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Sunday, July 20, 2014

One Small Step, A Bittersweet Anniversary

This essay first appeared on Stonekettle Station on July 20, 2009, the 40th Anniversary of the Apollo moon landing. Nothing has changed since.

 


 

Houston, Tranquility Base here…the Eagle has landed.

Forty-five years ago today, the entire world listened as Neil Armstrong spoke those words from the surface of the Moon.

Eagle, that fragile tinker-toy of a spaceship, had just set down on the dusty regolith of the Mare Tranquillitatis and it wasn’t just Mission Control who had been holding their collective breath, but the entire population of planet Earth – with those words, we all started breathing again.

In that one moment, the entire human race was as close to united as it has ever been, black, white, brown, yellow and red, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, atheists, and agnostics, from the most sophisticated rocket scientists at NASA and Star City to the most primitive bushman, capitalists and communists and socialists and the left and the right and the undecided all stared at the moon in abject wonder and shivered at the smallness of man against the vast and terrible backdrop of the universe. They cried and they cheered and they hugged random strangers in the streets. They marveled at what men could do if only they dared dream big enough and they all wished the crew of Apollo 11 Godspeed.

A few hours later we watched as Armstrong and Aldrin opened the hatch and descended the ladder and made the first foot prints on the surface of a world other than Earth.

There was a silver plaque mounted on the side of the LEM’s descent stage, it said:

Here, men from the planet Earth
first set foot upon the moon

July 1969 A.D.

We came in peace, for all mankind.

Beneath those words were the signatures of Apollo 11’s crew, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin, and the President of the United States, Richard Nixon.

It was as if ten thousand years of recorded history, of centuries of scientific advance, of decades of effort, and the dreams of millions had come together in that one moment solely in order to place that message on the surface of another world. You could feel it. Hell, even as a seven year old kid, I could feel it. In that moment the world was different – men had walked upon the surface of another world and everything was about to change. Before that pivotal event our dreams had been limited to the near horizons of Earth, but in that moment our vision was limitless and the whole universe spread out before us. Mars would be next, and the moons of Jupiter, and then Saturn. There was talk of ships that could lift whole colonies, hundreds of people, into space, Orion, rising on a column of atomic fire and even of an unmanned probe to the near stars, Daedalus.

Men had walked on the Moon and there was nothing that we could not do.

It sounds impossible now, ships like Orion, giant stations in orbit wheeling against the stars, colonies on the moon, on Mars – but in 1969 it didn’t seem so. Less than eight years before, John F. Kennedy gave his famous speech, “We choose to go to the Moon. We chose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things not because they are easy but because they are hard!” Damn straight. And we did. We kept the promise and the vision of a murdered president, a promise made in one of the darkest hours of our history, the Cuban Missile Crisis. We kept the promise despite the turmoil of that terrible decade, the battle for civil rights, the radically changing culture, the Cold War and the Vietnam War and the threat of imminent nuclear Armageddon. And in less than nine years we went from barely making it into low Earth orbit to the Moon itself.

We choose to go to the moon, you damned right we do.

In 1969, nothing seemed impossible. We would walk the surface of other worlds, we would build our homes there and birth our children there and dream our own dreams. People believed.

Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins came home to parades and the adulations of billions. Six missions followed them to the moon, five landed.

But, by 1974 it was over, all of it.

The hippy dreams of the sixties were lost in the reality of drug addiction and venereal disease and Charlie Mason, Nixon had resigned in disgrace, and we had retreated from Vietnam leaving 50,000 of our countrymen dead on the battlefield. And in far less than five years flights to the moon had become so routine, so boring, that they weren’t even covered by the media. In that five years the dreamers and the engineers and the scientists and the astronauts and the men with the Right Stuff were replaced with accountants and administrators and bureaucrats and those with no imagination.

Somewhere in that five years the dreams of 1969 died and no one even noticed.

The last men to walk on the moon, Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt, lifted off in their ship Challenger from the Sea of Serenity on December 14th, 1972. And when they, and Command Ship pilot Ron Evans, returned to Earth in America, it would be the last time human beings would leave low Earth orbit.

There were supposed to be three more missions, Apollo 18, 19, 20 – and follow on programs after that, building on the success of Apollo.

The ship that would have become Apollo 18, a fully operational moonship, rests on its side now, moldering and covered in bird shit on the grass in front of Johnson Space Flight Center – The mightiest machine ever built by the hands of man, a ship designed to land men on the surface of another world and bring them home safely again, the culmination of the skill and daring and dreams of millions is now nothing more than the largest and most expensive lawn decoration in the history of mankind. A testament to failed dreams and the cowardice of politicians and the small horizons our children are born beneath today.

Pieces of the ship that might have become Apollo 19 rest now in a similar display on the lawn in front of Kennedy Space Center. That display is made of bits and pieces, some operational and some not, a junk sculpture made from the debris of our dreams, things that could have been and never were.

Apollo 20 was never built, the command module and lunar modules were scrapped, the uncompleted carcasses dumped in a landfill. Pieces of the Apollo program were locked away forgotten in dusty storerooms or sold off to museums. Some components were later used for Skylab and the Apollo-Soyuz rendezvous – sort of like using a semi-truck to deliver the mail and just about as foolish and wasteful.

I’ve been to the Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian in Washington DC and I’ve seen the Apollo 11 Command Module, Columbia, scarred and pitted, resting beside the great machines of history, the Wright Flyer, The Spirit of St. Louis, The Bell X-1, the Voyager, and Spaceship One and the sight brings tears to my eyes for all the things man has dared and done. And I’ve been to Florida and Texas and I’ve seen our future out there rusting in the sun and the rain and the sight fills me with revulsion and disgust and sadness for all the things we could have done, and did not.

As a kid, I heard great men say that the stars would belong to my generation, I watched brave men walk on the surface of another world and dared to believe that I too would do so some day. That belief has filled me with wonder my whole life and driven me to far ends of the Earth in search of adventure and mystery and far distant shores. That desire filled me with great dreams and instilled in me a belief that men can achieve anything if they only believe, if they only have the courage to try, if they only have the will to seek new horizons and push the edge of the safe and the known. I firmly believe that the meek shall inherit the Earth, and that they are welcome to it - but the rest of the universe belongs to those willing to risk all in order to see what is beyond the next hill.

As a teenager, I watched cowardly men protest that the cost was too great and the price too high, and I watched those selfish fearful sons of bitches dismantle the space program and turn our future into lawn ornaments. I wondered then, and I still wonder now, how if we cannot afford to build a future for all of mankind how then can we afford to spend twice as much in order to build those weapons that would destroy all of mankind? In the last thirty years we Americans have built exactly five manned spacecraft. Five, and one of those only as a grudging replacement for the lost Challenger. Columbia we chose not to replace. America relies now on Russian built craft and has no manned ships of her own at all. In the last thirty years however, we've built thousands of nuclear bombs. Thousands. We've built hideously expensive invisible airplanes that we can't even use. We are even now dismantling many of those bombs and missiles and I am grateful that it is so, but, my God, the colossal waste, the colossal folly of it all. Funny that we can afford to build our own destruction, but not our own future. Funny, and tragic, and ironic, isn’t it?

As an adult I’ve watched our halfhearted efforts to stay in space, to keep thirty year old technology flying, and build a space station that instead of housing thousands, or even hundreds, or even tens, can barely support three - ironically the same number who went to the moon in a tiny capsule four decades ago and the same number who flew onboard Skylab twenty five years ago. Three seems to be the limit of NASA’s vision. As an adult I've watched as robots and machines roll across alien land in place of the men and woman who sent them, and it is no more exciting or inspiring than watching a video game. As an adult I’ve watched my dreams fade and die and know that I will never walk the surface of another world, and yet I look up there at the moon and still dare hope that some day we will see the lights of cities shining back from that shadowed crescent.

You know, it wouldn’t bother me so damned much if we had tried and failed. But we didn’t fail. We did it, we went to the moon, we could have gone to Mars and beyond.

And then we just quit.

We gave up.

Forty-three years ago, we turned our backs on Kennedy’s vision. We didn’t do the things that were hard. We did the easy part, and then we walked away. And I see that legacy all around me here in America today, the failure to face the challenges, to take the difficult roads, and do the things that are hard. We argue and squabble and hate each other, we spend our time trying to tear down what others have built and instead of driving forward into a future that we have forged, we cower in fear. Instead of following the men and women of vision and daring, we listen to the counsel of those small minded fearful men who admonish us not to dream.

My son, like most of his generation, has no interest in space. His school, though a fine place it may be, does not have the classrooms decorated with pictures of the men and the ships and the planets and the stars. There are no big dreams, no great national goals to galvanize his generation.

For these kids it’s not that the dreams have died, it’s that they never were.

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"As I take man's last step from the surface, back home for some time to come — but we believe not too long into the future — I'd like to just say what I believe history will record, that America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17."

Eugene A. Cernan, Apollo 17 Commander.
The last man to walk on the moon, December 14, 1972.

Friday, July 18, 2014

An Eye For An Eye In The Country Of The Blind

"...I couldn't find anything about the Israel-Palestine conflict on your wall. Was it because you didn't get the news about what is happening there or you just didn't give a damn on what's happening in the far middle east?"

It’s mostly the latter.

Oh, well, okay, that’s not entirely true.

That question came from a reader who follows me on Facebook. This essay is an expanded version of my reply there.

It’s not that I really don’t care about what’s going on over there right now, because I do.

What happens in the Middle East, particularly when it comes to Israel’s precarious relationship to its neighbors affects the whole world in a thousand different ways big and small.

So, I do care.

But honestly, what can I say about the current mess that hasn’t already been said elsewhere? Oh hey, look at that, Israelis and Palestinians are busy slaughtering each other again. Show of hands, how many of you are surprised?  No, really, how many of you charmingly optimistic people honestly expected the Israelis and the Palestinians to sit down and live together in peace and harmony?

Really?

Yeah, me neither.

I look at the dead kids and the rockets and the rubble and the ground invasion into Gaza and I think, goddamn, I can’t tell if this is live or archive video – because it’s just oh so familiar. We’ve seen it over and over and over and over.

Of course I care about the innocents caught in the middle of this insanity. Sure. But the conflict itself?  The countries and the politics and the religion and the assholes who keep it going? That’s been going on my whole life, and long before, and frankly I’m long past caring about the extremists on either side. You know, it occurs to me that there has never been a week in my entire life that these goddamned people haven't been in the news killing each other. They've been killing each other for as long as I can remember - and a hell of a lot longer than that.

Everybody's God is buried in Israel.

Or they have some ancient wrecked temple there.

Or one of their various Holy Joes did a rain-dance and spoke some mumbo jumbo or consecrated a shiny rock or a magic shrub or had some divine world changing epiphany there.

Jehovah gave the land to the Jews. Jesus gave it to the Christians. Allah gave it to the Muslims. Or the British with the willing complicity of Europe and America, out of guilt for their inaction during the Holocaust, gave it to the Zionists and screwed the Palestinians. Take your pick. Everybody has a historical claim, no matter whose history you believe.

Both sides are right.

Both sides are wrong.

Both sides are guilty of atrocities, both sides are aggrieved, both sides are convinced that the other side are terrorists, and both sides are positive they’re justified in their bloody violence.

And Israelis kill Palestinian kids.

And Palestinians kill Israeli kids.

And there’s enough death on both sides to fill a battlefield with dead children and dead husbands and dead wives and dead mothers and dead fathers and dead bystanders of every stripe.

The Israelis started it.

The Palestinians started it.

Hell, nobody knows who really started it, it depends on where you draw the line and you can easily find evidence to support any viewpoint you like and plenty of folks do.

The Jews are the victims.

The Muslims are the victims.

It's all the Israelis’ fault.

It's all the Palestinians’ fault.

This land is the Jewish homeland.

This land is the Palestinian homeland.

The Israelis are dedicated to an exclusively Jewish nation.

Hamas, speaking for Palestinians, is equally dedicated to the destruction of that nation.

On and on, round and round, eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, life for a life and the fuck all I care at this point.

We Americans, we have this idiotic naive idea that we're somehow going wade into the middle of this shit-fight and broker some kind of lasting peace complete with flying bunnies and magic rainbows. We've got a road map and everything.  Every new administration sends the Secretary of State over there with some big plan and they make a bunch of speeches and the TV shows Jews in suits and Muslims in robes shaking hands like they’re touching raw sewage with their bare skin. They all face the cameras and smile with their mouths and not their eyes.

Then the US Secretary of State announces that things are looking good … about thirty seconds before it all goes straight to hell. 

Eventually they all sign something and maybe they even stop killing each other for five minutes.  Whichever political party is in power in America pats themselves on the back at their cleverness and says, see? This time it'll be different because those other guys, that other political party, yeah they suck and they hate Israel and they hate America. Not us, see? Boyah!

And while we're handing out the cigars and the peace medals, Hamas lobs a rocket into a Kibbutz daycare center or a bunch of radical Zionists dust off their Mogen Davids and fire up their bulldozers and they're all back to killing each other before the ink is dry on the peace accord.

These people and their murderous bullshit are the fundamental cause behind 90% of the problems in the Middle East. Damned near every violent conflict over there ultimately traces back to this idiotic war and America’s constant meddling in it.

Let’s be honest for a minute, shall we? Brutally honest. Strategically honest. We get nothing from Israel. The relationship is strictly one way.  We give them money and support and take it in the ass from every other country in the Middle East over our unending love for Israel. Hell, Israel attacked us and killed our people, and I served under a Master Chief who was right there that day as the aerial torpedoes smashed through USS Liberty’s hull, and we still give them unconditional support with no strings attached. And as a result we have been at odds with the rest of the Middle East, the Muslim world, for seventy years – the very Muslim nations that we, America, depend on every single day for the oil and the money to run our entire economy.  Now you tell me, which one is more important to us? Really. No, be brutally honest, which one is more important to America? The nation we get nothing from, or the nations we can’t run our economy without?

What’s that? Oh, yes, the birthplace of Jesus, right.  How foolish of me.  Maybe, if we pray enough, he’ll show up and multiply the barrels for us the way he did those loaves and fishes. 

Half of America wrings its hands in woe, wishing for peace and crying about all the little children.  We argue endlessly about Israel. Can’t you see? Israel has a right to their security! No no no, the Palestinians are second class citizens in their own country!  Fuck the Arabs, they’re just terrorist animals! No fuck the Jews, those murdering fascists they’re no better than the Nazis! On and on and round and round and an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and it just never ends.

Meanwhile the other half of America thinks the slaughter is a dandy idea. They think it’s the beginning of the end and they just can't wait for it all to explode so that 90 Foot Tall Angry Bearded Robot Laser Jesus will return in fiery End Times to wrestle his evil devil twin from the Mirror Universe and to slaughter all the people they hate like it says in their holy book. Then they’ll get sucked up to heaven and live happily in their perfect ever-after – made all the sweeter by the thought of the rest of us broiling in Bible Hell for all of eternity right next to the Jews and the Muslims.

Look, I’ve been to Israel. It’s an okay place, in the brief moments between the slaughter.

But I’ve talked to the Jews and I’ve talked to the Arabs, and while I in no way claim to be an expert I come away with the impression that neither side is all that interested in peace. Oh they say they are, but it’s a kind of peace. The same kind of peace the extremists here want for America. The kind of peace where if the other side just either knuckles under or, more desirably, just fucks off and dies, then there’ll be peace they can live with.

These people, they don't want to live together, none of them, and they don't pretend anything else - it's all the rest of us who suffer that delusion.

These people, Israelis and Palestinians, won't have peace until one side or the other, or both, are all as dead as their prophets.

To be honest, I've long since lost patience with these idiots and I don't give much of a damn about either side.

If you insist on taking an eye for an eye, sooner or later everybody ends up blind.

As long as there is even one of each left, they'll keep right on killing each other.

So, maybe the sooner they get it done, the better for them and for all the rest of us. Harsh? Sure it’s harsh. And cold. And immoral. And unsympathetic. You bet. And I take no joy in it, but none of them care what I say, they just go right on killing each other regardless of the impact their hate and their war and their slaughter has on the rest of the world, so, really what sympathy do I owe them?  If they, the Israelis and the Palestinians both, are perfectly willing to keep throwing their children into the fire, why in the hell should I care? Why should I care more about their lives than they do themselves?

But, of course, I do care.

And I’d love to see this conflict end in real peace. Hell, if the Catholics and the Protestants of Northern Ireland figured out how to do it then I don’t see why these religious assholes can’t too.

But they won’t.

See, I’m a realist and I grew up with a recovered alcoholic and he always told me that you can’t make somebody else quit drinking.  And he was absolutely right. If they want to drink, then by God they’ll find a way. They’ll drink themselves into the grave and they’ll take just as many enablers along with them as are willing to climb aboard and they’ll feel not one shred of guilt just so long as they can get one more sip. 

No, the only way somebody quits drinking is if they want to.

Nobody, nobody, can make them.

And it’s no different here. I’d be perfectly willing to help if they really wanted to stop. But, these people are at war because they don’t want peace.  If they wanted peace, the Israelis would start treating the Palestinians with some respect as full citizens in their own homeland. And if they wanted peace, the Palestinians would stop shooting rockets into Israel and engaging in terrorist attacks.  And if we wanted peace, we Americans, then we’d stop enabling this conflict and start treating both sides equally instead as an extension of our own partisan civil war.

The simple brutal truth of the matter is that the reason there isn’t peace in Israel is because nobody wants peace in Israel.

Other than the poor sons of bitches caught in the middle.

The world will never have lasting peace so long as men reserve for war the finest human qualities. Peace, no less than war, requires idealism and self-sacrifice, and a righteous and dynamic faith.
    - John Foster Dulles, US Secretary of State under Eisenhower

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Stonekettle Station Redesign

As I mentioned in previous posts, recent events have caused me to take a long hard look at what I do here. 

Circumstances and thieving bastards have forced me to take some long overdue steps to protect my intellectual property. Additionally, as has been noted by my family and many readers, it’s long past time that I get serious about transitioning to professional writing as a full time occupation.  And, again as noted by a number of readers, the design of Stonekettle Station was starting to look more than a bit outdated.

As such, I’ve been making some changes over the last month. One of those changes is a redesign of Stonekettle Station itself. If you haven’t noticed already, the appearance of the blog has been significantly overhauled (If you don’t notice a new look, try clearing your cache and refreshing your browser). Most of the obvious changes are cosmetic, I wanted to update Stonekettle Station to more reflect contemporary blog design and to better protect myself.

Since a number of folks asked, the background picture is Pioneer Peak in Palmer, Alaska – that is, it’s my backyard.  And yes, I took the picture. For those of you who don’t know, I’m a photographer in addition to being a writer and artist. Some of my photography will start appearing for sale via a link on this site in the near future.

Not all the changes to Stonekettle Station are cosmetic. I've changed how things work under the hood, streamlining the underlying structure of the website which should speed up load times and make things work better for both you and me. You’ll also note that I’ve updated the information appearing on the right sidebar, including my bio which now includes the occupation “freelance writer” because I’m now getting paid for some of my work.  Speaking of which, as I move towards becoming a full-time professional writer with a kid in college, it has become necessary for me to monetize the blog. Many of you asked if you could help keep me in cheese sandwiches (writers run on cheese sandwiches, coffee, and strong whiskey. That's a fact and you can look it up on the internet). The answer to that question is: yes, hell yes, and thank you. There is now a "donate" button displayed prominently on the right side of the main page. You may, if you think the content here is worth anything, give me money directly through PayPal or via whatever form of electronic tender you desire including credit/debit cards. You may give as much or as little as you like. You can even set up a reoccurring donation on a monthly or yearly basis. It’s entirely up to you.   

Additionally, within the next several days, Google ads will begin appearing on the blog. I will attempt to limit them and make them as unobtrusive as possible. But ads are how websites make real money, especially if they pull in the volume of traffic Stonekettle Station now does. And I'm not in a position where I can ignore that opportunity. If you're running an ad-blocker, you won't see them but I won't make anything from your visit either. And that's okay, I'm not asking you to turn off your ad-blocking plug-in. But you might consider a small donation if you don't want to be bothered with the ads when they begin to appear.  Note: this holds true for all blogs like Stonekettle Station and other small independent news sites. If you enjoy what you get there, you might consider turning off your ad-blocker or making a donation to help keep these places running. But again, that’s entirely up to you.

Let me be clear, I am not asking you to donate. I'm not asking you to suffer the ads. You are welcome to continue enjoying (or hating) Stonekettle Station for free.  But if you do choose to donate or allow ads then you will have a huge warm fuzzy feeling of awesome goodness, and I will personally put in a good word for you with the deity of your choice  –or–  I will raise a glass of good Irish whiskey in your honor, whichever tickles your fancy.

Expect continued changes and refinements over the next few weeks. Hopefully this will make your visit here better. Feel free to offer suggestions, I’ll probably ignore them, but hey, doesn’t hurt to try.

And thanks. Thanks for everything, thanks for coming by, thanks for reading, thanks for your interest, thanks for your kind words and constructive feedback. I sincerely appreciate it.

//Jim Wright, Stonekettle Station

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Mother of Exiles

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
  - The New Colossus, Emma Lazarus, 1883
     Engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty

 

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

Well, give me your tired and poor yearning to be free just so long as they’re from Ireland or Scotland or Germany. The Netherlands? Italy? We’ll take them. England’s okay too. Maybe Poland and Greece.  Even the stinky French. Why, we’ll even take the Russians. Sure what the heck, welcome to America! Come on in.

Brown Spanish speaking children from where now? Central America? Whoa, not so fast.

Hey, there’s a reason why the Statue of Liberty holds her lamp above New York Harbor and not the Texas border. Just saying.

Because that’s America right? That’s who we are, a bunch of fat old white Christians with signs and bibles screaming hatred at a busload of brown children.

Yeah, fuck you, huddled masses yearning to breathe free! Back on the bus! 

America is for Americans and there isn’t enough for you. Get back on the bus!

No, there isn’t enough for you. No.

We’re a country that has so much goddamned food we have TV shows about it. We have food festivals. We have entire cable channels dedicated to food, just pictures and pictures of food, of people eating food, of animals eating food. Every kind of food.  Burgers so big it takes a football team to eat one. Contests where Joey Chesnut eats sixty-nine hotdogs, sixty fucking nine hotdogs in one sitting. Sixty nine hotdogs, that’s more fat and protein and calories than any dozen kids in the slums around Panama City see in a week.  Guy Fieri drives from restaurant to restaurant and he wipes more food off his fat bling covered face than half the world eats in a day. The average American family scrapes more food into the garbage each month than most of the poor south of our border see in a year. We have so much cheap food in America, that our poor people are suffering from an “Epidemic of Obesity.” 

But we can’t spare a sandwich for a busload of poor brown children.  Fuck ‘em! Back on the bus!

We’re a country where preachers are millionaires. Religion has its own TV shows and theme parks. We don’t just have churches in America, we have giant Mega-churches, temples of glory made from gold and crystal and thousand dollar bills!  We live in a country where Joel Osteen’s weekly collection plate take averages half a million dollars in cash.  We live in a country where religion rakes in tax free billions and buys itself the court and the election and looks out of our TVs every week complaining about persecution.  Persecution.  We live in a country of divine exceptionalism where, according to outspoken religious leaders, our borders were drawn by no less than God himself. Oh yes, those children on our southern border are violating God’s very law, according to America’s bestest Christians:

What we learn from the Bible is that borders are God’s idea, and that such borders are to be respected. They are not to be crossed without permission.

That was Bryan Fischer, in an article for Barbwire. He doesn’t say who you should get permission from, Jesus I guess, since they’re His borders and all. Texas mega-church pastor Robert Jeffress agrees, in an interview on Fox and Friends he said,

Yes, Jesus loved children, but he also respected law. He said, render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. So, we need to do both. Show compassion, but secure the borders.

Jesus respected the law? The same Jesus who got himself nailed to a cross for breaking secular law and the edicts of the local religious leaders? That Jesus? Is that the law abiding Jesus we’re talking about?

I ran a, albeit cursory, Google search, but I can’t seem to find where either of these men condemned those Christians who routinely cross borders without permission, carting boxes full of bibles and the Good Word in defiance of God’s law and a nation’s sovereignty – like those Americans held in North Korea for attempting to proselytize the communists. Or hey, how about the more than fifty charismatic evangelical churches who belong to Ministries Without Borders? I mean, the sin is right there in the name, isn’t it? But, I guess that’s different, when you’re breaking God’s law for Jesus.

Funny thing, I’d be willing to bet whatever sum of money you like, that the vast majority of those kids crowding our southern border are Christians, come from overwhelmingly Christian nations. But, hey, God’s law, right?

You know, it’s damned convenient how God hates all the same people Bryan Fisher does, isn’t it?

Despite their piety and their tearful respect for Jesus’ compassion and their billions in tax-free genuine US dollars, American Christians can’t spare a dime or a bed or a fucking sandwich for a busload of brown children who are coming from real actual persecution and exploitation and degradation and poverty and horror upon horror.

No, Jesus says fuck ‘em. Get your little brown ass back on the bus, Pendejo!

We’re a nation where half our population decries abortion and birth control. We cry crocodile tears for all the little babies and their oh so precious right to life. But real, live, breathing children? Fuck ‘em! Back on the bus, America has no room for you!

Ah, but of course it’s all Obama’s fault, right?

We wouldn’t be in this pickle if it wasn’t for Barack Obama and his evil plan to brownify America. 

Oh we never had to secure the borders before Obama, by God! He invited them here, these dirty diseased little parasites, didn’t he?

And now it’s all come undone, yes it has.

This, my shiny electronic friends, this is Obama’s Katrina.

That’s what they’re saying right? Obama’s Katrina moment. Oh sure, conservatives have called the BP Oil Spill Obama’s Katrina. And the Fort Hood Shootings. And the NSA leaks. And the Swine Flu outbreak. And the AIG bonus scandal. And the slow economic recovery and the unemployment rate and housing, those were all Obama’s Katrina. There was Hurricane Sandy. There was even a propane shortage in the Midwest that invoked momentary speculation about Obama’s Katrina moment.  And, of course, there was the Affordable Healthcare Act. And Syria, Haiti, and Benghazi. All Obama’s supposed Katrina. 

Why, there was even speculation that Obama’s “Mom Jeans” were going to be his Katrina.

But this, this, at last is Obama’s Katrina.

Those brown children massing on the border? This is finally it for real, man!

That’s what Texas Governor Rick Perry says,

“As I recall President Bush got chastised greatly for not showing up in New Orleans when Katrina occurred.”

Bush had a Katrina, and the partisan scales must be balanced. Conservatives won’t stop until they get equality – Obama must have a true Katrina. And, boy oh boy, this time, this time, they just might have a valid comparison.

A bunch of poor brown people caught in the middle of a humanitarian disaster? Pretend like it’s not our problem. A deadlocked government, too caught up in their own partisan bullshit to take decisive action? Deny the victims food and shelter and medical care and adequate sanitation. Build a wall around them … and shoot any that try to get out? 

That’s what Militia Jesus would do, right? Fuck ‘em, get back on the bus!

Well, maybe Governor Perry is right, because it sure sounds like Katrina to me.

And it’s all Obama’s fault. It’s Obama’s fault that we’ve been propping up and toppling corrupt Central American governments and their various revolutions and insurgencies since Teddy Roosevelt decided to build a canal across Colombia.

And sure, it was Obama who funneled more illicit money than the gross domestic product of entire nations into Central and South America to satiate America’s bottomless lust for cocaine and black tar heroin and weed – oblivious to the bloody violence and the horrifying oppression that results.

It was Obama who ignored the poverty and the disease and the corruption and the exploitation that grows day by day south of our borders – horror so great that children are willing to risk all, willing to risk rape and murder and enslavement and death in the boiling desert, willing to risk the wrath of “Patriots” with their signs and their guns and their Duck Dynasty hats and their well fed bellies spilling over their camouflaged belts, just for a chance – no matter how slim – at America.

Because that’s how it is, you know. I’ve been there, Central America, South America, and I’m not just talking about the spotless tourist beaches in Cabo and Mazatlan and the Disney adventure tours in San Jose where cruise liners the size of Las Vegas hotels arrive to unleash a flood of well heeled gringos come for cheap entertainment and cheap prescription drugs and cheap sex. Where the locals look on in well concealed envy and play their dimwitted roles for a few American dollars, si, Senor! Muchos gracias, Senora! No, I’m talking about the other places too, places in Ecuador and Guatemala and El Salvador and Mexico and Panama and Colombia where it’s so goddamned desperate that people are willing to risk everything, even the lives of their children, for a chance at something better.  It’s so bad that no matter how many barriers we put up, no matter how high the wall or wide the moat, no matter the guns and the barbed wire and the dogs and the confinement centers and the militia, no matter the corpulent Americans waving their signs and screaming hate in purple faced rage, it is still orders of magnitude better than where they came from.

No matter how many times you send them back, they’ll  keep on coming.

Because that’s what America is to them, the golden door.

They are the tired and the poor.

They are the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

They are the wretched refuse of distant teeming shores.

They are the homeless and tempest tossed.

This isn’t an immigration crisis, it’s a humanitarian crisis.

And there is nothing you can do to stop them, short of genocide, short of killing them all. Short of making America into a land so terrible, so horrible, so repulsive, that even those utterly without hope wouldn’t want to come here.

Or…

Or, we could do it another way.

They’re calling this Obama’s Katrina, but Hurricane Katrina didn’t have to play out the way it did. We can learn from our mistakes. We could have rallied as a nation, we Americans, we have it within us to be magnificent, but in our petty selfishness we have lost our union and the sense that we are greater together than apart. All of us.

Hate and fear and rage and selfishness do not have to carry the day.

We do not have to become a fortress nation self-imprisoned behind minefields and barbed wire and machine guns.

We can be the America of that promise.

We can be a welcome shore and a beacon of liberty and freedom and hope for all.

Despite the protests of a selfish few, we are America, and we have more than enough resources, far more than we ourselves need – our garbage, the food we throw away, would feed millions! We can welcome these children, we can give them refuge, we can feed them and heal them and educate them and give them a future. We can give them hope.  And, perhaps, send them back one day with our willing help to remake their own homelands into something better, something equal to the United States, into beacons of liberty and freedom and prosperity in their own right and we can put an end once and for all to the actual causes of illegal immigration and the actual things that caused this humanitarian crisis.

If we truly are the people we claim to be, we would build a new Colossus, a new Statue of Liberty, a hundred times the size of the one in New York’s harbor.

And we’d stand it on our southern border with her lamp held high enough for all to see.

And she would be the very symbol of America, her flame the imprisoned lightning, and her name would be Mother of Exiles.

And from her beacon-hand would glow the world wide message:

Welcome!

Because that, that right there, is the promise of America.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Self Evident Truths

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…

Life. Liberty. Happiness.

We hold these truths to be self evident.

Great words, great ideals, especially when you’re telling a king to stick it up his ass.

We hold these truths to be self evident.

Except for that that part, of course, where those truths weren’t self evident.

Not at all.

The men who wrote that letter to King George may have found certain inalienable rights to be self evident, but they were in the minority.  King George III certainly didn’t find those rights to be self evident, nor did his governors in the colonies, nor the nobles of the British Empire, nor did most American colonists for that matter.

It turned out that there was nothing self evident about any of it, as the Founders themselves found out once they’d won their independence and set themselves down to write the Constitution . That lack of evidence is one of the reasons the words in the Constitution are very, very different from those in the Declaration. 

Even after the Constitution was hammered out, those truths were anything but self evident. For the better part of 1787 the Framers locked themselves in the Pennsylvania State House and shouted at each other, arguing over whether or not an enumerated bill of rights should be included. George Mason and Elbridge Gerry demanded a formal list of rights, but others such as James Wilson passionately argued that incorporation of any specific rights in the Constitution was a bad idea because it directly implied that any rights not explicitly enumerated did not legally exist – inalienable though they may be.

Turns out, both sides were correct.

Two centuries later, you’ll find Americans declaring with a straight face that citizens have a God given right to carry a full military arsenal into the toy section of Target and gun down whomever they perceive to be a threat but not the right to vote or even a minimum degree of healthcare.

If rights are not specifically spelled out in the fabric of the country’s governing document, then it’s not long before some pinch-faced self-involved jackass decides those rights don’t exist, or that they apply only to a certain segment of the population. If you say “all men are created equal” when what you really meant was “all human beings regardless of sex, creed, color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion or lack thereof, age, ability, height, weight, dexterity, eye color, ear size, attractiveness, income bracket, military service, pacifism, reading ability, bilateral symmetry, political affiliation, taste in music, and any other bullshit category we divide people up into” then what will inevitably happen is that somebody, somewhere will argue that those rights don’t apply to people they don’t like.

And that, Folks, that right there, is just about the only self evident truth.

Ironically enough, that is also exactly what the Founding Fathers were talking about in their declaration to King George.

The Framers corrected their naiveté in fairly short order. Those today who would enshrine the Constitution as holy writ, handed down from their deity inviolate and Divine, ignore the fact that the very men who wrote the Constitution considered it a flawed and imperfect product of human endeavor right from the very beginning – and many said so, loudly.  And they not only included in the very fabric of the Constitution itself a mechanism for change and update, they themselves set about making modifications and corrections almost immediately.

The Bill of Rights is one of those changes – the first ten changes in point of fact, if you want to get technical about it.

Those Amendments addressed certain truths that weren’t self evident to all.

But it wasn’t enough.

It took a Civil War and another modification to the Constitution to force the nation to acknowledge certain rights, rights that should have been self evident  but weren’t – and apparently still aren’t to a significant fraction of the population.  Women’s Suffrage, the Civil Rights Movement, the battle for Gay Rights, these struggles exist because for far too many Americans, Americans who should damned know better by now, the truth of human rights just isn’t all that self evident.

And the fundamental problem is this: For Americans, our rights come without responsibilities.

The Founding Fathers apparently had a much higher opinion of us than we deserve.  As such they overlooked this simple self evident truth: rights must come with accountability – otherwise, for a population increasingly without reason and prone to extremism, rights become less about individualism and more a license for violent ideology and unhinged fanaticism without consequence.

And you don’t have to look very far to find proof of what I’m talking about here.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Freedom of religion was intended as exactly that, the personal freedom to believe or not without the government imposing belief, or not, upon you.  It’s as simple as that, if you believe, fine, then go believe. Go to your church, say the hosannas, sing the hymns, drink the wine, fondle the snakes (or the priests, whatever), shake, dance, and rock and roll. But the First Amendment does not give you the right to use your goddamned religion as a club to beat the rest of us about the head and shoulders. You have no right, no right at all, none, to threaten the rest of us with your God. Fuck you. You have no right, no right at all, none, to tell the rest of us who we can marry or how to manage our own reproduction or to demand equal time with science in the classroom. Freedom of religion was intended to keep your god out of my government, and my government out of your church, not so you can go around acting like a raving jackass or so that TV personalities can grow insanely rich tax free or so that corporations can make healthcare choices for their employees in the name of their CEO’s small and selfish god. If you claim that the earth is 6000 years old and you demand creationism be taught in public schools in direct conflict with everything we know about how the universe works, then before you’re allowed to damage the next generation you should have to prove your silly nonsense to the same exact level of scientific rigor we demand from any field of science. If you claim that same-sex marriage “will destroy the fabric of society” then the burden of proof is on you and you alone, you should have to prove your statement in a court of law in no uncertain terms. Freedom of religion wasn’t enumerated in the Bill of Rights so you could use it to deny everybody else their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

For far too many Americans that is exactly what Freedom of Religion has become – a club to beat others with.

Freedom of speech was intended to allow each citizen to express themselves without fear of a king lopping off their head.  But it doesn’t mean that you can go around saying any stupid-assed thing you like without consequence or without taking responsibility for your idiotic nonsense.   Freedom of speech wasn’t intended to protect you from getting punched in the nose when you say something stupid, ignorant, racist, sexist, homophobic, jingoistic, demeaning, insulting, hateful, inflammatory, or so you can just keep flogging your pet conspiracy theory over and over and over no matter how many times it’s been soundly debunked.  It’s one thing for some drooling nut with a bad comb-over to call the president a communist Muslim from Kenya, it’s another thing entirely for a sitting Congresswoman to do so over and over without consequence. 

Freedom of speech was intended to ensure individual liberty, not to tear the country apart for a political agenda or to enshrine booger-eating paranoid stupidity as some kind of virtue.

Freedom of the press was intended to ensure that the people had multiple sources of independent information about their world and an avenue of inspection into their government. The Framers weren’t so naïve as to expect unbiased truth from the press, but they intended Freedom of the Press to provide an independent check upon the excesses of government power.  Freedom of the Press was never intended to allow media moguls and pundits and corporations to become petty tyrants themselves. Freedom of the Press was intended to keep Americans informed, not so that the media could become a substitute for critical thought. Freedom of the Press was intended to give Americans food for thought not a replacement for it. Like Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press was intended to preserve the Union not tear it asunder, it was intended to preserve liberty not to destroy it under an avalanche of hate and fear and falsehoods in the name of profit and politics.

Freedom of the Press was intended to give the people a voice, not to put words into their mouths.

Freedom of Assembly was intended to allow people to gather together, in celebration, in communication, in worship, in concern, in defense, in petition, in whatever peaceable manner they choose up to and especially in criticism of government.  Freedom of Assembly wasn’t intended to allow a bunch of gun waving racists and haters to gather together and threaten to shoot down the government and snarl at their neighbors because they don’t want to pay their fair share or because they refuse to acknowledge the rights of other Americans.  We settled that, long ago, we called it the Civil War.

Freedom of Assembly was intended to facilitate direct communication between the people and their government, not so the raging mindless mob could burn our nation down and squat in the ruins.

Freedom to Petition the Government For Redress of Grievances was intended to do exactly what it says, to allow each citizen to face the government on a equal footing in court and demand legal satisfaction for violation of their rights and liberty.  Freedom to petition the government is similar to Freedom of Assembly, the difference being that Assembly is a direct form of communication and Redress is through the government itself via the Judicial Branch.  Freedom to Petition applies to business as well as individuals but it was never intended to allow business to dictate individual rights.

Freedom to Petition the Government for Redress of Grievances was intended to preserve individual liberty, not so business or the church could use the courts to force their version of morality upon the rest of us.

And there’s this:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

If there is any right – enumerated or assumed – that we Americans have perverted beyond all rational recognition, it’s this one.  If ever there was a right Americans demand free of any responsibility whatsoever, it’s this one. The right to keep and bear arms was intended so that every American could muster to the defense of the nation in time of crises, not so a bunch of dimwitted paranoid droolers with tiny brains and even smaller dicks could carry an arsenal of automatic weaponry into restaurants and the toy section of their local department store.   The right to keep and bear arms was never ever intended to allow thirty thousand Americans to die or be injured every single goddamned year in firearms related violence.  The right to keep and bear arms was not enumerated in the Constitution so that a bunch of irresponsible government hating religious nuts could go around threatening to kill the rest of us.  A nation of crazy fanatics with guns is not the price of freedom.

The right to Keep and Bear Arms was intended to secure liberty, not to make Americans afraid in their own communities.

And so it goes, from the First Amendment to the Tenth.

Two and half centuries ago Americans fought for freedom from the tyranny of a foreign king.

They fought for the rights we now take for granted, that we take as our birthright and our due as Americans without effort or responsibility or thought for the consequences of our abuse. 

As I sit here, on July 4th, 2014, it seems to me that the inalienable truths that were so obvious to our Founders are no more self evident for many Americans today than they were to the King of England 238 years ago.

It is long past time to shout down the crazies and the haters and those to whom the truth of life, liberty, and the promise of happiness for all human beings, whoever and wherever they are, is not self evident.

It is long past time for Americans to start living up to the promise of our founding.

Happy Independence Day.

Now, get to work.

In Moscow we fought for an inch of freedom! Here you take it and pour shit all over it.
  - Vladimir Ivanoff, Moscow on the Hudson, Columbia Pictures 1984

Friday, June 20, 2014

Thieving Bastards

I wrote an essay.

It was called Absolutely Nothing, an answer to Edwin Star’s famous question: War, what is it good for?

That essay has been called a savage indictment of the Iraq War, and I suppose that it is. I was there. I lost friends there. I have strong opinions about that conflict and those who sent us into it and who now want us to go back.

That essay struck a nerve with people.

And it became widely popular.

And now it’s spread across the world, gone viral, millions have read it.

Those people, they turned me into a meme, an internet sensation. They took my face, my words, my life and slapped their URL on it and spread it across the world.
Media preview

My essay was a hit.

Simple, right? Anybody could do it.  You just sit down, type some words, fifteen minutes maybe, hit publish, and boom! instant fame.

Easy, right?

Sure, anybody could do it. Anybody.

 

Except, of course that it is not easy.

 

And not just anybody can do it, very few can in point of fact.

I’m not blowing my own horn here, but I’m not going to pretend any false modesty either.

Not everybody can do it, but I can and that is a simple provable fact.

Don’t believe me? You try it. Go on start a blog. Write something. Put it out there. No tricks. No gimmicks. Just write something. Go on. I’ll wait. Just sit down, type some words, fifteen minutes maybe, hit publish and give me a call back when you achieve the level of notoriety my essay did.  Or the one before it. Or the one before that. Go on, I’ll wait. Let me know when they turn you into a meme.

Oh come on, give it a go. Because anybody can do it right?

You know what you’re going to discover?

You going to discover the same blunt truth every naïve newbie learns, and that is this: Writing is work. Hard work. Exhausting work. Frustrating work.

Blogging is work. Hard work. To do it right, takes skill and dedication and work. And yes, it is writing in every sense of the word.

The kind of writing that created my essay Absolutely Nothing? That kind of writing? Well, you see, there’s not one goddamned thing easy about it – because to write something like that takes your life.

It takes your life.

Your whole life.

Absolutely Nothing was two thousand, six hundred words long.  About six pages in any standard 12-point font, double-spaced with 1” margins on standard letter-sized paper. Six pages. You want to know what it took to put those twenty-six hundred words together?

Do you?

Because I’ll tell you.

Fifteen minutes? Hell. Writing that article took 30 years of my life.

You want to know why that essay resonated with so many people?

You want to know why you could feel the raw emotion and the rage and the pain?

You want to know why the words sing?

You want to know what that took? It took enlisting in the Navy at 21 years of age.  It took decades of service, working my way up through the ranks. It took sailing across tens of thousands of miles of ocean. It took walking on six continents. It took endless watches and days without sleep. It took being hungry and cold and being scared out of my mind. It took three wars and a dozen deployments short of war. It took making Chief Petty Officer, a rank only a small percentage of enlisted Sailors achieve, one which required years of dedicated effort and sustained superior performance, at sea, on land, thousands of hours of work and study, years of experience under conditions most civilians would never understand or be able to hack. It took learning how to lead, it took pain and setbacks, it took earning the trust and respect of those around me – men far bigger and far tougher than me. It took earning a college degree one credit at time, when I could find a few minutes to study between training and deployments and sixteen hour work days. It took making Chief Warrant Officer, a commissioned rank and a distinction that comes to only a very few of the very best of the Chief’s Ranks, one that cannot be given but must be earned through more than a decade of dedication and sacrifice. It took serving in war zones around the world. It took going to Iraq. It took volunteering for and leading hundreds of missions. It took spending months, years, away from my family and friends, twenty years of missed birthdays and Christmases. It took missing family funerals, and it took standing at attention while they buried my shipmates under the cold white marble. It took leading men and women into harm’s way over and over and getting them all home again. It took watching my comrades die, one hundred and twenty-eight as of today, of my friends and shipmates and comrades in arms who came home in boxes. It took dozens more, those who returned alive but not whole, shattered, broken, torn, and bloodied in body and spirit.  More, it took a decade of work, of writing every single fucking day. Working to improve my skill and craft, to find my voice, to create my unique style, to learn how to fit words together in a way that is distinctly mine, to figure out how to reach people and gather an audience one precious mind at a time. It took working far into the night. It took getting up early. It took hundreds of hours of dedication and frustration and sweat. It took time away from other things I should have been doing. It cost me money, thousands of dollars to build my site, buy the books, to take the classes, to learn the craft. It cost me time with my family, with my wife and son. And most of all, it took my experience, my hate and my pain and my rage and my love and my admiration for those who died and who were maimed and who served with steadfast loyalty under the most terrible of conditions.

That’s what it took.

That’s what it took to write those two thousand six hundred words. It took my service and my experience and my goddamned life.

And that, right there, is what syndicated talk radio host Mike Malloy stole from me.

That is what you steal from writers and artists and singers and musicians and painters and photographers and dancers and other creative people when you take our work without asking, without permission, without payment.

You, you thieving bastards, you steal our lives.

And you have the audacity to wonder at my anger? You have the unmitigated gall to question my outrage at your rape? You who sat here, safe and fat, you, you sons of bitches, you deserve nothing but contempt.

You’re stealing my life, you fucker.

Mr. Wright I have never been so disappointed with anyone as I am with you. Money? thats what your about? you say that Mike Malloy who works for free is a theive jus because he read your geat letter on his show? Mikes doesn’t make any money from your letter. Mike a real American who calls out merecenarie cowards like you .your letter is to important for you to want money it needs to be out their and should be free to all americans! but your mad because people read it and you didn’t “get paid”? you are not a writer you are a bloger and you need to learn that words on the internet are free for ALL. you need to stop whining and listens to Mike maybe you’ll learn something! [sic]
  – Stacy [M]

Mercenary cowards.

Mercenary coward.

I gave more than twenty years of my life to this country.

I served in a war I didn’t agree with for my country.

I watch my friends and brothers and sisters die, for my country.

I wrote an essay, a product of my skill and viewpoint and experience and that very service.

I published it on my own website, for my own readers.

Mike Malloy and others took my words, my life, without permission, but I’m the mercenary coward?

My “letter” is too important for me to want money.

Really?

My words are too important for me to want money. I guess I’ll just live on the fame and the glory then. I can’t wait to see my mortgage company’s face when I tell them that my words are too important for me to pay them in actual money – but hey, maybe I can offer them some exposure on my blog, eh? Maybe they’ll cut me some slack, because my words are so important. Yeah. Maybe Mike Malloy will pitch in and give them a little “free” coverage too.

My words are too important. Why is that you, suppose? Is it because I spent my life writing that essay?

But those “important” words, they’re not worth anything?

Funny, a few days ago those words and my authority to speak them were worth something to Mike Malloy. They were obviously worth something to his listeners, the hundreds who first wrote to offer praise and then wrote in disappointed sour condemnation, the people who pay Mike Malloy Radio Productions LLC $59.40 per year for a subscription to his podcasts, but call me a mercenary and a whore and a greedy coward.

Malloy works for free? He does? Really?

Given that he and his wife both make up Mike Malloy Radio Productions LLC, I have to wonder how they pay their mortgage, put food on the table, make their car payments, put clothes on their kids – if they don’t make any income from their radio show? 

How is it that Mike Malloy makes a living from his words, and that makes him a hero of progressive talk radio, but me? If I want to make a living from my words, my experience, my life, I’m just a greedy mercenary whore.

Mike Malloy is a great American. Me? I’m a coward.

You know what it took for me to write that essay while Mike Malloy, Michael Savage, Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Ann Coulter, and the rest of these thieving bastards were safe in their studios? I and those like me were out there in the dark and dangerous corners of the world fighting the wars these jackasses goaded America into. That’s what it took.

And that, right there, is why Mike Malloy lacks both the skill and the authority to write Absolutely Nothing.

Jim. Thank you for your letter sent to Mike Malloy. His reading of your letter on Monday night gave me the chills. Unfortunately, like most of us, my blood was already boiling. I wish I had been prepared to record it since I do not have access to the podcast. If you have the letter posted online, please share the link with me. I'll share it with my family and friends. Thank you for your service and your dedication to the truth.
   – Mark [T]

Access to Mike Malloy’s podcasts.

He wants me to give him my essay for free because he can’t afford to pay for Mike Malloy’s podcasts.

So I gave it to him and I wonder how ole Mikey feels about getting stiffed out of his money?

[… ]all he did was read your public blog aloud, and give you a bunch of free advertising.  And believe me, I am sure he is NOT making money off reading your blog.   In fact, he told everyone on his show about your site!  If anything, he brought YOU people going to your site.  I had never heard of it before. So,  I really don't get why you are so pissed off.   Why are you blogging if you don't want people to read it?   You sound really litigious.  If you are looking for deep pockets to sue, you are barking up the wrong tree.  Try Rush Limbaugh!   I'm sad and sorry I ever went to your site!
    - Susan [S], Malloy Chat Forum moderator

Except, of course, for that part where Malloy is in point of fact making money off my intellectual property. He makes money from advertising revenue and from subscriptions to his podcast – recordings that contain my material.

As to the “free” advertising. I didn’t ask for it. I don’t need it. I’m not interested in it.

This is no different than if a sign painter put up a billboard with your name on it unsolicited, and then stopped by your house to help himself to your property as compensation. In addition to writing, I’m an artist. I work at the lathe, I turn wood into very expensive artwork. Do you think I’d be grateful if Mike Malloy walked into my studio, took one of my pieces without paying and then showed it around town, and when I protested said, “Hey, whatcha bitchin’ about? I drummed you up some business, didn’t I, you greedy fucking whore.”

You have no idea what it took to create that artwork. My dad taught me how to turn when I was kid. My dad is dead now and that memory, those skills, the reflexes in my hands are all I have of him. More than 40 years of my life have been spent in developing the skills he gave me, I’ve invested tens of thousands of dollars into the tools it takes to make my artwork, and I’ve invested hundreds of hours into the piece you stole. I’m the artist, I decide what it’s worth. A deal goes two ways, you don’t just take it and give me something I don’t want or need, something that is worthless to me in return. You took my life, asshole, I decide what that’s worth, not you. Malloy’s “exposure” is worthless to me.

I don’t need Mike Malloy, he needs me

He didn’t serve, did he? He wasn’t sent into war on a lie, was he? His experience is what? Sitting on his flabby ass behind a microphone? No, he needed me, he needed my words, my experience, he needed me to lend validity and gravity to his message. And just like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and all those bastards the essay was about, Mike Malloy used my experience and that of my comrades to further his own agenda – and then discarded us when he was done.  To him veterans like me, we’re good for a few page hits, a bit of advertising revenue, but not worth actually paying for. Talk about a metaphor for this nation. It’s not enough we got fucked by our own government, and ass-raped by the system that was supposed to care for us when we got home, no, no, the Mike Malloys of the world see us and figure they can squeeze just few more drops of blood from our lives.

CWO Wright, thank you for saying like it is. Oooarah! Heard it on the Mike Malloy show. I posted it on my blog and I’m emailing the full text to everybody I know!
  - Gus [A]
and he did, post the full text on his blog.

Hi Jim: Thanks for your awesome article I have sent around on facebook and my website because it speaks the truth so many want to deny. I will catch up with you later as I am on the run. View my website to see we agree on much. One Vietnam Vet to another from Iraq, and with a perspective that shines and blazes. Peace, Love and Joy.
  - Daniel C. [L],
and he did, post the full text on his blog and his facebook page.

Heard it on the Mike Malloy show and if he can just use your words for nothing, guess we can too.

Peace and love, Brother, right in the ass.

Let me guess, you guys used to work for Colin Powell, didn’t you?

Mr. Wright. Heard your letter read on the Mike Malloy show. Perfect! Way to take down these criminals! I wanted you to know we printed out a thousand copies and we’re handing them out to every customer at [coffee shop] along with directions on how to get Mike’s podcast. Thank you and thanks to Mike Malloy!
  - Cindi
[M]

Well, ain’t that just grand?

Yeah, why don’t you just hand my essay out for free with directions on how to buy a subscription to Mike Malloy’s radio show? Sure, that’s just fucking great.

Boy, tell me again how Mikey did it for me, because I just never get tired of hearing that story.

He [Jim Wright, me] puts his thoughts out there very well. Facebook is a marketplace of ideas, passed around and shared. His thoughts got picked up. Were they attributed to him? Then I don't understand the anger. If they were not, then... what? Sue? Pitch a hissy fit? I used to enjoy SKS. It's quickly losing its appeal. And, I'm a writer.
  - Nancy [R]

And I’m a writer.  Really? Well then, Nancy, why don’t you write for Mike? You can do it for the exposure, that and $59.40 a year will get you a subscription to his show.

Like they say, artists tend to die of exposure – they laugh when they say it, but they’re not kidding.

Sorry you're going so deep into this. Mike Malloy and Stephanie Miller are two of the best radio hosts around. You should have been happy to have them spreading the word about you. Oh well.
  - William [C]

Yeah, yeah. I'm the problem. I'm the enemy. Three days ago I was a happy Jim Wright fan, sharing his stuff and thrilled to see him get some much deserved attention. Now it's all going to go to shit. Now you folks are going to troll other people who share your views and wanted to help spread them. But I'm the problem. Enjoy!
  - William [C]

William was yelling at my Facebook audience.

And yes, Bill, you are the problem.

You’re perfectly happy to get hundreds of hours of free entertainment from me, to have a place that you can comment and like minded people to associate with, a safe place that I protect – built through my efforts and my work at no expense to you. And you think I should be grateful when people steal my life? You’re right, you and people like you, you’re the problem.  You’re a fucking vampire, Bill, sucking the blood out of people like me for your own nourishment and giving nothing back, expecting me to dance and caper for your entertainment without compensation.

You don’t give a damn about me, you selfish little parasite, you just want free blood and you don’t care where it comes from.

You are indeed the problem.

(William was unfriended. Friendship, at least with me, is a two way street)

I've been listening to Mike Malloy for years, off and on. Same with Stephanie Miller. I read your post, which has been everywhere, and thought it was fucking great. But to learn that you thought you should get something out of it... I've had my 15 minutes of fame. Now you've had yours, with a lot bigger splash than I had. Why I did, I was doing for my children and the children of everyone. Why did you do it? To get paid? Mike's not about the money, trust me on that. He gets fucking death threats, and he lives in Georgia to boot. Not easily scared. You took it way over the top. Say you're sorry and move on.
  - Steve [V]

Oh, right. You were doing it for the children, all the little children of the world.

What about my children?

What about my children? Is my son not worth anything?

Oh, and just for the record, Steve, I get death threats too – from selfish assholes just like you. And Georgia? Really? Don’t make me laugh, Jackass, put on your big boy pants and come try Alaska sometime. Alaska? Fuck, how about you try Iraq, asshole.

You really have to love this idiot. Mike Malloy steals my material, offers me something I find utterly worthless as compensation, and I, me, I should say I’m sorry? How much you want to bet that Steve beats his wife. Smack! Why do you keep making me hit you? It’s your fault! Smack! Say you’re sorry and move on! Smack!

Seriously, fuck you, Steve.

 

I have a thousand more messages just like those. Hell, two thousand, I don’t know, I stopped counting.

I think it would have been easier on folks like Mike Malloy and his fan club, not to mention Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, if people like me had just gotten ourselves killed in Iraq.

Sure, it’s a whole lot easier to ass-rape a dead veteran than a live one.

We make better symbols dead, you can put whatever words you like in our mouths and you don’t have the trouble of paying for our healthcare or our talent.

You want to know the really ironic part?

You want to see naked hypocrisy?

Check this out:

All materials contained in this Site are protected by international trademark and copyright laws and must only be used for personal, non-commercial purposes. This means that you may only view or download material from this Site for your own use and you must keep all copyright and other proprietary notices attached to the downloaded material.

The reproduction, duplication, distribution (including by way of email, facsimile or other electronic means), publication, modification, copying or transmission of material from this Site is STRICTLY PROHIBITED unless you have obtained the prior written consent of MIKE MALLOY RADIO PRODUCTIONS, LLC or unless it is expressly permitted by this Site. The material covered by this prohibition includes, without limitation, any text, graphics, logos, photographs, audio or video material or stills from audiovisual material available on this Site. The use of materials from this Site on any other web site or networked computer environment is similarly prohibited.

That’s a (fair use) excerpt from the Mike Malloy Radio Productions LLC website regarding use of his intellectual property.

You can read the whole thing here and ain’t that a peach? Malloy’s material is his protected property, but mine isn’t. You need written permission to use his material, but mine you can just take without permission or compensation. Malloy demands you respect his property rights, but me? I’m a greedy mercenary whore.

I wrote Malloy, he refused to answer.

I became angry, I said so on social media. He came snooping around (and don’t pretend he didn’t, he “liked” several comments left by his cronies on my Facebook page. I can prove he was there). Eventually Malloy responded:

Well, I'll be goddamned! I read your piece on the air because it appealed to me. I decided it might appeal to others. Big fucking mistake. I had no idea you are such a mercenary, greedy type. Wow. I had no idea you are such an amateur as to bitch when someone (me) gives you publicity. Make money off what you wrote? You have to be kidding. This is where your amateurishness is so apparent. In the first place, reading a piece on the air is considered "fair use." And, um, how would I "make money?" As far as your web site and what it says there about "using" your "stuff", sorry, but I've never been  to your site.  A friend emailed a link from Australia. Now, take your ugly, mercenary words and go back to wherever you came from. And, strong suggestion: Back off with your threats, especially on social media. You are leaving a very public and incriminating trail. Sue me? For reading  something you wrote on the air? Un-fucking-believable! Sorry I rattled your cage, JIm. My mistake. Big time. Trust me on this: you just disappeared. - MM

He took my material because it appealed to him.

Amateur bitch. Make money off what you wrote, you have to be kidding.

Funny thing about that, as the famous professional writer David Gerrold noted on my Facebook page – amateurs don’t get paid.

How would he make money? I’m guessing that would be the same way he makes money off of his broadcast every single goddamned day. Q.E.D.

Leaving aside that fact that I somehow doubt a man like this would have any friends, he claims he never heard of Stonekettle Station or what it says here about “using my stuff” (you know, exactly like it says on his site about using his stuff), he says a friend emailed him a “link.” So he read my essay and directed people to my site – now how did he do that if he didn’t know where it was? He expects others to adhere to his rules regarding his property, but doesn’t bother with finding out how I feel about my property even though he obviously knew where my site was.

Progressives like this? These are the people that give right wing extremists legitimacy – ironically the very people Mike Malloy rails against on a daily basis. 

When the Tea Party and the militiamen out at the Bundy Ranch threaten to shoot down Americans over collectivism, this right here is what they are talking about, i.e. liberals and progressives like Mike Malloy who think that products of work and ideas of intellect are community property and can be confiscated without agreeable compensation and distributed freely to others – except for their own property, of course.  This is exactly what the right fears, and correctly so it would seem. Quod erat demonstrandum.

When my own readers attempted to contact Malloy and complain, they received various responses:

Uh, do YOURSELF a BIG favor and get the fuck off my email. Oh, and your attempt to sound cool is way missing the bullseye. Thanks.

Are you serious? Or just another right wing head fuck? Don't answer. I don't care. Do this: Get the fuck off my email.

Mr. Malloy read and commented on some of Mr. Wright's brilliant blog post, which was forwarded to him from another listener, then praised Mr. Wright's comments on the show last night. He also urged his listeners to contact Mr. Wright at his StoneKettle site to tell him how much they appreciated his powerful, important work. Imagine the shock to then receive this response from Mr. Wright following the program last night:
"At the moment, I regard Mr. Malloy as a fucking thief and I'm considering suing his radio program into the poor house. I've sent him a message, but he hasn't responded. If any of you know this jackass personally, have him contact me. Otherwise I'm going to pull a Harlan Ellison and drop the flying monkeys on his head. I don't know Stephanie Miller either. I've never heard of her show. I never sent her a letter either. She also didn't get my permission to use my stuff. She's number two on my list. Same deal. These people are making money off of my material without so much as sending me a thank you card. This is NOT flattery, it's THEFT. Let me reiterate something here, my material is my intellectual property. This is clearly stated on my webpage. If you steal from me, I will hunt you the fuck down, flay your skin off, and wear your dead heart for a goddamned hat"
This is what provoked the email Mr. Malloy sent to Mr. Wright this morning (which was later, apparently, posted on his FB page). Was Mr. Malloy's email to Mr. Wright so outrageous, given this invective and threat he received from Mr. Wright?

Yeah, about that last one.

Notice anything funny about that?

“Imagine the shock to then receive this response from Mr. Wright following the program last night: … he hasn’t responded. If any of your know this jackass personally, have him contact me…”

Now ask yourself something, if I sent that to Malloy, then why would I say “he hasn’t responded. If any of your know this jackass…”

That quote was taken from my Facebook page, not from any message sent to Malloy.

Yes, that is correct, Malloy’s response to complaints that he stole material from me and then acted like a jackass … was to steal one of my Facebook posts as justification.

Make of that what you will.

As I said on Facebook, frankly it just doesn't leave me feeling very motivated.

 

This was never about the money.

I give away my stuff to my readers, to the community I have created, for my own reasons. But those words are still mine, no different than if I gifted my friends with the artwork from my woodshop.

The last three things I’ve written went viral, what if the next one does too?

Is this what I have to look forward to? Theft? Hate? Hypocrisy? It’s bad enough I get that from the rightwing nuts and the Tea Party cranks and the Sarah Palin worshippers. Now I have to watch out for the progressives and the liberals too?

It’s getting so that I can’t tell the right wing haters from the left.

I’m not welcome on the left. I for damned sure don’t belong on the right.  And I don’t fit into the middle. I have become an alien in my own land, a stranger to the country I fought for, and I look around and realize that I am not alone in this.

I wonder, you know, maybe I should have just stayed in the business of killing people, maybe I should have just stayed in Iraq.

At least there I knew who the enemy was.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Absolutely Nothing

 

This post has been removed.

It has removed because a number of commercial news sites and radio shows stole my intellectual property without bothering to ask for permission or offering compensation. These thieving sons of bitches took my material and used it to attract readers and viewers which in turn makes them money, none of which was offered to me.

Here I write for myself and I don’t mind you reading it for free, here on Stonekettle Station. But I will be goddamned if I’ll allow people to take my stuff without permission and go make money on it without giving me a piece of it.  When I said something to this effect on social media, I began receiving messages from readers who were offended and seem to think I owe it to the world to give my material away for free to whomever wants it and however they want to use it - and that I’m somehow a whore for expecting payment.  Tell you what, you’re welcome to write your own goddamned stuff.

If you want to read the article, well, folks, it’s been posted all over the internet, I’m sure you’ll have no trouble finding a copy. 

___________

 

There’s a follow up post, Thieving Bastards, which describes why this event bothers me so much and exactly what it takes to write what I write.

____________

You may read an authorized copy of Absolutely Nothing here.

Or

You may read an authorized copy of Absolutely Nothing here.

Or

You may read an authorized copy of Absolutely Nothing here.

_____________

 

Stonekettle Station will be off-line until further notice.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Negotiating With Terrorists: The Counterpoint

This article is a follow-up to my previous piece, the widely shared Negotiating With Terrorists.

6/7/14: Addendum at the end of the post.


 

“The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”
      ― Muhammed Ali

 

We are the sum of our parts.

Our memories and our experiences shape who we are and, more importantly, how we see the world.

By definition, our worldview tends to change over time. That malleable viewpoint is influenced by a thousand things: friends and enemies and the indifferent, marriage, children, information both true and false, trauma, stress, grief, joy, depression, hope, rage, hate, love, education, reason, to name but a few.

Age often lends a certain perspective, not always, but often.

Sometimes that perspective can completely change who we are – sometimes we call that wisdom. Or not.

Sometimes we change ourselves. We don’t like who we are, and so we deliberately become someone else – ask any recovering alcoholic if you don’t know what I’m talking about. Or a born again Christian. Or a scrawny kid like me who joined the military and set out to prove something to himself. Sometimes it’s involuntary, driven by outside forces and influences – have a chat with veteran about PTSD if you need an example. And sometimes that change comes willie-nillie as we careen happily assbackward into the unknown.

And sometimes, well, sometimes life just hardens who we are.

It’s different for each of us.

When I was young, a teenager, just before I enlisted for the first time, a group of radical Islamists overthrew the Shah of Iran and took sixty-six American diplomats and their staff hostage from the US Embassy in Tehran.  For four hundred and forty-four days those men and women were held captive while we Americans seethed in impotent rage.

I was young then, true, but I don’t remember America hating Muslims before that. When I was a kid, the terrorists who committed endless atrocities came from Belfast – and the money to support their cause, along with the money to fight them, came from right here in America and I knew other kids whose parents were on both sides of the fight. Those Irishmen were terrorists, but we didn’t hate them – but then they weren’t attacking us either, so maybe that’s the difference.

They were killing our friends though, so then again maybe it’s something else.

Afterward, after the revolution in Iran, and then the bombing of the Marine Barracks in Beirut a few years later, it was the Arabs who were terrorists – and they’ve remained so ever since.

And we often hate them.

And maybe some of them have earned it.

The Iranian Hostage Crisis came to define the Carter Presidency and I, like many other Americans, despised the President for not doing something, anything, to get our people back.  Arabs, they’re just a bunch of goat herders, towelheads, my naive 18-year old self thought. Just park a nuclear aircraft carrier off the coast and land the Marines! That’ll scare the dirty sons of bitches! Show ‘em who they’re messing with!  Christ, Jimmy Carter, what a damned pussy! Why doesn’t this guy do something? 

And, of course, when we finally did do something a year into the crisis, the rescue mission – Operation Eagle Claw – crashed and burned in the Iranian Desert and eight American servicemen died. A half dozen more were badly injured. Two multi-million dollar aircraft were destroyed and five more were abandoned to the Iranians – along with the hostages.

It was … shameful.

And that too I blamed on Carter’s incompetence, and I was so goddamned glad to be rid of him when Ronald Reagan took the White House.

But, time, you see, does tend to temper the heat of youthful passion and lend one that perspective I mentioned up above.

Three decades later, almost all of which was spent in military service, in so-called peace and in war and in everything in between (a significant fraction of which was spent within spitting distance of that self-same Iran), and I tend to view things far differently. You see, unlike that naïve 18-year old kid, the me of today, the experienced US Navy Chief Warrant Officer, me, I know what it would have taken to pull off that rescue – especially in 1980, with the limited technology and the rusting post-Vietnam equipment and the general state of the US Military. I know in endless detail. I know the troops and the equipment and the weapons and the comms and the terrain and most especially I know the intelligence problem, because that was my job. I know the politics, and that too was my job. Hell, I served with men who were there, in the desert that night in 1980, watching helplessly as their comrades died in fire. 

Because of that and many other things, I’ve come to view the Carter Administration in a very different light and I shake my head now in sympathy at the impossible situation, at the hate and the rage and the uninformed criticism the president faced – including my own scorn – in addition to the terrible tactical, strategic, economic, and political problems.

 

And so, here we are.

 

Two days ago I wrote Negotiating With Terrorists.

On the surface, that essay is about the return of an American prisoner of war, Bowe Bergdahl.

But underneath, the article is really about the same socio-political themes I commonly address, hate, fear, political insanity, reflexive unreason, hysterical punditry, division for profit, and empty patriotism.

The article appears to have struck a nerve.

Negotiating With Terrorists went viral. It continues to go viral. It’s not yet the most widely read or shared thing I’ve ever written, but it’s getting there.

As with everything nowadays, Americans are deeply divided on this issue because it seems we must lately line up on either side of any issue no matter how great or how trivial and scream reflexive hatred at each other. And again, like everything else, that division tends to the extremes and my email today reflects that in spades.

Over all, most of those messages are positive, tens of thousands of people agree enthusiastically with what I wrote. But many emphatically do not – and that hatemail, and it is hate mail, is pretty damned toxic indeed. Here are a few samples:

fuck go fuck yourself fucking ass coward i fucking hope your scum ass licker fucking dies people like you make me fucking puke!!

YES! I HATE OBLAMMER OK? I HATE HIM I HATE THAT HE HAS DESTROYED THE GREATEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD. OBAMA”CARE” HELLO! I HATED THE NAZIS TOO AND I FOUGHT THEM IN EUROPE YOU LITTLE SNOT. WAKE UP!

Liberals are cowards one and all just like the author of this hatchet job. Obviously he has never served. Coward.

Let me be the first to say GFY! [Go Fuck Yourself] … I feel sorry for anybody who had to serve under your traitorous command.

you are a liar! Borg.dum is a fuckin muzzie traitor! That is a FACT. He walked away from his post and left Americans to die and that is indisputable fact. hell ya leave him to die! He is not an American you are wrong about that stonehead.

And these are the more, intelligent, ones.

Nothing in the hundreds of hate comments that attempted to post here on Stonekettle Station, nothing in the thousand plus emails I’ve received in the last two days, none of the pundits, not Rush, not Glenn, not Ann, not Sarah, not Sean, none of the politicians most especially John McCain nor Ted Cruz, nothing has convinced me that I was in any way wrong in my analysis yesterday. If anything, I take it as validation of my initial premise.

 

But then I got a letter from a Marine.

 

He is a United States Marine Corps Captain, recently returned from his second tour in Afghanistan. He disagreed with my article. But, and here’s the thing so pay attention, the Captain’s letter was polite, respectful as in one peer to another, firm in its opinion, intelligent, thoughtful, reasoned, did not engage in personal attacks, and was written in a clear and concise manner. And he signed his name to the bottom of it. 

In other words, exactly what I would expect from a Marine.

There is a reason why Marines have commanded respect the world over for more than 200 years, and it’s not just their pretty faces and unmatched fighting ability.

The Captain asked me if I would retract or edit Negotiating With Terrorists.

I told him no.  But not because I didn’t consider it. Because you see this Marine brought me forcefully back to where I began here today, and that is this: We are the sum of our experiences.

And despite the fact that I spent two and half decades in uniform and served in this war, my experience is emphatically not the Captain’s. 

Nor is it that of the soldiers who served alongside Bowe Bergdahl.

I knew this, I acknowledged it the previous essay:

Certainly, some of Bergdahl’s fellow soldiers say he deserted. That he was disillusioned with the war, with America, that he left his guard post and walked away into the desert in some foolish and quixotic attempt to reach China.  They say that men, good men, real heroes, died searching for Bergdahl after he disappeared.

And those soldiers, they’d probably know, wouldn’t they?

And, yeah, if I was one of them I’d be damned resentful too and I have no doubt whatsoever that I’d use this blog to protest those who would attempt to paint Bergdahl as a hero – if I knew for certain that he deserted, if I’d lost friends searching for him.

I don’t begrudge those soldiers one iota of their resentment, they earned it with their own blood.

And I meant that, sincerely.

But in retrospect it’s clear to me that I wasn’t expansive enough.

And I know this because some misguided people attempted to use my essay, my words, to school a Marine Captain who had just returned from the war zone.

These people attempted to use my experience to discredit his.

This was never my intention. Never. And I find it as unacceptable as he did.

Now listen carefully: what I said was that those aforementioned pundits, the usual cast of hatemongers and their like-minded politicians, are doing their usual dance – and that dance is motivated by hate, pure and simple. Hate is profitable and they’ve refined it to a fine art.

What I did not say, what I specifically did not say, was that I thought the soldiers mentioned in that paragraph above were to be painted with the same brush. I didn’t say it, because I don’t think it and you damned well shouldn’t either. And the next time you attempt to use my words to chastise a Marine, I’d be honored to hold his hat while he explains to you the folly of your ways.

We are the sum of our experiences.

Those Soldiers, those Marines, those Sailors, those Airmen, and those Guardsmen are fully entitled to their resentment.  It is possible that like my own example above, thirty years from now they may view things differently – or maybe they won’t.  There are those veterans from Vietnam who have forgiven Jane Fonda, and there others who wouldn’t piss on her only if she happened to be fully engulfed in flames. Both are entitled to their opinions, they earned that right with their own blood and Fonda can live with the Goddamned consequences of her own actions.

Just as Bergdahl will.

I told the Captain that I could not retract my article, instead what I would do is give him (and by extension those he had led and those who had served alongside Bowe Bergdahl) a platform. 

And that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Right now. You read my words, now read his. I want you to read this warrior’s words, every one of them. You don’t have to agree with him, but you need to see the situation through a Marine’s eyes, though the eyes of those who wear the uniform and who stand into danger with steadfast devotion.

We are the sum of our experiences, this is his:

With Bergdahl’s return we have the expected torrent of screaming from all sides. Would to God that Americans could learn again to have dignity and discuss their viewpoints without vitriol. Or at least value silence. Left and Right. This Bergdahl issue is one that a small sliver of our population has any real business speaking about: Uniformed service-people.

Recent conversations have highlighted three misconceptions, at least from my perspective as a twice deployed Marine Captain, that the media is broadcasting in this prisoner transfer case: That Bergdahl was a POW, that the trade-off was empathetic, and that disagreeing with this process is somehow political.

On both my deployments to Afghanistan we were all briefed thoroughly on this guy. We were to keep an eye out and ask around about him, even in Helmand. From intel collection they learned that he apparently got upset with Army life and walked off his camp one night. He sought out the Taliban and aligned himself with them. Our understanding was that he may have taught them US weapons, IED making, and tactics. That’s called not only desertion, but aiding and abetting the enemy. Not a prisoner taken against his will. You will note, he was never designated a POW. There is a reason.

From current conversations with my intel connections, it seems we knew where this guy has been for some time. But since he originally cost at least 6 lives by being a little ****, the vote was that he did not rate any more American blood. We all swore the same oath… the enormous majority kept ours. Bergdahl broke his and cost lives.

However, he needed to come back at some point to face the consequences or homecoming, whatever was appropriate. We go through great lengths to salvage our dead, even if just their souls are dead. Like all good things in life, such sensitivities take timing and precision. What is so maddening about this from a military standpoint is that we traded the Himmler posse of Afghanistan for a guy who willingly went and joined our enemy and contributed to at least the deaths of 6 of his comrades. It’s like “Tommy Boy Does Foreign Policy”. The 5 Taliban leaders are evil. Suicide belt on Down’s syndrome kid evil. Bombing school buses evil. Digging eyes out of skulls with a spoon evil. And they will continue to wage their jihad on the Afghans that my people worked too hard to set up for success. And if the Taliban has any sense (and they do) these 5 guys will start up Jihad SERE School 2.0. That makes this trade seem not so much based on empathy. It seems amateur. It seems like ineptitude. In the real world of blood and loss, the end result is important just as long as the process doesn’t totally undermine it. Like a pyrrhic victory. These concerns are not partisan. Or maybe these guys are implanted with revenge which will come later.

Every young person in uniform has been told at one time or another, “Good initiative, bad judgment”. Would that a kindly entity could put his arm around certain decision makers and frankly state such as a mentoring opportunity. This trade will be looked at as a giant victory to our enemies--- the real jihadist network. Why is that important? PR. Their information operations for the next few seasons is set. By us. They succeed as long as they can convince young and aspiring jihadists that they can make the US wilt. It deepens the impression that the administration is way over its head. Which is why there exist things like war committees in Congress, who legally should have been included in this decision but were bypassed. Again: the appearance of ineptitude. If not heard a single person in uniform begrudge Bergdahl his return. There are exponential WFTs as to the process, however.

And to answer a previous question about the value of a US serviceman because he’s a serviceman: If I were to walk off from my trusted place of duty, join the enemy, and conspire to kill my brothers, how many Taliban would I be worth? Exactly zero. Honor and duty still trump platitudes and dishonor earns magnificent violence.

We have rescue forces second to none in the world. By a long shot. If we desired, we could have pulled him out. We’ve known where he was, down to the number of guys guarding him. Our true professionals could have done some great work there. What didn’t need to happen is that we give back major chess pieces who return to a hero’s welcome and trade high-value targets for low-value propositions. In the end it will not be people at Paypal, Dell, or ATK who will bear the brunt of this. It’ll be my brothers and sisters in the Marines, Navy, and Army. And there will be blood.

I’m about to freeze the comments on Negotiating With Terrorists, I think that conversation has run its course, and I’m going to close here with this:

I stand by what I wrote, but what I wrote isn’t the whole story.

Part of the remainder was described to you by a Marine Captain. And there is more to come.  There are legitimate questions that need to be answered, some of those by President Obama, some by his detractors in Congress, and a great deal more by Bowe Bergdahl himself. 

Six brave men died getting Bowe Bergdahl home. Five dangerous men went free. You must never forget that, that was the cost of Bowe Bergdahl’s freedom.

But, we don’t leave our people behind.

Consider however what the Captain said, more may die as a consequence of what it took to make good on that sacred promise, and that, my fellow Americans, that is the price you will pay.

The question will always be: was he worth it?

Was it worth the price we had to pay? But that’s always the question, isn’t it? In war the price is always, always terrible and this is part of it, right here.

Was he worth it?

I don’t know the answer to that.

I think those who love Bowe Bergdahl would say that he was indeed worth the price, and more.

But I suspect the six Gold Star Mothers of those men who died chasing after Bergdahl would say something different – and in point of fact I don’t have to guess, I read their outrage yesterday when my words were linked to their sorrow.

Was it worth it?

I don’t know, but let me ask you this: if, if, Bergdahl is tried and found innocent, then don’t we as a nation owe it to those dead men to finish what they started?  And if Bergdahl is guilty, then don’t we owe it to those self same dead heroes, those men who came of their own free will and gave of themselves the last full measure of devotion, and don’t we owe it to all the living ones who like the Captain, like me, served our country honorably and stood steadfast by our duty, don’t we owe it to ourselves to bring Bergdahl home to account for his sins? Don’t we?

Was he worth it?

I have no idea.

Look me up in thirty years, maybe I’ll know then.

 

 


Addendum 1:

I’m disappointed.

I expected more of my readership.

I asked you see the situation through a soldier’s eyes. Instead some of you have resorted to the same kneejerk blinkered responses you accuse the Captain of and you’ve missed the point of this follow-up. I wrote it the way I did for a reason. I’d like you to go back and read it again, carefully, dispassionately this time. And let’s leave the conspiracy theories regarding the military chain of command at home this time.

I asked you to look at this from a different viewpoint for a reason, and I expected those of you who know me, who read me on a regular basis, to think about what I said.

Something a lot of you are missing, especially those of you who lack military command experience: the Captain’s position, and that of his superiors, makes perfect tactical sense. 

They had to assume the worst case scenario.

They had to assume Bergdahl was compromised. And until they have proof otherwise, they must continue to assume so – they must assume that Bergdahl gave up what he knew to his captors, tactics, techniques, intel, routines, routes, all of it. Whether you assume that Bergdahl gave it up willingly or under torture or because of Stockholm syndrome or whatever, you have to assume that he did give it up.

Anything else is irresponsible. 

I’ve told you over and over, war is dirty and immoral and fucking horrible, this, right here, is part of it.

The Captain’s, and that of his chain of command, are the only correct viewpoint for military leaders in their position.

The Captain has to assume that the enemy has his playbook, anything else gets his Marines killed.

Debriefing of Bergdahl will take years and may show that he didn’t give up anything of value, or it may not

Which is why I directly implied that the Captain may feel differently in the future, when the memories and the heat of war have faded, and the true situation is known.

Or he may not – even if history eventually shows that Bergdahl isn’t a deserter.

And if Bergdahl is a deserter, it may be that thirty years from now he, Bergdahl, will come to regret his actions – which is why I deliberately mentioned Jane Fonda who now deeply regrets hers. And while those regrets don’t change the facts, they may temper how others view the events of history.  And if that’s so, it may change the Captain’s position.  Someday.  Or, should it go the other way, it may change mine. Someday.

Or not.

Which is why I ended the piece with the line I did.

The Captain has good reason to believe the way he does, unlike the raging pundits and politicians mentioned in the previous piece.

You, I hope, can find a place of reason in between.

 


Addendum 2:

A lot has been made about whether or not the six soldiers who died in the aftermath of Bergdahl’s disappearance specifically died looking for Bergdahl.

I find this utterly unnecessary argument distasteful.  

Those men died in the performance of their duties. 

They died in the service of their sworn oath. 

They died in the service of their country. 

They died in a foreign land, in a war zone, wearing the uniform of the United States of America.

Whether they were out there under orders to specifically look for Bergdahl or not, they were still looking for him.

Those six dead men, along with all the others who fell in this shitty war, are indeed the price we Americans paid.  They are the price Bergdahl’s unit paid. They’re the price Bergdahl paid, intentionally or not.

Watching those dead soldiers’ bodies be dragged through the streets of the media by self-serving politicians and media pundits and the shouting mob on both sides of the aisle disgusts me.

Here at least, I’d appreciate it if you’d show those dead men the respect they deserve.

 


A note about commenting: Comments are in full moderation and will remain so until further notice. I’m not going to reemphasize the commenting rules, you’re suppose to be an adult, act like one. If you behave like a child, your comment will not post. //Jim