Wednesday, August 29, 2012

LtGen John Kelly Addresses the American Legion, and You


This video is starting to spread among like-minded web logs, and I want to do my part to see that it receives as wide a distribution as possible.  I cannot make anyone watch it, but I can at least make sure that they have the opportunity.
Lieutenant General John Kelly, USMC

Lieutenant General John Kelly, USMC (soon to receive his fourth star as Commander, US Southern Command) addressed the American Legion convention yesterday in Indianapolis, and it is a speech well worth the time and effort to hear in its entirety. 

Many of us these days find it difficult to do so because of increasingly competing priorities, but that’s the rub, isn’t it?  We always have the same amount of time to do anything, it’s just the constant little decisions that we make that something simply isn’t worth the time, compared to doing something else.  For those of you in that situation at the moment, the web site Ace of Spades (whose author is at the convention, though his posting is not at their bidding) has broken the speech into three segments of what he feels are the most germane.  Consider them an introduction to hearing the full address. 

LtGen Kelly, though he does not say so in this speech, has purchased the right to be heard at a very dear price indeed.  I posted earlier a transcript of another speech he made to Gold Star families (which deserves reading too), not necessarily because he was invited to speak there, but because he and his wife are unfortunately members of that group.  Their son 1stLt Robert Kelly was killed in action in Afghanistan, after having served two tours in Iraq.  He does not tell you this, but you can hear his voice catch when he speaks of the casualty officer knocking on his door.

Here are some segments to acquaint you with his remarks:
We didn’t start this fight.  It came to us motivated by a visceral loathing of everything we are.  It will not end until our adversaries and their allies around the world – state and non-state alike – understand that we will never lose our faith and our courage as a people.  Our enemy is savage, offers absolutely no quarter, has a single focus: that is kill every one of us here at home or enslave us with a sick... extremism that serves no god and no purpose that any decent man or woman could ever understand.
I don’t know why they hate us, and I don’t care.  But we are America, and we must prevail because we remain mankind’s best hope for the future.  Not them. . . . It’s about us and our freedoms as a people.  About the way we worship our god.  It’s about the value and dignity we place on human life, and our intense belief in the inherent value of every man, every woman and every child and their equality in the eyes of God and under the law. . . . We cherish what our ancestors worked for, fought for and sometimes died for to give us.  (The enemy) loathes who we are.  These are irreconcilable positions.  There is no compromise.
And as for our children, our siblings, our family, friends, and acquaintances who carry the fight to the enemy? 
They were as good, our service people, as any who came before them in our history – as good as what their fathers and grandfathers did in the wars they had to fight for America.  But like those who came before them, they were not born killers.  Rather, they are overwhelmingly good and decent kids without thought of self who perform remarkable and most often unsung acts of bravery to a cause they decided is bigger and more important than they are themselves.  Any one of them could have done something more self-serving.  But they didn’t.  They chose to serve, knowing full well a vicious war was in their future.  They welcome the most basic and esteemed responsibility of a citizen: the defense of country.  Men and women of their spirit know no other way.  They’re the best of the best of their generation. . . . 
The real strength of America does not come from making a religion of diversity or emphasizing the differences among us.  On the contrary, they have come to a profound understanding of what our founders, our forefathers and foremothers, understood as they built a nation that was once proudly referred to as a melting pot.  In our armed forces, the ultimate, most successful institution of American diversity, servicemembers have come to understand the simple fact that America’s strength was and should be again a people stitched together by a shared sense of history, values, customs, hopes and dreams that unite us.  That there is great power in us as individuals, but even greater power in individuals who work together and support each other.  They also know that the opposite is true, that we are weakened and can lose what we have if we continue down a path of identifying as hyphenated Americans or closed cultural groups focusing on what is in it for me. 
That in spite of the efforts of those who make their living and often fill their pockets by driving wedges between Americans based on  race or religion or ethnicity, our servicemen and women discover early, and on their own, while looking at their comrades standing with them in the ranks, that it is not about the color on the outside, but about the character on the inside.  That it’s not about where on earth you were born, but only why you came to America and what you did once you got here.  That it’s not about the god you worship – if you worship any god at all – but you will respect the right of your neighbor to honor any god he or she damn well pleases.  That it’s not about what you, as an individual, can achieve, but all about achieving together as a people, as friends and neighbors. . . . There is an exceptionalism about America, and we should treasure who we are and why we are extraordinary.  We should not be embarrassed about who we are or give excuses about what we have. . . .
I’ve seen them literally turn the intangibles of commitment, bravery and selfless devotion into real and meaningful action.  In my three tours in this war, I never saw one hesitate or do anything other than lean into the fire and, with no apparent fear of death or injury, take the fight to those who would do you harm. . . . When no one would call them 'coward' for cowering behind a wall or shivering in panic in a bunker, slave to the most basic of all instincts – survival – none of them do.  When the calls for the corpsman or medic are shouted from the mouths of young kids who know they will soon be with their God, when seconds seem like hours and it all becomes slow motion and fast-forward at the same time … and the only sensible act is to stop, get down, save yourself, they never did. . . .
Yes, this is in many ways essentially the same speech as the one I cited above though with some additions, and it bears repeating, including the part toward the end when he speaks of the request of the young Marine in 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines in Sangin: "Sir, don't let them forget what we did here."

New Zealand: A Haka for Fallen Warriors

New Zealand is a prominent cultural member within the British Commonwealth, and exists within its corner of the world as an almost opposite bookend to its larger neighbour Australia.  While Australians take an almost perverse pleasure in being descendents, by and large, of criminals (Australia having started as a massive penal colony), New Zealanders, or ‘Kiwis’, often style themselves as more English than the English.

But like Australia with its Aborigines, New Zealand has fully awakened to its shared culture with the native M­­aori, a Polynesian people that developed a proud warrior ethos.  This has blended, as in many areas, into a distinct military tradition within the New Zealand Defence Force, which has a military heritage (including consolidation with Australian units or ANZAC) which started primarily with the Second Boer War.  They have a proud history and sustained some of the highest casualty rates of any country in World Wars I and II.  (Captain Charles Upham, for example, is one of only three people to have won the Victoria Cross twice.)  The Maori were exempt from conscription but volunteered in large numbers nonetheless, and the 28th (Maori) Battalion was the most decorated of the New Zealand Army.  Kiwi units, including the excellent New Zealand SAS, have also served in such conflicts as Korea, Malaya, Viet Nam, and Afghanistan.

The Maori Battalion performs a haka in North Africa during World War II

The Maori have a tradition of the haka, a tribal dance of assembled men to commemorate great occasions such as welcoming respected guests, weddings or funerals, and which grew out of tribal challenges to their enemies before battle.

New Zealand troops perform a haka in Logar, Afghanistan

It is performed as a group, with simultaneous broad movements like stamping feet, slapping chests, fierce expressions, and shouted challenges.  (It has spread to other Polynesian cultures to some extent, and Americans are likely familiar with the pre-game haka of the All Blacks Rugby or the University of Hawaii football team, while other venues with Polynesian enclaves are picking it up too, like BYU and Euless High School near Fort Worth, Texas.)

Cpl Tamatea, LCpl Baker, Pte Harris

An excellent example of a haka is the unfortunate recent circumstance of ‘farewelling’ three members of the NZ Army – Cpl Luke Tamatea, LCpl Jacinda Baker, and Pte Richard Harris – who were killed by an IED in Bamyan in Afghanistan on 19 August.  The funeral procession is met by the assembled members of their unit, 2nd/1st Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, who perform a last haka to commemorate their comrades as fallen warriors, before they pass for the last time through the waharoa, a carved ceremonial gateway to the base that serves in much the same manner as totem poles in the American Pacific Northwest.  While you have perhaps seen a haka before a sporting event, performed for entertainment or encouragement, this is a haka in its purest form.


It is clear that not all the soldiers assembled for the tribute are Maori, but that is in keeping with their culture.  The Maori recognize that anyone who respects their culture and wishes to participate as a member is welcome, a sentiment I understand and appreciate as it is the same idea behind being a Texan – it is not a bloodline so much as it is a state of mind.  That used to be the main idea about being an American, before the accelerating notion in this country of what Theodore Roosevelt called “hyphenated Americans”. 

The unit designation can be confusing since members of the Commonwealth have been subjected to brutal and increasing defense cuts for some time now, particularly in the Left-dominated political atmosphere of New Zealand.  Like the British and others, 'amalgamation' is the attempt to severely downsize while trying to keep the lineage of famous units somewhat intact. 

The video of this ceremony was released just a few days ago and has already gone viral world-wide – as well it should.  It is a moving demonstration of grief, pride, and respect.

*****
Update:  While definitely a product of amateur photography, this is a good example of a New Zealand military haka performed at a turning-out, or graduation, ceremony after basic training:


And since, as I said above, the haka tradition is spreading through other Polynesian cultures and thence into communities and universities in the United States, there is nothing to restrict its spread through military association as well.  Could we see it being picked up in US military units too?  And what better place to start than the Marines?

Here Sergeant Steven Bouquet of Comanche, Texas leads a platoon of US Marines (Alfa Battery, 1st Battalion, 11th Marines) in a responsive haka that they learned during bilateral training Exercise Galvanic Kiwi with the New Zealand Army in June 2012.  I expect the Marines, particularly with their historic association with the Pacific in World War II, would pull that off rather well.

Obama Announces That He Thinks About Neil Armstrong, and Other Self-Regard

The recent passing of Neil Armstrong has provided an opportunity to insert Barack Obama into the story.  The White House re-cycled a stock photo from last April of Obama contemplating the moon, over his ironic comments (click to enlarge):


Neil’s spirit of discovery lives on in all the men and women who have devoted their lives to exploring the unknown – including those who are ensuring that we reach higher and go further in space.  That legacy will endure – sparked by a man who taught us the enormous power of one small step.
Obama clearly excludes himself from those who ensure that ‘higher and further’ stuff in space.  His legacy is that he has done more to shut down the American space program that any other, but he doesn’t let that get in the way of a photo op, with the story centered on him.

A mature personality would heed the numerous observations from people who find this serial self-centeredness as weirdly narcissistic, if not full-blown megalomania.  How many times have we seen examples of Obama shoehorning himself where he has no reason to be, other than to pump up his enormous ego?  Just a few, off the top of my head:

Here is a man who wrote not one but two autobiographies (one of which is of doubtful provenance) before he actually accomplished anything of note.

His acceptance of the Democrat nomination in 2008 was a window on his soul when he proclaimed that “this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and the planet began to heal”.

At the Summit of the Americas in 2009, he was lectured for 52 minutes by the communist Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega about American imperialism, but when asked how he could just sit and take the abuse about America, he shrugged that “it wasn’t about me”.  This was the same summit where Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez thrust an anti-American philippic upon Obama, in front of blazing cameras, then turned his back on him and laughed.  Obama’s response?  He was later joking and shaking hands with Chavez, oblivious to the insult.

Then the Beer Summit, after Obama’s hip-shot crack that the police, mainly Sgt Crowley, had “acted stupidly” when reacting to the tirade from Obama friend Professor Gates.  The summit was to bring the two men together for a photo op of Obama healing the rift, presumably between the two men but more importantly between Obama and the reaction to his a priori assumption about police.  But the photo op included this gem, in the “no words needed” category:

Sgt Crowley assists Prof Gates; Obama is oblivious

Obama rants against Fox News, on the record, as if he should somehow be immune from press criticism – all press criticism, as explained by this excellent piece by James Lewis.

With the increasingly misnamed Arab Spring, Obama declared that “at every juncture … we were on the right side of history”, ignoring how he had flip-flopped almost daily on the events in Egypt, or how he had ignored the golden opportunity of supporting the Iranian popular protests in 2009.  Even the Washington Post called him on his declaration of infallibility.

Much has been said lately about how he leapt to take credit for the killing of Usama bin Laden, repeatedly declaring how he had “directed” the various steps in the operation.  Even if this were true, his constant use of personal pronouns was jarring, and strong evidence exists that Leon Panetta, and probably Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates, finally pulled the trigger on the operation in exasperation over Obama’s dithering, demanded of him by Valerie Jarrett.

Obama compared himself favorably (of course) to other presidents in terms of “legislative and foreign policy accomplishments”, with his conclusion that he ranks better than any president except Lyndon Johnson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.  Not only is this strikingly over the top, but consider his choices: Lyndon Johnson (Seriously?  One of the Greats?); Franklin Roosevelt (hard to go up against a reign of over 12 years, including the Depression and World War II); and Abraham Lincoln (Pardon me, but while Lincoln is truly one of our greatest presidents, his legislative and foreign policy accomplishments were rather threadbare, seeing as how he was somewhat pre-occupied with the Civil War).

I remember the time when Obama, visiting Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, invited the troops to cheer him.

He then acknowledged the troops who were fighting overseas “on my behalf”, as opposed to fighting for the United States, or supporting and defending the Constitution.

The Viet Nam Memorial is blocked off on Memorial Day so that he can give a speech, and create an opportunity for a photo op that overshadows the Wall with his haloed presence.

The Viet Nam Memorial Wall provides a useful backdrop for an Obama photo op

The White House is caught trying to “soften” the biography of George W Bush, along with strangely inserting references to Obama in presidential biographies going back to Calvin Coolidge.  The Free Beacon was moved to craft their own examples, including this hilarious one:

Obama photobombs Lincoln

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the State Department’s Country Briefs were edited to include references to Obama when describing facts about foreign countries.

There are many more examples and observations (note particularly Frank Fleming's Obama: The Greatest President in the History of Everything), but I just toss these out to ask if Obama and his administration are capable of stopping this ludicrous worshipful reverence.  I don’t believe that they can, so it will be up to the American voters to at least remove Teddy Roosevelt’s ”bully pulpit” from their grasp.

(H/T to the Daily Caller and Sense of Events for the 'Armstrong' photo reference)


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Arthur Brisbane's Parting Shot at the New York Times (Update: WSJ Concurs)

Arthur S Brisbane has been the Public Editor (what some newspapers would call an ombudsman; what his predecessor called the chief of the internal affairs division) at the New York Times since 2010.  His background is what one would expect for the Mutual Admiration Society of the Grey Lady: graduate of Harvard, reporter and columnist for the Kansas City Times/Star and eventually its editor and publisher, assistant city editor and national reporter for the Washington Post, and an executive at Knight-Ridder Newspapers.  Considering the amount of time that I pay serious attention to the Weltanshauung of the New York Times (that being rarely), he has seemed to be an appropriate choice and attentive to his mission – anyone who had to cover the corruption of Washington DC Mayor Marion Barry should be jaded enough to detect the noisome whiff of blinkered pretension.


Mr Brisbane announced his retuirement yesterday, saying that he is completing his “term” (after two years, though he was appointed for three – no matter, that’s not the point of this post) in his column “Success and Risk as The Times Transforms”.  The key word is ‘transforms’, and he dedicates the first half of the article with how thoroughly the staff at the Times is handling the Information Revolution and its effect on newsprint journalism and, of course, themselves with “all the news that’s fit to print”.

He then begins a shift to the reason that I find his column so interesting, after a transition that starts to spell out the paper’s short-comings: 
The Times is hardly transparent.  A reader still has to work very hard to find any Times policies online (though some are tucked away there), and there is still no place where Times editors speak on the issues.  As for humility, well, The Times is Lake Wobegon on steroids (everybody’s way above average). 
He continues in this vein  and becomes surprisingly candid, yet still within the bounds of New York Liberal propriety, by conceding the bias of the paper: 
I also noted two years ago that I had taken up the public editor duties believing “there is no conspiracy” and that The Times’s output was too vast and complex to be dictated by any Wizard of Oz-like individual or cabal.  I still believe that, but also see that the hive on Eighth Avenue is powerfully shaped by a culture of like minds – a phenomenon, I believe, that is more easily recognized from without than from within. 
When The Times covers a national presidential campaign, I have found that the lead editors and reporters are disciplined about enforcing fairness and balance, and usually succeed in doing so.  Across the paper’s many departments, though, so many share a kind of political and cultural progressivism – for lack of a better term – that this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times.
As a result, developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects. 
His comments drew a quick rebuke from Jill Abrahamson, the executive editor, speaking to Politico: 
In our newsroom we are always conscious that the way we view an issue in New York is not necessarily the way it is viewed in the rest of the country or world.  I disagree with Mr. Brisbane's sweeping conclusions.

I agree with another past public editor, Dan Okrent, and my predecessor as executive editor, Bill Keller, that in covering some social and cultural issues, the Times sometimes reflects its urban and cosmopolitan base.  But I also often quote, including in talks with Mr. Brisbane, another executive editor, Abe Rosenthal, who wanted to be remembered for keeping 'the paper straight.'  That's essential.
“Necessarily”?  “Sometimes”?  Ms Abrahamson, in her name-dropping riposte, simply cannot see beyond her “urban and cosmopolitan base” and understand that their worldview is built on the notion that nothing worthwhile exists outside the ken of the Sophisticati.  She agrees with Messrs Okrent and Keller about the paper’s bias but simply dismisses it, as if conjuring up the name of Abe Rosenthal, retired since 1999 and long since deceased in 2006, expiates their collective arrogance.  Almost by definition, their urbanity and intellectual incest means that they will sometimes inspect a different opinion yet cannot consider its value.

Mr Brisbane declined to respond and lets his column stand, and for good measure.  This exchange reminds me of the words of G K Chesterton in The Secret People: 
They have given us into the hand of new unhappy lords,
Lords without anger and honour, who dare not carry their swords.
They fight by shuffling papers; they have bright dead alien eyes;
They look at our labour and laughter as a tired man looks at flies.
*****
Update: It isn’t often that I scoop the Wall Street Journal (second item), but James Taranto adds a fillip to the story by looking a bit deeper into Abrahamson’s support of Dan Okent’s opinion:
Here’s what Dan Okrent wrote, in his 2004 valedictory column, titled ‘Is the New York Times a Liberal Newspaper?’:
Of course it is. . . .
I'll get to the politics-and-policy issues this fall (I want to watch the campaign coverage before I conclude anything), but for now my concern is the flammable stuff that ignites the right. These are the social issues: gay rights, gun control, abortion and environmental regulation, among others. And if you think The Times plays it down the middle on any of them, you've been reading the paper with your eyes closed.
Is that any different from Brisbane’s point?  If anything, Okent’s criticism was harsher.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

RIP Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, is dead, having just passed his 82nd birthday on 5 August and having undergone heart bypass surgery at about the same time.


He was an avid adept at flying, and earned his pilot license at the age of 15, before his driver’s license and his attainment of Eagle Scout.  He later attended Purdue on scholarship with the Holloway Plan, which allowed him to attend his first two years of college, then serve a tour of three years in the Navy, then return to complete his degree.  It was during this tour of duty that he became a Naval Aviator at the age of 20 and flew some 78 combat missions in the Korean War in an F9F Panther.  (The Holloway Plan no longer exists; US fighter pilots typically are at least 25 years old.  In contrast, the Israeli Air Force usually has fighter pilots as young as 21.)  On one mission, during a low-level run, his aircraft was hit by ground fire and he was able to limp back to friendly lines and eject. 

After he graduated from Purdue in 1955 with a degree in aeronautical engineering, he remained for his required time in the Naval Reserve and resigned in 1960.  He later earned a masters degree in the same subject from USC. 

He applied for a position as test pilot with the precursor to NASA, and eventually ended up at what is now the Dryden Flight Test Center at Edwards AFB in California.  He flew a variety of aircraft, including chase planes and bombers that carried test aircraft, before piloting such test beds as the famous X-1B and the X-15.  During one flight when he was co-pilot in a re-configured B-29 carrying a Douglas Skyrocket, he helped nurse the crippled aircraft, with three of its four engines out, to a safe landing.  Armstrong went on to pilot the X-15 seven times, with his maximum altitude above 200,000 feet.  Those who lived through these times, like me, remember that this was heady stuff in the news and it was always a popular and widely-covered subject. 

Armstrong was selected as part of the second group of astronauts, after the Mercury 7 group, in 1962.  He eventually flew as the command pilot in Gemini 8 in 1966 which saw the first successful rendezvous and docking in space, but Armstrong aborted the rest of the mission due to a problem with controlling the Gemini attitude control.  This was a controversial call, of course, as all such procedures would be, but Armstrong was fully exonerated. 

One item that sticks in my mind was his apparent talent for languages.  Before a goodwill tour of South America, he did a personal crash course in Spanish which he carried off with some degree of success, and startled local dignitaries in Paraguay when he addressed them in the local Guaraní. 

Armstrong participated in tests for the Lunar Lander for the upcoming moon shots, and was nearly killed when it crashed, successfully ejecting at literally the last second. 

Armstrong was slated early in the Apollo programme as a member of Apollo 11, the mission to first land on the moon, partly for the coolness he had shown in earlier crises.  He was selected, it has been said, to be the first to set foot on the moon because of his relative lack of ego among the larger-than-life personalities of the other astronauts, and because he was a civilian, to avoid inter-service rivalry between the other military aviators in the programme. 

After his truly historic accomplishment, he announced that he had no more intent to fly with NASA and resigned soon thereafter, taking a teaching position for a time at the University of Cincinnati, and then served on the boards of several companies.  He returned to NASA service to serve on the investigatory boards for Apollo 13 and Challenger. 

Armstrong seemed perplexed at his fame.  His understood it, surely, but never quite knew what to do with it.  He always maintained that many in the astronaut corps could have been the first to walk on the moon, that his selection was a matter of being in the right place at the right time, and that he was only able to do it because of the army of people that worked so hard on the space programme.  He eventually stopped signing anything when it became clear that his signature was being sold.  He maintained a regular life and made quiet appearances at official functions but always shunned the publicity.  The one violation of his rule was early on after his retirement from NASA, when he did a television pitch for Chrysler, extolling their engineering.  It struck me as out of place to see such a famous man hawking an automobile in a commercial – it just didn’t fit.  He seemed ill at ease and I expect that he realized that same thing too.  He never did anything like it again. 

In his later years, he came out of his shell to publically complain, with other US space heroes Gene Cernan and James Lovell, about the deterioration of the space programme.
But today, America's leadership in space is slipping. NASA's human spaceflight program is in substantial disarray with no clear-cut mission in the offing. We will have no rockets to carry humans to low-Earth orbit and beyond for an indeterminate number of years. Congress has mandated the development of rocket launchers and spacecraft to explore the near-solar system beyond Earth orbit. But NASA has not yet announced a convincing strategy for their use. After a half-century of remarkable progress, a coherent plan for maintaining America's leadership in space exploration is no longer apparent.
Kennedy launched America on that new ocean. For 50 years we explored the waters to become the leader in space exploration. Today, under the announced objectives, the voyage is over. John F. Kennedy would have been sorely disappointed.
The men who have walked on the moon are dying of old age.  Neil Armstrong would have us lament that fact surely as much as we lament his passing.
 
*****
Update:  Obama has to get in on the opportunity.
 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Woman and Daughters, Armed with Pistol, Butcher Knife and Axe, Take Out Attacker


It often has been said that statistics on crimes involving firearms are fairly easy to track, but use of firearms to prevent a crime are not.  There are some who make a determined and rather accurate effort to discover a good estimate (Professor John Lott, Jr being an excellent example), but circumstances restrain a proper accounting: mere brandishing of a weapon, real or implied (hand on holster); knowledge by a criminal that certain people or areas are likely to be ‘defensive-minded’, particularly in groups and running the law of averages as to how many may be carrying concealed firearms (criminality and intelligence are not necessarily mutually exclusive); fear of reporting a thwarted crime because of likely police reaction in some areas to mere possession of a firearm … the list goes on.  There are any number of local anecdotes that leak out though, but not very far.
 
Martha Lewis (by WVTM-TV)
 
One such example is this delicious case of Martha Lewis in the small town of Dora, Alabama (population around 2500) in rural Walker County.  The Blaze seems to be the only source that passes for a national news outlet to have picked this up, and provides a good account of the incident, but the web log ‘Weapons Man’ found it and ran with it, in his droll manner of explication.
 
The core of the story is that Lewis’ front door was kicked in early one morning and she encountered one Michael Jacobs standing in her house.  In short order she ran to fetch her handgun (disappointingly unidentified in the account), called 911, awakened her two young daughters and told them to arm themselves with whatever they could, and returned to her landing to confront the intruder.  It would seem that the 25-year-old Jacobs was besot with drugs, alcohol, or a deadly case of super-optimism – or all three – when he asked her if she would shoot him, as he started to climb the stairs.  By now, perhaps unbeknownst to Jacobs, Lewis’ daughters hovered well in the background, but were armed with a butcher knife and an axe.  Lewis explains:
I knew when he stepped on the landing that I would have to shoot him.  He starts like coming up the stairs and he said, ‘would you shoot me?‘  And I said ‘I don’t want to have to but I will.’
It is at this point that some pop culture-infested thoughts are supposed to appear in the mind of Lewis, who one might be led to believe, should be at least spiritually trembling at the possibly mortal challenge before her in her choice of endangering another of God’s creatures with a gun, perhaps struggling with his own inner demons brought on by whatever societal impulse that brought him to her home. 

Nope.  She shot him.
 
Jacobs stumbled out to the front yard and collapsed at the spot where the police found him when they arrived.  The story doesn’t divulge the reaction time of the police, but we all know that the police only show up after a crime is committed.  The ‘Weapons Man’ explains it well:
She was under no illusions about the steep odds facing a small woman in a physical altercation with a large man.  "There's no way I could have fought him off.” … But while God may have created man and woman in sexually dimorphic forms, Sam Colt, as the saying goes, made them all equal.
Jacobs faces an array of violent crime, property damage and drug charges, and the police have made it clear that there's no reason for them to charge Lewis.  [In situations like this in Texas, the term is ‘no-billed’. --ND]  Asked if she was hesitant to defend herself and her daughters, the feisty lady said no:
It wasn’t like, oh can I pull the trigger?  It was like when should I shoot?  When will he be close enough that I know I won’t miss him?  That’s one of the things that was going through my mind.
In fact, she did just about everything right: called police, armed herself and – as a mercifully unneeded backup – her daughters.  And then, because the situation allowed it, she gave Jacobs all the verbal warning a wiser man would have needed to get hat and begone.  She stood her ground – flight would have let him overtake and overcome her – and she fired without hesitation and with accuracy.
These situations happen, with the proper result like that of Ms Lewis and her daughters safe and sleeping soundly at night – as the news report attests – and the criminal, who happened to survive, incarcerated and currently incapable of menacing other petite women and their children.  We should hear of more of these stories – people like Ms Lewis stiffen the resolve of our populace besieged by criminals and a post-modern culture.
 
Good job, Martha Lewis.  We should all be so prepared, and our state laws should be all so supportive.

 

‘Flawed’ Medal of Honor Process Challenged for Swenson, Peralta (Update: Swenson's Package at the White House)


I have written before on the subject of the actions of former Army Captain Will Swenson at the Battle of Ganjgal in September 2009, alongside Medal of Honor recipient Marine Sergeant Dakota Meyer, as well as those of the last moments of the late Marine Sergeant Rafael Peralta at the Second Battle of Fallujah in Iraq in November 2004.  In both cases, their actions warrant a recommendation for the Medal of Honor from even the most casual of observers, but the approval for awarding such a high honor is understandably vetted through a long precise process, all the more reason for the sake of insuring that the actions of the recipients are “above and beyond the call of duty” and are worthy of the honor and acclaim from a grateful nation.

Captain Will Swenson and Sergeant Rafael Peralta

But rather than a necessary investigation into the circumstances of the incidents, the process itself has now been called into question.  Representative Duncan D Hunter (R-California) has questioned the Pentagon awards process, calling upon Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to give “fair and due consideration” into these two cases that have become controversial. 

The first involves Captain Swenson, who performed in many respects actions that were similar to those of Sergeant Meyer, accompanied by two Marines, Captain Amedola Fabayo and Gunnery Sergeant Juan Rodriguez-Chavez, who each received the Navy Cross (the nation’s second-highest award for the Navy and Marine Corps) for their actions.  The enormous discrepancy between the recognition of these three (among others in the battle) and the complete lack of recognition for Captain Swenson was startling, particularly after Sgt Meyer’s comments during the run-up to his Medal of Honor presentation, that it was “ridiculous” that Swenson had received nothing, and, “I’ll put it this way.  If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be alive today.” 

A key element in the story was the fact that Captain Swenson was calling for artillery and air support from higher command, to little avail, and that he was blistering in his remarks (‘frank and candid’ would be the polite terms) afterward during the subsequent investigation into the failure of the 32nd Infantry, 10th Mountain Division Tactical Operations Center (TOC) to provide adequate and sufficient support to the battle, who instead questioned Swenson’s assessment of the battle and the accuracy of his reporting.  Swenson called into question the effectiveness of the personnel manning the TOC and directly criticized their complacency and, by implication, the new Rules of Engagement (ROE) recently implemented.  His remarks were material in the investigation that resulted in at least two officers receiving Letters of Reprimand (effectively ending their careers) for their “negligent” actions that “directly resulted in loss of life on the battlefield”. 

Marine General John Allen was the commander in Afghanistan and was struck by this apparent damnatio memoriae of Captain Swenson, and instituted an investigation into the situation.  The initial response from the Army chain of command was that Swenson’s MoH packet was “lost”, a unique and strange occurrence since the process was computerized in 2007, but a duplicate cache of documents (perhaps the original input into the computer file) quickly appeared after the General showed an interest.  General Allen then initiated his own recommendation for Captain Swenson. 

The subsequent investigation revealed that a MoH recommendation for Swenson had been filed by Lt Col Frederick O’Donnell on 18 December 2009, and was next shown by PowerPoint slide to have been received at US Forces – Afghanistan on 19 May 2010.  There is no explanation as to why it took five months for an electronic file to arrive at the headquarters.  A slide on 21 August notes that the recommendation had been downgraded to a Distinguished Service Cross but that USFOR-A was out of certificates and would return to the matter “ASAP”.  A note from the investigation by Col James Chevallier III states that USFOR-A “does not have the authority to downgrade a MoH”.  Next is a slide dated 28 August that says that the “nomination was downgraded to DSC and was forwarded to CENTCOM”.  The file disappears thereafter, and when asked how a file from the computerized awards system could simply vanish, there was “no explanation”.  General David Petraeus, who was ISAF commander at the time of the staffing of Swenson’s award recommendation, says that he “has no recollection of seeing the packet”. 

Inexplicably, the investigation concludes, “The investigation didn’t find any evidence of criminal wrongdoing or evidence that anyone downgraded the nomination, but there were failures at multiple levels in tracking and processing the award.  That can’t excuse what happened, and we have made adjustments to prevent it from happening again.” [emphasis mine]  It goes on to determine that the nomination was not “staffed to completion” (well, that’s obvious) and was “lost” in part due to high staff turnover rate, yet again does not explain how this unique circumstance, involving this “high profile, high priority” nomination that disappeared within a computerized process, could have happened. 

Some of these stories that outline this update go on to include speculation about discrepancies between the Army and the Marine Corps accounts about what exactly happened, specifically as it regards the accounts for Sgt Meyer and CPT Swenson.  Statements by the Marine Corps and the President (who obtained his information from the Marines) differ from other accounts, and these stories suggest some political angle at play between the services, casting doubt on the actions of Sgt Meyer.  They are unclear, yet should not be, that these discrepancies deal with the publicity leading up to the award ceremony for Sgt Meyer – not the citation itself.  Whatever embellishments have been added for the sake of publicity fall into the same category as the political exploitation and mishandling of the Jessica Lynch story.

These press accounts want to conflate the discrepancies in the publicity for Meyer with the actions of Meyer, and speak of dark conspiracies and cover-up as some sort of contest between the Marines and Army, competing over medals and recognition, to explain the strange handling of Swenson’s packet, hinting that Swenson’s story will contrast somehow with Meyer’s.  But Meyer has nothing to do with this other than to help point out what I believe to be a petty viciousness on the part of some within the Army who would squash someone who didn’t play by the rules.  More credible is the idea that Swenson’s recommendation was side-lined or downgraded in retaliation for his devastating statements during the investigation into the ineffectiveness of the TOC.  Swenson named names, not just for individuals but for a command structure, and it looks as if there are those who want to hold him to account.  But the new awards system and the congressional inquiry make a stark contrast between the three Marines who were recognized and Captain Swenson who has been ignored, and the Army Times has weighed in recently on the subject of "How the Army Failed Capt. Will Swenson".  As Goethe said, "There is strong shadow where there is much light."
 
In the case of Sgt Peralta, he was recommended for a Medal of Honor for his last actions in a fight against a fortified position in Fallujah.  Several Marines were engaged in close combat with jihadis in a room when Peralta received a mortal shot to the head and fell.  Several eye-witness accounts state that a grenade then landed near him and his fellow Marines, but Peralta swept the grenade to him and he absorbed the blast with his body.  During the subsequent investigation, one forensic pathologist expressed doubt about Peralta’s ability to have done this based on the severity of his wounds at the time.  Due to this one vote, there was no unanimity on the panel and ultimately Peralta was awarded the Navy Cross, which his family has refused to accept.  (There is an attempt in places to blame then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, but his recommendation was constrained by the rules of the process.)  But video evidence surfaced soon thereafter that seriously discredited the report of the pathologist on the panel, and another forensic pathologist testified that Peralta’s wounds were not necessarily incapacitating.  A bipartisan collection of congressional members from around the home of Peralta’s parents has requested that the case be re-opened. 

Representative Hunter’s letter takes the Pentagon to task for both of these cases and concludes:
Peralta’s Medal of Honor is long overdue while Swenson never received the thorough and unbiased review he deserved.  There are others who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan who fit into these same categories, but a favorable decision for Peralta in particular will go a long way toward restoring credibility to a process that has failed to deliver the proper recognition for heroic acts worthy of the Medal of Honor.
The President has until 8 September, the third anniversary of the Battle of Ganjgal, to sign off on a Medal of Honor for CPT Swenson.  Otherwise, it will take an act of congress to reinstate the packet.  In this election year, it will be interesting to see how Obama plays this, if at all.  (Note: a good source of information on Will Swenson is from his friends at Team Ruptured Duck, who include this testimonial.)

There are those who say that the changed nature of the two wars argue against awarding the same proportion of medals as previous conflicts, but only ten instances of the MoH for these two wars sounds strangely small.  The attitude, however, does echo the disdain that Obama and his administration have felt for the American military, by taking credit for ending an Iraq War that the Bush administration had essentially won by the summer of 2008, and of simply walking away from the Afghan strategy and handing the country back to the Islamic Supremacists and warlords of before, on a schedule announced by Obama from practically the very beginning of his term.  If the Obama team holds our national security and those who protect it in such contempt, it is no wonder that downplaying the military and their actions in these conflicts of this crusade (yes, that is what it is) comes so naturally to them.  The press will not discuss the patent distinction between the constant bellowing about the military in the Bush years and the passive treatment of the Obama term.  Extolling our heroes will draw too much attention to their dog that should continue to lie sleeping.

And if we are to somehow rectify the lack of proper recognition for Captain Swenson and Sergeant Peralta, then we should also correct the case of the sacrifice of Sergeant First Class Alwyn Cashe as well.  Or, for that matter, how many others?

*****
Update: A partial collection of Captain Swenson's Band of Brothers reports that his recommendation, whatever it was, has been delivered on time:
Team Ruptured Duck has learned that Will’s recommendation for the Congressional Medal of Honor made it to the White House in time to meet the suspense.  We have no indication of whether or not it was signed – or what happened to it after its arrival, but for our purposes it’s all the same.  Our concern has been that Will might be denied the fair consideration he was denied before.  As it appears, justice has finally been done. 
Let us hope that, after all this time and the questionable way that it has been handled, the recommendation is looked upon favorably.

*****
Update:  Finally, Captain Swenson is to receive the Medal of Honor.

*****
Update:  Captain Swenson received the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony on 15 October 2013.  The press, though, is still trying to milk some controversy from the account of the battle.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

National Airborne Day


Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), along with 23 bipartisan co-sponsors, introduced a Senate Resolution (S Res 527) – passed by unanimous consent – that designates 16 August 2012 as National Airborne Day, to commemorate the enormous contributions of the paratroopers – in all the services, but primarily from the Army – to the wars and conflicts of our nation from World War II to present day.  Why 16 August, you may ask?  I had to remind myself by reading the resolution:
Whereas August 16 marks the anniversary of the first official Army parachute jump, which took place on August 16, 1940, to test the innovative concept of inserting United States ground combat forces behind a battle line by means of a parachute … 
"It beats walkin' ... "

The idea of troops attacking from the sky can be said to be an early American idea, stretching all the way back to Benjamin Franklin, who in 1783 was stunned to observe the demonstration of a Montgolfier (as hot-air balloons were known then, after the inventors) while Franklin was ambassador to France.  He quickly assessed the possibilities:
Where is the Prince who can afford so to cover his country with troops for its defense, so that ten thousand men descending from the clouds might not, in many places, do an infinite amount of mischief before a force could be brought to repel them?
The idea lacked a tangible possibility until many years later, and the first plan formulated for the use of paratroopers was created by the Americans in 1918 during World War I, an idea of the visionary and controversial General Billy Mitchell, to land American troops behind the German lines near Metz.  The plan, though, was overtaken by events, specifically the surrender of Germany in November.  The first formation of an airborne unit was left to the Italians in 1927, followed quickly by the Soviets, Germans, and Poles, with the Americans lagging behind until inspired by the German airborne operations prior to our entry in the war.


There was always the possibility in my mind that 29 September might be a good occasion for the commemoration, that being the feast day for Saint Michael, patron saint of paratroopers, but that is undoubtedly too much for our post-modern culture.  [Full disclosure: I’m not Roman Catholic, but I never want to hedge my bets.]  He is also the saint for police and sailors – fair enough – and grocers as well.  I find that apt, as the term “grocery” was a euphemism for “saloon” in the days of the Republic of Texas, and thus ties in with my experience as a Marine (and a paratrooper too), as the US Marines are the only fighting force in the world to have been established in a bar. 

My youngest son is a paratrooper, and I was delighted to pin on him a set of my wings that I earned at Fort Benning many years ago.  I was disappointed (as was he) to find that ‘gender-norming’ of the training now results in a lack of the hard edge that I experienced, and my experience certainly falls far short of that of T/Sgt Don Malarkey of the original ‘Band of Brothers’ of E Company, 506th Parachute Regiment, who we have been fortunate to meet as he still lives in a city nearby.  Yet no matter how tough the training, the fact of the matter is that a combat-ready trooper will jump from a perfectly good aircraft into the territory of the enemy, knowing that he will start the battle surrounded. 

The Airborne Day resolution contains a quick history of the American paratrooper experience, and is worth reading in its entirety, and concludes for present purposes that “the history and achievements of the members and former members of the United States airborne forces warrant special expressions of the gratitude of the people of the United States.”  It resolves that the Senate “calls on the people of the United States to observe National Airborne Day with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.” 

Unless one lives near a military base that is fortunate to have such a well-honed unit, it is highly likely that a paratrooper (like Marines, there are no ‘ex’-paratroopers) will be content to know that this resolution and $4 will buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks.  But that is not the point – we appreciate the tip of the senatorial hat (while still remembering the lines of Rudyard Kipling’s Tommy), but the real words that apply come from Aristotle: “Dignity exists not in possessing honours, but in the consciousness that we deserve them.”  Say what you will about recognition, the real prize is the quiet knowledge that we have achieved and overcome.

“All the way.”

*****
Update:  The word is out – Blackfive has a series of postings, starting with this one.  Hit the home page and read the rest.