Sunday, October 28, 2007


As we think about the absolute morass of stupidity that has led us to the war in Iraq, we might do well to think in terms of what Vietnam has taught us about getting out. At the time seeing the helicopters on the roof of the American Embassy is a picture seared into our brains. Yet, now 30 or so years later, looking at how we left Vietnam is maybe what we should do about Iraq. JUST LEAVE!

I was touched by the story I read sometime ago about a soldier who was in Vietnam and probably had a supply clerk's job. He was concerned about the women who did his laundry and cleaned their hooches, as the thrown together huts in the rear were called. His point had been that he wondered about them, what had happened.

Many veterans still feel a deep shame and guilt at abandoning so many people who had come to trust and depend on us. Even the president has evoked memories of boat people, reeducation camps and the killing fields to argue against withdrawing from Iraq.

There is a legacy of Vietnam. Most of us who returned from Vietnam realized that Vietnam meant something entirely different from those back home. We had to fight the war over and over in the sense of having literally been a part of it.

It is hard to know what the war in Vietnam meant to many Americans. Even today, I hear over and over that protests stopped the war. Maybe? But, it wasn't the war as much as a philosophy of war, it was the draft, it was more a domestic conflict than anything. Many Americans at the time honestly harbored thoughts that the Vietnam vet was too stupid to get out of the draft or else he wouldn't have been in Vietnam anyway. It was Jane Fonda who became synonymous with how confused the whole experience was for us.

To be honest, I am utterly amazed that we don't deal more with Vietnam and how it relates to our present wrong headed approach to war than we do. It can be summed up with one word, denial.

The Vietnamese Americans are probably the most successful immigrant story ever. When I read of a Vietnamese success story in this country, I get teary eyed. Honestly, they come so often. Recently, I read, A refugee's odyssey. Christopher Do arrived in San Rafael, California on September 2, 1975, then five, and is now a VP with Merrill Lynch, San Francisco. He was one of those airlifted to safety from the roof of the U. S. Embassy in Saigon in April, 1975. To our country's credit, when there appeared to be widespread opposition to America's role in taking in so many Vietnam refugees, the sight of them getting off the buses, quelled the opposition immediately.


Saturday, October 27, 2007


Say what? It seems that an older lady lived next door to a "crack" house. Cars coming and going constantly, ne'the wells everywhere. She talked to the police but nothing happened with the only encouragement coming from her pastor, "let us pray." A few weeks later, the house burned to the ground. Her pastor remarked that it was a miracle. The old lady smiled and said, "Yes, it is a miracle even if I did have to put feet to my prayers."

Recently, I talked with a former Army nurse who is receiving a disability for MS. It is something very worthy but also a little troubling. I've never quite understood the system. The VA gives recognition of illnesses like MS and of hysterectomies (I know because another female friend told me of her rating). I'm not against this but just don't understand when so many combat soldiers have trouble in getting evaluations and help from the VA when non combat illnesses seem to get attention. I find myself in unfamiliar territory as I only want to make the point of the slow response of evaluations which in term equals treatment.


All of us have read of the unbelievable bureaucratic hassles that wounded soldiers seeking disability care and benefits face. Most of the time, it takes at least six months for a soldier to get benefits, arriving at this juncture after four tortuous hearings to determine his eligibility. What is he/she suppose to do all this time while he's waiting? The country surely didn't wait when they sent him/her off to war. Give me a break, this is outrageous I am told by reliable sources that there's a backlog of literally thousands of cases.

According to the VA, they can't hire the people to deal with this great influx. Well, why not? A friend of mine who is fully eligible to be involved encountered a mountain of paperwork in getting hired. Supposedly, the VA is offering professionals a good chance to get into the system on a temporary basis. But, let's face it, what professional health care professional, who has a good practice, is going to give it up for a "possibility." VA needs a better system. Figure it out.


Veteran benefits and care is not the same thing. My experience with VA is that the care is good and the patient satisfaction rating is one of the best in the country. But, that is if you are already in the system. What if you are not in the system? The veterans benefits system has not been changed since the close of WW ll. It is about time.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and severe brain injury already affect an estimated 45,000 in the present wars. They need attention and not a wait and see. We fully understand what happened with Vietnam vets who more or less took things into their own hands to get their benefits. For goodness sakes, let's don't make the Iraqi and Afghanistan vets do the same.

Let's establish blame here: the President and Congress. We are calling the present soldiers heroes and rightly so but while we are doing it, let's put feet to our prayers and give them recognition that actually helps. One immediate solution is to keep wounded soldier on active duty until their cases are resolved. This move to shuffle them out of the military as quick as possible is wrong headed. What gives?

The Army says it has a solution--special "warrior transition units" which are to be at 32 national centers. This is a start.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


Because we live in an environment where so few people have military experience and the general public has no personal investment in an untenable fiasco, war is often viewed like it's the movies. In the movies, directors can make it turn out however they want or they can use their imagination (see review on In The Valley of Etah). Not so in real life and especially at war. If we have ever had an example of a spinned philosophy gone awry, Iraq is it. The movies can't even make it turn out right.

Iraq is a media war. We have soldiers writing books, blogging battles, not to mention professional journalists embedded, sending missiles to their publications and then writing books. It is never ending. Even the military is studying the lessons of Iraq formally at their Command and General Staff School: what went wrong, whose fault is it? The scenario is almost beyond the pale--studying how we have screwed up even while the war goes on. It was years after the quagmire of Vietnam before we took a serious look at it. For us old soldiers, we are simply flummoxed.

I feel heartsick for what happens in the theater of battle. Innocents get hurt or maybe the not so innocent, who knows? We report enemy combatants killed in battle, the Iraqis report the same incident as women and children and old people killed. Help! I especially feel sorry for those soldiers attempting to do what they've been trained to do: the Haditha killings are but one example, some charges dismissed, others tried for innocuous crimes such as failure to investigate. Another officer convicted of unauthorized possession of classified documents, conduct unbecoming and then a relationship with an interpreter. And, the often forgotten ones--the families back home, the wives and children whose lives are forever changed and for what!

I recently talked to the father of a former battalion commander who has done two tours in Iraq. The son told him we were making progress but it would take 10 years to even come close to stabilizing Iraq.

All this amidst our kids getting blown up with regularity as the casualty count heads toward 4000. Iraq and all that it encompasses is like a nightmare from which we can't awaken.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


Recently, on a wonderful trip to North Dakota, Pheasant Hunting, I had the chance to spend lots of time with one of my old Army buddies. He is the greatest guy, a right wing fundamentalist but so nice that you don't notice. However, his brothers are great and friendly and hospitable folks as all I met in the Dakotas are; however, they are typical of what we face in politics.

At our hunting lodge which was a mobile home, very rustic type of thing; we had a TV but could only see what the people in the main house could see, meaning these nice right wing fundamentalists types. We are stereotyping here a little but I can assure you that I am not far off the mark: how does to the right of Attila the Hun sound? We were forced to watch Fox News. I became nauseous. I did watch some of Bill O'Reilley and will have to admit that I was a little favorably impressed that he didn't interrupt constantly. But, then again he was interviewing Dennis Miller that I like but who is a little full of himself in what he says(he put the badmouth on the Dan Fran Mayor).

Oh well. It did reinforce one thing I believe, however, that Hillary can win an election. The country is so divided that no candidate is going to win a big mandate but if the Democrats can get as fervent as the right wing non thinking types, Hillary can do it. My favorite candidate is Ron Paul but he doesn't stand a chance even if I am seeing his bumper stickers in San Fran.; but, to reinforce my point: we were about to have dinner after a long day of hunting and in attempting to interject some levity into a conversation with the brother of our host who was a Teamster's truck driver for forty years, I said, "I think Hillary can be elected." These were his exact words, "Anybody who would vote for Hillary doesn't have the morals of a skunk." Now, is that hardcore or what!

We are not going to be able to change these people's minds. They are not going to be objective. They watch Fox News and Rush Limbaugh who just auctioned off some letter written to him by about forty idiot congressmen because he put the badmouth on somebody. Regardless, if it is for a good cause but why would any thinking congressmen give credibility to a drug abuser and to someone who has never served in the military. Oh well...I am on a rant.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


The good general Sanchez has told it like it is: Irag is really Iraqnam; it is a mess, a flawed strategy from the beginning, no way out, only hope is to starve off defeat. Surge is a joke.

So, why has he waited so long? And, what about all those comments recorded when he was the commander in Iraq and said Iraq was good to go, making progress--what was this? Well, any of us who understand the military "get it." Generals are geared to tell the Commander what he wants to hear. And, the present Commander in Chief, bolstered in the beginning by Rumsfelt, made those who didn't preach the party line pay the price, i. e., the good general Shinseki who was unceremoniously sacked when he said we would need hundreds of thousands of soldiers to conquer and occupy Iraq.

So, what should a general say? Well, what we would like for him to say/do is be out front and brutally honest. We know they won't/don't; it is not that they lie but they are soldiers overall and soldiers do what they're told. And, generals have a "can do" mindset often when they know what they are asked to do is impossible.

There's a prominent view of general officers, who early on, mostly when he or she is a Colonel when they are in the running for that elusive "star" which few get. They stifle their convictions about many things with the rationalization that at some point when they have made general, they will revisit all those convictions they have pushed down into their psychic. Unfortunately, when they make the rank and get to the point when they are ready to do something, they reach down inside themselves and the convictions have mostly evaporated. Sad. This may sound fairly ethereal but true. Most generals simply "go along" and all of us are the poorer for it.

Sanchez is a civilian and I respect him for speaking out even thought it's a tad late. And, who can disagree with what he says. Not any of us who think. If anything, I wish he would call on more of his former general buds to also speak out. Iraq is a mess. Iraq has become Iraqnam, there is no way out--we are simply starving off defeat. What would be nice if he would spell out a cogent exit strategy that Americans who care could get behind.

Sunday, October 07, 2007


I had read about this case some time ago but didn't think very much about it until a few weeks ago when the President commuted his bud, Scooter's prison sentence. For the record, I thought the Judge was a little heavy handed on Scooter. Hell, this is politics where the usual thing is to lie, steal, and cheat. The Judge couldn't take a joke. The prez should have commuted his sentence afterall, there's probably much more that we don't know. And, practically, why not, the advantage of being a wildly unpopular president is that you can't get much lower. Why not protect yourself or your buds.

However, the two Border Patrol agents who were sentenced to 11 and 12 years respectively for shooting at and wounding a fleeing suspect who was smuggling 743 pounds of marijuana over the boarder, is unbelievable. Their sin mainly was covering it up but to do so made sense to me as this guy was not hurt. Who would not have made the same decision? But, the justice system for these two went South. The prosectutor and Judge seem to have had their brains bottled in formaldehyde as they really are at fault. Us common people think that the issue in courts is justice. Well, I don't tthink so.

It would be interesting to hear the judges explanation. Any farmer from North Carolina with one eye and half sense would know this is stupid. A criminal suddenly is the good guy and these guys are rotting in jail.

At least people are taking notice. I doubt the Prez but Diane Feinstein after reading the transcripts came out of the ether and fired off a letter to the President. Under any sort of hearing, this whole thing is idiocy. Two Border Patrol agents trying to do their jobs are in jail and a dope dealer is suiing the government and get this, while he had immunity from the prosecutor, he smuggles into the States another 753 pounds of pot. Got to love it. But, the agents don't love it as they are in prison with the very people they put their.

What is amazign to me is that common sense seems to be nowhere in sight. And, also, with the attention of those like Feinstein and even John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, plus Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, still these two guys are in jail. When there's no response from the White House, what do these concerned Senators do? If the "Agents" were named Scooter or some such name, maybe they could get attention.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


I don't know what to say about this movie. Magnificent, disturbing, should be seen by every American. Mixed messages? What? I actually went to see it based on recommendation of the "girlfriends" or as we've recently been called, The Dysfunctional Six.


Basically, it is the story of the anguish of parents. A missing son, AWOL (absent without leave). Just home from Iraq, what has happened? The father, a military type, himself, an investigator, CID (Criminal Investigative Division). He bleeds red, white and blue. The story is wrapped in crime, drugs, the Mexican mafia. However, it really is not about this. Charlize Theron is good as the local detective who battles all sorts of demons, this one is only one file on her desk or would be if it was not for Tommy Lee Jones, the Dad. He is relentless. Jones is "Call" in Lonesome Dove. Take no prisoners. Susan Sarandon is the Mom, somewhat of a cameo appearance but very, very good.

Underlying it all is the Iraq War. What have we done to America's clean cut kids. The story is disturbing because, as my friend said, it forces us to deal with questions that nobody is asking. One question: is it about class--when we talk about Iraq, the elephant in the room is "class." Only the lower middle class at best is fighting this war.


How different is he/she than vets of any age. The same. Yes and No. The combat veteran is just that; a warrior who has seen war. However, the young Iraqi soldier is different inasmuch as the world is different. In The Valley, there's a scene of the son calling home. He is sending pictures over the Internet; it is a media war.


The symbolism of the title is fascinating. The story of David and Goliah and as the movie deals with it--all about conquering one's fears. Fascinating how the movie makers decided on the particular title.

How can war not affect the warrior. The issue is how? Here we were thinking that we had the Iraqi vets covered: not like Vietnam; in the jungles one day, Detroit the next. No reentry. This movie conveys that we are not prepared for their homecoming: is this true? Or, does the plight of the vet simply convey a story of a movie Director who wants to make a statement about Iraq. And, he does. This a compelling story from every single direction. My suspicion is that it will be a critic's choice (and it should) but that the public at large, will basically ignore. It is too heavy and too, too close to the bone. Three parachutes.