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News brief: weapons For Ukraine, Germany's military, school violence research

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

On the day after Russia attacked a theater sheltering hundreds of civilians, according to Ukrainian officials, the U.N. Security Council holds an emergency meeting today to discuss the war in Ukraine. And to respond to Russia's military aggression, President Biden has approved another huge weapons package for Ukraine.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

It brings U.S. assistance to Ukraine's military to more than $1 billion since Russia invaded three weeks ago. But even more notable than the price tag is the kind of weapons the U.S. will provide and what that says about the current state of the war.

FADEL: NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre is with us to explain. Good morning, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So what kind of hardware is Biden sending to the Ukrainians?

MYRE: Well, this is an $800 million package, and there's three key items, all of them considered very urgent. One is more Javelin missiles. We've been hearing a lot about these. These have been very effective against Russian tanks and perhaps even the single most potent weapon that Ukraine has had. Another is the Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. These are already being used against low-flying Russian planes and helicopters. And then there's one important new item that the U.S. hasn't been providing previously, and this would be a hundred drones, and these will reportedly be so small that a soldier can just carry them in his backpack before taking them out and using them.

FADEL: What does this weaponry tell us about the way Ukraine is fighting this war?

MYRE: Well, the common thread here is the Ukrainians are relying on very agile, nimble, portable systems versus the Russians who are using larger, more powerful and somewhat lumbering weapon systems. The Javelin and Stinger missiles we mentioned - one person puts that weapon on their shoulder; they just point and shoot. Ukraine can't match Russia tank for tank, but small units or even an individual can ambush Russian forces. And with these drones we were talking about, they're formerly known as Switchblades, but they're often called kamikaze drones because they don't actually fire a weapon; the soldier using them just guides them into the target, and then they explode. And so these drones wouldn't completely close the gap that the Russians have with their manned aircraft, but as a senior U.S. defense official said, these drones are intended to deliver a punch.

FADEL: Let's talk about air superiority. Ukrainian officials are still calling for MiG fighter planes or for the U.S. to impose a no-fly zone. Signs throughout Kyiv when I was there were calling on NATO to close the skies. Any movement on either of these issues?

MYRE: No, Leila, really not, and neither is likely to happen. So with the planes, these were MiG planes, fighter jets that belong to Poland, and there were a small number of older planes, and U.S. officials have said they just don't think these would make a big difference when it comes to air power. In addition, the U.S. also remains very much opposed to a no-fly zone. The first step for creating a no-fly zone would be to attack the Russian air defense systems on the ground or take out Russian planes in the sky. And so the expectation would be almost certain combat with Russia, and President Biden says this is not going to happen.

FADEL: So what are we expecting next on the battlefield, as Russia continues its invasion and Ukrainians fight back?

MYRE: Battles for Kyiv, the capital, and other big cities, but both sides fighting in very different ways. The Russian forces are essentially stalled outside the cities. They are unleashing intense shelling in an effort to encircle the cities and pound the Ukrainians into submission. Now, the Ukrainians can't stop these artillery attacks, but they are able to prevent these large Russian armored columns from entering the cities, and the weapons the U.S. is providing are designed to help them do exactly that.

FADEL: NPR's Greg Myre. Thank you, Greg.

MYRE: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: While Ukraine meets the Russian onslaught with help from overseas, Germany is more than doubling what it spends on its military.

MARTINEZ: That decision, announced just after Russian troops entered Ukraine, caught Europe and Germans themselves by surprise, and that's because Germany's reckoning with its own history has for decades kept it from building a big military. But now a war on its doorstep has Germany, Europe's largest economy, building what will become the continent's largest military.

FADEL: NPR's Rob Schmitz is with us now from Berlin. Rob, just how large are we talking about here?

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Germany would spend more than a hundred billion euros, putting it on pace to be the third-largest military on the planet behind the U.S. and China. Jana Puglierin, who heads the Berlin Office of the European Council on Foreign Relations, calls this mind-boggling in large part because Germany's government so often dismissed its allies calls to provide more leadership on defense.

JANA PUGLIERIN: And I think the main reason for it was because German citizens did not feel threatened for a very long time. They never saw that their security was actually a fragile thing. They took it very much for granted. And the sheer idea that, I don't know, a Russian missile would hit Germany was completely absurd.

FADEL: So, Rob, the Russian attack on Ukraine, it really shook up those assumptions.

SCHMITZ: Yeah, you know, it really did. You know, but the German mindset, you know, is also rooted in a past that's difficult for many citizens to reckon with. It's a time when the country under Adolf Hitler built one of the world's largest armies. And as military expert Constantin Wissmann (ph) told me, World War II not only destroyed the German army, but it left a residue of shame.

CONSTANTIN WISSMANN: And actually, you can see a lot of problems which the German army has now still sort of stem from that time because we never really got comfortable with having an army, I guess.

SCHMITZ: And, Leila, after the end of the Cold War, Germany slashed its defense budget and mostly used its reduced military for foreign peacekeeping efforts. And equipment shortages got so bad that during a joint NATO training exercise in 2015, German troops had to use broomsticks painted black instead of guns.

FADEL: Wow. So given that decline, will this massive funding proposal be enough to help?

SCHMITZ: Well, even with this new money, military analyst Thomas Wiegold says Germany's armed forces are still playing catch-up.

THOMAS WIEGOLD: Funny enough, this does not mean increasing the size. This doesn't even mean to add completely different capabilities. First and foremost, it means to finance what actually should be there already.

SCHMITZ: And those are things like modern fighter jets. This week, Germany pledged to buy nearly three dozen F-35s from Lockheed Martin to replace its 40-year-old fleet of Tornado jets. But Germany still needs to buy new tanks, weapons, warships - you name it.

FADEL: So what does this mean for Germany's relationship with its neighbors and the U.S.?

SCHMITZ: Well, defense expert Puglierin says Germany relied too long on the U.S. to help defend it.

PUGLIERIN: And I have heard so many Europeans and Germans saying, thank God we have the United States. But at the same time, we need to realize that we should not take it for granted that the United States is there to babysit the Europeans forever.

SCHMITZ: And, Leila, she expects Germany also can begin to become a stronger international partner, starting with this moment that Germans call a zeitenwende - an historical turning point.

FADEL: NPR's Rob Schmitz in Berlin. Thanks, Rob.

SCHMITZ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: For two years, we've heard increasing reports of harassment and violence directed at people in their workplaces. Schools are no exception.

MARTINEZ: Yeah, just over half of teachers, principals, counselors, even bus drivers said over the previous school year that they've faced physical violence or serious verbal aggression and threats.

FADEL: Ahead of a congressional briefing today, NPR's education correspondent Anya Kamenetz got an early look at new research from the American Psychological Association, and she's here to tell us about it. Hi.

ANYA KAMENETZ, BYLINE: Hello.

FADEL: So, Anya, how far-reaching was this research?

KAMENETZ: So this APA task force, they surveyed almost 15,000 participants nationwide. And of course, most disturbing here is the reports of physical violence. Most commonly, it came from students who were acting out in a time of crisis. So 22% of nonteacher staff members, 18% of school psychologists and social workers experienced this violence on the job, and so did 14% of teachers. And notably, this all happened during COVID, a time when many schools were either remote or hybrid. So, you know, the task force members told me this maybe could even be low as an estimate of how prevalent this is.

FADEL: Wow. Does that match up with what you've seen?

KAMENETZ: You know, if you spend time in schools, you know that these things do happen but that they can be kind of swept under the rug. So Tonya Shonkwiler, a special education teacher in Montana, plans to give a statement today before members of Congress about a time when a 15-year-old student hit her in the face.

TONYA SHONKWILER: Clobbered in the nose and nose was bleeding.

KAMENETZ: I should mention that we reached out to the district but have not yet received a response. But, you know, Shonkwiler's concern wasn't just for herself; it was that many folks in schools, especially in more rural areas, don't have the training to support each other when something like this happens or to prevent it from happening in the first place. And, you know, in addition to physical violence, the APA takes really seriously verbal aggression - so threats, slurs, obscene gestures, bullying, sexual harassment. And this is most common to administrators. So 42% of school leaders said they experienced this behavior from parents, 37% said they got it from students. In addition, one-third of teachers also reported verbal aggression coming from students.

FADEL: Has this changed during the pandemic?

KAMENETZ: You know, this data doesn't allow us to make that comparison, but there's a lot of belief that it has. And I certainly saw it last fall with my reporting on the harassment of school board members. This APA task force does report that teachers in particular are almost twice as likely to say that their job is stressful compared to the time before COVID. And I spoke to Sara Fabiano (ph). She's a high school teacher in Washington state. And she put in her official resignation in January.

SARA FABIANO: I don't get paid enough to put up with this verbal abuse.

KAMENETZ: She says the level of hostility and anger from parents over things like Black Lives Matter, masking, it's like nothing she's seen in a decade of teaching.

FADEL: Wow. So what are the recommendations?

KAMENETZ: So the task force is backing some legislation currently before Congress, including the Comprehensive Mental Health in Schools Pilot Program Act. This is Linda Reddy at Rutgers on the task force.

LINDA REDDY: Violence against teachers - I mean, it's an organizational system health problem. This is a, you know, public health issue.

KAMENETZ: And she says it needs a systemic solution.

FADEL: NPR's Anya Kamenetz. Thank you.

KAMENETZ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF DISTANT.LO'S "GLOW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering race and identity. Starting in February 2022, she will be one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First.