Born in the USA: The Bright Shining Lie of Uninformed Patriotism

Last night we went to the first of six Pawtucket Red Sox games which feature a themed firework display after the game. (I know this may seem like heresy from a Yankee fan, but it is a nice place to watch a game despite the Red Sox aura.)

For the Memorial Day Weekend, the theme was a patriotic one. Commemorating the lives of those who served in the military and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, defending the freedom of this country and others around the world.

There is much for which this country should be proud. We’ve been willing to sacrifice our young men and women for our ideals.  In the words of President John F. Kennedy, we’ve been willing to,

“pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

We survived and thrived because we valued dedication, intelligence, and determination in pursuit of these ideals. We haven’t always been perfect, no nation or people are, but we have always been willing to learn from our mistakes.

I wonder where that brilliance has gone.

One song chosen to accompany the spectacular and inspiring display was the Bruce Springsteen song, “Born in America.”

Odd how an anti-war, anti-military-industrial complex song critical of the way we treat veterans has somehow become a rousing “hurray for America” theme. It strikes me as an indictment of our inability to think things through anymore. Our failure to find solutions to problems. Favoring slogans to rouse emotions over doing the difficult things.

To quote the lines I found most troubling amid the applause and cheers of the crowd,

“Got in a little hometown jam

So they put a rifle in my hand

Sent me off to a foreign land

To go and kill the yellow man”

I couldn’t help but notice the families of many Southeast Asians in the crowd. I wonder what they’d think if they knew the lyrics?

This underscores the rising rampant dangerous nationalism within this country that screams for a “target of opportunity.”  Today’s target is Islam.

But our failing to even bother to understand the meaning of these songs we use as a soundtrack to patriotic displays underscores our failure to understand the nature of warfare today.

In World War I and II we helped defeat a military-supported government seeking to impose themselves on others. One can debate the many reasons behind how these wars started, but the goal was clear.

Today is a different world.  Today is a world of asymmetric warfare requiring asymmetric thinking. We face any enemy of ideas, not divisions and tanks.

We must fight the genesis of these concepts of twisted jihad with intelligence and thoughtful policies, not B-1 stealth bombers and cruise missiles.

Weapons such as these have their purpose, make no doubt about it, but we could double the stockpile of weapons and it would have no effect on the enemy. Calling for the leveling of Mecca or Medina may make for rousing sound bites but would be a wasteful, inhumane, and ineffective policy.

Perhaps we should think about the ideas behind Springsteen’s lyrics.

Wars are started by ambitious politicians but fought by young men and women.

Wars are won and lost by these same politicians. (See Vietnam as an example.)

Our enemies today are enemies of everyone who opposes their ideas. We must bring the world together to fight these insidious twisted 14th-century concepts, not push ourselves into an America first isolationism.

Before entering into both World Wars, we sought to stay out of the “European” problem. That was the world where most people never traveled more than fifty miles from where they were born. Where communications between countries took weeks.

That is not today’s world.

The time of unleashing “Ole’ Blood and Guts” military leaders of Patton, Eisenhower, Marshall, and MacArthur is over. Now, more than ever, we need intelligent policies that utilize the selective application of military power to compliment our once formidable determination.

It is the only way to change the conditions that breed these terrorists.

We have the big stick, we need to remember to walk softly.

I doubt I’ll see it in my lifetime, but I hope for a day when we celebrate the passing of the last veteran. For when that day comes, all the sacrifices of every veteran will be worth it.

The Familiar Face of Terrorism

The threat of terrorist attacks in this country is growing. Evidence that organized, well-armed, well-equipped groups have infiltrated America, bent on imposing their violent interpretation of their faith on the rest of the world, is right in front of our noses.

And they have killed Americans.

It is an American Jihad. Born and bred here. Yet we refuse to call it by its name, Radical Christianity, because it is the same Christian religion many would like to see as the basis of our government.

Radical Christians, using their interpretations of Biblical passages as justification, target and kill the doctors, nurses, and patients of places such as Planned Parenthood. They kill police officers trying to protect those innocent people.

Because God told them to.

Comparing them to the Islamic terrorists seeking martyrdom we so easily hate is not unfair, it is necessary.

The xenophobic fear promulgated by right-wing politicians against fulfilling our humanitarian obligations to the refugee crisis cite the danger of terrorists getting into the US.

I don’t hear anyone saying we should screen Christians out of the refugees.

The terrorists are already here. We bred them. We tolerate them because they are Christian. They do not represent the majority of the faithful. But they do portend the danger of a religious based government. Any religious based government.

If you think that right wing Christian fundamentalists, given the reins of Government, would not impose a similar restriction on our lives as the ones Radical Islamists would do in similar circumstances, you are terribly naive.

Don’t think it can happen? Just look in Kentucky or Texas or South Carolina, or Congress for the matter, for attempts at just such a thing

In 1954, during the Cold War, to reinforce the differences between ourselves and the ‘godless’ communists, Congress added the words “Under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. Even though the original, written by a minister, did not include any such reference.

In 1956, the motto of the United States was changed from E Pluribus Unum to In God We Trust. We share the same motto with the country of Nicaragua, En Dios Confiamos.  In 1956, that was a good example to follow.

I think it long past the time we return to the origins of this great nation and once again embrace a philosophy of Out of Many, One.

Think about it. Out of many, religions, philosophies, languages, ethnicities, race, traditions, place of origin, thoughts and beliefs, comes One.

America. The total being greater than the sum of its parts.

Otherwise, the differences that separate us from those who use force to impose their interpretation of truth on others, be it from a Bible or a Quran will disappear.

To refuse to call the evil of Radical Christianity by its true name, terrorism, is to allow it to grow. I do not want to live in an America based on exclusion rather than inclusion. I want to be part of the many that add to the One.

When Did the American Eagle become the Cowardly Lion?

When did we become so afraid? A country born in revolution, tested by a civil war, and bloodied on the battlefields of the Ardennes, Bastogne, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Chosin Reservoir, Hue, Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

When did this country, blended of people from all over the world, the sum of the parts being greater than the whole, lose its heart?

When did this country, once willing to risk everything in its pursuit of democracy, once challenging itself to put a man on the moon, once serving as a beacon to the world, willing to bear the brunt of supporting the rights of all to be free, become afraid?

Are we so fearful of our inability to sustain and protect ourselves that we would turn our back on the downtrodden and oppressed?

Those who have been born here often forget the words that greet those who came here through the gateway of Ellis Island…

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Are these words that have inspired millions to risk it all for the opportunities of freedom meaningless?

Are they just words?

The opportunities of freedom so cherished by this country bear an obligation. Those that embrace freedom for themselves must be willing to bear the burden of supporting those that seek freedom.

I was raised to believe in an America that stood for something. An America that was willing to put actions to words and fight for all those that seek freedom and against those that would oppress us.

The Syrian refugees are the latest in a long line of oppressed seeking help. The idea that the United States of America is incapable of extending our protections to them as well as protecting ourselves from those forces of oppression is disheartening.

Xenophobia is a fever which has plagued mankind since the dawn of time. We are better than that. We are smarter than a bunch of illiterate zealots masking their craving of power with a distorted view of Islam. The very idea that we need to deny freedom from oppression to thousands of refugees because it involves risk is pathetic.

Where is our American pride? Where is our courage to do what is right, not because it is easy, but because it is hard?

Where has the America I grew to love, respect, and believe in gone?

I am not a religious person. I often poke fun at religion, but it is only because of the certainty which some of the faithful promote the particular faith. No one has a lock on the truth, but everyone is entitled to choose their belief, without compelling others to adopt this.

The Islamic terrorists misuse religion in their quest for power. We are smarter, stronger, tougher, and better than that.

There’s a line from J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye- “If Christ could see Christmas, he’d puke….”

I dare say if Mohammed could see what’s being done in his name, and our fear to do something about that, he’d have the same reaction.

A thousand years from now, if mankind can survive, those studying our history will remember more what we failed to do, than what we chose to do.

The America I love is better than that.


Better Way of War: Learning from Star Trek

As I predicted in an earlier piece, (,
France has responded in kind to the attacks in Paris. They’ve launched a two-pronged assault, using Law Enforcement to arrest and seize terrorists within their borders and using the might of their military on targets in Syria.

The use of the police to investigate and arrest those responsible I applaud. I hope it results in the dismantling of the terrorist cells. The use of the military I understand, but I have less hope for the effectiveness of such tactics.

I have no doubt of the efficiency of the French attacks, or the effectiveness of the weapons. I am sure they managed to kill a number of ISIS members and those that support them.

The failure lies in they cannot succeed in killing the ideas (as warped as they may seem) that encourage and inspire people to commit such acts through military force alone.

Over the course of the last century, our ideas and abilities regarding warfare have changed. Militarily (meaning all those with sophisticated military hardware and capabilities) have exponentially improved our ability to reach out and kill someone.

We can do it from the relative safely of an Air Force base in Nevada, remotely piloting UAV equipped with HARM missiles to destroy targets on the other side of the world with the push of a button.

The violence and gore of death mitigated by watching it on a screen rather than smelling the blood and stepping over the body parts.

Since the War to End all Wars (WWI) upwards of 80 million people have died (and perhaps more) in war.  Yet we continue down this path.  And we do it because we’ve become better at the advertising that sells this approach.

In December of 1941 President Roosevelt announced we were at war with Japan and Germany. He called on all Americans to dedicate themselves to victory. To commit themselves to battle. To be willing to sacrifice themselves in a noble cause, even at the price of their own lives.

In September of 2001, President Bush told us to go shopping. Yes, we were at war with terrorists. Yes, we would use our military might to smite our enemies. Those enemies that hate us because of our freedom (and shopping malls apparently) and we would hunt them down and kill them.

Between 1941 and 2001 our wars went from all-out calls for the commitment and blood of Americans to the “Police action” of Korea, to the “Assistance” of the Democratic Government of South Viet Nam.

Just a kinder and gentler way of selling war to the world.

So how can we learn from Star Trek? There was an episode wherein Kirk and crew encounter two planets at war. But there are no weapons being fired, no bodies being exploded or shot, no horribly wounded sent home without limbs to recover.

It was a “civilized” way of warfare. Virtual weapons were fired back and forth. Computers randomly selected the “casualties” and dutiful citizens so selected reported to the chambers to be “eliminated” without the horrors of real war.

It worked well at eliminating the horrors of war, without eliminating the motivation of war. No one on either planet could explain the reason they were at war, that had faded into the past.

Kirk, as he always did, violated the Prime Directive and interfered. He gave them back the horrors and reality of war. The two planets chose to negotiate. Happy ending all around.

Perhaps we can learn something here. Either find a willingness to solve the problems that motivate a people to choose to kill another people by virtue of a difference of beliefs, or adapt a more “civilized” way to war.

Think of it. Eliminate the horrors of the wounded, both civilian and military. Eliminate the effect of war on children (they would be ineligible for selection until their 21st birthday.) Redirect the resources of the military into more productive activities.

Let the computers fight the war.

The reality is it wouldn’t work. Until we as a species learn to extend tolerance as much as seek it for ourselves, war will remain with us.

I find it amazing that those that scream the loudest for the path to war, are almost always those that don’t go to war. It seems to me that those who have never seen the effect of a bullet on a human body in person are the first to hand someone else a weapon, identify the target, and send them off to fight. Staying safely behind.


Roots of Evil

The recent attacks in Paris have triggered the usual expressions of sympathy which inevitably give way to calls for visiting great harm upon those who perpetrate these acts.

The sympathetic responses are, for the most part, sincere yet tempered by the calls for vengeance. In any case, they miss the point.

In the west, with its predominantly Judeo-Christian population, the inevitable attributing of the blame on Islam ensues. There are voices within these faiths that call for peace, but a significant number of the Christian faithful would gladly pull the trigger on a Muslim target, given the opportunity, simply because it is a Muslim target. Yet are shocked and quick to condemn similar behavior on the part of some Muslims.

These attacks, if they are promulgated on an interpretation of the Quran which mandates the elimination of the “Kafir”, or unbelievers, underscore the inherent dangers of religion.

Christianity is not wholly innocent in these matters. They had their Crusades. The difference being at some point the enlightenment took place. Relegating religion to a personal matter; slowly eliminating any dominant religious influence so as to have no place in government.

It took centuries for that to happen, yet I fear we still are plagued with the last vestiges of such influences.

I do not understand the rationale of those that insist on a Judeo-Christian based government here, yet fear a similar religious, albeit Islamic, based government somewhere else. The idea of government, with its inherent ability to impose restrictions on behavior, being based on any religious tenets is frightening.

What would our reaction be to a nuclear armed Islamic state? Abject terror, I have no doubt. Why? Because we fear they would use such power to further their cause.

Isn’t that what some “Christians” among us have urged our government to do?

Either way, it is not good for the world.

Those who call for visiting violence on others by virtue of their beliefs miss the contradiction in such an attitude.

Religion is not the problem or the cause of the problem. It is a tool. Used by some to maintain control. If all religion was taken out of the picture, these things would still happen; with some other motivation to spark them. The conditions are the same, the terms would be different.

Those that deny free and open discourse for all people do so to promote the power of one religion to control their people.  A religion they choose.

The west, through the availability of education (although less and less valued it would seem), has learned to mitigate the influence of religion to control the masses through the power of government.

It is an indisputable fact that the higher the educational level, the less religiosity.

I am not advocating the abolition of religion. I know many sincere believers who temper their faith with reason when it comes to interpretation of writings such as the Bible, the Talmud, and the Quran. I am advocating the application of reason to our response to violence in the name of religion.

Imposing the superiority of one religion over another does not solve the problem, it prolongs it.

If we are unwilling to address the underlying causes of the problem, i.e. poverty, unemployment, lack of education, treatment of women as property, we will forever be combatting the symptoms.

Our acquiescence to the conduct of our allies, such as Saudi Arabia and Israel (heresy I know, however because they are more aligned with the Judeo part does not make them blameless in their denial of civil rights), is a big part of the problem.

The issues here are not as simple as some politicians would have you believe. We do not own the morally superior ground here. These are complex issues, requiring complex solutions which will never happen if we ignore the reality.

It is not the correctness of any one religion that offers a solution, it is the willingness to accept all faiths as entitled to equal treatment.

Faith is not fact. Hold your faith as you see fit, do not deny others the same. If there is such a thing as one true faith, but you were led down the wrong path by parents or guardians or accident of birth, I think an all-powerful god can figure out the quality of your character without resorting to totaling up how many non-believers you tried to kill.

Those who committed these attacks, those who committed the attacks on 9/11, those who insist on imposing their way of life on others are the problem.

I am not naive. These attacks need to be met with sufficient force to stop them. However, the threat or application of force is not the solution to preventing them.

Open access to freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and freedom from religion is the only solution.

Changing someone’s faith, or eradicating such beliefs, cannot be accomplished  with bombs and missiles.

It can only be solved by tolerance, understanding, a willingness to listen