Tag Archives: The American Century

On Memorial Day 2013

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On Memorial Day 2013

July 2013 will mark the 60th anniversary of the armistice that marked the cease-fire in Korea. It is often referred to as America’s “Forgotten War.” Indeed it was a conflict that marked a turning point in modern warfare. It was a war sanctioned by the United Nations and resulted in an outcome of something less than unconditional surrender of the enemy. Korea marked the first stalemate of the Cold War and it was not to be the last. Difficult to comprehend; it was a war of geopolitics and hegemony played out under the pall of an unthinkable third world war. Indeed, the threat of additional conflict in Korea conflict lingers to this very day.

How could Korea become The Forgotten War? How could America forget the 2 million casualties of that intensely brutal war that lasted a mere 37 months? How could America forget its 34,000 sons who died at the rate of nearly 1000 per week?

I am here to tell you the story one man from a small town in Massachusetts who went to Korea as a mere mortal and returned with a touch of immortality, never to be forgotten. He was an extremely bright and charming young man who left college early to enlist in the Marines in September 1950. He returned to Hopedale briefly that Christmas after completing basic training at Parris Island and deployed with the 1st Marine Division in Korea on January 28, 1951.

By now, the Communist Chinese Army, the Red Army, was fully engaged in the conflict and had been since their unexpected entry during the previous winter at Chosin Reservoir that nearly drove the Marines Corps into the sea. Now the 1st Marine Division were up against them in an area known as the Punchbowl, a dormant volcano lying in treacherous mountain terrain. The fighting was as fierce as it was at Chosin. Many new replacements were now engaged in seemingly constant battle against the enemy. The Marine Corps Gazette reported it this way:

Mountains were no novelty to Marines with Korean experience but they had seldom seen as chaotic a landscape as the one stretching ahead. Peaks of 3000 feet brooded over a wilderness of seemingly vertical ridges rising from dark and narrow valleys. Few roads were available and the frequent spring rains turned these native trails into bogs.

Battles took place daily against a fierce and entrenched foe. Day long battles were fought for territory gains of only several thousand yards. During the first 10 days of June 1951, the 1st Marine Division lost 67 men killed in action. Those loses were higher than any other month in the war; higher than during the famous Chosin Reservoir operation.

Among those dead was Corporal Richard J. Griffin. He received shrapnel wounds in battle on June 9, was evacuated and died aboard the hospital ship USS Haven on June 16, 1951. He had been a Marine for less than one year, in Korea for less than 5 months, and now he was coming home to be laid to his final rest.

Dick Griffin lived on Cemetery Street, just a few hundred yards from where we stand and his grave is in this cemetery where we honor him today along with so many others who fought and died in defense of our country. We in Hopedale have not forgotten our son from The Forgotten War.

In October of 1964, the Town of Hopedale dedicated a new 40 unit apartment complex for the elderly in his honor. Richard Griffin had been remembered once again for the lives that he had touched. A young attorney who knew Dick Griffin presided over the dedication. Perhaps these words capture the soul of the young man who died too young. He said:

Whoever coined the ancient proverb that ‘the good die young’ had such as Dick Griffin in mind. Dick had all the gentler qualities- loyalty, modesty, courtesy and a sense of the appropriate- to a degree unusual in a person so young and an unselfishness unique in a person of any age…He was truly one of those whom William James call ‘the once born.’

That young attorney was our own Judge Francis J. Larkin. Colonel Francis J. Larkin. We thank him for keeping alive the memory of his dear friend Dick Griffin and for keeping him closer to our own hearts. And we thank him for keeping alive this fine tradition of commemoration with our Memorial Day parade. He has shouldered this great burden for many years and is now ready to pass the torch to another generation of thankful Americans.

Finally, in November 1994, this monument was dedicated to all of the veterans of Hopedale, some 159 of whom served during the Korean War era. This stone behind me commemorates the memory of Richard J. Griffin, forever etched in granite, as the single Hopedale resident killed in action in Korea.

This member of “The Silent Generation” who fought in “The Forgotten War” shall never be forgotten in Hopedale. Corporal Richard J. Griffin, may you rest in eternal peace alongside and with your fellow comrades-in-arms. So long as this granite stone bears your name and Americans remain grateful of their heritage the memory of your life and service shall never fade.

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On Loss of Innocence Again: Essay for April 20, 2013

The news came across my car radio while listening to a sports talk show in New York City. Something awful had happened at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. There was the first blast, then another. The unnerving pattern of twin explosions, eerily reminiscent of the aircraft that struck the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, left little to the imagination. The chances of this being a random event seemed immediately implausible. America had been terrorized once again in the most public of ways on a stage as big as the world itself.

Immediately you do the accounting. Is my family safe? Did anyone have reason to be in Boston this afternoon? It was impossible to know how many people I may have known who were involved in running or support of the marathon. Where I live it is simply too big an event to ignore. When out-of-towners ask me where I live in relation to Boston, I tell them that I live to the West about 26 miles, 385 yards. People immediately make the connection.

I vividly recall assembling my children on September 11, 2001, and describing for them how their lives were going to change. Life in America was to be forever altered. They were barely adolescents then. What could my statement have meant to them having not yet known the personal pain of such loss? Or the implications to our security and liberty that were sure to follow. It was my duty to ease into that explanation and prepare them for an adulthood that would all too often ooze tragedy.

Terrorism is personal to me, especially 9/11. I used to work in the E-Ring of the Pentagon; I entertained in the Windows of the World atop the World Trade Center. Several of my classmates were New York denizens. Four of them worked in the impact zone. Two of them were away from the city as their buildings were hit; and two never made it out. These were the stories I would pass along my children and their children. This was now part of my life narrative.

The Boston Marathon bombing was immediately different. Nearly 12 years after 911, it was my children who first contacted me to see if I was accounted for rather than the other way around. And when quizzed, it turned out that they had fewer degrees of separation with their friends and colleagues than did I. Their friends were all around that scene of carnage. It became immediately personal to them. And urgent.

That’s when it hit me. No longer could I shelter my children from the cold reality of life. No longer could I gently explain what was happening around them in a world that all too frequently gets turned upside down. No longer could I protect their innocence. It had been snatched from them. And they turned their protection towards me to provide shelter from the shock of the horrific situation.

So now, in this new social reality in a post-911 context, my children are now citizens of the World of Terror. They have their own recollections of simpler, less violent times. They have their own images of once sacred spaces forever marred by the incomprehensible reality of a world at war with itself.

It is an unfortunate rite of passage in this new world. Sadder still is the thought that my kids will shelter the next generation of Americans who will inevitably need sheltering when the next act of terror touches their lives. If the Boston Marathon bombing settles one thing it is this: however quiescent current events might become, there will be another act of terror that will require explanation and tenderness.

So, for me, the baton has been passed to my children. Now having borne witness to their own incomprehensible nightmare, having made the numerous connections to people within their ever expanding number of acquaintances, they are fully adult. Perhaps it is their rightful turn to begin to bear the burden of the weight that life presses down upon our shoulders. I wish I could shelter them from that awful burden but I fear they will need to develop that strength sooner rather than later. This problem will likely be with us long after I leave this earth.

Over time, we will prevail. We will rise again. Life will regain a sense of normalcy. But the bar of normalcy has been raised. Like a balloon that has been stretched, it never regains its original shape. It is forever deformed.

We ARE Boston Strong.

Press on.

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On Time and Tide and Immigration: Video Essay for July 28, 2012

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On Tide and Time and Immigration: Essay for July 28, 2012

I have been involved in change activities for many years and find most people are moved to change for one of two reasons. Sometimes people move towards gain. There is a promise of something better that compels them to overcome the inertia of the status quo. Other times, they are moving away from pain. The thought of staying in one place is overwhelmed by the thought that something, anything, must be better than what is before them.

Recently I had the chance to tour the Chinatown Heritage Center and explore what that experience was like for tens of thousands of Chinese immigrants, and other nationalities including Hindi and Malay, in the 19th and 20th centuries. These were Coolies, a term derived from dialectic Chinese meaning hard labor. And hard labor was what they found once arriving in their promised land of Nanyang. And like most immigrants, they hoped to work hard, save some money to send to relatives and someday return to their homeland. They were fleeing oppression, lack of hope and despair. They were fleeing to move away from pain. But pain is what they found in their new land as well as all the trappings that burgeoning cities offer: organized crime, prostitution and disease, addiction to drugs and to gambling.

Nanyang is modern day Singapore. Coolies went in many directions to move away from pain. The Heritage Center tour reminded me of another similar experience I had at the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. There, the stories of German Jews and Italian Catholics resonated in similar tones to those of Singapore. The Pain/Gain pendulum swung yet again as tens of millions of immigrants came through Ellis Island alone. They were coming, against all odds, to seek a better life. They, like their Chinese counterparts on the other side of the world, were moving away from the pain of their past lives, ready to take on the hardships that this transition would demand. And they, like those in Nanyang, would toil in unfavorable and unthinkable hardship, be exposed to the corruptions of an unremitting society and do their best to make it in a new world.

Receptivity to hard labor-driven mass immigration has changed over generations. The Industrial Revolution demanded large numbers of people to fill the mills and factories; to build the cities; to build the railroads and dams; and to work the fields. Strong backs were valued more than strong minds. Those first generation immigrants figuratively laid their bodies in a human bridge to pave the way for their next generations to have a better life, however slightly better it might be.

The immigrant of the 19th century generally did not move towards gain; they were moving away from pain. Circumstances have changed considerably in the 21st century in the Western world. The demand for mass quantities of unskilled labor in America and the West has all but vanished.

Immigrants, especially in America, stopped moving away from pain and began moving towards gain. Since 1965, 85% of legal immigration in America has been of the unskilled variety as chain immigration offset skills-based considerations. Life immediately looked to be better in America than in their homeland and the exodus has not abated. Legal chain immigration of the unskilled is matched by the illegal masses that cross our border.

What gets squeezed in this is the legitimate need for legal immigrants, those who can contribute immediately to our economy. Many of those immigrants are already here, enrolled and graduating from the many world class educational institutions that abound in this country. This stifles the economic growth that might otherwise be created by the talented individuals who we send back to create and innovate on behalf of our international competitors instead of on our behalf.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Here is a good news story on immigration. No, make that a great news story. I just attended a Hindu wedding of the first son of a colleague of mine who emigrated in the early 1980’s from Mumbai with $14 in his pocket intent upon moving towards gain. He arrived with an education and was enveloped in a warm crowd of fellow immigrants who understood that the road to the American Dream was paved with hard work, discipline, perseverance and a solid grasp of the English language. He and his wife became US citizens. They raised two fine children who have earned science degrees at fine institutions of higher education. Those boys straddle two cultures but are proud and thankful participants in The Dream. The wedding could not have been more enjoyable as 350 people celebrated not only the happiness of the couple but the arrival of the parents who raised them to succeed in America. For The Dream to be successful, it has to have proper amounts of push from society and pull from family and friends.

So how do we respect the unstoppable march of immigrants moving away from pain while opening our doors to those who are moving towards gain? And further, how does America attract the correct people to seek that gain? The answer lies with immigration reform. Not every immigrant needs to become a citizen but everyone needs to be here legally, even if it on a temporary or seasonal basis. Those who can contribute should go to the head of the line.

Revitalizing the American economy is the best way to provide opportunity for all. America’s best days must lie ahead of her, not behind her.

Press on.

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