We True Americans

Again? When did we stop?

I recently posted several blog pieces during our trip to Morocco.  While the reaction of most was positive, many took exception to my positive portrayal of Muslims and the Islamic Faith.

One struck me as shockingly ill-informed; bordering on dangerous.

The comment included a reference to a false meme about a one-time ban on Muslims coming to the US (never happened) often circulated among the jingoistic-inclined nationalists who see Islam solely through the filter of terrorism. The line that frightened me, not because I feared the truth of the statement but because others might see it as truth, was this;

We True Americans must be on guard against Islam.

The comment gave me pause. Someone, and I am certain they are not alone, believes there is such a thing as a “true American” which is both identifiable and necessary for this nation to survive. It made me wonder.

What is the definition of a true American?

So, I went looking.

Is Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, a Muslim by birth, who died in Iraq serving in the US Army and posthumously received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for his service a true American?

Is Humayun Khan, a Muslim by birth, a US Army officer killed in Iraq serving in the US Army and posthumously received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for his service a true American?

Is Dr. Ayub Ommaya a Pakistani American who invented the Ommaya Reservoir (used to provide chemo-therapy directly to the tumor site) a true American?

Is Khaled Hosseni, an American Physician and novelist born in Afghanistan best known for his novel “The Kite Runner” a true American?

Is Dr. Mehmet Oz, vice chair and professor of surgery at Columbia University a true American?

Or

Is Charles Manson, infamous convicted murderer and lunatic, a true American?

Is Eric Rudolph, the Olympic Park Bomber and self-proclaimed Christian, a true American?

It’s easy to pick and choose when one has an agenda. In particular, an agenda based on fear, ignorance, and misplaced nationalistic fervor. Islam represents the third largest religion in the US and the overwhelming majority of its adherents are as appalled by terrorism in Islam’s name as all those self-proclaimed “True Americans.”

Likely, more so.

I would dare say that the remaining members of the Native America tribes we Christians herded and hunted almost to extinction would argue about what a true American is.

That some people lay claim to be the only True Americans is about as far from the very nature of America as one can get.

And it bears remembering when they demand we follow their lead in denying others the same American dream we all enjoy based on their religion or place of origin .

I am fairly certain a true American is better than that.

Defeating Terrorists using the Viet Cong Playbook

In doing research for my latest novel, I read several books on the Vietnam War. I wanted a perspective from sides. There were lessons we might apply to our foreign policies today. The books were,

A Viet Cong Memoir by Truong Nhu Tang. Tang rose to the position of Minister of Justice within the Provisional Revolutionary Government of Vietnam (PRG.) Tang now lives in exile in France.

Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram. Tram was a doctor who treated wounded members of the National Liberation Front (NLF) and the North Vietnamese Army (NVA.) She traveled by foot on the Ho Chi Minh trail into South Vietnam. She was killed by American forces in 1968 with several NVA soldiers. She was 28 years-old. The story of how her diaries survived the war and emerged decades later makes it worth the read.

On  Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War by (Col. Ret.) Harry G. Summers

Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam by Mark Bowden

For those of us who came of age during the “American” war in Vietnam, these books are quite unsettling.

They are also a valuable lesson for today.

My first inkling that much of what I believed about the Vietnam War was wrong started when I watched the documentary The Fog of War, interviews with Robert McNamara. He was one of the prime architects of American policy, from initial involvement to the escalation putting more than five hundred thousand American combat troops in the country.

I’d also read Stanly Karnow’s Vietnam: A History and referred to it during my research.

In developing one of the main characters in the book, a former Viet Cong fighter (or more properly the National Liberation Front as I learned in my research), I wanted to understand their view of American intervention.

To say it changed my perspective is an understatement.

Most Americans saw Vietnam as a roadblock to the domino effect of the spread of communism. To most Vietnamese, we were just another in a series of colonial powers using Vietnam for our own benefit.

Our single focus on stopping the spread of communism, something we perceived as a monolith led in partnership by the Soviets and China, blinded us to the more distinct emergence of anti-colonial nationalism within countries such as Vietnam.

Contrary to what I and most Americans believed, there were three distinct sides fighting the war. Each with their own purpose.

The South Vietnamese government, supported by us. A democratic government in name only, led by men who rose to power through assassination and intrigue.  They used torture and violence to suppress opposition.

The National Liberation Front consisting mostly of Southern Vietnamese seeking self-determination within South Vietnam. They relied on the North for military support, understood they could never defeat the American forces militarily and used a combination of guerilla tactics and political efforts to drag out the war. They understood the anti-war movement within the US would eventually exhaust America’s tolerance for suffering losses.

The NVA and government of North Vietnam. They sought a unified Vietnam under the socialist system. Ho Chi Minh, who died in 1969, held less stringent insistence on reunification recognizing the strength of the nationalist spirit in the south.  On his death, a more intense socialist power structure gained control.

Our unwillingness to gain an understanding of the true nature of the political situation in Vietnam, coupled with a rabid Cold War philosophy, effectively eliminated any opportunity to avoid military intervention.

There were some who argued this point but were ignored. The Cold War mentality blinded even the most brilliant Americans to the changing reality of the world.

There is evidence that JFK understood the finer points of Vietnamese nationalism, and perhaps held a less comfortable feeling for our intervention tactics in controlling the South Vietnamese government, but that is academic.

What does this all have to do with today?

In the words of George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”

During the height of World War II, sentiment in America about Germany and Japan was one of abject hate. Our efforts were focused on defeating them quickly and completely.

Yet, as soon as we ended the immediate war, we did not seek their total annihilation. We understood that while many Germans were Nazis, it was not all Germans. While some did nothing, others worked secretly to change Germany.

Same with the Japanese. If one asked a Marine riflemen on Iwo Jima about what he wanted to do, the answer would be to kill all the Japanese. He meant to kill the Japanese trying to kill him, not every living Japanese in the world. Even if he didn’t understand that himself.

Today, the world faces the asymmetric threat of Islamic radical fundamentalism and the specter of terrorism. Their goal is to stop the spread of the modern world and the progress of science, rational discourse, and tolerance.

Much like the NLF, the fundamentalists understand they cannot defeat us militarily. They can try to drive us into isolation, or find a way to unleash a nuclear Armageddon, but only if we fail to learn from history.

We must realize that within Islam the majority of the faithful do not condone the violence. They do not support the fundamentalist’s distortion of the Quran. But it is on them to raise their voices and join those who suffer from these terrorist acts in fighting against them.

The solution to radical fundamentalism is not the wholesale destruction of Islam any more than ending the war in Germany or Japan required the genocide of every German or Japanese.

We can learn a lesson from the history of war. We can learn a lesson from the aftermath of Vietnam that blind belief without careful honest analysis to understand those involved can lead to unnecessary horrors.

What happened in Vietnam after we left was inevitable. Truong Nhu Tang left Vietnam, disillusioned by the disaster that Socialism brought to the country. His dream of a self-determined government for the people of South Vietnam dashed on the failed socialist system. This was a man who spent decades fighting for a cause.

Vietnam is just now emerging from the long nightmare. We were never going to change the course of that country.

We spent 56000 American lives winning our way to a Pyrrhic victory. Now is our opportunity to make those lives count for more than a footnote.

There’s a story of a conversation between Colonel Harry Summers (the author of one of the books I mentioned) and a North Vietnamese Colonel Tu during the discussions for the return of American prisoners.

Summers said, “You never defeated us on the battlefield.” To which Colonel Tu said, “That may be true, but it is also irrelevant.”

Before we undertake a policy that involves the commitment of military forces to solve a problem, let’s make sure the result is not irrelevant.

America’s Long Walk on a Short Pier

The America I know, the one that once served as a bright shining beacon to the world, is changing. Our headlong panic rush to insulate, rather than defend, ourselves from those that would do us harm is disheartening.

Talk of building walls, denying entry based on religion or origin, craving a national policy of carpet bombing without regard to innocents is not a solution. It is the easy way out. That is not America.

We are on a very long walk on a short pier.305880-pier

America was once the country who built piers to welcome those who seek the American dream. We stood greeting those looking for a better life. Yet now, because it is so easy to focus on those who misuse our welcome, we are throwing it all away.

When did we become so afraid of standing up for what is right, that we are willing to bury our head in the sand?

We bought into this ‘I’m being bullied nonsense’ and cry to our mommies. I know this may offend some people but you don’t run from bullies, or try to legislate them out of existence. You stand up to them.

It’s the only way to solve the problem. Time to recapture our pride and dignity.

Now, we are faced with a Presidential election. The campaign is a bunch of meaningless drivel, hurled by both sides, that offers no real solution, no intelligent analysis of the problem, and no real hope for change.

We are better than that. We deserve better than that. And yet, most of us just follow along like blind sheep lured by the aroma of fresh feed right into the slaughter house.

Instead of doing the hard work of identifying those who would misuse welfare, we punish the entire program.

Instead of doing the difficult task of bringing the fight to the enemy, we embrace politicians with no idea of the rules of engagement who see carpet bombing as a solution to end a philosophy. Innocent casualties be damned.

Instead of making the effort to understand the complex problems facing us, we engage in screaming matches that do nothing.

Instead of focusing on the logjam that is Congress, we scream and yell about useless Congressional hearings and speeches that capitalize on our ignorance.

Instead of embracing education, we dilute the standards then blame teachers for the results. Johnny can’t read and we do not care.

But there is still time.

There is time to remember that Congress holds the purse strings of America, not the President, and understand who holds the purse strings of Congress.

There is time to return to an America where holding public office meant doing public service not keeping it for life.

There is time, but it, like the end of the pier, is growing short.

I have noticed a troubling trend among the tattooed generation of Americans. I am noticing more and more individuals sporting a barcode tattoo on the back of their necks.

If we are not vigilant. If we do not wean ourselves away from chasing Pokémon. If we do not think instead of remaining mindlessly enslaved to our cell phones.

If we do not realize that we have stopped adding to the pier that is the American dream but continue to walk at our current pace, we will find ourselves at the end.

Those sporting this barcode tattoo may be a foreshadow of the American future.

Where once each new generation represented an addition to the treasure of America, our people, they may be reduced to nothing but inventory from a failed dream.

Think before we walk into oblivion.

Using Apple to take a Bite out of Crime

As most of us know, (and if this is news, you should pay more attention), the Justice department sought Apple Computer’s assistance in bypassing the security encryption on an iPhone.

Not just any phone, but the phone used by the two shooters in the San Bernardino case.

The FBI contends there is probable cause to believe that the phone contains evidence related to the case, may contain names of unidentified co-conspirators, and is a matter of national security. They cannot break the encryption without Apple’s assistance.

Now at first blush, this is a no-brainer. Apple should decrypt the phone and turn over the evidence.

However, upon more contemplation, I think Apple’s position is better for our cherished freedoms.

Now, for those of you who may not know my background, I was a police officer for twenty years. Every job has it fun moments. Ours often consisted of having a search warrant in one hand and a sledgehammer in the other.

Knock, knock we are coming in. One way or the other.

Over time it was inevitable I would see abuses of this system. Warrants obtained on the flimsiest of information. Governmental fishing expeditions usually in the cause of the Holy war against drugs.

Now, that Holy war has a new cause. Terrorism.

In the cause of fighting terrorism, we have lost sight of our original founding principles.

To force Apple to defeat the encryption designed to protect personal data is to start down a road from which we cannot return. The government wants companies to design a “backdoor” into encrypted devices. A door controlled by government.

That is a frightening thought. Imagine the potential for disruption of the political process, privacy violations, and abuse.

To invoke the specter of Orwell’s 1984 has lost some of its once chilling effect. In this world 32 years after that date, it fails to convey the dire warning it once did. Yet we should keep this in mind, Orwell’s warning of “Big Brother” may have been premature, but he was not wrong.

As Benjamin Franklin once said, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

 

 

 

 

Resolutions: The best intentions

The first step is admitting you have a problem.

There are few complete truths. One undeniable truth is that New Year’s resolutions are a waste of time. Either you will do something or you will not. Setting some arbitrary date for a change does not insure anything, or make it any more likely to succeed.

The money spent on unused gym memberships alone would come close to balancing the budget.

I do have one suggestion. A resolution well within the reach of everyone reading this. I concede there is a bit of a conflict in my method for suggesting this.

Some might say I’m being hypocritical. That my vehicle for delivery is a clear contradiction of my goal.

However, it is unavoidable. In fact, one might argue it underscores the need for such a resolution.

We have texts, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, email, instant messaging, Facetime, and others. We have social networking reminders of our memories from last year, the length of our ‘friendships’ on Facebook, and myriad other regurgitations of our online postings.

We consider 142 character messages profound and spelling does not count. As a matter of fact, spelling and grammar are a waste of the character count.

My entire early education wasted and made obsolete by an arbitrary limitation. While brevity is the soul of wit, somehow brvitisthsolofwit loses something in translation.

We are a society in the midst of a technology generated evolutionary curvature of our spines. Soon, humans may be like the flatfish. Our eyes migrating down our face. A better view of the screens on our devices.

So here is my idea, instead of TBT let’s have a TFD-Technology-Free Day.

A whole day (or more if you are so inclined) without email, text, cellphones, or any of the other “advanced” communication technologies.

We could talk to each other. Hold a real book in our hand. Go for a walk and listen to nothing, or the sounds of the world.

We could just think.

Start slow if you like. Try to go an hour without. Work your way to two hours and so forth.

Set a goal. Mine is a whole day. No text, email, messaging, or other.

On the Appalachian Trail, we went days without Wi-Fi or cell service. I miss that. There existed an understated revulsion by most when we saw hikers wearing headphones. You are in the woods, listen to nature for goodness sake.

If you cannot go even one hour without your iPhone, iPad, Android, Laptop, or Facebook, that should give you pause. The world will survive for a day with you out of communication.

So read this, pick a day, and go for it. If I do not hear from you, I will just assume you “like” it.

The Inherent Risks of Freedom

Freedom carries with it responsibilities and risks

Those who enjoy the freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution and Laws must accept the responsibility to support the same freedom for those that hold different perspectives.

We bear the burden of tolerance for those with whom we disagree in exchange for a tolerance of our own ideas.

The risks of freedom are not the same as the risks to freedom.

The laws of this nation insure that all views, religious, political, social, or personal are entitled to equal protection.

One does not have to agree with or support such diverse differences, but you cannot support or condone oppression.

The sole exception is to remove those who refuse to tolerate  others, or seek to impose their beliefs on others by force or law.

Thus the risks of freedom include the necessary evil of tolerating those that may hold abhorrent beliefs (Neo-Nazis, KKK, Supremacists of any color, racists) so long as they do not try to impose their beliefs or break the law.

However, the reality of the world is it can be a dangerous one. The risks to freedom are often masked as attempts to preserve it.

So it comes down to a simple decision. Do we live in fear? Do we sacrifice our long-held hard fought for principles of equality?

Or do we stand up to it?

The single greatest tool against the fanaticism of fundamentalism and intolerance is education. The free exchange of ideas and knowledge.  Embracing intelligence and education seems to be woefully out of fashion in this country.

What is needed today, along with the reality of a strong military, is a 21st century version of Radio Free America.

The spread of knowledge will someday negate the need for force if we just use the best qualities of America.

Perhaps, in the not so distant future, the next generations who occupy this earth and the universe, will look back on this time as the moment the United States of America once again led the world by virtue of our courage and intelligence, not just our miltary might.

Failing Memories: December 7,1941 and American Freedoms

The memory of one of the most tragic days in United States history is fading into the fog of old memories. One news article described it as another generations 9/11.
It is the way of life. Events once thought to be of monumental significance pale against the ravages of time.  The numbers of those most affected slowly eroded by mortality.
That day will come for 9/11 as well.
Someday, those of us who lived through that time in history will follow the same path into death.
What I dread most is not my mortality. What I despair of most is what I see happening to this country. Americans that so cherish their freedoms, paid for in the blood of Iwo Jima, Tarawa, Guadalcanal, Chosin, Hue, Iraq, Afghanistan, would deny the same freedoms to others because of false perception of differences. Such actions dishonor the heroism of those that fought the wars to preserve the freedoms of this country.
Freedoms promised to all by our laws and Constitution.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the President that guided the country through that terrible time after the Pearl Harbor attack, once said, “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.”
That fear is now gripping this nation. The once bright shining city on the hill, the beacon of freedom that has served this country so well, would cover the light in order to deny those same freedoms to others because some think we should be afraid.
We did not spend the blood of our men and women in fighting those that attacked us just so someday we would deny freedom to an entire group because we are afraid of a few.
Or do this simply because of a perception that one particular religion is more dangerous than another.
15000 Arab Americans fought in World War II, many of them Muslim. Arlington Cemetery has a number of American heroes who served with valor and distinction earning some of the highest military medals for valor. And they were of the Muslim faith, buried next to Christians, Jews, and Atheists. Americans of all faiths have served this country.
Arlington does not refuse to accept dead Americans by reason of faith or race or ethnic origin, why would America do that the living?
They paid the ultimate sacrifice for the very freedom some of their fellow Americans would deny to others for no other reason but fear..
Where has our courage gone?
Let me be clear about something. Those that seek to destroy us, those that follow some deranged interpretation of religion, any religion, who seek to impose their beliefs on us by force, know well that the US will always win such a battle.
We embrace our freedom. We are willing to share it with those that seek the same and are willing to do anything we have to do to protect it. We will die if we must, but our death will not come without cost.
We will visit death on you if you choose to try to take our freedom and it will be swift and terrible.
What we cannot do is give up any of our principles out of fear. It is not any one faith which poses a danger to this country. It is, as Roosevelt said, fear. A fear which blinds us to the greatness within this nation.
 E Pluribus Unum.
The real danger lies in those that would choose between the right religion and the wrong religion based on their own prejudices and call that being American.
Nothing in more un-American than that.

Selective Outrage

Once again this country is subjected to a dramatic incident of violence. In the rush to be first, the media outlets broadcast a constantly changing cacophony of half-truths and rumors.

Compounding the problem are the bloggers and reporter wannabes in their insular  agenda-driven worlds.

They were practically salivating at the conveniently ethnic origin of the suspect’s name. Whether it has any bearing on the truth or not.

Better to be first, than right.

The inevitable outcry by competing interests will flood the broadcast, print, and social media.

“More Gun Control!” “Less Gun Control!”

“Take away guns and only criminals will have guns.”

“Stop the Insanity”

“Guns don’t kill people, GMO’s do”

They’ll be the usual talk from the opposing political views that either this whole thing is Obama’s fault, or this is the consequence of interpreting the Second Amendment as inviolate.

And then it will fade away. The headline will be replaced, as it always is, by some other tragedy or scandal.

What happened in San Bernadino is a tragedy. A sad example of how much mankind has to go before they can truly be called civilized. Whatever fruitcake philosophy compelled these actions, be it a misinterpretation of religious doctrine or simple prejudice against those who are different, is repulsive.

How we respond will either set the course for positive change or doom us to an uncertain future.

Many will focus solely on classifying this as terrorism and incite the country to use its powerful military forces and bomb something, anything.

Somewhere else of course.

Nothing like the satisfaction one gets from watching the video of a cruise missile launch or a night-vision view of a target being obliterated.

But that will only mask the underlying problem.

The real tragedy here is that we fail to notice this is happening almost every day in our cities. In Chicago for the month of November this is what we apparently missed in the FOX, MSNBC, and CNN headlines.

Thirty-two people were shot and killed

One hundred and sixty-six were shot and wounded

That’s almost two hundred people and that’s just one city. That sounds like the statistics from a war zone. I dare say it is more dangerous to walk some neighborhoods in Chicago than it is in Kabul.

America can, and should, be better than that.

The necessary discussion on dealing with the very real problem of violence in this country will never happen as long as it is headline driven.

Be it a rational approach to firearms, the issue of racism or the propensity toward violence to settle differences, we need to use our intelligence and common sense here.

Not emotionally driven hyperbole.

We need to focus on the underlying problem. It is critical to the survival of this country. More so than idiotic causes that politicians so love to use to divert us from the real issue. The solutions are not easy, they are not found on Facebook and Twitter. They require thinking and courage. Surely there is an abundance of that in a free country.

Many good people turn to prayer at a time like this. But as the Dali Lama so well said,

“We cannot solve this problem only through prayers. I am a Buddhist and I believe in praying. But humans have created this problem, and now we are asking God to solve it. It is illogical. God would say, solve it yourself because you created it in the first place.”

Whether you believe or not, doesn’t matter to me. Whether you care enough to think this problem through and seek a solution does.

And one last point. You know who ran toward the carnage and danger when everyone else ran away?

Cops.

There are some dramatic images of the courage demonstrated by the officers involved. It would be nice if more people understood that is what cops do every day. And appreciated it.