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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Random Thoughts for Veteran's Day

Mention the word ‘veteran’ and what do you think of? Chances are you think of a man that has seen combat in some capacity. Guadalcanal, Normandy, Bastogne, The Frozen Chosin, Pork Chop Hill, Khe Sanh, Hill 867, Ia Drang, Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan, Iraq…all of these places evoke a mental image of men in combat. Hostile fire, incoming, ambushes, patrols; these are the things that veterans did. And it’s right to think so. Let’s face it; we need men to go into the dark, dirty, dangerous places and do dark, dirty, dangerous things to insure the safety of our nation. We should celebrate our warriors because they are the ones that pay for bad politics. However, there are other people, people who are every bit as dedicated, professional, and willing to face danger, even if they never enter a combat zone. You won’t see movies made about them. There will never be an epic entitled “Supplying Private Ryan” or an action movie about “Blackhawk Down for Maintenance” But those men and women that work long, tedious, hours to keep the birds flying, the mail flowing, and the paperwork filed deserve our thanks too. And, if the shit really, in truly, catastrophically hits the fan, they will be required to pick up a rifle and fight the battle that needs fighting.

It’s happened before.

When the Japanese invaded the Philippines in 1941, they found an American and Philippine Army that fought ferociously. Unfortunately, the American and Philippine armies were outnumbered and outgunned. The Japanese advanced, the Allies pulled back in a fighting retreat. Replacement parts, food, ammunition, fuel, and reinforcements were in short supply. The American Air Corps (the organization that would eventually evolve into the US Air Force) was eventually swept from the skies by Japanese aircraft that were superior in numbers and capabilities.

When pilots found that they had no more aircraft capable of flying, they picked up a rifle and took their place on the line. When sailors were forced to abandon their duties at the ammo dumps, flight lines, and various ships, they picked up a rifle and joined the Marines on the line. When cooks, personnel clerks, supply sergeants, mechanics, and whatever other support personnel found themselves called to man the line, they went. They fought, and they died alongside their brethren in the Infantry.

When Bataan fell, the Japanese didn’t segregate them by Military Occupational Specialty (“You’re a pilot? Oh, then you can go to the POW camp with air conditioning!”), they brutalized, bayoneted, and beat sailors, soldiers, marines, and air corps with equal brutality.

Moreover, none of them said, “Man the line? I’m a sailor! I don’t man lines!” They did what they were called to do. They had no idea that the sacrifice they made, the battles they fought, was the turning point for the Japanese. Because they held out so doggedly, they threw the entire timetable for the Japanese off schedule. They also provided America the time necessary to arm and equip the military that would eventually fight its way back to the Philippines and on to victory.

Such were the men who served. And such ARE the men and women who serve today. The names change, the uniforms change, the equipment changes, but the people who serve remain constant. They believe in something larger than themselves. To them, the words “Duty, Honor, Country” are more than a pithy slogan; they are what lie at the very core of their character.

Who are the veterans? You can’t tell by looking at them, the experiences they have had, the people they saw die, the friends they made. And lost. You wouldn’t know that the old man you pass on the way to the store drove a truck almost all the way across Europe rain or shine, day or night, to and from the front lines. And how could you tell that the guy on the Harley limps because he caught a bullet in Bosnia while on duty for the UN?

That skinny kid at McDonald’s? The one with the brushcut and the funny eagle tattoo? He jumped out of airplanes in the middle of the night, landed in the dark on what was hopefully open ground, and then carried 60 pounds of equipment on his back during a forced march that would have had Lance Armstrong puking his guts out. If he was lucky, he got to rest for an hour before moving on to a place where shots were fired in anger. Both from and at him.

And that middle-aged guy with the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor? He may be a little hard of hearing since that mortar shell landed a little too close while he was “peacekeeping” in Beirut.

You know the guy that laughs when you complain about it being too cold? It’s because he knows what real cold is like; real cold is trying to load a cargo plane and launch it before the blizzard sets in (something that happens a lot in Alaska, or Greenland, or South Dakota)

That woman that seems a little rough around the edges? She cusses a little too much and seems a little impatient with people? You tend to get like that when you’re a female MP doing a “man’s job” in some Third World shithole where everyone, including many that are supposed to be on your side, hate you.

The guy that never seems to know when to quit working? He got that way while he was palletizing beans and bullets headed for the guys on the sharp end, knowing that if he didn’t do his job, one of them may get killed because of it.

That pleasant old man that is quick to joke, easy to talk to, and seems not to have a care in the world? After leading young men through 2 tours in Vietnam making life and death decisions from minute to minute, it’s tough to get upset when the boss wants you to work a little overtime.

That doddering old wreck at the ballgame that stands for the National Anthem with a tear in his eye? Such moments remind him of the friends he lost in the Pacific.

Pretty much any one of them did what they did without hesitation. No doubt, on 9/11/2001, everyone who ever served would have gladly re-enlisted to take the fight to the enemy.  America calls, we answer. It’s what we do.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Zombies = Politicians

I have to admit it; I am a huge fan of The Walking Dead. It is one of the few shows on TV that I find to be well written while taking an implausible premise and making it believable. It showcases the human condition when normal people are thrown into extreme circumstances that are beyond their comprehension.

The two main groups of characters are as follows:
Zombies: Unthinking automatons that wander the earth consuming everything in their path with no consideration for the consequences and no concern for who gets hurt by their actions. If they are in a group, they mill around aimlessly until something alive shows up, whereupon they kill and consume it. They move into an area, and that area is immediately uninhabitable by normal people. Though they bear some resemblance to people, the truth is that they have nothing in common with those that are alive and trying to make their way. And they smell bad.

Survivors: Confounded by how this situation came about, they try their best to survive in an increasingly hostile world, in which they are hopelessly out numbereed. They seize what few moments of joy they can while having to deal with the stress of day-to-day living and all of the baggage that comes with human interaction. They seek to salvage what is left of a devastated world, and carve out some sort of security while knowing that there is no way they can halt the teeming masses of mindless consumers. The one bright spot is that they are heavily armed and are learning that, to survive, you have to do the hard, dirty, work of eliminating your enemy without remorse.

If it were up to me, I would force every politician to sit and watch every episode, and learn from those people that are trying to survive. The lesson that I would want them to learn is this: When your entire existence is based on roaming around and looking for resources and lives to take from those who have based their lives around trying to build some semblance of security for themselves, you run the risk of forcing those people to do whatever grisly, horrible, task they deem necessary to preserve it. And once you have crossed the line from nuisance to threat, you may find yourselves facing a group of people that are angry, scared, desperate, and heavily armed.

So far in the series, there have been no allies of the zombies. No Quislings have surrendered their people to the zombies in the hopes of being the last to be eaten. The same cannot be said of politicians. Whether it be the useful idiots of Occupy Something That Creates a Nuisance, or the fat cats that sidle up to the Washington DC trough for another mouthful of spending pork, all politicians have their allies. Those allies, whether by circumstance or intent, are arrayed against those of us that are trying to get by.

The heart of the matter is this; do not count on politicians to fix the things in this country that need fixing because, for them, they are not broken. For them, our crisis is an opportunity to seize more money, power, and influence. H.L. Mencken said it best, "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."

Once you understand that, once you realize that all of the 'benefits' of government come with a price tag that far exceeds its value, you will begin to understand that the "Us versus Them" paradigm isn't  about the "haves" and "have nots" or "Republicans" versus "Democrats"; it's about "those that want to earn their way to prosperity, raise their children to do better than they did, leave the world a little better than they found it, and generally be left alone to do these things in peace" versus "those that envy the first group, see them as undeserving of what they have, and are actively seeking ways to wrest it from them and control their lives."

We are coming to a point in history where we are all going to have to decide the group to which we want to belong, and act accordingly. Which reminds me, I have to go reload some ammo and sharpen my parang.