Hey guys – just wanted to explain the lack of posting!! My internet went out for several days, and has consistently had issues since then. Regardless, I have been watching documentaries, albeit at a slower rate. I’ve also recently gotten a second job, bringing my hours a week up to roughly 60 hours worked each week. Combined with volunteering at the hospital every Sunday and taking 7 credits at college, I’m having a hard time dedicating any sort of time whatsoever to anything but these things. I will update when I can, but this is the reason they’ve been lacking. Thanks for understanding, and I hope you check back regularly 🙂 Please do whatever you can to make certain you’re not just watching your life, and the lives of others, pass you by.
Restrepo is a 93 minute documentary following a group of American soldiers on their 15 month deployment in Afghanistan. It is an incredible look into the actual method of modern warfare – what it’s like to be there on the front lines, every day. The soldiers are deployed in the mountains of Afghanistan, in a region of valleys known as Korengal. This same place was called by CNN (at the time) the deadliest place on earth. Coming under fire at least once a day, this 15 month deployment taxes the men both physically and emotionally.
Shortly after their arrival in Korengal Private First Class Juan S. Restrepo, a charismatic 20 year old medic, was shot twice in the neck and died from blood loss while on a helicopter taking him to emergency services. The death of Restrepo hit everyone hard. He was a popular member of the unit. He was kind and talented at diffusing tension with his sincerity and his guitar. They took the death in different ways, but as is the nature of the beast, they had to move on. Soon after his death, they push deeper into enemy territory. They establish an operating post and name it Restrepo, after their fallen comrade. This is where the majority of the documentary takes place. Juan Restrepo is the one on the right in the following photo:
It’s difficult to explain more of the movie in a manner that can depict both the emotion felt and the actual experiences showed. There is a lot of fighting. There is a lot of swearing. There’s a lot of everything you’d expect from the sort of base that Restrepo was – right on the front lines, firefights all the time, death not uncommon. But through the grit and the bravado is an emotional tale of young men fighting for something they believe in. It’s touching in a way that I can’t quite put to words. Young men talk quietly about Operation Rock Avalanche, a six day offensive they were a part of, hunting Taliban into their very homes. Small arms firefights, sometimes half a dozen or more a day. Helicopter missle strikes. RPGs. You name it, and it was there. Hell rained down on these men from every angle for almost a full week. Men you’ve seen on camera don’t make it back. Tears are shed from those that do. Some panic, asking questions over and over again through their tears, others remain totally silent, staring as if seeing something they don’t want to. Eventually they leave the Korangal Valley. Later, the post is abandoned completely. But this isn’t the end. Those that do make it home talk into a camera, some nervous, others staring you full in the face. Their story, however, is the same. A story of sacrifice and brotherhood. Of bonds that cannot be forgotten forged in the heat of battle. There is emotion, and a lot of it – whether it’s only visible in a pair of quietly morning eyes, or in tears dripping down their cheeks, it’s visible and real.The torment is real, every single day.
It saddens me to think how often these men are demonized for trying to serve their country. I’m sickened when people spit at them and mock them for going to war. They did what they thought was right, in the only way they knew how. You watch this, and you know it. There is no political message. It is merely a somber look at what life as a modern soldier is. Panic and boredom. Heartache and camaraderie. People who say otherwise simply don’t know what they’re talking about. There are soldiers who do evil things, yes. Just the same as there are teachers, lawyers, and people from every class of living who do evil things. This doesn’t make all the teachers, all the lawyers, all the people who belong to the same occupational field evil. It makes the men and women that committed the crime evil, and no more. These are good men – some little more than boys. Watch their story. Think on it. Impress on your mind the magnitude of what they did, and what they went through, and I’m certain you’ll understand what I’m saying.
The Future We Will Create is a 73 minute documentary focusing on a yearly event known as TED. Standing for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, this conference is a gathering of brilliant people from literally every facet of our society. Here they share their thoughts, inventions, ideas and passions. Everything from ways to build cheap homes for people in third world countries to the latest breakthroughs in touchscreen technology are covered over a period of four days in Monterey California. Among the attendees and presenters are people like Bill Gates, Al Gore, Larry Page and Sergey Brin (the co-founders of Google), Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon), musicians like Bono, as well a large amount of people with great ideas who have yet to make a name for themselves. With attendance passes costing a pretty $4,400, it’s not the sort of experience you can decide to have on a whim. Still, despite the steep entrance fee, many of the same people make the trip year after year. Watching this documentary, it’s easy to see why.
This documentary consists of a bunch of small segments of various talks given at the 2006 TED Conference. While the presenters are only given an 18 minute window themselves, we run through many at an even faster rate – giving maybe 5 or less minutes per talk. It doesn’t feel rushed, though. The spirit of their message comes across easily enough through their sincerity and passion. These people love what they do, and they do what they do because they know they can make a change – and more importantly, they want to. I like to believe that the desire to make a meaningful difference in the world is innate to most of us. Many times it is stamped down, voluntarily or by our fears and the expectations of those around us. We have bills to pay. We have schools and jobs and friends and family to worry about. Life happens, and it happens fast. What we need to realize is that it happens fast for everyone. People who really and truly make a difference in the lives of others do so knowing that it is sometimes hard. They do so knowing that it may require an investment of time, or money, or skills. They know that they may need the help of others to get it done. However, even knowing the challenges, they still choose to move on. They choose to force the change they wish for in the world. To me, this is the hallmark of someone who truly wants change. Aware of the cost, they take the next step. That is heroism. Said one of the presenters, a man by the name of Cameron Sinclair, “My mother always said that there is nothing worse than all mouth and no trousers. I’m fed up with talking about making change. You only make it by doing it.” His dream, his project, is to improve the standard of living of the poorest people in the world by providing cheap but quality housing. He won one of the three prizes given away every year, each consisting of $100,000.00 as well as being a key speaker at TED 2006. By doing so he was able to create contacts with the powerful people in attendance, and really get the ball rolling on this idea.
Talks by authorities on leadership and performing poets (seriously) bump elbows and share stages with the most powerful men and women in the IT industry. Professors at such prestigious schools as MIT follow performances by preteen musician virtuosos. There really is nothing I can quite compare it to. I have an incredible desire to go there and absorb not just the message of each talk, but the spirit of the entire event. Bucket List addition for absolute certain.
In closing I wanted to comment on a few things said in this film. Honestly, each of the topics could be a subject for exhaustive papers and research studies, and I am perhaps among the least qualified to even begin to tackle them, but I want to at least mention them for anyone who reads this to think about.
First – Sir Ken Robinson (at the time writing a book called Epiphany) talks about a woman named Gillian Lynne. When Gillian was a little girl, a mere 8 years old, her parents were contacted by the school she was attending. Little Gillian was having trouble concentrating – she was turning her work in late, was constantly fidgeting, and so on. This was in 1934. Today, no doubt, she would have been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD. At the time, however, her parents were told she had a learning disorder. Worried about their daughter, her parents turned to a specialist. After discussing the many problems Gillian was having in school, the specialist sat down by her. “Gillian, I need to have a word with your mother in private. Stay here, if you would, and we’ll be right back.” Rising to leave, he paused to turn the radio on, and he and her mother left. They stood outside a moment, and then peeked back in. Little Gillian was by the radio dancing. They watched her for a few minutes before the doctor said, “Mrs. Lynne, your daughter isn’t sick. She’s a dancer. Take her to a dance school.” And she did. Gillian went on to audition for the royal ballet school, was accepted, graduated, and founded her own company. Roles were written specifically for her, and she is a multi-millionaire. Says Sir Ken Robinson, “Somebody else might have put her on medication, and told her to calm down . . . I believe our only hope for the future is to adopt a new conception of human ecology. One in which we start to reconstitute our conception of the richness of human capacity. Our education system has mined our mines in the way that we strip mine the earth for a particular commodity. And for the future, it won’t service. . . we have to rethink the fundamental principals on which we are educating our children. What TED celebrates is the gift of the human imagination. We have to be careful now that we use this gift wisely. . . and the only way we’ll do it is by seeing our creative capacities for the richness they are, and seeing our children for the hope that they are. . . we may not see this future, but they will, and our job is to help them make something of it.” For those of you that know me, you’ll know my stance on medication. I think there are people who genuinely need it. Adversely, I think that there are people who are medicated who do not have to be. The capacity of the human mind, when driven (and given proper guidance) to heal itself is amazing. I wish that everyone could look at their life and say with honesty these words: “I’m doing my best. This is where I want to be. I have taken opportunities and ignored others, and that’s okay. They have shaped me into who I am. If there is something that needs to be changed, then I am going to work my hardest at changing it. I am going to ask why and why not, and I will not be afraid of the answer. I am going to do my part. If I am not happy, then I am going to find something that makes me happy and run with it.” Can you imagine a world where we said those things, and meant them? Where they were true for all, or even most of us? We’re human, and we make mistakes, but don’t you dare let yourself use that as an excuse for failing to do what you can in order to be happy. By doing so you’d not only rob yourself, but others of potential happiness. Happiness you absolutely can help to foster not just in yourself, but in your community and more. Some people tackle a nations food shortage, others a local park that needs to be cleaned. What’s important is that they’re tackling something. Remember to be true to yourself. Dance if you’re a dancer. Don’t let society or anyone stop you from being you.
Second – Bob Guccione, the founder of Spin and Discover Magazines, said something small but profound. “I think the marvelous thing about TED is it brings out the child in all of us, and I think we all need that . . . we need to revisit that part of us that said ‘wow’ when we [really] looked at the sky for the first time. . .” Can you think of a moment like that, that you’ve had? A moment were you were awed and speechless, due to…something positive? Seriously. Stop reading this and think of one. Do you have it? No? Okay, I will wait.
Maybe if I told you one of mine? I was backpacking across Europe by myself. I was in Switzerland – Geneva, to be exact. Sitting by the lake that the town encircles, my right foot resting on my left knee. It was dark out. I’d brought my small netbook – honestly I can’t remember why, but there I was with it. I’ve always been totally enthralled by water at night. The lights playing on the surface as it bobs slightly first this way, then that. Across from me and to my left, colored lights of buildings sprayed across the water. Blue. Red. Yellow. Green. Different shades of each. I don’t know what it was exactly that moved me so, but I could scarcely look away. I stared and stared – it was perhaps the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I wanted to share this experience with my older brother with whom I have a very special relationship – I opened the laptop and messaged him, knowing he’d be at work back in America, but hoping he’d be available. He was. I typed to him, explaining where I was, how beautiful it was. I tried to use my webcam for him to see, but the wireless network I was using was not very good. Regardless, eventually I signed off, still staring at the slowly changing water. At the lights as they played on its surface.
I had a thought, then, staring at the water. I’d considered the words of Friedrich Nietzsche, the translation of which says “if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you”, and thought that surely the opposite of such a statement must be as true as the first. If you gaze long into beauty, beauty must surely gaze long into you. This confirmation to me that we are what we surround ourselves with – that we are what we choose to be, what we choose to become – was an incredibly beautiful moment for me. I gazed around me at everything with wide eyes, drinking it in. Nothing had changed, yet it all seemed new and incredible to my eyes. That sort of feeling is something I can carry with me always.That is the sort of feeling I feel like Mr. Guccione is referring to.
Okay, now that you’ve had some time, have you thought of one? Good. Think not necessarily about what you saw, but how it made you feel. Now imagine being able to have that feeling, that tingle that goes through your entire body when you realize you’re part of something incredible, every day of your life. At the very least, having a semblance of it with you, and often. There are people like that. There are people who follow their passions, not money. People who wake up in the morning with a purpose beyond the material. People who know that because they are alive and doing what they’re doing, someone, somewhere, is better off than they would have been otherwise. Think about that first. Think about what your talents and skills are, or what would you would like them to be, second. Third, think of how you can help people with those skills or talents. Remember well the words of Tony Robbins: “the defining factor is never resources, it’s resourcefulness”. If you want it enough, it can happen. I have a hard time fathoming the type of world we’d live in if these three simple steps were followed, but I like to try and imagine it anyways.
Thirdly, and lastly, I just wanted to point out something that occurred to me after I’d finished watching. The title of this film is ‘The Future We Will Create”. At first, I thought perhaps a better name might have been ‘The Future We Can Create”, but that’s not the point at all. The point is we ARE creating the future. Right now. You, me, your neighbors and that guy you see on the street and the people he knows and their friends and their family, expanding forever. It’s being created with or without your input. It’s going to happen. You get to decide how it turns out. In a very real, very large way, you can affect the course of history. The words people will read about our time and the times following us is a direct result of actions people like you and me make every single day. Ghandi was just one man. Mother Teresa, simply a woman. Don’t you think for an instant that a single person can’t change the course of history. The course of history is altered every day by choices that are made by individuals, just as much as they are by any government or group. History is also altered by choices that are not made. Do not let what could have been haunt you.
Mark Twain wrote: Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
I’m going to do just that. What about you?
Fall From Grace is a 72 minute documentary focusing on the life and actions of members of the Westboro Baptist Church – a church ran by Pastor Fred Phelps. Many people are familiar with the teachings and actions of this family – and family it is – the vast majority of his ~40 member following his immediate family members. The church takes an incredibly hard stance against homosexuality, toting around large signs and proclaiming loudly that “God hates fags!”, “God hates your tears!”, “Thank God for dead soldiers!”, and so on. Their public stance against homosexuality started roughly 20 years ago, when they took to the streets protesting homosexual activities happening in a park a few blocks from their church location. Since then things have boomed. To date they have participated in over 22,000 pickets – protesting everything from the University of Kansas as a hotbed for homosexual activity, to the funerals of soldiers killed in Afghanistan or Iraq. Their claim is that since the U.S.A. (and the world as a whole) has taken such a welcoming view of homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle, the world is under condemnation from God. As a result, soldiers who die overseas die as a result of serving a country who openly embraces sin. Signs like “Thank God for IED’s!” and creating websites depicting photos of military troops burning in hell are the methods they chose to employ in order to deliver their message. The hate that they spit out is really quite impressive, and watching this documentary makes it incredibly difficult not to become furious at them and their point of view.
Starting the church in 1955, Pastor and, at the time, lawyer, Fred Phelps began preaching his doctrine of hate. His congregation consisting, as previously stated mainly of family members, has grown almost exclusively by births into the family. From a young age these children are taught to spout rhetoric they cannot understand, scream filth on the streets they do not know the meaning of, and hold signs with their parents as they are yelled at by onlookers. As they grow older and learn more, they become more vicious. Beginning only with signs, they have taken to tying American flags under their shoes and dragging them on the ground. Adults and children can be seen wiping their feet on the flag, doing everything they can to “piss all over it”, in the words of one of their members. When not on the ground, the flag is hung upside down. They scream filth at passerby’s, regardless of age or gender. A woman yells at a younger girl, calling her a “God hating whore” because she had cut her hair. In addition to their physical protests, they’ve setup several websites, the main of which is www.godhatesfags.com, dedicated to the spreading of their message. They claim the internet is a gift from God, specifically crafted for the Westboro Baptist Church mind you, so that they can spread their message more effectively Any other use of the internet is a coincidence – the purpose for which it was invented is to serve them. Honestly the amount of hate they generate is found in such abundance that I hesitate to spend more time on it. A simple Google search for ‘westboro baptits’ brings up so information you couldn’t possibly sift through all of it on your own. It is simple enough to state that their hate mongering and rhetoric focuses almost exclusively on ‘fags’ and their removal from any facet of modern society at all. The methods they employ, while controversial, are legal. I may hate what they say, but I respect their right to say it – in much the same manner as they should respect the rights of others to say what they feel.
Since the founding of the church, Fred Phelps’ license to practice law in both state and federal courts has been revoked, stating that he is unethical in his practices and therefore unfit to practice law in this country. Four of his thirteen children, as well as grandchildren and so on, have abandoned both the faith and the family. Several of them have done interviews, and their insight into this family and religion is a very different one from the face the church paints for the public. One of the sons, who left the family and religion on his 18th birthday, talks over a phone interview about how life was with Pastor Fred Phelps as a father. His sister, also estranged from the family, joins in. Anger and fear were the constant companions as a child. Pastor Phelps used a barber strap to give lashings to his children: 7-10 lashings was considered only a moderate beating for the children. Employing the barber strap with such force and regularity it began to fray – the frayed ends cut open the childrens bodies as they were beaten. Moving on from this strap, Fred began to use the handle of a maddock (which is much like a pick or a shovel handle), to beat them. 40 or 50 hits, swung like a baseball bat, was average. Sometimes they were beaten several hundred times. While most of us feel this would entice one to leave as fast as possible, as some of them surely have done, I would argue that this would be a reason to stay as well. When you are so afraid of someone, endoctrinated so deeply with the belief that you are vile and filthy by your very nature, and should you go against the Pastor you will burn in hell for the eternities…all of a sudden it is not so illogical to stay, and yes, to even try to prove your point. Validating your beliefs at that point would validate your suffering. Fostering the ‘us vs. them’ mentality, you’d begin to feel justified – even obligated – to share the hate and pain that was so ingrained into you from the moment your comprehension allowed such. I pity the Phelps. I despite their stance, but I pity them. What sort of wars must be fought in their heads to justify such hatred. His son goes on to claim that the religion has become a cult – one that has all the major signs, mainly:
- A charismatic leader.
- Isolated from everyone else.
- Willingness to do whatever they’re asked in the name of their cause.
- Strengthened by the us vs. them mentality.
By now you’re probably wondering what people are doing about it. You may find yourself saying, as Pedro Irigonegaray, a Topkea Attorney said:
I choose to speak out because I could not remain silent, I could not remain indifferent in the face of all that bigotry and hate. Because not to oppose bigotry is to endorse it.
The answer? Lots. Not all of it legal, but lots. OThe Phelps family has been attacked and assaulted several times throughout the years. Their garage was set on fire, and a bomb was even planted in their yard. I don’t condone anything of the sort, to be clear, but it does paint the picture of rage that they are practically begging for. Doing what they do, they just know that such drastic repercussions can and will occur as they continue their campaign of hate. People protesting against their protesting (say THAT ten times fast) have shown up with huge numbers. Signs reading “God hates fags!” are met with “Then why are we so cute?”, and so on. Men from biker groups come to the funerals, parking in front of the protestors and revving their engines so loudly that nothing can be heard. Tires have been slashed, and tow companies have refused to do business with the family. In the technical realm (and therefore something I pay a lot of attention to), the Westboro Baptists found themselves under attack by several hacker groups. The hacker collective Anonymous took over one of their servers live during an interview. Greyhat hacker th3j35t3r (for those of you unfamiliar with a form of typing called leet speak, it means The Jester), took down their websites (www.godhatesfags.com, http://www.westborobaptists.com and more) for several months, begging the question in many an online chatroom that “if the internet was made for you, then why is God allowing your websites to be hacked?” and so on. The Westboro Baptists eventually resorted (out of desperation?) to joining his IRC channel to chat with him, asking him why he was doing what he was doing and what he wanted. Transcripts are available online, although reader be warned, it’s disorganized and difficult to read, as well as potentially offensive.
Would I recommend the movie? Absolutely. Was it hard to watch? Absolutely. But there are lessons to be learned from the hate they spit, and not just in regards to how we treat people. The fact that they are allowed to do what they do is a good thing. It is an expression of the freedom that valiant men and women fight for, every day. It challenges us and our ideas – perhaps cementing in our minds thoughts we’ve had for years, or generating new ones. I certainly don’t agree with them or their methods. They disgust me on every level possible, but I have pity for them. I disagree as much as it is possible to with their doctrinal stance regarding the Bible, but I respect their right to say it. I agree with the legal measures that are being taken by people just like you and I, all over the country. Efforts to stop the spread of hate and discrimination. These are the sorts of activities I can endorse. Don’t sit idly by and let the hate be spread, because doing so is endorsing it. When you have the chance to stop or lessen the flow of hate, it is your responsibility to do so. Make sure you’re not just watching it flow by.
Pururambo is a 55 minute documentary about some of the native peoples of New Guinea. While this isn’t necessarily a documentary about a problem, and instead is more an exploration of people as a whole, there are things we can learn – I hope I can help you see them. At the beginning of the movie, the narrator (and also explorer) Pavol Barabas states that “the seasoning of the world is the people. . .” which I could agree with more. I’ve thought so often that there are so many incredible people to meet and learn from – I often wish that i had more years on this earth that I could devote solely to this endeavor. There is so much to see in this world – things made by her people, the people themselves, and then things that nature has created for us to enjoy. When I think about all the things I have the opportunity to see in my lifetime, I feel a hope and a peace. No matter what happens, there is so much good to be enjoyed.
Stated early on in the film is a comment regarding the fast as fire global spread of Western culture. Says Barabas, “What I see or feel today may not be here in a few years time.” If that isn’t a fire under you to get out and experience then I don’t know what else could. I grew up in America, but many months of my childhood were spent in a small town in Norway called Askim. I will forever have a love of this place. I have returned several times, and even in the short years between my visits so much has changed. The people are as wonderful, the country as enticing. But it is no the same place as the one I knew as a child. Forests are gone, replaced with highways and buildings. I worry that this spread of civilization will encompass too much too quickly, leaving only a memory of treasures this world holds for us right now.
Focusing his adventure on the island of New Guinea, Barabas and team set out into the jungle with a few native guides. They are going towards what is known as the ‘line’ – a line, past which, lies the headhunters and cannibals native to this plan. Natives who have killed many who venture too far into their lands. The forest is incredibly thick and beautiful here. Bugs are out in incredible forces – the chances of getting diseases like malaria are very, very high. In fact, on Barabas’ last trip to New Guinea, he got malaria, x, and y. Not the most hospitable environment. As they get deeper into the jungle, they begin to encounter natives. The natives closest to the line of blah have met white people before, albeit rarely. Their fear is evident, but an offering of sugar cubes and tobacco soothes them quickly. They are a beautiful people. Dark and small, with piercings and not much covering, these people live in some of the most extreme environs in the world. They build huts, without the use of nails or wood, many feet in the air – high enough to avoid all the insects that hover near the ground (how they do it is entirely beyond me). Climbing up a slim pole carved with very small notches for their feet and hands is the only way up and down. Several outsiders have died falling from these towering huts – children inside, too young to realize the danger, are tied by the ankle to a post in the middle. They venture on, going from one village to the next. Sometimes the huts are abandoned – a result of wars between tribes – other times they are occupied. It was a truly interesting experience, watching these people meet a white person for the first time. Barabas must have looked an alien to their eyes. The reactions varied. One man screamed and ran around in front of the newcomers, bow half drawn. He’d stop, stare, then begin to run in a line in front of them, back and forth, screaming and half drawing his bow. I can only assume that the intent was to intimidate. Others stood there quietly, as if not believing their eyes. Barabas and crew walked very slowly up to them, holding out sugar cubes or tobacco. Some of these men, generally the tribe leaders, ignored them even then. Standing still and not quite meeting their eyes, you could see their fear. But, afraid or not, they stood steady in front of these foreigners. It was incredible. Barabas reaches, very slowly, and touches one of their hands. The man doesn’t react. Slowly, ever so slowly , he turns his head and spits, then slowly turns it back. Never quite meeting the eye, but to me at least, showing an act of pride in his own self worth even in the face of a totally mysterious opponent. He may be afraid, but he is not backing down. This is his land and he knows it. The further they venture into the forest, the more hostile the natives become. Twice, bows are drawn and arrows released – not shot at the crew, but rather in warning. Eventually tobacco and sugar cubes win them over though, and we are allowed a rare glimpse into a people still living in the era you and I know as the Stone Age.
Focusing much of the documentary on these peoples eternal struggle for food, you can’t help but weigh the pros and cons have westernizing people so technologically limited – however, they seem happy, and starvation is not a problem. Most of their life is based around acquiring and preparing food, but they are not wanting. The documentary follows them as they cut down massive trees with stone axes, tear them open with crude instruments, and then grind the insides to make a sort of starch for cooking. It really is fascinating how much they are able to accomplish with only the crudest of tools. All in all, engaging and interesting. I loved having this small glimpse into the lifestyle of a people that is fast fading in this world. It is ancient and simple, beautiful in it’s own way. I would recommend watching Pururambo (which means ‘good’ in their language) to anyone. It is quite a treat. It makes me think of men and women like Barabas who spend their lives having such adventures, and it speaks loudly to my soul. Life is what you make of it. When in the end, you’re sitting in a circumstance almost entirely of your own construction, make sure it’s where you want to be. How tragic is a life spent doing that which makes one unhappy. Be active about making your life into the tale you want it to be. Make sure you’re not just watching it slip by you.
Diamonds Of War – Africa’s Blood Diamonds is a 56 minute documentary focusing on the diamond trade – specifically the conflict, or ‘blood’ diamonds, which have been used to single-handedly pay for wars all across Africa. This National Geographic documentary was eye opening in a lot of ways. I’d heard of blood diamonds of course, I’d even seen the Hollywood version of what exactly is happening in these developing African nations. My understanding, though, was limited. The wars which have raged across places like Liberia and Sierra Leone have been brutal both in their exportation methods and their treatments of civilians during times of conflict. Men shovel, barefoot, all day, every day, 365 days a year. They hope and pray for the chance to find a diamond – even a small one. When asked about what they’d do, their answers are humble. Buy a house. A motorcar. Help my people. But the stark reality is that few of these men ever find a diamond big enough to pursue their dreams behind the muddy waters of these diamond mines.
Although the wars right now have mainly subsided, diamonds are still being used to fuel violence. Recent findings point that even the Al Qaeda terrorist organization is using the diamond trade to fund their campaigns of terror. But how can we stop it? Somewhere between 20%-40% of all diamonds, globally, are smuggled out of their countries of origin every year. In Sierra Leone alone there are estimates of over one 1,000,000 miners, while only 1,000 actually have a license to do so. The comparison is of the Wild West, where gold miners flocked to the west in search of gold and your gun was law. Unfortunately for the civilians of these countries, they are generally not the ones with the weapons. A massive part of the terror these civilians had to endure at the hands of militants was what seems like an obsession with amputating parts of a human body. Not enough to kill, only to maim. Everywhere you look in these towns are signs of the war in the missing limbs of it’s occupants. Even children were not exempt – small girls without arms, or crutches, are just as easily found as grown ups. The entire thing is horrifying to think about. Even while many of the diamonds today are traceable as being conflict free, campaigns are out there that call for a cease of all diamond sales. I found a post on a fellow bloggers website, saying, “When we wanted to stop elephants from being poached, the world had to stop buying ivory. If we want to end the wholesale slaughter of Africans, we must stop buying diamonds. And, we must do it now.” Other campaigns, by organizations as big as human rights group Amnesty International, call for tighter regulations and adherence to the Kimberley Process and Clean Diamond Trade Act. They promote their message with shocking pictures, meant to associate diamonds with the sort of violence diamond sales are helping to finance, as seen below:
But what can be done about it? When the statistics are as disheartening as they are in this situation (60% of all diamonds exported from Sierra Leone are smuggled out), then what sort of implementations can be set in place to force the policies that are already in place? Great strides have been made, and there is no doubt about that. However, there are still conflict diamonds, albeit a small percentage of them, that make it through all the red tape and end up in Antwerp, being cut, measured, weighed, and sold along with conflict free ones. For people like you and me, we can do a bit of research. Amnesty International has a document, available here, that says among other things that we must ask 4 simple questions from our diamond retailers before purchasing a diamond:
- How can I be sure that none of your jewelry contains conflict diamonds?
- What is your primary source for diamond jewelry?
- Can I see a copy of your company’s policy on conflict diamonds and/or a written guarantee
- How often do consumers ask you about conflict diamonds?
They are quick to point out the blood diamond sales are not a thing of the past – in the document linked above reads the text:
Blood diamonds are not just a problem of the past. Blood diamonds from West Africa are
currently reaching international markets. The UN recently reported $23 million in blood diamonds
from the Ivory Coast are being smuggled into international diamond markets. Diamonds have fuelled
the conflict in the Congo (DRC), the bloodiest war since WWII; armed violence and human rights
abuses continue over control of diamonds mines in eastern Congo. As the brutal conflict in Sierra
Leone shows, even a small amount of conflict diamonds can wreak enormous havoc in a country.
Make sure to take the matter seriously into consideration. I understand the feeling that the likelihood of your purchase being a conflict diamond is small, and therefore negligible. But it isn’t negligible for the people living in these sorts of situations every single day. If you were in their shoes, your prayers and thoughts would be turned towards hoping that people with the ability, and the motivation, to affect a real change in your world would do so. That is where we come in. That is where we can do more than simply watch events unfold before our placid eyes. This is the time where we can become involved and make a difference for people who truly need a difference to be made.
Please take a moment to do some reading on the topic, and allow me to suggest you start at some of these sites:
Amnesty International Action Guide: http://www.amnestyusa.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/cd_dl_actionguide_feb2007.pdf
Amnesty International on conflict diamonds:
Stop Blood Diamonds:
How To Avoid Buying A Conflict Diamond:
Blood Diamond and Kimberly Process Information: