Friday, July 29, 2005

Cheap At Half The Price

Pat got me all fired up with a recent post: reflections of a conversation he’d had … a Chicago visit, a cup of coffee, a stranger, and a question.

Part of Pat’s post went like this:

First, to counter Kennedy's assertion [an Op-Ed article to which Pat had linked) that today's military does not reflect mainstream America: in just my small unit here, we have teachers, college students, police and corrections officers, network administrators, engineers, a car salesman, a stockbroker, a farmer, truck drivers, and machinists, just to name a few. We represent mainstream America, and we have families, communities, and employers who are sacrificing while we are here. This reality, this representation of America, is why, after Vietnam, the military leaders of the time decided to rebuild our Armed forces in such a way as to prevent our political leaders from ever being able to do what LBJ did in Vietnam; fight a major war without mobilizing the citizen-soldier. You can talk smack about Generals all you want, God knows I do, but they recognize that war needs to cost politicians political capital, or they will be far too quick to wage it. Today's military cannot fight without the Guard and Reserve, and that is a GOOD THING. The military should not be committed to action without sacrifice by mainstream America because only then are those who decide to commit us held accountable.

My answer in response goes like this - but brace yourself… I think this is the longest post I've written for (Pro)Claiming Age:

The Militia Act of 1903 reorganized the military – not an action taken in response to LBJ and not an action in any way connected to Viet Nam. From 1903 forward, the National Guard comprises approximately one half of the Army’s available combat forces and approximately one third of support services. The U.S. Army is currently hovering around the enlistment total of 400,000 - Marines, Air Force, and Navy add another approximately 700.000.

On the outside, even if half of the 400,000 Army could be said to be National Guard, the numbers fail to support your argument that the President cannot commit the military to action without the participation of the citizen-soldier, mainstream America. Even if 200,000 strong, the citizen-soldiers to whom you refer as a lynchpin for decision-making in the President’s foreign policy would constitute only 7/100s of the American population – a far cry from “mainstream” America. Mainstream American is hardly fighting a war, even if its military are, and the Guardsmen and women that constitute so large a component of the activated U.S. Army nonetheless represent no more than 20% of the active military complex, even IF half of the active-duty Army could be said to be Guard.

The fact that we know citizen-soldiers only speaks to the relative social segregation of full-time, active-duty military personal who, in the “normal” ebb and tide of American life, “mainstream America” would be less likely to say we knew. CITIZEN-soldiers, on the other hand, are taken from “among us” when they are taken to war when “regular” soldiers are not. Whether or not recruiters “tell the truth” when a young person considers enlisting with the National Guard, the fact remains that society more understands the commitment along lines equal to those of your guy in Chicago … weekend warriors and full-time military are not and were never meant to be the same thing, not even when the Militia Act of 1903 reorganized them.

The confusion may come with the lack of this little bit of knowing:

Prior to September 11, 2001, National Guard personal could be required to spend no more than a cumulative six months of active duty on overseas assignment. Strains placed on U.S. military forces following 9/11 resulted in an increased cumulative total of 18 months. Additional strains felt as a result of the invasion of Iraq increased the total time to 24 months where it stands today – though conversation is currently underway in consideration of further upward revision of that total.

The issue is not whether or not the National Guard has always been activated as support for the U.S. Army in times of need but whether or not – or maybe how fast – the National Guard is now being morphed into another branch of the “full-time” Army. Check the trade in benefits; it’s quite a deal really. The U.S. government gets a dozen or so full divisions of active-duty personnel at the price of a weekend a month and two weeks in the summer – a standing army for the price of a weekend militia or ready reserve.

Even IF my kids had been told the truth when they enlisted (and they were not), they would have been told that the maximum amount of overseas active duty they could be called upon to serve would have been six months. Would they still have signed? I don’t know … probably yes, all circumstances being what they were then. BUT, does “mainstream American” know the contract was dramatically changed after it had been agreed upon? that its CITIZEN-soldiers have subsequently been conscripted and forced to the service of full-time Army under threat of incarceration? I don’t think so! "Mainstream America" hasn't known that such a thing COULD happen in America! But a lot of surprising things are happening in America right now, and more Americans are beginning to notice.

Finally, Pat, you said, “The military should not be committed to action without sacrifice by mainstream America because only then are those who decide to commit us held accountable.” And upon this idea we do agree.

Mainstream America is beginning to wake up to the sacrifice it is making for a war it never imagined itself to be engaging, and mainstream America is begining to call its representatives to account. I have hope for what that can mean. I have hope for the restoration of political and administrative integrity to levels equal with and responsible to our national passion and pride. Accountability is a very good thing.

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Thursday, July 28, 2005

Playing the Game of War

Ok … more I didn’t know. From Center for Media and Democracy I learned that the Department of Defense is into “games.” In May 2002, a then estimated $7.5 million dollars was allocated for game development, and the distribution of free software was scheduled for the end of that year. Lt. Col. Casey Wardynski, then Director of Economic and Manpower Analysis commented, "The Army's not a game, but we use war games in our training and this is kind of an extension of that. It's just a new way of connecting with young Americans.” Game designer Michael Capps said of his project, Operations, "The game does include violence, but only in the same way the real Army uses force in defense of our country. We wanted to portray it [the Army] as a value-laden organization."

Today America’s Army – the game online – is the place to go. Ubisoft Entertainment is under contract with the U.S. government to maintain development and support for “The Official U.S. Army Game, “ an on-going PR campaign aimed at America’s youth. The site is flashy, thorough, and commanding. It’s just a game, right? A sense of community is established, information collected, announcements and events planned. It’s just a game, right? Contests, hot topics, and “real world” video clips feed the game. Of course the problem is that you can’t tell where the game ends and the real world (war) begins.

Is that the point?

Winston at nobody asked … highlights a report that Christian gaming is on the rise. He goes on in musing – though it’s just an idea he seems to be playing with: “Maybe, just maybe, some of the more radical and militant groups could be persuaded to use this forum to squash the competition in a rousing game of End of Days 3, or some such. Makes more sense than blowing each other to smithereens.”

I’m with Winston.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Counting Costs: The Value of a Life

Via Center for Media and Democracy:
Judith Coburn has written a thoughtful, detailed report on one of the most glaring journalistic failures in Iraq. "Publishing or pronouncing the names of the American dead everyday without ever mentioning the names of the Iraqi dead offers a powerful message that only American dying matters," she writes. "But there's no way to count, protest American journalists. What they mean is that the Pentagon doesn't count for them. ... The lack of 'official' figures, however, shouldn't absolve the media—or Americans—from their blindness to Iraqi suffering, since available figures, incomplete as they are, are staggering for a guerrilla war." A recent study documented 25,000 civilian deaths in Iraq since the war began (almost certainly a low estimate). Baghdad's main mortuary "looks more like a bus station: dozens of minibuses line up as crowds of men stream in with empty wooden coffins, then out again bearing loaded ones on their shoulders, chanting prayers as they go." According to war correspondent Oliver Poole, "The people of Baghdad do not need statistics to tell them that they are living through terror unimaginable in the West. Every two days for the past two years more civilians have died in Iraq than in the July 7 London bombings."

Via The New York Times:
An Indiana National Guard soldier charged with murder in the death of an Iraqi police officer unraveled the truth behind months of conflicting stories with a clear statement of guilt. Cpl. Dustin Berg, 22, pleaded guilty Monday to a lesser charge of negligent homicide in a shooting he had previously claimed was self-defense. Berg said the November 2003 shooting was a rash judgment. He said it was a mistake to try to cover up the incident by shooting himself in the stomach. On Monday, Berg admitted shooting himself on purpose in an attempt to make it appear he was defending himself against the officer with whom he was on patrol. Berg, of Ferdinand, Ind., will spend 18 months in prison under a plea agreement. He will also be discharged from the Army for bad conduct. Berg, who had embraced his pregnant wife during the wait for his sentence, burst into tears when the judge announced it and continued crying when he was assured no more than 18 months in prison. He addressed the military judge to make a tearful plea for a lenient sentence. The 18-month sentence was less than a six-year sentence the judge recommended Monday, but military law requires that a judge accept the sentencing terms of a plea agreement in a court-martial. Berg also pleaded guilty to two counts of making false statements and intentionally wounding himself. Berg's civilian attorney, Charles Gittins, had asked the court to discharge Berg but not confine him to a military prison because Berg is newly married and has a child on the way. Berg's mother also pleaded for leniency during testimony. ''He is not a murderer,'' Mary Berg said.

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Recruitment: No Child Left Behind

Ok, so call me “slow” and ask me “where have you been?” but I did not know the “No Child Left Behind Act” meant we didn’t leave any public school kid behind when we gathered our children up for military service in Iraq! I read today in the StarTribune that the “No Child Left Behind Act” requires by law that any school receiving federal funds must “cooperate with military recruitment efforts.”


If, as the article goes on to say, the school fails to “voluntarily turn over information such as students' Social Security numbers, birth dates and ethnicity” to military recruiters, an officer will visit the school to get the information flowing back on course again. "The chief enforcer,” says Board Member Judy Farmer, “is that all of the federal funds we receive could be lost." Board Member Peggy Flanagan adds, "Everyone knows military recruiters are going after students that are poor and students of color. That’s many of our students. When I talk to students, [that’s] what they're passionate about."

Of course there is the “opt-out” form. This form directs recruiters to a “no contact” stance toward any student properly completing and submitting the form, but the form must be signed by both student and parent to be counted as directive, and it must be resubmitted at the beginning of every school year. Even then, says Kirsten Kohlhase (now 18), “I filled out an opt-out form, and I still got called.” Parents are increasingly concerned, raising questions about what happens to the information after it is entered into military record systems. Faced with the threat of lost funding, school boards are of little help, complying, as they must, with the law. “No Child Left Behind” takes on new meaning for me today: Parents Beware!

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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Made-For-TV War

In my last post I highlighted a Washington Post article discussing the increasing sense of isolation among troops feeling themselves “alone” in making the sacrifices necessary for a nation at war. I raised the question (again) about the level of awareness and/or regard for the reality of a (real?) war being fought right now overseas. My question found answer in part as I read yesterday of a new Steven Bochco, made-for-TV series scheduled to premier on FX this Wednesday called "Over There."

The show will follow eight American soldiers “as they battle insurgents in the blazing deserts outside Baghdad” but center more on the “intimate human dramas, like one black soldier’s distrust of authority and his white superiors.” Bochco is quoted, “The controversy really comes when you present something like the Iraq war in such a nuanced way that it presses everybody’s buttons a little bit. Now you’ve got a game.”

Now you’ve got game?! Head on over to Making the NIA and listen to Andrew talk about the work he does to calm racial fears between American soldiers and Iraqi troops, and tell me why anyone would make “game” out of racial tensions among American soldiers – let alone the appalling stereotype being reported here. Check in with Tommi at Sentinel 47 where recent posts talk about life on base just "outside Baghdad." Stop in at Six More Months and let Pat tell you about the breath of hope he found in his work yesterday by helping a local community recover clean drinking water. Here is real-war drama, and while Pat is handing out Beanie Babies to the children, Mr. Bochco is celebrating that FX allows him to “use the language … [and] show the reality of the kind of violence that exists in that form of combat.” Otherwise, he says, “…what you’d wind up with would be a much, much paler version of ‘Over There.’”

I am appalled by the tele-reduction of war that needs the color of violence, fowl language, and racism to tell a story about the honorable men and women supporting one another while they serve their country overseas. I am angered by the perpetuation of a “Cowboys and Indians” frame of mind when it comes to thinking about “the insurgents” and characterizing the Iraqi people in so narrow and undeserved a frame of reference. And I am offended on behalf of my daughter and those with whom she serves by a denial of the REAL war our soldiers are fighting – a war to “fix what we broke,” as Pat put it, before we bring our troops home, and I hope that will be soon.

Allison Hope Weiner reports for the NYTimes, “Other television shows, like “M.A.S.H.” and “China Beach,” have ventured onto battlefields, but never while a conflict was still happening in real time, while real men and women were targets.”

It seems to me one kind of loss to experience the forgetfulness of a nation; it seems quite another, however, to witness the everyday risks of war being reduced to a television drama. Speaking to the controversy from which he hopes to provoke a spike in audience viewing, Mr. Bochco smiled confidently and said, “I’m not afraid of anything when it comes to this show. It’s only television."

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Saturday, July 23, 2005

A Nation At War ?

I have spoken here in the past of the conflicted experience of being a mother of an active-duty soldier while moving through my day-to-day life in a nation that forgets it is at war. Really, stop reading for just this moment and ask yourself, “Do I know on a daily basis that we are at war?”

Thom Shanker writes for the NYTimes, “All Quiet on the Home Front, and Some Soldiers Are Asking Why,” reporting a sense of frustration among soldiers, many of who spoke under condition of anonymity, saying that America wasn’t a nation at war: America wasn’t a nation at war, but a nation with only its military at war.

Recruiting shortages reported today explain the 35,000 shortfall with references to a strong economy, resistant parents, and increasing dangers in Iraq. Age limits for enlistment have been raised again – this time to age 42 for the Army, and bonuses are now being extended to cover home and education loans, increased pay, and enlistment perks totaling more than $100,000 for the more difficult to fill positions as infantry, medics, and MPs. Still, according to NYT Shanker, the ranks of active duty soldiers are thinning, and support is evaporating save for the glossy surface of Fourth of July sentiments … “patriotism lite,” according to George Moskos, military sociologist at Northwestern University.

"Nobody in America is asked to sacrifice, except us," said one officer just back from a yearlong tour in Iraq. While officers and enlisted personnel say they enjoy symbolic signs of support, and the high ratings the military now enjoys in public opinion polls, "that's just not enough," said a one-star officer who served in Iraq. "There has to be more," he added, saying that the absence of a call for broader national sacrifice in a time of war has become a near constant topic of discussion among officers and enlisted personnel.

Conversations with Pat at “Six More Months” help me to find a perspective more respectful of the work and hope of the soldiers doing their job on the ground in Iraq. He encourages me that he sees hundreds of Iraqi citizens pass through his area of operations on a daily basis and from them knows the appreciation of a people for the hope of a new life, but Pat acknowledges, too, the anxious concern among them for renewed colonial occupation. “They want to know we’re going to leave,” Pat might say, “but they want us to fix what we broke before we do.”

The metaphors mix and become confusing for me: are we a nation at war or a nation that sent its military to fix what is essentially a political problem? In the meantime, an administration that maintains support for a war in Iraq by celebrating normalcy for those of us left at home in the United States does so at the cost of leaving military men, women, and families isolated and alone in carrying the burden of that war while the rest of us enjoy a summer day.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2005


Those of you who read here often will remember me speaking from time to time about Pat, the Master Sergeant and right-hand-man who works with Tommi at the gate. Well, I’m excited to say that Pat is now blogging from Iraq! His blog, “Six More Months,” already has the appearance of one belonging to a seasoned blogger, but it is his writing that will compel regular visits: he tells a story honestly, as if talking to friends, and leaves a reader with the feeling of having “been there.”

For so many reasons I have nothing but good to say about Pat, and I recommend you stop by his place soon just to have a look and say hello.

Best atcha, Pat!

Originally uploaded by Mary Godwin.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Before She Was a Soldier


Exploring for Shells,
San Diego Bay, 1982

What I Didn't Know

I didn’t know the history of conflict between mainland China and neighboring Taiwan: a 1949 revolution - Mao vs. Chaing Kai-Shek, an ensuing flood of nationalist refugees retreating to Taiwan and absorbing the island as a safe haven, U.S. Cold War strategies that prompted political interventions, calls for Taiwanese independence, shows of force with missile firings and military exercises (1995), and now renewed gestures toward declared independence. I’d known bits and pieces, but I couldn’t have told the story. It seems not everyone agrees there is only ONE China, and I didn’t know the United States was making yet another “civil war” its business to engage.

I didn’t know that President Bush had pledged military support for Taiwan in the event that China deployed its military to prevent formal separation and the subsequent recognition of Taiwan as an independent nation. President Bush has made it clear that the United States would defend Taiwan.

Major General Zhu Chenghu, a senior Chinese military official, spoke boldly in response to the issue: "If the Americans are determined to interfere, then we will be determined to respond," he said. "We Chinese will prepare ourselves for the destruction of all the cities east of Xian. Of course the Americans will have to be prepared that hundreds of cities will be destroyed by the Chinese."

Posturing? Political positioning? Moves in a game beyond my ability to yet understand? Ok. I know that I don’t really know, but I hear an underlying message in the rhetoric of this exchange: China will not be another Iraq. If the United States makes one single move of intervention in the direction of Taiwan, China’s first move in response will be to bring everything it’s got straight into retaliation against mainland U.S. The general is talking about a willingness to launch atomic warfare, deploying from an arsenal easily able to hit multiple targets on U.S. soil.

Do you wanna bet they won’t?

If the people of this nation would not be willing to risk Los Angeles for the sake of “Operation Freedom” in Taiwan, why do we continue to put the lives of American men and women on the line for “Operation Freedom” in Iraq? Evidence for proving that we are making the world a safer place to be is frightfully thin right now. How far are we willing to go in our efforts to "parent" all the other nations states of the world, and just exactly when and how will we know we’ve gone to far?

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Leonard Clark: Freedom of Speech

Freedom of Speech can be a tricky commodity to govern, or so it seems. In a story just now unfolding from Iraq, an American soldier has been arrested for exercising his right to freely express his opinion about the war in Iraq as he sees it. Leonard Clark is a blogger who has apparently found the limit of his freedom to dissent. You can visit Leonard's blog here. His modest blogroll makes interesting reading on the side.

Armando (via Daily Kos) sets the facts of this story in context with President Bush's recent comments regarding soldiers who blog. You can read his report here.

Krulikowski, a freelance writer blogging at Radical Peace, rounds out my read of this event with an overview of her recent interview with Robert Kennedy Jr. addressing concerns about the "liberal press," the entertainment factor now clouding the fair and effective coverage of news, and his view on the current state of professional journalism. Kennedy's mini history lesson (included here with Claire's report of the interview) makes her post well worth the time invested to read. I wonder if and how Leonard's story will be told?

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Good News And Difficult Days

Good news from Tommi today: Commander Gerdes, the officer in charge of the unit to which Tommi is assigned in Iraq, has officially indicated that the families of those members serving with the Minnesota National Guard RAOC 1-151 can, “for planning purposes,” expect to see their loved ones back on U.S. soil sometime in January or February 2006.

Commander Gerdes’ announcement coincides with reports today (NYTimes) that Pentagon planners will be enacting an overall reduction of National Guard and Reservist troops from a level of 35% of the boots on ground in Iraq and Afghanistan to only 30% of the total troops serving in that region of the world.

I am willing to celebrate any reduction of troops right now, even when the five percent reduction announced today is spread out over the coming two-year period of time, but the real pain of the story comes with the rest of the numbers reported:

Did you know there were 115,645 Army National Guard and Reserve troops currently mobilized to active duty? Are you comfortable with that number? Are you still comfortable with the number when you learn that there has never been, in the history of the nation, so massive a mobilization of state militia as there is right now?

84% of those men and women who enlisted as stateside citizen-soldiers are currently deployed to duty outside the country. Florida recently needed its National Guard to assist in civic security as the winds of Dennis threatened coastal communities there. Montana is trying to prepare for the upcoming fire season, but the state's troops and equipment are dodging death in Iraq: the governor's request for an earlier return of the state's Guardsmen/women was denied. “…84 percent of all reserve forces [are] activated worldwide.” The number astounds...

And makes for another problem: President Bush has assured the American public that no Guard or Reservist soldier will exceed 24 cumulative months of active duty. Do the math, and it’s easy to see that the pool of relief soldiers is running dry - this at a time when many full-time soldiers are already seeing their second and third deployments into the theater. With fewer enlistments, increasing insurgency, and no end in sight for a war against terror, the U.S. is finding itself at a crossroad of conflicting commitments coupled with a rising cost of war – a price levied in dollars as well as lives, Iraqi and American.

Good news today: Tommi is coming home by February. She and the soldiers with whom she serves have done a great job and will be leaving their base of operations in Iraq a better equipped and more secure place than it was when they arrived there. These soldiers have delivered on their promise to honor the nation they serve, but what of the nation they leave behind? How is it “better” to have taken this illusive fight to another country on the globe? What becomes of the people these soldiers leave behind to clean up the mess we’ve made with our war?

Tommi is struggling with these questions right now. The London bombings have made the days even more difficult for here to think through. I hear her confusion and pain in the writing she manages to do from Iraq. She blogs at Sentinel 47: Keeping the Gate. Encouragement from home can make a big difference. Would you have a minute or two to stop by her place and say “hi”? maybe let her know that your thoughts have turned in her direction today? I’d sure be glad if you did - those are "mom" words right there.

Good atcha and … thanks.

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Friday, July 08, 2005

People Care

Life goes on. While Tommi is fighting a war in Iraq, her brothers and sister are (re)building Honda CB750 motorcycles in the garage - a two-month project now evolving so as to take on a life of its own, or so it seems. Anyway, more parts arrived today, and because it looked like it could rain, the FedEx guy delivering them was "looking around" for a safe place to tuck the boxes he'd come to deliver. That's how I caught sight of him and what prompted me to see what he wanted.

Dean the FedEx Man had apparently been to our home before. He remembered the Mazda Protégé that had since been sold and wondered aloud about what project might be underway with the Jeep that was now taking its place, all this while he stacked the boxes of motorcycle parts inside the garage. He asked about my kids ... how many there were and what level of expertise they commanded with which to tackle the bike project underway. We laughed together: I reflecting the various investments a parent finds herself making and he remembering the bike project his own mom and dad had funding for him years ago. "Did you ever finish the bike?" I asked. "Ha. No ... never finished it," his answer exploded in a mix of laughter and disbelief.

And then somehow the conversation turned to Tommi, to the fact that one of my four children was stationed just outside Baghdad right now. Dean stopped his movement for that comment, let an air of sobriety take command of his tone, and said thoughtfully, "That must be hard." "Yes," I answered, and I talked some about Tommi, about the difficulty of always wondering if I'd see her again, the difficulty of knowing she worked each day in such unpredictable circumstances, and the challenge in continuing to live each day with some semblance of "normal" guiding the way. He seemed to understand. He said, "Tell Tommi I said 'hi' when you talk to her again. Tell her I'm pulling for her to get home safe." "I will," I answered from deep in my own thoughts.

I don't really know Dean's story beyond a snippet of the chapter he shared about a failed motorcycle project, but I know that today Dean the FedEx Man cared: he cared about my kids building bikes, about the packages getting in out of the rain, about my daughter in Iraq, and about my mother's heart. "She'll be ok" was the last thing he said to me before getting back in his truck to drive away. I'm hanging on to those words today. "She'll be ok."

Oh, and Tommi ... Dean said to say "Hello."

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Thursday, July 07, 2005

Funeral Arrangements

Leonardo DiCaprio, playing the part of Frank Abagnale Jr. in the film “Catch Me If You Can,” is forced to choose between two parents, themselves caught up in the pain and conflict of divorce. Though we know the choice would not necessarily define the young man’s fidelity to either parent or the measure of his given love, as audience we are led along with the character to experience the trauma of this moment as a determining reason for his ensuing life of confusion. Frank Abagnale Jr. is sixteen years old at that time. You’ve probably seen the film, and yes, I know it’s Hollywood, but …

That particular scene from the movie comes to mind this morning as I read about a new shift in policy for soldiers going to war. How many of these are young men and women? 18? 19? 20? These deploying soldiers will now be compelled to name the custodian of their last remains as part of their preparation for departure to Iraq – they will have to choose between their parents and loved ones. I want to be amazed, but the feeling I have borders more on sickness. I can not imagine being a young man or woman facing the prospects of death by deployment and at that moment be forced to choose which of my divorcing parents will have the right to claim my dead remains.

This backwater story in the NYTimes is a two minute read and explanation providing details regarding the change of policy prompted by two cases of dispute between divorced parents, one in Oklahoma and the other in Nevada. Representative Shelly Berkley called it a “simple change,” one that will “prevent heartache for military families and will give our service men and women the final say in who determines their funeral arrangements.”

Dismiss me if you will: Decide I lack balanced perspective because I am an emotionally invested player, but “funeral arrangements” is the LAST thing I want our sons and daughters compelled to define. Let them think life. Insist they think life. If we must make arrangements to bury them, we can do it later.

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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

An Extraordinary Burden

I am remembering Ruth Mortenson tonight. On April 20th of this year, her son died in Iraq, killed there by the detonation of a roadside bomb. Lance Cpl. Mary G. Mortenson, a Marine on deployed for his third tour – third “pump” in Iraq, was killed before his 23rd birthday; he’d spent his 20th, 21st, and 22nd birthdays in Iraq.

The Washington Post, Sylvia Moreno reporting, tells the story of Ruth and Marty while it tells more than I already knew about the increasing hardship under which our soldiers were being called to function. Three infantry battalions and three rotary wing squadrons of Marines are already on their third pump in Iraq.

“We’re not expanding numbers, and we’re not reducing our commitments around the world,” said University of North Carolina history professor Richard H. Kohn, a former chief of Air Force history at the Pentagon. “We’re taking it out of the hide, as they say in the military. If they have to go back a second or third time, particularly a third time, is it really fair?” Kohn said. “I would call that an extraordinary burden.”

From Kevin at The Washington Monthly … When retired General Jack Keane was asked to confirm reports that the commanders in Iraq did not need additional troops,

The General explained that what was meant is not that more troops aren't needed: in fact, Keane has seen first-hand that the officers in the theater are badly understaffed and over-tasked.

He went on to say that there is powerful opposition to the American presence, and that our troops are having great difficulty with the cultural and social challenges of combating an urgan Iraqi insurgency that, in his words, has as its sanctuary the Iraqi people. Thus, notwithstanding how overloaded our troops are, General Abizaid and others have concluded that more American forces would make the problems worse, not better.

Marty Mortenson emailed his mom a few months before he died to apologize for missing her birthday. He said, “I have had so much on my mind. … going off to war 4 the 3rd time isn’t easy.”

On March 27 Mortenson wrote home, “I am fine don’t worry.” On April 18 he wrote in anticipation of plans to start school: “I am trying to put out ideas because on may 19th I only have a year left. That only leaves me with 6-7 months when I get back … not a lot of time.” On April 20th he died.

I am remembering Ruth tonight while I continue to pray for the soon and safe return of those sons and daughters still hoping to survive.

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Monday, July 04, 2005

Wartime Rhetoric

It is easy to think I must have misunderstood the news coverage somewhere along the line, to believe myself confused in thinking the war in Iraq was never supposed to have lasted this long. Can we feel the quagmire developing in Iraq now threatening to repeat the political, economic, and moral horrors of Viet Nam? The graphic put up by the New York Times this morning helps to clear some of my confusion. Click through the links here to review the public rhetoric as it has shifted over the past two years ... yes, it has been two years since President Bush declared an end to the war in Iraq. Note in particular that a May 1, 2003 administrative statement made it clear that the American military presense would be drawn down to 30,000 troops by the end of that year - that's two years ago! There are more than 138,000 troops in Iraq still waiting to come home, and it was just last week that Mr. Rumsfeld announced that it could be "five, six, eight, 10, 12 years" before they do.

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The Magnificent Document

It seems powerfully fitting to revisit with the focus of July 4th and review in reading the document upon which this great nation is founded. In reading it (again) this morning, I find the words hauntingly pertinent for consideration of the several significant decisions now facing the American citizenry, particularly the selection of Supreme Court justices and the legislation and government of continuing U.S. actions in Iraq. I encourage you to let there be enough time somewhere in your day for this brief reading of so important a document. The full text is provided below; additional reading and historical information can be found here.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refuted his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred. to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. --And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

--John Hancock

New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York:
William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey:
Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina:
William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Remembering Tommi

Happy Fourth of July, Tommi. We will be remembering you, telling stories with you/about you, and keeping a place on the boat for you as the fireworks go up tomorrow night. You are never forgotten.

I love you forever ... of course I do.


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Claiming Kinship: I Am A Patriot

I’ve spent some time today traveling the pages of the Americans Support You website that President Bush promoted in his speech last Tuesday, a site now receiving over 10,000 hits a second compared to just over a hundred hits a second before Tuesday’s speech. The Center for Media and Democracy writer Laura Miller compliments the site for the support it is and for the forum it provides in an exchange of sentiment between citizens of our nation and “Any Serviceman,” a type of correspondence no longer allowed through the postal mail service. Ms. Miller goes on to question, however, the underlying motivation for the site, wondering aloud whether or not the site is intentionally composed as a kind of public promotion tool supporting U.S. involvement in Iraq. Clearly, organizations mentioned on the site, messages exchanged, images, and the stories reported present a very one-sided and idealized picture of the war. Americans are searching for a way to continue to understand the war and their part in it as noble, reflecting American ideals and character, and, perhaps above all, justified by the support of the people back home. The site provides no forum to suggest that the war in Iraq is not a noble realization of high ideals, insisting instead that the morale of soldiers depends on maintaining an illusionary construction of hope anchored in the belief of honor and integrity. The website built for support serves to encourage soldiers but does so, perhaps, at the cost of a more balanced representation of national and global sentiment.

I was playing tennis last week, and one of the women on the court asked where Tommi was. I said she was about 10 miles north of Baghdad right now and went on to vent a measure of the pressure I’d been feeling over shifting sentiments of personal politics. She responded with compassion appropriate to the moment then suggested I start a support group for parents “dealing with these kinds of difficulties.” Her words have been with me for more than a week now … a support group? The idea seems to imply that only a few of us are directly effected by “these kinds of problems,” that parents of soldiers could get together for weekly meetings and feel better for talking productively through the national shame that daily threatens to take the lives of their children. The rest of us can post a few words in an email to “Any Soldier” on a Fourth of July weekend.

What bothers me about all of this is the pressing difficulty to harmonize the support I mean to maintain for every single one of the sondaughter/soldiers being s(p)ent to fight this war – including and especially my daughter, Tommi – with my certain and absolute conviction that the war we have taken to Iraq is an intolerable and immoral act. This difficulty is common to many Americans right now but particularly evident for the parents of men and women serving or lost to the war in Iraq: Be proud of your child, they are told, as of course they are, and do this at the same time you know that what your child is being made to do in the name of nation, service, and duty is devastatingly wrong.

On his website Mr. Bush suggests that “patriotism” be narrowly defined, a descriptive held in reserve only for those who speak approvingly of his war. I do not agree. I am a patriot. My daughter is a patriot. We love our country. Further, I am desperately proud of every American citizen/soldier upholding the Constitution of the United States. This July 4th, from a boat on the lake faithfully launched to safeguard the remembrance of traditions that keep my daughter company while she’s away at war, I will join other Minnesotans gathered along the shore of Lake Bemidji and celebrate with fireworks while I catch myself up in singing “I’m proud to be an American …”. It will be true – completely true, but more importantly, this Fourth of July I will claim kinship with PATRIOTS – those who gave us this country, that band of believers who secured independence against an opportunistic and corrupt government by saying, “No. Not one inch more! THIS is where injustice stops and accountability begins – upon my life!” And I will mean it with my life every bit as much today as they meant it with theirs then.

Happy Fourth of July, Tommi. I’ve got you.

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