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“Hollow Words In Airports”: Today’s All-Volunteer Military Has Been Robbed Of The Sense Of Shared Sacrifice And National Purpose

I don’t know exactly when the habit of civilians publicly thanking uniformed military personnel “for your service” caught on. But as a painful but very informative feature story by David Zucchino and David Cloud of the L.A. Times on the increasing rift between military and non-military cultures illustrates, it’s not making things better:

“We glorify the military in this country in a way that’s really weird,” said Eric Harmeling, 21, a Carrboro [NC]-area resident who often argues with his father, a politically conservative minister, about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “It’s like the Roman legions…. It’s like we’re being told to kneel down and worship our heroes.”

That’s not the way military personnel and recent veterans see things:

The military-civilian divide is not marked by particular animosity or resentment on the civilian side. In airports and restaurants, civilians thank men and women in uniform for their service. They cheer veterans at ballgames and car races.

What most don’t realize is how frequently such gestures ring hollow.

“So many people give you lip service and offer fake sympathy. Their sons and daughters aren’t in the military, so it’s not their war. It’s something that happens to other people,” said Phillip Ruiz, 46, a former Army staff sergeant in Tennessee who was wounded twice during three tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Douglas Pearce, a former Army lieutenant who fought in Afghanistan and is now a marriage and family counselor in Nashville, said civilians seem to think they “can assuage their guilt with five seconds in the airport.”

“What they’re saying is, ‘I’m glad you served so that I didn’t have to, and my kids won’t have to.'”

Ironically, during the era of mass conscription there wasn’t nearly as much of a brouhaha:

George Baroff, enjoying an outdoor lunch at an organic food co-op in Carrboro one recent afternoon, said he understood the military quite well: He served three years as a draftee during World War II before eventually becoming a psychology professor in nearby Chapel Hill.

Baroff, 90, finds himself startled when people learn of his war record and say, as Americans often do to soldiers these days, “Thank you for your service.”

“You never, ever heard that in World War II. And the reason is, everybody served,” he said.

In Baroff’s view, today’s all-volunteer military has been robbed of the sense of shared sacrifice and national purpose that his generation enjoyed six decades ago. Today’s soldiers carry a heavier burden, he said, because the public has been disconnected from the universal responsibility and personal commitment required to fight and win wars.

So what’s the answer to this growing rift between a “warrior class” that never feels really appreciated and a citizenry engaged in hollow gestures of support? Bring back the draft?

I don’t think so, though some truly robust national service program would not hurt.

What civilians truly owe to the military is consistent material support for veterans–particularly those injured in combat or for the families of those who perished–and a sustained effort to ensure lives are not unnecessarily put at risk in wars big or small that aren’t worth supporting or even knowing about. It may seem kind of obvious to many of us that you do not “support the troops” by sending them into the wrong conflicts with the wrong mission and the wrong leadership. But unfortunately, a lot of people think glorifying warfare itself is the best way to honor our surrogate warriors–along with hollow words in airports.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, may 21, 2015

May 26, 2015 Posted by | Civilians, U. S. Armed Forces, U. S. Military | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“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 —”

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

“Barack Obama Is Not Neville Chamberlain”: Have The Iranians Emerged Stronger From Lausanne? No

Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that we have secured a long-lasting peace with Iran, or that Tehran’s deeply troubling bad behavior in the Middle East will be modified.

We all know the framework nuclear agreement between six world powers and Iran is far from perfect — when you’re sitting at the table with the Russians, Chinese, French, and Iranians, how could it be? — but it has bought something quite valuable: time. And now, the underlying, fundamental question — does the deal dampen the prospect of war itself? — must be answered, ever so cautiously, yes.

Predictably, hawkish critics have been quick to accuse President Obama over the last several months (before the agreement was even reached) of selling out Israel with these Iran negotiations, with comparisons writ large to Neville Chamberlain, the feckless British prime minister who threw the Sudetenland (a portion of sovereign Czechoslovakia) to the wolves to appease Hitler in 1938 (the French were in on the sellout as well). It is “peace in our time,” Chamberlain proclaimed, waving a piece of paper to prove it.

But wolves are always hungry. Six months after the Munich deal, Hitler gobbled up the rest of Czechoslovakia as well — before rolling into Poland six months after that. The second World War was on, and Chamberlain would go down in history as a naif, a coward, or both.

Unprepared and anxious to avoid war, British and French demands during the Czech crisis were directed not at the source of the problem — Hitler — but at his intended victim, the Czechs. The Germans were never asked to disarm or even scale back their growing military machine. The true appeasement of Munich was the feeding of the wolf with the naive belief that it would not wish to feed again.

Hitler emerged from Munich stronger, having won everything he desired and giving up nothing to Chamberlain. Have the Iranians emerged stronger from Lausanne? No.

Iran is giving up 68 percent of its nuclear centrifuges for at least a decade. Tehran has agreed to not enrich uranium beyond 3.67 percent purity — enough to produce electricity but nowhere near the level needed for nuclear weapons — for 15 years. Its current stockpile of low-enriched uranium —10,000 kiliograms — will be cut 97 percent. The once-secret enrichment plant at Fordo — discovered by American intelligence in 2009 — will be converted to a “research center.” A heavy water reactor at Arak — theoretically capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium — will be redesigned and rebuilt to prevent this.

Can Iran be trusted to actually do all this? Not on your life. For more than a quarter-century, Iran has lied about and hidden virtually every part of its nuclear program from the rest of the world. It has threatened to destroy Israel. To this day, it continues to support terror groups like Hezbollah and murderous regimes like Syria. Iran has since 1984 been considered by the U.S. to be a state sponsor of terrorism.

This is why as part of the Lausanne framework, the U.S. and its allies have demanded regular and intrusive access for international inspectors — not just of Iran’s nuclear facilities, but of their supply chains. And it’s why the sanctions that have crippled a broad swath of the Iranian economy will remain in place and be lifted gradually and only when the U.S. and others are satisfied that their demands are being met. Beyond this intrusive on-ground presence, U.S. ELINT (electronic intelligence gathering) and other measures will be stepped up to provide extra layers of scrutiny.

The WWII appeasement comparisons lobbed by Obama’s critics would only be remotely accurate if Chamberlain and France’s Édouard Daladier told Hitler in 1938 that he needed to dismantle two-thirds of the Wehrmacht to prove his intentions benign, or that Allied inspectors must be allowed into German armament factories in the Ruhr to ensure no further production of Panzers.

Obama, German Chancellor Merkel, French President Hollande (whose position on Iran has been toughest of all) and Britain’s outgoing Prime Minister Cameron know better. “Distrust but verify” is the phrase you hear in the West Wing — better than Reagan’s “trust but verify,” which he used with a far bigger and more dangerous enemy, the Soviet Union, back in the 1980s.

Is Obama Neville Chamberlain because he hasn’t insisted on the complete fantasy of total disarmament from Iran? Of course not. Iran isn’t a vanquished power, like Germany or Japan in 1945, when we had total command of the strategic situation and could dictate terms to a T. Diplomacy and arms reduction is a process of gradualism, with each side — wary and distrusting — cautiously taking interim steps and searching for common ground. The last four decades of relations between Washington and Moscow — frosty, warmer, and now frosty again — have been defined by competition, distrust, misunderstandings, and a series of gradual arms reductions pacts.

Has Obama sold out Israel as Chamberlain did Czechoslovakia? Of course not. Obama has stepped up funding of Iron Dome, the missile defense system that saved lives during last year’s war with Hamas. He quietly gave Benjamin Netanyahu bunker buster bombs — a request rejected by the Bush administration out of fear that Israel was sending U.S. military technology to China. “Even some of the hawks from the George W. Bush administration grudgingly give Obama credit for behind-the-scenes progress,” says former Reagan foreign policy advisor Elliott Abrams. And Ehud Barak — Netanyahu’s former defense minister and a former prime minister himself, tells CNN, “I should tell you honestly that this administration under President Obama is doing in regard to our security is more than anything that I can remember in the past.”

Some sellout.

No one says this deal is perfect. And given Iran’s history of lying and cheating, no one says we’ve achieved “peace in our time.” But if Iran cheats, as Obama said last week in the Rose Garden, “the world will know it. If we see something suspicious, we will inspect it…with this deal, Iran will face more inspections than any other country in the world.” Hardly an expression of confidence in the mullahs’ true intentions.

And hardly a betrayal of our good friends in Israel.


By: Paul Brandus, The Week, April 6, 2015

April 7, 2015 Posted by | Diplomacy, Foreign Policy, Iran | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Frightening Crackpot Ideas”: How Not To Respond To The Secret Service’s Challenges

The recent revelations surrounding the Secret Service have been as stunning as they are frightening. As much as Americans like to think of the Secret Service as the elite professionals when it comes to protecting the nation’s leaders, a series of controversies have taken a toll on the agency’s reputation.

With that in mind, the Washington Post ran an opinion piece yesterday on recent developments from Dan Emmett, whose c.v. seems quite impressive: he’s served in the Secret Service Presidential Protective Division, the CIA National Clandestine Service, and the Marines.

But Emmett’s prescription for what ails the Secret Service was unexpected: “While Congress has not declared war on ISIS and al-Qaeda, U.S. airstrikes in Syria and Iraq – as well as the threats of radical Islamist groups against Americans and our country – make it clear we are indeed at war. In wartime, we must call on our military forces to assist the Secret Service in protecting the president and White House against attack.” He added that “combat troops” could have prevented the recent fence-jumper from entering the White House itself.

But even more striking, Emmett wants to see Julia Pierson, the current Secret Service director, ousted and has someone specific in mind to replace her.

Pierson should be replaced and the next director should come from outside the Secret Service, with the deputy director remaining an agent. In this role, a true leader, not a bureaucrat, is needed. Someone like Florida congressman and retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Allen West would be perfect for the role. West has successfully demonstrated that he possesses the leadership skills of a combat officer as well as managerial and diplomatic skills of a congressman, exactly the traits needed in the next director. Highly competent and beholden to no one in the Secret Service, he would be a superb director.

There was no indication that this was intended as humor. Indeed, a Fox News host quickly endorsed the idea this morning.

I’m not sure why the Washington Post published this, presumably on purpose, but it’s an unusually horrible idea.

To be sure, there’s literally no chance that White House officials would consider West for any official role in any part of the executive branch. Given his rhetoric, I’m not even sure he’d be welcome as a tourist.

That said, let’s not forget that Allen West, a former one-term congressman, can generously be described as one of the nation’s more frightening crackpots. It’d take a while to pull together a Greatest Hits collection of the Republican’s most unhinged moments, because there are just too many to choose from – including his instence last week that the U.S. military start disobeying wartime orders from the Commander in Chief, whom he considers an “Islamist” determined to help Islamic State terrorists create a Middle Eastern caliphate.

Anyone who looks at this guy and thinks of the phrases “diplomatic skills” and “highly competent,” might be confusing him with someone else with the name Allen West.

As for the notion that the military should be in charge of protecting the president and the White House, I imagine there are security experts who can speak to this with far more authority than I can, but from a layperson’s perspective, it seems like an awkward combination of skill sets. The military is exceptionally good at defeating an enemy on a battlefield, but soldiers are not trained to protect civilians on American soil.

Emmett’s piece added that during World War II, “Combat forces were brought in to protect the White House and other government buildings from German and Japanese attack. Troops armed with M1 Garand rifles and Thompson submachine guns were posted at the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon and the White House. Anti-aircraft emplacements were set up around the White House as well.”

I can appreciate why ISIS militants might seem scary, but there’s no reason to draw a parallel between counter-terrorism missions and WWII.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 1, 2014

October 2, 2014 Posted by | Secret Service, U. S. Military | , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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