Monday, May 28, 2012

Ironies abound in the competition between force and reason...Memorial Day

Different Kinds of Soldiers...Different Stories

World diplomacy, in George Schultz's words (former Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan), is always a matter of the carrot and the stick.  Reason is sought under the guise of lesser evils, particularly in the nuclear age.  Those nations who hold the nuclear card now realize quite clearly that they hold an empty bag, for since the heady days of Nixon and Brezhnev -- MAD has become both the safety on the trigger and the swan song of the world's more optimistic cynics.  Mutual Assured Destruction has virtually eliminated the nuclear weapon as a viable option for any military venture where 'winning' is considered a reasonable goal.  For today, when push comes to shove it hits the formidable wall of reason over extinction.

Memorial Day is a time to commemorate the wielders of that great stick, and those that paid the maximum price in the defense or the political will of a nation.  But it should also be a day perhaps, to appreciate those voices and actions that sought reason over conflict -- life over death.  So I present two distinctive ironies for consideration.  Both have been largely overlooked and both had profound ramifications on the power of reason over force.   

[image: wikicommons]
Meet Captain Vasili Arkhipov of the Soviet Navy.  You just might owe him your life.  His role in the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962) was only fully declassified in 2002.  A quiet man from a peasant family, he rose to prominence in the Soviet Submarine Service and had also been  an officer on the ill-fated K-19.  In October of 1962 he was an officer on one of a group of nuclear-armed submarines (B-59), attempting to evade the naval blockade of the Soviet-backed regime of Fidel Castro.  As we all know (or should know), the confrontation was over offensive nuclear missile installations on the island.  John F. Kennedy had the ordered the embargo after Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev balked at the demand to remove them.  The embargo was one of three options on the table, including a full-scale attack of the island.  During this week of incredible tension, a great deal of Naval activity was taking part off Cuba, including the tracking of Soviet submarines.  The B-59, Arkhipov's ship was equipped with nuclear-tipped torpedoes and was under orders from Moscow to return fire if threatened or attacked.  The US Navy had been using practice depth charges on Soviet submarines in the area in an attempt to force them to the surface for identification.  But given that the ships were in international waters, both Navies were operating under wartime rules of engagement and no direct communication was in use.  Second-guessing was the order of the day and at stake:  well, the world as humanity recognized it.

Now, it should be pointed out that on Wednesday of that week (October 24th),  The US Strategic Command had gone to Defcon 2, the lowest it had ever been at.  Defcon 1 is war and all decisions
are then under what is known as the snap-count.  From that point, human control is no longer part of the equation.  Under this rather ominous backdrop, helicopters from the aircraft carrier, USS Randolph dropped practice depth charges on the submerged Soviet submarine B-59.  The captain considered his ship under attack by the American carrier.  His orders were to fire a nuclear torpedo and destroy the American carrier.  But, an argument broke out between the captain, Arkhipov and the political officer on board.  Pretty unusual by military standards, particularly in the Soviet Navy.  Somehow, Arkhipov prevailed upon the captain to surface his ship, thus defusing the immediate confrontation. If he had instead fired, most critics agree that nothing would have stopped an all-out nuclear exchange and we would have witnessed the final dissolution of reason.  Why share this.  Because there is always more to a soldier's story than we know.  And because, like us, they're just humans doing a damn hard job.

[image: ajuell]
This one is a little trickier.  Sure it is about war and the voice of reason, but it is far more interesting not for what it represents, but for what took place before and after the unrelenting noise of the 1960's and 70's.  Yeah, I'm out there somewhere.

Two things that young people in general, as well as military members can enjoy today: the cessation of military conscription in the United States, and the right to have a vote in the country you have chosen to serve and defend.  Yes, 26th Amendment.   Never mind the perceived right or wrong of any conflict, just remember that in any democracy, those appointed the task of defending a policy or an ideal should have a clear and loud voice in a decision that could ultimately cost them their life.

The irony here is where this notion came from.  The Voting Rights Act had been floating around for quite some time.  No, not by a group of Vietnam-era radicals, but by a rather old and worn veteran of a long and costly conflict:  General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who as President, sent the original Voting Rights Act down to Congress for approval.  A military man who understood quite clearly the price of trading diplomacy for a gun.  Congress balked and continued to feign blindness for two decades until the issue came to a violent head during the Vietnam War.  It was then taken up by a different group of soldiers, "The Soldiers of Reason" who took up the rallying call of, "Old enough to fight, old enough to vote!" to the streets.  And they too, were spit upon, bloodied and killed. But they brought the pressure to bear.  President Nixon attempted to sign the Act into law, but Oregon and Texas sued. They were upheld by the Supreme Court on the seperate matter of local elections, but by then most of Congress knew that this new federal voting block had the power to take their jobs.  It was re-submitted as the 26th Amendment to the Constitution, passed on a vote 94-0 in the Senate, 401-19 in the House, and ratified by 3/4 of the states in a matter of four months.  For politicians, that is close to the speed of light. President Nixon signed the Amendment in July of 1971, making it the law of the land.

My point?  Yeah, there is one.  Patriotism wears many hats, and as we have seen over the decades of this country's existence, it can also be "the last refuge of the scoundrel."  And think very carefully about that quote.  Disagreeing is the most American trait this country owns.  Often, we have to fight it out among ourselves before we get it right, but promoting hate and divisiveness wrapped up in an American flag is not a virtue of mine and it should never be one this country tolerates.  Those street soldiers gave today's military members that right to vote, that right to choose.  They were the voice of REASON in a storm that damn near foundered this country.  So the next time you want to get all huffy and toss the flag at my feet because I happen to believe that one more soldier's death is one too better duck because it's comin' back at you.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

"Daddy! Daddy! My shoe's untied...!"

Geez, people. 
 Lighten up and take some damn responsibility...please?!

I often muse about presidential politics in the pre-Facebook era, a time where most morons were institutionalized instead of given a public forum of their own making.  Yeah, that statement is inclusive in case you're wondering about my own motives here.  Sure, in the good old days, muckraking was confined to angry letters to some junior editor that didn't give a shit, street corner polemics for the benefit of homeless drunks and hookers killing time between customers, union meetings, lawn signs and cute little bumper stickers that proclaimed, "I Like Ike" or "LBJ For The USA!"

Today, everybody is a political writer and the audience is anybody dumb enough to hit the 'Like' button once too often.  Blogs abound, (Gee, I have two of them!), and every single word is circulated as 'the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth' to an endless collection of suckers who happen to have the mental acuity of an over-stuffed recycling bin.  As the cliche goes, 'if the myth is more appetizing than the truth, print the myth.'  Mark Twain journalism at its best, except that Twain's publisher was careful to sell it as fiction.  Seems they had better lawyers in those days.

Lately, the constitutionalists, the conspiracy theorists (the new 'bored housewives' of America, only without the gender distinction), the trench-huggers on the barren outskirts of the political left and right, the Bible-thumpers -- those moral wagon masters of the wasteland, the talking heads of the blogosphere and pimp television, who soil the fragile airwaves with the hate and vitriolic bile of divisiveness to perpetuate a moral agenda that they are more than willing to casually toss aside like a moth-eaten sock --  for the money, for the ratings, for the notoriety they wear like a filthy rag of self-anointed nobility.  And when caught in the trap of contradiction, they toss the lie around the room like children playing catch with a rabid bat.  And guess what?  The 'they' is 'us.' 

I posted a picture of President Obama mostly because he is our current President.  In case most of you have forgotten, we, as in us -- elected him.  Gee, how quickly we forget.  If you listen to a lot of folks, you'd swear he snuck in a basement window and barricaded himself in the master bedroom for the sole purpose of becoming America's first black, Kenyan, Hawaiian, Muslim, undocumented alien, socialist, fascist...did I miss anything?  Oh, gay figurehead of the 'home of the brave and the land of free.'  We might want to re-write that stanza to reflect the current tone:  'home of the whiner and land of the unaccountable.'  Maybe we can sing it in French.  Might be more palatable for our chorus of hypocrites.  I mean, if all we want to do is elect a dartboard to represent our own failings as a constituency, why not hang a pinata in the oval office and for once, take ownership of our self-delusional ways. 

Oh.  The loudest complaint this week?  Abuse of the office of President.  Too authoritarian, too free-wheeling with the law, the Constitution...probably show up on TV tomorrow in fatigues, packing a pistol and smoking a cigar.  Like old busy-whiskers marching into downtown Havana some five decades ago.  Anyone ever ask themselves why every US President since Ronald Reagan and perhaps even earlier, has pushed presidential authority to or beyond its constitutional limitations? 

[Hope you are thinking here and not merely loading your pistol!]

Ah. Yes, that's right.  President's don't make laws, Congress does.  And if Congress has devolved into a pack of partisan thumb-suckers and scapegoaters, who in the hell is going to keep the country operating?  Who is going to make some damn decisions?  The Supreme Court?  No!  Then who?  Oh, maybe the President!  Okay, we're making progress here.  Now, Congress has always been a little persnickety.  Kind of goes with the territory and in the case of the United States, we never quite embraced the 'United' part of the title.  Oh sure, when somebody pisses on our hubcap we get all uppity and stand on 1 1/2 hind legs, but then the honeymoon loses its thrill and each state goes back to a sort of, well...try to picture a group of ostriches masturbating.  Yeah, that's why their heads are stuck in the ground. Not pleasant to watch.  This trend has been rolling downhill for decades and each subsequent President has been forced to tickle the boundaries of impeachment because he was elected to do a damn job, regardless of any affection the Congress might reluctantly grant him (or her as the case may ultimately be).  The President has been entrusted by the voters to follow the agenda that he was elected by and on -- i.e., do the job!  You laugh?  Me too.  It is a somewhat naive assumption in a political system that seems to dysfunctionally thrive on flux.  But, it is our system, of our making and until somebody cares to shred the Constitution and start over, we're stuck with it and all its inherent flaws.  Yeah, flaw is the right word.  The Constitution is vague, archaic and a document about the many compromises necessary to form a republic in a dangerous world.  Not good or bad, just what could be signed at the time. A little like the Bible, which historian Will Durant noted, "Great read, but if you had to live by it, you'd go nuts."  We are now, in the evolution of our political spectrum, at the 'nuts' point.      

So I got a great idea.  Why doesn't everybody shut the hell up for one hour a week and focus on tangible and practical solutions, instead of this endless wart hunt we engage in because we are too damn lazy to do the homework necessary to maintain a healthy and progressive republic. Sadly, we no longer even deserve democracy because we have become very poor custodians of our cherished ideals and principles.  Those kind of intangibles demand a rigorous kind of maintenance, a ruthless degree of personal honesty and a level of self-awareness and integrity that is not only all encompassing, but all inclusive.  And as I have tried to point out here, perhaps clumsily in some ways, check the recrimination at the door.  Your door and my door.  We are this republic.