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.

Summer of ’69 – a few things to remember

While 1968 was a year of significant occurrences, we are now reflecting on the events of fifity years ago in 1969. Bryan Adams sang of this year from a personal standpoint in “Summer of ’69,” so it is a great way to kick off:

“I got my first real six-string
Bought it at the five-and-dime
Played it till my fingers bled
It was the summer of ’69
Me and some guys from school
Had a band and we tried real hard
Jimmy quit and Jody got married
I should’ve known we’d never get far
Oh when I look back now
That summer seemed to last forever
And if I had the choice
Ya I’d always want to be there
Those were the best days of my life”

This song was penned by Adams and James Douglas Vallance and reveals how the band was so important to the life of the singer. Yet, I find of interest how he interjects how life rears its head and alters the dreams. I do not know how autobiographical the song is, but I am glad Adams stuck with it, as he has crafted and performed many memorable songs.

Fifty years ago, we saw the final straw that caused action to occur on environmental protection. Following the reaction to Rachel Carson’s push with ‘Silent Spring,” the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught fire as it was so polluted by chemical dumping. Seeing this in retrospect, it amazes me that companies would dump or drain chemical run-off into a river and be surprised by the result. Within six months, President Nixon inked the law to create the Environmental Protection Agency, one of his two greatest accomplishments (opening dialogue with China was the other).

Later this summer, we will reflect on Neil Armstrong taking “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” as he is the first human to walk on the moon. Buzz Aldrin would soon join him for a lunar walkabout. These actions opened up science as a possible career for many young people and it also showed us that we are mere occupants on our planet. So, it is crucial we take care of where we live for our children and grandchildren. Maybe this helped provide additional context for enacting the EPA.

In August, will be the fiftieth anniversary of Woodstock where 300,000 or so people ventured to a farm in upstate New York for a three day concert. This event still amazes me and I am intrigued by a friend’s recounting of what happened as he was there as a young college student. From his view, he remembers there were so many people, things like food, water and restrooms were dear. He recalls making food runs for people. The music and atmosphere were wonderful, but the challenges are overlooked in memory.

Finally, people who do not follow baseball or football will yawn, but this was the year of two huge upsets, which in actuality, should not have been as surprising. In January, Broadway Joe Namath led the New York Jets over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in the Super Bowl. Namath had bragged that they would win the game the preceding week, but what many failed to realize, Namath had a terrific set of receivers and two of the best running backs in the game. This win led to the merger of two rival football leagues.

In October, the New York Mets easily won the baseball World Series over the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles (it was a tough year for Baltimore fans). For the first part of the decade, the new Mets were the worst team in baseball. What was underestimated by the Orioles is the Mets had two future Hall of Fame pitchers – Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan and another excellent one in Jerry Koosman. Good pitching will beat good hitting almost every time. I mention these two events as when you look under the hood, the outcomes are less surprising, even though they were at the time.

The decade ended with two eventful years. Unfortunately, the US remained in Vietnam fighting a war which, we learned later, we knew we could not win. Many Americans and Vietnamese died, as a result fighting a war that would last several more years. We should remember people die in wars, before we go out and fight another one. As a Vietnamese soldier said in Ken Burns’ documentary on the war, people who feel they can win a war, have never fought in one.

 

 

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?