The Price of War

“My first wish is to see this plague of mankind, war, banished from the earth.”

George Washington

Since the beginning of the 20th century, the United States has engaged in seven wars. There have been other minor skirmishes and short engagements (although they were hardly minor to those killed or wounded), but for my purposes, let us focus on the seven big ones and the cost in lives.

In two of these engagements, World War I and II, we had a clear and well-understood purpose; to defeat Germany and her allies. We achieved both missions, but the cost was high.

The number of Americans killed or wounded during the First World War was 320,518. During the Second World War, the number was 1,076, 245. Nevertheless, at least these wars had a defined goal.

Dwight David Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander during the war, had this to say of his experiences during both these wars.

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower

The end of World War II brought with it atomic (soon followed by nuclear) weapons and the Cold War. Faced with a growing number of nuclear-armed nations, some under Communist or Socialist dictators such as Stalin and Mao, Americans taught their children to “duck and cover” and prayed the nuclear winter never came.

Nevertheless, we continued to build more weapons of increasingly devastating power. So powerful, man could destroy himself and the planet.

“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

Albert Einstein


In Europe and America, there’s a growing feeling of hysteria
Conditioned to respond to all the threats
In the rhetorical speeches of the Soviets
Mister Khrushchev said, ‘We will bury you’
I don’t subscribe to this point of view
It’d be such an ignorant thing to do
If the Russians love their children too

How can I save my little boy
From Oppenheimer’s deadly toy?
There is no monopoly of common sense
On either side of the political fence
We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too

Russians by Sting

Nevertheless, the threat of such powerful weapons did little to slow the often gleeful rush to war. Particularly when halting the spread of communism.

1950 brought us the North Korean invasion of South Korea. Two countries artificially created after the Second World War by the victors dividing the spoils. We rushed to aid our side in the south.

It would cost us 128,650 dead or wounded Americans. We fought the North Korean army to the Chosen Reservoir, where China, fearing US troops on her border, entered the war.

In thirty-degree below zero weather, 30,000 Marines, surrounded by 150,000 Chinese soldiers, fought their way to the coast taking all their dead and wounded. My father was one of those Marines. He earned three Purple Hearts, two Bronze Stars, and a Silver Star during his time in Korea.

He bore the physical scars with pride. The psychological scars remained buried, something for his family (and thousands of other families of veterans) to deal with alone.

That war is still officially in a state of truce. No one won. However, we had somewhat of a clear intent in entering the war, just no clear picture of how it would end. It was the beginning of a dangerous trend in foreign policy.

In August 1964, Congress passed one of the most significant, misunderstood, and troubling Joint Acts ever, The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Abdicating its Constitutional authority to declare war, Congress allowed the President to send troops into combat.

The act, predicated on the report of an attack on US warships in the Gulf of Tonkin by forces of North Vietnam, started us down the routes of involvement in the war in Vietnam.

The attack never happened.

In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson privately confided in an aide, “For all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there.”

Vietnam cost 211,454 Americans killed or wounded.

In 1973, after eighteen years of American military personnel assisting the South Vietnamese (1955-1973) and eight years of active combat, we declared victory and left.

The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong never won a significant battle against the American forces, achieved no measure of military success, yet when the smoke cleared, the North Vietnamese flag flew in Saigon.

Our purpose in entering the war was unclear, our goal undefined, and the results underscore the error of this policy.

Which brings us to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

(1990-1991 First Gulf war Iraq) 1,143 dead or wounded Americans.

Afghanistan (2001- still there) 22,266 dead or wounded Americans.

Iraq (part II 2003-still there) 36,710 dead or wounded Americans.

One would be hard-pressed to define the goals in these conflicts.

One million, seven hundred ninety-six thousand, seven hundred, eighty-six (1,796,786) dead or wounded Americans in wars so far.

To put this in the crude terms of a sports record, we are

Two Wins

One Tie

One Forfeit

Two in never-ending overtime.

However, nothing is sporting or glorious about war.

The troubling part is that we made those decisions while being led by many who had experienced war upfront and personal. We are not in the same circumstances today and we live in a much different geopolitical environment.

One requiring more in-depth deliberation.

Asymmetric warfare, religious zealotry driving suicidal crusades, the proliferation of nuclear material, an immense world-wide arms industry eager to exploit any market all contribute to the complexity.

We have a President who loathes outside advice, operates on “gut” instinct, and has shown by his ADHD-like foreign policy efforts to be ill-equipped for the complexities of the moment.

No one would accuse Mr. Trump of in-depth anything except self-delusion.

President Trump boasts that Saudi Arabia is paying for the presence of our troops in their country. That has to be one of the most astoundingly idiotic things ever said by a President (a fantastic accomplishment), let alone the most indefensible use of the American military.

The American military’s sole purpose is to protect the interests and the people of the United States and our allies. They are not for rent. They never should defend or support the government of a country that funds extremist forms of Islam and motivates much of the unrest in the Middle East.

Remember nineteen of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi’s. They are not our friends. If we are energy independent, as the President claims we have become on his watch, why do we need Saudi oil?

The clamoring, almost joyful, call for war against Iran when considering our well-established history of wasting American lives in wars with no sense of purpose or goal, should sound a warning.

“It is forbidden to kill; therefore, all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.”

Voltaire

1,796,786 Americans killed or wounded in wars. We have spent trillions of dollars arming our country. Shattered families, shattered bodies, and shattered dreams are never a reasonable price to pay for the vainglorious pursuit of flawed policies wrapped in patriotic fervor to conceal the cowardly nature and history of the man in the Oval Office.

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Measure of a Life

One of my daughter’s close friends, who she met back in Pre-K, passed away recently. David Francazio was barely thirty years old when he died, but he managed a lifetime in those years.

David died while surgeons tried to replace his ailing heart, a condition he had endured his entire life yet never let it interfere with living. The surgery failed, David’s heart as a caring young man never did.

His days were few but full. And there is no better way to live.

While life is short, we should never measure it by the number of our days but by who we’ve touched with the days we have. There is no better yardstick of life than the advice given by the Wizard of Oz to the Tinman

“Remember, my sentimental friend we are not judged by how much we love but by how much we are loved by others.”

There are two things every living creature shares: birth and death. While it may seem counterintuitive, there is nothing more natural than dying. The duration of our lives is never one of certainty, but it is one of opportunity. David used that opportunity to its fullest extent. There is no better tribute to achieve than Living life.

Death is not the end; it is the beginning of a new phase. Whatever lies beyond this life, I find it hard to believe there is nothing. We won’t know until each of us makes that transition, but people like David are the best example of how important life can be. Not in how long we live, but how well we use those moments.

People die and those who knew them are saddened by the void left behind. Yet, for as long as you want, any time you want, you can recall their moments of life in your mind. The memories remind us that one who once was, lives on in our hearts.

Passages

William Shakespeare said life is an “uncertain voyage,” and, as I add more days to my past, it seems the uncertainty grows.

Except for one thing.

timeThroughout this uncertain voyage, we share experiences. Often, we experience the most meaningful ones with good friends. It is in this friendship that life’s uncertainties can be managed and endured.

I have been most fortunate to have a group of friends I have remained close to since we first met in the 8th grade almost fifty years ago. The warranty on most things doesn’t last that long, yet we have.

Ralph Ezovski, Tony Afonso, Cam Nixon, Clyde Haworth, and I have almost five decades of being friends. During those many years, we’ve experienced the many stages of life.

High school with all it’s cusp-of-adulthood explorations of the trappings of life; girlfriends, surreptitious beers, parties, driver’s licenses, and graduation, followed by college and jobs and marriage and children and all the highs and lows of being human.

The one consistency of life is change. Nothing, no matter how permanent it may seem, remains the same.

The passing of one’s parents is one of those shared elements. For some, that experience came way too early. For others, it was spaced over the course of our friendship. Yet these shared experiences, whenever they occur, are the threads that hold the fabric of our lives together and bind us to each other.

One of the other realities of life is that parents of friends influence our lives even when we don’t realize it. How they raise their children, the expectations they set and the character they mold, affects us all. It is one of my great fortunes to have friends raised by kind, intelligent and most of all caring parents.

Firm when necessary, gentle when possible, and caring about us all.

One parent, Clyde’s father, recently passed away. He enjoyed a long and plentiful life enriched by his family and friends. His manner and example having an untold influence on this group of friends.

For that, we are all the better for it,

It is at these moments we reflect on such things. While no one can alter the passages of life, we can take time to appreciate how fortunate we are to experience them.

Friends are not something one collects or counts. Good friends make this uncertain voyage worth the journey.

Just a Dog…

(A repost from 2 years ago.  People die all the time and I rarely think of them, but Max I remember quite often with a smile and a tear)

He was just a dog…

His official AKC registered name is Maximus Gluteus but we knew him as Max.

He died the other day, taken all too soon in an unexpected way. He seemed as full of life on his last day as when we first saw him a mere nine years ago.

Max arrived at the cargo facility at Logan airport from his birth state of Kansas. Wrapped in a kennel big enough for a Pitbull, he looked like an undersized rat.

We had found him online and brought him to be a companion for our other Yorkie, Ralph.

He exceeded all expectations becoming not just a companion to Ralph, but a true member of the family.

This memorial is not meant to be sad, although the sadness has enveloped us since he passed away, but to celebrate all he gave of his life to brighten ours.

He was just a dog…

He brought a joy of living to wherever he was. His life was full of experiences and fun.

He traveled on planes, becoming a Florida dog for a time

He climbed hills in Connecticut and mountains in New Hampshire

He chased seagulls on the beach, squirrels in the backyard, and hunted any creature that dare invade HIS home. Make no mistake, wherever he lived was his home.

He had a sense of humor.

A door accidentally left open gave him the chance the snatch an onion from the closet. Eating what he wanted and leaving the rest for my daughter to find when she returned from work.

Several days later, he pretended there was something in the same closet. Scratching and pawing at the door. My daughter opened it, expecting to find a mouse. Max dashed in, grabbed another onion and hightailed it under a table, out of reach. Enjoying his snack.

He never cared much for toys, unlike Ralph who hoarded them. Max did take delight occasionally taking one of Ralph’s toys and running away with it. He would find a place in the sun, put the toy down at his paws, and dare Ralph to try to take it back.

Made Ralph crazy.

Max had his faults. He had no social skills with other dogs. He would attack anything. It was more fury and show then teeth but it could be embarrassing.

This also showed he had no fear. He was a five-pound bundle of fur, barely the size of a rabbit, with the heart of a lion.

If there is such a thing as reincarnation, I can picture Max as a lion. Poised on rock, mane flying in the breeze, roaring to scare everything around him.

Max would love that.

He was just a dog…whose passing made me cry. Yet knowing him, laughing at him, or just holding and petting him made every tear worth it.

I will miss him as long as I live. The sadness of his passing will fade, his memory and joy for life will not.

He was just a dog…Max

 

Trivial Pursuits: Life’s moments in an Emergency Room

In one of those moments in time, I found myself sitting in the waiting area in a hospital emergency room. The specifics are unimportant.

While I sat there, watching the slowly moving second hand struggle to make one revolution, I realized the absurd amount of time we waste on trivialities.

Sitting there for those passing hours, I engaged in the mindlessness of Facebook and email. Alternating between a debate over Trump vs. Obama and sorting through nonsense mail.

A family arrived ahead of a rescue bringing a loved one. The hospital paging system bellowed “CPR team to the CPR room” drowning out the sobs, uncertainty, and fading hope.

I tried not to intrude, but in such a small environment, with all the growing evidence of an unhappy end to the rescue run, I couldn’t help but notice the tears, the hugs, the hopeful looks, and the ones who understood the reality.

What drove this home was a moment after the family had all gathered, accepted the news, and started discussing the next steps.

Two young brothers came in, running to their grandfather as he fought back the tears. He tried to soothe their baptism into the reality of death by saying she was in a better place.

I don’t know if this was sudden or expected. A drawn-out struggle to the end or a quick exit. What I know is it made all the nonsense we waste time on not just silly, but obscene.

It won’t matter what President turns out great. It won’t matter what political philosophy proves most useful. It won’t matter if whatever party occupies the White House is the cause of the end. What will be, will be.  Not one word in cyberspace will make any difference at the moment of one’s death.

What will matter, is the time we lost worrying about the trivial when the things that matter were right in front of us and we missed it.

All those moments lost to the dust of life can never be regained.

In the last moments before they left the hospital. One young boy sat next to his grandfather, holding his hand.

One young man learning to face the realities of life and death and one husband facing the specter of regret for lost time.

Think about it while the time is yours to spend.

The Inconvenience of Death

As a writer, I often cannot control the voices in my head. They run Helter-Skelter from one thought to another. When one strives to write, you often find yourself more a spectator or passenger. Rare to have any control at all.

It was thus that, amid writing a piece for a weekly blog called the Heretic and the Holy Man, I started thinking about how inconvenient most deaths are.

It is not often that a death occurs without interrupting someone’s plans, altering the course of one or more days, or disrupting the general pattern of living. This is never inconvenient for the deceased. His part is over. The inconvenience, no matter how unintentional, is with those left behind. My parents taught me to be considerate of others, I thought it appropriate that I leave a message for those who survive me.

I do not want to cause any inconvenience.

Now, do not read anything into this. I have not received any dire medical news, I am not clinically depressed, I have no omens of my death, I just do not want to inconvenience anyone once I do leave this mortal coil.

I have a goal for a long life. I plan to be in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest living human. If successful, I will achieve this goal sometime in the year 2079. The current record is a French woman who lived to be 122 years and 194 days.

Even that may not be long enough to read all the books on my Kindle or work on the thousands of ideas I have for stories to write.

I have often said I want to die on my birthday, for no particular reason other than symmetry. If I achieve both goals my memorial will read;

Born July 25, 1956
Died July 25, 2079

It’s good to have a goal, but I also know reality may intrude. In the event I don’t beat the odds, no matter how unlikely, I’d like to leave some rules behind for family and friends after my death.

1.           If you are on a Caribbean beach when you hear the news, DO NOT LEAVE. There is no need to rush home. I am already dead. (A more important point is, if you are on a Caribbean Beach WHY are you getting messages?)  Order another drink, lie in the sun, and enjoy life.

2.           If you are at work when the news arrives. Notify a co-worker that you have to leave immediately. Tears would be helpful in convincing them of the urgency. Then, fly to a Caribbean Beach and refer to #1.

3.           If you are at home and the news arrives, there is no need to change whatever plans you might have. Since the instigating incident (Mortem meam, my death for those of you who didn’t benefit from five years of Latin) is a fait accompli, there is nothing you can do about it. Go out to dinner, meet with your remaining living friends, go on with life.

Dying is an inconvenient aspect of life. It rarely occurs with any consideration for the living. Sometimes death poses a threat to others. If it occurs, say, while you are driving a car or school bus (just picture the look on all those little faces as the bus careens along without a living operator.)

It would seem if intelligent design was responsible for our existence, there is a design flaw.

Death should always occur during sleep, preferably while sleeping alone or  when your sleeping companion is already awake (but hasn’t started breakfast, no need to waste food.)

Death comes with the timing of an uncontrollable fart in polite company. It sneaks up on you, rudely announces its presence, and then you begin to stink.

Our world of instant communication complicates the problem. Between Tweets and Facebook and Instagram the last breath has barely escaped and notices are flying around the world.  It was better when it took years for the news to spread, less intrusive to life.

Here’s another of those random thoughts. Someone needs to come up with an icon for a Facebook status of croaked.  But I digress. (The voices just won’t stop.)

So as a favor to the (at the moment) still living me, take this request to heart. To those of you whom, in some small measure, I have made your life more enjoyable, continue to enjoy that life. Altering plans due to an inevitable element of existence makes little sense. Mourn if you must, but do it for the briefest of moments.

There’s no time to waste. Everyone’s death is imminent in a relative sort of way.

Embrace the living, walk in the rain, lay on a Caribbean beach absorbing the warm sun. The most touching thing you can do to remember those who are no longer here to share life is embracing your own.

In mortem, et finem. In vitae, spem. (You’re still alive. Look it up.)

Insights from 60 Revolutions of the Sun

In my now sixty complete revolutions of the sun, I am struck by how much the world has changed and how little people have progressed.

We are a single race. The human race. Yet, one is hard-pressed to find examples of this.

We live at a time when access to information is at an all-time high and rationality at a depressing low. Instead of recognizing our differences as nothing more than window dressing, we isolate ourselves with those we share those shallow aspects and separate ourselves from those we see as different.

Why is it we fill our hearts with the irrationality of prejudice, the willful ignorance of others, instead of embracing the commonality of our nature?

Tolerance is something we demand for ourselves and deny to others. The surface differences that comprise such a small percentage of our being cloud the overwhelming similarities.

At a time when it would seem the very survival of our common race is at hand, we focus on promoting our differences instead of joining together to insure our survival.

The faiths of the world publicly espouse their common goal yet continue to teach the doctrines of difference.

Politicians play to the lowest common denominator of fear to further than own careers no matter the cost.

We resort to violence as a solution rather than recognizing violence is at the root of the issue. Violence is the tool to protect differences not people . What we need is the rationality of diplomacy and acceptance.

I can only hope that five hundred or a thousand years from now the descendants of the human race look back on the foolishness of this time as a product of ignorance and stupidity.

Much like we mock the ignorance of the Dark Ages or the image of Stone Age man cowering in his cave from the thunder and lightning of the gods, future humans will find a similar ignorance in the history of our time.

If there are any descendants to do so.  I can only hope we survive  to live up to our self-described moniker of Homo Sapiens.

With all the tools of destruction and our skills at killing our fellow humans over artificial differences, there may not be anyone left to attain such insight and maturity of character.

The Border of Innocence

The other day, we were moving some things around in our condo. One of the tasks involved emptying a chest full of photo albums, relocating the chest, and then placing the albums back inside. There wasn’t any time for reminiscing, but one picture caught my eye.

A solitary color photo of a 12-year old me slipped from whatever album it was in.

For those of us from the pre-digital image age, the familiar date stamp is visible on the left of the photo in the surrounding white border.

August 1968.photo

The picture captured me standing alongside a river in New Hampshire proudly holding up a fish.  The fish is barely bigger than my hand. Nevertheless, I was proud of my angling abilities.

My father took the picture. It was during a family vacation, staying in a cabin in the White Mountains near Lake Chocorua New Hampshire.

One of the first of many days I would spend over my lifetime there. A glimpse of the early moments of my explorations in those mountains, rivers, and lakes.

Yet, when I saw the picture, I realized it also captured the last moments of my innocence. My last few moments before I faced the reality of life’s fleeting and fickle ways.

Mere moments after that image was taken, we heard a loud crash. The sounds of shattering glass and twisting, crushing metal filled the air.

My father took off running toward the sound, me behind him trying to keep up. A short distance away, around a slight bend in the road, we came upon the source of the noise.

A small car rammed into a tree, angled up. There was glass everywhere, steam rose from the ruptured radiator, the smell of hot oil and gasoline permeated the air.

I didn’t notice any of this until much later. My eyes focused on the two young girls, not much younger than me, splayed on the hood.

Pale skin contrasted against the blood. It was an unfamiliar skin tone, yet I knew instinctively this was a sign of impending death.

One of the girls was partially through the windshield, her momentum arrested by the sharp glass.  The other was on the hood, arms and legs bent in unnatural shapes.

My father called me over, taking my hand and showing me how to put pressure on the area of blood pumping from the leg of the girl on the hood. I did as I was told, oblivious to the other things happening.

Then, I heard the screams.  I turned to look. A woman, pinned by the steering wheel, reaching for her girls, looked at me from a blood-covered face.

Much of the memory is clouded and faded. It is said each time we recall a memory we change it a bit. I don’t recall I ever found out what happened to them.  I don’t recall leaving the scene. I don’t recall ever even speaking about it again with anyone.

When I saw the picture, I remembered the feeling of things changing. I knew that image captured a moment in time. Those last moments before my loss of innocence.

The March of Time

I have never been one to focus on age. I believe it a waste of the limited time we all have. Of course, as a young boy, I engaged in the universal desire to be older. When asked, I was 6 ½ years old or almost 13. It seemed that achieving a greater age brought some instant benefits. For some reason, I thought 19 would be a perfect age.

I was wrong.

There is no perfect age. There is your age, and you best learn how to enjoy it.

What stimulated these thoughts about age was on-line forms and surveys. Whether it be purchases, surveys, or updating important information, at some point we face the age selection box.

Since I am now fast approaching 60, it seems I have to scroll almost to the end when picking by age and to the beginning when picking the year of my birth.

Soon, all too soon, I will be at either end of the selection process.

You would think, with all the creativity and knowledge in this country, someone would find a way to gather the necessary information without reminding me of the inexorable march of time.

Focusing on Death: Missing an Opportunity

It is the most common of human experiences, dealing with the death of a family member, friend, or others who affected your life.

I think we make a mistake when we focus on the tragedy of death. Death is one of two things every human being shares. Better that we come to accept this.

Since we all die, and none of us knows what the experience entails, I think we miss an opportunity to gain something positive from death.

It does not matter how one dies. The manner of death is like the weather, uncontrollable and unpredictable. Why rage against something so outside our ability to change?

What does matter is how one lived. Focusing on their death masks the real loss; the missed opportunities when they were alive. That is not to say we should not mourn, but we can give the natural state of mourning a purpose.

When someone dies, the living bear the loss. For those who have passed on, all opportunities are gone. The greatest lesson we can learn from someone’s death is to appreciate the living. To focus the time you have on things that really matter.

Victor Frankl, a Jewish psychologist and survivor of Auschwitz, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, wrote that people could survive the most horrendous conditions if they have a reason to live. Focusing on things beyond their control is useless.

Frankl’s experience in the camps taught him this; the one thing that no one can take from you is your choice of how you respond to the course of your life.

This would include dealing with death.

Most of the things we focus on, the material things, are secondary to living. Finding meaning is the key to life. Meaning cannot come from death. Yet a reason to bring something more into your own life, and the life of others, can.

Death in inevitable. Raging against such a certainty is folly. Deriving something good from it is enpowering.

In the wake of someone’s death, we need to focus our efforts on finding meaning in our lives and to give meaning to those we hold dear.

Death should remind us to live, not waste time raging against it. The sadness that comes with someone dying lies not in mourning the death but in mourning the missed opportunities when they lived.

Sometimes our blind trudging through our day overshadows the days of our life. Often our focus on the things of this world, jobs, money, the accumulation of things, detours us from living. The things we accumulate are nothing but the dust of life. They are the flotsam and jetsam of existence.

Lost opportunities are what death so starkly points out. Therein lies the sadness, and hope.

Imagine the important, breathtaking moments of our lives are like the stars on a crisp dark night. The enormity of the vision is powerful and vibrant.

Now picture the stars on a bright sunny blue-sky day. They are all still there, still amazing. Yet we cannot see them. Blinded by what seems to be a beautiful day.

Such are the many things we do in our lives. They may bring us some sense of satisfaction, some sense of value. Give us some measure of self-worth. Nevertheless, when the light fades and the stars show themselves, those bright things of the day pale in comparison.

When someone dies, we should celebrate their life, learn from those missed opportunities, and resolve to embrace those moments still left to you.

Frankl also wrote, “Our greatest freedom is the freedom to choose our attitude.” Choosing to find meaning in our lives, through the things we do and the people we touch, is what matters.

There is no greater memorial to those who have died than embracing the living. To find meaning in our lives and to share that with others.

When I die, if those who remember me say that I learned to do just that. That I tried to embrace my time as best I could. That I found meaning in my life and shared it with others. Then that is a life worth celebrating. Death is simply part of the process. Rather than something we mourn, death should remind us to live.