The past serves as a reminder

Two old shows that my wife and I enjoy are focused on the past, especially when it rears its ugly head. An American produced show is called “Cold Case” where a team based in Philadelphia work unsolved cases that resurface. The other is “Unforgotten” which is a British produced show that works previously unknown crimes.

“Cold Case” has a unique style where they reveal the initial set-up of the crime, but not who did it. They go back and forth with the younger version of the character for a few seconds, so you know which older person that is. “Unforgotten” is told over a series of six or so shows, one crime per season. A body is discovered and the team has to begin to find out who, what, when, where and how. Both teams are led by imperfect leaders with their own set of problems.

The two shows tell us the past is never fully behind us. I know I would not want my past mistakes being brought up today, although I can confess I never murdered anyone. But, we should learn lessons from our past mistakes. Our friend Amanda revealed a quote on her blog the other day about focusing on the lesson and not the pain of the mistake (see link below)..That is easier said than done, but is a better goal than saying “woe is me.”

When people, businesses, organizations and governments do not heed the mistakes of the past, they are truly destined to repeat them. The US did not learn the lessons of Vietnam and invaded both Afghanistan and Iraq. A senator named Jim Webb who served in the military said if we invade Iraq, be prepared to stay for thirty years. That was eighteen years ago.

In the book “Built to Last,” the authors’ data revealed the most admired and successful companies tended to promote from within to the CEO position. They knew what worked and did not and who to listen to and who not to. I have seen many a new CEO come in and make changes that repeated past mistakes. Even if they came from within, I have seen CEOs repeat an earlier mistake due to arrogance. I am thinking of one large bank that no longer exists who made two of the worst acquisitions that should have been avoided for the same reason – both hurt the bank’s reputation. And, that should not have been news.

People are prone to do this in their personal lives. They believe their new partner will change for the better. They ignore signals that they have seen in previous partners. The most basic of signals is this one – if a partner treats you poorly when he or she is courting you, what do you think he or she will do once you became married or more serious?

The author Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent book “Blink” speaks of ignoring our subconscious signals when we make poor decisions. Our gut instinct is our collective history of experiences that tell us things before our conscious recognizes it, if it ever does. The examples of the book are many. A firefighter who tells his crew to back out of building as it is burning in an unusual manner. The art expert that knew immediately a painting was a forgery, but could not articulate why. The counselor who could tell with about ten seconds if a couple she was counseling was going to survive.

These people were not guided by whims. Their gut instinct told them something was amiss before they could articulate why. In the firefighter’s case, the fire was burning in the floor below, so his crew would have crashed through the floor, e.g. Their past experiences told them how to act. In organizations, the experience is collective, so sometimes a few people might know an action is poor (like Senator Webb did), but they do not have the power to influence leaders. Or the leaders were to blinded by their own arrogance to take advice.

The past tells us many things. While we should not be slaves to the past, as times do change, we need to understand what happened and why, so as not to avoid the same mistakes.

https://forestwoodfolkart.wordpress.com/2021/08/08/sunday-quotes-helpful-resources/

Let’s honor the deceased war heroes, but do our best to keep them safe

On this Memorial Day holiday, we should rightfully and respectfully honor and remember our loved ones, friends, acquaintances and even strangers who fought in the many battles and wars. It is day of reflection of their sacrifices, whether they died in the conflicts or after they returned home. Too many, struggled with what they called “shell shock” after World War I (The Great War) and now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

A good friend just buried her twenty-seven year-old former Marine son, who was killed in a motorcycle crash. So, after worrying for several years while in Afghanistan, she has to grieve him for a bad accident. Loved ones bear a lot of angst worrying about their fighting children, fathers, mothers and loved ones. To die so young is a tragedy.

Yet, our leaders must go beyond the call to avoid sending our people into harm’s way. As said in the movie “Troy,” about the Trojan War, “War is old men talking and young men fighting.” Both men and women leaders must understand what war or conflict means. They must know that it is far more than winning battles. It is rebuilding countries and maintaining the peace through better relations. As an example, the following is a voice that was not heeded about these challenges.

In 2002, Jim Webb penned an op-ed in The Washington Post cautioning the US about going into Iraq. Who is Jim Webb? He is a former Marine, Secretary of the Navy and US Senator from Virginia. He has a law degree from Georgetown and has been a member of both political parties serving under multiple Presidents.

Two paragraphs from his pre-invasion op-ed piece are telling:

“The first reality is that wars often have unintended consequences — ask the Germans, who in World War I were convinced that they would defeat the French in exactly 42 days. The second is that a long-term occupation of Iraq would beyond doubt require an adjustment of force levels elsewhere, and could eventually diminish American influence in other parts of the world….

Other than the flippant criticisms of our ‘failure’ to take Baghdad during the Persian Gulf War, one sees little discussion of an occupation of Iraq, but it is the key element of the current debate. The issue before us is not simply whether the United States should end the regime of Saddam Hussein, but whether we as a nation are prepared to physically occupy territory in the Middle East for the next 30 to 50 years.”

It should be noted we have been in Iraq for over seventeen years, even longer in Afghanistan. Maybe, the chest beaters should listen to those who have fought and have experience rather than people who understand less what fighting and occupying a country mean. This was a crossroad moment in our history and we have not been the same since. Many thousands of American and allied troops died, even more Iraqi and Afghani troops and civilians died, our reputation has suffered and our debt is much higher. Plus, he was right on the money about American influence being impacted around the globe. Lying to allies and others about weapons of mass destruction has that kind of effect, not to mention misunderstanding the landscape.

I use this example as the words come from someone who knows, not someone who has a false bravado. One of the reasons so many Americans died in the Civil War, besides fighting on both sides, is some of the Union’s generals were chaotic and incompetent. People died unnecessarily because the union generals kept them in harm’s way. Per the Pentagon Papers, our leaders carried on a war in Vietnam long after they knew they could not win, so many Americans and huge amounts of Vietnamese died unnecessarily.

We must honor these men and women who risk their lives by getting this first part right. The best battle is one that is not fought, if it need not be. These people are brave people and deserve our respect and admiration, but leaders who pick or continue a fight that need not be fought or is sorely underestimated, is doing America and our allies a disservice. Both Democrats and Republican leaders have failed in this regard. It is too important to not fail, regardless of what party one serves.

We should listen to rational experienced voices

In 2002, Jim Webb penned an op-ed in The Washington Post cautioning the US about going into Iraq. Who is Jim Webb? He is a former Marine, Secretary of the Navy and US Senator from Virginia. He has a law degree from Georgetown and has been a member of both political parties serving under multiple Presidents.

Two paragraphs from his pre-invasion op-ed piece are telling:

“The first reality is that wars often have unintended consequences — ask the Germans, who in World War I were convinced that they would defeat the French in exactly 42 days. The second is that a long-term occupation of Iraq would beyond doubt require an adjustment of force levels elsewhere, and could eventually diminish American influence in other parts of the world….

Other than the flippant criticisms of our ‘failure’ to take Baghdad during the Persian Gulf War, one sees little discussion of an occupation of Iraq, but it is the key element of the current debate. The issue before us is not simply whether the United States should end the regime of Saddam Hussein, but whether we as a nation are prepared to physically occupy territory in the Middle East for the next 30 to 50 years.”

It should be noted we have been in Iraq for  over fifteen years. Maybe, the chest beaters should listen to those who have fought and have experience rather than people who understand less what fighting and occupying a country mean.This was a crossroad moment in our history and we have not been the same since. Many thousands of American and allied troops died, even more Iraqi troops and civilians died, our reputation has suffered and our debt is much higher. Plus, he was right on the money about American influence being impacted around the globe. Lying to allies and others about weapons of mass destruction has that kind of effect, not to mention misunderstanding the landscape.

Right now, almost 200 former military and intelligence officers have penned letters being critical of the US President’s decision to withdraw security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan. This follows earlier criticism of the same President on his siding with Russia over his intelligence officials or not heeding the advice of his more experienced folks.

Call me crazy, but maybe we should listen to the more rational and experienced voices? They may be telling us something we need to hear. We owe it to Amercans fighting for our county to take the time to get it right.

Courage comes from unexpected sources

Watching the movie “Hacksaw Ridge” for a second time serves as a reminder that you should not underestimate people. The movie reflects the true story of a conscientious objector in World War II who was awarded the Medal of Honor, even though he refused to pick up a weapon.

Desmond Doss enlisted to become a medic, but was almost court martialed for refusing to use his rifle. He was deemed a coward. After his case was dismissed, he went with his fellow troops to Hacksaw Ridge in Okinawa, a devil of a place where many Americans died. Doss was able to save over 75 wounded Americans, many left for dead, risking his own life. His mantra was “God, let me get one more.”

His courage astounded his fellow troops, some of whom had deemed him a coward before. This speaks volumes to me as courage is not often exhibited by the rah-rah type or the John Wayne like hero. It is the quiet strength to do something, whether it is death defying or standing up for a cause against a tide of popular opinion.

Senator John McCain is a true hero as he survived torture and stood strong with his fellow prisoners to overcome his North Vietnamese captors. In spite of a now-President, who never served, saying McCain was not a hero because he was captured, he was indeed one. And, McCain continues to show his courage throughout his career standing up with unpopular, but morally right opinions.

Former Virginia Senator and Secretary of the Navy Jim Webb is one of these people. Admittedly not perfect, he wrote an OpEd piece in 2002 saying if the US invades Iraq, we better be prepared to remain there 30 to 50 years. He said we need to ask questions such as will this help us diminish terrorism and what will this do to our role in other parts of the world? His position was unpopular, but he was dead on accurate in hindsight. But, even at the time he was posing questions that needed better answers.

Courage is more often exhibited by quiet strength. Some of the most courageous people are women. Female mathematicians who made a difference, like Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, the African-American women portrayed in “Hidden Figures,” fought huge uphill battles. Margaret Thatcher, Shirley Chisolm, Rosa Parks, Princess Diana, Mother Teresa, Gloria Steinem et al all had heavy doses of courage to overcome obstacles.

Mary Sherman Morgan, the first female rocket scientist, is also one of those people. In 1957, she invented a rocket fuel that powered the first Explorer rocket. She noted she was always the only female in her science and math classes, which was intimidating, but her courage helped her persevere.

Maybe that is the appropriate word for having inner strength to “persevere.” So, rather than beat on your chest, just suck it up, do your job, follow your conscience and persevere.