Tuesday, December 26, 2006
The image accompanying is from a 2004 calendar entitled A Year Of Agony, which was put out by Sourcefire, a network security company. http://www.sourcefire.com/ The caption reads "I've locked down my host to the point where it's unusable."
Jump into salvation while you are alive. What you call "salvation" belongs to the time before death.
To be enlightened is to be intimate with all things.
God whose love and joy are everywhere can't come to visit unless you aren't there.
Our computer is the same one we had in 2004 (we're window-shopping eagerly for a new one) but in the meantime has developed so many knots in its processing that I feel we're losing this war almost as badly as the invasion of Iraq. For indeed what other appliance do you buy for your household that comes under actual attack from parties known and unknown the moment you connect it up to use? Say what you will about the malicious geeks out there, they're brought planned obsolescence to an art form. Of course neocons preach the consumer needs no help battling this army all by yourself in your tilty deskchair.
I spend at least a half hour a day doing routine maintenance on this thing. We have dialup but I can't blame all the weirdness in the machine on that. I've been struggling for 2 months to get my Norton scan to work properly again. I suspect a Microsoft Priority Update as the culprit...but maybe it's an undetectable worm picked up at MySpace. I seem to be spending more time worrying about what's infecting our computer than my own bodily health! But like that organism, it seems the more I try to do about it, the worse everything gets. Thus the illustration here.
Time Magazine has designated "YOU" as Man or Person of the Year...and the reason for that is how much time "you" spend on your computer and how blogging is affecting the world scene. Frank Rich has his opinion on that choice---and does a little review of other media we've been watching, including YouTube---in his Christmas Eve column. As usual blogger Rozius Unbound has posted the article for us. Heh heh. http://roziusunbound.blogspot.com/2006/12/frank-rich-yes-you-are-person-of-year.html But for the real scary scoop on that "personal" computer and what monsters may be inside, you have to go to PCWorld's review of Security Issues in 2006, just posted a few hours ago. Hot off your hard drive (and don't forget to clean that fan in the back occasionally) is the news you've been afraid is hitting you from all sides~~~
Happy New Year.
Friday, December 22, 2006
If you want to know who I am, don't ask me where I live and what I do, but rather ask me what I am living for and ask me in very small particulars why I am doing so little about it.
The gift given to us comes struggling to escape from the tinsel and wrapping that disguises its coming and is the gift of Hope. It comes simply, in the form of a child, born into stark poverty, without a glimmer of material excess. Here is the very heart of the Christian faith: not a threat, but an invitation. God coming to us as a baby to do for us that which we could not do for ourselves. Offering us his very life of love and justice.
---John Sentamu, Archbishop of York
The sign of Christmas is a star, a light in darkness. See it not outside of yourself, but shining in the Heaven within, and accept it as the sign the time of Christ has come.
---A Course In Miracles
The 12-wheeler roaring over that rise bears down on a scattering herd of reindeer. Do you think it's pretty certain the heavy piece of equipment on it hardly is intended for improvement of life in the Sami culture that depends on those animals? Or are these Santa's reindeer stampeding away from commercialization? But wait, those reindeer and the truck are headed straight for me, standing in the way with a camera in hand! The whole image struck me as particularly appropriate to how I feel about the approach of Christmas this year. "Christ is born" replaced by borne down upon: not good. Let me see what I can do to lift the heavy load.
Dana wanted me to write one of those newsy inserts you get these days in Christmas cards. I wish I could say I seize eagerly upon each one that tumbles from a card. I realize they're a good way to catch up with distant friends and relatives, and the years do speed by. Who has time to handwrite the same news in the cards we send out? We should write a personal greeting...but we don't. We used to...but not anymore.
Garrison Keillor gave us a sample in a column last week of the kind of Christmas newsletter that somehow does not spread the cheer around. "Tara was top scorer on the Lady Cougars soccer team and won the lead role in the college production of 'Antigone,' which by the way they are performing in the original Greek. Her essay on chaos theory as an investment strategy will be in the next issue of Fortune magazine, the same week she'll appear as a model in Vogue. How she does what she does and still makes Phi Beta Kappa is a wonderment to us all. And, yes, she is still volunteering at the homeless shelter." http://prairiehome.publicradio.org/features/deskofgk/2005/old_scout/ How wonderful for Tara and her parents, those cousins who always were more fortunate than we were...and still are. I read Garrison and knew a Christmas newsletter wasn't in my future this year. Not that our Ilona hasn't had an overwhelmingly stupendous year! And son Jeroch too, but it's just not that kind of Christmas this year...not yet.
Both Dana and I have been late in getting preparations started this year. I think our concern and involvement with midterm elections here are factors. In the final weeks Dana was out almost every evening, organizing and helping campaigns. As December rolled around we had a house full of chores to do. They're not finished yet, but we've got to get cards and presents ready. The pressure is on and in years past that kind of excitement has inspired a certain kind of Christmas joy. But I seem to yearn for quiet contemplation this time.
Dana's Spirit must have kicked in because she's preparing her fruitcake. Yes, I actually married a woman who makes fruitcake every year. It's another of those little secrets you discover well into a marriage, when it's too late to do anything about it. This year she will celebrate the Danish side of her heritage with Lys Frugtkage. Mmmm, there's the recipe on the kitchen counter. I look for the prunes. There must be prunes. The Danes put prunes in everything. Meat, potatoes, salad, bread...always the prunes. No wonder Hamlet was melancholy. But there are no prunes listed in the ingredients. What's with these people? Fruitcake seems the perfect chance for prunes!
We'll have a Scandanavian feast on Christmas Day. Dana has invited relatives from all around, so there'll be plenty of Danes, but Norwegians and us Swedes too. Dana's Hungarian mother will just have to put up with us. Oh, we all were born in the States but over the years, we've tried to learn the traditions of the old countries to add to our combination families. My birth family was Swedish on both sides, but mostly we celebrated the Christmas of middle America. That means, as for so many of us, Jean Shepherd's Christmas Story spoke for me too. No one was a greater fan of Red Ryder and Little Beaver on the radio, but I was so far from ever hoping for a BB gun that I never even asked.
It's our contemporary Christmas that's giving problems this year. I know better than to look to the media for help in stirring my Spirit. The news on all sides is positively grim, and the TV specials are blandly confused in political correctness. At 4 AM it's about 50 degrees outside. I'd say global warming is only the tip of the iceberg, but it appears the tips are all we have left. I barely could drive home last Solstice night through fog and steam, and the London airport has been socked in all week over there. If any papers and commentary more gloomy than here exist, it's in the UK this year. Everywhere I look there is depressing soul-searching. One reviewer in the Telegraph took his assignment of the new movie The Nativity Story and ran with it for 4 online pages. "'Tis The Season To Be Tacky" he titled it last week and just bottomed out on every aspect of the English Christmas he saw unfolding. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml?xml=/arts/2006/12/10/svtacky110.xml
But there, I've said it all and poured it out. I hope you don't feel worse but I do feel better. The day is about to dawn and I think the cards actually will get sent out and presents wrapped. There's no newsletter this year, but I couldn't improve anyway on the one with which Garrison concludes the column referred to up above. I'll water the tree and begin to get busy. A flickering ember of the star within is beginning to glow. Those reindeer in the photo are just about to surprise that truck driver when they lift off and fly away!
Sunday, December 17, 2006
I have just three things to teach:
Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts, you return to the source of your being.
Patient with both friends and enemies, you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world.
---Tao Te Ching
In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.
And as to me, I know nothing else but miracles.
Here I am, in a condition not that unusual for me: I came to the computer with a pile of catch-up to do...and have ended up sleuthing down a couple of stories I couldn't resist. In this case I've been out of circulation since Wednesday, when a flu-bug that'd been after me for at least a week finally found the way in and laid me out. If there's a pandemic, which some media are hinting at again, I now can rest easy with the certainty either my immunity is strengthened to resist it or shattered so I'll be the first to go.
Dana decided I'd face this one with Vitamin C, a witches brew she makes with vodka and roots, hot pepper tea, and coma. For some reason I decided I had it coming to me, did not call Dr. Conjeevaram for the help 50 years of medical progress has achieved, and prepared instead to suffer. The various 'cillin drugs usually send me to Cloud 9, while the physical battle wages, where at least I can mope around somewhat in human fashion. But they also prolong the sickness (it is said) and strengthen (they say further) the little beasties trying so hard to kill us off. So I went through a bout with the flu I haven't experienced since I was a kid: flat on my back in bed for over 2 days, alternating chills and sweats, merciless headache, pains in lower regions, dozing sleep whenever. One time long ago I faced scarlet fever with only shades drawn, icepacks, and Aspergum. I didn't even get Aspergum with this thing.
This morning I feel sorta normal again and so I came downstairs to the computer room with arms loaded of stuff to get done, most of it for gifts I want to mail out immediately. But Dana had emailed a story last night about continued attempts even to identify the dead from Hurricane Katrina that hooked me hard. Now, another thing Dana does, besides torture me with ancient remedies, is send out stories without identifying links...and in this case not even an author's name. This piece was written with such brilliance I just had hit the search engines. I proved to myself why Microsoft is slipping away and Google reigns supreme. The author's name is Rukmini Callimachi---and I finally gave up on MSN when from 5 pages of links I couldn't find out if the writer is a man or a woman. Google solved that mystery in its first offering and gave the only online picture of her, which looks to be her college yearbook photo.
Born in Romania, Ms. Callimachi graduated from Dartmouth in 1995 and received her masters in linguistics from the University of Oxford in 1999, where she also studied Sanskrit, the ancient language of India. In 2000, she co-led the Royal Geographical Society's expedition to Tibet. She then covered India as a freelance reporter for Time magazine and National Public Radio. Based on such experience, she was hired by the Chicago Daily Herald as a staff reporter in 2001. Part of the reason for that is Chicago's immense population of Indian-Americans, a population that grew 95% in the 1990s to become the largest Asian ethnic group in Illinois. They gave her a series to do called Passage From India, a ball she ran with all over the place, including a trip to India to interview the last survivor of the successful conspiracy to assassinate Gandhi. (She found the guy unrepentant, since Gandhi had supported the founding of Pakistan, and still praying for the annihilation of Islam.) http://www.dailyherald.com/special/passagefromindia/front.asp
After this The Associated Press apparently beckoned and sent her to Oregon and the Northwest, where she freelanced some and wrote about everything. One of my favorites starts out
"One of nation's oldest rodeos bans free chewing tobacco
September 19, 2005
By RUKMINI CALLIMACHI. The Associated Press.
PENDLETON, Ore. (AP) — Bryan Richardson hadn't learned algebra when he straddled his first bull at age 13. By then, he'd already been chewing tobacco for four years, starting when he was 9."
Early this year AP redeployed her to New Orleans. Her job was to report on the Katrina cleanup, but she also got into insurance coverage and how people with coastal properties on Long Island and Cape Cod are watching their policies get cancelled now. Do insurance people know something about climate catastrophe the White House doesn't know? The stories she generated out of there began to shake the nation. In October she won the Charles Rowe award for distinguished reporting from the Associated Press Managing Editors, an association of 1500 newspapers in US and Canada. The story Dana sent out was posted last week and may be Rukmini's last from the Big Easy, but as of this morning 185 papers have picked it up, many running it in today's edition. Here, titled The Quest To Identify Two Who Died In The Tempest, it is~~~
At the moment, she's in Ipswich covering the sudden and numerous murders of women, and positing the possibility the deaths in Atlantic City may be the work of the same killer~~~
I mentioned a couple of stories at the top of this note. The other one I found myself and didn't require the interesting journey of Googling. When Maureen Dowd hits a fast ball out of the park, it just needs to be stood up and shouted about. Yesterday she noticed all the hoohah that was stretching Rummy's departure on and on, cheering and celebration after celebration, around the world he goes, days and days of headlines about this glorious civic figure. Whew. But her column nailed it~~~
Farewell, Dense Prince
James Baker ran after W. with a butterfly net for a while, but it is now clear that the inmates are still running the asylum.
The Defiant Ones came striding from the Pentagon yesterday, the troika of wayward warriors marching abreast in their dark suits and power ties. W., Rummy and Dick Cheney were so full of quick-draw confidence that they might have been sauntering down the main drag of Deadwood.
Far from being run out of town, the defense czar who rivals Robert McNamara for deadly incompetence has been on a victory lap in Baghdad, Mosul and Washington. Yesterday’s tribute had full military honors, a color guard, a 19-gun salute, an Old Guard performance with marching musicians — including piccolo players — in Revolutionary War costumes, John Philip Sousa music and the chuckleheaded neocons and ex-Rummy deputies who helped screw up the occupation, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, cheering in the audience.
It was surreal: the septuagenarian who arrogantly dismissed initial advice to send more troops to secure Iraq, being praised as “the finest secretary of defense this nation has ever had” by his pal, the vice president, even as a desperate White House drafted ways to reinvade Iraq by sending more troops in a grasping-at-straws effort to reverse the chaos caused by Rummy’s mistakes.
Just imagine the send-off a defense secretary would have gotten who hadn’t sabotaged the Army, Iraq, global security, our chance to get Osama, our moral credibility, the deficit and American military confidence.
Even Joyce Rumsfeld got a Distinguished Public Service Award ribbon placed around her neck. The grandiose ceremony featured everything but the gold-plated matching set of pistols Tommy Franks, another failed warrior, and his wife, Cathy, recently received from a weapons manufacturer. (His had four stars and diamonds; hers, rubies and their marriage date.)
W. never seems as alarmed about the devastation in Iraq as he should be. He told People magazine “I must tell you, I’m sleeping a lot better than people would assume,” and he told Brit Hume that his presidency was “a joyful experience.”
He slacked off on his slacker effort to form a new Iraq plan. (Can’t these guys ever order pizzas and pull some all-nighters?) Mr. Bush was busy this week hosting Christmas parties for a press corps he disdains; convening a malaria conference at the National Geographic with Dr. Burke of “Grey’s Anatomy” Isaiah Washington; and presiding over a hero’s departure for the defense secretary he actually dumped, not because of incompetence but for political expediency.
The Rummy hoopla was a way for W. to signal his decision to shred the Baker-Hamilton study, after reportedly denouncing it as a flaming cowpie. Condi Rice signaled the same, telling The Washington Post that she did not want to negotiate with Syria and Iran, as the Iraq Study Group had proposed, because “the compensation” might be too high.
The Democrats thought that when they won the election, they won the debate on the war and they had W. cornered. But the president is leaning toward surging over the Democrats, voters, Baker and the Bush 41 crowd, and some of his own commanders.
W. seems gratified by the idea that rather than having his ears boxed by his father’s best friend, he’s going to go down swinging, or double down, in the metaphor du jour, on his macho bet in Iraq. He’s reading about Harry Truman and casting himself as a feisty Truman, but he’s heading toward late L.B.J. The White House budget office is studying how much it will cost to finance The Surge, an infusion of 20,000 to 50,000 troops into Baghdad to make one last try at “victory.” The policy would devolve from “We stand down as they stand up” to “We stand up more and maybe someday they will, too.”
Some serving commanders are not in favor of The Surge because they fret that it will infantilize Iraqis even more about assuming responsibility for their own security. They also fear that the insurgents, who have nowhere to go, will outwait our troops.
But W. would rather take a risk in Iraq than risk being a wimp. So he continued to wrap himself in muscular delusions, asserting that on Rummy’s watch, “the United States military helped the Iraqi people establish a constitutional democracy in the heart of the Middle East, a watershed event in the story of freedom.”
Dick Cheney offered this praise to his friend: “On the professional side, I would not be where I am today but for the confidence that Don first placed in me those many years ago.”
Alas, we wouldn’t be where we are today, either.
Friday, December 08, 2006
I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble. We have to learn to live happily in the present moment, to touch the peace and joy that are available now.
---Thich Nhat Hanh
To fill the hour---that is happiness; to fill the hour and leave no crevice for a repentance or an approval.
---Ralph Waldo Emerson
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire is the wisdom of humility: Humility is endless.
It's an unusually full and urgent Thursday for news. I don't know why but so many things are bursting forth on this Pearl Harbor Day. Yes, of course the necessary stories about Iraq, that Russian spy case, recent water on Mars (will some alien be looking for traces of water on Earth someday?), the tragic dad in snowy Oregon, Jennifer Aniston's happiness and all the new movies, poor Tony Blair deserve our attention. But there are a few beneath the surface that don't get headlines this morning and that we might miss---like the startling images that illustrate this message. What are they? The top is surface ocean temperature and the bottom is phytoplankton productivity. So what? Please read on~~~
Every day, more than 100 million tons of carbon dioxide are drawn from the atmosphere into the ocean by billions of microscopic ocean plants called phytoplankton during photosynthesis. In addition to playing a big role in removing greenhouses gases from the atmosphere, phytoplankton are the foundation of the ocean food chain.
For nearly a decade, the Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-View Sensor (SeaWiFS) has been making global observations of phytoplankton productivity. On December 6, 2006, NASA-funded scientists announced that warming sea surface temperatures over the past decade have caused a global decline in phytoplankton productivity. This pair of images shows changes in sea surface temperature (top) and phytoplankton productivity (bottom) between 2000 and 2004, after the last strong El Niño event, which occurred between 1997-1998. Places where temperatures rose between 2000 and 2004 (red areas, top image) are the same places where productivity dropped (red areas, bottom image). In general, the reverse situation was also true: where temperatures cooled, productivity rose. The sea surface temperature image is based on data collected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite.
Why do warmer temperatures have a negative influence on phytoplankton growth? The most likely explanation is that the warmer the surface waters become, the less mixing there is between those waters and deeper, more nutrient-rich water. As nutrients become scarce at the surface, where phytoplankton grow, productivity declines. The effect is most obvious in the part of the world’s oceans that scientists describe as the permanently stratified ocean, bounded by black lines in the images. “Permanently stratified” means that rather than being well-mixed, there is already a distinct difference in the density of warmer, fresher water at the surface and colder, saltier water deeper down.
In this situation, with “lighter” (i.e., less dense) water on top, and “heavier” (denser) water below, there is little vertical mixing, and nutrients can’t move to the surface. As surface water warms, the stratification, or layering, becomes even more pronounced, suppressing mixing even further. As a result, nutrient transfer from deeper water to surface waters declines, and so does phytoplankton productivity.
“Rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere play a big part in global warming,” said lead author Michael Behrenfeld of Oregon State University, Corvallis. “This study shows that as the climate warms, phytoplankton growth rates go down and along with them the amount of carbon dioxide these ocean plants consume. That allows carbon dioxide to accumulate more rapidly in the atmosphere, which would produce more warming.”
“The evidence is pretty clear that the Earth’s climate is changing dramatically, and in this NASA research we see a specific consequence of that change,” said oceanographer Gene Carl Feldman of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “It is only by understanding how climate and life on Earth are linked that we can realistically hope to predict how the Earth will be able to support life in the future.”
References: Behrenfeld., M., O’Malley, R., Siegel, D., McClain, C., Sarmiento, J., Feldman, G., Milligan, A., Falkowski, P., Letelier, R., and Boss, E. (2006). Climate-driven trends in contemporary ocean productivity. Nature, 444, 752-755. Images by Jesse Allen, based on data provided by Robert O'Malley, Oregon State University.
If such planetary developments urge you to action, consider joining MoveOn's campaign to organize house parties on Saturday, December 16th, to view An Inconvenient Truth and to talk by hookup with Al Gore and ask him questions. I guess the Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters are joining other groups in this campaign as well. As this point MoveOn just is trying to get people to volunteer the homes for the project. The link to do that is here...I think, although it may be members only (there are 3.2 million of those right now)~~~
Then we have Robert Scheer's disturbing article and photo of Jose Padilla's confinement and torture, as further revealed by The New York Times this week. Mr. Padilla is a US citizen caught in the distorted web of "Terror War" confined in our network of detention centers and brigs for the last 3 1/2 years, and now declared so mentally ill he couldn't stand trial even if he were allowed one. Take a look at the comments as well that follow this TruthDig column...and maybe add one yourself. This is a very moving piece about freedom and liberty.
So moving in fact, that if you read next Jesse Jackson's reminder Tuesday about impeaching Bush, you may be ready to march. I know we've all read articles before about impeachment, but somehow Reverend Jackson's puts the case so precisely and concisely that it's among the best and briefest I've seen yet. The chronicle of this President's alleged crimes is becoming easier all the time to memorize and recite around the workplace. It's here~~~
And on the bright side of the news---yes, we want to end with a kicker---sincere congratulations to the happy couple expecting their first child after 15 years together. You know, it really helps to get to know each other well before you decide to have a baby. Best wishes Mary and Heather! and perhaps the LA Times' A Pregnant Pause In Right Wing tells it best~~~
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. ---Malachy McCourt
I appreciate people's opinions, but I'm more interested in news. And the best way to get the news is from objective sources. And the most objective sources I have are people on my staff who tell me what's happening in the world.
---George W. Bush
Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried...to practice these principles in all our affairs.
---Twelfth Step of Alcoholics Anonymous
First a word about these quotations. The statement about resentment has become quite popular and a number of people seem to be credited for it, but chief among them is Mr. McCourt, a colorful figure one might have to sum up as a storyteller of some sort. The actual source for the comment apparently is not known. President Bush was talking about the media to FoxNews's Britt Hume at the end of a 2003 interview found here http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,98006,00.html . The official Internet site of AA is www.alcoholics-anonymous.org/ . And while I'm giving credit, the lithograph by George Bellows was published as an illustration for an article in Good Housekeeping explaining Prohibition in 1924. The original currently is housed in the Library of Congress.
Second, let me say I don't know if the President is alcoholic. We have a history of ambivalence about alcohol in this country. We find drunks comical, as we do not so often people experiencing the effects of other substances that may cause dependence or addiction. We tried to prohibit its manufacture and consumption once, but apparently found enforcement too difficult. Most families include or know of someone with a "drinking problem," but addressing the issue with the person is somehow extremely sensitive. There doesn't seem to be a medical test that proves someone actually has what many describe as a "disease." People are sent to Alcoholics Anonymous by courts and various recovery units, but many folks show up having diagnosed themselves just as they previously "medicated" themselves. You don't have to confess to alcoholism to go to any meeting of AA anywhere, as long as you profess an honest desire to stop drinking.
Third, whether George Bush is alcoholic or not should be none of my business. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of AA, and the main reason for that is not so much secrecy anymore as it is for the purpose of learning humility. It means the member is trying to drop the behaviors of the big shot egomaniac that alcohol obviously encourages and creates. I don't know that the President is NOT in the fellowship of AA, but his biographies say he gave up drinking after a transforming interaction with Billy Graham. Others say Bush's handlers encouraged that story to attract his Evangelical base for his Presidential run. Stories about Bush's drinking in Houston and "disappearance" to Alabama in 1972 http://dir.salon.com/story/news/feature/2004/09/02/allison/index.html and his DWI at the family compound in Maine in 1976 http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/bush/ remained secret or of no interest the whole time he was Governor of Texas. (You may notice at the CBC site a quotation from his autobiography in which Bush says he just woke up one morning with a hangover and stopped drinking; there's no mention of any born again conversion.) It may be a run for the Presidency made Bush come up with something about his substance abuse and try to beat the media to the punch (no boozy pun intended).
I say Bush's decision to give up drinking, how he did it and how he continues to do it SHOULD be none of my business, but he is President---and what our Presidents do in the dark of a closet or the inner recesses of their brains must be available to scrutiny and opinion if we still are a republic. Ambivalent or not, we need to take a look at Bush's behavior from the perspective of an alcoholic, now more than ever. He has maintained isolation and secrecy more than any President in history, the experts say. But now the isolation is not so much of his own choosing, and many of his protective handlers have fallen by the wayside. He is under increasing pressure...and when Congress convenes next month, it will intensify no matter how many ramparts and fortresses he continues to build around himself. He doesn't like it, and there are stories about anger and rage. For the alcoholic there is no more dangerous time than something like this...at least within the consensus of AA.
Alcoholics Anonymous has meetings in practically every town in America, and in many cities around the world. There are open meetings and there are closed meetings. A closed meeting is for people who are saying one day at a time that they are members. They want to talk among themselves and they prefer to insist on that. An open meeting welcomes visitors and students, but often requests notes and recordings not be taken without the specific OK of the people there. So you can go in there and hear what they say. Look in your phone book if you want to find out which meetings are open. When the topics come up about isolation, anger, and resentment, you will hear universal agreement these situations are a red flag. You need to seek help from the fellowship at such a critical time. If one does not go to AA, where do you turn?
For one who has an Evangelical base and faith, where perhaps the foundation of sobriety is rather than AA, you go to your pastor. Through the years we've had a number of Presidents and First Families who went to church frequently. Many of us grew up seeing photos of our Presidents attending church on Sabbath, or coming out into the sunshine after service. I can't say I've ever seen a picture of George, Laura and their children coming out of whatever church it is they go to. I don't know if they go to church. Maybe somebody will send me such a photo, and identify the President's spiritual counselor. Some people go to other kinds of counselors and psychologists and things in times of crisis. And of course George has his father and mother and their contacts. Does he reach out to anyone besides Laura?
Over the past 6 months and particularly this last week, an onslaught of attack has come from historians, journalists and commentators. Perhaps it started with a Rolling Stone cover story last May in which Princeton American studies professor Sean Wilentz posited George Bush as the worst President in United States history. His indictment remains the most completely devastating I've ever read. http://www.rollingstone.com/news/profile/story/9961300/the_worst_president_in_history On Sunday The Washington Post published 5 editorials by other historians to consider the same question---and if it isn't Bush, who was it? I'll give you the link to the Raw Story coverage of the editorials, and the individual Post links are in that article. http://www.rawstory.com/news/2006/Washington_Post_editorials_debate_if_Bush_1203.html Has any sitting President ever had such a thing done to him? But wait, there's more~~~
Yesterday Paul Krugman described what he considers the increasingly bizarre nature of Bush's failings. http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/120406B.shtml Also in The New York Times, Frank Rich on Sunday described Bush as quite frankly going, if not gone, insane, mad, bonkers. http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/120306A.shtml (As you know, The Times charges extra to read Krugman and Rich now, so I've provided the TruthOut links.) On Friday the esteemed nemesis within the White House press corps, Helen Thomas, chronicled the growing isolation of George Bush. http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/opinion/294288_helen01.html
I will not mind if there are congressional or judicial investigations of this Administration's activities, the sooner the better. There may be tribunals called for in other countries. There surely will be lawsuits when these people are replaced in 2008. But for now if Bush suspects he is cornered, and his cowboy macho mojo abandons him or his personal guidance from God stumbles a bit, there's going to be trouble. If he is alcoholic, his health and stability are in grave danger. I want justice done, but I pray for the man's well-being.
Monday, December 04, 2006
A View of the Hudson from West Point
(Robert Walter Weir - 1863)
The world is not to be put in order, the world is order incarnate. It is for us to put ourselves in unison with this order.
Lord, the air smells good today,
straight from the mysteries within the inner courts of God.
A grace like new clothes thrown across the garden,
Free medicine for everybody.
The trees in their prayer, the birds in praise.
---Jalal Ad-Din Rumi
On the tips of ten thousand grasses each and every dewdrop contains the light of the moon.
Since the beginning of time,
not a single droplet has been forgotten.
Although this is so,
some may realize it, and some may not.
One month after the start of the Revolution in 1776, the Continental Congress declared a fortress somewhere on the Hudson River to be essential. By 1778 it was clear a sharp turn in the river at a place called West Point was the best position from which to prevent British Redcoats from advancing. General George Washington declared the plateau there to be "the key to the continent" in terms of its strategic location for the War. He sent his trusted officer, a Polish emigre named Thaddeus Kosciuszko, to secure the place and build a fort. The British never attempted an attack on these defenses, and when the plot involving Benedict Arnold to betray West Point was foiled, the internal waterway that united the Northeast remained in American hands.
Remembering the importance of this fort, in 1783 Washington proposed establishment of a military academy there for the training of citizen soldiers. Debate ensued about that idea because of a danger of creating a military elite. Nevertheless in 1790, nearly 2000 acres were purchased there by the government from a private citizen for about $11,000, and on March 16th, 1802, President Thomas Jefferson signed into law an act of Congress establishing West Point Military Academy.
In 2002, Bill Moyers was making a documentary about the importance of the Hudson to the country's history and environment. I don't know if he made the 4 hour PBS program to help celebrate West Point's Bicentennial or if it was a coincidence, but he certainly included a large section about the Academy. http://www.pbs.org/now/science/hudson.html Maybe somebody at West Point remembered that recently, and as a result invited him to deliver the 34th annual Sol Feinstone Lecture Series oration. Dr. Feinstone had endowed the Academy with the lecture series, providing the topic always be about the meaning of freedom. I don't think I was alone in surprise when my wife let me know Moyers had been selected, had agreed, and actually gone before all those cadets (and the public) with a speech on November 15th. Nor has my surprise lessened as I've seen this morning copies and excerpts sprouting up all over the Internet! On the Left and on the Right, the address is being hailed as one of the most important for the current time and possibly among the greatest in our history. So far as I know, TomPaine.com was first to post it http://www.tompaine.com/articles/2006/11/29/message_to_west_point.php but on Friday Army Times put it up too http://www.armytimes.com/story.php?f=1-292925-2396042.php .
Moyers speech: ‘I wish I could speak of sweeter things’
By Bill Moyers
Thank you for this opportunity. You are a very special audience, one of the most important I have ever addressed, and also one of the hardest. Many of you will be heading for Iraq. I have never been a soldier myself, never been tested under fire, never faced hard choices between duty and feeling, or duty and conscience, under deadly circumstances. I will never know if I have the courage to be shot at, or to shoot back, or the discipline to do my duty knowing the people who dispatched me to kill – or be killed – had no idea of the moral abyss into which they were plunging me.
I have tried to learn about war from those who know it best: veterans, the real experts. But they have been such reluctant reporters of the experience. My father-in-law, Joe Davidson, was 37 years old with two young daughters when war came in 1941; he enlisted and served in the Pacific but I never succeeded in getting him to describe what it was like to be in harm’s way. My uncle came home from the Pacific after his ship had been sunk, taking many friends down with it, and he would look away and change the subject when I asked him about it. One of my dearest friends, who died this year at 90, returned from combat in Europe as if he had taken a vow of silence about the dark and terrifying things that came home with him, uninvited.
Curious about this, some years ago I produced for PBS a documentary called “D-Day to the Rhine.” With a camera crew I accompanied several veterans of World War II who for the first time were returning together to the path of combat that carried them from the landing at Normandy in 1944 into the heart of Germany. Members of their families were along this time – wives, grown sons and daughters – and they told me that until now, on this trip – 45 years after D-Day – their husbands and fathers rarely talked about their combat experiences. They had come home, locked their memories in their mind’s attic, and hung a “no trespassing” sign on it. Even as they retraced their steps almost half a century later, I would find these aging GIs, standing alone and silent on the very spot where a buddy had been killed, or they themselves had killed, or where they had been taken prisoner, a German soldier standing over them with a Mauser pointed right between their eyes, saying: “For you, the war is over.” As they tried to tell the story, the words choked in their throats. The stench, the vomit, the blood, the fear: what outsider – journalist or kin – could imagine the demons still at war in their heads?
What I remember most vividly from that trip is the opening scene of the film: Jose Lopez – the father of two, who had lied about his age to get into the Army (he was too old), went ashore at Normandy, fought his way across France and Belgium with a water-cooled machine gun, rose to the rank of Sergeant, and received the Congressional Medal of Honor after single-handedly killing 100 German troops in the Battle of the Bulge – Jose Lopez, back on Omaha Beach at age 79, quietly saying to me: “I was really very, very afraid. That I want to scream. I want to cry and we see other people was laying wounded and screaming and everything and it’s nothing you could do. We could see them groaning in the water and we keep walking” – and then, moving away from the camera, dropping to his knees, his hands clasped, his eyes wet, as it all came back, memories so excruciating there were no words for them.
Over the year I turned to the poets for help in understanding the realities of war; it is from the poets we outsiders most often learn what you soldiers experience. I admired your former superintendent, General William Lennox, who held a doctorate in literature and taught poetry classes here because, he said, “poetry is a great vehicle to teach cadets as much as anyone can what combat is like.” So it is. From the opening lines of the Iliad:
Rage, Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ Son Achilles…hurling down to the House of Death so many souls, great fighters’ souls, but made their bodies carrion for the dogs and birds….
to Wilfred Owen’s pained cry from the trenches of France:
I am the enemy you killed, my friend…
to W. D. Ehrhart’s staccato recitation of the
Barely tolerable conglomeration of mud, heat, sweat,dirt, rain, pain, fear…we march grinding under the weight of heavy packs, feet dialed to the ground…we wonder…
Poets with their empathy and evocation open to bystanders what lies buried in the soldier’s soul. Those of you soon to be leading others in combat may wish to take a metaphorical detour to the Hindenburg Line of World War I, where the officer and poet Wilfred Owen, a man of extraordinary courage who was killed a week before the Armistice, wrote: “I came out in order to help these boys – directly by leading them as well as an officer can; indirectly, by watching their sufferings that I may speak of them as well as a pleader can.”
People in power should be required to take classes in the poetry of war. As a presidential assistant during the early escalation of the war in Vietnam, I remember how the President blanched when the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said it would take one million fighting men and ten years really to win in Vietnam, but even then the talk of war was about policy, strategy, numbers and budgets, not severed limbs and eviscerated bodies.
That experience, and the experience 40 years later of watching another White House go to war, also relying on inadequate intelligence, exaggerated claims and premature judgments, keeping Congress in the dark while wooing a gullible press, cheered on by partisans, pundits, and editorial writers safely divorced from realities on the ground, ended any tolerance I might have had for those who advocate war from the loftiness of the pulpit, the safety of a laptop, the comfort of a think tank, or the glamour of a television studio. Watching one day on C-Span as one member of Congress after another took to the floor to praise our troops in Iraq, I was reminded that I could only name three members of Congress who have a son or daughter in the military. How often we hear the most vigorous argument for war from those who count on others of valor to fight it. As General William Tecumseh Sherman said after the Civil War: “It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation.”
Rupert Murdoch comes to mind – only because he was in the news last week talking about Iraq. In the months leading up to the invasion Murdoch turned the dogs of war loose in the corridors of his media empire, and they howled for blood, although not their own. Murdoch himself said, just weeks before the invasion, that: “The greatest thing to come of this to the world economy, if you could put it that way [as you can, if you are a media mogul], would be $20 a barrel for oil.” Once the war is behind us, Rupert Murdoch said: “The whole world will benefit from cheaper oil which will be a bigger stimulus than anything else.”
Today Murdoch says he has no regrets, that he still believes it was right “to go in there,” and that “from a historical perspective” the U.S. death toll in Iraq was “minute.”
The word richoted in my head when I heard it. I had just been reading about Emily Perez. Your Emily Perez: Second Lieutenant Perez, the first woman of color to become a command sergeant major in the history of the Academy, and the first woman graduate to die in Iraq. I had been in Washington when word of her death made the news, and because she had lived there before coming to West Point, the Washington press told us a lot about her. People remembered her as “a little superwoman” – straight A’s, choir member, charismatic, optimistic, a friend to so many; she had joined the medical service because she wanted to help people. The obituary in the Washington Post said she had been a ball of fire at the Peace Baptist Church, where she helped start an HIV-AIDS ministry after some of her own family members contracted the virus. Now accounts of her funeral here at West Point were reporting that some of you wept as you contemplated the loss of so vibrant an officer.
“Minute?” I don’t think so. Historical perspective or no. So when I arrived today I asked the Academy’s historian, Steve Grove, to take me where Emily Perez is buried, in Section 36 of your cemetery, below Storm King Mountain, overlooking the Hudson River. Standing there, on sacred American soil hallowed all the more by the likes of Lieutenant Perez so recently returned, I thought that to describe their loss as “minute” – even from a historical perspective – is to underscore the great divide that has opened in America between those who advocate war while avoiding it and those who have the courage to fight it without ever knowing what it’s all about.
We were warned of this by our founders. They had put themselves in jeopardy by signing the Declaration of Independence; if they had lost, that parchment could have been their death warrant, for they were traitors to the Crown and likely to be hanged. In the fight for freedom they had put themselves on the line – not just their fortunes and sacred honor but their very persons, their lives. After the war, forming a government and understanding both the nature of war and human nature, they determined to make it hard to go to war except to defend freedom; war for reasons save preserving the lives and liberty of your citizens should be made difficult to achieve, they argued. Here is John Jay’s passage in Federalist No. 4:
"It is too true, however disgraceful it may be to human nature, that nations in general will make war whenever they have a prospect of getting anything by it; nay, absolute monarchs will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it, but for the purposes and objects merely personal, such as thirst for military glory, revenge for personal affronts, ambition, or private compacts to aggrandize or support their particular families or partisans. These and a variety of other motives, which affect only the mind of the sovereign, often lead him to engage in wars not sanctified by justice or the voice and interests of his people."
And here, a few years later, is James Madison, perhaps the most deliberative mind of that generation in assaying the dangers of an unfettered executive prone to war:
"In war, a physical force is to be created, and it is the executive will which is to direct it. In war, the public treasures are to be unlocked, and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them. In war, the honors and emoluments of office are to be multiplied; and it is the executive patronage under which they are to be enjoyed. It is in war, finally, that laurels are to be gathered; and it is the executive brow they are to encircle. The strongest passions and most dangerous weaknesses of the human breast; ambition, avarice, vanity, the honorable or venial love of fame, are all in conspiracy against the desire and duty of peace."
I want to be clear on this: Vietnam did not make me a dove. Nor has Iraq; I am no pacifist. But they have made me study the Constitution more rigorously, both as journalist and citizen. Again, James Madison:
"In no part of the Constitution is more wisdom to be found, than in the clause which confides the question of war and peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department. Beside the objection to such a mixture to heterogeneous powers, the trust and the temptation would be too great for any one man."
Twice in 40 years we have now gone to war paying only lip service to those warnings; the first war we lost, the second is a bloody debacle, and both rank among the great blunders in our history. It is impossible for soldiers to sustain in the field what cannot be justified in the Constitution; asking them to do so puts America at war with itself. So when the Vice President of the United States says it doesn’t matter what the people think, he and the President intend to prosecute the war anyway, he is committing heresy against the fundamental tenets of the American political order.
This is a tough subject to address when so many of you may be heading for Iraq. I would prefer to speak of sweeter things. But I also know that 20 or 30 years from now any one of you may be the Chief of Staff or the National Security Adviser or even the President – after all, two of your boys, Grant and Eisenhower, did make it from West Point to the White House. And that being the case, it’s more important than ever that citizens and soldiers – and citizen-soldiers – honestly discuss and frankly consider the kind of country you are serving and the kind of organization to which you are dedicating your lives. You are, after all, the heirs of an army born in the American Revolution, whose radicalism we consistently underestimate.
No one understood this radicalism – no one in uniform did more to help us define freedom in a profoundly American way – than the man whose monument here at West Point I also asked to visit today – Thaddeus Kosciuszko. I first became intrigued by him over 40 years ago when I arrived in Washington. Layfayette Park, on Pennsylvania Avenue, across from the White House, hosts several statues of military heroes who came to fight for our independence in the American Revolution. For seven years, either looking down on these figures from my office at the Peace Corps, or walking across Layfayette Park to my office in the White House, I was reminded of these men who came voluntarily to fight for American independence from the monarchy. The most compelling, for me, was the depiction of Kosciuszko. On one side of the statue he is directing a soldier back to the battlefield, and on the other side, wearing an American uniform, he is freeing a bound soldier, representing America’s revolutionaries.
Kosciuszko had been born in Lithuania-Poland, where he was trained as an engineer and artillery officer. Arriving in the 13 colonies in 1776, he broke down in tears when he read the Declaration of Independence. The next year, he helped engineer the Battle of Saratoga, organizing the river and land fortifications that put Americans in the stronger position. George Washington then commissioned him to build the original fortifications for West Point. Since his monument dominates the point here at the Academy, this part of the story you must know well.
But what many don’t realize about Kosciuszko is the depth of his commitment to republican ideals and human equality. One historian called him “a mystical visionary of human rights.” Thomas Jefferson wrote that Kosciuszko was “as pure a son of liberty as I have ever known.” That phrase of Jefferson’s is often quoted, but if you read the actual letter, Jefferson goes on to say: “And of that liberty which is to go to all, and not to the few and the rich alone.”
There is the clue to the meaning of freedom as Thaddeus Kosciuszko saw it.
After the American Revolution, he returned to his homeland, what was then the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In 1791 the Poles adopted their celebrated May Constitution – Europe’s first codified national constitution (and the second oldest in the world, after our own.) The May Constitution established political equality between the middle class and the nobility and also partially abolished serfdom by giving civil rights to the peasants, including the right to state protection from landlord abuses. The autocrats and nobles of Russia feared such reforms, and in 1794, when the Russians sought to prevent their spread by partitioning the Commonwealth, Kosciuszko led an insurrection. His untrained peasant forces were armed mostly with single-blade sickles, but they won several early battles in fierce hand-to-hand fighting, until they were finally overwhelmed. Badly injured, Kosciuszko was taken prisoner and held for two years in St. Petersburg, and that was the end of the Polish Commonwealth, which had stood, by the way, as one of Europe’s leading centers of religious liberty.
Upon his release from prison, Kosciuszko came back to the United States and began a lasting friendship with Jefferson, who called him his “most intimate and beloved friend.” In 1798, he wrote a will leaving his American estate to Jefferson, urging him to use it to purchase the freedom and education of his [Jefferson’s] own slaves, or, as Jefferson interpreted it, of “as many of the children as bondage in this country as it should be adequate to.” For this émigré, as for so many who would come later, the meaning of freedom included a passion for universal justice. In his Act of Insurrection at the outset of the 1794 uprising, Kosciuszko wrote of the people’s “sacred rights to liberty, personal security, and property.” Note the term property here. For Jefferson’s “pursuit of happiness” Kosciuszko substituted Locke’s notion of property rights. But it’s not what you think: the goal was not simply to protect “private property” from public interference (as it is taught today), but rather to secure productive property for all as a right to citizenship. It’s easy to forget the difference when huge agglomerations of personal wealth are defended as a sacred right of liberty, as they are today with the gap between the rich and poor in America greater than it’s been in almost one hundred years. Kosciuszko – General Kosciuszko, from tip to toe a military man – was talking about investing the people with productive resources. Yes, freedom had to be won on the battlefield, but if freedom did not lead to political, social and economic opportunity for all citizens, freedom’s meaning could not be truly realized.
Think about it: A Polish general from the old world, infusing the new nation with what would become the marrow of the American Dream. Small wonder that Kosciuszko was often called a “hero of two worlds” or that just 25 years ago, in l98l, when Polish farmers, supported by the Roman Catholic Church, won the right to form an independent union, sending shockwaves across the Communist empire, Kosciuszko’s name was heard in the victory speeches – his egalitarian soul present at yet another revolution for human freedom and equal rights.
After Jefferson won the presidency in l800, Kosciuszko wrote him a touching letter advising him to be true to his principles: “do not forget in your post be always a virtuous Republican with justice and probity, without pomp and ambition – in a word be Jefferson and my friend.” Two years later, Jefferson signed into being this professional officers school, on the site first laid out as a fortress by his friend, the general from Poland.
Every turn in American history confronts us with paradox, and this one is no exception. Here was Jefferson, known for his vigorous and eloquent opposition to professional armies, presiding over the establishment of West Point. It’s a paradox that suits you cadets to a T, because you yourselves represent a paradox of liberty. You are free men and women who of your own free choice have joined an institution dedicated to protecting a free nation, but in the process you have voluntarily agreed to give up, for a specific time, a part of your own liberty. An army is not a debating society and neither in the field or in headquarters does it ask for a show of hands on whether orders should be obeyed. That is undoubtedly a necessary idea, but for you it complicates the already tricky question of “the meaning of freedom.”
I said earlier that our founders did not want the power of war to reside in a single man. Many were also dubious about having any kind of regular, or as they called it, “standing” army at all. Standing armies were hired supporters of absolute monarchs and imperial tyrants. The men drafting the Constitution were steeped in classical and historical learning. They recalled how Caesar in ancient times and Oliver Cromwell in more recent times had used the conquering armies they had led to make themselves dictators. They knew how the Roman legions had made and unmade emperors, and how Ottoman rulers of the Turkish Empire had supported their tyrannies on the shoulders of formidable elite warriors. Wherever they looked in history, they saw an alliance between enemies of freedom in palaces and in officer corps drawn from the ranks of nobility, bound by a warrior code that stressed honor and bravery – but also dedication to the sovereign and the sovereign’s god, and distrust amounting to contempt for the ordinary run of the sovereign’s subjects.
The colonial experience with British regulars, first as allies in the French and Indian Wars, and then as enemies, did not increase American respect for the old system of military leadership. Officers were chosen and promoted on the basis of aristocratic connections, commissions were bought, and ineptitude was too often tolerated. The lower ranks were often rootless alumni of jails and workhouses, lured or coerced into service by the paltry pay and chance of adventure – brutally hard types, kept in line by brutally harsh discipline.
Not exactly your model for the army of a republic of free citizens.
What the framers came up with was another novelty. The first battles of the Revolution were fought mainly by volunteer militia from the states, such as Vermont’s Green Mountain Boys, the most famous militia then. They were gung-ho for revolution and flushed with a fighting spirit. But in the end they were no substitute for the better-trained regiments of the Continental line and the French regulars sent over by France’s king after the alliance of 1778. The view nonetheless persisted that in times of peace, only a small permanent army would be needed to repel invasions – unlikely except from Canada – and deal with the frontier Indians. When and if a real crisis came, it was believed, volunteers would flock to the colors like the armed men of Greek mythology who sprang from dragon’s teeth planted in the ground by a divinely approved hero. The real safety of the nation in any hour of crisis would rest with men who spent most of their working lives behind the plow or in the workshop. And this was long before the huge conscript armies of the 19th and 20th centuries made that a commonplace fact.
And who would be in the top command of both that regular force and of volunteer forces when actually called into federal service? None other than the top elected civil official of the government, the President. Think about that for a moment. The professional army fought hard and long to create a system of selecting and keeping officers on the basis of proven competence, not popularity. But the highest commander of all served strictly at the pleasure of the people and had to submit his contract for renewal every four years.
And what of the need for trained and expert leadership at all the levels of command which quickly became apparent as the tools and tactics of warfare grew more sophisticated in a modernizing world? That’s where West Point came in, filling a need that could no longer be ignored. But what a special military academy it was! We tend to forget that the West Point curriculum was heavily tilted toward engineering; in fact, it was one of the nation’s first engineering colleges and it was publicly supported and free. That’s what made it attractive to young men like Hiram Ulysses Grant, familiarly known as “Sam,” who wasn’t anxious to be a soldier but wanted to get somewhere more promising than his father’s Ohio farm. Hundreds like Grant came to West Point and left to use their civil engineering skills in a country badly needing them, some in civil life after serving out an enlistment, but many right there in uniform. It was the army that explored, mapped and surveyed the wagon and railroad routes to the west, starting with the Corps of Exploration under Lewis and Clark sent out by the protean Mr. Jefferson. It was the army that had a hand in clearing rivers of snags and brush and building dams that allowed steamboats to avoid rapids. It was the army that put up lighthouses in the harbors and whose exhaustive geologic and topographic surveys were important contributions to publicly supported scientific research – AND to economic development -in the young republic.
All of this would surely have pleased General Kosciuszko, who believed in a society that leaves no one out. Indeed, add all these facts together and what you come up with is a portrait of something new under the sun – a peacetime army working directly with and for the civil society in improving the nation so as to guarantee the greater opportunities for individual success inherent in the promise of democracy. And a wartime army in which temporary citizen-solders were and still are led by long-term professional citizen-soldiers who were moulded out of the same clay as those they command. And all of them led from the top by the one political figure chosen by the entire national electorate. This arrangement – this bargain between the men with the guns and the citizens who provide the guns – is the heritage passed on to you by the revolutionaries who fought and won America’s independence and then swore fidelity to a civil compact that survives today, despite tumultuous moments and perilous passages.
Once again we encounter a paradox: Not all our wars were on the side of freedom. The first that seriously engaged the alumni of West Point was the Mexican War, which was not a war to protect our freedoms but to grab land – facts are facts – and was not only bitterly criticized by part of the civilian population, but even looked on with skepticism by some graduates like Grant himself. Still, he not only fought well in it, but it was for him, as well as for most of the generals on both sides in the impending Civil War, an unequalled training school and rehearsal stage.
When the Civil War itself came, it offered an illustration of how the meaning of freedom isn’t always easy to pin down. From the point of view of the North, the hundreds of Southern West Pointers who resigned to fight for the Confederacy – Robert E. Lee included – were turning against the people’s government that had educated and supported them. They were traitors. But from the Southern point of view, they were fighting for the freedom of their local governments to leave the Union when, as they saw it, it threatened their way of life. Their way of life tragically included the right to hold other men in slavery.
The Civil War, nonetheless, confirmed the importance of West Point training. European military observers were amazed at the skill with which the better generals on both sides, meaning for the most part West Pointers and not political appointees, maneuvered huge armies of men over vast areas of difficult terrain, used modern technologies like the railroad and the telegraph to coordinate movements and accumulate supplies, and made the best use of newly developed weapons. The North had more of these advantages, and when the final victory came, adulation and admiration were showered on Grant and Sherman, who had come to a realistic and unromantic understanding of modern war, precisely because they had not been steeped in the mythologies of a warrior caste. Their triumph was seen as vindication of how well the army of a democracy could work. Just as Lincoln, the self-educated rail-splitter, had provided a civilian leadership that also proved him the equal of any potentate on the globe.
After 1865 the army shrank as its chief engagement was now in wiping out the last vestiges of Indian resistance to their dispossession and subjugation: one people’s advance became another’s annihilation and one of the most shameful episodes of our history. In 1898 the army was briefly used for the first effort in exporting democracy – an idea that does not travel well in military transports – when it warred with Spain to help the Cubans complete a war for independence that had been in progress for three years. The Cubans found their liberation somewhat illusory, however, when the United States made the island a virtual protectorate and allowed it to be ruled by a corrupt dictator.
Americans also lifted the yoke of Spain from the Filipinos, only to learn that they did not want to exchange it for one stamped ‘Made in the USA.’ It took a three-year war, during which the army killed several thousand so-called “insurgents” before their leader was captured and the Filipinos were cured of the illusion that independence meant…well, independence. I bring up these reminders not to defame the troops. Their actions were supported by a majority of the American people even in a progressive phase of our political history (though there was some principled and stiff opposition.) Nonetheless, we have to remind ourselves that the armed forces can’t be expected to be morally much better than the people who send them into action, and that when honorable behavior comes into conflict with racism, honor is usually the loser unless people such as yourself fight to maintain it.
Our brief participation in the First World War temporarily expanded the army, helped by a draft that had also proven necessary in the Civil War. But rapid demobilization was followed by a long period of ever-shrinking military budgets, especially for the land forces.
Not until World War II did the Army again take part in such a long, bloody, and fateful conflict as the Civil War had been, and like the Civil War it opened an entirely new period in American history. The incredibly gigantic mobilization of the entire nation, the victory it produced, and the ensuing 60 years of wars, quasi-wars, mini-wars, secret wars, and a virtually permanent crisis created a superpower and forever changed the nation’s relationship to its armed forces, confronting us with problems we have to address, no matter how unsettling it may be to do so in the midst of yet another war.
The Armed Services are no longer stepchildren in budgetary terms. Appropriations for defense and defense-related activities (like veterans’ care, pensions, and debt service) remind us that the costs of war continue long after the fighting ends. Objections to ever-swelling defensive expenditures are, except in rare cases, a greased slide to political suicide. It should be troublesome to you as professional soldiers that elevation to the pantheon of untouchable icons – right there alongside motherhood, apple pie and the flag – permits a great deal of political lip service to replace genuine efforts to improve the lives and working conditions – in combat and out – of those who serve.
Let me cut closer to the bone. The chickenhawks in Washington, who at this very moment are busily defending you against supposed “insults” or betrayals by the opponents of the war in Iraq, are likewise those who have cut budgets for medical and psychiatric care; who have been so skimpy and late with pay and with provision of necessities that military families in the United States have had to apply for food stamps; who sent the men and women whom you may soon be commanding into Iraq understrength, underequipped, and unprepared for dealing with a kind of war fought in streets and homes full of civilians against enemies undistinguishable from non-combatants; who have time and again broken promises to the civilian National Guardsmen bearing much of the burden by canceling their redeployment orders and extending their tours.
You may or may not agree on the justice and necessity of the war itself, but I hope that you will agree that flattery and adulation are no substitute for genuine support. Much of the money that could be directed to that support has gone into high-tech weapons systems that were supposed to produce a new, mobile, compact “professional” army that could easily defeat the armies of any other two nations combined, but is useless in a war against nationalist or religious guerrilla uprisings that, like it or not, have some support, coerced or otherwise, among the local population. We learned this lesson in Vietnam, only to see it forgotten or ignored by the time this administration invaded Iraq, creating the conditions for a savage sectarian and civil war with our soldiers trapped in the middle, unable to discern civilian from combatant, where it is impossible to kill your enemy faster than rage makes new ones.
And who has been the real beneficiary of creating this high-tech army called to fight a war conceived and commissioned and cheered on by politicians and pundits not one of whom ever entered a combat zone? One of your boys answered that: Dwight Eisenhower, class of 1915, who told us that the real winners of the anything at any price philosophy would be “the military-industrial complex.”
I want to contend that the American military systems that evolved in the early days of this republic rested on a bargain between the civilian authorities and the armed services, and that the army has, for the most part, kept its part of the bargain and that, at this moment, the civilian authorities whom you loyally obey, are shirking theirs. And before you assume that I am calling for an insurrection against the civilian deciders of your destinies, hear me out, for that is the last thing on my mind.
You have kept your end of the bargain by fighting well when called upon, by refusing to become a praetorian guard for a reigning administration at any time, and for respecting civil control at all times. For the most part, our military leaders have made no serious efforts to meddle in politics. The two most notable cases were General George McClellan, who endorsed a pro-Southern and pro-slavery policy in the first year of the war and was openly contemptuous of Lincoln. But Lincoln fired him in 1862, and when McClellan ran for President two years later, the voting public handed him his hat. Douglas MacArthur’s attempt to dictate his own China policy in 1951 ran head-on into the resolve of Harry Truman, who, surviving a firestorm of hostility, happily watched a MacArthur boomlet for the Republican nomination for the Presidency fizzle out in 1952.
On the other side of the ledger, however, I believe that the bargain has not been kept. The last time Congress declared war was in l941. Since then presidents of the United States, including the one I served, have gotten Congress, occasionally under demonstrably false pretenses, to suspend Constitutional provisions that required them to get the consent of the people’s representatives in order to conduct a war. They have been handed a blank check to send the armed forces into action at their personal discretion and on dubious Constitutional grounds.
Furthermore, the current President has made extra-Constitutional claims of authority by repeatedly acting as if he were Commander-in-Chief of the entire nation and not merely of the armed forces. Most dangerously to our moral honor and to your own welfare in the event of capture, he has likewise ordered the armed forces to violate clear mandates of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Conventions by claiming a right to interpret them at his pleasure, so as to allow indefinite and secret detentions and torture. These claims contravene a basic principle usually made clear to recruits from their first day in service—that they may not obey an unlawful order. The President is attempting to have them violate that longstanding rule by personal definitions of what the law says and means.
There is yet another way the chickenhawks are failing you. In the October issue of the magazine of the California Nurses Association, you can read a long report on “The Battle at Home.” In veterans’ hospitals across the country – and in a growing number of ill-prepared, under-funded psych and primary care clinics as well – the report says that nurses “have witnessed the guilt, rage, emotional numbness, and tormented flashbacks of GIs just back from Iraq.” Yet “a returning vet must wait an average of 165 days for a VA decision on initial disability benefits,” and an appeal can take up to three years. Just in the first quarter of this year, the VA treated 20,638 Iraq veterans for post-traumatic stress disorder, and faces a backlog of 400,000 cases. This is reprehensible.
I repeat: These are not palatable topics for soldiers about to go to war; I would like to speak of sweeter things. But freedom means we must face reality: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” Free enough, surely, to think for yourselves about these breaches of contract that crudely undercut the traditions of an army of free men and women who have bound themselves voluntarily to serve the nation even unto death.
What, then, can you do about it if disobedience to the chain of command is ruled out?
For one, you didn’t give up your freedom to vote, nor did you totally quit your membership in civil society, when you put on the uniform, even though, as Eisenhower said, you did accept “certain inhibitions” at the time. He said that when questioned about MacArthur’s dismissal, and he made sure his own uniform was back in the trunk before his campaign in 1952. It has been most encouraging, by the way, to see veterans of Iraq on the campaign trail in our recent elections.
Second, remember that there are limitations to what military power can do. Despite the valor and skills of our fighting forces, some objectives are not obtainable at a human, diplomatic, and financial cost that is acceptable. Our casualties in Iraq are not “minute” and the cost of the war has been projected by some sources to reach $2 trillion dollars. Sometimes, in the real world, a truce is the most honorable solution to conflict. Dwight Eisenhower – who is a candidate for my favorite West Point graduate of the 20th century – knew that when, in 1953, he went to Korea and accepted a stalemate rather than carrying out his bluff of using nuclear weapons. That was the best that could be done and it saved more years of stalemate and casualties. Douglas MacArthur announced in 1951 that “there was no substitute for victory.” But in the wars of the 21st century there are alternative meanings to victory and alternative ways to achieve them. Especially in tracking down and eliminating terrorists, we need to change our metaphor from a “war on terror” – what, pray tell, exactly is that? – to the mindset of Interpol tracking down master criminals through intense global cooperation among nations, or the FBI stalking the mafia, or local police determined to quell street gangs without leveling the entire neighborhood in the process. Help us to think beyond a “war on terror” – which politicians could wage without end, with no measurable way to judge its effectiveness, against stateless enemies who hope we will destroy the neighborhood, creating recruits for their side – to counter-terrorism modeled on extraordinary police work.
Third, don’t let your natural and commendable loyalty to comrades-in-arms lead you into thinking that criticism of the mission you are on spells lack of patriotism. Not every politician who flatters you is your ally. Not every one who believes that war is the wrong choice to some problems is your enemy. Blind faith in bad leadership is not patriotism. In the words of G.K. Chesterton: “To say my country right or wrong is something no patriot would utter except in dire circumstance; it is like saying my mother drunk or sober.” Patriotism means insisting on our political leaders being sober, strong, and certain about what they are doing when they put you in harm’s way.
Fourth, be more prepared to accept the credibility and integrity of those who disagree about the war even if you do not agree with their positions. I say this as a journalist, knowing it is tempting in the field to denounce or despise reporters who ask nosy questions or file critical reports. But their first duty as reporters is to get as close as possible to the verifiable truth and report it to the American people – for your sake. If there is mismanagement and incompetence, exposing it is more helpful to you than paeans to candy given to the locals. I trust you are familiar with the study done for the army in 1989 by the historian, William Hammond. He examined press coverage in Korea and Vietnam and found that it was not the cause of disaffection at home; what disturbed people at home was the death toll; when casualties jumped, public support dropped. Over time, he said, the reporting was vindicated. In fact, “the press reports were often more accurate than the public statements of the administration in portraying the situation in Vietnam.” Take note: The American people want the truth about how their sons and daughters are doing in Iraq and what they’re up against, and that is a good thing.
Finally, and this above all – a lesson I wish I had learned earlier. If you rise in the ranks to important positions – or even if you don’t – speak the truth as you see it, even if the questioner is a higher authority with a clear preference for one and only one answer. It may not be the way to promote your career; it can in fact harm it. Among my military heroes of this war are the generals who frankly told the President and his advisers that their information and their plans were both incomplete and misleading – and who paid the price of being ignored and bypassed and possibly frozen forever in their existing ranks: men like General Eric K. Shinseki, another son of West Point. It is not easy to be honest—and fair—in a bureaucratic system. But it is what free men and women have to do. Be true to your principles, General Kosciuszko reminded Thomas Jefferson. If doing so exposes the ignorance and arrogance of power, you may be doing more to save the nation than exploits in combat can achieve.
I know the final rule of the military Code of Conduct is already written in your hearts: “I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free...” The meaning of freedom begins with the still, small voice of conscience, when each of us decides what we will live, or die, for.
I salute your dedication to America and I wish all of you good luck.
Bill Moyers is a veteran television journalist for PBS and the president of the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy. He is deeply grateful to his colleagues Bernard A Weisberger, former professor of history at The University of Chicago, and Lew Daly, Senior Fellow of the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy, for their contributions to this speech.