Off We Go …

(Another in the series of quotes to start the week.)

On this date in 1947, the United States Air Force became a separate, independent service under the newly enacted National Security Act of 1947. So today’s quote must be:

Off we go into the wild blue yonder,
Climbing high into the sun
Here they come zooming to meet our thunder
At ’em boys, Give ‘er the gun!
Down we dive, spouting our flame from under
Off with one helluva roar!
We live in fame or go down in flame. Hey!
Nothing can stop the U.S. Air Force!


(USAF 70th Birthday Logo.)

The “Air Force Song” was originally written in 1938 by Robert MacArthur Crawford and entitled “Army Air Corps.” Since the song became part of the Air Force when we became a separate service, that goes to show that our Air Force pioneers knew a good thing when they heard it!

I look back with great fondness on my time in the Air Force. To those with whom I served, and especially to all those serving today, I offer deep gratitude and a proud salute!

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There Will Be War

(Another in the series of quotes to start the week.)

Today is U.S. science fiction author Jerry Pournelle’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Dr. Pournelle!

After winning the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1973, Dr. Pournelle (PhD, political science) served as President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America for the 1973-74 term. He is perhaps best known for several bestselling collaborations with Larry Niven (including The Mote in God’s Eye and Footfall), and with Niven and Steven Barnes.

The subject of this post refers to a series of anthologies Dr. Pournelle edited in the 1980s, based on the axiom “There Will Be War.” The phrase is not a wish for war, but a recognition that we are a violent species living in an often violent and unfortunately limited world; and that we are unlikely now, in the near future, or over the long term to resolve our deepest differences for very long in any way short of war.

From the first of the “There Will Be War” anthologies, published in 1983 and recently reissued by Castalia House, we get this quote:

Historically, peace has only been bought by men of war. We may, in the future, be able to change that. It may be, as some say, that we have no choice. It may be that peace can and must be bought with some coin other than the blood of good soldiers; but there is no evidence to show that the day of jubilee has yet come….

History shows another strong trend: when soldiers have succeeded in eliminating war, or at least in keeping the battles far from home, small in scope, and confined largely to soldiers; when, in other words, they have done what one might have thought they were supposed to do; it is then that their masters generally despise them.

With respect to the first quoted paragraph, it is one thing to wish for peace, to hope for peace; everyone with whom I had the pleasure of serving did so. We did not want war, but we were determined to be ready for war and, if called upon, to do our duty in the crisis.

With respect to the second quoted paragraph, some people have despised the military for a long time; some have come more recently to despise those of us who served and those who still do. Perhaps not you, but perhaps someone known to you, whom the danger has not reached and who might not recognize it until it was upon them. Thus it has ever been, and thus it will ever be. Yet some of us still serve, knowing that not everyone who lives under the flag appreciates those who serve to defend the Republic for which it stands.


(Image: “Morning Salute,” on Wikimedia Commons.)

As for me: To all those still serving, I thank you, and salute you, and wish you peace. “There will be war” — but I pray it will not reach us for a long, long time.

I hope you have an excellent week.

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Liberty, and Remembering

(Another in the continuing series of quotes to start the week.)

Memorial Day 2017 happens to fall on the birthday of two key patriots in American history: Patrick Henry (29 May 1736 – 6 June 1799) and President John F. Kennedy (29 May 1917 – 22 November 1963).

Henry is perhaps best known for a 1775 speech he gave at the Second Virginia Convention, in which he famously said

Give me liberty, or give me death!

Today we remember those who made just that sacrifice, “who more than self their country loved,” as “America the Beautiful” puts it, and who, we might imagine, loved liberty “more than life.” The price they paid is beyond reckoning, as is the gift of liberty they bestowed upon each of us.

Kennedy, of course, was a renowned orator and as President took advantage of many opportunities to stir crowds with his speeches. In a speech at Amherst College less than a month before his assassination, Kennedy said:

A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.

Though he said it to honor the poet Robert Frost, Kennedy’s sentiment holds true as we honor our fallen warriors … among whom no doubt there were more than a few warrior-poets.


(US Defense Department Image, 26 May 2017.)

May we never, never, forget.

All together now: “To absent friends ….”

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We Must Be Strong

Much of what I observe in our polity today — and over the past several years, frankly — seems calculated to weaken the United States. Sometimes it appears to be for short-term financial or political gain, by people who want to cash in before everything goes Tango Uniform.* Sometimes it appears to be for ideological gain, by people for whom the U.S. represents something terrible.

In contrast, I believe we must not allow ourselves to weaken, to diminish, or especially to disappear. The U.S. must be strong: economically, diplomatically, and most especially militarily. I hold that an enfeebled, chastened, toothless United States would be a prelude to disaster for the world.

"If You're Not Outraged...You're Not Paying Attention!"
Our national symbol, making its voice heard. (Image: “‘If You’re Not Outraged…You’re Not Paying Attention!’,” by Kenny P., on Flickr, under Creative Commons.)

Why? Because for all our faults, for all our failings, for all our missteps and miscalculations, we have done more than any other nation in history to protect and preserve the weak by virtue of our strength. The way I see it, in terms of the sheer power at our disposal, we have wielded our strength more judiciously and with less outright malice than pretty much anyone.

If you believe otherwise, I will not attempt to dissuade you in this brief missive. But I will not let your negativity become my prophecy or your perception become my reality. I will not let reports of our decadence and decay or predictions of our doom and decline dash my hope in a better future, or my belief that our systems are the best systems under which people can be free to live and produce and thrive.

We must be strong. I would rather we could demonstrate our strength in ways that build rather than break, heal rather than harm, and even when — not if, in this imperfect world — we need to use our strength to defend ourselves and those we treasure, I would prefer that we do so swiftly, cleanly, with as much restraint as possible. But we must be strong in the first place.

We are not perfect, and we will make mistakes. In spite of our imperfections, however, we are in general a shining example of what is good in the world: freedom of thought, freedom of action, freedom of association. If we are to remain so — both free, and an exemplar of the best that freedom conveys — we must remain strong.

___
*A technical term.

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Monday Morning Insight: In Memoriam

Today we celebrate Memorial Day. I hope you find today’s quote, from the Gospel of John, the fifteenth chapter, the thirteenth verse, fitting to start the week:

“Greater love has no one than this, that one lays down his life for his friends.”

On Memorial Day, of course, we remember those who laid down their lives in defense of the United States. They laid down their lives for their friends and family, yes; for their comrades in arms, certainly; but also for us. The freedom we enjoy was bought at a tremendous, terrible price, and we do well not to squander it.

A place for remembrance - Memorial Day

(Image: “A Place for Remembrance — Memorial Day,” by Wayne S. Grazio, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

 

It seems a good day also to remember the last verse of “The Star-Spangled Banner,”

O thus be it ever when free men shall stand
Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n-rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto — “In God is our trust,”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

To which I say, Amen.

So, enjoy this day — and I mean really enjoy it, find joy in it, take joy from it, share your joy with someone else — but spare a moment to reflect on the freedom we enjoy, and the price that was paid for it. It is precious, beyond measure, and we should use it well.

I hope you have a fantastic week.

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Blogging the New CD: W is for Winter

This is the final post in a series about the songs on my new CD, Distorted Vision.

The most intense winter I ever experienced was at Thule Air Base, Greenland. I was stationed there from July 2000 to July 2001, and had the privilege of commanding the largest tracking station in the Air Force Satellite Control Network and the pleasure of making friends with a lot of terrific people. Among other things, I got to stand on the Greenland ice cap, to visit Inuit hunting camps, and to swim in North Star Bay — while icebergs floated nearby!

So when my friend James Maxey asked me to write a song for a winter-themed event he was hosting, my thoughts immediately turned to what winter was like at the top of the world, only 750 miles from the North Pole.

I have been where the winter steals the sun for months on end
Where ice-laden winds blow blinding storms down to the frozen bay
And the solstice noon is midnight dark and the cold will not relent
And every soul despairs a little as the old year fades away

“Winter Simplifies the World”

Sled dogs on North Star Bay
The frozen bay, with Mount Dundas in the background. Thule Air Base is behind you as you look across the bay. (Image: “Sled dogs on North Star Bay,” by NASA ICE, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

The song moves through sadness and loss and into determination and hope, because if we can hang on through the dark, cold night that seems as if it will never end, we can find love and joy when spring returns. And so I hope you can find something to like — or even something to relate to — in “Winter Simplifies the World”.

To paraphrase George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy, winter is always coming. But spring is always coming, too.

___

Finally, here’s a picture of where I used to work, taken in January 2007:


View of the Thule Tracking Station’s radomes that protect the ground antennas from the elements. Taken during the long Thule winter “night.” (USAF Image.)

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The Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month

This day, in its commemorative sense, was originally Armistice Day: when, at the eleventh hour, a ceasefire on the Western Front ended what later became known as the First World War.

Our British and other Commonwealth allies honor this day as Remembrance Day, and I appreciate that sentiment. The sense of gratitude was almost palpable when we were in England this summer, when the ceramic poppies were just starting to flow out of the Tower of London. I saw memorials almost everywhere we went; for instance, I took this picture in the tiny village of Lacock:


(World War 1 Memorial, Lacock, United Kingdom. Click to enlarge.)

May this day, this Veterans Day, always be one of gratitude; but not just this day. Let us be grateful every day, even when we don’t set aside time to express it. In that spirit, then, I offer my sincere thanks to all who ever served — not just my own squadron mates and classmates and friends, but all who wore any uniform, for any length of time, in any capacity — and my continuing gratitude to those who serve now.

I salute you, one and all.

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Wait a Minute: US Troops Were Wounded by Weapons that Didn’t Exist?

Oh, not exactly, says the New York Times, ’cause those WMDs we found weren’t the WMDs we were looking for.

What? WMD's were found in Iraq?
(“What? WMD’s were found in Iraq?” by wstera2, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

We’ve known about the existence and contents of the Al Muthanna complex in Iraq for some time now, so what was found there was in itself not news, and other WMD-related finds have likewise been known for years, but it’s still something of a breakthrough for the NYT to have covered this latest story at all. Of course, their coverage still seemed slanted against the Pentagon and, by extension, the Executive Branch, for its failure to treat troops and disclose details adequately, and they seemed quick to adjust their aim away from the current Administration and to use the opportunity to extend the anti-Bush narrative. But here’s the crux of the story:

From 2004 to 2011, American and American-trained Iraqi troops repeatedly encountered, and on at least six occasions were wounded by, chemical weapons remaining from years earlier in Saddam Hussein’s rule.

In all, American troops secretly reported finding roughly 5,000 chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs, according to interviews with dozens of participants, Iraqi and American officials, and heavily redacted intelligence documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The NYT story declares that “the discoveries of these chemical weapons did not support the government’s invasion rationale” because they were “remnants of long-abandoned programs, built in close collaboration with the West.” That rings false to me, since I seem to recall that the rationale for invasion was based as much on Iraq’s refusal to adhere to over a dozen WMD-related UN resolutions, and its possession and prior use of chemical weapons, as it did on the possibility that their nuclear and other programs were growing more active.

Some other tidbits from the story:

  • “Much of [Iraq’s] chemical stockpile was expended in the Iran-Iraq war or destroyed when the weapons programs were dismantled after the Persian Gulf war of 1991. But thousands of chemical shells and warheads remained,” including “the largest chemical weapons discovery of the war: more than 2,400 nerve-agent rockets unearthed in 2006 at a former Republican Guard compound” — meaning, to put it bluntly, that when action against Iraq was authorized the Iraqis did indeed have chemical weapons even though they seem to have bluffed about their capabilities and intentions.
  • Iraq had previously “created a secret program — known as Project 922 — that produced blister and nerve agents by the hundreds of tons” and had a “practice of mislabeling ordnance to confuse foreign inspectors,” and yet we should be surprised that
  • “Analysis of these warheads and shells reaffirmed intelligence failures” — as if everyone involved, from the President and his cabinet, to the Representatives and Senators who voted to authorize the use of force, and to the coalition members as well, should have known at the time about the Iraqi subterfuges and that the intelligence was incomplete.

I suppose I should be pleased that the NYT published this story at all, though I fear I’m destined to be disappointed in how it will be interpreted by those who will continue to chant the inane rhyme accusing a particular former President of prevarication leading to death. To counter that refrain, however, I refer anyone interested to John C. Wright’s masterful job of pointing out that the invasion of Iraq was both lawful and justified.

But what I fear more — even more than what else might be awaiting discovery under the sands of Iraq — is that many of these weapons are now in the hands of Islamofascists who seem certain to have more desire to employ than to destroy them.

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My Hope for Iraq Now Seems Hopeless … and Affects My Hope for Us

My hope for Iraq hasn’t come true, because we lacked the national will to make it come true. In fact, we seem to lack much of any national will anymore.

Waiting to board
(“Waiting to Board,” by The U.S. Army, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

It may be a stretch to say it was my “hope” for Iraq … it was more of a prediction, that we might develop better long-term U.S.-Iraq relations by becoming long-term partners in Iraqi (and regional) security. Back when hostilities began, I told colleagues that if we did it right — if Iraq could become a more stable area in an overall unstable region — then U.S. bases in the cradle of civilization could become sought-after duty stations after the war, the way bases in Germany and Japan eventually became prime overseas duty locations after World War 2.

We did not, as it turned out, do it right.

We can postulate many reasons for this, but I count two as large contributors. First, in the rush to Baghdad we seemed to forget that all politics is local. We did not, so far as I know, help local villages develop authentic democratic (or even semi-democratic) structures that would ultimately feed into a national political structure. It would have taken time and effort, and the speed of our advance surprised us; perhaps it gave us a sense that whatever we did would turn out well. Regardless, where we could have helped develop local input to (and thereby, potentially, support of) the eventual national government, it appears that little better than local acquiescence took hold — which is all too easy to turn to disdain and rejection.

Second, and more important to the current state of decay in Iraqi affairs, we did not have the national will to occupy Iraq for the long term, the way we occupied Germany and Japan. We defeated those two nations and we stayed in them for years afterward because it was in our best interest to do so. It was in our best interest for a number of reasons, not least because of the threat that they might fall victim to the growing menace of nearby communist powers. But the spectre of terrorism has not proved as compelling to us today as the spectre of communism was to our predecessors. So we declared disinterest in Iraq and left the Iraqis to their own devices. We left them to the encroachment of the terrorists upon their lives and freedoms. We left them, I submit, to our shame.

I hear people from time to time disparage the U.S. with statements that we shouldn’t be the world’s policeman or that we should focus on problems here at home before we get involved abroad. I wonder if those who said such things are happy now that Iraq is in chaos, and if they will be happier still when Afghanistan is again under despotic rule once our departure proves our disinterest there as well.

I have heard people wondering if the expenditure of blood and treasure in our conflict in Iraq was worth it; given how little we now have to show for it, the questioners may have a point. I haven’t heard as much wondering if the blood and treasure we spent in World War 2 was worth it, but then again that was a different kind of war and we had the will to see that fight through to the bitter end.

What does this foretell for us? Our troops may still have the will to fight, and the will to win, but so long as our people lack that will our nation’s downward spiral seems inevitable. Our obsession with our own safety and comfort, with being coddled and cared for, entertained and well-fed, will drag us down as surely as the decadence of Rome left it unable to withstand the barbarians at its gates.

We left the Iraqis vulnerable. We will leave the Afghanis vulnerable. But worse than those, we appear to be willing to leave ourselves vulnerable, too.

And that does not leave me hopeful.

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My Question: How Many Times Did Bergdahl Try to Escape?

UPDATE, 8 June: I have seem some indications on the news that Bergdahl did indeed try to escape at least once. Good for him.

I suspect some charges still await him, and he will have his chance to defend himself against them.

In the end, I hope we will see honor upheld.
___

Amid the furor of whether Bowe Bergdahl, the soldier for whose return the administration freed five senior terrorists, only deserted his post and was unfortunately captured or actively sought to turn himself over to the Taliban — i.e., whether he was AWOL or a defector — I have not seen anything that indicates whether the young man ever actually tried to escape from his captivity.

POW*MIA Medallion
(“POW/MIA Medallion,” by Vince LoPresti, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Why does that matter? Because one of the chief responsibilities of any U.S. servicemember who is taken captive is to try to escape. (Even I learned that, and I was in the Air Force.)

It will be interesting to see, if details of the case are released, whether Bergdahl is found to have willingly violated Article II of the Code of Conduct for Members of the United States Armed Forces, which states,

I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender the members of my command while they still have the means to resist.

One might make the case that Bergdahl was captured against his will, though his former comrades have cast doubt on that. But I also wonder if Bergdahl sought opportune moments to escape during his five years of captivity, or if he effectively violated Article III of the Code of Conduct:

If I am captured I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.

“I will make every effort to escape,” if I am acting in accordance with the Code of Conduct. Thus, my question: did he, and how many times?

I look forward to seeing how this plays out, and what charges are eventually brought against the young man.

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