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Sebastian Junger speaks at TED Talks: War and Peace | Ryan Lash/TED Photo
Sebastian Junger speaks at TED Talks: War and Peace | Ryan Lash/TED Photo

Filmed at New York’s The Town Hall theater and hosted by bestselling author and producer of “The Daily Show,” Baratunde Thurston, TED Talks: War & Peace explores the impact of war through the eyes of those who have experienced its every aspect: soldiers, journalists, doctors, mothers, and more.

The program features thought-provoking ideas, short films, and a special musical performance by Rufus Wainwright. I watched a screener of it and was moved by the voices represented. I highly recommend this program for anyone who is concerned with our current state of seemingly perpetual war.

The second in a series of three TED Talks television specials slated for 2016, TED Talks: War & Peace premieres Mon., May 30, 2016 from 10-11pm ET on PBS (check your local listings for air time in your area).

The first speaker is former Marine-turned-actor Adam Driver, who shares how the world of theater recreated the camaraderie he missed after the military and how drama can be used to help returning veterans transition to civilian life. He has created a non-profit called “Arts in the Armed Forces.”

Next is the short film “Talk of War” by Geeta Gandbhir and Perri Peltz, about how to talk to children about war. It features interviews with parents, members of the military, and children whose parents have gone to war.

Journalist Sebastian Junger, who spent 15 years as a war correspondent and suffered short-term PTSD as a result, speaks next. He wonders if the prevalence of PTSD among the military has more to do with the angry and fractured America that vets come home to than their actual combat experiences.

The reason he says this is that the intensity of combat has decreased while disability rates within the military have increased. Ten percent of our military are in combat, but 40 percent struggle to assimilate back into society. He explains that we should perhaps call it “alienation disorder” rather than PTSD, as that alienation and depression is also dangerous and results in numerous suicides.

Junger uses Israel as an example. Few of their military suffer in the same way, and he believes it’s because everyone there is in the military at some point and understands it. Therefore, alienation doesn’t exist.

Another short film, “All Roads Point Home” by Michèle Stephenson and Joe Brewster, profiles Major General Linda Singh, Maryland’s highest-ranking soldier. Singh was sexually abused as a child and credits the military with saving her life. It was an opportunity for her to make ends meet when she needed to escape her parents’ home. She ended up as part of the National Guard response to the violence in Baltimore.

Jamila Raqib speaks at TED Talks: War and Peace | Ryan Lash/TED Photo
Jamila Raqib speaks at TED Talks: War and Peace | Ryan Lash/TED Photo

Jamila Raqib, born in Afghanistan, speaks about effective strategies of non-violent action by people living under tyranny. Her colleague has identified 198 methods of non-violent action – protest is only one. She shares a story of how ISIS tried to force members of a small city to attend an extremist school, but no children showed up, as parents kept their children at home. She suggests we learn more about the non-violent strategies being used successfully around the world and discover how we can make violence obsolete.

In another short film, “Bionic Soldier” by Anna Bowers, Mark Mannucci, and Jonathan Halperin, we learn about the advances at MIT in bionic technology and state-of-the-art prosthetics.

The most compelling speech for me is that of Canadian Samantha Nutt, who has been to some of the most war-torn places on earth. She has seen 8-year-old children kill with automatic weapons – kids who have never been to school. She says it’s easier in some countries to get these weapons than it is to get clean drinking water. In some places, an AK-47 can be purchased for the equivalent of $10. As a result, more than 40 million people worldwide have been displaced by armed conflict.

Nutt points out that the majority of exporters of arms are in the global north, while the largest numbers of people dying due to armed conflict are in the global south. In other words, war profiteers in rich countries are destroying poor countries. There has been a three-fold boom of arms trafficking since the war on terror was declared 15 years ago. The number of people who have died since then has also increased three-fold.

She says that arms given to countries purportedly to help them have often landed in the hands of ISIS and other extremist groups. “Their first stop is rarely their last,” she says of weapons.

The most emotional speech of the program is the last. Christianne Boudreau conveys the heart-wrenching story of her son’s conversion to radical Islam and subsequent death while fighting for ISIS in Syria. She says he thought he was helping women and children, but it was a lie. Her tear-filled speech had the audience in New York stunned and silent.

Don’t miss this important hour-long program on PBS Memorial Day evening at 10pm. Watch the trailer below.

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