitz has written an introduction to a re-issue of The Unlawful Concert, a book I wrote in 1970 about the Presidio mutiny case. He begins with a sentence that’s extremely far from reality:

"There were many pivotal events that contributed to ending the Vietnam war, but perhaps none was more important than the so-called Presidio mutiny and the subsequent court-martial of the mutineers."

Although the Presidio mutiny case had an impact within the Department of the Army, it can’t be put up there as a pivotal event with, say, the Tet Offensive. Only a lawyer could think otherwise.

Dershowitz summarizes the defense effort, quoting Terence Hallinan’s powerful closing argument. Then he gets to yours truly.

"The author of this account, who is sympathetic to the ‘mutineers’ and their lawyers, draws some questionable conclusions from the ‘mutiny’ and the court-martial. Among them is the following: ‘If solders in training could weigh the needs of their country, could talk about and read about the war, they might indeed refuse to fight it. They might conclude that the only war worth fighting is a war in defense of their country.’

"He sees this as a good thing. But if soldiers were free to decide which wars were proper and if they were to decide that only war fought in ‘defense of their country’ were justified, then the most powerful nation in the world would be precluded from engaging in humanitarian military interventions. This would not only prevent us from saving lives in Darfur, in Rwanda, and in the former Yugoslavia, but it also would have precluded us from entering World War II. There are just and unjust wars, and not all of the former are in strict self-defense, and not all wars that are claimed to be in self-defense are just. One of the great dangers of embarking on the wrong wars -such as the one in Vietnam and perhaps the one in Iraq- is that overreaction to such mistakes makes it more difficult to engage in just wars that do not directly endanger our security, such as those necessary to prevent genocides."

I rest my case.

Before Disaster Occurs in San Francisco

With two other nurses from San Francisco General Hospital, Gina Shephard, RN, went to San Antonio Texas, to help out with the relief effort following Hurricane Katrina. Her union, SEIU 790, paid her expenses. "Though there was a great need for help, there was no clear way to utilize me," she reports. "I found the whole effort chaotic, disorganized and de-humanizing." Here are the recommendations she is making to San Francisco officials, based on what she observed.

1) We don’t need volunteers from other regions. We already have an abundance of trained people with the skills to do what is necessary, and we have a tradition of compassion and respect for all people. Also, disasters bring out the best in people, and there will be many willing to help. If people from other areas want to help, they should send the money they would have spent coming here.

2) Don’t rely on the Red Cross. They are very wasteful and unorganized despite their reputation. There was a scandal about their misuse of funds after Sept. 11 in New York, which forced the director to quit. Besides, what they do is mostly limited to giving out over-the-counter drugs. Red Cross personnel won’t, for example, give tetanus shots -an obvious priority- or other vaccines.

3) Get the victims involved. For the survivors who have not been injured, it is totally demoralizing and depressing to sit around with nothing to do but think about the horror of what they have experienced. Many of these people can and want to be involved in a recovery effort. Of course, it should not be forced upon them, but they should be asked if they want to participate in things like preparing and serving meals, moving things and clean-up.

4) Whenever possible, small shelters are vastly superior. Large shelters should be avoided. They are overwhelming to run, they make people feel desperate and the humanity of the individuals involved tends to get overlooked.

5) Keep the military out, unless they are specifically trained in sensitivity to victims of a disaster -and even then I have my doubts about using them. One survivor from the Superdome told me the following anecdote. After five days of unbearable suffering in the Superdome, she was finally taken to a plane to be evacuated. When she asked a military person who was herding people onto the plane where they were going, she was told "What do you care? You are getting a free ride!"

6) Have a clear chain of command in place that is capable of acting quickly and without cumbersome bureaucracy. This includes having medical personnel on hand to do triage.

7) Every effort should be made as soon as possible to get people out of shelters. Shelters are not only completely demoralizing but are also a breeding ground for disease.

8) It should be unnecessary to say this, but people’s lives and well-being are more important than property. Several people told me that during their stay in the Superdome and the Convention Center, had it not been for the "looters," they would have had nothing to eat for days.

9) Have a clear evacuation plan set up that doesn’t involve individual cars. Public transportation must be used, not only to include people without cars but to avoid the kind of massive gridlock that we saw as people tried to leave Houston as Hurricane Rita approached.

10) The possibility of having to cope with disaster is one more reason that new mothers should be encouraged to breastfeed. During the crisis, we heard of many, many cases of babies who had no formula -which would have been unnecessary if those mothers were breastfeeding.

Struggle Against Senility

The Proceedings of the National Academy website posted a study Oct. 12 entitled "Early age-related cognitive impairment in mice lacking cannabinoid CB1 receptors. "Researchers in Bonn determined "that young mice (6-7 weeks) with a genetic deletion of the cannabinoid CB1 receptor performed as well as Wild Type mice, or often better, in a number of learning and memory paradigms, including animal models of skill-learning, partner recognition, and operant conditioning. In contrast, the performance of mature mice (3-5 months) lacking CB1 receptors was much worse than that of age-matched WT animals. In most tests, these mice performed at the same level as old animals (14-17 months), suggesting that the decline in cognitive functions is accelerated in the absence of CB1 receptors. This rapid decline in CB1-deficient animals is accompanied by a loss of neurons in the CA1 and CA3 regions of the hippocampus."

FRED GARDNER can be reached at: fred@plebesite.com


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