Edwin Starr’s Powerful Song Still Rings True

During the height of the Vietnam War, when even Walter Cronkite was beginning to question whether we should be there, Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong penned a song simply called “War.” The lyrics are magnificently belted out by Edwin Starr as the song vaulted up the charts. While there is repetition, I have included the entire lyrics below for your emphasis.

War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Uh-huh
War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again, y’all

War, huh, good God
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me

Ohhh, war, I despise
Because it means destruction
Of innocent lives

War means tears
To thousands of mothers eyes
When their sons go to fight
And lose their lives

I said, war, huh
Good God, y’all
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again

War, whoa, Lord
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me

War, it ain’t nothing
But a heartbreaker
War, friend only to the undertaker
Ooooh, war
It’s an enemy to all mankind
The point of war blows my mind
War has caused unrest
Within the younger generation
Induction then destruction
Who wants to die
Aaaaah, war-huh
Good God y’all
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it, say it, say it
War, huh
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me

War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Uh-huh
War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again y’all
War, huh, good God
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me

War, it ain’t nothing but a heartbreaker
War, it’s got one friend
That’s the undertaker
Ooooh, war, has shattered
Many a young mans dreams
Made him disabled, bitter and mean
Life is much to short and precious
To spend fighting wars these days
War can’t give life
It can only take it away

Ooooh, war, huh
Good God y’all
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again

War, whoa, Lord
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me

War, it ain’t nothing but a heartbreaker
War, friend only to the undertaker
Peace, love and understanding
Tell me, is there no place for them today
They say we must fight to keep our freedom
But Lord knows there’s got to be a better way

Ooooooh, war, huh
Good God y’all
What is it good for
You tell me
Say it, say it, say it, say it

War, huh
Good God y’all
What is it good for
Stand up and shout it
Nothing

I have a simple thesis which is echoed by our valiant troops. Exhaust other means to address a problem before we commit our young men and women to die. If we commit our troops, make sure we know what the end game looks like along with a strategy that is flexible to meet the changing demands. And, we need to make sure we equip our troops to the fight that is needed. Finally, let’s spend as much money as needed to help our troops when they return, both mentally and physically.

War is an ugly thing. I am not a fan of chest beaters with no answers to complicated problems. I am also not keen on people creating bigger problems than they are to win elections. If we must fight, let’s do it for the right reasons where we can make a difference. We seem to fail to learn this lesson. Here is a simple question for any chest beater – what do you propose to do and how can you guarantee that will be successful and not cause other problems?

These truths should be self-evident, but many are not

This Monday we get a day off to create a nice long weekend. Memorial Day is a wonderful celebration, but is one where we should honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our country. We tend to promote jingoism, which is an ugly term, to beat on our chests and talk about how mighty we are. Yet, I believe we should honor our valiant soldiers who died fighting our battles, by being truth seekers. We owe it to them to do so.

I believe the following truths are self-evident. If you disagree, I welcome your comments. I am not looking to blame anyone, but learn from our mistakes and realities of the situation. In my view, we cannot address our problems, if someone is telling you the problem is not real and we are so great that we can make any problem go away. In no particular order.

– We went into Iraq with insufficient troops and hardware and without a clear-cut plan for success. General Shinseki actually resigned because of this initial failure. The later “surge” is what Shinseki had argued for in the first place. Winning battles is easier than maintaining the peace, which is what Shinseki noted to his bosses.

– We overreacted to 9/11 and as a result underreacted to Syria and pulling out of Iraq, so says a military historian. Al Qaeda was small in number and now we have a much greater enemy. We are a war-weary country and made many mistakes from the outset and along the way. We had the Iraqi police force fired, many of them later became part of ISIS. This concern was noted at the time of their firing ten years ago.

– Torture of prisoners has made us less safe, because we have grown larger, multi-generational groups of people who do not hold America in high regard. What little intelligence we have gained is dwarfed by this continuing animosity and mistrust.

– The Middle East is a hard to solve conundrum. America cannot win a war that will solve this problem, as proven in Iraq. Again, winning battles is easier than maintaining the peace. We have been fighting in the Middle East for over thirty years and spent trillions of dollars – what do we have to show for this asks another military historian and Vietnam veteran. He noted we did not learn the lessons of Vietnam.

– While many are grandstanding with chest beating opinions, it is good to be negotiating with Iran over limiting nuclear development. The non-diplomatic options are not worth considering as they could lead to a deadly result for many. In any situation, we owe to our troops and to their families to exhaust all other means before we send them to die.

– The same is true for Ukraine which gets lost in the news these days. Vladimir Putin is not a trustworthy individual. We need to continue to hold his feet to the fire as an international pariah. We need to help Ukraine be stronger, but also continue a joint effort to call Putin on the carpet.

– We also owe it to our troops to protect them and their families from predators here at home. Pay-day lenders and expensive and ineffective for-profit colleges have had a license to steal from our military families. The former will get our families into a 1000% annual effective interest rate pretty quickly. The latter spends more money marketing than teaching and graduation rates are in the low teens if that high. Also, the diet supplement business which is largely unregulated (due to some well-funded senators), has led to deaths of many soldiers who bought diet supplements (from on-base stores to aid with their training). You cannot support troops and screw them over like this. It is not right.

We owe it to our troops and their families to make sure we have exhausted other means, before we send them into battle to risk their lives. We owe it to them to have a clear-cut plan for success and a reasonable end strategy. We owe it to them to learn from our mistakes and not placate political egos to gain favor with voters. Finally, remember the quote from the movie “Troy,” when Achilles is consoled by his cousin – war is old men talking and young men fighting. Let’s honor those young men and women and treat them and their families well.

 

 

 

Don’t pay attention to the man behind the curtain

As the United Nations published its convincing report about the chemical weapons attack in Syria noting the manner in which the chemicals were deployed, it is pretty obvious that the Bashar al-Assad gassed his own people. This is in spite of his and the Russian ambassador’s pleas that the report is not convincing enough. Yet, I am reminded of the famous scene from “The Wizard of Oz” where Toto pulls back the curtain and the wizard says “don’t pay attention to the man behind the curtain” to dissuade Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow and Tin Man from not believing what they were seeing. This is exactly what Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin want you to do as they try to convince you not to believe what is obvious.

A key reason I ask you not to believe The Wizard of Assad and his friend and benefactor in Russia, is that too many times what he has said could not be confused with the truth. There are numerous examples, but let me highlight three of his more telling, shall we say, misstatements. First, when the rebels in Syria first started the rebellion, he denounced them as terrorist groups. That may be more true now as the United Nations failed to act (due to Russia and China’s blocking in the UN Security Council), but when the rebellion first started, it was a rebellion of citizens reeling from past maltreatment and the repercussions of a severe drought that affected their food and water supply.

Second, last year al-Assad was speaking with a news reporter who asked about the Syrian government rolling tanks into Homs to crush the opposition. When he denied that his tanks were in Homs, the reporter showed video footage of Syrian army tanks rolling down the streets in Homs. The rebels did not have any tanks.

Third, after denying for years and months that Syria possessed chemical weapons, in an interview with Charlie Rose, al-Assad answered directly to Rose’s question that Syria did not have chemical weapons. This interview was aired Monday of last week and that same day after Secretary of State John Kerry answered a question regarding diplomatic options that Syria could turn over its chemical weapons, the Syrian Ambassador said they could do that. Now, call me crazy, but did not your President just deny on camera again that Syria did not have chemical weapons and you said you would agree to release these phantom weapons?

In the middle of all of this is our KGB trained friend Vladimir Putin, who may be the most savvy politician in the world. I use that term not as a term of admiration, but one of admonition. Putin is playing everyone for a fool to seize upon a relatively easy concession for Russia and his friend and foil in Syria. The Syrian government has killed 99% of the 100,000 deceased with conventional weapons and can easily concede the chemical weapons to remain in power and not face American bombing. Putin can keep his client happy and boost the Russian economy selling weapons, keep Russian access to a vital port and make the western world look belligerent as he comes across as the peacemaker. In this way of thinking, Winston Churchill must have looked belligerent to the folks supporting Adolph HItler’s march into Paris when Churchill stood up and said that is not right.

I recognize that the real rebel Syrians are getting a raw deal as the terrorists have seized their cause to gain power. I also recognize that the millions of Syrian refugees are the greater issue, which we must do even more to help. Yet, with real Americans having no appetite for another war without a clear-cut mission objective, I do applaud that we can find a peaceful way to resolve an issue and appreciate the Russians for being a key part of this. I must concede kudos to Putin (as well as Obama for his delaying tactic) for his role in this, but everyone should know that it is my belief that Putin does not do anything without trying to gain politically. And, if you disagree with my questioning his sincerity, just look at how he came back into power and is using old school Soviet tactics to squelch anyone that dares disagree with him.

But, getting back to The Wizard of Assad, I would not construe much of what he says as the truth. It would be inconsistent with his track record. It reminds me of when Senator John Kyl of Arizona was caught in giving misinformation, he famously said “Don’t construe what I say as a factual statement.” I would also not be surprised if al-Assad used methods to purposefully distance himself from the events, not unlike the infamous curtain behind which the wizard from the movie hid. So, I am asking you to use your eyes and ears as you consider what the Syrian and Russian government are saying relative to what the UN report and others are saying. My advice is to most definitely “pay attention to the men behind the curtain.” They are the ones who have the gas masks on.

View from the peanut gallery – Syria decision needs due diligence

A few observations from the peanut gallery are in order around the decision on next steps on Syria. This is a difficult decision with no clear-cut answer which will solve all problems. It is truly a “Catch 22” decision in many respects. So, it deserves the necessary amount of due diligence, so we and our allies who support us can agree that this is what we should do and here are the parameters on the authority granted. Also, what do we hope to accomplish and what are steps that we can take if Syria, Russia, etc. react a certain way needs much discussion? I certainly do not want this to be a political football as we tend to do in this country. Saying it another way, I do not want spin doctors trying to make a decision that is in the best interest of a political party. What is the best thing for our country and our allies?

I have already read comments from former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Let me state the obvious in reaction, you of all people along with George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove do not need to offer an opinion. Our credibility is in question because of your building a story of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Scooter Libby, one of Karl Rove’s lackeys went to jail because he outed a CIA agent to discredit her husband and former ambassador who called you on the carpet when you misused his reconnaissance to build this story. American and allied troops died because of this fabrication. This is why the rest of the world is skeptical. Thank you gentlemen for sullying our honor.

Mr. President, you cannot escape either, as your continuation of the NSA spying set-up under Bush makes us look poor. While I support your decision to seek Congressional approval, it does not build credibility when you are answering questions about reading emails of leaders of other countries. We have got to get back to better footing permitting surveillance, but respecting the rights of people not under suspicion. We must have better governance over this and our drone program. We are not there and that is disappointing.

With all of that said, Assad is a war criminal equal to that of Saddam Hussein. It is pretty obvious to recognize that Assad gassed his own people. There are many dead on Assad’s hands, but when he gasses innocent kids, he is the worst of the worst. The evidence looks very compelling and shows that Assad is an evil person that needs to be stopped in some manner. If no one stops him, he will accept inaction as free license and will do it again. He has the backing of a Russia, where Putin is a classically trained KGB hood. From this old fart’s chair, it is apparent that Assad and Putin will push as much as they can to see what they can get away with.

No one wants to do what needs to be done. Yet, I think the world is at a point that someone needs to stand up to bullies and say you cannot do this. This is why if we decide to act, we better be darn sure what we intend to do and know how to handle possible reactions. Russia will not support a UN Security Council vote. If Russia and China had stepped and done the honorable thing two years ago, coordinated action could have been taken earlier. Yet, given the WMD error noted above, we better be darn sure we have it right. If we don’t, then the President should be fired. This is too important to screw up. And, I do agree with the President – it is not just his credibility, it is our nation’s as we cannot lie to our allies and the rest of the world. We have to climb out of the WMD and NSA holes.

So, I hope our Congress does its due diligence and asks all the right questions. We deserve an informed choice not a political one. I hope the President speaks to us citizens and our allies more. If we need to act and, we may need to, to stop this war criminal, we need to do so with seriousness of purpose. As an example, getting rid of Saddam Hussein was the easiest part of Iraq. Making the country governable is the hardest. Let’s remember that lesson. I wish the wisdom of Solomon for all of our legislators and those in other countries.