Monthly Archives: November 2011

On Honoring Veterans

These days my son is in uniform. He is a bright and fresh Midshipman at the US Merchant Marine Academy who frequently finds himself walking the streets of Manhattan in that uniform. He and most of his friends are amazed at the attention that a uniform brings in these times. When I wore that same uniform on those same streets almost 40 years ago, I joked that I never needed money in my pocket if I found myself in a bar. If it was an old man’s bar, the aging veterans from World War II would usually buy me a drink. If it was a young person’s bar, I wouldn’t get served. In any case, I didn’t need any money.

It gives me a great deal of satisfaction to see that the populace generally recognizes and appreciates the service of America’s veterans. One need only watch a sporting event these days to see the military color guard, the vocalist in uniform or the live feed from some forward base in Afghanistan to gain a perspective on how much public opinion has changed in America.
As a veteran myself, I must confess that I am sometimes uncomfortable with the attention it can bring. It seems as though all veterans are depicted as heroes. Who’s to say? I feel much more comfortable in my service being characterized as simply patriotic. Not everyone can be a hero. Circumstances dictate that. But everyone can be patriotic, even if you are not a veteran. I wish our number of patriots would exceed our numbers of veterans by a factor of ten to one. Then we would have something.

If there is a sense of unanimity with how our citizens express their feelings about our veterans, I sense a disconnection with how our government acts towards them. It came to me as I went shopping for items to support our troops in Afghanistan. I had a list that contained a number of interesting items. Beyond the obvious sinful joys of spices for humdrum MREs and packages of beef jerky were some items that I found a bit bizarre. There are urgent requests for items such as socks and foot powder; soap and toilet paper; feminine hygiene products and underwear.

Now, we’ve seen the newsreels of the main operating bases in the Near East. They contain many comforts of home, including Burger Kings and TGI Fridays. Please don’t get me wrong: I do not wish to deny our troops of any comfort they can get. I simply cannot understand how a logistical chain that can deliver two-all-beef-patties-special-sauce-lettuce-cheese-pickles-onion-on-a-sesame-seed-bun to Kandahar can’t get foot powder, socks and underwear to a forward operating base. These are not creature comforts; they are the essentials of keeping a fighting force ready to engage.

Our Defense budget exceeds $600 billion dollars. We can procure stealth fighters, smart bombs and munitions and put them on target. Why must we rely upon warm hearted Americans to conduct drives to fill boxes of necessities for our troops stationed on the pointy edge of the spear in regions and under conditions too harsh for us to imagine even in a bad dream? Are our government priorities so upside down that we cannot fulfill a basic promise to our troops to provide the best equipment possible to succeed in taking the fight to the enemy? I, for one, will keep on shopping. I only wish that I could revert to Slim Jims and Trail Mix.

While we are on the subject of honoring our veterans, the government has failed again to honor our warriors from cradle to grave. This week, additional revelations of mishandling of our soldiers remains through Dover Air Force Base have emerged. Body parts have been disposed of at landfills. Several months ago came revelations at Arlington National Cemetery, our nation’s most sacred of burial grounds, that graves were mismarked. According to the Washington news reports, “Army investigators found hundreds of mix-ups, including wrongly marked or empty graves, one with eight sets of cremated remains, and some remains which could not be identified.” And let us not forget the scandals at Building 18, the rat and insect infested facility at Walter Reed Army Hospital that was uncovered in media investigations in 2007.

This pattern of behavior belies the stated commitment that our nation has made to our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. Our country makes a solemn obligation to its warriors. The words of Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address are poignant:
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Not everyone in uniform will become a hero. Circumstances will dictate that. But simply wearing a uniform transforms every individual into a patriot. And patriots deserve to be treated with all of the respect that a grateful nation can bestow. I have never been comfortable with the term Happy Veterans Day. I always thought that a simple thank you was more than sufficient. Thank you.

Press on.

1 Comment

Filed under Essay

On Equal Opportuities and Equal Outcomes: Radio Essay for November 4, 2011

Leave a comment

Filed under Essay, uStream

On Equal Opportunities and Equal Outcomes: Essay for November 5, 2011

If you ask me, the Occupy movement has gone from preachin’ to meddlin’. This once cozy rabble of young adults, backed by forces both seen and unseen, has long past the annoying stage and is fast becoming anarchic. What once looked like campouts with pup tents and s’mores is rapidly becoming shanty towns with Molotov cocktails and mob violence.

I have frequently commented upon some of the common roots between the Occupy movement and the Tea Party movement. Recent events have even more clearly defined the divergent paths that these loosely confederated organizations have taken to achieve political awareness and drive change. The Tea Party clearly emerges as the more rational and more mature of these movements while the Occupy movement emerges as the more dangerous.

I came across a descriptive chart on the internet this week that illustrates both the common roots and the distinctly different paths that these movements have taken. They were born from common concern that “We Have a Problem.” Government collusion with special interests created outrage. Government should not be picking winners and losers in our economy or place bets with our money. The bailouts of major industrial segments of our economy were wrong. Hallelujah, we took to the streets! But here is where the paths diverged.

The Tea party is looking to fix the system; the Occupiers want to break it apart. They disagree over the role of money in politics. Occupiers want to get money from politics; Tea Partiers want to get money out of politics. The Tea party wants to keep what they earn while the occupiers think people deserve everyone else’s money. Occupiers are arrested for violent behavior while Tea Partiers are accused of violent rhetoric. Perhaps the phrase that caught my eye the most was this one: Occupiers wish to replace the Constitution while Tea partiers wish to restore it.

The beauty of our Constitution lies in its protection of equal opportunity. It is silent on assuring equal outcomes. It is precisely why generation after generation of immigrants has come to America. We are the Land of Opportunity. To be sure, over our history we may have fallen short of consistently protecting that opportunity but we know that every governmental system that has attempted to assure equal outcomes has failed. There is an underlying obligation to take one’s unbridled opportunity and turn it into a favorable outcome through endeavor and industry.

This incessant whine of gimme-gimme is beginning to sound like fingernails on a chalkboard. And much of this is coming from no less than the President himself. In an effort to spread Federal largesse to as many people as possible from all walks of life, the President has effectively offered to forgive student loans. Students would never be obliged to pay more than 10% of their income nor pay for a term longer than 20 years as long as they worked for non-profits or the government. That being the case, the government would pick up the remainder of the tab and indenture an entire generation to the government. Can special interest pandering get any more obvious than this?

In the spirit of full disclosure, the Federal government picked up my undergraduate expenses, too. In exchange, I became a Cold War naval officer and served for 8 years in order to fulfill my obligation.

I am proud to be associated with the Tea Party and people who share their values. Even my oldest daughter, one who is not easily confused with a Tea Party member, looks at the occupiers and says: “Why don’t they stop whining and just get a job?” She should know. She is of their age and perhaps has similar inclinations towards a more liberal view of social justice. What she cannot abide is the transfer of wealth and entitlement mentality of those who refuse to work. My daughter is employed by a non-profit and works a second job to make ends meet. She pays her bills, services her student loan (yes, she has one of those, too) and is planning her career. Like many, she is making do with what she has. Despite the gloomy economy that stalled her shortly after her graduation in 2007, she has a plan and executes it as circumstances dictate.

No doubt, these are tough times but they are not the toughest of times. Nor is it unusual for a crop of graduates to find themselves faced with formidable challenges. If this were 1942, prospects would be quite different for these children. Occupy Wall Street? How about occupying Berlin? Or Tokyo?

So we come back to that word again: obligation. It is an act or course of action to which a person is morally or legally bound; a duty or commitment. How about it, you Occupiers? How about you pack up your tents and tidy up the area so we can have some green grass to enjoy come spring. It is time you began to expend your energies on making this a better country through engagement in the electoral process rather than through anarchy. The whole world is watching.

Press on.

Leave a comment

Filed under Essay