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Archive for the ‘War’ Category

Let me see if I have this right. North Korea fires another missile that fizzled and all of a sudden the United Nations Security Council calls an emergency meeting to meet the “threat.”

Help me count the number of times the following script has played out. I’ve lost track, but never mind. It’s so predictable. Kim Jong Il blusters. No one pays any attention. He blusters a little more. Same response. Finally, he fires off another dud, and the world goes berserk.

Or does it? Is it just media hype? Is the big ole United States and all of the industrial states of the world, most of whom have the nuclear capacity to destroy the world a thousand times, really frightened of an obsolete and irrelevant dictator? I doubt it. And if I am right, what is our purpose in reacting to an irrelevancy?

I think it’s expected of us. We’ve been reacting similarly toward North Korea since the end of the Korean War. We’re in a rut. We don’t know what else to do. We have to chase the remnants of communism to the gates of hell and destroy them all.

Never mind that North Korea is not now and never has been a communist state. It’s merely a petty dictatorship much as Cuba is. Neither has achieved the vaunted Marxist ideal utopian condition, pure (or even partial) communism, in which the state withers away and dies and everyone lives happily ever after.

If anyone believes humans will live peacefully together as equals without governments (or God, in Heaven) to scare the pants off of them when they dissent, see me. I have a vault in an Army fort in Kentucky that I’ll sell for a dollar, cash. Some sucker named Knox sold it to my granddad when Nixon was elected President and it’s been in my family since then.

For those who doubt my insight into North Korea, consider: Kim Jong Il has long been a lover of American movies, and according to those who know, he has a supply of roughly 20,000 of the latest tapes  and DVDs. Periodically, he dispatches a few trusted aides to Tokyo where they stock up on new releases and replenishes his store of Scotch whiskey.

Would Kim actually chance the destruction of his coveted semi-Western life style by firing a working missile armed with a real live atomic warhead at the U.S. or one of its allies? He may be insane, but no one has certified him as suicidal. There should be no doubt that the result of such an action would be catastrophic for North Korea. The country would cease to exist.

Knowing what we now know, how should the U.S. handle Kim’s threats and fizzled missiles? Enter into intensive diplomatic negotiations with the Government of Japan to place an embargo on Kim’s supply of movies and Scotch? As an alternative proposal, should the U.S. offer him a beach villa in Hawaii with a lifetime supply of porn and booze if he will abdicate.

On the other hand, and realistically speaking, we could continue with our predictable responses. After all, Kim’s actions serve a domestic U.S. political purpose by firing up the kill-’em-all crowd. Newt Gingrich, who said he would have intercepted Kim’s missile, is the perfect politician to lead his third party (if he ever forms one) into the second half of the 19th Century, while Democrats run around in circles, bemoaning Kim’s aggressive acts at the top of their chirps.

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I’m assuming (yes, I know we shouldn’t) that the Republicans will forgo any and all benefits that may come their way from the positive results of Obama’s stimulus package.

For example, if their coveted portfolios rise in value, I would expect them to flat refuse the increased monetary value and donate the gains to charity. I believe it is only fair that one who opposes America’s President to the death on principle ought, as gentlemen and gentlewomen continue to stand on their iron-bound adherence to the values of fiscal conservatism and courage. Here are a few other potentially profitable areas that all good Republicans must resist:

  • Infrastructure assistance to their state or district.
  • Farm subsidies.
  • Small business start-up funds.
  • Faith-based initiatives.
  • Tax cuts.

Good conscience demands that the Republicans resist accepting the benefits of the preceding and many more that have yet to be named. There is one perk, however, that Obama should offer and that the Republicans are duty-bound to accept, a one-way ticket to Americana, Brazil.

Americana is a community established by Southern settlers at the End of the Civil War. Today, the original settlement has grown to a metropolis of more than 200,000 people. Each year, the original founders are honored with a celebration in a local cemetery.

I feel certain Americana’s population would heartily welcome such prominent politicians as John Boehner and the Leader of the Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh.

I wonder how Limbaugh is pronounced in Portuguese.

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Today is the first day of another year in our system of calculating the passage of time from the death of Jesus Christ until, well, now. By that reckoning, humans have been actively engaged in counting days, weeks, months, and years for 2008 years. And at the stroke of midnight last night, they began counting again. Humans are, if nothing else, prone to redundancies.

When I say “from the death of Jesus Christ,” I guess that’s what A.D. signifies. I don’t really know for sure since I wasn’t born then and, like all humans, I rely on the selective memories of those who preceded me. I often wonder if the memories of the ancients were as sharp as ours today.

One thing we have today that they lacked in the Stone Age is statistics. Modern humans like to count and index everything under the sun. But more, modern humans like to manipulate their statistics from here to breakfast and back, they like to interpret statistics, they like to explain statistics to other people just in case someone is too dumb to figure things out for themselves.

To what end? Hasn’t mankind progressed through the manipulation of statistics to a higher stage? Apparently not. Statistics paint rosy pictures at the expense of reality. And modern humans love to avoid, ignore, or deny reality. Stats make it possible for leaders, elected officials, apparatchiks, and academics to ramble on forever, making seven hour MySpace presentations and figuring out ways to squeeze another Missouri Mill out of the sale of a tomato.

Sure, some statistics can unearth the other side of life. But you have to dig for them. You have to really dig to find out the number of humans killed in wars in the “modern” era (over a billion at last count since the year of our Lord 1700), or for the number of murders per year in America (20,000 give or take a few), or the extent of suicides (another 29 to 30,000), the ungodly numbers of child abuse cases annually in America (3,000,000 plus and growing), and God know how many deaths in alcohol related driving accidents.

We might surmise that the collection of information such as this is a positive thing leading to solutions. But, no, these data are merely used to justify additional manpower and budget monies. The numbers never recede because our attention is focused on numbers rather than on solutions.

I am not saying that everyone on Earth is determined to ignore reality. Many care about the lives of children, about lives wasted in a state of inebriation, about the survivors of murder and suicide, about many things. But the number of these people is few compared to many among us who simply do not care, who blame misery on the victims and hail the rich and powerful for “making it” in our hardball world, which roughly translates into “screw those suckers.”

Of course, many care but are helpless to effect real change. Only the movers and shakers have the power to change attitudes. Sadly, for 2008 years, they have spent their time collecting and using statistics to justify the “every human for him/herself” approach to the process of governing, which we have raised to its highest art form in America.

Will things change with the flip of a calendar page? Maybe. Who knows? Maybe not. Who knows? Every year, I begin the New Year with a strong belief that we can change attitudes. We can save the world one attitude at a time.

Our first step ought to be the abolition of our slavery to numbers. Let’s see people as people instead of as case numbers, as social security digits, and as an increasingly long series of telephone numbers in various combinations.

People are, after all, people, real people. People are not a number in an obscure collection of data maintained by the Census Bureau or the Bureau of Commerce and filed in a National Archive and Records Service repository in San Bruno or in one of several other repositories nationwide.

Let’s call Joe Joe instead of Joe4769.

“Hello, my name is Robert.”

“Enter your number now, please.”

Happy New Year!!!!!

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Mine are few because I never seem able to keep them anyway. But just in case God is making a list of good intentions in preparation for paving the road to Hell, here are a few.

  1. This is both a look-back and a look forward vow. I am never going to read those ubiquitous summaries of the events of the past year. And if one suddenly appears before me on a television show, I’m switching immediately to The History Channel for a refresher on Sex in World War II.
  2. I will speak kindly of those around me, except politicians, Big-3 CEOs, Wall Street Bankers, Joe the Plumber, and George Brash. Oh, and put Dick Cheney on the list. However, I’m speaking kindly of Sarah Palin because she deserves a little respect even if it is pretense. Besides, she’s good looking and we all know good looking people deserve our attention.
  3. I plan to spend a lot of time talking about Jerry Brown to the exclusion of other pretenders to the California Governor’s Chair. Jerry is just plain fun to listen to. And what’s life all about if we can’t have a funny governor now and then?
  4. I am going to purge my Facebook Friends list of politicians, at least the ones who flood the Facebook News Feed with gobs of items. Oh, and henceforth, any politician who fails to respond to one of my Comments on his or her page is out automatically. I resent people who resent being called jerks. Besides, I have a hunch politicians aren’t directly involved in their Facebook pages anyway. Some low-level unpaid aide probably spends 24/7 scouring the internet for names to make it seem the politician is popular despite common knowledge to the contrary.
  5. Finally, I resolve that I might think about relocating to Nevada, to a place like Fallon or Fernley or Paradise Valley. These are tiny, isolated communities perfect for someone like me who craves the relationship between man and reptile, a man who loves the heat and numbing cold under a Western sky. Paradise Valley is especially alluring. It’s listed as a Nevada Ghost Town, but apparently somebody around there votes. The town is a Humboldt County Polling Precinct. Ghost voting isn’t unusual in the world of hardball politics, especially in That Toddlin’ Town. But I have a hunch some real live humans, along with a whole lot of cows and horses live and vote in Paradise Valley despite its classification as a ghost town.

Those are just a few of my favorite resolutions for the year 2009. This list may be changed at my option.

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Servicemen and women often spend Christmas away from their families. Some are away from home a couple of Christmases in a row, depending on the state of the world at any point in time as viewed in Washington, D.C.

I understand the feelings of longing of those serving in foreign countries. I’ve spent my share of time away from my own family because I happened to be assigned overseas over the span of two holiday seasons.

I don’t regret those years at all because I was doing what the men in my family had always done, proudly wearing the uniform of a soldier, sailor, marine, or airman. Still, I missed my family.

Today, American men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan proudly wear their uniforms just as I did.  Like me, they feel the pain of separation from their families, pain which becomes more acute during the holiday season.

But not all of today’s service people are in Iraq or Afghanistan. The last time I bothered to count them, there were more than 300 American overseas military bases. Some are large bases but most are small.

No matter. Whether a serviceman or women is assigned to a large base or a small one, each is away from home through no wish of their own (a slight variation of a line from the Bobby Vinton oldie, Mr. Lonely).

And someday, ages and ages hence (Robert Frost), today’s generation will look back at their own Christmases elsewhere and wonder.

Is it world peace, or a piece of the world that lies behind a nation’s foreign policies?

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About 8 a.m. on December 7, 1941, Japanese naval and air forces launched an attack on the American fleet docked at Pearl Harbor. The following day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt described the surprise attack as “A date which will live in infamy.”

America shouldn’t have been surprised by the “surprise” attack. Thirty-seven years earlier, Japan’s naval forces attacked the Russian fleet without warning, thus initiating the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. The attack devastated the Russian fleet and catapulted Japan to the forefront of 20th Century military power, as prominent Americans, among them Theodore Roosevelt, lauded their audacity and precision. Among other journalists from throughout the world, San Francisco author, Jack London, traveled to the battlefront and filed several dispatches for the Hearst Newspaper organization.

A lesser-known outcome of the war was a series of riots and uprisings throughout Asia intended to overthrow colonial governments and drive European powers out of Asia. The turbulence failed to achieve its goal, but it struck fear in the hearts of Americans and Europeans who suddenly saw “yellow hordes” from all directions.

The surprise attack of 1941 drew the United States into a world war in which several million lives were lost and untold suffering occurred in the span of four years. Yet, today the attack on Pearl Harbor is little remembered except by the few remaining members of the Greatest Generation. Yes, the media still mentions Pearl Harbor, but the emotion and immediacy that gripped Americans in the immediate aftermath of the attack and for years afterward, has abated somewhat.

I began to think about the historical durability of “the date that will live in infamy” a few years ago as I was in the process of cashing a check at an American naval base in Japan. I was there from Pearl Harbor on official business and I needed some cash to cover lunch and other incidentals.

At the cahier’s cage, I presented my check and identification card to the Japanese cashier. She examined the latter at length, finally remarking in a questioning tone, “Pearl Harbor?”

“Yes,” I answered, thinking that she needed the information for a specific bureaucratic purpose, such as keeping a record of the geographic locations of the individuals who cashed checks.

“Isn’t that in the Philippines?” she enquired innocently.

I wasn’t shocked. I had been around long enough to know that the Japanese viewed World War II through a different lens. From their perspective, Roosevelt had pushed Japan into a corner by his overly aggressive trade and defense tactics. Occasionally, the question is still debated in rather obscure academic journals, but on the whole, it’s a settled question in America. The surprise attack was the fundamental cause of the war, not Roosevelt’s policies.

Japan, however, has its own version of the dwindling generation, aged soldiers, sailors, and airmen who keep alive the emotions and feelings of a war doomed from the start. The younger generation in Japan is similar to the younger generation in America. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is largely a footnote to their lives. Modernity brings more pressing matters–earning a living, educating their children, preparing for retirement.

In the 21sr Century, the “date that will live in infamy” has been reduced to a couple of paragraphs and a picture or two on the editorial pages or pushed onto the back pages by the needs of the present. History has a tendency to dim the emotions.

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I’ve known many veterans in my life. My dad and almost all of his male relatives were veterans of World War II. None of them seemed very heroic to me. They looked and acted like your average run of the mill school teachers, farmers, mill workers, auto assembly line laborers, and truck drivers.

Several of my first cousins were Army and Navy veterans as well. They often wear the cap of their service: Navy, Army. I have a cap of my own—Air Force—but I’ve worn it only a few times on the golf course. However, I have several Air Force tee-shirts that I wear according to my daily tee-shirt rotation schedule. Regardless of where I may have placed them in my tee-shirt stack, I make a special point of laying one out on Veterans Day as a part of my usual daily wardrobe of jeans and tee-shirt. When I wear one, I don’t feel heroic at all, probably because I enlisted in the Air Force to avoid becoming a combat infantryman. But, then again, when I think about the 22 classmates who enlisted at the same time, my lurking unease becomes tolerable.

Once, I worked with a combat infantryman who had survived the Bataan Death March. He had emerged from that horrendous event unscathed only to break a leg one day stepping off a curb in Moses Lake, Washington. This hero undoubtedly was a skinny young man when he made the Death March, but when I met him, he was rotund. And quite a bit shorter than me. I knew his story, but I had a difficult time reconciling his bravery and heroism with the self-effacing little round man I knew.

I’ve also known veterans of other armies—Japan, Germany. They didn’t look like monkeys or marauding Huns when I met them. They looked a lot like normal human beings who were swept up in something larger than themselves. Once I even met a Kamikaze pilot who lived because the war had ended before he was scheduled to fly his first and only suicide mission. He was a very young man when he was selected as a pilot and eternally grateful that the war ended when it did. I wonder if veterans are the same everywhere.

Yesterday, I received an email from a cousin in the Heartland who wrote “Tomorrow is the day we should all thank a veteran.” I replied simply ‘Thanks.’” I don’t know if he got my meaning or not.

These are some rather disjointed thoughts that occurred to me as I wrote. Some of them pop up every Veterans Day but others, like the Kamikaze pilot, are now memories without detail, just vague outlines shrouded in haze. Over time, most memories of our youth fade. We’re too damned busy raising kids, making money, doing our darndest to achieve the American Dream.

I wonder if the fading dreams of young Americans have become brighter with the election of Barack Obama.

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