Tuesday, November 1, 2011
I have always been a political geek. My father fostered that in me when we canvassed our neighborhood in Largo, Florida. We handed out Nixon bumper stickers. I was 11 at the time.
My dad lived long enough to see Richard Nixon resign, and that hurt him - a lot. He died not long after Jimmy Carter won the 1976 election.
I voted for Jimmy Carter in 1980 - the first time I was able to vote in a presidential race - because I thought he was a good man who was trying to do the right thing. I thought Ronald Reagan was a lightweight who gave up acting to dabble in politics.Right about Carter, wrong about Reagan.
Every election since about 1984, we are told it is the most important - ever. I get a little sick of that.
You also hear a lot of people say politics is a lot nastier than it was.
In the midst of a Civil War, when you would think people would rally around the president, some of the nastiest things were said about Abraham Lincoln. They said things that, if said today, would end careers.
This Tuesday, it seems a change is coming.
I have to say, I was really proud of our country when Barack Obama was elected. I was not a supporter, but I was glad to see our nation elect a black person as president. I hope we elect a woman as president before I die.
Despite not being a supporter, I hoped for the best. I want my country to succeed, no matter who is in office. If the guy (or woman) I voted against makes our country stronger and more prosperous, I still win. Makes no difference what party they belong to.
I hoped, in electing a man who was clearly very liberal, the tough times we were facing would result in a more centrist position. I think centrist positions result in our system repairing itself without a lot of meddling.
I see our system, our republican democracy, as sort of an infallible immune system. Meddling with it one way or the other is not a good idea. Let it work, and the body will fight off any infection just fine, thank you.
Give the body snake oil, and you screw it up.
Bleed it with leeches, and you screw it up.
For much of the first part of this decade, we gave the body snake oil. The 2008 election pretty much ended that.
But for the last two years, we've been bleeding the body with leeches, and the body is starting to think maybe that's not such a good idea, either. This Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. Eastern Time, when election returns start coming in, the body starts to reject the leeches.
(Please don't think I am comparing any politician to a snake oil salesman, or a leech. I believe politicians, of either party, truly believe they are doing the right thing. I also believe the less they actually do, the better off we -- the body -- will be. They're just metaphors.)
We are not perfect, but we are the shining city on the hill. We are exceptional.
And soon, we will turn our attention to 2012 and the presidential election. I wonder if there is someone who can do all these things:
1. Lead us.
2. Make us safe.
3. Gain friends around the world.
4. Make us prosperous.
5. Secure the future for our grandchildren and their children.
6. Not only keep our enemies at bay, but hunt them down.
A word about enemies...
I am not the enemy of anyone in our government, from the president down to the dog catcher. I respect them for what they do. I might not agree with them, but I think I deserve their respect, too, even if I may be of a different political persuasion.
And a word about my first presidential vote...
I do not regret voting for Jimmy Carter, but I like my presidents to act presidential -- even after they leave office. He has not. As I said earlier, he's a good man, but he diminished himself by undermining and trashing another good man, George W. Bush.
As always, just my opinion.
Anyway, if there is anyone who can accomplish all six of those items above, I hope I can say I voted for him/her.
Monday, May 30, 2011
|Soldiers of "The Old Guard" at the Tomb of the Unknowns, |
Arlington National Cemetery.
You have to wonder. What is it that makes a person want to have a job where they wake up every morning with the realization they might be called upon to do something heroic?
Most of us, me included, don't have jobs like that. Most of us like to think that, if confronted with a situation that calls for heroism, we would react ... well, heroically. The truth is, you never know until it happens. We hear about heroism by police officers, firefighters and soldiers all the time. We rarely hear about the people whose makeup did not bring them to accomplish something heroic.
I suspect they account for a large part of the population. And what is a hero, anyway? Is it a ballplayer who has the big hit to win the big game? Is it an actor, who plays a hero? Probably not, but each person chooses their own heroes.
This weekend, the one I'll be thinking of was a Private First Class in the Army. I was a Private First Class in the Army once, a long time ago. Millions of people have been. The one to which I'm referring, a young man named Ross McGinnis, was in a Humvee in Iraq in 2006, when an insurgent tossed a hand grenade into the vehicle that he and his comrades occupied. I think, unless something like that has happened to you, you can't say how you would react. You can hope you would react with valor, but for most of us, the reaction is one of self-preservation. Everything in our brains would be saying "GET OUT NOW!"
But there are a few, like Ross McGinnis, who react differently. Ross shouted "GRENADE!" Then he pinned his body against the device, shielding the blast from his fellow soldiers. They are alive today because of him. Ross is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
I doubt Ross McGinnis got up that morning expecting anything like that was going to happen. I also believe, if the grenade were to be tossed in the vehicle a hundred times, Ross would have done the same thing a hundred times. Not every soldier would have reacted the same way. That's one reason Ross was given the highest honor for valor this nation can bestow: The Medal of Honor.
One of the criteria for receiving the Medal of Honor, is that the person could not be criticized for not having done the deed. Nobody could have blamed Ross for trying to protect himself. Instead, he sacrificed himself to protect others. Heroes don't, I believe, think about the larger ideal of sacrifice for their country - for you and me. He died so his four buddies could live.
What he DID do for you and me was raise his right hand at a recruiting station, and swear to do his best to defend you and me against all enemies, and to uphold the greatest written document mankind has ever produced: The Constitution of the United States of America. On that day, you might say Ross took the first step in becoming a hero, but that's not exactly right. His parents and his sisters helped, too. So did his drill sergeants, his teachers, and his Little League coaches. In the end though, it all came down to that one split-second choice.
You can read President Bush's citation of the ceremony, at which Ross' parents were presented with his Medal of Honor, here: http://www.army.mil/medalofhonor/mcginnis/citation/president.html This hero's story is not unique. But it is rare. Thank God for people like Ross McGinnis.
Happy Memorial Day.
Friday, December 24, 2010
|Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, Ireland|
Kilmainham Gaol is a former prison, located in Kilmainham in Dublin, which is now a museum. It has been run since the mid-1980s by the Office of Public Works (O.P.W.), an Irish Government agency. Kilmainham Gaol played an important part in Irish history, as many leaders of Irish rebellions were imprisoned and some executed in the prison by the British and latterly in 1923 by the Irish Free State.
Sunday, July 4, 2010
|Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain|
I wonder about the men who fought at Gettysburg 147 years ago, and if they were thinking about Independence Day.
Survival was probably foremost on their minds, but the idea (on both sides) of the meaning of The Fourth of July must have been in their thoughts as well.
Our country was not so far removed then from 1776, when a group of men -- knowing their signatures on the Declaration of Independence would mean certain death if their cause failed -- signed it anyway. The last line of the document said it all: "And for the support of this Declaration with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."
But 87 years later (or, "four score and seven years"), the struggle was a different one. It was not to throw off the chains of tyranny placed there by a king, but the chains of slavery and for the preservation of the Union.
The "peculiar institution" of slavery and how to justify it, or abolish it, was debated at the time the Declaration was signed during the American Revolution. Many of our Founding Fathers owned slaves, yet some hated the idea.
That might have been on the minds of those at Gettysburg, too.
One of those men was Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain - perhaps the most unlikely military hero our nation ever had. He was a peaceful man - a professor at Bowdoin College in Maine who could speak ten languages. Until he volunteered for duty in the Civil War, he had no military training.
Yet his actions 147 years ago today, July 3, 1863, on a Gettysburg's Little Round Top, might have singlehandedly saved the Union. There are some who believe, if Chamberlain had faltered, the Confederates could have poured through the hole in the left flank and devastated the Union's undefended cities. Beyond Chamberlain and the 20th Maine Regiment lay virtually nothing to stop the Army of Northern Virginia, whch likely would have sacked Harrisburg, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. That, in turn, could have forced Abraham Lincoln to sue for peace.
I wonder what the world would be like today if, below the Mason-Dixon Line, there was a Confederate States of America? Thanks, perhaps, to a peaceful college professor from Maine, the answer is only conjecture.
At Little Round Top 147 years ago on this very day, Chamberlain and his men were almost out of ammunition. They barely repelled attack after attack. Then Chamberlain ordered his men to fix bayonets and charge into the enemy lines. It was a last-ditch effort. Nobody could have faulted Chamberlain and his men for pulling back instead. It's happened many times in war, but retreat at that moment would have been devastating.
Chamberlain's Maine men won the day. More hard fighting still lay ahead, but the Confederates were not able to exploit what turned out to be the weakest spot in the Union line.
Chamberlain survived 20 battles during the Civil War. He was cited for bravery four times, had six horses shot from under him, and was wounded six times. But it was his actions at Little Round Top that earned him the highest military award this nation can bestow: The Medal of Honor. In the last official act of the worst period in our history, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was chosen to accept the surrender of Confederate infantry at Appomattox Court House.
After the war, Chamberlain was elected four times as Governor of Maine, and he eventually became president of Bowdoin College. In 1898, at the age of 70 and in pain from old injuries, he volunteered to serve in the Spanish-American War, but was rejected. He called it one of the great disappointments of his life.
He finally died in 1914, finally succumbing to the many wounds he received in the Civil War, a half-century earlier.
I have always found it amazing that Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, a peaceful and brilliant man, also is one of our country's greatest military heroes. He was the perfect example of the citizen soldier who was a peace-lover at heart, but fought when necessary.
And I hope our military service members today - every one of them a citizen soldier who was not drafted, but volunteered - are able to take a moment to reflect on what happened 234 years ago tomorrow, when imperfect men risked it all just by signing their names.
Just a few days ago, President Obama said: "... I reject the notion that the Afghan people don't want some of the basic things that everybody wants -- basic rule of law, a voice in governance, economic opportunity, basic physical security, electricity, roads, an ability to get a harvest to market and get a fair price for it without having to pay too many bribes in between. And I think we can make a difference, and the coalition can make a difference, in them meeting those aspirations ..."
Substitute "Iraqi," "Panamanian," "Vietnamese," "Korean," "German," Italian," or "Japanese," for "Afghan," and similar words could have been uttered by several other U.S. Presidents.
Our enemies today are no less dedicated to the destruction of the United States than those of 1776, 1863, or 1941.
Make no mistake. Our country has survived, and will, because of people like Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain who serve the cause of peace, but are willing to fight -- not to conquer -- but to bring about a better world.
Happy Independence Day.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
|What people used to think ...|
A sign in Trafalgar Square, London, 1914: "No price can be too high when honour and freedom are at stake."
A sign last week at an anti-war protest in Washington, D.C. (paraphrased): "No ideology, philosophy or belief is worth a single human life."
Sunday, February 28, 2010
|Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk wins Gold Medal in 30K cross-country|
Congrats to British Columbia and Canada on a great Winter Olympics. Makes me want to go there and visit. And Canada's Olympic team started out slowly, but really came on, winning the most Gold of any country.
Sure would be nice to go back to London for the Summer Games in 2012. We were there Christmas 2008 and had a wonderful time.
(Photo credit: Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk wins Gold Medal in 30K cross-country. Author: Iwona Erskine-Kellie)
Saturday, February 27, 2010
Pretty amazing story about some nasty words between Greece and Germany. All European countries are equal. However, some are more equal than others.
(Photo credit: Andreas Trepte, www.photo-natur.de., Wikimedia Commons)
Thursday, December 24, 2009
During World War II, when England was more concerned with survival than protecting cultural history, the Royal Air Force considered knocking these stones down to make way for an airfield. I can't say I got any spooky or strange feelings from the place, but I am glad the British Empire, and Stonehenge, endured.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
|A Ranger is pinned at graduation|
Today, Nov. 11, 2009, is Veterans’ Day.
Today is the day we – most of us anyway – thank those living and dead who have served in our nation’s many wars. Memorial Day is the one where we only thank those who died in service.
If you don’t fly Old Glory on Federal holidays like today, nobody knocks on your door wondering why not. That’s the way it should be. I have to admit that I have forgotten a time or two. But for the most part, I’ve remembered by unfurling the standard three-by-five Stars and Stripes and affixing the pole to the side of our house.
But there’s no Federal Holiday for the folks who are left behind while the soldier, sailor, airman, Marine or Coast Guardsman goes into harm’s way. There should be, but then again, there’s probably enough holidays.
Parents, like my wife and I, with a child at war, worry every day. We know our son, an Army Ranger on this third combat tour, is well-trained and well-equipped to do his job. But parents worry about their kids if they have “safe” jobs, too.
It’s the spouses who truly sacrifice, though. Though we will love our son forever, and we’re as proud as any parents can be, it is his wife who has it the roughest.
She’s the one with the legal and moral expectation of his companionship, protection, and comfort. Instead, he’s on the other side of the world, doing a job American soldiers have done many times: Fighting not for the sake of conquest, but for an ideal.
As my wonderful daughter-in-law counts down the days until her husband – our son – comes home for R&R, I am reminded of an Army wife named Sarah Ballou.
Sarah was the loved one left behind when Sullivan Ballou, the judge advocate of the Rhode Island Militia, went off to fight for the Union – and an ideal – in the U.S. Civil War.
He was 32 years old when he wrote these words, just before the first Battle of Bull Run.
July the 14th, 1861
My very dear Sarah:
The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days - perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.
Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure – and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine 0 God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing – perfectly willing – to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.
But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows – when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children – is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country?
I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last, perhaps, before that of death – and I, suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart, am communing with God, my country, and thee.
I have sought most closely and diligently, and often in my breast, for a wrong motive in thus hazarding the happiness of those I loved and I could not find one. A pure love of my country and of the principles have often advocated before the people and "the name of honor that I love more than I fear death" have called upon me, and I have obeyed.
Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.
The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me – perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar – that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.
Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have oftentimes been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.
But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night – amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours – always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.
Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.
As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father's love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood. Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters. Tell my two mothers his and hers I call God's blessing upon them. O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children.
Not long after Sullivan Ballou wrote those words, he was killed in battle. The letter was never mailed, but was found among his effects later.
The war lasted four more years, and cost more than 600,000 American lives.
Sarah died in 1917. She and Sullivan are buried next to each other in Swan Point Cemetery in Providence, R.I.
If you forget to put the flag on your house today, it’s no big deal. But if you know a wife or husband of a military member, be sure to thank them for their sacrifice, too.