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.

Edwin Starr’s plea for peace

Almost fifty years ago, Edwin Starr belted out an anthem simply called “War.” Written by Barret Strong and Norman Whitfield, Starr’s disdain for war and its aftermath comes through in his powerful rendition.

As I thought of this song, I mentally included it with two others – John Fogerty’s “Fortunate Son” he sang with CCR and Pete Seeger’s “Where have all the Flowers gone,” sung so well by Peter, Paul and Mary. These three songs come at this topic with sadness, skepticism and disdain.

But, for now, here are the lyrics to “War.”

War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again, why’all
War, huh, good god
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing, listen to me
Oh, war, I despise
‘Cause 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, why’all
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing say it again
War, whoa, lord
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing, listen to me
it ain’t nothing but a heart-breaker
(War) friend only to the undertaker
Oh, 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, ah, war-huh, good god why’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
it ain’t nothing but a heart breaker
(War) it’s got one friend that’s the undertaker
Oh, 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
Oh, war, huh good god why’all
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing say it again
whoa, lord
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing listen to me
it ain’t nothing but a heart breaker
(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
Oh, war, huh good god why’all
What is it good for you tell me
Say it, say it, say it, say it
huh good god why’all
What is it good for
Stand up and shout it nothing

Truly, what is it good for? Starr asks an excellent question, one we must ask before we send our young men and women into harm’s way.

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.

 

 

 

Breaker Morant – an Aussie film that goes too unnoticed

When I am asked to list my favorite movies, I will usually include a film made in 1980 in Australia called “Breaker Morant.” The movie did not get enough airplay here in the US, so if you missed seeing it, that would not have been a difficult task. The movie was directed by Bruce Beresford, but starred several terrific actors who would go on to fame – Edward Woodward (an English actor), Bryan Brown and Jack Thompson. A key role was also played by a younger actor, Lewis Fitz-Gerald. Woodward would play in the US television series called “The Equalizer” while Brown would appear in a number of films like “Fx” and “Australia.” Thompson would also appear in “The Man from Snowy River,” another favorite of mine from Australia.

The movie is about three men who were convicted as scapegoats for committing war crimes they had been authorized to perform during the Boer Wars in South Africa. The men were part of a guerilla team called the Bushveldt Carbineers, who had to resort to unusual tactics to remain safe and be effective. It is based on a true story from the novel “Scapegoats of the Empire” by George Witton. Lt. Harry Morant, played by Woodward was a former horse-breaker on which the title is based. He is a former Englishman of society who is forelorned over a lost love, so he has devoted his career to helping the military fight in faraway places. He is also an acclaimed poet, which is part of his fabric and the movie.

Brown plays Lt. Peter Hancock, who is Morant’s trusted friend, but a man with faults and desires which make him less than perfect like everyone else. Fitz-Gerald plays a more naïve young soldier who gets caught up with the others just doing as he is told. Thompson plays the second lead character as Major J.F, Thomas, an unprepared, but eventually very capable and practical attorney who defends the three in a court-martial trial. He was picked because the leaders wanted someone not to defend them well, but the opposite occurred.

The three are on trial as the British leadership wanted to distance themselves from the Bushveldt Carbineers’ tactics, which were successful. They also were on trial for killing a priest who was a Boer spy before he could get back to share his reconnaissance. The tactics included placing the captured military leaders in the front of returning horse soldiers from battle, as it dissuaded the Boers from attacking them. This was a guerilla type war, where new practices were being done and confirmed at the higher ranks.

Yet, as the war was winding down, the British leadership needed to provide a peace-offering, so the three were put on trial as scapegoats. I will hold off on the conclusion, although some of it is obvious from the title of the book. If you do watch it, and you can with the link below*, know that the movie shows the horror of war, the lack of humanity that can be all-encompassing and how soldiers just doing their job often pay for the sins of their leaders. I also like the fact that they do not promote the three on trial as better men than they are, especially Hancock and Morant. These are cynical and worldly men who realize what they are up against.

If you have seen it or take the chance to do so below, I would love to hear your feedback and thoughts.

* http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/breaker_morant/

 

Pope Francis – Blessed are the peacemakers

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”  is an important lesson from Matthew 5:9 for all of us. Since today is Memorial Day in the United States where we honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives in the line of duty for their country, I wanted to honor them, by honoring the peacemakers. The peacemakers save countless lives of those in service and civilians who find themselves in harms’ way. Pope Francis is on such a mission as of this writing.

Pope Francis is on a quest to the Middle East and has been an ambassador for peace. He goes without shield to visit leaders, people and places that have been at odds with each other. He does not condemn, but by example and by where he visits, sends a statement of let’s break down barriers to talking and interactively working together. He has invited leaders of Palestine and Israel to the Vatican to meet with him. Each has accepted the invitation. He went to the wall in Bethlehem that separates people and prayed. He visits with people and talks with them, openly and honestly. He disarms them with his congenial spirit and persona.

The pope has a mission that we need to help those in need and living in poverty. Poverty comes from the absence of opportunity. Opportunity is often squelched by war, which does not permit commerce to occur. Opportunity is lost by the absence of free trade between people of all types. Opportunity is lost by those who steer dollars into the mechanics of war or into their own pocket. If we can begin by treating each other better, by conversing and then trading commerce with each other, then some of these barriers will come down.

And, that will help us in our quest to memorialize fewer soldiers (and civilians) who may die in the future. Bless you, Pope Francis.

 

 

 

Where have all the flowers gone?

Pete Seeger, a true hero of common people, passed away earlier this week after a long life of 94 years. There are numerous tributes being made to Pete for his lifetime of contribution to the impoverished, disenfranchised and environment. All are justified as he sang and stood up for people even against obstacles like the communist witch hunts of Senator Joe McCarthy where personal freedoms were trampled. For this, he was sentenced for contempt of Congress and blacklisted for ten years.

One of the several causes he sang loudly against was young men being sent off to die for a war that no one understood why we were fighting. One of my favorite Pete Seeger songs is “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.” Yet, this song resonates with any war and picks up a theme I wrote recently about – “War is old men talking and young men fighting.” https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/11/11/war-is-old-men-talking-young-men-fighting/

Where have all the flowers gone,
Long time passing,
Where have all the flowers gone,
Long time ago,
Where have all the flowers gone,
Picked by young girls every one,
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where have all the young girls gone,
Long time passing,
Where have all the young girls gone,
Long time ago,
Where have all the young girls gone,
Gone to young men every one,
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where have all the young men gone,
Long time passing,
Where have all the young men gone,
Long time ago,
Where have all the young men gone,
Gone to soldiers every one,

When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where have all the soldiers gone,
Long time passing,
Where have all the soldiers gone,
Long time ago,
Where have all the soldiers gone,
They’ve gone to graveyards every one,
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where have all the graveyards gone,
Long time passing,
Where have all the graveyards gone,
Long time ago,
Where have all the graveyards gone,
Gone to flowers every one,
When will we ever learn?
When will we ever learn?

Pete Seeger will be missed by many. His songs will resonate for future generations. I hope people will take the time to listen to what he sang for and against in tribute to his passing. What is your favorite song of his?