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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

We Are Soldiers Still

I had just finished reading We Are Soldiers Still - A Journey Back To The Battlefields of Vietnam. The book is by Lt. General Harold Moore and journalist Joseph Galloway. Why go back and read about a long ago, divisive and disasterous war? Simply because there are still lessons to be learned.




For me, an interest in the recent appearance of this particular book began several years ago with a movie. The title of the movie was We Were Soldiers - And Young. It was based on the book of the same name also written by Moore and Galloway. It starred Mel Gibson as the young officer Moore, who's task was to convert the 7th Regiment (Custer's old cavalry unit) into an effective component of the new airmoble 1st Cavalry. That division was about to be sent and tested in Vietnam.

An old Irish folksong "Gary Owen" was the 7th's marching song and greeting.. The 1st Cavalry (Airmobile) division would mount a fleet of helicopters instead of horses.

The 7th regiment was soon shipped in its entirety to the escalating war South Vietnam. There they were quickly helicoptered into the Ia Drang valley with the mission to locate North Vietnamese forces and to cut the Ho Chi Minh trail. The idea for airmoble unit was to be able to chose its own time and place for battle. In that valley, they were immediately surrounded and attacked by hidden and well entrenched regular forces of the regular North Vietnamese army. That army had been moving south to reenforce the Viet Cong .
With great difficulty and heroism, the 7th held its own, under Moore's brilliant leadership, against an attacking force that greatly outnumbered them.

Several days, later a sister unit from the 1st Cav. that was moving into the same area was ambushed and basically wiped out. That, of course, never appeared in the newspapers of the time. Fifty thousand Americans were killed in this war before it was over seven years later. Moore was obviously a fine man and a great leader. I'm sure there were many others like him. The movie as movies are wont to do, elicited a strong surge of patriotic emotion, during the battle scenes. One's fellow countrymen, putting there lives on the line to protect our freedom, it seemed . And yet. And yet walking out of that theater I couldn't help but thinking..... what a waste. What a godawful waste.... The wisdom of hindsight perhaps
I had remembered a Christmas family gathering a few years before, where I met my cousin who had just returned from Vietnam. He was a civil engineer working on water projects in Saigon. Today, I guess, he would be called a "civilian contractor." He had utterly shocked me with tales of massive corruption in South Vietnam's military government. How the Americans had to bribe people left and right to accomplish anything. How, except for some of the Catholic minority, the people despised that government and regarded them as lackeys for the American "colonialists," who had replaced the "true" nationalists. A generation later, Moore kept a promise he had made to his men, that someday they would return to that battlefield, to make peace within themselves and to their fallen comrades. After years of difficulties that promise was kept and a number of these heroes returned to the Ia Drang Valley. One of those heroes is pictured here, at that place and that time. His name was Rick Riscorla. A generation later, he was the new chief of security at the World Trade Center. There he died after his actions saved the lives of thousands of people on that fateful day. Hal Moore, Joe Galloway, and many of their comrades were to return to Vietnam. There they met and befriended some of the soldiers they had fought. Moore's counterpart in the NVA was among them. In fascinating detail we learn of the strategies of each side. More importantly, we read of their hopes, dreams and illusions. Given the delusions, that have at times colored our own foreign and security strategies, it is a tale well told and worth learning from. General Hal Moore follow up on the Vietnam war. We Are Soldiers Still - A Journey Back To The Battlefields Of Vietnam.
I highly recommend it.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Forbidden

I’ve usually been somewhat of an omnivorous reader. Though, for fun, I used to read mostly fiction... from classical to best sellers on into the 70's. Fantasy and science fiction & thrillers were read but only rarely. At some point, I decided that the best American writers were doing history and biography. The following book doesn’t follow my usual reading habits....
Imagine a world, our world, where every person on the planet is dead and doesn’t know it. Not zombies according to the current literary fad, but rather a planet populated by people who are but shells of what they were created to be. A people devoid of all emotion with the exception of one fear.
Bestselling author Ted Dekker and co-author Tosca Lee conjure up just such a world in Forbidden, a dystopian novel which will appeal to some and horrify others. .. Dekker’s vivid imagination and at times almost maniacal focus on darkness and light coupled with Tosca Lee’s eloquence of prose is captivating Using interesting characters, the plot slowly builds to a riveting ending. The king where even if you favorite football team is on the tube it’s impossible to put the book down in the last hundred pages.
The book begins with
"In the year 2005, geneticists discovered the human gene that controlled both innate and learned forms of fear. It was called Stathmin, or Oncoprotein 18. Within 15 years, genetic influencers for all primary emotions were similarly identified.
Nearly a decade later, in the wake of catastrophic war that destroyed much of civilization, humanity vowed to forsake all that had conspired to destroy it. Out of the ashes rose a new world in which both the advanced technologies and the passionate emotions that led to its ruin were eliminated. A world without hatred, without malice, without sorrow, without anger. The only emotion genetically allowed to survive was fear. For 480 years, perfect peace reigned. Until now."
For some reason, I can’t quite fathom, Dekkers books have been wildly popular with some of those readers who favor "Christian" books. Other in the same category roundly condemn his writing. It may have something to do with ones take on current politics. Is it really about the dangers of "big government" or even worse "world government". Perhaps. But I’ve already read Orwells 1984. I suspect the devotees of Ayn Rand will find it fulfilling. For me, it's the dangers of science and technology used in defiance of humanity that is quite enough.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Lincoln And The Border States

Lincoln And The Border States - Preserving The Union by William C. Harris
Lincoln has often been quoted (whether true or not) as saying while he hoped to have God on his side in the Civil War, he must have Kentucky. And, no doubt, Missouri & Maryland as well. This book by Professor Harris (Univ. Of Kansas) is the story of how Lincoln accomplished the amazingly difficult and complex task.
Keeping the slave holding border states within the Union was the task for a great leader and in this case a masterful politician. Although that term has fallen into some disdain today, I use it in the best sense of the world now. Democracy rests, in part , on political leadership that is moral, wise, practical and inclusive above all. Lincoln had those qualities, perhaps, more than any President in the history of our country.
This book is not a history of the broader problems and events of the war. It requires some background to be fully appreciated. If political leadership is you interest though, the book is perfect. As a lesson in "how to do it" in the worst of times. That makes it well worth reading.
It’s not that much of politics today is lowbrow or even dirty. It was a bad then or even worse. Catering to the lowest common denominator and the politics of fear. Lincoln made the tough decisions, the moral decision but tempered it all with the possible and always an eye on the consequences for the future. We certainly could use a few more people like that in politics today.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Stasiland

It's the story of 17 million people living in a nation not of their own choosing. A few wanting it, some accepting it, many adapting to it and other stumbling into being it's "enemies" oten without intent. Many hunkered down, more than a few tried to flee often being killed in the effort. It was an all encomposing police state. The "stasi" were the enforcers. Equality was the idea. A communist totalitarian failure was the result. Stasiland: Stories From Behind The Berlin Wall by Australin author Anna Funder reads like a novel but actually is based on investigative reporting and the author personal experiences. What is actually revealed is a brutal world of indifference to humanity. A world of people caught in a nightmare. How sad..... Funder’s careful portraits of the people she meets from “Stasiland” shine a dazzling light on one of the world’s most paranoid and secretive regimes, and its effects on contemporary German society.