Posts Tagged ‘Iraq’

The Making of the Modern Middle East Mess

July 29, 2014

What a time to be reading Scott  Anderson’s Lawrence in Arabia.  The moment I  saw the book’s cover, I knew  I had to read it because one of the most impressive movies I have ever seen is David Lean’s 1966 masterpiece epic Lawrence of Arabia.

T.E. Lawrence, British soldier who played a key role in leading the Arab Revolt that helped  bring down the Ottoman/Turkish Empire in World War One.

T.E. Lawrence, British soldier who played a key role in leading the Arab Revolt that helped bring down the Ottoman/Turkish Empire in World War One.

With the daily Middle East  horrors being shown just about every day on TV, it’s interesting the learn how the modern Middle East was formed a hundred years ago when World War One started in 1914, and the role that T.E Lawrence played in that formation, and about how the United Kingdom and France arbitrarily drew up the borders of the  Middle East nations that resulted in the carving up o the defeated Ottoman empire.  It also delves into the beginning of the formation of Israel. And it tells us about early American  involvement in it all.

The full and very appropriate title of the book is Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East.

 

 

 

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Bring Back the Draft?

March 12, 2012

Retired Col. Ralph Puckett speaking to Columbus Unitarian Universalists

Retired Colonel  Ralph Puckett, a highly decorated and honored retired U.S. Army Ranger,  told Columbus Unitarian Universalists Sunday that “our country has put unconscionable stress on the few in our society who serve in our military,” and raised the question of reinstating the draft as a way to ease that stress and resolve the unfairness of less than one percent of the population defending our country.

He said that some soldiers are on their fifth 12-month deployment.

He got an email from a brigadier general recently who is in Afghanistan  The general, referring to a photo he sent, said, “Next to me is the Brigade Command Sargeant Major. Speaking of sacrifice, this was the CSM’s fifth deployment of the war. During this tour his son fell in battle in Iraq serving as a squad leader with  the rangers. The father returned to the US with his son’s remains, attended services, and returned to duty in Afghanistan.”

Col. Puckett told of the sacrifices of the wives of soldiers, saying, “The wives of our soldiers deserve all the support and praise we can give them. They are serving, and sacrificing. They are combat multipliers!

“I know that I could not have made it without my wife, Jeannie. She is my hero, the wind beneath my wings. I would be nothing without her.”

This sacrifice is not being shared. He repeated the saying, “The Army and Marines are at war. The rest of America is in the shopping mall! Our soldiers are giving everything to include their lives while most of us give little or no thought to those who keep us free.”

As for our politicians, forty years ago there were nearly four times as many veterans in Congress as there are today.  “We expect our military to give their lives to defend America. Can we expect our politicians to put our country first before any political gain?”

He spoke of “sending volunteers on their third, fourth, and fifth deployments while the majority of our citizens exhibit little or no interest in those wars puts our country at risk.”

There would, no doubt, be one sure way to get the rest of the country interested in its wars, a military draft.  He told  of military expert Charles Moskos and Washington Post editor Paul Glastris proposing universal registration for men and women between 18 and 24. Individuals could choose service in the military, domestic security, or community organizations.

“If more of our Congress were veterans they would be less likely to support military intervention. Before the attack on Iraq, General Anthony Zinni wondered ‘why all the generals see [attacking Iraq] the same way, and those who never fired a shot in anger and are hell-bent on going to war see it a different way.”

He knows there are strong arguments against the draft. Unless there is mobilization, few serve while most don’t. Service members don’t want a return of the draft, think volunteers make much better soldiers. Then, there is the question of whether women would be drafted. “Would we evolve into an Army that is 50 percent women?  The impact of a politically correct environment could be disastrous.”

He would be for a return of the draft, but fears it would tear the country apart. Still he thinks the draft and national service “are certainly worthy of concern and an effort to resolve the unfairness of the current situation where our defense is borne by a select few.”

Col. Puckett closed with, “The changing international scene including the drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan and the growing war talk about Iran, Syria, and elsewhere will bring to the fore the question, ‘Who serves when all do not serve?’ “

The Role of Oil in 9-11 and World War II

September 11, 2011

The motivation to control oil is one of the biggest reasons  for war in the world, and it’s been that way from the 1940s until now, and it is even a reason that the World Trade Center was destroyed by terrorists in hijacked jet airliners.

I’ll explain the 9-11 connection first.  Osama bin Laden wanted Americans out of Saudi Arabia and Islamic countries for religious reasons.  He mistakenly thought he could do that through acts of  terror. Americans are not there for religious reasons. They are there for oil.

Why are we in Iraq?  Not because weapons of mass destruction were found or that 9-11 had anything to do with it, the  two untrue reasons given by the George W. Bush administration. How about the other reason given, turning Iraq and the rest of the Middle East into American style democracies?  Why not just admit to the real reasons: oil and protection of Israel?  Who knows, SUV and Israel-loving Americans might buy those reasons.

If we are really all that interested in spreading democracy, why don’t we put pressure on Saudi Arabia, reputedly one of the most oppressive regimes in the world. Simple. That’s not why we are there. We are there because of oil.

As I said, it goes back to the 1940’s. The  Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor because of oil.  It needed lots of it to militarily spread the Empire of the Rising Sun.  It was getting a lot of it from the United States, and planned to get a lot more by taking Indochina.  Not being happy about the atrocities the Japanese were committing in China and other places, the U.S. not only cut off its oil spigot to Japan, but moved its headquarters for its Pacific fleet from San Diego to Hawaii.  Seeing both of these moves as an American plan to prevent Japan from taking Indochina, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  Big mistake.  An isolationist United States forgot that idea, immediately united and put together the mightiest war machine in history.

Hitler’s Nazi Germany invaded North Africa and the Soviet Union for oil,  and other natural resources, in order to fuel his plan to create a massive German empire. The first invasion by  American troops in World War II was in North Africa where it joined the British to push Germany and Italy out of that oil-rich part of the world. The Soviet war machine, heavily supplied by America, and the Russian winter, drove Hitler out of the Soviet Union.

Yes, the  desire for control of oil has gotten millions and millions of people killed.  Everyone knows the solution to this: development and use of other sources of energy, especially renewable sources. Work has started on that, but no where near the effort needed to make it a reality in the near future.  Why?  Change  never comes easily, but change the world must, or the wars will never end. Unfortunately, never-ending wars suit some people.  They have to be defeated at the ballot box.

Off He Goes into the Wild Blue Yonder

August 1, 2011

This is a personal blog, the most common type .  And today I’m getting really personal.

Ben McMichael, my grandson, who took time out from his going-away party at his parent's home in Cumming to pose for this picture..

The wars America is fighting right now have lost their abstractness. I am a member of a very small percentage of our country’s population, people who have a relative in the armed forces. My really fine (yes, when it comes to my progeny, I am biased) grandson Benjamin McMichael heads for San Antonio, Texas tomorrow to begin his United States Air Force basic training.

Just as I told my step-granddaughter Caitlin Champion, when she joined the U.S. Army, that her life would  never be the same, I know that the same is true for Benjamin, and for anyone who goes into the military.  Life in the barracks is definitely different from being at home with mom and dad, as anyone who has ever been in the service can tell you.  I wasn’t in for very long myself since I was a two-year draftee, but that was long enough to have some understanding of the military experience. It does , to different degrees for different people, toughen one, but it also gives insight into what the term “band of brothers” means.  My late brother Elbert, a World War II draftee, loved the Army. As we were standing in line at a cafeteria one day, we noticed a group of young soldiers in the line talking  and laughing with one another, and Elbert said, “The Army is the world’s biggest fraternity.”

There is a lot fo truth to that, I believe. On most of my trips to see some of the great European cities, places like Venice, Rome, Naples, Isle of Capri, Lucerne, Zürich, Augsburg, I went with some of my Munich, Germany Army buddies.  However, I decided to go to Paris by myself.  But, I wasn’t by myself for long.  When I got on the train, I sat in the compartment with three other young soldiers who I had never seen before in my life. By the time we got to Paris, we were all friends and did most things together. They were really fine young men. We had a great  time. Paris lived up to its party-town reputation.  Every now and then I then I reflect on how the three of them, all in the same unit, accepted me, who was not only not in the same unit, but not even in the same town.  But, we were in the same wonderful fraternity. Of course, people are people, and even fraternity brothers don’t always get along. That’s true anywhere.  However, for me, the good experiences outweighed the bad.

Now, it is my grandson’s turn.  Like those three Airborne guys, Ben is a fine person, always outgoing, friendly and witty, but, underneath his sunny personality there is steel.  He has always possessed a quiet confidence.  But, most of all, and the thing that makes me really proud of him, he is simply a good man. And why wouldn’t he be? His father, mother, and older brother are all good people. Then, there is me. Well, four out of five ain’t bad.

WWII Thoughts on the 4th of July

July 4, 2011

On this, the most patriotic day of the  year, I reflect on the most patriotic time of my life, World War II.

I was eleven when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  The nation immediately united behind  the war effort.  With 14 to 16-million Americans in the armed forces, just  about  everyone had someone  in potential harms way. Not so now. Few have a friend or relative in the  services. A relatively small minority is bearing  the  sacrifice as the rest watch.

My late sister Betty and brother-in-law law Jack Gibson during world War II.

Both my brother Elbert and brother-in-law Jack Gibson were drafted.  Jack, a machine-gunner, was wounded a few days after landing  at  Normandy, and awarded a Purple Heart medal.  My sister Betty made her first trip out of the South when she took trains to Wisconsin to see Jack a few days before he went overseas.

My late brother Elbert in Germany, 1945

Elbert, who was younger than Jack, was drafted near the war’s end. He was in the UK, heading for France when Germany surrendered.  He drove a Jeep for a lieutenant around Germany looking for the lieutenant’s German relatives.  Before he shipped overseas, my mother decided she and 13-year-old me would visit him in Joplin, MO, where he was getting  Signal Corps training.

What an  adventure that was for untraveled me. The railroads had every car that would roll in service. With gasoline rationing, you took a train or bus, especially on  a long  trip. When we boarded the train in Columbus, there was only one seat available. I had no seat from Columbus to Birmingham, sitting in other folk’s seats when they would go to the restroom or to smoke.  We did get seats when we had lunch in the  diner, my first  diner experience. I loved it.

13-year-old me

There  were no hotel rooms available in Joplin, but people in private homes rented rooms to visitors like  us.  My mom and dad did the same  thing, renting out a room to Ft. Benning soldiers and  their wives. One couple had a little girl. She was meaner than any boy I knew, and I couldn’t  hit her becaused she was a girl.  Wanting to keep their room, her parents tried to make it up to me by taking me to a movie with the three of them. It helped.

Keeping everyone involved in the war effort, we were encouraged to buy war  bonds and stamps. Kids like me would buy dime stamps and put them in a book that we could cash in or use toward buying a $25 bond when the book was filled. Folks also saved and took tin cans, old tires and scrap paper to collection centers to be recycled  to make things for the armed forces. Just  about  everyone I knew did it. As a Boy Scout, I remember riding  in the  back of a truck, going door to door to pick up scrap paper people were saving.

Yes, it was a very different time and a very different war. Today, people do respect and support our troops, even though most are war weary and want  us out of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya.  But, there is definitely not the involvement and  the  sharing of the sacrifice as there was then.

The Power of One

May 9, 2011

Just Imagine What An Insane Terrorist Armed with Nuclear Weapons Could Do

To me, the most dangerous person in the world is a religious fanatic.  When a person believes he will go to heaven because he sacrificed his life to murder people who he perceives do not believe the way he does, I can’t think of a more dangerous person.  Logic and reason mean nothing to such people.  The fact that they are in the minority – it appears most religious people are not that fanatical – offers little comfort.

Just look at what 19 religious fanatics, armed with box cutters, accomplished.  Not only did they bring down the twin towers of the World Trade Center,  killing more than 3,000 people,  they propelled the United States to go to war in Afghanistan, and were used as an excuse to attack Iraq,  all of this costing the US thousands more killed and wounded,  and more than three trillion dollars, much of which was borrowed from China because as we went to war our government cut taxes.

FBI's latest Ten Most Wanted poster of Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden, the late head religiously fanatical terrorist, was not living in a cave near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, protected by heavily armed al-Qaeda guards as media speculation led us to believe.  As we now know, he was living in Pakistan in a large house – some call it a mansion, but it didn’t look like one on TV to me – with three wives, and was guarded by one courier who was quickly dispatched by US Navy SEALS.  It didn’t take jet fighters, or a drone, or artillery or thousands of troops to bring this evil man down, only two helicopters and a few Navy SEALS. This man, without a large army and no nuclear weapons, led his relatively small group of fanatics to terrorize the world.  He is gone, but his organization is not and the threat remains.

Just think of the even worse havoc he could have caused if he had nuclear weapons, even primitive ones.  And just think what the terrorists who are still with us can do if they get them.  The reason that “mutually assured destruction” has prevented any nation from using a nuclear weapon is that its leaders have been sane enough not to set off the destruction of life on earth.  If a violent religious fanatic gets hold of one he would have no qualms about ending life on earth because he thinks he would be going the heaven for doing it.

World leaders, knowing no one is exempted from this threat,  are coming together to address it.  They started their nuclear nonproliferation efforts years ago. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty dates back to 1970, according to an article in the “Great Decisions” 2011 magazine edition.  It states that with that treaty in place, “the spread of the bomb has been limited to nine nuclear powers today.”  The fear is that the more nations get nuclear weapons the greater the chance of terrorists getting hold of them.  Not only preventing the spread of nuclear weapons concerns world leaders, but also the security of the weapons already stockpiled. The United States is leading a multilateral effort to secure nuclear material around the world in four years. President Obama hosted a 47-nation nuclear security summit last year to address the problem.

All it would take is for one terrorist armed with nuclear weapons to possibly set off the destruction of the world.  This thought leads me to the often-used excuse for not voting:  My one vote won’t make any difference. Never underestimate the power of one for good or evil.

Yearender: America’s Wars Are Somewhat Ignored in 2010

December 29, 2010

  It is incredible that our country is in very costly wars – costly in many ways – but most Americans appear not to be thinking about it. It is probably thought about more in our area, Columbus (Georgia not Ohio), because Fort Benning supplies so many troops to the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq.

I just checked the top 10 searches on Yahoo in 2010. The BP Oil Spill tops the list, followed by the World Cup. Teen singer Justin Bieber and American Idol made the list. But neither Afghanistan nor Iraq are on it.

More than 4,400 Americans have been killed in the Iraqi war and more than 1300 in Afghanistan. About 34,000 have been seriously wounded. In 2001 the U.S. Defense budget was $316 billion. $13 billion of that went to the war in Afghanistan. This year, 2010, it’s $693 billion, according to Time, with $102 billion going to Afghanistan and $61 billion to Iraq.

This is really serious business, but you don’t see much about it on TV nor in the newspaper. Even though I was just a child during World War II I vividly remember the constant coverage of the war. It was front page and led radio newscasts just about every day, and dominated the newsreels in the theaters every week. Just about every one had a friend or relative in the military. People were keenly interested in news about the war.

Now, it seems to be something everyone just takes for granted. We have been at war so long that it has become the norm. It is a norm that is having tremendous consequences, consequences that not many of us seem to think about very much.

The Price of Unending War

September 13, 2010

 As retired Sergeant Major Samuel Rhodes spoke to the Rotary Club of Columbus about the U.S. Army’s suicide problem, I could not but help reflect on all of the costs of  being at war continually. 

Command Sgt. Maj. Samuel Rhodes (retired)Sgt. Rhodes, who served for 30 months in Iraq and contemplated suicide himself, now works at Changing the Military Culture of Silence, the title of his book, in order to help soldiers cope with PTS, post traumatic stress. He says one in five combat veterans is diagnosed with PTS.  Many of them will contemplate suicide and the suicide rate keeps rising.  In the past the Army, he said, tried to sweep the problem under the rug, but that has changed.  The military’s top brass have praised him for his efforts in focusing on the military’s dealing with mental health issues. 

One of the reasons for the increase in suicides is extended deployments of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Nine years of wars, wars that most Americans basically ignore because they are being fought by less than one percent of the population, have put a tremendous strain on the Army. Instead of increasing the size of the Army, soldiers are given extended deployments keeping them away from their families for long periods of time. For one thing, this has put a strain on marriages.  Sgt. Rhodes said when he returned home with PTS after his last 18 months in Iraq, his marriage of 26 years ended, and he contemplated suicide himself.  Instead, though, according to an article in the National Journal, he is remarried, happily he says, and he and his first wife remain good friends, and he is dedicating his life to doing what he can to help soldiers with PTS and their families. 

It is good to know that the military is now openly facing and trying to do something about this problem, but, in my view,  all of its efforts at providing therapy will not get to its root, the practice of staying continually at war. The military can’t solve that one. Only the politicians can do something about that. 

Most Americans may be going about their daily lives giving little thought to the sacrifice that a very small percentage of the population is making, but whether they’re paying attention or not, these wars are still affecting them on a grand scale.  The price is very steep. 

More on this in future posts.

(The photograph was supplied by my friend and fellow Rotarian Jim Cawthorne of Camera1.)

Spending Too Much on War and Not Spending Enough on America’s Workers

July 31, 2010

PRESIDENT OBAMA INCREASES DEFENSE SPENDING, AND CORPORATE AMERICA SITS ON PILES OF CASH INSTEAD OF PUTTING AMERICANS BACK TO WORK

There are a couple of op-eds in the New York Times that need to be read by a lot of people.  One is on the incomprehensible way the U.S. is spending way too much on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and spending it unwisely.  For instance, we are spending more on keeping one soldier in Afghanistan for a year than it would have cost to build 20 schools.  Check out 1 Soldier or 20 Schools.

The other op-ed deals with the way that many corporations are maximizing profits by cutting work forces way more than is necessary to adjust for the recession, and sitting on their piles of cash instead of getting Americans back to work.  Check out A Sin and a Shame.

The Battle over the Defense Budget

May 24, 2010

Why in the world, when our country is suffering economic chaos with out-of-control deficit spending and whopping increases in the national debt, are we spending more on defense than all of the rest of the world’s nations combined?  We spend 5 times more than China, and ten times more than Russia. 

Robert Gates, U.S. Secretary of Defense

Well, we’ve been fighting two wars for more than 8 years. And even though the 2011 defense budget comes in at $549 billion, Congress is on the verge of adding another $159 billion for those wars.  You’d think $549 billion would be enough. And maybe it would if, for one thing,  Congress would stop funding things the defense department doesn’t really need, things that Defense Secretary Robert Gates is not even asking for.  However, those things are being asked for by defense contractors who pour a lot of money into campaign coffers. 

Rep. Alan Grayson, (D) Florida, Dist 8

Florida Rep. Alan Grayson has introduced a bill to kill the $159 billion request and use that money to end income taxes on the first $35 thousand for individuals and $70 thousand for couples, and use the rest, $15 billion, to reduce the deficit.  In a news release Friday he said, “What George Orwell wrote about in 1984 has come true. What Eisenhower warned us about concerning the ‘military-industrial complex’ has come true. War is a permanent feature of our societal landscape, so much so that no one notices it anymore.

“But we’re going to change this. Today, we’re introducing a bill called ‘The War Is Making You Poor Act’. The purpose of this bill is to connect the dots, and to show people in a real and concrete way the cost of these endless wars.”

Guess we all need to pay attention to what Congress does this week. If fact, we ought to pay attention to what it does every week.