2017
September
21
Thursday

The Vietnam War has been a difficult conversation for Americans. After its bitter end in 1975, it didn’t crop up much at the dinner table. It took its time to enter textbooks. It became a “syndrome” that evoked aversion to overseas military engagements.

This week, with “The Vietnam War,” Ken Burns and Lynn Novick started a fresh conversation, not just in the United States but globally. The series has been licensed in 43 countries, a record for Burns, and PBS is streaming it in Vietnam, concurrent with its US airing.

The 10 episodes traverse a wide spectrum of emotions: pride and despair, service and sacrifice, protest and distrust. A youngster during that era, I recall vignettes: a friend’s relief at her brother’s high draft number; the bracelets we wore, poignantly engraved with a POW’s name.

Monitor colleague Brad Knickerbocker, who flew combat missions in Vietnam, told me he anticipated the series with curiosity and dread. He notes that one image, of “that rusted nose cone along Ho Chi Minh Trail, might have been one of mine.”

And he reflects: "If only five presidents had had courage to do the right thing, if only somebody had explained the history of Vietnam to me when I was a newly minted naval officer, I might not have become a combatant.” In 1982, he attended the dedication of the Vietnam Memorial on the National Mall in Washington. Amid the press of 400,000 people, he ran into a good friend, a Marine Corps helicopter pilot he hadn't seen since 1965. A photo of a warm embrace speaks to another facet of that conflict as well. 

Now, our five stories for your Thursday.

1. WikiLeaks, Russian edition: how it’s being viewed

Is WikiLeaks's data dump about Russia – possibly the first of many – a smokescreen? Experts are parsing the motives behind a long-threatened release of documents related to the country's surveillance culture.

Amelia

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Russia has been investing heavily in a vision of cyberdemocracy that will link the public directly with government officials to increase official responsiveness. But it is also enforcing some of the toughest cybersecurity laws to empower law enforcement access to communications and ban technologies that could be used to evade surveillance. Could WikiLeaks put a check on Russia’s cyber regime? This week, the online activist group released the first of a promised series of document dumps on the nature and workings of Russia’s surveillance state. So far, the data has offered no bombshells. “It’s mostly technical stuff. It doesn’t contain any state contracts, or even a single mention of the FSB [security service], but there is some data here that’s worth publishing,” says Andrei Soldatov, coauthor of “The Red Web,” a history of the Soviet and Russian internet. But, he adds, “Anything that gets people talking about Russia's capabilities and actions in this area should be seen as a positive development.”

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WikiLeaks, Russian edition: how it’s being viewed

It’s been seven years since WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange threatened to drop an information bombshell on the Kremlin that would show Russians the inner workings of their government and business world.

That threat never materialized, though a handful of fairly tame Russia-related documents were published. 

WikiLeaks went on to publish hundreds of thousands of secret US diplomatic cables and, more recently, a huge trove of emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager. That appearance of lopsidedness has led some to accuse WikiLeaks of being in the Kremlin’s pocket, and CIA director Mike Pompeo to denounce the group as “a hostile intelligence service.”

But Russia might now be back in WikiLeaks’ sights.

This week WikiLeaks uncovered Spy Files, the first of what it says will be a revealing series of document dumps on the nature and workings of Russia’s surveillance state. Most of what is contained in the 34 base documents from Peter-Service, a private St. Petersburg digital company that provides “solutions” for Russian telecom giants and state agencies, has long been known and appears to be within the framework of Russia’s fairly draconian national security legislation.

Still, it represents a significant departure for WikiLeaks, and experts say it casts a timely spotlight on the vast surveillance operations mounted by Russian security services.

“It’s mostly technical stuff. It doesn’t contain any state contracts, or even a single mention of the FSB [security service], but there is some data here that’s worth publishing,” says Andrei Soldatov, co-author of “The Red Web,” a history of the Soviet and Russian internet. “Anything that gets people talking about Russia’s capabilities and actions in this area should be seen as a positive development.”

Russia’s new cyberscape

According to WikiLeaks, Peter-Service was founded as a billing service in 1992. But it has since grown into a major provider of software and equipment that includes exotic gear for law enforcement and intelligence agencies. “The technologies developed and deployed by Peter-Service today go far beyond the classical billing process and extend into the realms of surveillance and control,” WikiLeaks wrote. “Although compliance to the strict surveillance laws is mandatory in Russia, rather than being forced to comply Peter-Service appears to be quite actively pursuing partnership and commercial opportunities with the state intelligence apparatus.”

The documents shed some light on SORM, the technical infrastructure used by security services to keep tabs on electronic communications and internet traffic, and to store masses of data for future reference.

Russia has been investing heavily in a vision of cyber-democracy that will link the public directly with government officials in an effort to increase feedback and official responsiveness. But it is also enforcing some of the toughest enabling laws, to grant law enforcement access to just about any communications, require companies to maintain all data on Russian citizens on servers within the country, and to ban use of encryption technologies or services such as VPNs that could be used to evade surveillance.

The so-called Yarovaya Law, which vastly expands the powers of security services, now allows authorities to monitor and even ban almost any organization deemed to be “extremist,” including groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

In line with public attitudes in most countries, 58 percent of Russians said they don’t think the government should have access to their private communications, according to a survey done last year by the state-funded Public Opinion Foundation. Twenty-five percent said such state surveillance was permissible to fight terrorism and crime.

One of the documents published by WikiLeaks is a slide show produced by Peter-Service which appears to be a market promotional for its services. The video has been in the public domain for some time, WikiLeaks admits.

“That slide show provides a very good illustration of the mindset of these people,” says Mr. Soldatov. “It’s quite eye-opening. The tone of it is ‘we are under attack, and we can’t let the Anglo-Saxons win this war. Our enemies are Facebook and Google. We need to promote national operators and solutions to protect ourselves.’ They are openly discussing the need to control all national communications.”

The company at the center of this storm has denied doing anything illegal. But most large Russian media outlets have yet to cover the story.

“Everyone is getting caught up in this information war, and we already knew that WikiLeaks is no white knight,” says Sergei Strokan, international affairs columnist for the Moscow daily Komersant. “Russian authorities might best ignore this. It’s unlikely they will want to respond, and might just hope it will go away.”

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2. German elections revive rift that dates back to reunification

A sense of lives upended in the wake of the 1990 rejoining of East and West Germany may in part explain the allure of the Alternative for Germany, the right-wing party poised to do well in Sunday’s elections.

Amelia
Axel Schmidt/Reuters
Lead Alternative for Germany candidates Alexander Gauland and Alice Weidel attend a news conference in Berlin Sept. 18.

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Petra Köpping, who was mayor of a small town near Leipzig in Soviet times but had to sell insurance after the Berlin Wall fell, saw coal miners cry when their mines closed. She saw how Western investors took over businesses in the East while Easterners were unable to get loans. She spoke of railway workers whose pension systems were not recognized in reunited Germany. Easterners’ feelings of humiliation remained unspoken. But German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “welcome culture” policy toward refugees changed things. Today, Ms. Köpping is Saxony’s first integration minister at a time when the anti-Islamization Pegida movement marches weekly in Dresden, and anti-refugee violence still flares. She has been inundated with calls from journalists asking, “What is wrong with the East?” She tries to explain by talking about one of the angry Pegida demonstrators she had spent time with. “You and your refugees! It’s all about refugees,” the woman yelled. “But why don’t you integrate us first?” “People saw how the state is taking care of the next generation of people in need – the refugees," says Köpping, “and they are saying ... ‘Why is the state taking care of them while it never took are of us?’”

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German elections revive rift that dates back to reunification

“Traitor!” “Merkel, out!” The anger, boos, and whistles greeting Angela Merkel in Germany’s east earlier this month are not the sort of reception many outside observers expect the country’s popular chancellor to receive.

But not so for people like Regina Bernstein, who lives near this small village of 4,200 at the foot of the Lusetian Mountains near the Czech Republic. She recognizes the anger, which dates back to Dec. 5, 1990. That's when the agency overseeing East Germany’s transition into unified Germany declared that the local factory, called Margarethenhütte, wouldn’t compete in the free economy, and laid off its 850 workers.

For more than 130 years, Margarethenhütte manufactured ceramic insulators for power lines, which by 1991 it sold everywhere from Sweden to South Africa. But for Ms. Bernstein, who worked there as a ceramic engineer, her bitterness over its closure was about more than the loss of job or history.

“It’s not only our jobs that were taken but our dignity,” Bernstein, who now owns a pottery studio, says. All the things she had worked for were undermined: her qualifications, the system of all-day school that had helped her combine family and work – her entire system of values. “We felt humiliated, degraded, taken advantage of,” she says. “This arrogance, it sits deep and it’s passed on when it remains unfiltered.”

Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters
A woman with a headscarf walks past an election campaign poster of the anti-immigration party Alternative fuer Deutschland AfD, in Marxloh, a suburb of Duisburg which local media said is populated mostly with people of Turkish migrant background, Germany September 13, 2017.

And while those events are more than a quarter-century past, they have new relevance today amid Germany’s national elections, set for Sunday. For it is this sense of anger and resentment deeply anchored in the country’s east that has contributed to the rise of the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. And it is rooted in the personal experiences of individuals like Bernstein, who feel that western Germany continues to see its eastern German “brothers” as second-class citizens. So, they ask, why should we sacrifice to integrate Muslim refugees now?

“People don’t want to share at all,” says Bernstein, speaking of many she knows (although she says she will not vote for the AfD herself), “because they feel they were betrayed.”

'Why don't you integrate us first?'

After Germany reunited, the Margarethenhütte story was repeated thousands of times, from the coal-mine regions to those of chemical industries. Easterners’ feelings of humiliation remained unspoken for long. But Ms. Merkel’s “welcome culture” policy toward refugees changed things.

It was one Saxony minister who, in a headline-making speech before the German state’s Social Democratic Party leaders in Leipzig last fall, spelled out the connection between the unspoken wounds of reunification and the growth of the AfD in the east. Petra Köpping, who had been mayor of a small town near Leipzig in Soviet times but had to sell insurance after the Berlin Wall fell, spoke from her heart. She had seen coal miners cry when their mines closed. She saw how Western investors took over businesses in the east while Easterners were unable to get loans and left the region. She spoke of railway workers whose pension systems were not being recognized in reunited Germany.

“People were treated like objects,” she said.

Today, Ms. Köpping is Saxony’s first integration minister at a time when the anti-Islamization Pegida movement marches weekly in Dresden, the state capital, and anti-refugee violence still flares. She has been inundated with calls from journalists from across Germany and around the world asking, “What is wrong with the east?” 

She tries to explain by talking about one of the angry Pegida demonstrators she had spent time with. “You and your refugees! It’s all about refugees,” the woman yelled at her. “But why don’t you integrate us first?”

“People saw how the state is taking care of the next generation of people in need – the refugees – and they are saying, ‘Why hasn’t it worked for me?’” Köpping said. “‘Why is the state taking care of them while it never took care of us?’”

Matthias Rietschel/Reuters
German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks to an employee during her visit to the Daimlers first battery factory prior to the beginning of the ground breaking ceremony for the second battery factory at Daimler subsidiary ACCUMOTIVE in Kamenz, Germany May 22, 2017.

'We were taken over'

An influx of Western money after reunification gave the east new roads and refurbished town centers, paving the way for cities like Leipzig and Dresden to experience an economic comeback. The gap between the country’s two halves has narrowed.

But it remains large. None of Germany’s 30 DAX index companies are in the east, and practically no big company is headquartered here. Wages lag behind, and the risk and rates of poverty are higher. In regions where young qualified people have left in droves, all major leaderships positions in all areas of society, from its universities to its churches, are occupied by western Germans. Many in the east feel they are not part of today’s successful Germany, the motor of Europe. That is fertile ground for right-wing attitudes.

“We were taken over, like a colony,” says Rainer Schiemann, who was an electrical engineer at Margarethenhütte for 20 years. He felt the decision to close the plant while systematically turning down any input from workers amounted to “a deliberate effort to eliminate us and make room for the competition.”

After unification, he saw western firms take over, using labor in the east but keeping their highest-paid employees – and the revenue streams from their taxes – in the west. With the labor reform under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and then Merkel, precarious jobs developed and wages never took off. “And people tell us we should be grateful that the west took us over!” he says. “No wonder that people are voting for the alternative.”

Former plant worker Axel Gude says his family – and his life – fell apart after he and his wife lost their jobs. His son turned to the neo-Nazi scene – his revenge on the system, Mr. Gude says. Gude adds that “the memories of the nice times in socialist times and my family have helped me.”

A voice for people's resentment

The AfD has clearly tapped into the disillusionment voters feel with Germany’s established political parties. But linking the upheavals of reunification to the rise of the AfD has many fierce critics. Yes, mistakes were made, they say. But revising the past brings but false hopes, and nobody wants East Germany (GDR) back. 

Integration Minister Köpping says it's important to talk for people to talk about the past so they can come to term with it. That’s key to preserving social peace, she says. “Otherwise we could forget that the GDR was a dictatorship,” she says. She points out that, in Saxony, a quarter of the young people say they do indeed want East Germany back, according to recent studies.

The east, where voters’ attitudes are notoriously fickle, is the AfD’s stronghold, and that has a lot to do with the feelings of the locals – like the fears of the future, of falling into economy uncertainty, and of having been lied to by the main traditional parties. Those feelings look set to propel the AfD into Germany's national legislature, the Bundestag, for the first time. It will also be the first time that a party to the far right of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) bloc – and one with an overtly nationalist agenda – will make it in, ending Germany’s unofficial consensus not to let extremist parties have a say in politics.

The open question is whether the AfD will win third place nationwide, and become the leading opposition party. In the east, their draw could go as high as 25 percent, according to recent polls, which could put them above the usually second-place Social Democrats. 

But even if the AfD’s numbers do not rise so high on Sunday, many in the east, even those who have no plans to vote for the party, understand some of its supporters’ frustrations. In Bautzen, a small town near Großdurau, entrepreneur and faithful CDU voter Marco Kosak is one of those. Decades after the Berlin Wall fell, many of the eastern region’s leaders – in the world of academics and business – come from the west. He is an exception. 

“Nobody regrets the GDR, but the feeling of inferiority has remained,” Mr. Kosak says. “People don’t want to be occupied again.”

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3. In US West, communities try teamwork to fight wildfires

The ability to tap the right networks can make all the difference in getting the job done. It's an ethos that's spreading to wildfire management, connecting and empowering communities that have long operated in relative isolation. 

Amelia
Andy Nelson/The Register-Guard/AP
Pacific Oasis crew members work to remove a fire resistant barrier from a structure at the Clark Creek Organization Campground that was threatened by a wildfire Sept. 19 in Springfield, Ore.

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When it comes to fighting Western wildfires, we had to “dispel this notion that if we only had enough airplanes, engines, boots on the ground, we’d be good,” says Wendy Fulks, of the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network, or FAC Net. “We know now that’s just not going to work.” The network brings together for the first time communities that had for years been working to address wildfire issues in relative isolation. It is a milestone in the nation’s changing attitudes toward wildfire, say fire-management practitioners. Instead of waiting for the federal government or leaving understaffed towns to try to do their own research in the middle of an emergency, it offers a cooperative model where communities can share best practices – and develop their own resiliency to wildfire. “So often, we fall into the same routine of having a problem in our place and thinking it’s just in our place,” says Annie Schmidt, director of the Chumstick Wildfire Stewardship Coalition in Leavenworth, Wash. But while every community has its own unique challenges when it comes to fighting wildfires, she notes, they also have plenty in common. “Not only can we learn from each other to get better results, we can create new things together,” she says. “[That is the] only the way we’re going to tackle some of these big problems.”

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In US West, communities try teamwork to fight wildfires

For Annie Schmidt it began in 2014, with a stranger on a bus.

Ms. Schmidt was in Colorado Springs for a workshop held by the newly created Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network, or FAC Net. On the way to a field trip, she found herself sitting beside Justice Jones of the Austin Fire Department, discussing his extensive work on post-fire recovery.

Later that summer, as the Carlton Complex Fire tore through 256,000 acres of north-central Washington, Schmidt, then-director of the Chumstick Wildfire Stewardship Coalition in Leavenworth, Wash., remembered the conversation and called Mr. Jones. “I said, ‘I need to know everything you know about recovery, like, yesterday,’ ” she says.

The information was a godsend for fire managers, who were stretched thin as hundreds of homes burned across Okanogan County, Schmidt says. “We didn’t have the time or resources to have materials developed instantaneously,” she says. “The ability to reach out and get some of these basic questions answered was huge.”

The network is a milestone in the nation’s changing attitudes toward wildfire, say fire management practitioners. Instead of waiting for the federal government or leaving understaffed towns try to do their own research in the middle of an emergency, it offers a cooperative model where communities can share best practices – empowering them to participate in developing their own resiliency to wildfire. “That’s a really big shift in terms of people trying to understand wildfires instead of just responding to them,” says FAC Net co-director Michelle Medley-Daniel.

As climate change leads to hotter, drier summers, and populations grow in fire-prone regions, fire professionals have increasingly turned to strategies beyond suppression, or putting fires out as quickly as possible. “It’s almost a shelter-in-place mentality,” says Max Moritz, a specialist in fire ecology and management and a professor at the College of Natural Resources at the University of California, Berkeley. “If we’re going to see more events that are more extreme ... we’re going to have to learn to live in tune with the natural hazards of the environment where we are.”

Today FAC Net – born from collaboration among The Nature Conservancy, the US Forest Service, and The Watershed Center – consists of two dozen members, including fire departments, nonprofits, and conservation districts whose goal is to build relationships within and among fire-prone communities nationwide. Another 80 or so affiliate groups participate in workshops, access resources and tools online, and share with one another decades of wisdom around wildfire resilience.

When 'boots on ground' aren't enough

For the past century the responsibility of managing wildfires has fallen largely to agencies – such as fire departments, the Forest Service, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency – that have dealt with fires in a quasi-military fashion. The structured, hierarchical nature of that response ensured clear command structures and communication in efforts to put out fires.

But the past 20 years have seen fires grow increasingly catastrophic. Part of it was the build-up of small trees, shrubs, and other flammable debris that turned some communities into tinderboxes – a result of 100 years of fire suppression. As the West’s summers grow hotter and drier, it has led to fire seasons that are as much as two months longer in states such as Montana.  

At the same time, between 2000 and 2010 10 million new residences were built in the nation’s wildland-urban interface – communities that either border or are on fire-prone land. As of 2013, 36 percent of US homes stood in the WUI, according to joint research from the Forest Service, the University of Wisconsin, and Oregon State University. 

We had to “dispel this notion that if we only had enough airplanes, engines, boots on the ground, we’d be good,” says Wendy Fulks, who facilitates FAC Net’s major partnerships. “We know now that’s just not going to work.”

Legislation such as the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 and the Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement (FLAME) Act of 2009 catalyzed community preparedness efforts across the country. By the time FAC Net was formed in 2013, there was a growing sense among practitioners that they needed more innovative ways of living with fire – and that one way to do that was to involve more people in their work. The network brought together for the first time communities that had for years been working to address wildfire issues in relative isolation.

“So often, we fall into the same routine of having a problem in our place and thinking it’s just in our place,” Schmidt says. But while every community has its own unique challenges when it comes to wildfire, she notes, they also have plenty in common. “Not only can we learn from each other to get better results, we can create new things together,” she says. “In a capacity-limited, budget-limited world, [that] is the only way we’re going to tackle some of these big problems.”

Learning from others

The network introduced Schmidt and the Chumstick coalition in Leavenworth to the organizers of Project Wildfire in Deschutes County and Ashland Fire & Rescue in Oregon. Since 2015, the three organizations have been in constant contact and held what they call learning exchanges: essentially field trips meant to showcase each community’s expertise.

The 2014 and ’15 wildfire seasons, for instance, left Washington State with plenty of recovery experience to share. Businesses’ ability to operate during and after a fire was a popular subject. “If you have a wildfire and only half the staff comes in, what’s the plan to operate at that level? Or say you have a loss of a key member [of your organization]. Who’s going to step in and run that business?” says Alison Green, program director at Project Wildfire.

“It broadened out our thinking beyond just fuel-reduction projects and firewise communities,” adds Ed Keith, county forester of Deschutes County.

Mr. Keith has in turn provided both Ashland and Leavenworth with advice on applying for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program, saving them time and resources. “We were able to get a sense of how much work it would be and how effective it can be,” says Alison Lerch of Ashland Fire & Rescue. “We didn’t have to do everything anew.”

Chris Chambers, also from Ashland, recalls taking a tour of Wenatchee, Wash., following the summer of 2015, when embers from a nearby fire ignited sections of the city’s downtown. “Ashland has a similar topography, and it didn’t really cross my mind that it could impact our downtown area,” he says. “It was really eye opening for me.”

Getting the network off the ground had its challenges. Investing in relationships takes time and energy, and that’s a big ask of understaffed agencies facing a growing problem. The idea of a non-hierarchical structure can also be difficult to embrace for those used to dealing with top-down organizations, says Medley-Daniel, the FAC Net director. “It’s about accepting complexity ... and it continues to be hard to unravel what we need to do,” she says.

But for the most part, the benefits of being part of the network outweigh the trouble, FAC Net members say. The network’s online platform – which include a blog and a forum that works almost like Reddit for members – makes it easy for communities nationwide to ask advice of each other and share ideas. FAC Net also provides small grants, and its staff helps connect individuals and agencies with counterparts that can best help solve their problems. “So we have this suite of efforts aimed at helping places move further down the road in changing their relationship with fire,” Medley-Daniel says.

It’s the personal bonds, however, that members say they value most.

“It’s the in-person relationships that makes you comfortable enough to pick up the phone and say, ‘I’m about to ask for your time and your help,’ and they’re more inclined to answer,” Schmidt says. “You’re a person to them.”

Material from Reuters was used in this report.

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4. Help, and some hope, for the children of ISIS

For children raised under ISIS, the innocence ideally associated with youth may seem a distant dream. Now they need help to reconnect with that essential quality and move beyond the brutality that gripped their earliest years.

Amelia

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A worrying legacy of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) is that a generation of Iraqi children has been traumatized and radicalized by the jihadist group. Whether conscripted to fight for ISIS, or victimized by it, the children saw and did things they never should have. In the words of one trauma specialist, many have, as a result, lost their “trust in humans and humanity.” Unless they receive the care and counseling to reintegrate into society, experts warn, Iraq and Syria will face a generational “time bomb” of extremism, deliberately planted by ISIS. One expert calls the traumatized children a “jihadism incubator.” Iraq lacks the mental health professionals needed to counsel them, but experts hold out some hope. If enough teachers can be found, getting the kids back to school could create the stability they need for some healing. One German-Kurdish trauma specialist has treated hundreds of children in northern Iraq, including child soldiers and torture victims. “School is psychotherapy itself,” he says. “This type of daily ritual of waking up, having breakfast, going to school, and having homework provides a sense of stability for these children.”

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Help, and some hope, for the children of ISIS

In camps for internally displaced persons and in the war-torn towns and villages of western Iraq, there is one legacy of the so-called Islamic State’s brutal reign whose magnitude experts and authorities are only beginning to understand: traumatized children.

From the stateless children of ISIS members, to child soldiers and the tens of thousands indoctrinated in ISIS schools, a generation of young Iraqis has been traumatized and radicalized by the nihilistic jihadist group. They are at war with themselves and their own community.

In the words of one trauma specialist, many of these children have, as a result, lost their “trust in humans and humanity.”

Unless authorities and the international community work to help reintegrate these children into society, including by providing counseling and psychiatric care, experts warn that Iraq and Syria will face a generational “time-bomb” of extremism, deliberately planted by ISIS, that could one day again threaten regional stability.

Experts warn, too, of a lack of trained mental health professionals to deal directly with the children’s emotional wounds, but they hold out hope for one solution that may be more within reach: If enough teachers can be found, getting the kids back in a school environment could create the stability needed for some healing.

Maya Alleruzzo/AP
Ahmed Ameen Koro, 17, center, talks with other children after school in the Esyan Camp for internally displaced people in Dahuk, Iraq, April 13, 2017. Ahmed was among some 200 Yazidi boys captured by Islamic State militants and sent to a two-month training camp in Tal Afar. Their days began with early morning prayer and military training exercises, followed by study of the Quran. They learned to shoot Kalashnikovs and pistols. On a large screen, they watched videos on how to use a suicide belt, throw a grenade, or behead a person. 'They were telling us if we were in a fight against the infidels ... we had to blow ourselves up and kill them all,' he said.

ISIS orphans

There are no precise numbers for the children of ISIS members or the number of children who were conscripted into the group as fighters. 

Experts place the number of ISIS child soldiers at 3,000, while tens of thousands are believed to have received training and indoctrination in ISIS camps and schools in Iraq and Syria.

As the Iraqi military has liberated towns and villages, it has been confronted with the challenge of child soldiers. Hundreds of children as young as 13 are being held in prisons across Iraq on suspicion of being ISIS fighters and are facing a lifetime of imprisonment, according to Human Rights Watch.

The Iraqi government has also struggled with what to do with thousands of unaccompanied and fatherless children, so-called ISIS orphans, believed to be the children of ISIS members and fighters.

The Iraqi government opened a detention camp specifically for suspected ISIS families in Bartella, east of Mosul, in July, but closed the camp a few weeks later following an outcry from the international community that the government was expecting humanitarian funds to pay for what amounted to open air prisons.

Yet now Iraqi authorities are enacting a revised policy, allowing Iraqi families to leave internally displaced persons (IDP) camps and return to their liberated home towns and villages, except for the families and children with suspected ties to ISIS, creating de-facto ISIS family camps.

“As soon as you put these children in ISIS camps, they will be stigmatized for life as ISIS. We are talking about a stigma that will be passed down generations, rather than ever integrating into society,” says Belkis Wille, senior Iraq researcher for Human Rights Watch, who has visited the camps.

“When you are talking about a child whose only sin was to be born to the wrong parents,” she says, “this approach of placing people in camps with labels is collective punishment – and dangerous.”

Unprecedented indoctrination

The indoctrination of children goes beyond the sons and daughters of ISIS fighters. Tens of thousands of children in Iraq and Syria have been forced to go to ISIS-run schools and training camps, radicalizing an entire generation.

The line between child fighter and student is blurred.

In ISIS-run schools, children count guns and tanks to learn math, while others are gathered to watch and celebrate executions, say experts and refugees. Children were used heavily in propaganda campaigns, both to threaten peoples and governments and to urge mothers and children to follow the so-called caliphate’s brutal laws.

The more talented children were conscripted into ISIS’s fighting unit, the so-called “cubs of the caliphate.” Other children were abducted and subjected to beatings and torture to persuade them to train as soldiers, experts say. Children took target practice, and were taught how to fight with a knife and perform beheadings. Some were forced to carry out executions – sometimes of their own family members – with their own hands.

It is a child radicalization process with few parallels in modern history. Nikita Malik, a senior research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society in London who has studied ISIS’s education system and use of child soldiers, likens it to the fascist Hitler Youth movement – an organized educational system coupled with, in this case, an extreme jihadist ideology.

“We have never seen these things come together before,” she says.

Felipe Dana/AP
Iraqi children flee through the rubble as Iraqi forces continue their advance against Islamic State militants in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq, July 4, 2017.

Untreated trauma

Experts say the level of radicalization and trauma has left an entire generation of Iraqis and Syrians in need of long-term counseling, psychological support, and reintegration support that very few are getting.

The Iraqi government has neither the resources nor expertise to provide counseling.

Aid organizations are attempting to step in to provide rudimentary psycho-social support to women and children traumatized and indoctrinated by ISIS in IDP camps across Iraq, but are struggling to find specialists well-versed in local language, culture, and traditions, experts say.

“Many organizations will hold their hand and ask how they are feeling, but they are unable to give a diagnosis, let alone treatment,” says Sherri Kraham Talabany, whose Kurdistan-based organization SEED Foundation has been providing psychotherapy for children traumatized and radicalized by ISIS across Kurdistan.

“A lot of these kids are going without services.”

The SEED Foundation says there is a shortage of qualified male psychologists with roots in the community to treat child-soldiers and radicalized young boys who were taught for years by ISIS that mixing with strange women – let alone receive treatment from them – is a sin.

A new psychological training center at the University of Dohuk opened this year, yet there are still only a handful of psychologists in northern Iraq who specialize in dealing with trauma. 

Dr. Jan Ilhan Kizilhan, a German-Kurdish trauma specialist, has treated hundreds of children traumatized by ISIS, including child soldiers and torture victims, in northern Iraq. He says organizations are dealing with children who have been exposed to executions, jail, torture, and sexual assault.

The experiences have fundamentally changed the way these children view the world.

“These children have observed a man-made disaster, a human killing machine, and as a result they have lost a trust in humans and humanity,” Dr. Kizilhan says.

Multiple health-care and aid specialists operating in northern Iraq listed the same symptoms among children: post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), aggression, anxiety, fear, and depression. Human interaction is difficult. When faced with any challenge or stress, the children’s first instinct is to respond with violence.

The trauma children suffered under ISIS has had a destabilizing effect at home, leaving parents and relatives who are themselves traumatized unable to cope. Some distraught families have gone to SEED and asked the organization to “take their children.”

“They don’t have any trust in the parents because they have a feeling that their parents let them down and they were unable to protect them; they resent them,” Kizilhan says.

Relief in the classroom

Short of long-term counseling, experts say children traumatized by ISIS need a sense of stability and routine, a feeling of security that is nearly impossible in war-torn Syria and Iraq. But experts say they can find such stability in the classroom.

“School is psychotherapy itself; this type of daily ritual of waking up, having breakfast, going to school, and having homework provides a sense of stability for these children,” Kizilhan says

Experts say school also helps traumatized children to interact with peers and with adults, socializing with – and eventually trusting – others once again.

The Iraqi government and the international community are attempting to provide schooling for thousands of children in liberated areas and for the displaced, helping children catch up ahead of the start of the Iraqi school year in late September. For 600,000 children in Mosul, 500 schools have reopened, while several schools have been opened in camps for the displaced.

However, Iraq is reporting a teacher shortage in war-torn cities such as Mosul, classes are over-full with as many as 100 students per class, while many schools – including 30 percent of all schools in Mosul – are contaminated by explosive devices, according to the UN.

More than 1 million of Iraq’s children are out of school. In Syria, where the country’s civil war still wages, providing education to children in recently liberated towns and villages is all but an impossibility.

Jihadism incubator

The stakes, mental health advocates and extremism experts say, are huge.

ISIS strategically exploited Iraq and Syria’s children as a “resource,” extremism experts say, using their indoctrination and training as a way to plant the seeds for ISIS’s return years after the inevitable fall of its so-called caliphate.

If former child fighters are not reintegrated into society, and if those with ties to ISIS are stigmatized by societies and governments, there could be an entire generation “ripe” for a return to violence.

“ISIS invested into children as a jihadism incubator, a future resource of trained fighters to tap into long after ISIS reverted from a state back into an organization,” says Hassan Abu Haniya, an Amman-based expert in jihadist groups.

“Without reconciliation, without support, and without reintegration of these children, this will lead to ISIS’s return as an organization in Iraq and Syria in the quickest way possible.”

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Book review

5. Good reads: our picks for the 10 best books of September

What should I read next? It's a delightful but also challenging question. Books editor Marjorie Kehe helps us sort through the options this month.

Amelia

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September is traditionally a big month for book publishers, and this one hasn’t disappointed, delivering powerful titles on topics ranging from czarist Russia to Trump’s America, as well as evocative short stories and the best of expository prose. (To hear a conversation with Marjorie Kehe, the Monitor’s books editor, scroll down and open the audio version of this package.) 

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Good reads: our picks for the 10 best books of September

1. 'Draft No. 4,' by John McPhee

When a master of his craft offers advice, it’s folly not to listen. Which is why no one with any interest in writing should fail to pick up this collection of eight essays by longtime New Yorker writer John McPhee. McPhee walks readers through what it means to be a nonfiction writer, dishes up heaps of good advice, and manages to be delightfully good company as he goes.

2. 'Alone,' by Michael Korda

Historian and novelist Michael Korda tells the story of the dark days of the British people, from the start of World War II up through the battle of Dunkirk. Korda, whose family fled Britain during the war, blends his own personal experience with his typically detailed and superb reportage of battle and war movements.

3. 'Istanbul,' by Bettany Hughes

Historian and documentary filmmaker Bettany Hughes has enjoyed what she calls a 40-year “love affair” with Istanbul. Here she delves deep into the city’s history. Hughes has said that she doesn’t intend her book to be “a catch-all catalogue of Istanbul’s past” but rather hopes to deliver something more personal and impressionistic. According to Monitor reviewer Steve Donoghue, with this book, Hughes “easily accomplishes both.”

4. 'Nomadland,' by Jessica Bruder

This book grew from Bruder’s excellent cover story for Harper’s about Americans – many of them past retirement age – who have become “houseless” and move from locale to locale in search of seasonal work. Bruder’s work is an excellent piece of immersion journalism and also a glimpse into an unexpected slice of American life.

5. 'Border,' by Kapka Kassabova

Memoirist and poet Kapka Kassabova returns to her native country, Bulgaria, for the first time in 25 years and finds her hometown at the crossroads of Turkey and Greece to be both greatly altered and much the same. Once a refuge for fleeing East Germans, she now meets desperate Syrian refugees and offers a compassionate reflection on lives upended by politics.

6. 'Sing, Unburied, Sing,' by Jesmyn Ward

Jesmyn Ward’s first novel since her National Book Award-winning “Salvage the Bones” tells the story of a black mother and her two children, driving toward a prison where they plan to pick up the children’s white father. Ward weaves themes of race, family, and history into a powerful, wrenching, and deeply thoughtful narrative.

7. 'A Disappearance in Damascus,' by Deborah Campbell

Award-winning journalist Deborah Campbell has written a powerful and gripping tribute to Ahlam, the courageous and talented Iraqi woman who helped her when she was covering the aftermath of the Iraq War. When Ahlam disappears suddenly one morning, Campbell is determined not to give up on her. Although Ahlam’s story is often difficult to read, this is also an inspiring profile of a remarkable woman.

8. 'George & Lizzie,' by Nancy Pearl

Celebrity librarian and NPR commentator Nancy Pearl has long been on the reviewer side of the book-to-critic relationship. But now she crosses over with her first novel, a charming story about a married couple and the wife’s difficulties in surmounting the emotional walls she has built around herself. Monitor reviewer Rebekah Denn calls this “a surprisingly delicious read.”

9. 'The Last of the Tsars', by Robert Service

Distinguished Oxford historian Robert Service offers a detailed, thoughtful look at the time between the abdication of Russian Czar Nicholas II in March 1917 and his murder 16 months later. According to Monitor reviewer Terry Hartle, “Service’s books are authoritative, definitive, and tell a compelling story, and this is no exception.”

10. 'Five-Carat Soul,' by James McBride

The short stories in this collection from National Book Award winner James McBride (“The Good Lord Bird”) range widely, from the Civil War to the Vietnam War and from the animal world to a toy train set, but all are poignant, imaginative, and “literary” in the best sense of the word.

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The Monitor's View

Aid to North Koreans? The idea has roots.

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South Korea’s offer of $8 million in humanitarian aid to North Korean children and pregnant women, despite the North’s military threats, fits a trend to protect the innocent even in the midst of a conflict. The move by President Moon Jae-in could help close to a million people suffering from a recent drought in North Korea. The food and medicine will be delivered by international aid groups that are well practiced in making sure outside aid reaches those it is intended to help. North Korea’s dictators have a long history of ignoring the extreme hardship of their people in order to pay for a military buildup. But that cruelty should not diminish the rest of the world’s compassion to save innocent North Koreans. Providing aid to civilians across enemy lines sends a subtle message that what unites people, such as a desire to protect the innocent, is far more important than what divides them.

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Aid to North Koreans? The idea has roots.

In a surprise move that seems at odds with Washington’s threatening stance toward North Korea, the government of South Korea announced Sept. 21 that it plans to resume humanitarian aid to its neighbor. This comes despite the North’s rapid-paced testing of longer-range missiles and stronger nuclear weapons. It also seems to contradict the ratcheting up of sanctions by the United Nations Security Council against the Kim regime in Pyongyang.

Yet South Korea’s move is not out of line with a global trend toward the idea that even enemies must recognize the innocence of noncombatants in a conflict and provide them with lifesaving care and immunity from harmful neglect.

The $8 million of assistance offered by President Moon Jae-in is aimed at helping close to a million children and pregnant women who are suffering from a recent drought in North Korea. The food and medicine will be delivered by international aid groups that are well practiced in making sure outside aid reaches those it is intended to help.

North Korea’s dictators have a long history of ignoring the extreme hardship of their people, such as a mass famine in the 1990s, in order to pay for a military buildup. But that cruelty should not diminish the rest of the world’s compassion to save innocent North Koreans. “Humanitarian action cannot be held hostage to political ends,” said Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, recently.

Providing aid to civilians across enemy lines sends a subtle message that what unites people, such as a desire to protect the innocent, is far more important than what divides them.

A similar sentiment can be found in Israel, which revealed in July that its military has been assisting thousands of Syrian civilians fleeing war in their country. Called Operation Good Neighbor, the aid program is seen by Israel as a “moral imperative” even though Syria and Israel have been in conflict for decades. The Israeli army has given food and other supplies to Syrian refugees while hundreds of Syrian children have been treated at Israeli hospitals.

The world may be seeing a similar example soon in Venezuela, where the regime’s economic neglect and harsh crackdown on dissent have left millions desperate for food and other basic goods. International aid groups and members of the country’s political opposition are in talks on how to deliver foreign aid despite the regime’s resistance. President Trump even hinted at providing aid during a recent speech at the UN: “The Venezuelan people are starving, and their country is collapsing. Their democratic institutions are being destroyed. The situation is completely unacceptable, and we cannot stand by and watch.”  

No matter how severe international conflicts may be, they have their limits when enough people and nations recognize the dignity of all innocent lives.

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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Progress toward peace

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For nations to move forward and find peace and stability after war, it is important to recognize the need to unify rather than divide. An awakening to this need often comes through a realism born of necessity. But lasting peace is spawned by more than human willpower and desire, no matter how well intentioned our efforts. A powerful impetus for peace in the work of rebuilding after conflict can be found in acknowledging the universal God as the power of good, not evil. On this annual International Day of Peace we can all play a part by knowing that spiritual power underlies our every effort to do good. 

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Progress toward peace

For nations to move forward and find peace and stability after war, an awakening to the need to unify rather than divide is important. Often that comes through a realism born of necessity, but lasting peace is spawned by a realism based on something more than human willpower and desire, no matter how well intentioned our efforts.

In my own experience I’ve found that a growing understanding of the reality that God, the universal divine Mind, is the source of true intelligence can forward real and reliable progress toward resolution. This kind of spiritual realism, acknowledging God as infinite and all-knowing good, has inspired me to listen for divine wisdom. I’ve found that approach fosters unity.

In particular, I’ve come to deeply appreciate what two ideas from the Bible bring in order to accomplish unity of purpose to do good, and not evil: the First Commandment – “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3) – and the golden rule. These are not just traditional doctrines, but foundational laws that bring lasting, healing results. When we strive to obey them, we are affirming and seeing the practicality of God’s infinite goodness.

To pursue peace is natural as we come to see God as the power of good, not evil. This will of God was explained in a message that accompanied the birth of Christ Jesus: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14). In healing the sick and sinning, Jesus showed our true nature as God’s children, spiritual and good.

The Bible’s book of Job states: “There is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding” (32:8). As God’s children, we reflect qualities that originate in the all-knowing Mind­ – such as inspiration and wisdom – and that enable us to have the right ideas to move forward.

In “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Christian Science discoverer Mary Baker Eddy gives an insight into the power of divine Mind to bring this recognition to humanity. She writes: “The necessity for uplifting the race is father to the fact that Mind can do it ...” (p. 371). Acknowledging God as our infinite source of right ideas is a powerful impetus for peace in the necessary work of rebuilding after conflict. In recognition of the International Day of Peace today we can support progress toward peace by letting spiritual realism inspire our prayers.

As welcome as human pragmatism is, divine Mind can offer more. The spiritual truth is that we all truly coexist under a universal banner of divinely secured peace. Acknowledging this purifies our thoughts and inspires selfless actions. Our earnest efforts to humbly stop clinging to power struggles and instead to seek the guidance of divine Mind readies us to listen for the inspiration of the Almighty that gives us a unifying understanding that fosters peace.

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Viewfinder

Deep in prayer

Amit Dave/Reuters
Students pray during a ceremony to mark International Peace Day in Ahmedabad, India, Sept. 21.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( September 22nd, 2017 )

Thanks for joining us today. Tomorrow, come back as we take a deeper look at the antifa movement – and whether it means the left is getting more violent.

Monitor Daily Podcast

September 21, 2017
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