Saturday, May 31, 2008


There are no cartoons like Bill Mauldin's Willys and Joes. Sergeant Bill Mauldin, no less. Those looks of the Willys and Joes and the ordinary screw ups of soldiers in everyday existence always made me smile. I recently read a review of his life.

An aside: The fact that Bill ended his life with Alzheimer's is sad as it is for all who do. Why we can't end this disease is beyond me. To put a machine on Mars and not find something for this debilitating illness is way beyond me. Help!

Here's something in the review which is a wonderful tribute to him. "With compassion and precision, the military presents the widow or widower of its fallen fighting men and women a folded flag and thanks of a grateful nation. At every such burial an everyman folk hero is crafted from a lost life. Mauldin's characteristic skepticism of war's heroic commemorations may be more telling. Asked to comment on Tom Brokaw's enormously popular homage to the men and women of the Greatest Generation, Maudin blew his own version of Taps: 'They were human beings, they had their weaknesses and their flaws and their good sides and bad sides. The one thing they had in common was they were a little too young to die.' "

Sunday, May 25, 2008


Got to love the Marines and this is coming from an Army guy. Simply, there's something about them: the last vestige of "hardcore" that seems to be willing to go to the ultimate--just average guys or maybe even troubled ones, marginalized but once a Marine, it is Sempi Fi forever.

In the local paper a few days ago, there was an article showing Marine training ending with a grueling forced march, miles in full pack--enduring all to finally become a Marine. Makes me proud to know we still have kids who are willing to push themselves. Then in Parade Magazine there was a very heart warming article about a Marine remembering those 36 days on Iwo Jima. He told his story, the one of shooting at the infamous flag of Flags of our Fathers, thinking its flapping was an enemy soldier. And, actually putting a hole in it; the second stripe according to him. He was so funny and self effacing, "I should have been court martialed," he said. And, then there's his very moving story of sending back some Japanese souvenirs to a surviving relative--quite a story.

What I liked most though was his picture, grizzled in his uniform, smiling, holding his photo as a young man. And, then get this, he had three ribbons. Contrast this with the picture of all the generals parading on TV with all these rows of ribbons. Give me a break. They could learn a thing or two from Richard Nummer, age 82. Well, for that manner, all of us could.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


Happy Memorial Day. I am always a little sad as it really is not about honouring vets in general but honouring those who have paid the ultimate price. And, I surely think that as we head toward the 6th year of an unnecessary war, at least from where I am--SAD, REGRETFUL, ANGRY--let's do a little better toward our brave soldiers than pay lip service.

With all this "support the troops," I can think of a tangible way to do it. Give the soldiers an honest to goodness workable GI bill. What they have now is inadequate to say the least. The Montgomery GI bill was started at a time when the Volunteer Army was touted as the final say so for providing a ready active force. And, it was at a relative time of peace and so the Congress or President didn't feel any great shakes to do better than the Montgomery Bill which just won't hack it. The soldier has to end up providing $1200 dollars himself for something like 36 weeks of schooling--not nearly enough to sustain the fledgling student. The present GI bill was like making a down payment without knowing where the rest was coming from. It was a benefit but a poor one. Now, there's a different Army, there's a world wide war on terror which is not going to end and it is time to sweeten the pot. Senator Jim Webb in trying to get his new GI bill passed said something like, "we must honour these few who are making the sacrifices by insuring that they have an adequate GI bill when they get out."

What we hope this GI bill will be is close to the WW ll one. In 1944, FDR gave GIs an adequate one and it paved the way for a bright future for the 8.2 million returning vets who took advantage of it. And, then of course, there's John McCain and the Senator from South Carolina, Lindsay Graham, who don't want an adequate GI bill because that means that soldiers might get out of the military. What sort of thinking is this? Well, it is the sort of thinking that got us into Iraq in the first place.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Saying something is SOP in the military is standard fare. It is like saying, "how do you do something?" Oh, just follow the SOP. In the civilian world it might be called a vision statement, protocol, whatever but in the military it tells you the rules and exactly how to do something, step by step. It spells it out, no questions asked.

Well guess what? SOP was not followed at the Abu Ghraib prison if the infamous photos show anything. In some ways, it didn’t tell us what we had not already heard.

What it really boils down too is a bunch of unsophisticated emotionally and intellectually kids left to their own devices. Non thinking youngsters who get into a kind of cult existence, led by this 37 year old n'the well who becomes their guru. The military, however, is where the real fault lies, the overall military is complicit. All of us who have any connection to the military should be ashamed. The chain of command totally broke down, leaving these kids on their own. And, to make it worse, they are National Guard troops, some of the first to arrive in the country, almost no training. And, then they are thrown into this crazy situation and it's the toll of war in more ways than one. From their perspective, they simply do what they are told to do.

My suspicion is that we have so few in Congress and other places who have next to no experience with the military, they did not even know the right questions to asked. Where was the chain of command? The Sergeant Major, The First Sergeant, Platoon Sergeant. No unit that I've ever been in would have let this happen. The First Sergeant and the chain of command would have been all over it. This is a sad aberration but one where only a few went to jail is equally an aberration. There are so many at fault who got away with not even a slap on the hand: Generals, commanders, non commissioned officers, civilians, the list is endless.

Seeing SOP makes an ex Army guy ashamed. This is a disturbing movie that few will see. The movie maker does those Hollywood sorts of things that make the picture entertaining in a weird sense: the music, etc. What is amazing are the interviewees; with this entire group, not one seemed to honestly get it, "not my fault, doing what I was told." Almost all didn't seem to get any connection between right and wrong, humiliation, basic decency. Maybe one youngster who was a generator mechanic and kind of got caught up in it. He felt bad that he had soiled his family's reputation.

Up the chain of command, there is not a single person who says, "I should have been there." The most obvious one was the Brigade commander. It was her job and in her interview, if accurate, merely plays the "left out of the loop" card. And, what about Sanchez. I always liked him but ultimately, knowing or not, it was his job. In his book, just out, Wiser In Battle, he absorbs himself from blame. Someone else's fault. To me, this story is the story of how everything associated with our debacle in Iraq has been mismanaged in every way. Sad, sad, sad.

Sunday, May 11, 2008


Pretty sad commentary. Recently the Pew Research Center conducted a poll where they asked Americans to estimate how many soldiers had died in Iraq after all this time. Only 28% got anywhere close. Only 6% of Americans say they are even following the war. This is a sad fact and only going to get worse. People don't have any investment: Americans have not been asked in any way to make any sacrifices. And, although my practical mind says that at some point we have to pay the piper; still, sharper minds than me have said that we can continue to fund the war indefinitely as it is a small part of the gross national product/expense. My interest, however, is in the moral and spiritual toll the war has taken and this will only grow.

To say that we are in a disconnect is way beyond the pale. We have an absolute plethora of books and movies written and made from every conceivable viewpoint of the war. Guess what? The movies go unwatched and the books unread. A movie like Rendition with top stars and a compelling story of "what ifs" almost went straight to video. It is a story of innocents going to foreign prisons, one in particular; and the powers that be simply willing to indict a scapegoat. Bureaucrats considering career before lives and surely before honor.

The movie had some of the best lines and scenes that I've seen ever. With Reece Witherspoon, the distraught wife saying to the witch of a bureaucrat, "I only want to find my husband." The witch lying through her teeth: I wish I could help you my dear. And, then a Senator's aide, trying but then realizing that there's nowhere else to go: believe the government or trust his instincts. The government sadly wins through lies.

Rendition, at least, reaches out and gives conscience a chance--Jake Gyllenhaal, a green CIA agent, who is smarter than he looks but gets it. The government says, "we don't torture." He says, I'm looking at torture. Good for him. Atta boy.

Then comes some Iraqi vet who has started his own music label, To The Fallen which has already released three CDs. I am ordering them and encourage all to do the same--a small thing we can do.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


Immediately after 9-11, I said to someone: we will never be the same in our country and all are effected who have anything to do with us. I didn't realize at the time how prophetic my statement would be. Truly, life has never been the same. And, the terrorists probably accomplished much more than they even imagined.

I just saw a movie, The Visitor and, nothing that I have seen in a long time illustrates how much life for us has changed. A good story but a very sad one. Without giving away the plot, a widower, college prof and all around depressed guy, Walter Vale, is forced to go to the Big Apple to present a paper to a conference. Reluctantly, he travels from his college in Connecticut to his old apartment that he has kept. We are never really told why but assume that somehow it has remained a shrine to his deceased wife who was a pianist--quite good, maybe even a concert pianist. In fact, the story opens with Walter on his fourth piano teacher attempting to learn to play himself. He does not have the talent for it according to his very kind teacher.

At his old apartment, he discovers two people living in it. Without fanfare, they leave: a Senegalese, I think, and Tarek, a Syrian, who are lovers. Walter is played by Richard Jenkins who is perfect for the part. He is more understated than William Hurt if that is possible. He is excellent, so hesitant that one wonders how he navigates anything. So often during the movie, I wanted to finish his sentences. He was excellent and an unlikely candidate to learn to play Tarek's bongos. In a turn of events, the somewhat simple story gets very complicated. Tarek gets arrested on a bogus charge and is incarcerated in a warehouse of a jail; it is suddenly 9-11 and nothing is simple anymore. He is an alien, dark skinned, has no rights, something that Walter can hardly believe. Tarek's mother shows up and Walter befriends her. They start a very sweet relationship where the mysteries of every body's stories are imagined as well as real.

This is a wonderful movie where the implied thing is "what has happened to us?" Help. We have gone from a country where opportunity and promise are the bread of life to a country where suspicion is more the rule than the exception. Help.

In this movie, it doesn't all turn out right. The message is one where the innocent gets caught up in circumstances where before 9-11 would matter little but now, drives an entire segment of the population into a system of despair. All the bad symbols are here: the detention center for the suspects, the bureaucracy that is overwhelmed by sheer numbers and aren't paid to be even civil. And, then's there's the dismay from those of us who can't believe that we have come to this.

I had several overwhelming thoughts when I sat in the movie watching the ending credits, (1) we absolutely must get these people who are running our country OUT: they must go and if they don't, not only is it more of the same but those cherished ideals about us will be more and more dust. The second one had to do with the terrible toll it is taking on those at the lower levels who are the door keepers of the prisons like the one in this story or GitMo. Check out a movie like Standard Operating Procedure which is about Abu Ghraib prison and the atrocities and those who perpetrated them just to get an idea of what happens. And, a last one (3)which may even be the main reality: with all this time since 9-11, two wars, 4000 plus young Americans gone forever--think about it, all the books written which have reinforced the above thoughts; the movies like The Visitor, Rendition, Lambs and Lions, The Valley of Elah, scores of others which have pointed out how we have changed and moved away from American ideals--with all the books and the movies, nothing has really changed. Americans are still dying, spin is rampant and denial is a constant--nothing has changed as I see it.

While those like myself are sometimes accused of finding no good in our fight since 9-11, I plead innocent as it was only with the colossal mismanagement of the Iraqi war that I became a skeptic or worse. And, movies like The Visitor make me know we are no longer what we were and this is sad.

Saturday, May 03, 2008


Watching American missiles slam into residential Baghdad and the hundreds of wounded and killed Iraqis not only is saddening but again comes the realism that we are in a war that cannot be won. Rocket attacks, regardless of the mission objectives, makes us look incredibly bad. And, watching this little boy, dead, pulled from the rubble after an attack leaves me as an American shaking my head. Do the terrorists use civilians and hospitals as hiding places? Of course they do. It is the nature of a guerrilla war and even more the nature of war in urban areas.

It took a young twenty something to bring the war into focus for me recently. He said something like, "with all the money, the controversy, the various spins, regardless of what side one is on, this fight is killing us spiritually." Maybe so but rockets fired by Americans to get the bad guys while killing innocents caught in the crossfire makes me realize that simply, we can't win this fight and as my bud says, spiritually, it is killing us. God help us.