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Guns In My Backyard

The other night while having dinner on our deck on a warm summer evening we heard automatic weapons fire.  We live in the suburbs of Denver, about a mile as the crow flies from the Family Shooting Center in Cherry Creek State Park.  We often hear the peppering of gunfire as people shoot and train with handguns and rifles.  It is background noise for us, just like the planes flying over our house as they line up to land at nearby Centennial Airport.  But this night was different.  It sounded like we were on the front lines in Syria or Afghanistan.  The shooting went on forever.  Non-stop uninterrupted automatic weapons fire.  I called the Sheriff’s office and they said they were getting numerous complaints.  Then I called and left a message at the range, saying they were being insensitive and not being good neighbors, especially in light of the recent Aurora shooting which left so many people dead, injured and on edge.

Much to my surprise, the next evening, the proprietor of Family Shooting Center, Doug Hamilton, called me.  He was very earnest and apologetic that we were disturbed.  He was certain it was an unusual confluence of atmospheric conditions that carried the sound all the way to us.  He told me they were having a special demonstration event for the staff that they do once a year.  He said he was calling back everyone who left a number and wanted to assure me that they were good neighbors.  He even told me about sound buffers they were installing.  We had a good dialogue, but when I suggested to him that perhaps they do not need to fire off automatic weapons at the range, or if it was essential to have this event annually, perhaps his staff could take a field trip to the country, he went silent.  He listened politely to my feelings but when we hung up I wasn’t sure he really heard them.

And therein lies the disconnect.  I will be candid.  I am not a gun person but in recent years my stance has softened dramatically.  My car dealer has his concealed carry permit.  My son’s best friend hunts.  I visited the Tanner Gun Show and understood why some women felt they needed to have a handgun.  I get that people want guns for recreation and protection.  I have learned to respect their rights.  I believe I am being very reasonable.  But I cannot understand why we need to have automatic weapons in my neighborhood or in any neighborhood for that matter.  When I posted my story on Facebook the jaws of my friends in Canada and Australia dropped.  They couldn’t get their heads around an evening in the suburbs listening to automatic weapons fire or even the irony of a place called Family Shooting Center.  They have such a different world view from ours.

Not long ago in another direction a mile away from my house a new business opened.  It is a gun store, with a built in range, and the owners intend to turn the empty lot across the way into a gun club.  Right across the street from my Starbucks and Einstein’s in an upscale suburb of Denver there is now a gun store.  I must confess when I first saw it I had a visceral reaction.  Not in my back yard.  But I’ve accepted it.  The only thing I wish is that since we are sharing common ground, perhaps we can reach some common ground.  Can’t we all at least agree that there is no reason to have automatic weapons around here?  What good comes from them except to kill people?  Can’t we just leave them to those who fight wars?  It seems like such an easy compromise to make and one that many reasonable people are calling for.  It seems like our country and our communities would be so much safer.  It would certainly keep me from losing my appetite during warm summer evening barbeques on my deck in Colorado.

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War and Remembrance 5

A couple of years ago I read a book called “The Faith Club” where three women got together regularly to talk about faith. They were a Christian, a Muslim and a Jew. The experience and friendship was transformative as they worked through their differences and came to realize their similarities. I am having a dialogue with a man named Ben Coker, Jr. in South Carolina who responded to a blog I wrote on Veterans Day. We are politically miles apart but we are finding common ground and having an inspired conversation. It continues here.

Vicky, please call me by my first name. I am also enjoying this dialogue with you. I fully agree with your assessment about our not being able to run to every segment of the world. I vividly remember Mogadishu. That was an absolute fiasco. We went over there for humanitarian reasons. There was no functioning government to control the population. Reagan sent the military as a part of the contingency to provide this assistance. The radicals have taken over that area. Of course we exited that area in disarray. We should have never been there.

How do we differentiate between the areas we should try to help and those we should not. I agree with you about our being able to win the friendship through creating conditions that enrich the lives of the people and promoting quality of life. Do you remember the Marshall Plan that was utilized to rebuild Europe in an effort to develop and cultivate friendship and to improve the lives of the people as well as international commerce? This was a very successful operation. However, it was successful because the Allied Armies and the Nazis destroyed all the infrastructure throughout Europe. The Allied Armies had beaten the adversaries into submission. They had nothing left. The military leaders were allowed to conduct a very aggressive battle plan that left them helpless. The adversaries could not resist the USA’s and other’s plan to resuscitate the economy of the world. The enabled the nations to develop a resurgent economy conducive for ALL citizens.

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War and Remembrance 4

Part 4 in the dialogue between me and Ben Coker, Jr. of South Carolina following my Veterans Day post.

Hi Mr. Coker,

I’m enjoying our dialogue.  I am not the student of history that you are but as a television news producer and international traveler I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on current events.  I would like to address your question on whether we should turn our heads from those who are being oppressed, maimed and killed throughout the world.  Absolutely not!  I personally know the cost of the Holocaust.  My family died in it.  But should we send in armies every time we perceive a threat or injustice?  I don’t think so.  Clearly after 9-11 we had to get tough and go after those who violated us and killed so many of our citizens.  I remember watching NBC’s Today Show on the morning of the attack and telling my then 7 year old son (the subject of the Veterans Day post) that we were going to war.  It was our generation’s Pearl Harbor.  We had to strike back.  But have we really done anything to beat down radical Islam?  We may have disorganized the extremists and driven them into caves, but they’re not going away and in the process we have alienated many moderate, peace loving Muslims throughout the world.

I’m thinking Greg Mortenson who is building schools in the remote reaches of Pakistan and Afghanistan is doing as much if not more good than our armies. Instead of battling with guns, Mortenson is fighting so children will grow up educated and be able to look the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in the eye and say this is not for me.  So many of the people in the world who become radicalized do so because they have no opportunities or hope for a future.  Our armies may be holding the line but I think we need systemic changes in those countries to beat down oppression.  That is when women and children will be better off.  Our armies, and George Bush, may have kept another attack from American soil, but we shouldn’t forget the work of Laura Bush who went to Afghanistan to champion women’s rights and education there.  This may be very Pollyanna of me and I’m not saying we don’t need war, but I think we need diplomacy and peace more.  Eagerly awaiting your thoughts.  Best, Vicky

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War and Remembrance 2

Following my Veterans Day post, the conversation continues with Ben Coker, Jr. of South Carolina about war, service and our commitment as Americans.  Hope others will join the dialogue.  Will keep posting as our back and forth continues.

Dear Mr. Coker,

Thank you so much for reading my blog and for your incredibly thoughtful comments.  Part of the reason I write is to leaving something for my children to discover someday and to dialogue with people like you, at least virtually.  It is always a great pleasure when someone shares their thoughts and stories with me.  Would it be OK with you if I posted your letter on my blog?  To tell you a bit of the backstory that led to my blog post, I was born in 1958 in Hawaii and was a child during the Vietnam War.  Although soldiers were coming and going through Hawaii, the war and the protests were really on the periphery of my life.  It wasn’t until I moved to San Francisco in my 20’s that I realized how oblivious I had been and had a sense of the toll and outcry.  I learned about the service of my father (he was a Polish Jew who lost his parents in the holocaust and fought the Nazis in the Polish underground and Army) in a short memoir he wrote and by reading Tom Brokaw’s “The Greatest Generation.”  I finally understood why my dad jumped if you woke him suddenly or why he didn’t want to talk about those years.  He never shared his experiences until shortly before his death.  Like other veterans of his era, he stoically moved forward and kept the pain inside.  Mostly I grew up in a world at peace and was honestly surprised when I learned my son has to register with Selective Service when he turns 18.  I had no idea.

What has me conflicted, Mr. Coker, is that we seem to wage war for the wrong reasons these days.  Everyone stood together in WWII.  It was a righteous response to tyranny.  These days I’m not so sure.  You have a son in Afghanistan so maybe you can help me with this.  We fight to bring democracy to countries like Iraq and Afghanistan so moderate Muslims around the world can know of freedom, even as we oppress and distrust our Muslim citizens here at home.  We respond to 9-11 by going into Iraq to fend off a rogue leader and search for weapons of mass destruction that don’t exist.  We don’t consider how this will effect the people there and how painful the transition will be.  We boost Pakistan and Afghanistan while the leadership harbors our enemies and Osama Bin Laden thumbs his nose at us.  And we fight for nations with incredible records of human rights abuses and expect our participation will change the culture. If my son goes to war I want to believe in the cause with every fiber of my soul and I want him to believe in it too.  I guess I don’t feel confident that our leaders are taking us down the right road these days.  That’s why a call to duty scares me.  The other thing is that I don’t see a safer world for our troubles.  It seems we have fewer freedoms at home and a more unstable world.

If you would like to continue sharing more thoughts with me I would really appreciate your point of view.  I don’t feel castigated at all and with your permission I’ll put our back and forth on my blog.  This world needs a lot more people who are willing to dialogue through these kinds of things and I feel privileged to have a chance to do so with you.  Warmest regards to you and Polly and your brave son.  Best, Vicky Collins

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War and Remembrance

I received a very thoughtful response from Ben Coker, Jr. of South Carolina to my Veterans Day post. He and I are having a dialogue about war and peace and our obligations as Americans.  We have never met and I sense we are on two sides of the political spectrum but we are sharing our opinions and trying to understand where the other is coming from.  In the meantime I am getting quite a history lesson.  I’ll be sharing our conversation with you.  Read on:

Good morning Ms. Collins,

I read with great interest you column on your inability to endure your son’s telling you that he would like to join the military. In that column you expressed your gratitude for those who have and are currently serving their country. Your point is well taken, but let me offer the following thoughts. It is only natural for a mother to protect her children; however please allow me to offer the following.

I was born in 1948 and grew up in a very rural area in South Carolina. I had two uncles on my dad’s side that fought in “The Battle of The Bulge” in Germany during WWII. I had other relatives that were deployed to other parts of the world in order to maintain freedom for our beloved America. As I was growing up, I vividly remember the horror stories on TV of the atrocities on sea, land and in the air. One of my uncles was never ever able to re-adjust to life after the war. He had a family with five children, but he was an alcoholic. My other uncle acclimatized well to life after the war.

However, having been born in 1948 I can remember an abundance of patriotism for WWII. There were many movies depicting battles of WWII. We children were drilled on the importance of our military and the need to support the military. I was always very interested in “Operation Overlord” or better known “D Day”. I educated myself on the events that motivated Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor and our subsequent “Declaration of War” on Germany and the other countries allied with Germany.

Other underlying facts involved the genocide initiated by Germany and the the theft of the people throughout Europe who did not adhere to Nazism. Our nation endured much pain and suffering in order to defeat Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo. Of course there were many more who rose to power whom we eventually defeated, but the fact remains, the USA paid an enormous cost. from this war rose some of the most courageous leaders ever known. In fact Tom Brokaw wrote a book about the forefathers who endured that period of time. The name of his book was “The Greatest Generation”.

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On Veterans Day

As a mother I can’t imagine my son coming to me and saying he’s going to join the military. I am not brave enough for that conversation.  I don’t ever want to sit across the table and hear that news.  Every time my son hyperventilates over “Call of Duty” (he bought Black Ops on the first day it was out) I worry the video games he plays are glamourizing war and putting ideas in his head. I fret that he will think it is fun to blow away the enemy, and that he will see himself as some kind of fearless, reckless Rambo who always wins the battle. I have always told him college is not optional, primarily because I don’t want him going down the road to war. Mostly because I couldn’t bear the knock on the door.  I get a sick feeling in my stomach justing imagining it.  If he chooses to fight I would rather he uses all his brains and brawn to fight for peace.  Am I unpatriotic?  Where would America be if all mothers thought this way?

I deeply appreciate the service of the young men and women who go into the military.  My dad fought in World War II and my husband’s uncle died in the Korean War.  On this Veterans Day, I’m grateful to them, to those who served and to those who still do.  I’m grateful for those who sacrificed everything to protect our freedoms and those who returned home with scars that never heal.   I’m grateful for those who march off to war in far away places like Iraq and Afghanistan, who push through their fear, even as they miss home and wonder why we can’t just work things out without violence and guns.  I’m in awe of mothers who let their babies go. I don’t know how they find the courage.   I’m sure they are thinking about how children grow up in the military, how it’s a pathway to education, how they forge lifetime bonds of friendship with fellow soldiers, how they learn leadership, how they are doing heroic work and fighting to keep us safe.  I’m only seeing uniformed men coming up my walk and me collapsing.

To all the moms out there on this Veterans Day, I hope your children come home safe.  I wish you peaceful days and restful nights. And I pray that our leaders work out problems diplomatically so mothers no longer have to let sons or daughters go off to war or be photographed clutching a flag or draping themselves over the coffin of a child.  On this Veterans Day I was looking for a quotation that summed up my feelings.  I found this one by Eve Merriam who wrote “I dream of giving birth to a child who will ask, “Mother, what was war?”

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The Woman on the Cover

The cover of this week’s Time Magazine is incredibly powerful. I saw it at the airport and couldn’t get it out of my mind. A woman with her nose cut off by the Taliban as the poster child for the carnage and cruelty in that war torn land. Not sure if it posed a question or just an answer with its title: What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan. It certainly makes you think about the atrocities, especially directed at women, who until now have had little voice.,8599,2007269,00.html

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Acid Attacks: Personal and Political

Many of you have come to this blog to watch the story about Juliette and read about her brutal acid attack in Kampala, Uganda (  I had always considered the violence against Juliette and other women like her as personal.  Jealous men destroy the lives of women who threaten them in some way.  Nicholos Kristof of the New York Times writes widely on this subject as he moves about the developing world.  In the following blog, Jim Verhulst of the St. Petersburg Times, argues that terrorism like this needs to be considered in the larger political framework, especially as President Obama ponders what to do in Afghanistan where attacks like this happen frequently.  Can we realistically bring change to a country where it is entrenched that there is less value to a life that is poor and female.  Nicholas, Jim and I are among those who are trying to give a voice to women who are victims of this kind of atrocity.  So is Emilio Morenatti of the Associated Press.  He took the photos you are about to see and these portraits of damage and despair are shocking.  How can men do this to women and what can we as a compassionate world do?  We must honor the beauty and spirit of these women, and women like Juliette, by stopping this carnage once and for all.  The choices we make as we contemplate our missions abroad must also keep this in mind.   

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Vacation in Afghanistan

One year ago I was in Beijing, China for a three month gig working at the Olympics.  In November 2008 I headed to Kampala, Uganda again to do more television production work for BeadforLife ( then immediately after a quick trip to Delhi, India for a wedding.  No exotic destinations this summer but I’m hungry for an overseas trip.  I’m already thinking about what to do for our 25th wedding anniversary in 2010.  Saw this article about vacationing in Afghanistan.  The land mines will be cleared out by October.  Bamiyan seems like the place for an intrepid traveler to be.

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Juliette’s Acid Attack

Juliette dreams of someday marrying a nice man.  One unlike the monster who poured acid on her in a jealous rage in July 2007.  We are sitting with this young woman, just 19 years old, on a porch near a church in Kampala, Uganda.  Juliette is beautiful on the side of her face that she shows to the world.  Her eyes are bright and she has a radiant smile.  The other side of her face she covers with long braids.  It prevents the fearful looks from those who pass her by.  It covers the half of her face that was destroyed in the brutal acid attack that sent her to the hospital for five months and disfigured her for life.   “I open?” she asks.  She lifts her hair to show what remains and tells her story. 


Juliette shows her damaged face from an acid attack.

Juliette shows her damaged face from an acid attack.


Juliette speaks about the hard life that made her run away from her village and head to Kampala.  Her dad died when she was a baby and her mom passed away when she was 9.  She was left with an aunt who thought she was a burden.  Juliette was beaten and tormented so at 13 she took off.  In Kampala she made some friends and they would go clubbing.  She met a guy, got pregnant at 14 and had a daughter the next year.  The guy was into drugs.  She didn’t love him.  At 18, she wanted a new life.  When Juliette finally decided to leave him he attacked her.  Juliette speaks about that night in a strong voice.  She doesn’t want you to turn away.  She wants you to hear the story about how he came to her door with battery acid and changed her life forever.

“Before I was looking good I was having my two eyes two ears two nose but now I’m like this.  I didn’t know the time would come like this you know when he poured acid.  It was like a dream.  When he poured me he bring it in a cup then he poured and said let me finish you you fool.  After pouring me he went he run.  I was alone in my room it was really hot.   More pain more pain.” 

Juliette endured excruciating skin grafts.  She lost her eye, her ear, and has burns on her neck and leg.  Her faith in God got her through the ordeal and, despite the agony she endured, she forgave her attacker.  “When I was in the hospital that boy came who poured acid.  He said do you love me yes or not but in my heart it was good I was saying my God no matter what I forgive him.  Even though he poured me acid I forgive him.  I said God you create him and you create me before so if you decide me to look like this I’ll continue life.  I can’t kill myself.  I said God let me forgive that guy.” 

Juliette says there are hundreds of women in Kampala who have suffered a similar fate to hers.  In the ward where she recovered there were 30.  As is often the case, the man who attacked Juliette was never prosecuted, but because of the courageous testimonies of women like Juliette, this most brutal of human rights abuses is being exposed.  In Tehran, Iran, a spurned suitor who threw acid and blinded a woman will literally give an eye for an eye.  Islamic law is allowing Ameneh Bahrami to see her attacker blinded.  If the sentence is carried out he will have the same acid placed in each of his eyes and she will see justice.  In Kandahar, Afghanistan, 10 Taliban militants have been arrested for throwing acid in the faces of schoolgirls simply because they chose to get an education.  The men each got paid the equivalent of $2000 US for the November attack.  Students are afraid to return to the Mirwais Meena girls school.  Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist, has been reporting about acid attacks in neighboring Pakistan where 7800 have been documented in Islamabad alone.  

Juliette walks in the world and hopes people will look past her damaged face and see the beauty inside her.  She sings songs that honor God and Africa.  She finds comfort in Jesus and her church, in an acid survivors support group and in BeadforLife ( which has taught her to make bead jewelry so she can earn a living and take care of herself and her daughter.  Juliette hopes a doctor will help repair the damage from the attack and even dreams she will be married someday.  She begs people not to reject victims of acid attacks.  And Juliette plans to give back to others too.  “In my future, I’d like to help orphanage, lame people, widow.  I want to help some of them when I’m somebody, I’m somewhere.  I’d like to help to show them they’re still someone.  They can do more.  They can go somewhere.”

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