Tag: #peace

The cry baby channel

My guilty pleasure

I’ve mentioned my personal trainer, Charlie, before.  Between the beat down sessions he inflicts on me, I enjoy trying to give him a bit of his own medicine-at least verbally.  A sort of pay it backward for all the cans of whup-ass he’s opened on me.

So, I’m not quite sure what came over me last week when I started off a discussion with, “Now, if you ever mention this to Dianne or any of the other lady trainers around here, you’ll never see my face again.  But, I’ve pretty much become a Hallmark Channel addict.”

“Yeah,” he answered, as we both began dissolving into uncontrollable laughter, “Beth likes it too.  Whenever she turns it on, she has a box of Kleenex beside her. She calls it the Cry Baby Channel.”

I’ve seen this movie before

“Yeah,” I said, still trying to stifle my guffaws, “you don’t even need to watch the show to know what happens.  There’s some guy from the city who works at a ruthless real estate investment company that likes to go into a small town, buy it up for development, and ruin it.”

“Yeah,” continued Charlie, his face covered with mirth, “then he bumps into some cute young woman who runs the town coffee shop.  And who’s the daughter of the guy who owns the beautiful, local vineyard who’s decided it’s time to cash in his chips and sell out.  Because he doesn’t know that his daughter would really like to take over the winery.”

“Yeah,” I reply, now wiping the tears of laughter from my face, “then the city slicker and the beautiful coffee shop girl bump into each other and get into a squabble.  Before they eventually team up and turn the coffee shop into the next Starbucks, fend off the nasty real estate company and manage to keep the vineyard in the family’s hands.  And then finally getting married in the old barn that they completely renovate over the course of three days.  All while the city slicker makes a clean break with his icky, former girlfriend.  And then, after the show’s one modest kiss at the wedding ceremony, settling down happily ever after in a rustic log mansion beside the vineyard overlooking the lake.”

Make fun if you want

It’s probably not a coincidence that I happen to be listening to English philosopher Roger Scruton’s book, Beauty: A Very Short Introduction.  In this intellectually dense work, Scruton makes the case that true beauty, whether in art, literature, or music is a reflection of the divine and so invites us to participate in that divine life.

But, Scruton continues, “beauty” has been turned on its head and corrupted in two ways by what passes for “art” in our age.  First, and probably most obviously, by the desecration of art by way of pornography, violence, and the postmodern rejection of all value and meaning.

Scruton, however, goes on to decry “kitsch” as the reverse side of the pornography coin.  Defined as “something tawdry . . or content created to appeal to popular or undiscriminating taste,” there’s little doubt that the Hallmark Channel churns it out by the boatload.  And it’s far from beautiful.  Saccharine sweet, kitsch is grist for overactive tear ducts.  Agree with him or not, Scruton argues that no more than the sleazy film, Pretty Woman, does kitsch invite us to genuine participation in the holy.  

But there’s still a difference

Now, far be it from me to argue with Scruton, who’s written over 50 books on aesthetics and political philosophy-but I still say he’s missed the mark on this one.  Yes, kitsch might not do much to raise our sights to the heavens.  But that’s a far sight from pornography’s invitation to lower our sights to the fetid mire-and then get down and wallow in it.

A plea for attention

You probably remember the storm of controversy that arose from Piss Christ, an alleged “work of art” that depicted Jesus on a crucifix submerged in a jar of the artist’s urine.  No doubt, the “artist” achieved his objective with the display:  for one brief moment, the art world turned its brightest lights on him.

How pathetic, then, that Psalms tells us that there’s no place where we aren’t eternally at the center of attention of the only One that really matters:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

Now, it’s a fact that being at the center of the Lord’s attention isn’t always comfortable.  And you know what I’m talking about.  But you’d better get used to it.  And make your peace with it.  Because we’re going to be there, for better or worse, for a very long time.

And what better time to get all that figured out than Easter?  When we celebrate the One who gave his all on that crucifix to allow us to forever enjoy a peace that passes all understanding at the very heart of Beauty.

 

 

 

 

The Decline And Fall

750x450 northern lights

North To Alaska!  I’m goin’ north, the rush is on.

In fall of 1975, after graduating from CU Boulder with a European history degree, I headed North to Alaska to find my fortune.

An intrepid friend of mine, Jimmy Gray, had done it.  A few years before, he’d gone to Alaska’s North Slope and gotten a job working on the oil pipeline.  Like everyone, I knew the working conditions were brutal:  long hours, isolation, frigid temperatures. But, working on the pipeline paid more than almost anything else someone like me could do.  And, if you didn’t blow it, in a year or two you could have a sizable nest egg.

And, that’s what Jim did: his few years on the pipeline gave him a financial kick start on life.

But, for me, no dice.  By the time I got to Anchorage, for every unskilled job opening on the pipeline, there were at least 10 applicants cooling their heels in the union hiring hall waiting for a call that never came.

So, I went to plan B.  First, driving bus for the Anchorage school district.  And then, when school let out, driving taxi around Anchorage during the night shift-it was still dark at night when I first got to town.

The land of the midnight sun.

500x600 decline fall

Ever tried to work the night shift and then sleep during the day?  It isn’t easy; if I got five hours of sleep after driving taxi for twelve hours at night, I felt lucky.

So, I had plenty of time to read.  And I spent most of that time reading the second volume of Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.  It’d belonged to my dad; his neat, cursive signature is still just inside the cover of both volumes.

Originally published about the time of the American Revolution, the book spans centuries and thousands of pages.  While modern scholars may quibble that it’s outdated, to a babe in the woods of history like me, it was a work of astonishing scholarship.

The man on the white horse.

At this point, decades on, do I remember much of what was in those thousands of pages? Not really.

But I do remember this much: the vaunted Roman Legions, which had originally conquered most of the known world during the time of the Republic, played a big part in bringing down the Empire.  Why?  Because the Legionnaires and their generals that had started out being the servants of the Republic wound up being the corrupt and cruel masters of the Empire.  They were better at court intrigue than at keeping the barbarians at bay.  Again and again, they made and unmade emperors. Sometimes in a matter of days; 193 AD is known as The Year of the Five Emperors.

And the very size of the empire became it’s Achilles heel.  With a frontier that stretched over thousands of miles and three continents, border incursions and wars were never ending.

History repeating itself.  Except on steroids.

Now, the American empire dwarfs the Roman empire.  And we suffer from many of the same distempers.

In eastern Europe we poke the nuclear armed Russian bear by pushing NATO right up to the Russian border.  In the South China Sea, rather than minding our own business, we delight in bearding nuclear armed China.  And this is not to mention our perpetual wars in the Middle East.

But, astonishingly, our own southern border remains a leaky sieve to a region rife with drugs and the murderous gang warfare that has left nearly 300,000 dead.  And anyone who has the temerity to suggest that the border be walled off is “racist”.

But did you see the news?  Trump is pulling US troops out of Syria.  Now, if he could just man up and do the same in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Those tribal, dark-age regions have been at war with one another for millennia.  And there’s nothing we can do to stop it.  So, yes, Virginia, I guess there is a Santa Claus.

For the love of money.  Blood money.

Our enormous military establishment has very little to do with national security.  And much more to do with money.  We spend more on arms than the next seven nations combined-several of whom are our allies.

And now the military is proposing that we spend morelots more.  Enough so that we can not only continue, indefinitely, to fight the low intensity wars in the Middle East that have become back page news.  But also to “rearm” to fight major conflicts against countries like Russia and China.

So, the defense contractors and their lobbyists will be on easy street.  As will the generals and admirals.  And their obedient political pets in the US House and Senate.

But what happens if we, the people, dare try to turn off the spigots?  Who knows?  But when a general on a white horse-or tank-comes riding into Washington, DC demanding that the gravy train start rolling again, don’t say you weren’t warned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Strategy For Ending Our Endless Wars?

The Peace Of Exhaustionmilitary bomb disposal

If you, like me, have osteoporosis, you know that weight-bearing activities help prevent your bones from melting away.  So, I’ve started taking short walks once, and even twice, a day.  Retirement does that for you.

Often, I’m strolling around our neighborhood.  Thus, in addition to building stronger bones, I’ve  been reconnecting with a few neighbors whose kids, like ours, have grown up and moved away.  Young kids, between school, Scouts, sports and their other activities are often the glue that holds suburban neighborhoods together.  True, random encounters during neighborhood walks are less “sticky” than regular kids’ activities-but at least they help.

On two recent walks, at virtually the same location, I ran into a woman walking her frisky, English sheep dog puppy-thankfully on a leash.  I recognized her from some long ago connection with our kids, but, of course, I couldn’t remember her name.  To make matters worse, she, of course, remembered mine.

“Hi, Spencer,” she led off, restraining the lunging dog.  “How are you?”

“I’m good,” I replied.  “But, please forgive me.  You’ll have to tell me your name.”

“Christy,” she said with a good-natured smile.  “Our sons were in Scouts together.  How’s Byron?”  Not only my name, but my son’s to boot!

“He was in the Navy on a sub for eight years,” I replied, “and then used that job as a springboard to get a job at Google.  How’s your son?”

“He’s in the Navy too,” she replied.  And then, very matter of factly she added, “He works in EODU.”

“EOD . . ?”, I asked, squinting quizzically as the sun declined in the west.

“Yes,” she replied, her lips still smiling, but a shadow falling over her face, “Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit.”

Great-the bomb squad.  You know, The Hurt Locker, a movie about the EODU guys in Iraq that I had to turn off at the thirty minute mark-I couldn’t bear it.

“Lord, have mercy,” I said, “where’s he deployed?”

“Well,” she responded, “right now he’s in Florida for training.”

My mind pretty much went blank after that.  I just remember thinking as I finished the walk home, “How does the woman ever sleep at night?”

Who’s Fighting All These Endless Wars For Us?

Yes, I know that Christy’s son, like all of our service members, volunteered for the military.  But that begs the question: why did they volunteer?

Because they’re patriotic?  No question-and God bless ’em.  But is it right to be fighting endless, dubious wars halfway around the world in the interests of what threatens to descend into mere displays of chest thumping jingoism at NFL games?  And how long before the patriotism well runs dry? And all that’s left is cynicism?

Or is it because Christy’s son and his buddies are adrenaline junkies?  Certainly possible.  Or just bored?  Also possible.  But maybe it’s because they need a job.  Any job.

Frankly, that’s what I suspected.  At least until I began doing the research.  But it turns out that, at least from what I was able to glean up through about 2008, enlisted recruits were more likely to come from middle and upper class neighborhoods rather than poor ones.  And since wealthier recruits are more likely to be white, the same data showed that whites are disproportionately bearing the burden in terms of fatalities and casualties.

Christy’s son fits right into that demographic.

The Army Is Too Big

The active duty strength of the U.S. military is nearly 1.5 million soldiers.  Over a third of those are in the Army.

Such a gargantuan force may have made sense when we were squared off against the former Soviet Union in Germany’s Fulda Gap during the Cold War. (Unless the Europeans, as can be easily argued, should’ve been defending their own countries.)  No longer.  All the men, women, equipment-and expense-required to sustain a force of this size is a classic example of the truism that generals are great at planning to win the last war.  But are much less capable, as they’ve amply demonstrated in the “War on Terror,” at winning the next one.

A few things can be said with confidence about our half million man Army:

  • It’s a standing, professional army.  And, as such, and as many of the Founding Fathers warned, they are more likely to become a law unto themselves. And a threat to the rest of us and our liberties.
  • Second, the great bulk of them are doing, in effect, garrison duty.  In other words, they have lots of time on their hands.  Not to mention, lots of very nasty weapons.  And, as the old saying has it, “Idle hands are . . . “

Although written before 9/11, this article by Tom Ricks, who’s won the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of defense issues, is a thoughtful look at the growing, worrisome gap between the military and the nation that it’s called on to defend.  With considerable justification, the military perceives much of our society as alien and very different, increasingly decadent and ill-disciplined.

Now, with the advent of the War on Terror, it’s almost impossible to imagine that the gap between our military and civilian worlds has done anything less than grow to a yawning chasm.  While we party-hearty on the home front, soldiers, during interminable deployment cycles, get their legs blown off.

While lengthy, you should read the Ricks article for yourself.  Among other things, it points out that military’s top brass has, increasingly, disregarded the historic taboo on inserting themselves in the political realm. Which, heretofore, has been the exclusive province of our elected, civilian leadership.

Further, relative to the population at large, the military is also much bigger than it used to be.  In 1933, it numbered about 240,000-a mere one-sixth its current size (the U.S. population has only doubled in the same interval.)

In the past, the military shrank dramatically at the conclusion of a conflict.  For example, within two years after the end of World War II, total U.S. armed forces went from over 12 million to about 1.5 million, a cut of nearly 90%.  In contrast, when our last “major conflict” ended, the Cold War, the force only shrank by about 35% from 2.1 to its current 1.5 million.

Again, unlike in the past, when the military was seen as a temporary interruption of “real” life, our all volunteer force nows looks upon the profession as a career.  Many of them have families to support.  Like employees of any other large organization, how will they take to “downsizing”-should it come to that?  Talk about having a tiger by the tail.

You think an uprising of disgruntled, “laid off” soldiers couldn’t happen here?  Think again.  It already has.  And not that long ago.

In 1932, during the depths of the Depression, a “Bonus Army” of over 43,000 veterans descended on Washington demanding immediate payment of a “bonus” from service in World War I. Technically, the money wasn’t due until 1945.  The reliably ham-handed President Hoover refused the demand.  When the vets ignored orders to disperse, Hoover called in the troops and the protesters’ “Hooverville” shanty town was burned to the ground.  Two marchers were killed in a clash with infantry, cavalry, and tanks.

Not long ago, I chanced to sit next to the furniture magnate, Jake Jabs, at the Capital Conference, a wonky policy confab for the hoi polloi on international affairs in Washington, D.C.  It won’t surprise you that I managed to steer the conversation toward the subject of our endless wars and the size of the military.

“The Army has all these men and equipment,” I began, “often lying around doing nothing.  You know,” I continued, “how business owners hate to see idle equipment.  Why would it be any different for the military and our politicians?  To me, it must be a constant temptation to put it to use.  And what do you use it for?  Fighting wars.”

“You’ve probably got something there,”  Jake replied, who, for all his zoo animals and “ah shucks” mannerisms, is smart like a fox.  “I sure do everything I can to keep my trucks out on the road.”

What makes us think it’s any different for our enormous, professional and standing army?

The Army Is Too Small

The great majority of the fighting that is now being done in the War on Terror is being shouldered by special forces, elite units that total about 70,000 soldiers, a mere sliver of the Army’s overall force of 1.5 million.  According to a recent Time Magazine story, at any given moment, about 8,000 of these troops are deployed in 143 countries, or nearly three-quarters of the world’s nations.

While in the past these units were a supplement to conventional forces, that’s no longer the case.  In small, specialize teams, Washington tells us that these soldiers are doing tasks that sound innocuous: “nation building,” “training” foreign troops to defend their own nations, winning “hearts and minds” through diplomacy.  (By the way, how did that “Hearts and Minds” thing work out in Vietnam?)

The reality, according to former Navy SEAL and now Virginia Congressman, Scott Taylor, is very different.  “They’re not ‘trainers’ and ‘advisors.’  That’s bullshit.  They’re constantly engaged in kill-or-capture raids against known terrorists.  They’re combat boots on the ground, everyone of them.”

Of course, making war on most of the world is a big job for 8,000 troops.  Or even 70,000. Regardless of how good they are.  One result is an endless war for them.  Sargent Major Chris Faris, who was profiled in the Time article, was a member of the Delta Force.  He was home for a total of 89 days between 2002 and 2011.  Before yet another 6 month deployment, his 18 year old daughter asked him if he remembered the last birthday he was home for.  “No,” Faris answered.  “I was 10,” she said. Before walking out of the room.

Not surprisingly, endless war is taking its toll on the nation’s toughest soldiers.  In 2017, 11 special operators were killed in four countries.  That’s the most deaths that have occurred in that many countries since the Special Operations Command was established in 1987.  Despite comprising less than 5% of the total military, they are now suffering virtually all combat casualties.

The disfunction attendant on this non-stop war has led the Pentagon to create a task force to address family crises, alcohol abuse, and suicide.  There is an open investigation into the murder of a Green Beret by two Navy SEALs and and the killing of civilians in Somalia by special operators.

Michael Repass, a retired general who formerly commanded special forces in Europe, says it best: “Our special operators aren’t just frayed at the edges,” because of their constant deployments, “they’re ripped apart at the damned seams.  We’ve burned through this force.”

To make matters worse, the tactics of choice for special operators, drone strikes and covert night raids, have probably inadvertently killed thousands of civilians across several countries, according to Andrea Pasow with Human Rights Watch.  How that magnitude of collateral damage has anything to do with making this country safer, rather than simply enraging our opponents and spurring terrorist recruitment, is a mystery to me.

Am I suggesting that the solution to these pervasive issues is to expand the force of special operators?  Absolutely not.  Rather, we should dramatically shrink the scope of the wars we’re fighting.

Unfortunately, our politicians haven’t had their bellyful of war yet.  Instead, according to Time, the latest brain storm is to shift the “training” function of foreign militaries to conventional U.S. forces by creating “Security Force Assistance Brigades.”  And how long, one wonders, before these brigades, like their special forces brethren before them, morph into “combat boots on the ground?”

Come Home, America

My son-in-law served two tours in Iraq with the Marines.  When I saw him recently, I told him about Christy’s son with the bomb squad.

“Yeah,” he responded, “we had those units with us once in a while.  But they could never keep up with the demand when I was there.  One time, I heard that a unit’s commanding officer got impatient for the bomb disposal team to show up.  So, he ordered one of his regular guys to go over and pick up a suspicious object and move it out of the way.  The guy,” he continued, “took about 10 steps and vanished in a cloud of black smoke.  The officer,” my son-in-law concluded, “was dismissed.”

Google tells me that it’s 5,966 miles from New York City to Iraq.  The bulk of that distance is over the Atlantic Ocean. The distance from Los Angeles to Beijing over the Pacific Ocean is even greater:  6,248 miles.

While our current crop of politicians seem to be ignorant of the significance of these elemental facts of geography, our Founding Fathers weren’t.  In The Federalist Papers: No. 41, James Madison wrote,

“Being rendered by her insular situation and her maritime resources impregnable to the armies of her neighbors, the rulers of Great Britain have never been able, by real or artificial dangers, to cheat the public into an extensive peace [military] establishment.  The distance of the United States from the powerful nations of the world gives them the same happy advantage.”

Correct me if I missed something, but last I heard the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans are still there.  And, like 18th century Great Britain, America’s vast, watery moats are dominated by our unrivaled naval power.  We’re impregnable to a seaborne invasion.

So why do we maintain an army of 1.5 million and spend more on the military than the next 8 nations of the world-combined?  

Is it to protect our southern border?  Obviously not.  The invasion of illegals continues apace, the Wall remains unbuilt, and our D.C. elites, of all political stripes, have repeatedly demonstrated they couldn’t care less.  In fact, they cheer it on.

So we use our vast military power to invade and “manage” the rest of the world.  As if poking hornets’ nests in 143 countries is “management.”  When, in reality, it can’t be anything other than a costly exercise in the futility of making more people mad at us.

And when will it end?  Who knows.  But perhaps what’s in store for us is not real peace.  But a twilight peace of exhaustion.