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“A Moment Of Respect”: Make Time For Memorial Day’s True Purpose

I have no idea where I will be at 3 p.m. Monday, when a national moment of remembrance takes place, but Memorial Day will be very much on my mind.

Monday is the day to pause and give a moment of respect to those who, regardless of race, religion, gender, national origin or sexual orientation, served, fought and died in behalf of our nation.

Hopefully, time to remember can be found in the din of holiday sales pitches.

“Memorial Day returns May 25. Until then, check back daily for more ways to save,” says the Wal-Mart Web site. “7 Memorial Day Sales You Won’t Want to Miss,” reads a headline in U.S. News & World Report’s Money section. “Chevy Memorial Day Sale, 15% off cash back.” “Memorial Day Sales 2015 — Coupons.com.”

And then there are all those cookouts and barbecues. Will there be any time to pay tribute?

Let’s hope so. Because as we bustle about in hot pursuit of those sales and bargains, and as we gather all that food to cook for the family gathering, it’s worth remembering that American men and women are embroiled in wars fought far from our shores. Their lives could be claimed. They could end up in the graves that get decorated next May with flowers and flags. Next year’s prayers could be recited for them. Parades could take place in their honor.

Next summer’s beginning could be marked with their remembrance.

I’m part of a long line of men in my family to have served in the U.S. military. My great-grandfather, Isaiah King of New Bedford, Mass., was with Company D of the 5th Massachusetts (Colored) Cavalry during the Civil War. My uncles, Marshall Colbert and Robert Colbert, were soldiers in World War I and World War II, respectively. My younger brother, Cranston, was an Air Force captain. And I was an active-duty Army officer from 1961 to 1963. My relatives and I aren’t among the countless number of men and women who died in service to their country. But we all proudly wore the uniform, even though the home front wasn’t always very kind.

My great-grandfather enlisted as a Union soldier at the age of 16 to defend against the great rebellion of the South, and he participated in the Siege of Petersburg, which resulted in 2,974 Union and 4,700 Confederate casualties.

He and his fellow black soldiers were paid less than white troops until, after months of protest, they finally got what they were owed. Getting a pension following his release from service was even more difficult.

His physical hardships and the struggle for his retirement benefit are documented in the book “New Bedford’s Civil War” by Earl F. Mulderink III. It took Great-granddaddy King 13 years, but he finally got his pension, which was $75 a month at the time of his death in 1933.

My uncles returned home from military service to a Washington, D.C., that was separate and unequal in nearly every respect. And the bars on my shoulders in the early ’60s weren’t enough to get me seated and served in southern public accommodations.

We were among the thousands of men of color who responded to the call to arms from a nation that demanded loyalty and discipline from us while often forgetting to reciprocate.

But we served. As did many of my Howard University ROTC classmates, some of whom gave their “last full measure of devotion” in Vietnam.

Do you know the formal declaration made by the men and women sworn to defend America? It’s worth remembering and repeating on Memorial Day. This is the Soldier’s Oath of Enlistment:

“I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

We who served will always remember that oath. In return, not just on Monday, but every day, the nation must remember what it owes to its defenders — all of them.

 

By: Colbert I. King, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Columnist, The Washington Post, May 22, 2015

May 25, 2015 Posted by | Memorial Day, U. S. Military, War | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Conquest Is for Losers”: Putin, Neocons And The Great Illusion

More than a century has passed since Norman Angell, a British journalist and politician, published “The Great Illusion,” a treatise arguing that the age of conquest was or at least should be over. He didn’t predict an end to warfare, but he did argue that aggressive wars no longer made sense — that modern warfare impoverishes the victors as well as the vanquished.

He was right, but it’s apparently a hard lesson to absorb. Certainly Vladimir Putin never got the memo. And neither did our own neocons, whose acute case of Putin envy shows that they learned nothing from the Iraq debacle.

Angell’s case was simple: Plunder isn’t what it used to be. You can’t treat a modern society the way ancient Rome treated a conquered province without destroying the very wealth you’re trying to seize. And meanwhile, war or the threat of war, by disrupting trade and financial connections, inflicts large costs over and above the direct expense of maintaining and deploying armies. War makes you poorer and weaker, even if you win.

The exceptions to this dictum actually prove the rule. There are still thugs who wage war for fun and profit, but they invariably do so in places where exploitable raw materials are the only real source of wealth. The gangs tearing the Central African Republic apart are in pursuit of diamonds and poached ivory; the Islamic State may claim that it’s bringing the new caliphate, but so far it has mostly been grabbing oil fields.

The point is that what works for a fourth-world warlord is just self-destructive for a nation at America’s level — or even Russia’s. Look at what passes for a Putin success, the seizure of Crimea: Russia may have annexed the peninsula with almost no opposition, but what it got from its triumph was an imploding economy that is in no position to pay tribute, and in fact requires costly aid. Meanwhile, foreign investment in and lending to Russia proper more or less collapsed even before the oil price plunge turned the situation into a full-blown financial crisis.

Which brings us to two big questions. First, why did Mr. Putin do something so stupid? Second, why were so many influential people in the United States impressed by and envious of his stupidity?

The answer to the first question is obvious if you think about Mr. Putin’s background. Remember, he’s an ex-K.G.B. man — which is to say, he spent his formative years as a professional thug. Violence and threats of violence, supplemented with bribery and corruption, are what he knows. And for years he had no incentive to learn anything else: High oil prices made Russia rich, and like everyone who presides over a bubble, he surely convinced himself that he was responsible for his own success. At a guess, he didn’t realize until a few days ago that he has no idea how to function in the 21st century.

The answer to the second question is a bit more complicated, but let’s not forget how we ended up invading Iraq. It wasn’t a response to 9/11, or to evidence of a heightened threat. It was, instead, a war of choice to demonstrate U.S. power and serve as a proof of concept for a whole series of wars neocons were eager to fight. Remember “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran”?

The point is that there is a still-powerful political faction in America committed to the view that conquest pays, and that in general the way to be strong is to act tough and make other people afraid. One suspects, by the way, that this false notion of power was why the architects of war made torture routine — it wasn’t so much about results as about demonstrating a willingness to do whatever it takes.

Neocon dreams took a beating when the occupation of Iraq turned into a bloody fiasco, but they didn’t learn from experience. (Who does, these days?) And so they viewed Russian adventurism with admiration and envy. They may have claimed to be alarmed by Russian advances, to believe that Mr. Putin, “what you call a leader,” was playing chess to President Obama’s marbles. But what really bothered them was that Mr. Putin was living the life they’d always imagined for themselves.

The truth, however, is that war really, really doesn’t pay. The Iraq venture clearly ended up weakening the U.S. position in the world, while costing more than $800 billion in direct spending and much more in indirect ways. America is a true superpower, so we can handle such losses — although one shudders to think of what might have happened if the “real men” had been given a chance to move on to other targets. But a financially fragile petroeconomy like Russia doesn’t have the same ability to roll with its mistakes.

I have no idea what will become of the Putin regime. But Mr. Putin has offered all of us a valuable lesson. Never mind shock and awe: In the modern world, conquest is for losers.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 21, 2014

December 23, 2014 Posted by | Neo-Cons, Vladimir Putin, War | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“For Most, There’s Been No Shared Sacrifice”: Syria And The Myth That Americans Are “War Weary”

Perhaps the most misleading phrase in the debate over Syria is “war weary.” Americans, say commentators and politicians across the political spectrum, are exhausted by a decade of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, with sideshows in Libya and Yemen. Now Syria? Where does it stop? Americans must be weary.

Of exactly what?

The truth is that for most Americans, the constant combat has imposed no burdens, required no sacrifices and involved no disruptions. True, the money spent has been substantial. From 2001 to 2012, reckons the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan along with related operations cost $1.4 trillion. Although that’s a lot even by Washington standards, it pales next to all federal spending and the economy’s total production. From 2001 to 2012, federal spending totaled $33.3 trillion; the wars were 4 percent of that. Over the same period, the American economy produced $163 trillion of goods and services. War spending equaled nine-tenths of 1 percent of that.

As important, no special tax was ever imposed to pay war costs. They were simply added to budget deficits, so that few, if any, Americans suffered a loss of income. It’s doubtful that much other government spending was crowded out by the wars.

The largest cost, of course, involves Americans killed and those who suffered life-altering wounds, both physical and mental. As of Sept. 3, the Pentagon counted 4,489 deaths connected to the war in Iraq and 2,266 connected to the war in Afghanistan, including some U.S. civilians. To these numbers must be added thousands more with serious injuries. Through September 2011, according to the CBO, 740,000 veterans from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan had received treatment from the Veterans Health Administration. In a study of veterans treated from 2004 to 2009, the CBO found that 21 percent were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, 2 percent with traumatic brain injury and another 5 percent with both.

The pain, suffering, sorrow and anguish of these and other losses are borne by a tiny sliver of Americans: those who joined the volunteer military, plus their families and close friends. There was no draft. There was no shared sacrifice, as there was in World War II, Korea and (to a lesser extent) even Vietnam. Those who have made the sacrifices have a right to feel “weary.” For the rest of us, it’s a self-indulgence.

What many Americans seem to mean by “weary” is “frustrated.” They’re frustrated and disillusioned that so much fighting over so many years has not brought the clear-cut psychological and strategic benefits of “victory.” For others, the lesson is more stark: These foreign military forays were a waste and, in many respects, have done more harm than good. One way or another, there’s a widespread impatience with our engagements when patience is often required for success.

If it is to be useful, the debate over Syria must broach larger issues. The United States cannot be the world’s policeman. It cannot rectify every wrong or redress every atrocity. It cannot impose the “American way of life” and values on diverse peoples who have their own ways of life and values. But the United States isn’t Monaco. Since World War II, we have assumed a sizable responsibility for the international order. We have done this not so much out of idealism as out of self-interest. The large lesson of that war was that American absence from the global stage ultimately contributed to a global tragedy from which we could not remain aloof.

This lesson endures. But it lacks a firm footing in public opinion. Members of the World War II generation have largely died. Their experience is now an abstraction. The new applications of an old doctrine often suffer from carelessness and expedience — sometimes too much eagerness, sometimes too little. We do have overriding interests in a stable global order. To state an obvious case: It cannot be in our interests (or the world’s) for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.

Whatever we do in Syria must spring from a sober calculation of national interest so that it commands broad public support. The worst outcome would be a retreat justified by nothing more than an exaggerated and artificial sense of “war weariness.”

 

By: Robert Samuelson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 4, 2013

September 5, 2013 Posted by | Syria, War | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

McCain, Lieberman And Graham: The Three Amigos For “State Sponsored Violence”, Anywhere, Anytime

When John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman join forces, you can be sure of one thing: It will involve state-sponsored violence. Today, they want us to arm Syrian rebels. Though, you know, what they really wanted to call for was actually bombing the hell out of Syria, until there is freedom. They’re just taking it slow.

The Senate’s three most predictable and least credible warmongering “moderates” frequently join forces to publish joint Op-Eds or hold press conferences and the one thing they always, invariably want is for the United States to have just a little bit more war than it currently has, somewhere far away. Sure, we could draw down in Iraq … or we could listen to McCain, Lieberman and Graham and draw back up. We could draw down in Afghanistan … or we could stay the course and keep sending troops there until we win! Americans may be tired of endless war with no coherent goal, but on the other hand, “only decisive force can prevail in [whatever country John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman are talking about now].”

As the Hill recently explained in a story on how John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman were pushing for a resolution basically promising to make war with Iran, “Graham, Lieberman and McCain are considered some of the top foreign policy experts in the upper chamber,” because they always, invariably support military intervention everywhere for any reason, and that is invariably considered a sign of “seriousness” in Washington. If you don’t like waging wars everywhere, forever, you are a weird kooky hippie, and everyone laughs at you. If you believe that bombs and troops have the power to magically solve all problems, you are invited on all the Sunday shows every week to offer your sober analysis of the foreign situation.

You just never know which country these three will decide needs bombing next! One time the three amigos also took a trip to Tripoli to hang out with Moammar Gadhafi. (They invited Susan Collins along, though usually their sleepover parties are strictly “no girls allowed.”) Sadly, by April of last year, they were no longer friends with Gadhafi, and the three had decided that the United States should assassinate him. (That is not really legal but, you know, “war on terror” and “serious, muscular foreign policy” or something.)

One time Lieberman and Graham tried to hang out with a different senator and they all came up with an idea that didn’t involve bombing anyone but that made McCain mad and he yelled at them. Don’t hang out with John Kerry and try to solve climate change! Hang out with me and let’s try to convince everyone to bomb Russia or something!

Sadly, Joe Lieberman will be leaving the U.S. Senate soon, which means John McCain and Lindsey Graham will need to find a new fake-Democrat best friend to add a patina of “bipartisanship” to their endless demands for explosions and shooting and death.

 

By: Alex Pareene, Salon, March 29, 2012

April 2, 2012 Posted by | Foreign Policy, War | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Obama And The Art Of Rational Choices

If you keep trying something and it doesn’t work and you are a rational person, you change course. President Obama is a rational person. His rip-roaring budget speechwas a rational response to the failures of the past eight months. Republicans accused him of “class warfare” because he said the rich should pay more in taxes. When Republicans start saying “class warfare,” it almost always means that a Democrat is doing something right.

Obama’s aides insist that the president had little choice until now but to try to conciliate with the Republicans because they held in their hands the power to cause enormous damage. Obama made the budget deal early this year, they say, because he thought it would be bad for the economy to start off the new Congress with a government shutdown. And he had to make a debt-ceiling deal because the country couldn’t afford default. Now, they say, he has the freedom to bargain hard, and that’s what he doing.

There is something to this, although it doesn’t take into account other moments when the president engaged in a strategy of making preemptive concessions, giving away stuff before he even negotiated. (I’d argue that this tendency goes all the way back to the stimulus package.) But for now, it’s simply a relief for many — especially for the people who support the president — to see him coming out tough and casting himself as someone with a set of principles. And it was a political imperative, too. His image as a strong leader was faltering, and he was starting to lose support within his own party. He can’t win in 2012 (or govern very effectively before the election) if he looks weak and if his own party is tepid about him. On Monday, he began to solve both problems.

And as Ezra Klein and Greg Sargent point out, Obama may get more done by starting from a position of strength — by stating flatly and clearly what he’s seeking — instead of beginning with concessions and then having to concede even more. In the recent past, he allowed Republicans to control the terms of the debate. This time, he’s trying to set them. That’s usually a better way to get something closer to what you actually want. The Republican cries about “class warfare” reflect their awareness that if Obama can get them into an argument over why they don’t want to raise taxes on the wealthy, the GOP starts out behind.

Obama will get grief in some quarters over two decisions for which I think he deserves credit. The first was his giving up, for now at least, on the idea of raising the age at which Americans are eligible for Medicare to 67 from 65. The original rationale was that Americans in the age category who could not get private coverage would pick it up through the Affordable Care Act and its subsidies.

Put aside that (1.) it’s very hard for anyone to get affordable health insurance coverage once they pass 55 or 60, and (2.) we shouldn’t be doing anything that risks increasing the number of uninsured. The fact is, we don’t even know yet if the Affordable Care Act will survive long enough to take effect in 2014. We don’t know what the courts will do. And we don’t know if the president will be reelected. A Republican president with a Republican Congress will certainly try to repeal the law.

If the new health system takes effect, and if it can be strengthened with time, it may well make sense to move the younger and more affluent among the elderly to the new plan. (And who knows? Someday we may have a comprehensive national insurance plan.) In the meantime, let’s keep people in that category covered by keeping them in Medicare. There will be plenty of time to revisit the issue of health-care costs. It’s an issue we’ll be revisiting for years, maybe decades, anyway.

Obama is also getting hit for using the end of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to count up $1.1 trillion in savings. You can argue about how the math works, but I like the fact that this makes clear that there are big costs to continuing our interventions. It challenges those who say we should draw down our troops more slowly to come up with ways of paying for the wars. We should have passed a temporary war tax long ago. Obama is once again making clear that the days of putting wars on a credit card are over.

By: E. J. Dionne, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 20, 2011

September 21, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Congress, Conservatives, Deficits, Democrats, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Income Gap, Medicare, Middle Class, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Right Wing, Taxes, Teaparty, Voters, War, Wealthy | , , , , | Leave a comment

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