Sunday, November 29, 2015

Unknown Unknowns

Here we are yet again.

Another nut with a gun and score to settle.

Another mass shooting, more dead Americans.

Another journalism feeding frenzy.

And social media has again gone mad with rage and rumor and accusations of blame like enraged monkeys with fangs bared flinging fistfuls of shit at each other.

Yesterday, I cautioned my audience:

Facebook: You'll note that at the moment the ONLY thing you know for certain is that the shooting is proof positive of whatever political or religious position you hold, no matter who you are or what that position might be. And tomorrow when the facts begin to emerge, a whole bunch of people are going to look either stupid for what they've said today or they're going to bull it out and look like assholes - or both.



Frankly,  I don't think I'm out of line to say I Told You So.

It's now been a bit more than a day since a nut with a gun barricaded himself inside a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic and started shooting people.

Here's what you actually know as I write this: Nothing.

Here's what you actually know about the shooter today: Nothing.

Here's what you actually know about his motivation: Nothing.

Here’s what you actually know about his political and religious positions: Nothing.

In fact, you don’t even actually know if Planned Parenthood was his intended target, or just a target of opportunity.

And yet, exactly as I said, despite the fact that you actually know nothing, most of you are firmly convinced that this guy is proof positive of whatever political position you hold, Left or Right or something on the howling libertarian fringe.




Whoever this guy is, whatever his motivation, whatever his mental state, whatever his political position, whatever his target, the only thing anybody knows for certain is that he represents whatever political, religious, and social point they hold dear.


Shooter, terrorist, madman, murderer, hero, whatever you choose to call him, his ultimate utility to our society is as gleeful confirmation of our own beliefs and as a condemnation of those we oppose.


While the shooter was still barricaded in Planned Parenthood, actor and raging conservative extraordinaire Adam Baldwin told me that the shooter was a transgendered leftist member of the Marxist "Socialist Workers Front." So AH HAH, in your face liberal scum!


As proof of his position, Baldwin linked to a website called The Gateway Pundit, a rightwing political blog run by a member of the Tea Party.  The Gateway Pundit published what it alleged to be court and voter records which showed the shooter to be female, despite rather obvious male characteristics in the attached booking photo with the caption, “That’s weird.” 

The obvious implication being the shooter was the T in LGBT, and therefore a “lefty” since by definition in Adam Baldwin’s mind all Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered people are ipso facto liberals.

The Pundit post ended with “[the shooter] also lists his party as UAF” – though the article provides no source or proof of this affiliation other than a vague reference to “voter records.”


Baldwin helpfully broke out “UAF” to mean “Socialist Workers Front.”

Other sites gleefully latched onto this supposed “fact” and ran with it, identifying “UAF” as the political movement “Unite Against Fascism” which some allege to be a Marxist leaning movement.




Only one problem, in the Colorado voter registration system “UAF” is a designation meaning “unaffiliated” or “independent” and Unite Against Fascism is a British fringe political party that is neither active in Colorado nor does it have a designator in that state’s voter registration system.

As of this morning, it appears today Baldwin deleted his original tweet – at least I can’t access it despite being able to see all his other messages on Twitter.

The Gateway Pundit stands by its post – as one would expect from a source that crows about its award for “Breitbart Accuracy in Journalism.”

Baldwin’s partisan confirmation bias and public rumor mongering sets the tone for this entire miserable affair (though to be honest, given his track record on Twitter, I’m somewhat surprised at his mild tone when talking to me – especially since the conversation began with me calling him a “dimwitted goon,” which in retrospect makes me somewhat of an ass).

Planned Parenthood meanwhile claims the shooter was mumbling about “no more baby parts” and was violently opposed to abortion:



But again, what you’re looking at here is opinion.

Somebody else said the shooter was opposed to abortion, the shooter didn’t say that.

And his alleged statement about “baby parts” is as yet unconfirmed and at best hearsay.

Donald Trump called the shooter “a maniac.”

President Obama said, “Enough is enough!”

Mike Huckabee called it a case of “domestic terrorism.”

Carly Fiorina assumes the mantle of martyrdom and blames “Leftwing Tactics” for the blowback she’s  facing over her previous comments supporting widely debunked Planned Parenthood videos.

Pro-Life LifeNews condemned Hillary Clinton for “exploiting” the shooting after Clinton issued a series of comments on Twitter in support of Planned Parenthood. LifeNews then predictably goes on to exploit the shooting in order to push their pro-life agenda.


Conservative media site The Daily Caller angrily denounced the liberal media for “rushing to blame Christians, Republicans for Planned Parenthood Shooting.”

Progressive media site Vocativ angrily denounced the conservative media while “Hundreds Cheer Planned Parenthood Rampage As GOP Stays Silent.”




Glen Beck’s The Blaze with grim predictability managed to tie Clinton, the shooting, abortion, and Black Lives Matter all up together and dismounted in triumph apparently defending the lives of black children which the same outfit commonly refers to as “thugs” and against which its readers loudly feel they need to be armed.




The Shooter’s neighbors called him weird and angry and disturbed.

He might have been in trouble with the law once or twice, or more, much more. He might have abused animals.

The word “loner” is being bandied about on both sides of the political divide,  often with a raised eyebrow and a knowing look. Ah, of course, a disturbed loner with mental problems. Sure. Sure.



The word “terrorism” has been thrown out on both sides of the political divide, though who the actual terrorist is when a bearded lunatic kills a cop while shooting up a controversial medical facility is open to interpretation.




A number of people have noted that despite killing a cop and actively shooting at the police for five hours, the white shooter was calmly taken  into custody and walked out of the building apparently uninjured.  And somehow, so far, he hasn’t died in custody. And what exactly  does that say about our society in light of other recent events where people of color weren’t nearly so lucky – despite, you know, not having killed a cop.




And of course, there’s the perennial American Gun Argument:




In the end, I suppose when it all shakes out it’s possible that the shooter will turn out to be an introverted transgendered pro-life Tea-Party Marxist Muslim extremist, but at the moment what you actually know about him (or her) is nothing.

And yet, exactly as I said, despite the fact that you actually know nothing, most of you are firmly convinced that this guy is proof positive of whatever political position you hold, Left or Right or somewhere out on the howling fringe.


You know, when I was growing up, it was the atom bomb.


We were sure, sooner or later, the world would end in nuclear fire. We built shelters we knew would be no use. We built great engines of war which we hoped would defend us from our enemies but which we secretly knew would only ensure no shred of civilization survived the holocaust – we even had a name for it, we called it MAD. We signed treaties and prayed to the gods and fearfully watched the skies for the first sign of the falling warheads.

Somehow, by luck mostly, we survived.

Somehow, the Doomsday Clock was reset, the hands moved away from midnight instead of ticking down to our doom.

Now, when the learned men speak of that dark time, they sigh and say, well, you know, civilization dodged the bullet.

And yet, looking back, I wonder.

I wonder if nuclear Armageddon was half the threat to civilization the internet and the 24-hour news cycle are.

Sooner or later, if we are to survive, we human beings of the Information Age are either going to have to evolve filters and critical thinking skills, both mentally and technologically, as a society or watch our civilization fall into utter chaos and ruin around us.

As the man said, some people just want to watch the world burn.

The simple obvious truth of the matter is that we, most of us, are not yet equipped to deal with the deluge of information which floods our senses every single day. Our social systems, our mental filters, our sense of propriety, our ability to judge truth and falsehood, right and wrong, are all overwhelmed. All of our very worst traits, confirmation bias, fear, hate, bigotry, ignorance, stupidity, selfishness are exaggerated and amplified and all of our best traits, love, understanding, empathy, patience, courage, are lost in the fire.

Like frightened chimps we bare our fangs, screeching in rage, and fling shit at each other.

Today, right now, whoever this guy is, whatever his motivation, whatever his mental state, whatever his political position, whatever his target, the only thing anybody knows for certain is he represents whatever political, religious, and social point they hold dear.

And that, that  right there, is the whole damned problem.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


On a Virginia bluff overlooking the Potomac there stands a flagpole.

It is, truly, a monument to a terrible moment in American history.

The plaque on its pedestal reads:

Many great American soldiers, both of the North and South, died at this spot. The casualties were so great that the water would turn red and thus became known as ‘The River of Blood.’

Imagine that.

Imagine that horrifying scene.

Imagine the thunder of the cannon, the crack of the rifles, the smoke, the screams of dying men and maimed horses. Imagine the smell, rot and putrefaction, death, shit, iron, and wet raw lamb. Imagine the casualties, so great, so many, they literally stained the wide Potomac itself crimson with the blood of patriots.



Only one problem: it never happened.


Imagine, because that’s where this battle exists – solely within imagination.

There was no battle.

There were no casualties.

There was no bloody river.

The Potomac was never known as The River of Blood, not during the Civil War, not now.

Oh the flag is real enough, but the story is as phony as Ben Carson’s West Point scholarship.

The guy who owns the place and erected that historic marker ... just made it all up to improve his property values.

That guy?

That guy is, of course, Donald J. Trump.

In 2009, Trump bought a rundown golf course on Lowes Island, Virginia. He chopped down an actual historic forest to improve the view, pumped millions into renovations, designated his new property an ersatz historical site, and opened his doors to the well heeled suckers.

Since then, Trump has been told repeatedly, publicly and in private, by some of the most prominent experts in American history that he is completely and utterly wrong about his so-called River of Blood.

Unsurprisingly, Trump refuses to budge or admit error.

In point of fact, Trump believes he knows more about Civil War history than the people who study, excavate, preserve, and teach it as their profession.

According to the New York Times, Trump quipped, “How would they know that?” when told historians had called his plaque a fiction. “Were they there?”

Despite a complete lack of historical evidence, Trump justifies his version of American history by saying, “That was a prime site for river crossings. So, if people are crossing the river, and you happen to be in a civil war, I would say that people were shot, a lot of them.”

How would scientists know that?

Were they there?

I would say.

My opinion is as good as the professionals.

Now, where have you heard that before?

That faulty thinking, that flawed logic, that is the inevitable result of unchecked Creationism.

This is what happens when unsubstantiated made-up fictions are substituted for actual scientific methods and the ramblings of amateurs and fortune-tellers are given equal or greater weight than that of professionals.

False reality.


So what? So what if some daffy self-aggrandizing billionaire made up some fake history, right? Who’s he hurting?

So what if a significant fraction of America discounts the sum total of science and history for a fictitious world where Jesus walked with dinosaurs and the Earth is 6000 years old? So? Who are they hurting?

Glad you asked.

Trump insists he saw video and news reports of Muslims celebrating in the streets of New Jersey the day the towers fell.

This did not happen.

Did. Not. Happen.

Despite the fact that Trump’s version of reality has again been soundly and thoroughly debunked and absolutely no video or validated news or police report  whatsoever can be found of any such thing (and in fact, the only confirmed reports of people celebrating are parties of non-Muslims, white and black, Americans, who gathered on rooftops to watch the spectacle from across the river before the towers collapsed and the true extent of the horror was fully realized), Trump continues to insist that his recall of history is correct.

Just as he insists his version of a Civil War battle that never happened is correct.

And then yesterday, Trump doubled down.

He now claims he personally witnessed with his own eyes, from the windows of his own Manhattan apartment, more than 80 people jumping to their deaths from the Twin Towers before the collapse – despite the fact that his apartment in Trump Tower is more than four miles away and it would have been utterly impossible for him to have seen any such thing.

This is a pattern with Donald Trump.

He plays fast and loose with reality on a daily basis.

Now, either Trump believes what he's saying or he's exaggerating for effect knowing his supporters don't really care either way because they have been conditioned to believe whatever the loud wild-haired guy under the tent is saying, no matter how ridiculous so long as he waves the bible and stands pat on his version of reality.

Either way, by accident or with malice aforethought, the bottom line here is that Donald Trump is not operating in a reality based framework.

And neither are those cheering him.


And that's the problem with our Republic.


That, right there, that Creationist I Don't Care What The Facts Say, History Is Whatever I Believe mindset.

When you have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, the government is only as good as the people.

When the people deliberately choose ignorance and fear and make-believe, you get a government that does as well. Worse, you then get a government who can only thrive on those very things and therefore must seek to instill them in the population in a vicious feedback loop.

Phony history and make-believe science don’t build starships.

Creationist thinking won’t “make America great again.”

Yesterday in Wasilla I saw a truck in the parking lot of a local grocery store which brought it all into focus for me.  It was a mammoth machine, huge tires, extended cab, all the trimmings. NRA sticker on the window. Pro-life. Trump: Make America Great Again. Old scowling white guy with a gun on his hip emerged from the store, squinted at me suspiciously, and climbed behind the wheel.

And on the tailgate, a mural. This one:

Everything I need to know about Islam, I learned on 9-11.

You know, I wonder, somewhere in Iraq if there is a pinch-faced angry member of the Islamic State with a mural on the back of his truck which shows Bagdad blown to hell and a trite little sound-bite which reads,  “Everything I need to know about Christianity, I learned when America blew up my country despite the fact that we had no weapons of mass destruction and nothing to do with 9-11 because they couldn’t tell the difference between Iraqis and Saudis.”


Perhaps not. Not too many people have the means, money, or time to paint murals on their vehicles in Iraq these days.



What’s that?

That Iraqi guy, he shouldn’t judge all Christians, all Americans, based on the actions of an insane few? He shouldn’t go around blowing people up and chopping off heads and hating everybody in the West because certain Christians blew up his country?

Interesting, I’ll have to think about that.


Everything I need to know about Islam, I learned on 9-11.

You ever wonder if maybe that’s the whole problem?

Everything I need to know about Islam, I learned on 9-11? Really? Because I have to say, personally, I’ve learned one hell of a lot I didn’t know about Islam in the years since 9-11. I learned that a lot of what I’d been told, what I thought I knew, was wrong, or at best incomplete.

And maybe, just maybe, that was at least part of the problem.

I learned that just like Christians, Muslims are each and every one different – and just like Christians, it’s what you do with your religion that matters.

Perhaps for me, the most profound lesson came when I led a Navy boarding team onto a hostile Iraqi ship in the Northern Arabian Gulf. They were certainly smugglers, perhaps pirates, perhaps even spies for Saddam – though in hindsight, the latter is unlikely. We rounded up the crew, cutthroats and criminals, dangerous men, one and all.  I found the master in the ship’s pilothouse and the man was … fierce.  He was tall, well over six feet, lean like a greyhound as if he was made from wire and sun dried leather, huge finely kept black beard and a moustache that for Iraqis is a thing of vast pride, giant hooked nose like the blade of an axe, and the most piercing and intense black eyes I have ever seen.  Give this man a brace of pistols and a scimitar of Damascus steel and he would have been at home in the midst of the Barbary Wars. 

And he was hugely, massively, angry to be facing an American military officer on his own bridge, the fury radiated from him in palpable waves.

He was the enemy, the boogeyman, I expected him to fight, to ram his ship into mine, to … I dunno, pull out a brace of pistols and a scimitar of Damascus steel and scream Allah Akbar.

Instead, he offered me coffee.

And we spent the next hour talking about our children, my son, his daughters and how he hoped they would grow up like western women, proud and sure of themselves and beholden to no man, no religion, no dictator. He didn’t hate America, he had a brother in Chicago. He had been horrified by 9-11. He didn’t hate me, he didn’t hate my country. He hated war and death and injustice and being boarded by a foreign power in his own waters.

The things I truly need to know about Islam, and my own country, the most important things, I’ve learned in the decade since 9-11.

I’ve often wondered what happened to that old pirate, if he survived the war, if his daughters did, and where they might be today.


Listen to me, if you want a better country, a better world, then you have to to be better citizens.


When you put people who don’t believe in reality into power, you get government that is likewise deluded.

You get moonbeams and magic fairy dust and arbitrary laws based on arbitrary interpretations of somebody’s arbitrary religion.

You get Drill, Baby, Drill while the seas rise and the crops wither and the super hurricanes smash our coasts into sodden rubble.

You get voodoo economics based on the shitty selfish ideas of some drug-addled second-rate science-fiction author whose own bullshit didn’t even work for her and thirty years later you’ll still be waiting for the full effects of those ridiculous juju magics to trickle down while the world falls to shit around you.

You get racism and misogyny and homophobia and bigotry writ large. You get walls and barbed wire and machine guns and broken glass. You get fear and hate, all based on something that never happened. And you will get war, against the wrong people, in the wrong country, for the wrong reasons and thousands of your children will die or come home maimed and you’ll find that you’ve made the world a thousand times worse and now you’re facing yet another war as a result – the latest conflict in an endless string that stretches back as far as you can remember.

If you put people like Trump into power, you get many things.

But greatness is not one of them.



Footnote: You’re wondering about the title?

Well, see, the thing about gravity? It’ll kill you whether you believe in it or not.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Price of Civilization

Here we are yet again.

Terror, death, chaos.

Already the drums are sounding, the trumpets call us to arms.

War is coming yet again.

But … well, it’s not the war I wonder about, it’s what comes after.

In a comment on my Facebook page, somebody asked how this could happen. Paris. How could this happen and nobody see it coming? It seems as if terrorism sprouts like mushrooms, the commenter puzzled, one minute the world is normal, and the next BOOM!

Indeed, terrorism is like that. Boom. Everything is normal, then boom.

But it only seems that way.

You see, terrorism like this doesn't just pop up like mushrooms.

It grows, inch by inch, day by day, cell by cell, recruit by recruit. Most of the time it grows right out in the sunlight, ignored - not unnoticed, ignored. Just as it was here in the US, because it's over there, somewhere, in some Third World shithole and we just don't care so long as it's not us.

And in this case it's been doing exactly that in Syria and Iraq and North Africa for years now.

It's not just us, this blithe happy ignorance. It happens all over the world and has for as long as there has been civilization. In recent memory, Russia, France, Spain, the UK, Northern Ireland, Italy, Somalia, and the Middle East. It is the nature of human beings to argue and squabble and dismiss until it's too late. Climate change, pollution, failing economy, poverty, disease, collapse, war, it's all the same.

Terrorism? It comes from chaos. From conflict and exploitation, from endless ruin and crushing poverty and bleak desperation. It comes from religion and ideology run mad.

You want to know why someone would strap an explosive belt to themselves and run into a crowd?

I’ll tell you.

It’s not complicated, it’s because they have literally nothing better to do, that's why.

It’s because the vague promise of some glorious afterlife is better than anything else in their lives.

It is absolutely no different, no different, from those who would let the world burn because they believe their own prophet is coming soon to rapture them away to some eternal bliss while the rest of us roast in eternal torment. The only difference is in degree.

We created this. Paris. Yes we did.

What’s that?

Oh, you’re offended, are you? Offended that I say it’s our own fault. That we created this. You’re offended. Got your red, white, and blue panties in a bunch? How dare I? How dare I?

Yes? That’s it, isn’t it?

Tell you what, fuck off. Shove your reflexive self-righteousness patriotic jingoism right up your ass.


If you want to do something about terrorism, actually do something about terrorism, then you start by being honest with yourself.


We created this.

Terrorism, the kind we face today? It comes from the fact that we, us, we keep blowing up civilization and leaving nothing but death and ruin in our wake. Terrorists are like cockroaches, they thrive on chaos and destruction and we're damned good at creating that chaos. I know, I spent most of my life in the business of war.

We created this.

Yes we did. We created the conditions for it to grow. To incubate, ignored over there, in the chaos we created.

Thirty years ago we denounced the Soviets for destroying Afghanistan and leaving nothing but ruins, a destroyed civilization, chaos. But we, we Americans, we were right in there, weren't we? Funding and fueling the Mujahedeen - creating our own enemies, just as the Romans did 2000 years ago. We could have done something about it, sure. We could have rebuilt that civilization after the Soviet Union pulled out. We could have made the Mujahedeen our friends. We could have. But it would have cost us money. Our money. Lots of money, vast, vast sums of it. It would have taken decades of sustained commitment. It would have taken effort.

And so, instead we left. Fuck it. Not our problem. Enjoy your freedom, Towelheads.

And the Mujahedeen became what?

The "freedom fighters" we trained, we equipped, we left behind, became what?

They became the Taliban.

They became Al Qaida.

They became the seeds of our own destruction.

And we learned nothing.

Then the same amoral sons of bitches who diddled in Afghanistan without regard to the consequences took us into Iraq.

And we reduced Iraq to lawless ruin.

Oh, we won the war, I know, I was there. We won the war, sure we did and they cheered us in the streets just as our leaders told us they would.

And then?

And then?

Then it all went sideways. It all fell apart. It all fell apart because we are damned good at destroying nations, not so good at building them.

Destruction is easy, creation is the hard part.

We had no plan. We didn’t care enough to have a plan, to see it through, to govern what we’d won, to rebuild the nation we’d destroyed, to beat swords into plowshares, to earn the respect and keep the friendship of the people we’d supposedly freed.  We let it fall apart. And then, like Vietnam four decades before, we walked away. See yah, have fun with your freedom!

We let Syria disintegrate and we still can't make up our minds who to back, the evil dictator who hates us, or the Islamic state who hates us, or the Russians who we hate. And Syria is just one of a dozen places currently falling apart.

And so, war, destruction, desperation. Chaos. The perfect breeding ground for terrorism.

Meanwhile, right here in our own country, a bunch of religious lunatics who pray to their small and mean god every single day for their own idiotic rapture, make it worse by throwing gasoline on the fire at every turn in their unending obsession with the end of the world. War, war, war, they just can’t get enough in the name of their religion of love and peace.

We haven't cleaned up the last mess and they want more war, more chaos, want to destroy yet another country. They gleefully point to the horror they helped make and proclaim it a sign from upon high, glory glory hallelujah, the End Times are come. Praise Jesus!

Well, it looks as if their miserable god has finally answered their prayers and they'll get their wish. War. Again. Because now we have no choice.

And I will bet you whatever sum of money you like, because I used to do this for a living, that right now the war machine is spinning up. The sabers are rattling, the ships are preparing to sail, the bombers are fueling up, and the trumpets are sounding To Arms, To Arms!  As they must for the barbarians are at the gate and now? Now we have no choices at all.


But what comes after?

We’ll rush in, like the fools we are, heedless yet again. Our own children will march off to war to the sounds of cheering crowds and they’ll come home in bags, hidden away from public view. We’ll speak the solemn words, sacrifice, patriotism, duty, honor, courage. We’ll bomb another country to ruin, kill thousands, millions. Oh, we’ll win the war, don’t you fear, of course we will, we always do. We’re good at it.


But meanwhile, what comes after?

What’s the plan this time?

What have we learned? What have we learned from all those lives? From all that blood? From all that destruction?

What have we learned from terror?

Terrorism grows like bacteria in warm agar, among the destruction and ruin of war. Terrorism grows in the gaps between civilization. And so what is the plan for after the war? After we’ve blown up the world yet again?

What comes after?

It does you no good to kill cockroaches if you don’t clean up the rot and mess and the filth they live on, if you leave chaos and darkness for them to breed in. More will always come in an unending tide.

So what’s the plan for after?

Paris was caused by Iraq. By Syria. By Afghanistan. By chaos and destruction and because the terrorists had nothing better, literally nothing better, to do with their miserable lives.

Unless we do something about that, then Paris isn’t the end, it’s just the beginning.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veterans Day 2015

The […] novel sucked. Even when I liked [the author] I saw right through that Rah Rah Military is Awesome bullshit.
  - Facebook Comment


Yesterday, I met a man who despised me.

He called me fascist, murderer, and a dumb blunt tool.

I didn’t take it personally – though a younger me might have.

I didn’t meet him in the flesh, like most of my social interactions these days I encountered him online. He surfaced on a well known author’s Facebook page during a conversation regarding a certain well known classic science fiction novel.

Now, it doesn’t matter which author or which novel or exactly where the conversation took place – though I’m certain a number of folks reading this can figure it out in short order.  The conversation and the novel which inspired it aren’t relevant to this essay, other than as a starting point. Suffice it to say the novel and the reputation of its author is such that fully six decades after it was written it still has the unerring ability to generate violent conflict and powerful emotions. Mention it in any conversation about government and/or military service and the sparks will fly.

It’s one of those books you either love or hate.

Very few who are familiar with the work find middle ground between those poles – including those who haven’t actually read it and are familiar with the writer and the novel only by second-hand heresy (yes, heresy, the book is nearly an article of faith to many) and a terrible Hollywood adaption.

It’s one of those stories where your opinion depends very much on your age and experience, and as such your opinion with regards to the story tends to change and temper over time.

To me, well, that’s what makes it a truly great work.

Love it, hate it, it is a coming of age story and it endures as a lightning rod, as a jumping off point for exploration of the human condition, of government, of service, of duty, of war and conflict, of why we fight and why we should – or should not.

I have read this novel many, many times.

I read it as a teenaged boy before I joined the military. 

I read it again at various points throughout my military career, as an enlisted man and as an officer – and in fact it is required reading for students at a number of military academies. I read it the day the author himself died, and raised a glass in his name, while stationed at a far distant outpost.

I’ve read it a number of times since I hung up my sword. I may, in fact, read it again today.

I don’t know that it influenced my decision to join up. I don’t know that it didn’t. The author, in this work and many others, certainly had some impact on my worldview. I do know that this novel did influence what kind of military man I ultimately became and that there were times, very difficult times, black days, moments when I didn’t know what to do next and lives depended on my decision, when I heard the words of its author whispering in my head, honor, courage, duty, ethics, morality, service above self, willingness to give one’s life in the cause of something greater – even and perhaps most especially when the cost is unjust and immoral and terrible.

The ideals of that book, and the veteran who wrote it, those ideals spoke to me in a very personal way.

And they still do.

As a writer of politics and military subjects, I encounter this book and discussions of its author often and I watch the resulting battles with some amusement. I’ve read hundreds of treatises on this book and its long dead author, detailed analyses from bloggers, columnists, best selling writers, noted scientists of various specialties, politicians, academics, and of course, military professionals.

All, every one, miss one fundamental thing.

And that is this: The reason six decades later this novel still generates love and hate and violent emotion is because the protagonist, a man very much like me, finds a home in the military.

War is his profession and he embraces it willingly and without regret.


And that, that right there, is the novel’s great sin.


That’s the criticism most often leveled at both the book and its author, they are pro war, pro military, and therefore somehow fascist and un-American.

To me this is like saying a fireman, one who runs towards the inferno, who is willing to brave the flames to save others, is somehow pro-arson.

There is no one who knows the terrible cost of war more than a veteran. There are few more anti-war than a combat veteran. Just as there is no one who knows the terrible toll of fire more than those who fight it. And yet, both still serve, because that is who they are.  

It’s okay in our society, at the moment, to love the soldier, to tell the story of war. But it must be done in a certain way. You see, it’s okay to write about war, to set novels among the conflagration and tell tales of glory and honor and sacrifice, so long as those who are caught up in its horror resent their own service. So long as they despise the conflict and the government and the utter ridiculous stupidity which sent them into the meat grinder. It’s okay to tell stories of war and conflict so long as the hero is serving only out of duty and will return to civilian life once the war ends – or die heroically, or tragically, or foolishly, depending on what kind of story you’re telling.

But to tell a story of those who serve when they don’t have to? To write of those who find a home in the military? That is a sin. Those people, you see, they’re the losers. Honor, courage, duty, ethics, the morality of war, service above self, willingness to give one’s life in trace to your country, well, these things are for suckers, wannabe fascists, murderers, dumb blunt tools with nothing better to do.

This is the difference between Full Metal Jacket and The Green Berets.

This, this right here, is the difference between The Forever War and Starship Troopers.


This is the difference between the man I met yesterday … and me.


Today we honor those who served in peace and in war.

We honor those who came of their own free will and those who came only because they were called.

We honor those who came of age in bloody conflict, those who like me, like the protagonist of that novel, found a life, who found ourselves, in the military. And we honor those who resented every goddamned miserable senseless minute of it.

Today wreaths will be laid. Flags will be raised to the truck and lowered to half-mast and there they’ll fly, cracking in the cold breeze, the symbol we fought and bled and died for, while below words of patriotism, duty, honor, courage, service, and sacrifice will be spoken.

The trumpets will sound their terrible call and the tears will flow – as they are down my face even as I write this.

Because, you see, I remember.

I remember those who trained and led me. I remember those I served alongside. I remember those I trained and led myself. I remember those men and women, every one of them, the good and the bad, the faithful and the faithless, the leaders and the followers, the admirable and the shitheads, those who came before me and those who came after, those who still live and serve and fight out there every day in the dark and dangerous corners of the world, those who have hung up their swords, and most of all I remember those who have given the last full measure – I remember them, each and every single one, each and every single day. 

They are always with me, because they are the people who made me what I am.

Perhaps we are nothing more than blunt instruments. Perhaps we are fools. Today I am disinclined to argue the point.

Perhaps we are. Because after the wreaths are laid, and the flags are lowered, and the trumpets sound their final mournful call, then the politicians will return to the same old divisions, the bailout bill, the election, the latest pork barrel project, or how the other party is a bunch of unpatriotic un-American bastards. Tomorrow they’ll remember us not at all – or at best, only as a way to further their own selfish agendas.

The talk show hosts will cry their crocodile tears, and wax self-righteous and angrily demand that their listeners honor veterans. They'll take people to task for not wearing an American Flag pin, or for not having a yellow ribbon on their cars, or for not serving in uniform - all the while hoping nobody calls them on their own service, of which, most have exactly none. And tomorrow, as always, they’ll forget all about us and go back to telling Americans to hate each other.

The Great Patriots, those Americans who think love of country is a contest and who wave the flag as if it were the cheap symbol of their favorite football team, are going to drink a lot of cheap beer and discount liquor and pontificate drunkenly at great length about how the country is going to hell in a hand-basket because of that son of a bitch in [insert: Congress, the White House, Wall Street, et cetera here] and how we should be doing better by our “Heroes.” All the while hoping nobody calls them on their own service, of which, most have exactly none. And tomorrow, they’ll nurse their sullen hung-over resentment and go back to fearing the men and women they honor today will knock on their door to take away their freedoms and liberties and guns.

Meanwhile today a lot of folks who don't think much about patriotism are going to go to parades and wave little flags and quietly give thanks for those who bought their freedom at such terrible cost. Some will stand ramrod straight even though many can barely stand at all, like me they limp, or they roll, bent but unbroken, they’ll place their hands over their hearts as the American flag passes, and in their eyes you can see horrible memories of Saipan and Iwo Jima, Normandy, the Rhine, the black Ardennes forest, The Chosin Reservoir, Khe Sanh, Tet, Al Basrah, Anbar, and Bagram. They won't talk about honoring veterans, they are veterans.

Today those with sons and daughters and husbands and wives in the service will raise a flag in their front yard, just as they do every day - and pray that those same loved ones get home alive and whole, just as they do every day.

Today those with sons and daughters and husbands and wives and mothers and fathers who have fallen in the service will visit graveyards, they'll bring fresh flowers, and fresh flags, and fresh tears.

Today, some just won’t give a good goddamn. They'll get a day off from work. They'll picnic, or party, or go boating, or hiking, or to the track. They'll paint the house, or do chores around the yard, they’ll haul trash to the dump if it's open or take the dog for a walk. Or maybe they won't, maybe today will be just like any other day. Kids still go to school, here in Alaska. Teachers still teach. Stores, restaurants, the mills and mines and rigs are still running. And it may be that these people most honor veterans, by simply going on with their lives, by living without having to remember the dead on some far distant battlefield, without having to worry about their security, without having to thank anybody.

And today, some will protest. Protest war, the military, the government. They'll use this day to burn the flag, they’ll take to Facebook and Twitter to call us fascists and murderers and dumb blunt tools. They’ll use this day to march and to demonstrate and it may be that these people are paying the highest compliment to veterans – even though that is the least of their intentions. Because, you see, it was veterans who bought them their right to despise us.

We are not heroes.

We are not heroes. Most of us anyway, we are simply people like any other, doing the best we can with what we have under difficult circumstance. We came when called and did our duty, each for our own reasons. You don’t have to understand why, just as you may not understand why a fireman would run into a burning building instead in the other direction. 

In our country, in a free society, the soldier should be no more revered than any other citizen.

We should respect the warrior, but we should never worship him.

There is no glory in war. It is a horrible, brutal business and make no mistake about it. We can wish it otherwise. We can rail against the utter stupidity and the phenomenal waste and the bloody obscenity of it all. We can declare and decry war’s terrible necessity and its terrible cost. Be that as it may, given human nature, for now war must often be done and our nation, our world, needs those who would fight, who would stand rough and ready to do violence in their name. It is a duty, a profession, a job, and a calling that must be done.

Perhaps in some distant future we will have put it behind us, perhaps we will have made war and the warrior long obsolete.  We can certainly hope that it shall be so. We can, and should, strive to make it so.

Perhaps some day we will set aside a day to honor the peacemakers and study war no more. Perhaps.

But I wouldn’t count on it.


I don’t know. I don’t particularly care.


You see, I didn’t do it for you.

I didn’t do it for you and you owe me nothing. Neither thanks nor pity.

I’ve said it before, I’ll likely say it again: If you want a better nation, you have to be better citizens. Me? I joined the military for myself. To prove something to myself. To be a better citizen.  

I joined for myself, but I stayed for them. For my comrades in arms, for those I served beside, I did it for them. I did it for all the things I found in that novel, honor, courage, duty, ethics, morality, service above self, willingness to give one’s life in the cause of something greater – even and perhaps most especially when the cost is unjust and immoral and terrible.

I did it because like the protagonist of that book, that is my sin, I found a life there among friends.

Yesterday I met a man who despised me.

But you know what? That, that right there, is what we were doing in the dark and dangerous corners of the world, defending his right to hold us in utter contempt.

Yesterday I met a man who despised me.

He called me and those like me fascist, murderer, dumb blunt tools.

I can live with that.

And I wear his contempt as a badge of honor.