In the early morning hours of this day, as the United States and the World recognized the first anniversary of infamous terrorist attacks, a journalist boldly extemporized on the meaning of September 11th. He said, the World Trade Center bombing in the financial district of Southern Manhattan, New York City, was ". . . not like Pearl Harbor." The off-hand comment by this young journalist struck the wrong nerve in me.
It was not the words per se that rankled me. It was the context and tone . . . these events were not as serious or dramatic or important or profound as Pearl Harbor. Well, sonny, let's take a look at history.
Indeed, the tragic events of 11.September.2001, are like Pearl Harbor to a degree. They were both surprise attacks on the sovereignty of the United States, and they both took many young lives and the nation to war. But, I am afraid that's where the similarities end. There are stark differences between the two pivotal events.
On the morning of 7.December.1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the preponderance of the U.S. Pacific Fleet at anchorage in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii -- a territory and protectorate of the United States. It was a surprise attack [although various intelligence agencies had clues that something was up] on an unprepared Navy and Army, killing approximately 2,500 mostly active duty soldiers and sailors, with the majority of those buried forever where they fell with the USS Arizona. The attack was highly successful in that it achieved virtually all of Admiral Yamamoto's tactical objectives, except the destruction of all or some of the three Pacific Fleet aircraft carriers.
In contrast, the morning attack of 11.September.2001, involved 19 young men from an amorphous, stateless group called Al-Qaeda [The Base] who hijacked four, scheduled, commercial airliners. They turned those airliners into massive guided missiles. They did attack perhaps the one building that most symbolizes US military power and destroyed one of five sides, and killed 184 military and civilian military employees. They also attacked the World Trade Center that housed no military employees, facilities or activities. It was in the truest sense, a world trade center. Their attack caused two of the largest buildings in the world, and perhaps the symbol of US economic strength, to collapse into themselves taking several thousand lives of innocent citizens of the world and emergency crews sent to rescue them. The passengers of the fourth airliner, now alerted to what was happening, fought the hijackers to reclaim the aircraft and ultimately gave their lives too -- the first victory in the War on Terrorism. Nearly 3,000 innocent civilians lost their lives that day -- citizens of 91 countries, not just the United States. This was not just an attack on the United States; it was a direct attack on the free peoples of this planet. It could have been much worse claiming 50,000 or a 100,000 lives, dwarfing the Battle of Antietam as the costliest day for American lives -- the sacrifice of heroes saved countless lives that day -- sure marks of the work of a free people.
In 1941, we knew precisely who the enemy was. We declared war, mobilized, and sent a generation's young men off to avenge the surprise attack. Nearly four years later, they succeeded, and the World is a better place for their blood at the roots of the Liberty Tree. This is not to lessen the almost incomprehensible sacrifice of that generation in lives lost, bodies permanently disabled, families disrupted and economic cost. While many millions of innocent civilians lost their lives as a consequence of the fanatics who brought the world to war, the combat was predominately fought between military forces, sometimes hard to find but always recognizable. They held the warrior's honor to stand and fight.
Now -- today -- we face an enemy that has no state, no body, no uniformed armed force, no laws, no flag, and no public or visible substance. And yet, they take the fullest advantage of modern weapons, communications, the reach of the media, and the freedom to travel virtually as they may wish [since they are citizens of somewhere else or forge false identities to yet other nations]. They are nowhere and yet everywhere. Our freedoms help them hide among honorable, law-abiding citizens. They move and act in secrecy until it is time to attack. They blaspheme a glorious religion in an effort to sanctify their motives, and rationalize their inhumanity and barbarity. The very laws that protect us protect them to an extent. And, these madmen have access to weapons of enormous destructive potential, unparalleled in human existence, and they have proven their ready willingness to use those weapons against people who simply wish to live in peace. Their misty existence and lack of body politic creates enormous complications, obstacles and traps for those charged to defend us and the freedoms we enjoy. As we have seen already, well-meaning citizens have ostracized President Bush and to a certain extent the United States of America largely because they do not understand or appreciate the seriousness of this War . . . in my humble opinion.
No sonny, this is not Pearl Harbor. It is far worse, far more ominous and menacing. This was an attack on the Homeland [the last time that happened was 1814]. This was an attack on innocent human beings just trying to live their lives the best way knew how and provide a better life for their children than they enjoyed [a characteristic common to all human beings across the globe including the states from which those barbarian come from]. Our leadership and military face a far more difficult adversary -- an adversary that is rarely affected by bombs and rockets. This War will be fought to some extent with conventional and unconventional military forces, but it will be, perhaps, more heavily waged by law enforcement, bankers, intelligence analysts, accountants, diplomats and normal, concerned and vigilant citizens. This is a psychological war for the hearts and minds of several generations of human beings. We allowed or chose to ignore several generations of radical fundamentalists enabling their putrid mash to ferment and become fatally toxic. The bill is due. We must now sacrifice beyond a reasonable measure to reclaim those generations lost for the generations that follow us. The outcome of this war will depend much more on the media and the diplomats than on the military as with wars of the past. No, this is indeed not like Pearl Harbor, and please do not lessen the seriousness of this war.
"It seems our President and his Vice are pushing hard for possibly invading Iraq, with or without support from other nations. They seem to put forth a pretty good argument for it, and just in the last day or so Tony Blair from England has kinda seemed to go along with that, if his meeting with Bush is any indication.
"But Most of the people in high places, who are knowledgeable about what has been going on over there since the Gulf War seem to be urging a Hell of a lot of caution, and for the most part seem to be against it. The ones I've been keeping up with anyway. James Webb, who I believe you knew maybe at the Academy, (the Marine, Decorated combat vet, Academy grad, later SecNav for a short period, author, etc), Oliver North, various Congressional Heavies, etc. And many of the various people in DC who write columns for papers, have political talk shows, etc. And most all the now retired Heavy duty Generals and Admirals. I think we have to listen closely to them, Cap. The mass of our citizens can be swayed easily, because they don't get ALL the info available.
"In my opinion, like that of Many others, we would be there forever! Yes, we could do it. With or without support. We are the big dog in the world now. Bigger than any dog has ever been in history. And everyone knows that. But what then?
"Our people are not long term thinkers. We want the quick fix. Not like the Asians or Middle East nations, the Arab ones. They are always ready to go the long haul, be it 5, 10, 20 or many more years. Vietnam comes to mind. Hell---Korea.
"I wonder if Bush's overall unstated strategy is to somehow force Saddam to come back to the table in earnest, by all this talk about invading. Not spoken of course. Saddam knows we can find him and kill him and he doesn't want that. He can make it Nasty for us, and for his people too, which he would do. He doesn't care about his people. He also must know, as we must in the highest echelons, that if we go in there and take the country, we will be there damn near forever, with maybe not positive results. Iraq is NOT Japan after WW2. Then there's the rest of the Arab world. Some friends, but that has changed back and forth over time. None of them, in my opinion, trust us, and really, their opinions about how a Nation should be are far different from ours. Their values are not the same.
"I could go on. Won't. Can you respond to what I've said?"
I have been working on a history book, provisionally titled "The Clarity of Hindsight - The Words That Define World War II" . . . going back into the treaties, the documents and speeches has given me a deeper insight into the cause & effect. The parallels between 1930's and 1990's are striking, and will color my response to your question.
I did not have the combat service in Vietnam that you and other comrades gave to the country, but I commanded a recon platoon [and special staff officer to the ARG commander] off the coast of North Vietnam during the spring offensive of 1972, and I lived through those years. I have also studied the decision-making process through numerous books spanning that period. There is one very clear lesson that we learned and now shapes the decision-making process regarding Iraq and other security problems today since it is our generation at the helm. The military should never be used without the support and will of the people, and only as the absolute last resort. The military is not an instrument of the President. It is the shield and sword of the people. Not to be melodramatic but, it does not matter what the President thinks; what matters is what the American people think. Case in point, the debacle in Vietnam.
Regardless of whether any of us is a fan of Franklin Roosevelt's politics, no one can deny the masterful campaign he quietly conducted to prepare the American people for what (I am convinced) he knew was virtually inevitable by 1936, or 1937 at the latest. The same is true to an even greater degree with Winston Churchill's endurance of ridicule, isolation, ostracism and condemnation to convince His Majesty's Government, the British people, the Empire and all freedom loving people throughout the world of the menace Hitler represented to world peace. The Powers That Be in the 1930's chose not to act until it was far too late.
Personally, I believe the President is precisely correct. We have waited too long to deal with this madman, and he is no different from Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin -- he only cares about his power, period -- just a much smaller scale.
I must admit to perhaps a little more information on this topic than the average citizen. I was the III MAF Air Intelligence Officer during the Iran-Iraq War in 1981; let it suffice to say, I had access to at least some of the regional data. And, a very good friend of mine was executed by Iraqi agents in Santiago, Chile, when he got too close to the Iraqi-Chilean arms conduit in 1988. It can be argued we made a huge mistake not finishing with him in 1991; but, that was not the mission of Desert Storm. Although Iraq has not reached the status of Iran, they have been a principle agent of state-sponsored terrorism since Saddam Hussein came to power, and still is to this day, I believe. This guy is a really bad man. If he was Idi Amine, we could ignore him; but, he is not. Now, it is appropriate to imagine Adolf Hilter with one or more nuclear devices; that's what we have on our hands today. It is also fact that we have known -- clearly known -- about Usama bin Ladin for 15 years that I know of and perhaps more, and yet did virtually nothing until it was too late. Our culture and justice system virtually forces us to respond rather than take preemptive action. While that may be acceptable practice in internal criminal law, I respectfully submit it is not acceptable when it comes to the security of the Republic, especially in the nuclear age. It can also be argued that we made a fundamental mistake in not taking preemptive action or responding to Japan's invasion of China in 1937, or Hitler's entry into the Rhineland in 1936 or Austria in 1938. Sure intervention would have been costly, and the consequences unknown. However, in hindsight, would the cost have been anywhere near the staggering and incomprehensible price humanity paid for what ultimately happened? I think not. Can we wait for Saddam Hussein to detonate a nuclear device in Riyadh, Jerusalem, London, New York City or Washington, DC, or anywhere else he might feel appropriate?
While Saddam Hussein (and the situation in Iraq) is about megalomania in the minor, it is more broadly about order and discipline between nations. We have stood back feeling safe behind our oceans as the rabid, self appointed righteousness of some Islamic clerics have created several generations of fodder to satisfy their brand of megalomania. This is not about religion. It is about power. Part of the Islamic world appears to be going through a stage of development that the Christian world went through in the early part of the last millennium. There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that we must deal directly, resolutely and finally with Usama bin Ladin and his rabid wolves, and with Saddam Hussein. We should have acted 10 years ago, but we did not have the will, and the people were certainly not prepared for that. However, far more importantly, how we do this deed will define our ability to deal with the larger problem of radical Islamic fundamentalism and its impact on freedom.
I do agree with you in a sense that an invasion of Iraq under the present conditions would be a quagmire of enormous proportions, perhaps even worse than Vietnam. However, I do not agree that we would be there forever, i.e., the problem is solvable. From my perspective, I have no doubt that we [as yet unspecified] must go to Baghdad just as we did to Berlin and Tokyo, and eliminate that vermin, sooner rather than later. The price will simply go up the longer we wait just as it did in the 1930's. We helped Japan, Germany and Italy to recover from near total devastation, and they stand tall and strong today. We are in the process of helping Russia recover from the disaster they suffered for 70+ years. We will also help Iraq recover and become a responsible, peaceful and productive member of the World community rather than the pariah they are today.
Churchill used intelligence information with exceptional skill in an effort to inform and enlighten the people. Roosevelt did the same but in a more circumspect manner. With the extent and breadth of communications these days, I think the President has no choice but to lay out the case like Kennedy did with the Cuban Missile Crisis. He must take the risk and show us the intelligence that proves the case. President Bush has not prepared the American people or our allies for what is an extraordinary step of preemptive action against a sovereign country. At this point, I must give him the benefit of the doubt that what we are seeing is a methodical orchestration to prepare us and the world for what must come. I am with the Colin Powell's and Jim Webb's and John McCain's of our leadership on this one at this stage. The case has not been made. The President has the authority and power to pull the trigger anytime he deems appropriate. I would recommend and encourage us to support him, ask questions, instigate the debate, and ensure we have a plan we all can understand and support with the blood of our sons [a very, very precious commodity since I have three sons and a son-in-law]. If he pulls the trigger before he prepares the people, he will have my support for the conduct of operations but he will not receive my vote in 2004. We cannot tolerate what Lyndon Johnson did, even with his noble and well-meaning intentions . . . ever again. I pray to God that no.43 has learned and remembers that lesson. Colin Powell is a very experienced and wise man; he should listen to Colin, John, Jim and the other veterans.
Lastly, what we are doing is part of the public debate that is essential to dealing with such things. The media plays an important part in his process, but this is the ultimate in civic responsibility and our contribution as citizens of the Republic. We will decide. We must decide. The American people turned 180 degrees in two years under the expert hand of Franklin Roosevelt. So far, I think George W. Bush is up to the task for us, now. Time shall tell the story.
The United States did not seek power and the position it occupies in the World today. It came to us reluctantly because of our freedoms and our blood commitment to defend those freedoms . . . so help us God.
"That's just my opinion, but I could be wrong."
One good thing about years of experience is the ability to see more clearly what works and what does not work so well. My observations are based on 30 plus years so far including as a Marine, an experimental test pilot, and a manager from entry to executive levels. A voracious curiosity and a desire to understand people have aided the formation and solidification of my views. (Although I must admit that I have not stopped learning and seeking more wisdom.) Through all this, I can say there is one simple test to determine a good manager from a bad manager.
When things go wrong, does he blame others for the failure?
It truly is a very simple test, and I might add, a very accurate one as well. It is easy to blame others . . . he didn't give me the ball . . . they are not as efficient as they should be . . . the suppliers didn't deliver on time. There are billions of excuses; they are all different and yet all the same -- worthless.
While not all failures can be foisted upon the shoulders of bad management, I will declare that the vast majority of business failures are directly due to bad management. It is the failure of the manager to plan properly, to understand the factors affecting performance, to motivate and focus the people or to measure performance against a good plan and make adjustments. I have never seen good people fail to respond to good leadership.
When failures occur as they invariably do if the business is taking reasonable risks, the first step of any good manager must be to examine himself. He did not understand the limitations of his people. He did not plan for variability in the factors that affect performance or adjust the plan as those factors became clear. He set unreasonable or unrealistic expectations. There can be many reasons why managers fail the team. And, I must say regardless of the reason(s) for the failure, an essential burden of leadership is taking the responsibility and accountability of the team. It is just that simple. If the team failures, it is the failure of the leader, period.
So, look around you. If you see a manager who blames others for failures, I think you will find that manager sorely lacking in a number of areas.
Balance tends to be a natural state of stability. When things are out of balance, the forces of physics, biology and interpersonal dynamics operate to achieve some state of balance. In the mathematics of physics, the state vector and control vector will eventually find the point of balance or the system is unstable and will deteriorate to disintegration or collapse. This essay is not intended to be an analytical examination of the equations of motion. However, the physical principles of balance can be, and I will argue should be, applied to human relationships whether familial, personal or in business.
Balance between human beings, whether personal or professional, can only be achieved through mutual respect, trust and confidence. Situations where any one of those three elements breaks down destine the relationship to failure. All three are based on equality. Thus, if an individual was raised or trained to maintain a sense of superiority for any reason whatsoever, whether based on skin color, ethnicity, gender, education, affluence or any other peripheral parameter, any relationship will be unstable.
Businesses succeed for many reasons, and yet, there is generally one paramount or ultimate reason -- people. Those of us in management and especially executive management would like to think it is our skills and business acumen that determines success. I respectfully submit, it is ultimately the efficiency of labor that determines success. If people are treated with respect, they will do what is necessary to be successful. If employees are not respected, there is almost nothing you can do to be successful. In simplistic terms, happy employees produce more, which makes more profit for the company, which increases shareholder value, which attracts more investment. The success of any business depends on its people. And, the relationship between employer and employee must be in balance or it will be unstable and ultimately fail.
For the manager, understanding people is the first and foremost responsibility. A good manager must be naturally curious and a student of human behavior. To be blunt, without people, there is no work. Without work, there is no profit. Without profit, there are no jobs. It is just that simple. So, any manager who thinks he can succeed based on financial or planning skills will be tragically disappointed thus the need for balance.
Likewise, balance is needed, perhaps required, for a marriage to remain strong and survive. Any relationship where one party or another feels abused, taken advantage of, or not respected will generally not last and will certainly not be happy.
Having a sense of balance in personal as well as professional relationships whether on the individual or corporate level is virtually mandatory for long term success. As the Enron fiasco continues to unravel, we see a set of corporate leaders who had no sense of balance. They appear to be driven by one motive -- greed. They built a house of cards and rationalized the market would always expand covering their commitments. The scam collapsed when the economy softened. Their financial finagling was never in balance, was always unstable, and would have been only a matter of time before it collapsed.
As in physics, finding the control vector necessary to achieve balance with a given state vector directly depends how one understands the factors of the state vector and the control vector. Optimal control theory is an excellent analogous principle. It has the potential to provide near perfect control and yet it is also vulnerable to instability with insufficient knowledge or understanding of either the state vector or the control vector or both. As with Optimal Control, the key lies in the understanding of the system. Translating this into interpersonal terms, we must understand the wants and needs of individuals as well as those factors that motivate individuals. Through that understanding, the balance point can usually be found and maintained, thus, the importance of mutual respect, trust and confidence. If one person does not trust another, they will not likely be open and candid regarding communications. Without good communications, finding those factors that affect balance are not likely to be understood. And, as suggested earlier, without balance, any system will be unstable.
A sense of balance can also be applied to relationships between nations. The most visible example is the Versailles Treaty after World War I. The treaty intended to preserve the peace severely penalized the entire German nation and arguably set the environment that enable Hitler and dementia to contribute to the first truly global war and incredible magnitude of death and destruction. In contrast, after the insanity of World War II, the Marshall Plan treated the German people with respect and restored a peace in Europe that lasts to this day. Likewise, it does not take a rocket scientist to recognize the situation in Palestine and Israel is not only volatile but also grossly unstable. Unfortunately, any set of individuals, groups or nations that do not want to find balance will not seek it until the forces of instability convince all the parties for find the point of balance and stability.
There is no formula or operator's guide to finding balance. However, if each of us sought to understand relationships of any type in terms of balance, we might find the path to balance, and a more peaceful world and more stable relationships. We can only hope.
The 2002 World Cup competition was memorable in so many ways and disgraceful in a few others. The upsets of the perennial favorites, France, Argentina, Portugal and Italy added to the excitement. The success of South Korea and Japan were inspiring. Unfortunately, it will be the assault on the referees that stains the grand sporting event this year.
I cannot claim to have watched the matches or even studied them. I was only able to see still photographs and video clips of relevant or important moments. Based in the images I saw, there were indeed some questionable calls that undoubtedly turned the outcome of at least a few of the matches. However, let us view this debate from the larger perspective rather than from a frozen image taken with a long lens from a precise angle.
In international football [soccer to Americans], there is one referee who must run up and down the pitch, position himself as best he possibly can to see critical moments in a sport that can move with split second speed. Further, he is assisted by two lines on either sideline who must also run up and down the pitch and witness events often some distance away from them. Now, place perhaps eight, ten or more high skilled athletes in a five meter by seven meter rectangular space concentrating of either getting the ball into or keep the ball out of the goal, all jostling for position and some of them substantial bigger than the referee. Does anyone wonder why more mistaken calls based on judgments of a human being in the split second of time are not made? Come one now, let's get real.
The purists among us will say, it should be the skill of the athletes that determine the outcome of the match. True. No debate there. There will a portion of this group who will advocate stop-action or instant replay decision making to ensure the calls are as accurate and precise as technology can allow. I must admit, I was an advocate of instant replay in the American, National Football League, for these very reasons. However, I have changed my mind.
Unfortunately, the money involved in modern sports, both professional and amateur, is so great the pressure for perfection enshrouds the athletes and referees. While the money brings intense competition, it also allows the nasty part of sport like gambling, rigging and the displacement of good sportsmanship to succeed at any cost. As athlete is on the pitch to play the game, the referee is on the pitch as a vital part of the game.
The referee must ensure order, the rules are upheld and make judgments regarding various actions. The referee must be impartial, unbiased, accurate and prompt in any judgment made on the pitch. The referee is also and must be an athlete as well as a judge. There will always be mistakes. But, the hard, cold reality is that is part of the game. Of the portions I saw, there were no biased or intentionally injurious calls. There were just good people, trying very hard, in a very intense environment, to do the best job they could possibly do. If the performance of referees is to be evaluated, it must be accomplished by a body of his peers in the quiet solitude of deliberation, and not by the athletes, coaches, team owners or fans. I say, God bless them. Now, everyone else, get off their case. It is a game -- accept the decision, period!!
Free people enjoy many freedoms that enrich and respect life. One of the most fundamental principles of freedom is that of choice. Each and every citizen in a free society must exercise this freedom virtually every day of the their lives. Those daily choices are often taken for granted. In times such as these, when there is a threat to those freedoms, we can see the fragility of freedom and easily imagine the consequences of forfeiture to anarchy or totalitarianism in any form.
The freedoms remonstrated by the Declaration of Independence and later codified and guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States -- speech, assembly, religion, movement, among so many others -- can be boiled down to one simple freedom, that of choice. The right to make choices significant to each of us, important to those around us, and in our own small ways, vital to the health of the country. This most basic of our freedoms brings uniqueness and richness to our lives, enabling each of us to affect the course of our lives as well as impact those around us. Freedom of choice is woven into virtually every aspect of life in all free societies.
While our freedoms attract emigrants who see and seek the rewards of these freedoms, they are sometimes confused, daunted, frustrated and intimidated by the responsibilities of these freedoms. Many outside the United States see the negative consequences of our obsession with freedom of choice -- insistence upon individual freedom, excessive crime rate, unconscionable gun violence, focus on wealth and possessions, youth violence, and the extremes of behavior. American often say and do things that baffle people from other countries.
The freedom of choices has many rewards for each of us and yet it carries many burdens as well. Foremost among those burdens is accountability . . . for the choices we make.
Consequences of those choices affect every aspect of our lives every day. The choices we make not only determine the course of our lives each day and for the future, they also affect others around us. Our choices can bolster or destroy trust others have in us. They can stimulate or terminate friendships and relationships. They can permanently alter the lives of future generations.
Because of our concentration on individual freedoms, our judicial system is heavily biased to protect the individual's freedom of choice. We tolerate, perhaps reluctantly, individuals who espouse radical behavior including racism and bigotry . . . as long as the vitriol does not incite others to violate the law or words are not transformed into action. In our system, you are entitled to be a bigot, but you are not allowed to force your bigotry on others. You can talk about robbing a bank and it might draw surveillance attention of law enforcement; but, until you take some action of transform the talk into action, the law protects your right to 'talk' about breaking the law. As a result, our system of laws responds to actions rather than words. To avoid any perception of being too narrow, words can also stimulate our judicial systems as in the classic falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater; such words are not protected since they have the potential injury others.
I have often said, it is each individual's right to believe what they wish to believe. The racist has a right to believe his racist dogma. A bigot is entitled to the intolerant thoughts that are the core of his bigotry. And, freedom of choice means an extremist can believe whatever he wishes to believe. He can even say whatever he wishes to say. We have drawn some limits to the freedom of an individual, but not many. It is the constant clash between individual freedom and the community demands for order that occupies our legal system as well as the contemplation of citizens.
In the light of a citizen's contribution to this debate,
there are several previous essays related to this topic that may be of
PROTEST and RENEWAL
CHILDREN and GUNS
U.S. DRUG POLICY
ANATOMY and PORNOGRAPHY
THOUGHTS ON THE SECOND AMENDMENT
A prerequisite of exercising the freedom of choice, or any other of our freedoms for that matter, is the courage to accept the consequences of those choices. This aspect can also be defined as standing up for the principles you believe in or the strength of your convictions. It becomes the measure of all citizens.
There are many examples throughout the history of the world as well as the history of the United States. Sir Thomas More stands as one of histories most courageous individuals who gave his life for the principles he believed in and stood for, making the ultimate in choice. Regardless of your feelings toward Mohammed Ali, there can be no denial that he exercised his freedom of choice and equally stood up to the consequences of his choices. As a former Marine, I was prepared to give my life to protect the freedom of choice for Mohammed Ali and all other responsible citizens. On the other hand, one of the most infamous traitors of our times, who made her choices freely and openly, hid behind her fame to avoid accountability. And yet, to an even greater degreee, our society failed to hold her accountable for her choices . . . none other than Hanoi Jane, a.k.a. Jane Fonda. I imagine Hanoi Jane thought what she did was right. You only have to ask a few of those men who survived as POWs and suffered as a result of her treason. Clearly, she has not stood tall and faced the consequences of her choices, and I doubt all her money and Hollywood supporters will allow her to be placed in the dock and judged for her choices. Unfortunately for John Walker Lynde, the young, apparently impressionable, Marin County, path-seeking, privileged, misguided, adult male, who joined Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan and captured in late 2000 near Mazur-e-Sharif, will probably not enjoy the protection Hanoi Jane enjoyed. If the allegations are proven, Walker may very well give his life for the choices he has made. And, so it shall be.
For all the flaws in American society, freedom of choice remains the essence of what it means to be free and to be an American. Those freedoms are eroded when accountability does not accompany the exercise of these freedoms, hand in hand. Freedom of choice can easily deteriorate into anarchy without accountability. And, accountability must be equally and uniformly applied. It is from this reality that Jane Fonda's treason is so vile; her money, her family connections and her notoriety prevented her accountability and our freedoms have lesser significance because of our failure as a society to hold her and her ilk accountable for their exercise of freedom of choice.
However, today we face a far more grave threat to our freedoms. A small group of obscene, radical extremists action is the name of their perverted interpretation of a glorious religion seek to subvert our freedoms to further their form of megalomania. The see our freedoms and the hope those freedoms represent for their followers as a mortal enemy in the quest for total domination of their lives. Their fatal error was equate our frivolous, self-centered, selfish, peacetime behavior with weakness and lack of moral commitment to your beliefs. They now reap the whirlwind, and so it shall be. They shall no enjoy their journey into immortal hell.
God bless all those who stand the line in harm's way protecting us from the barbarians who threaten our freedom and liberty.
The Honorable George W. Bush
President of the United States of America
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President;
As a concerned citizen, I write to you as the leader of this Grand Republic, the chief executive of the Federal Government, and the Commander-in-Chief of our armed forces, since several Executive Branch organizations are involved.
The latest news from CNN and other sources indicate that the FBI has refused to release the United Airlines Flight 93 Cockpit Voice Recorder transcript and audio, ostensibly in deference to the emotions of the families of the victims. This most recent decision to withhold public information joins a growing body of such 'concern' for public sensitivities or perceived inability of the people to comprehend the significance of information. Perhaps withholding information does not seem worthy of the attention of the President. However, I hope to make it through the various staff gates to convince you to reexamine Federal policies regarding the dissemination of the 'people's information.'
History has vilified Senator Joseph McCarthy for his brash and obnoxious style, and yet many years later release of the FBI's Venona Files virtually proved the validity of McCarthy's accusations. The societal insults of the Tuskegee syphilis experiments as well as the nuclear, chemical and biological warfare experiments in the 1950s and 1960s, all without public debate or even individual choice, add to the image of the government above the citizens. Many of us who served during the Vietnam era still have a bad taste as we try to rationalize the sacrifice of so many precious lives when we find dishonesty represented by just the Pentagon Papers alone. Regrettably, I am a citizen who believes essential public information is being withheld relative to the TWA 800 tragedy, and as a result, I have co-authored, a published book on this event. The list can go on ad infinitum ad nauseum.
While governmental concern for the feelings of the citizenry and especially those of victims or surviving family members is laudable, such concern is insufficient to withhold information from the public. Freedom of choice, the cornerstone of our freedoms, should allow those who wish to listen and learn to examine the data for themselves, as well as allow those who may be hurt by the data to avoid such information. Open and free debate by the people of all issues facing the country is critical to the strength and resiliency of the Republic. When one governmental agency or another decides to withhold information, as appears to be the case with UA93, an atmosphere of suspicion, doubt and distrust is created. In so doing, civil servants set themselves above the citizens they serve. This is clearly not an acceptable or stable condition in a free society.
As a retired and proud Marine, I fully recognize and acknowledge the government's responsibility to protect vital information for national security, or fair and proper jurisprudence. Further, as a devout Jeffersonian, I believe in a strong but limited [perhaps constrained] Federal government. At times such as these, I often recall the immortal words of the 16th of your predecessors,
". . . government of the people, by the people, and for
the people, shall not perish from the earth."
Perhaps it is an understandable urge by those servants of the citizenry to 'protect us' from difficult, complex, sensitive or harsh information, but they forget Lincoln's clarion words. While I certainly appreciate those who worry about my physical and emotional well-being, I find it quite difficult to accept someone else making judgments about what information I can handle or deal with regarding the welfare of the Republic.
As a concerned citizen, I urge you to reassess the Federal Government's handling of public information and issue appropriate guidance to all Federal departments, agencies, organizations and employees regarding public access to information collected, compiled, stored or distributed by the Federal government. If we are to be contributing and participative citizens, we must have unfettered access to information. I strongly urge you to err on the side of the public you serve. Let me and my fellow citizens be the judge of information. If you feel the need to amplify related or collateral information to aid our understanding and appreciation of sensitive information, please exercise that right. But, do not withhold public information. I can see no logical or justifiable public reason for withholding the UA93 CVR audio/transcript as well as a host of other similar conditions. In the end, this letter is not about one of many tragic events of 11 September; it is about government "of the people, by the people, and for the people."
Unless the President is prepared to invoke and defend a national security or legal prosecutorial motive, I respectfully submit that all other information should be made available to the press and the public. I have heard no such invocation in the case of UA93.
My apologies for bringing such a seemingly insignificant issue to your attention when you and your staff are faced with a faltering economy and waging a war against the barbarians who threaten our freedoms. However, I am sure you will agree that forfeiture of our freedoms and responsibilities within this Republic is an unreasonable expectation. I truly hope you can lead the Federal Government into a more open and supportive roll than we have experienced in the previous decades of my lifetime and yours. I stand ready to assist you in any manner possible.
Thank you for your patience and consideration. May God bless you, and God bless America in this hour of trial.
With great respect,
[NOTE: this essay was begun in mid-2000, well before the events of September 2001, and yet those events have brought religion into very sharp public scrutiny and revisions to this essay. Religion is an appropriate topic of public debate.]
There is not the slightest sliver of doubt that religion, in all its glorious forms, has made this planet a better, safer, richer, more ordered and interesting place. However, there is also a darker side that cannot be ignored.
A little over a year ago, a colleague asked me to listen to an audiotape of a sermon by the pastor of his church. We were having a continuing discussion about religion in the workplace and specifically a university [educational] environment. To be forthright and candid, what I heard was a vitriolic, bigoted diatribe using the words and jargon of religion. The advocacy of intolerance toward all who did not believe as he believed was shocking. Now, when I reported back to my colleague as I returned his tape, I was a little more diplomatic with my choice of words . . . far more tolerant than that preacher.
More recently, my family attended a local church the Sunday after 11.September.2001, to seek comfort and solace from the tragedy of the previous week. The chosen music was glorious, uplifting and very professionally delivered. I listened to the pastor's sermon with careful attention. The first part was quite rewarding as he preached about the separation of religion from the violence of the previous week. But, through the last half of his sermon, he launched into a focused criticism of the President of the United States because he did not read the last verse of Psalms 40 invoking the name of Jesus Christ. Further, he continued to expand his argument against the separation of church and state, one of the most fundamental principles in the formation of this grand Republic. My resentment toward his choice of subjects and words launched me into low earth orbit. In fact, his sermon as well as recent events are the very reason we must maintain the separation between church and state, and keep the tools of the state out of the hands of the clergy. The President of the United States represents all Americans, not just card-carrying Christians. I can only imagine how a Jew, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist would have felt listening to his . . . what should I call it . . . his . . . his tripe. I found little comfort that day beyond the embrace of my wife and granddaughters.
In the simple definition, religion is a body of teachings, guidance, rules, rituals and practices that establish in broad measure standards of behavior. Taken from a really distant view, religion draws order from chaos, defines morals for an ordered society, and attempts to give reason to events that are otherwise unreasonable.
For a non-theologian who happens to be interested in religion and a continuing student of religion, some casual observations can be offered as a pre-cursor to further discussion. While there are many bona fide religions throughout the world, for the sake of this discussion and essay, there are five major groupings: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. The many sects or variations are still branches of the parent. When the teachings of each of the major religions are examined, there appears to be many points of commonality, perhaps more commonality than difference. Each of them serves the purposes expressed above. They establish moral principles of the society they serve and try to draw order to living. Each of them turns to a higher being for these rules and yet they refer to the higher being by several, unique names. When you filter out the specific language, rituals or practices, they are not that different; in fact, they have far more in common than most will acknowledge.
Religion does have a profound effect on believers. The mechanisms of belief range from fear [what will happen if you do not believe] to insignificance [I am but a miniscule element of the far greater system], rote [this is just the way it is], and most powerful of all, hope [that their condition will improve in the great beyond, if they will only believe and do as they are told]. It is through this influence over the believers that gives religion its power. The power for good, and the power for bad. But, of course, religions never recognize their power for bad as such. Instead, they rationalize their perversion of religion in the name of God for the furtherance of their parochial objectives.
The power of religion has been used for good. It would be difficult to make a case that religion did not play a major role if not the primary role in the civilization of the human species. Religion has helped to define a strict code for living together as individuals and as communities. While we must not lose sight of all the good religion has done, this essay will focus on the dark side.
Why is it that each religion presents itself as THE religion - the ONLY true religion? Why does the imam, priest, rabbi, monk or minister demand unwavering devotion to the doctrine of their religion? And, worse yet, incite their believers to violence against the non-believers, all in the name of the faithful.
The dogma spouted by some 'representatives' of a religion, any religion, establishes the ultimate in parochialism. If you look at the causes for most of the wars in the last decade, the last century, the last millennia, the root source is invariably religion or the use of religion as a masque for raw power or ambition. I have heard some of the vitriolic, invasive, destructive diatribe coming from the mouths of preachers creating an atmosphere of hatred, or at its most innocent, resentment toward non-believers . . . those who do not accept their dogma. How some religions work is to isolate the believers from the non-believers, to create an exclusive community of the anointed? How can words that are so divisive come from the teachings of such good?
Religion or the fervor religion can create has perhaps caused more death in the last two millennia other than natural causes. We have but to look at the centuries of death in the Middle East, the purely religious strife of the Balkans or Ireland, the Holocaust of World War II, the Hundred Years War, and the list goes on. Please do not misinterpret this. All war does not involve religion. Yet, the wars that tend to be the most enduring are often religious-based, spanning decades and in some cases centuries. Why is it that religions that universally teach respect for others, that murder is immoral, justify the use of religion to sanctify war against another group simply because of their religion? Worse yet, they glorify violence on innocents as we have seen during the Crusades, the Ottoman conquests and most recently the terrorism of 11.September.2001.
How could the Catholic Church with so much direct evidence of the Nazi Holocaust stand in virtual silence just because those who were being exterminated were Jews? How can the Islamic Faith justify the instigation of zealotry and violence against others simply because they do not share the same beliefs? How do clergy of all faiths, supposedly men of faith and piety, rationalize the use of God's words to advocate intolerance . . . and to the extreme of racism, homophobia, terrorism and subjugation. If the force of words is insufficient, the use, advocacy, tolerance and acquiescence to the force of arms cannot ever be rationalized, justified or accepted in any civilized society.
What more evidence do we need that mixing religion and the secular power of the state is a recipe for disaster? The few theocracies among us in unanimity have proven themselves to be violently repressive, isolationist, parochial, exclusionary, intolerant and singular in their purpose. I respectfully submit to the thinking citizens of the world, we need no more evidence that church and state cannot mix.
What makes any of us think these human beings who have chosen to become students of one particular religion and to represent their religion to other human beings are correct in their choice of words and thoughts? What makes us think the opinions of religious leaders are any more correct than other leaders among us? These are just men, born like all the rest of us, and they are not given some divine right. They are simply students who have become teachers. And, they do not have the right to abuse the word of God in any of its forms for any reason. To the preacher who spews forth intolerance, I say, HOW DARE YOU!
Some reading this essay may say that my opinion is cynical, but those religious leaders who are parochial, exclusionary, intolerant or advocate violence in the name of God are purely and simply megalomaniacs seeking to dominate their fellow citizens, and in some cases many others beyond their borders. Let us all see them as such and prevent their accumulation of power in any form.
The very worst part of common, everyday religion is the inherent intolerance that is so endemic and almost completely dominating in religion. My god is different from your god, and thus is the ONLY god. That logic alone creates an atmosphere of intolerance. Because I believe in MY god and you do not, I am by definition better than you, and better than everything you believe in. Quite frankly, I find intolerance repulsive in any form, for any reason, and based on anyone's religious dogma, just as I objected to our minister's sermon at a time of need. It is from intolerance that a good portion of religious hatred sprouts, grows, blossoms and is further fertilized. Intolerance is the infinite wellspring from which radical fundamentalists flow.
I heard an Islamic scholar answer an innocent question from a child. He said, "There is but one God. We call him by different names, but He is still the same God." This may be the wisest person among us. The sooner we recognize and realize that religion is not, should not, and cannot be a basis for disagreements between us, the better, more peaceful the world will truly be.
As long as those who represent organized religion accept intolerance of those who are different, whose belief systems are even modestly different, who embrace different beliefs, or who accept, condone, tolerate, advocate or encourage violence in any form, I cannot and will not accept organized religion. I believe in God. I believe what God teaches us through the words of many religions. I am Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu and Christian; I am all religions, and I am none.
Every time the topic of religion comes up, I thank the Good Lord above for granting the Founding Fathers the wisdom to insist upon the separation of church and state.