Monday, September 26, 2005

A Healthy Democracy

The right to dissent is an integral part of a healthy democracy, and I'm thinking today of Cindy Sheehan, her son Casey, and the gathering of hundreds of thousands of people at the nation's capital yesterday in protest of the United States' continued involvement in the Iraq War. I don't pretend to possess a comprehensive understanding of the circumstances holding us to a military presence in Iraq or those that might in wisdom demand an immediate withdrawal, but I know my sympathies lie with Cindy and the now majority of Americans that desire an immediate reduction of troops. Passions are running high as the number of Americans killed in action approaches 2,000 men and women.

"To announce that there should be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." Teddy Roosevelt

"Why?" is a video from Blog: Bring It On that combines the haunting questions of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" with images of our fallen heroes in an expression of remembrance and ache being more and more deeply felt by the people of this nation. Please, Mr. Bush, no more losses. Bring our soldiers home.

(hat-tip to Junebugg at Wasted Days and Wasted Nights for the link to the video)

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I can’t tell you what Brandi is doing in Iraq on a base just outside Baghdad, but I can tell you that I’m glad she’s there. Brandi is part of a civilian-side independent contracting interest supplying materials support for reconstruction – a “get it” link in the supply chain, as I understand it. Brandi and Tommi are friends ...

... Estee Lauder “share-the-samples-sent-from-home” friends, get-a-good-price-on-a-new-bed friends, share secrets, tell stories, laugh, have cups of coffee, and never-worry-about-saying-too-much friends. War in the 21st century is Pizza Hut, Subway, Seattle’s Best Coffee, cellphones, internet connections, and Olympic-sized pools all on base even as it is “bad guys,” interrogations, explosions, suspicion, injustice, and the fatigue born from seeing and knowing more than you ever wanted to know about humanity. The test over time is to remember yourself, or so it seems to me as I “look on” from the safety of home. A girlfriend helps, and Tommi has one of those. Good news comes with long, blond hair and a beautiful smile. … nice to meet you, Brandi!

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Just In Case

In southern California recently a plane with 140 people on board circled above the airport, crippled with mechanical failure that promised to take the lives of all in landing. The part of the story (via Winston) that caught my attention was the fact that passengers watched their own unfolding drama via TV coverage available in flight. The question built into the situation is, of course, “Would you want to know?”

My answer is “yes.” (maybe “no”)

I don’t have television to inform my circumstance, but I have a report straight from the front when Tommi finds herself heading into what she sees as a potentially life-threatening event. These are “just in case” emails or phone calls or instant messages. She makes faithful report. There were “just in case” messages sent from JetBlue Flight 292, too.

The people in California made it to the ground safely, and I got word yesterday morning that Tommi was back inside the gate. She’d accompanied an entourage to some place or other and had been squeezed onto the “last bird out” for her return to base. Knowing is roller-coaster riding, hard-found next breaths, and reading the same paragraph of Kenneth Burke for the fifth or sixth time, but not knowing is a “just in case” chance I don’t want to take.

One hundred and thirteen days to go. In 113 days Tommi comes home.

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Monday, September 19, 2005

Dream Weaver

Years ago, motivated by curiosity, money, a touch of patriotism, and an interest in the military culture, I joined the Air Force ROTC on campus at Michigan State University. Although great stories from that adventure still entertain when we gather as friends around a backyard fire ("Cadet Miller - front and center"), the adventure didn't last much longer than six months. I just never did "get" the hang of military deportment - tending more toward playing a part in an elaborate dress-up game. As I recall, it was following a classroom debate where I took the negative arguing the United States had acted unjustly in "dropping the bomb" at the end of WWII that the company Commander/Colonel (General? ... I never got that either, but he was a nice guy) called me to his office. "It may be," he suggested, "that you are not well suited to military life" ... or something along those lines. Of course, he was right.

Tommi called yesterday, and old stories brought the smell of campfire to mind as we laughed together. She had been sitting with friends, waiting for a next meeting to begin, when she
picked up a guitar rested in the corner and began (as she put it) "to pick out a tune." A Major from her company who was sitting nearby turned and said, "Can I ask you a question?" "Sure," Tommi answer. "What in the world are you doin' in the military?!"

Tommi writes, sings, and records her own music - piano and guitar. "Dream Weaver" is a favorite for me; the haunting lyric and acapella voice offer a "face-to-face" feeling for those of you who have not yet had the privilege of meeting Tommi - the music stays with you for a while. Enjoy.

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Friday, September 16, 2005

Numbers Talk

From Harper's (August, 2005) Index:

Number of new U.S. soldiers the Army would need in 2006 to replenish ranks abroad : 80,000

Percentage of this goal it expects to meet : 9.9

Percentage change since 1996 in the average recruitment cost per new U.S. soldier : +84

Number of killed or captured suspects reported so far by U.S. media to be Al Qaeda’s “number 3” man : 4

Minimum number of people convicted on “terrorism-related charges” since 2001, according to Alberto Gonzales in April : 200

Actual number convicted on charges related to terrorism or national security : 39 (see page 48)

Number of Iraqi troops that have been “trained and equipped,” according to President Bush in April : 150,000

Number that the U.S. military considers ready to deploy independently : 1,500

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Support Our Troops

My daughter is an officer on duty in Iraq right now. She's doing her job, serving her country, and loving her God. I am so proud of her for the woman she is and the heart she has toward the Iraqi people. All this is true while I remain absolutely opposed to the presence of U.S. military in that country and the ongoing criminality justified in the name of "a war on terror."

The dilemma of conflicting sentiment is just one of the many currents of concern I face as a parent, student, and friend to a soldier gone to war: how do you effectively support the troops while opposing the war? and, in a mediated environment where opposing the war is so automatically framed as unpatriotic or worse - uncaring of the thousands of uniformed men and women in harm's way, how do I make myself as clear in meaning to support the troops as best as I can by campaigning for an end to the war in Iraq?

Tommi calls when she can. I leave my cellphone on - sometimes to the consternation of instructing professors. Her voice is always one more, next moment for me to know she's still there. When there's Pizza Hut, Seattle's Best Coffee, Subway, and swimming pools to make a base feel like home, it can be hard to remember a war that never sleeps. "War" in the 21st century is an entirely other place to be than many of us imagine. We ought be so much more sober about the decisions being made to remain.

Oppose the war; Support the troops. It's a difficult ground to parse out. The young artist from rural Iowa responsible for the work pictured above expresses his own support for America's soldiers, and I'm grateful. Go here to take a look at a small collection of additional photos, including one where the artist (Ray "Bubba" Sorenson) is pictured. It's beautiful work.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Senator Byrd Calls for National Debate

Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) is the longest-serving current member of the U.S. Congress. At 87 years of age, he is the oldest member of the Senate. His tenure speaks to the confidence of his constituency, and his record speaks to the integrity of his political judgment. It was Senator Byrd about whom I wrote as the man responsible for funding to ensure a working knowledge of the U.S. Constitution for all federal employees. He invests in America, and he cares deeply about Americans.

Addressing Senators yesterday, Byrd called for a long-overdue national debate on issues involving Iraq, disaster relief, economic policy, and our failing social infrastructure – particularly in education. In response, the Republican machinery is moving in to oppose Senator Byrd, to spin and to slander his character in anticipation of his (yet unannounced) bid for re-election.

Go here for the full text of the Senator’s speech. Grieving and compassionate for American citizens now victims of Katrina and the aftermath of government failures in response, Byrd sets his comments in perspective against a broader reach of concern, concern for the long-range well being of a nation and the need for decisive action in addressing real and increasingly real needs. Excerpts below:

September 13, 2005

…. Sometimes it takes a catastrophe to put events into perspective -- to shake us and sharpen our clarity of vision. The wrath of Katrina, tragic and devastating for thousands, must certainly have caused many thinking Americans to consider anew the proper priorities for our country. …. I know that many Americans cringed, as I did, at the vision of callous neglect of our poorest and most vulnerable citizens which flashed around the world, making the United States appear to be a nation unmindful of its own, a nation unable to handle a disaster about which it had ample notice, a country loudly touting our form of government to the world, while failing to provide even the most basic protections to our own citizens.

If Katrina has any redeeming impact, it must be to cause us to see ourselves as others must surely see us. I regret to say that the picture cannot be a pretty one. That image is certainly not one that reflects the humanitarian goodness and morality of the vast majority of the American people. The perception of the United States in these troubled times should be a cause of major concern for everyone who holds public office. Regardless of political party, it is time to look at where we are, and where we are going.

Few would now argue that the war in Iraq has improved the world's view of the United States. It was an unnecessary and ill-conceived conflict which distracted us from our proper course of bombing the terrorist training grounds of Afghanistan. I have never bought the absurd claim by some that we are fighting terrorists in Iraq so we will not have to fight them here at home. That claim is a non sequitur at best and, at worst, a patent distortion of what has happened in Iraq. The war in Iraq created a hot bed of terrorism where none existed before. And it insured Osama bin Laden an endless supply of recruits, now even more fanatic in their hatred after scandals at Abu Ghraib, and the destruction of so many innocent lives in Iraq as a result of our invasion.

"For everything there is a season..." sayeth the Bible. The season has come for Americans to look homeward. Instead of continuing to spend billions in Iraq, let us husband those hard-earned tax dollars and spend them here at home. The Iraqi people must slowly find their own way now. Further U.S. dictated deadlines are counter productive. We cannot force-feed democracy to Iraq. To keep large numbers of American soldiers in Iraq much longer only earns the United States more enmity, reinforcing our unfortunate global image as conqueror not liberator. The Iraqi people must begin to take it from here. In fact, there is no longer a "war" in Iraq. We started that conflict and we met the goals established at its outset. Now there is a slow, festering, internal political struggle pitting Shiite against Sunni, against Kurd, which will play itself out, perhaps for decades, until it either devolves into outright civil war or resolves into some sort of compromise which suits those who live in the country of Iraq. We cannot resolve Iraq's internal issues. It is time for the United States to begin to bring our troops home.

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Monday, September 12, 2005

It Just Can't Be

First it breaks my heart to read from the Washington Post yesterday that hundreds of soldiers who lost their homes to Katrina and the aftermath were denied leave because of "troop shortages." When found to be safe, the families of these men and women are living in shelters, often dazed, and wondering how to manage what comes next. Combat readiness becomes a real issue when you watch your home and loved ones be literally blown away.

About 600 members of the Mississippi Guard's 155th Brigade Combat Team, posted south of Baghdad in the area known as the "Triangle of Death" for the frequency of insurgent attacks there, live in the parts of southern Mississippi and southeastern Louisiana hit hardest by Katrina, Maj. Neil F. Murphy Jr., a spokesman with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force, said by e-mail Saturday. The brigade is attached to the Expeditionary Force. Guard members and relatives said in e-mails or telephone interviews that virtually all of the roughly 300 soldiers of 155th Brigade's B and C companies had their homes destroyed or severely damaged in the hurricane.

Imagine those same men and women - or maybe their sons, daughters, partners or parents - having to watch as the devastation that is ripping their families to shreds is used to "sell" the Army and increase recruitment. Just when you think it can't get more despicable, this ... It just can't be!

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Sunday, September 11, 2005

Today We Remember

Labor Day conversation, a backyard campfire, wine, and Irish beer ... the night was cool enough to drive the mosquitoes away and clear enough for the stars alone to light the sky. We talked, wondering aloud together about allegiance to America: What did we really think about being Americans? First thoughts were harsh: our politics run counter to Mr. Bush, his gang, and the bungling governance they inflict on a nation of people - at least half of whom trusted him once. We had not seen his worst - Katrina was still to come. And yet even so, then as now, when the wrangling wanes and dew begins to settle on morning embers from a fire the night before, we know ... we are proud to be Americans. Let difficult days teach us.

Today I am remembering Americans - all of them/us. We are 9/11 then and now. We are New Orleans now and for all the days to come. We are those who have suffered loss and those who comfort. We are women and men who serve in hundreds of thousands of ways to make America a strong nation. We are doing so even now.

For all that he is (and is not), Mr. Bush is only one American. WE, on the other hand, are a NATION.

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