Monday, November 12, 2007

Lost in American History

QUINCY, MASS. – One of America’s most forgotten leaders occupies a place of honor in the house of two of America’s most forgotten presidents.

Dr. Joseph Warren, a leading physician and a general in the Massachusetts revolutionary militia, was, effectively, the commanding officer of the army unit that fought one of America’s greatest battles against British troops. The militia, with an outstanding showing in earlier skirmishes against the Redcoats, at Lexington and Concord, in April 1775, would fight across Boston Harbor, in Charlestown, on ground that would later become a consecrated part of the American Revolution, Bunker Hill.

On that fateful June day, Dr. Warren did something that no American general has ever done since: He placed his second in command, Israel Putnam, in charge of the army, telling him that he could better serve the cause if he placed himself directly in harm’s way. Dr. Warren then took his place with the troops in the front line.

It’s difficult to say how much of an inspiration Dr. Warren was to his fellow soldiers. Certainly, they weren’t expecting a man of his social prominence to stand among them to battle the enemy.

Some reports say that the men cheered once they recognized that Dr. Warren would join them – as one of them – a lowly solider fighting, and likely dieing, for the cause. Others say the men had no reaction to Warren’s presence.

Warren had been a very public and a leading figure in the Patriot cause, heading up the Massachusetts Provincial Congress as well as a principal figure, with John Hancock and Samuel Adams, in protesting various Parliamentary acts considered by the colonists, especially those in Boston, to be repressive.

Warren was one of Boston’s leading men and top physicians. As would have been appropriate for a man of his stature during his time, he married very well. 18-year-old Elizabeth Hooten, considered one of the most beautiful ladies of her day, from one of Boston’s wealthiest families, was his wife, and she bore him four children until her untimely death, at 26, in 1772.

John and Abigail Adams admired Dr. Warren because he was one of the most innovative physicians, inoculating their children, as well as other patients, against smallpox, a leading killer in the 18th century. He was also one of the Adams’ dearest friends.

It’s thought that Warren had a premonition about his fate at Bunker Hill. The night before the battle, he dined with Betsy Palmer, whose husband had fought at Lexington. At the end of the meal, Dr. Warren suggested that they have one last drink before leaving one another – for good.

Just prior to the battle, Dr. Warren, who had just been commissioned a major general, called on Israel Putnam, the general commanding the militia assembled to fight on Bunker Hill. Putnam told Warren that he was prepared to accept his orders.

Warren invoked a technicality. While he was aware that the Massachusetts Provincial Congress had elected him a major general, he was also equally aware that he hadn’t actually received the commission by the time he arrived at Bunker Hill. So rather than take up his new position, which Putnam expected him to do, Warren, instead, inquired where the brunt of the fighting would occur. Putnam said it would be by their fortifications on Breed’s Hill, just below Bunker Hill. Warren dismissed himself and headed off to the front lines, where he met the militia’s battlefield commander, Colonel William Prescott.

One of America’s finest officers, so much so that the British offered him a commission in the regular army after the French-Indian War, Prescott attempted to dissuade Warren from his actions. But Warren wouldn’t hear of it. He insisted he was there to do his job as he saw fit – fight the British as a volunteer private – and took his place among the farmers, small merchants and tradesman making up the rebel army.

By doing so, he was violating 18th century social protocol. Men like Warren, educated and wealthy, were expected to command people making up the rebel army – not fight directly alongside of them as a peer.

Twenty-two hundred British troops squared off against 1,500 American volunteers at Breeds Hill on June 17, 1775. The Redcoats marched up the hill three times before finally overwhelming the colonial army. The cost to Great Britain: 268 killed. 828 wounded. The colonists suffered 115 dead and 305 wounded.

18th century battlefield tactics were, by today’s standards, suicidal. Opposing sides lined up out in the open without taking cover. Each side could see the enemy it faced.

Lined up side by side, British troops marched up Breed’s Hill toward the American lines. The British were likely under the impression that just by marching up the hill, with their swords and muskets gleaming, the Americans would run away.

Instead, Dr. Warren and his fellow soldiers successfully stopped two British advances. Twice the American forces fired their muskets at near point-blank range, around 150 feet, inflicting numerous casualties. As a result, British lines collapsed twice as their dead and wounded fell to the ground.

“’As we approached, an incessant stream of fire poured from the rebel line; it seemed a continued sheet of fire for near thirty minutes,’” reported one British officer.

With the battle’s outcome in the balance, Britain’s leading general on the battlefield that day, William Howe, refused to be defeated. He regrouped his forces and sent them right back up the hill for a third march. He likely knew that the Americans couldn’t win a battle of attrition.

Just prior to encountering the enemy for a third time, Colonel Prescott suggested to Dr. Warren that he remove himself from the ranks, so his life would be spared.

Dr. Warren refused to leave.

By this time every American soldier was aware that they were short on ammunition, gunpowder and men.

The Americans, as they had done the two previous times, waited until the British troops were near them, around 150 feet. They fired their muskets but this volley, unlike previous ones, was no where near as effective because of the lack of ammunition as well as the number of American wounded and dead.

As the enemy continued its approach, many Americans fled either because they were out of ammunition or scared. Warren and a number of others stayed. Out of ammunition, the doctor turned his musket into a club and started swinging it at the British. Soon he drew his sword, holding his ground, determined to fight. A British officer drew his weapon and fired at Warren, striking him in the head. Warren immediately placed a hand over the wound, turned his torso slightly and fell to the ground dead. Dr. Warren was 34.

The British had secured victory. Had General Howe possessed a killer instinct, British troops would have pursued the fleeing Americans. Instead, His Majesty’s soldiers tended to their wounded and dead and took prisoners.

Dr. Warren’s death was significant, not only for the Americans but also for the British. His name was synonymous with the rebel cause. One British general, John Burgoyne, went to Charlestown to identify the body. Warren’s death, reported one historian, seemed to leave the rebels “virtually headless.”

One British officer, in charge of the burial detail from the battle, recognized Dr. Warren and boasted that he “’stuffed the scoundrel with another Rebel into one hole and there he and his seditious principles may remain.’”

Dr. Warren’s remains were later dug up and positively identified for the Americans by Paul Revere. He had inserted two false teeth into Warren. When he came across Warren’s body, he opened his mouth, found the false teeth and confirmed Warren’s death.

The battle, one of the most significant ones during the Revolution, showed that America’s rag-tag, volunteer army could fight against a seasoned, disciplined, professional and highly trained force. It inflicted casualties on nearly 50 percent of the enemy’s troops and held its ground until it ran out of ammunition – or was wounded and killed.

The British were shocked by their losses, with one officer writing, “’Damn the Rebels – that they would not flinch.’” Britain’s generals in America realized they were in for a long, hard fight and success wasn’t guaranteed.

It’ll be long debated why some men, who aren’t expected to make such a sacrifice, do so. Maybe Dr. Warren was still mourning the loss of his young wife; perhaps he felt overburdened about having to care for his children, even though he likely had assistance; perhaps he was the greatest Patriot to have ever lived, believing that he should fight, even die, for a cause to which he had contributed so many words, inspired so many and which he also led. Or, possibly, Dr. Warren thought it was abhorrent to let others fight for principles he helped create.

It’s hard to say what Dr. Warren was thinking just prior to his death. He didn’t leave much behind in terms of correspondence. John Adams thought Dr. Warren was a hero.

Sixth months prior to Bunker Hill, Dr. Warren believed that the American colonies and British Crown could resolve their differences. When he died, the Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, was formulating a course of action against the British, including appointing a commanding general (George Washington) of the army units assembled in Massachusetts, just outside of Charlestown. At the time of Warren’s death, the idea of seeking independence from the Crown was just beginning to be debated in Philadelphia. It’s quite possible that Dr. Warren died thinking he was a loyal British subject, seeking to redress the rights he thought had been trampled upon by Parliament and the king.

Today, Dr. Warren’s portrait graces the living room mantle of the house that John and Abigail Adams occupied for 30 years in Quincy, just south of Boston. It’s one of the first pictures visitors notice as they enter the living room. Not even George Washington, a man the second president greatly admired, occupies such a place of honor. His portrait hangs in the hallway.

Unlike so many historical houses, everything in this one is original, from the furniture to the china and crystal collections to the living room wallpaper. Abigail bought the house, called Peacefield, in 1788. The house was occupied by a member of the Adams family for nearly 140 years.

(As you walk through the house, you’re exposed to replicas of the 3,800 books that were owned by John Adams. His original books are under lock and key at the Boston Public Library. Adams grandson built a library behind the house in the 1870s and it stores 14,000 volumes owned by various members of the Adams family. You can’t help but to feel the intellectual inferior of men long since passed.)

John Adams was not the greatest president of the United States. In fact, compared to the one he served as vice president, George Washington, he was a complete failure. One-term presidents don’t last long in America’s collective memory bank. What makes Adams great, compared to other one-term presidents, as well as a few two-term presidents, is his work during and after the Revolution and the fact that he was one of the country’s best students of politics.

He was the leading constitutional scholar of his day, writing books and articles that explained and defended them. Adams knowledge of constitutions and politics was so profound he was asked to write the constitution for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. (He was also one of the Commonwealth’s favorite sons in the 1770s.) It’s the world’s oldest, written constitution and political scholars consider it a forerunner to the U.S. Constitution.

(Many of the original 13 states also wrote and passed constitutions in the 1770s, ahead of Massachusetts. For example, the Virginia legislature ratified its first constitution in 1776. But many of the constitutions that were passed during those early days of the Republic, including that of Virginia, were later re-written. The constitution that John Adams wrote for Massachusetts remains in effect today, making it the world’s oldest, written constitution.)

John Adams’ resume is long: he was an outstanding lawyer; he represented Massachusetts in both Continental Congresses; and he was one of the first voices to push for independence; and he wrote the oldest constitution in effect today. It was his speech, at the Second Continental Congress, that persuaded the colonists to seek liberation from London.

In addition, Adams represented the United States in Europe, securing diplomatic ties and loans for the young country. He was also the first U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, establishing a working relationship with the king his country had fought so hard against, George III.

But the single greatest thing John Adams did, which doesn’t receive the prominence it deserves, is show how a defeated political leader leaves office. He didn’t turn to his allies and friends to organize an army to fight his opponents so he could hold the office he had lost in an election. Instead, like those who would succeed him, he headed home to become a private citizen – peacefully.

By this very act, Adams showed that the democracy he and his fellow founders worked to create functioned. President Adams demonstrated that America could change presidents and political parties without gunfire. By acting in such a manner, he becomes one of the most remarkable political figures to have ever graced the United States. Every time a defeated president peacefully observes their successor’s inauguration, the American Revolution and the Constitution are kept alive and John Adams is saluted.

John Adams also showed retired and defeated political leaders that there’s life after the office. He worked on his farm, doted on his family, wrote down his thoughts and re-established his friendship with Thomas Jefferson. None of this came easy. Adams left office a bitter man and it took a number of years for him to recover from the pain he felt from having been defeated in his reelection attempt.

The correspondence between Adams and Jefferson should be read by every American. Adams told Jefferson, in one letter, that he’d be long forgotten while Jefferson would be long remembered. How right he was.

Unlike the other leading Founding Fathers, John Adams was the only one to produce a son who would enter national politics. It must have come as quite the shock to Jefferson to see the son of his one-time foe become the president.

John Quincy was as much of a student of politics and law as his father, becoming one of America’s finest diplomats. In fact, many of the principles he laid down as secretary of state formed the foundations of U.S. foreign policy for nearly 100 years. Some of them continue to this very day. And yet, today, like his father, John Quincy is a figure lost in American history.

John Quincy’s presidency was hardly distinguishable. He pressed for roads and canals that would connect distant parts of the young nation. Like his father, he would only serve as president for one term. He had a far more remarkable career in the House of Representatives, where he served after having been the nation’s sixth president. To date, he is the only president to later serve in Congress.

Ask the average American to name the first four or five presidents and they’ll likely say, “George Washington … Thomas Jefferson … “ and that’s where they stop. Even James Madison and James Monroe, the fourth and fifth presidents, respectively, aren’t likely recalled; and they each served eight years as president. More often than not, John Adams is overlooked.

It’s historical irony that Dr. Warren, John Adams and John Quincy, who contributed so much, whose names were so widely known, and were so influential, become such lost figures in the American story. This appears to be the tie that binds them but there are a few others, too.

They did the unexpected. John Adams could have sat out the Revolution and no one was pressing him to make a speech on behalf of independence at the Second Continental Congress. Adams could also have acted very differently after losing the presidential election in 1800 to Thomas Jefferson. Instead, he left office peacefully and became a private citizen. Dr. Warren didn’t have to fight at Bunker Hill. He could have remained far to the rear, observing the battle from relative safety. Instead, he went to the front lines, making the ultimate sacrifice. John Quincy, a highly educated man, pressed for a national university and helped to found the Smithsonian, thinking that all Americans should possess as much knowledge as they could acquire. He was also a vociferous advocate to end slavery. And while he could have stayed home after losing the presidency – which would have been accepted and expected by his peers – he, instead, served his congressional district in the House of Representatives, something he didn’t consider beneath the stature of a former president.

Each of these men did what that they thought was correct – the immediate consequences be damned. Expedient, cautious and retiring are words that could never describe them. Brave, intelligent, idealistic, and determined are just a few of the words that come to mind, instead. It’s a tragedy these remarkable men, some of the finest sons America ever produced, who should be emulated, are long forgotten figures in the history of this political experiment.


War for America: The Fight for Independence, 1775 – 1783, Jeremy Black, Alan Sutton Publishing, Ltd., Gloucestershire, United Kingdom, 1991

John Adams: A Life, John Ferling, Henry Holt & Company, New York, 1992

John Adams and the Spirit of Liberty, C. Bradley Thompson, University of Kansas Press, Lawrence, Kansas, 1998

John Adams, David McCullough, Simon & Schuster, New York, New York, 2001

Battles of the Revolutionary War, 1775 – 1783, W. J. Wood, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1990

The Battle for Bunker Hill, Richard M. Ketchum, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York, 1962

Decisive Day: The Battle for Bunker Hill, Richard M. Ketchum, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York, 1974

The Adamses, 1735 – 1918: America’s First Dynasty, Richard Brookhiser, The Free Press, New York, New York, 2002

Heroes Among Us, Jim Ryun & Sons, Destiny Image, Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, 2002

John Quincy Adams and The Foundations of American Foreign Policy, Samuel Flagg Bemis, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, New York, 1949

Patriots: The Men Who Started The American Revolution, A.J. Langguth, Touchstone Book, Simon & Schuster, New York, New York, 1988

American National Biography, John A. Garraty and Mark Carnes, Oxford University Press, American Council of Learned Societies, 1999

Dictionary of American Biography, Dumas Malone, editor, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, New York, 1936

The Blackwell Encyclopedia of the American Revolution, Jack P. Greene and J.R. Dole, Basil Blackwell, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1991

The American Revolution, 1775 – 1783: An Encyclopedia, Garland Publications, New York, New York, 1993

Tour of the Adams Homestead in Quincy, Massachusetts, given by the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, October 17, 2007

Tour of Bunker Hill, Charlestown, Massachusetts, given by the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, October 18, 2007

Monday, August 06, 2007

Softly killing the faith: Christian conduct and communication

Every Sunday, I wake up conflicted.

Part of me wants to go to church to listen to a sermon, which, with any luck, will enhance my faith and edify my understanding of antiquity, God, the ancient Hebrews and Egyptians, Jesus Christ and his apostles.

Another part of me just wants to stay home, eat breakfast, drink too much coffee and read the newspapers.

More often than not, my wife and I pack up the kids and go to church. We do so because we believe in God and think church is the best place for our children to learn morals and ethics. We also go because sometimes we’re scheduled to teach Sunday school and, often, because we enjoy the sermons.

I find tranquility at church. I’m not sure how it comes about. Maybe it’s God’s way of touching me. I don’t know. All I know is that serenity is a result of my attending church. It doesn’t last long – nothing does with two young boys in tow – but I feel better having attended church.

But there are some very strong reasons I don’t want to go. Most of them have to do with the constant bickering that’s been one of Christianity’s hallmarks over the last 500 years and continues to this very day.

Our congregation fought over and lost members because of Gene Robinson, the openly gay Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire. The fight’s over. The local parish survived, and it found a new rector, a good man, to replace the one who resigned in protest. But after having experienced that fight, and seeing how vicious people will battle one another in the name of God, my faith has emerged challenged, maybe even dampened, and I cannot help but wonder about the church’s congregation. Will it battle one another again?

Protestants battle Protestants and Catholics battle Catholics. And then there all those fights between the faiths. It makes me wonder, is this what God intended? I have my doubts.

Christianity is a wonderful religion, but its faithful continually show their propensity to enter into vicious, internecine, theological battles. There’s enough drama in my life. The last place I need to experience it is at church.

And, sometimes, that’s what keeps me home on Sunday. I’m more willing to subject myself to catatonic shock from reading The New York Times editorial page than I’m prepared to listen to the tacit politics of the church. It’s not God I distrust. It’s the people who tell me I’m suppose to believe in God. They never measure up.

I’ve met all kinds of Christians. Some give every appearance of being peaceful, reverent and pure. Some of them easily become judgmental, sanctimonious, spiteful and malicious when looking upon other Christians who don’t see God and Jesus the way they do.

I’ve had Christians tell me Jews will not be allowed into Heaven because they fail to accept Jesus Christ as God’s son.

Another man told me, “If you’re going to have religion, you might as well go Catholic.” I always told him he missed his calling. He’d have been perfectly suited for the Spanish Inquisition.

And, most bothersome of all, a member of the local clergy told me that the local clergy don’t talk to one another. “They’re very competitive.”

If the clerics refuse to talk to one another, you have to wonder what kind of example they’re setting for their congregations. For the record, I’m happy to report, our new rector is attempting to reach out and speak with the other local clerics. I wish him the best of success.

This tendency by Christians to battle one another appeared yet again, a few weeks ago, when the Vatican issued a statement saying that other Christian faiths, i.e. those that aren’t in the Roman Catholic fold, have a tenuous connection to God, and therefore to eternal salvation, because, unlike the Roman Catholic Church, they cannot trace the roots of their faith to Jesus Christ.

The Roman Catholic Church, the world’s largest church, with more than a billion faithful, believes it is the one, true Christian church because its founders, the apostles Peter and Paul, walked with Christ.

That line of thinking worked for about 1500 years until Martin Luther came along, posting his 95 grievances against the Roman Church. Among other things, he challenged the Pope’s supremacy over all Christian theological thinking. It’s bound to scripture – not the Pope’s interpretation, he said.

Had cooler heads prevailed in 1541, this divide between the Roman Church and the Protestant faith might have been healed. Protestants and Catholics met in Regensburg, Germany and came close to resolving their differences.

Had the Roman Church conceded four points to the Protestants during this conference, writes the Rev. Thomas Bokenkotter in his book The Concise History of the Catholic Church, there’s a chance, maybe a slim one, that Christianity would be united today.

Protestants insisted that the clergy be allowed to marry; that communion be allowed to be given in both forms, meaning with and without the wine; that there be freedom to “teach the Real Presence (of Jesus Christ) without defining its manners as transubstantiation;” and freedom from papal authority “as distinct from papal primacy.”

Of course, none of these points on face value could be accepted by the Roman Church. They consider their clergy to be alter Christus, another Christ, which prohibits them from marrying. They believe that communion can be fulfilled with just bread; and, as result, during communion, one physically connects with Jesus and, therefore, God, i.e., transubstantiation.

As for papal primacy, part of the rejection by the Roman Church on this point was political. They didn’t want to give up the power.

Consider, for a moment, the many things the two sides agreed upon that outnumbered their disagreements. They agreed in one God, the Holy Trinity, Jesus’ divinity, the virgin birth, the importance of communion and baptism, and the 10 Commandments.

But because the Roman Church refused to yield on those four points, or the two sides failed to find middle ground on those points, the Lutheran faith, which would become the Protestant faith, gained legitimacy; it was legally recognized in Germany in 1555.

Christianity has never been the same since. And it will battle itself for time eternal.

god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything is the title of Christopher Hitchens latest book. Yes, the title spells God with a small g – heresy in most religious circles. It’s Hitchens’ attempt to shock us into buying his book.

In his book, Hitchens says he’s an atheist and pans religion. As he sees it, religion is the foundation for dangerous thinking. Indeed, he says, people are intellectually arrested because of religion.

I think Hitchens is wrong. But that’s because I prefer to live in a world with God and attend a church that I know is highly fallible. God and religion give me hope and strength that I’ll meet my challenges and that there are better tomorrows ahead. (Please do not ask me what theology this comes from. I haven’t the slightest idea.)

But grant Hitchens this: He didn’t come to these conclusions entirely through his own intellectual study and experiences. Contributing greatly to his thoughts is the behavior of the faithful. He’s been to Belfast, Beirut and Sarajevo, cities where the religious have killed others – in the name of God. If you’re devout and believe your faith has a lock on God, then you’re contributing to books like his, and you’ve worked against God and your faith.

The Christian Bible says that everyone falls short of God, meaning that none of us, no matter who we are or how hard we try, ever measure up to God’s exacting standards. We’re all sinners. Whether we know it or not.

I’m grateful He’s a forgiving God. I just might make it into Heaven. But, then again, maybe not.

Christianity needs a dose of humility. In other words, all Christians, regardless of the branch of the faith they’ve taken up, would better serve the faith if they considered the possible results of their actions and their words not only to one another but also to others who are Jewish, Muslim or simply believe in God differently than they do.

No church, regardless of its affiliation, has a monopoly on God’s grace and eternal salvation. God is not a Christian, not a Jew, not a Muslim nor does He follow any faith I’ve failed to mention here. God is great. Because He’s great, He can be found in any faith.

I’m not about to condemn anyone for their beliefs. The few Jews I’ve met are more devout than the many Christians I’ve met. I’m not about to condemn the Muslims for their beliefs either. I’m not about to become a Mormon, but I’ll say this on their behalf: The ones I’ve met have been most gracious.

I’m a Protestant. Had it not been for my maternal great grandfather, an Irish immigrant, getting into a knock-down drag-out fight with his priest, I might be Catholic. The two fought tooth and nail, my grandmother reports, and finally, my great-grandfather told the priest he could read the Bible, too, and the rest is history. He joined the Baptist church.

My mother and my father, a Methodist, decided that Presbyterianism was the way to bring up their children. Whether or not this was a true theological middle ground, I have no idea.

I don’t see eye to eye with Catholicism, but I’m in more agreement with the Catholics than some of their more devout members might believe. In fact, truth be told, I enjoy the Catholic Mass, and I’m grateful that my wife and I can experience some of the same Mass in the Episcopal church we joined.

When I think about all these theological debates, I keep coming back to this thought: The answers to these many debates won’t be known until we’re dead. And, then again, maybe not. God’s plans for us once we arrive in the after life might not include sharing all His secrets.

So what to do between now and the time we meet our Maker? I suggest all Christians consider our common humanity, even of those with whom we disagree. All of us want to be accepted, admired, appreciated, loved, liked and respected not only by our friends and family but also by those we’ve never met or with whom we disagree. Christianity will be better served if we keep that in mind. We also need to remember to be diplomatic and understanding when we’re communicating about our faith to others. If we conduct ourselves in this manner, the pews stand a stronger chance of filling up and we just might live in a better world.

Regardless of your faith, may God bless you and hold you, now and forever.


1. My experiences with religion
2. Catholicism Answer Book: The 300 Most Frequently Asked Questions, Rev. John Trigilio, Jr., Ph.D., and Rev. Kenneth Brighenti, Ph.D., Sourcebooks Inc., 2007
3. The Oxford History of Christian Worship, edited by Geoffrey Wainwright and Karen B. Westerfield Tucker, Oxford University Press, 2006
4. A Concise History of the Catholic Church, Rev. Thomas Bokenkotter, Doubleday & Company, 1977
5. Protestantism in America, Randall Balmer and Lauren F. Winner, Columbia University Press, 2002
6. Protestantism: Its churches, cultures, rituals and doctrines, yesterday and today, Martin E. Marty, Holt Reinhart and Winston, 1972
7. The Reformation: A History, Diarmaid MacCulloch, Viking, 2003
8. god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Christopher Hitchens, Twelve, Hachette Book Group USA, 2007

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Swimming toward the target

A friend of mine called recently to say he was going in for a vasectomy. After giving life a lot of thought, he and his fiancé decided children aren’t in the cards.

His story reminded me of an entirely different time in my life. My wife and I were attempting to conceive our first born and we were experiencing difficulties.

So, like my friend, I decided to take control of the situation and consult the medical authorities.

That was the easy part of the decision. Making the appointment to see my doctor was an entirely different story.

“Why do you want to see the doctor,” the receptionist asked.

None of your damn business I wanted to say. But that’s just not an appropriate way to speak to someone if you need an appointment presto pronto.

“Oh, I just need to see the doctor,” I replied. Ordinarily these things don’t faze me. But in this case, since we were discussing things south of my belly button, I just couldn’t bring myself to be so open.

“Again, what are you coming in for,” she continued.

“I’m not telling you. And it won’t take long,” I said.

“The doctor won’t like this,” she said. As if I cared.

A few days later I found myself in my doctor’s examination room.

“So what’s up,” he said upon entering the room.

I explained the problem. And rather than suggest to my wife that she see a doctor, implying somehow that this situation was her fault – not mine, of course – I told the doctor we should start with me. So what do we do, I asked.

The great thing about this guy is that he’s able to break down complicated medical terms into language we can all understand.

“We need to find out if you’ve got enough swimmers,” he said. “And then we need to know if they can swim.”

That was an interesting way of putting it. And how do we do this, I inquired.

“Easy. We refer you to a clinic where you give a sample.”

That’s a breeze, I thought. Just go to some sterile medical clinic, by myself, and, uh, well, uh, you know, uh, uh-oh. What have I gotten myself into?


I’d only done that, you know, in private. So the mere thought of doing you know in a quasi-public place was enough for me to ask my doctor for some Viagra – JUST FOR THIS ONE TIME.

Don’t sweat it, the doctor said. There will be more than enough magazines and videos to get me through this exercise. How did he know, I wondered.

The next thing to do was to call the clinic. I forget its name but it was something like “The Clinic to Make Sure You’re Packing a Wallop.”

After taking down the necessary information from me, the receptionist at Packing a Wallop inquired when I’d like to stop by.

I inquired about the following Wednesday. That was just fine, she said. And then she issued an edict:

“No sex for three days before this appointment.”

“Okay,” I mumbled.

The Big Day arrived. And I was a little nervous, to say the least.

My wife was on a business trip on this particular day. And I was wondering if that wasn’t a mistake. Maybe she should have been there. That would have made this exercise easier.

I thought about calling a few women I knew to see if they’d join me on this event. But then I reconsidered. They’d probably turn me down anyway. And the clinic might have rules. Besides, I thought, that would be like Bill Clintoning this whole exercise.

Is it sex? Isn’t it sex? Those were more questions than I could handle. So forget that idea.

I put on stiff upper lip and made my way to the clinic – alone.

The first thing I noticed in the clinic was a picture gracing the lobby’s wall of a lone, very determined looking sperm. It must have been magnified 5,000 times, maybe more. I suspected it was to reinforce to all those entering Packing a Wallop what they were suppose to do during their visit. Drop off a sample!

The next thing I noticed was the receptionist. She was a hot looking Latina. Maybe her looks were part of the clinic’s plan. Look at her, they figure, and things will happen.

I checked in with her and she asked if I was ready.

“I guess.”

I was ushered into a room. I’m not sure what the room is called. It’s not exactly an examination room. Maybe it’s a play room.

I don’t know what they call that room, but it was packed with more pornography, movies included, than I’d ever seen in one place.

Now I’m not exactly a prude; for that matter, I’m not innocent either. I’ve bought my fair share of porn.

But this was something else. The shelves were staked with huge quantities of magazines and movies.

The doctor was right. There were more than enough magazines to pull me through this exercise.

I thought about asking the receptionist to stick around. If she could just stand there, naked, this would have been so much easier. And, hey, I wouldn’t have touched her. That would have defeated the exercise.

But then I thought about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky and dismissed the idea.

She closed the door behind her and, suddenly, I was alone.

What the hell, I thought, let’s check out the movies. And that’s when I learned I just might be entirely out of the mainstream.

There’s nothing wrong with being gay, but lesbian porn just doesn’t do it for me. I’m straight and in today’s world that probably makes me weird.

Eventually I got comfortable with a magazine and things that needed to happen, well, happened. The sample was delivered and the most embarrassing exercise of my life was over.

I just hoped no one would notice how embarrassed I was as I walked out of the lobby. I don’t think anyone did.

A week later the doctor reported that everything was good to go. What a relief.

Six weeks later, my wife and I learned that our first born was on his way. Another relief.

Five years later, I can tell you that children provide more awkward moments than I would have ever realized. There are embarrassing moments involving the bathroom, crying, and things that they notice that they want to tell you about in their own way.

But none of those moments compare to the 30 minutes I spent at that clinic.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

No longer the White Man's Burden

Way back yonder, when the Democratic Party had a soul, it had a president who was a vociferous advocate for human rights.

Democracy was in the balance, yet this president, standing against the tide attempting to dominate world politics, decried the notion that anyone, regardless of what part of this world they occupied, should live without four basic, fundamental freedoms.

Freedom of expression, freedom to worship and the ability to live free of fear and from want were the cornerstones of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s policies that he announced during his State of the Union address on January 6, 1941, coincidentally enough, nearly 11 months to the day before Pearl Harbor was attacked.

“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential freedoms.
“The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world.
“The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way – everywhere in the world.
“The third is freedom from want – which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants – everywhere in the world.
“The fourth is freedom from fear – which, translated into world terms, means a worldwide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor – anywhere in the world,” said Roosevelt.

The United States, he said, would become an Arsenal of Democracy, helping defend countries in Europe and Asia that were fighting German fascists and Japanese militarists. The American way of life, he said, would never be secure so long as someone, somewhere in the world, was oppressed.

Roosevelt knew instinctively that countries seeking to oppress others have an insatiable hunger to subjugate as much of the world as possible.

As a result of FDR’s bold policies, Europe and much of Asia are free today. Over the course of more than 40 years, the United States and its allies defeated the enemies of human rights: German fascists, Japanese militarists, and then Soviet Communists.

You cannot help but to admire FDR. His domestic and foreign opponents were formidable and yet he managed to outmaneuver and, eventually, trounce them.

Did he play fair? Probably not. There’s evidence that suggests he knew Japan would strike Pearl Harbor and allowed it to happen so he could gain the domestic support he so vitally needed to bring the United States into a war its citizens didn’t want to fight.

Studying Roosevelt makes you wonder what went wrong with the Democratic Party over the last 60 years. It’s gone from being a party that insisted the United States pay any price and bear any burden to support those who champion liberty to becoming a party that’s more interested in its own self-indulgence. Fortunately, for its own sake, it’s not alone: The Republicans are just as awful.

Each contender for next year’s Democratic Presidential nomination denounces the war in Iraq and, as they do, they signal to terrorists and insurgents alike that they’re more concerned about their rights – than the rights of those they slaughter.

FDR is rolling over in his grave. And Hitler and Tojo are jealous that they didn’t have the great fortune of facing the pusillanimous Democrats of today.

If you’ve joined today’s anti-war movement, keep something in mind: The people in the Middle East who want the United States out of the Middle East aren’t pacifists. They’re cold-blooded killers. The peace movement, if it’s successful in securing a United States withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, only condemns an Iraqi or Afghan citizen to a grizzly death.

The peace movement is anything but a peace movement. It’s a form of passive-aggressive fascism. Whether it realizes it or not, the movement is aligned with groups that have no compunction about killing innocent people; other than demanding an immediate U.S. departure from Iraq and Afghanistan, not a single political idea is shared between these groups.

The typical supporter of peace movement in the United States is a Democrat who should support anyone advancing liberty and human rights. The typical terrorist has likely never heard of John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Thucydides, Plato and Aristotle, philosophers who influenced and created the very political freedoms that the West enjoys today.

But the average terrorist has definitely heard some hijacked version of the Koran and Islam, which inspires them to kill anyone – Muslim, Christian, Jew, man, woman or child – who doesn’t support their thinking.

Today’s anti-war movement is rooted in the one that rallied around the slogan “Give Peace a Chance,” forcing the United States to end its military and political efforts in Southeast Asia more than 30 years ago. The result: Millions of Cambodians were condemned to their Communist executioners. Communist North Vietnam was granted victory and went on to place millions of South Vietnamese into reeducation camps. Many South Vietnamese fled the country and many drowned in their attempt to live free.

If the peace movement’s conclusion is accepted at face value, once the U.S. military leaves Iraq and Afghanistan, peace breaks out. There’s only problem with the conclusion: It’ll kill some innocent man, woman or child.

The only good news from this conclusion is that the insurgents won’t have Americans to kill anymore. The bad news, however, is that innocent citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan will fall into the terrorists’ cross-hairs.

Then there’s the issue of Europe’s security vis á vis Iran as well as the security of those Persian Gulf and Middle Eastern nations allied with the United States, either covertly or overtly, since 9/11. These issues are never addressed by the peace movement.

President George W. Bush and his administration have truly mismanaged the country since September 11, 2001. The President was granted a golden opportunity to demonstrate to the terrorists and their sympathizers that Western political philosophy is far superior to the dictatorships, theocracies and monarchies they live under. In addition, the President had a wonderful opportunity to infuse the United States with a sense of patriotism and mission. He blew it.

The administration’s political aims would have been far better served had it focused on turning Afghanistan into a successful, self-supporting country. How this administration ever thought it could successfully turn around Afghanistan and, at the same time, turn Iraq into some sort of jewel of Middle Eastern democracy is anyone’s guess. Evidence suggests that they never thought through all the challenges they’d face.

Besides bad planning on Iraq, after defeating Saddam Hussein’s army, one wonders about the various companies that have benefited from contracts supplying U.S. military and political forces there. The manner in which these contacts were handled gives every appearance that the Bush Administration is more concerned about its corporate backers than it is about helping innocent civilians.

More than 100 years ago, at the conclusion of the Spanish-American War, an Indian-born British subject wrote a poem called “A White Man’s Burden.” Rudyard Kipling was in the United States as it achieved military victories over Spanish forces in Cuba and the Philippines. The war turned the United States into a global power because, for the first time in its history, it occupied land far outside of its territorial waters.

Reading the poem with the lens of the 21st century, when we’ve all been sensitized to the slightest slur, it’s hard not to look at this as something that insults people with darker skin. But, as Kipling saw the world, in this poem he was attempting to tell Americans that they had special role; their new mission, as he saw it, was to educate, lift-up and improve the native people of the lands they occupied.

Kipling was telling the United States it had a moral duty to instruct Cubans and Filipinos on democracy, freedom and human rights so they could advance themselves and their countries in ways that would never have occurred under the Spanish.

This is the same moral philosophy that guided President Roosevelt as he presented his State of the Union address under the storm clouds of early 1941, when the future of democracy, freedom and human rights was in question. It is the same philosophy that has bound American foreign policy for more than 60 years and will likely continue to do so into the foreseeable future.

FDR is known to have quoted Kipling from time to time. “A White Man’s Burden” was written when he was in his late teens; this poem, along with his education, which instilled him a sense of obligation to help the less fortunate, guided his political beliefs.

FDR is the patron saint of the Democratic Party. He infused it with a sense of obligation to those less fortunate and that’s been its hallmark throughout the 20th century and still is to this very day.

But when it comes to helping those outside of U.S. borders who are less fortunate, today’s Democratic Party sounds like the Republicans FDR faced during the first two terms of his presidency. They’re isolationists.

Aligned with the Democrats, today’s anti-war movement is without any sense of obligation. In fact, it’s racist. At the core of its message is this: Darker skinned people, Arabs in this case, are not the White Man’s Burden.

Friday, June 01, 2007

No sweeter way to say "You're Fired!"

If you’re up to date on the latest business news, there’s a good chance that you’ve read that some company somewhere is laying off a sizeable portion of it workforce. Motorola just announced that its pink slipping 4,000 employees into the corporate trash bin.

Thank you for coming, folks; we appreciate all that you’ve done for the Company, is likely the message that each and every one of those employees heard as they learned that their future no longer included Motorola.

It’s always difficult to fire people. I speak with experience on this topic. It’s a nasty business. The air is tense and the person doing the firing is usually very nervous; they’re required to keep to a script prepared by the executives in human resources, which was reviewed and rewritten by an attorney. As I see it, the whole experience is akin to an execution, sans violence.

If you’re a half-decent human being, charged with firing someone, it’s one of those moments in your career that you would prefer to have never experienced. Even if I intensely disliked the person I was dismissing, and they had it coming to them, firing them never left me feeling proud. I always felt like a heap of crap.

I’m sure other managers have felt the same way, presuming they did the firing, as I always did, in person.

You have to wonder how Motorola’s employees learned they were leaving the company. Were they text messaged on their cell phone? Or, if they were younger, say in their 20s, did the folks at human resources “im” them – you know, send them an instant message.

I’m not trying to be facetious, but there was a company that actually sent e-mails to the employees it was firing. How impersonal is that?

These days, our society, through its communication, softens reality’s sharp edges. If you’re fired or laid off, it’s perfectly acceptable to say you’re “career transitioned.” That’s hardly an exact description of what occurred.

So I have a modest proposal for making layoffs softer, kinder, gentler, and, yes, even sweeter: Instead of the manager and the employee having a tense, difficult talk, the boss should just give the “condemned” a package of M&Ms candy.

M&Ms, through their Web site,, will sell you a customized version of their candy. Not only can you pick the candy’s color but you can also write a message that appears on the candy.

Companies anticipating dismissing their employees could order pink M&Ms by the bundle that say “You’re fired.” Yes, I’ve tried this myself on their Web site. There are a few messages and words that M&Ms will not allow on their candy, but they have no problem printing the phrase “You’re fired” on those tasty little nuggets of chocolate.

I see a whole new line of business for M&Ms that they completely unanticipated. They could start selling human resources executives on the concept that handing out pink M&Ms to people that are being fired is kinder and gentler than the pink slip.

Think if Donald Trump had used pink M&Ms on his recently dropped television show, “The Apprentice.” Instead of shooting off his trademark phrase, “You’re fired!”, The Donald could have tossed packages of pink M&Ms across the conference table to the deposed contestants, saying “Catch” instead. It would have been so much nicer.

NBC would have benefited too. Not only would they have a new sponsor for the show but they would also be offering M&Ms a complete merchandising program – something that would certainly make their advertising agency proud.

For the soon-to-be-dismissed in corporate America, receiving a package of pink M&Ms would almost be like having a last meal on the company and, hey, it’s chocolate. What better way to learn the news that your days with the firm are over?

Think about what people who are part of a mass lay off will be saying to one another? “Did you get the M&Ms, too?” Or, “Uh-oh, I’ve been M&Med!”

This is so ingenious that it makes me wonder if the folks in marketing at M&Ms were planning a whole new use for their candy when they created this customization opportunity. Talk about a way to extend the M&Ms brand while, at the same time, improving its brand awareness. If this doesn’t make some marketing professor proud, what will? Way to go guys! You’re the best!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Parenthood: The challenges, joys and fears

“You will know no fear until you’re a parent,” an experienced parent once told me. And it’s true. Until you’re faced with the responsibility of turning a helpless baby into a self-sufficient, well-adjusted, educated, adult, you’ve never known shear terror.

It’ll bring about sleepless nights, panic attacks, constant worry, stupidity, self-doubt, fits of anger, and the occasional need to imbibe in one-too-many.

If you look at our culture today, the demands on parents are exponential: They’re expected to keep their kids in top health by making sure they eat only organic food; they're expected to turn their baby into a genius through videos from Baby Einstein; they’re expected to discipline their children only through the use of “time-outs;” and, finally but not lastly, parents need to see to make sure their young understand algebra, biology and can read – all before they reach the 1st grade.

Thank God for places like McDonald’s, Chuck E Cheese, and The Red Robin – restaurants where you can feed your child some fat-packed, cholesterol-laden meal while witnessing other parents violating all of our culture’s “rules” about child rearing. The latter two even serve beer!

As I was growing up, my dad use to say to me, “You know, you didn’t come with a training manual.”

And that’s the problem. Go to any bookstore these days and, as far as I can tell, there are too many training manuals. What did parents do in, say, the 18th century? I’m not sure but somehow they managed to turn out a generation of children who were likely no worse – and no better – than the ones we’re creating today.

I can’t stand the parent police. We should find a boat big enough for them as well as the food police, the attorneys and the accountants – and sink it!!!

My wife and I were one of these couples who were married for a long time before we ever became parents, 14 years. When the first bundle of joy arrived, we’d done a number of things that many people might envy: We’d traveled overseas, met the “beautiful people,” dined in great restaurants and generally had a lot of spontaneous fun.

All of that came to a crashing end with the arrival of our first son. But that’s okay. I understand he, like his younger brother, needs to be brought up by us. We’re far from perfect parents, but we are responsible ones, so we stick close to home, especially at dinner time.

I’m thankful for those nights when we eat at a restaurant – without the children in tow. Even if it is a restaurant that’s nosier than I prefer, the fact that I’m eating without attempting to keep a kid in line, forced to listen to an ear drum-ringing tantrum, clean up a mess, deal with a potty issue, or just make sure they’re eating the damn food that’s been served, is a relief.

Don’t get me wrong. I dearly love our children. They’re not perfect nor will they ever be. Part of that’s due to the fact that they have a highly imperfect father who thinks most of the parenting manuals published today are gobbledygook.

I rely on my own wits, wisdom, and childhood experiences to bring up our children. The way I see it, my parents didn’t produce a serial killer or a rapist. I’m far from perfect, but I’m not a criminal.

After dinner at our house, we take our boys upstairs for a bath. Sometimes I put them in the shower. After the curtain’s closed, and the started is water, I listen to their conversation.

At nearly 5 and 3 1/2, these two little guys have a lot to say to one another. They exchange stories about their day, their friends and their interests, which includes Spiderman, Star Wars, pirates, fire trucks, the police and candy.

After they’re in their pajamas and their teeth are brushed, we read them one or two books. Then we tuck them into bed, kiss them, hug them and tell them how much they’re loved.

A few hours later, after they’ve long fallen asleep, I sneak into their bedroom to admire them and adjust their covers. The same thing always happens while I’m there. I don’t know if it’s physical or it’s mental, but there’s always this irrational fear that grips me.

I start worrying about all the things that could go wrong. Terror attacks, car accidents, school issues, and more, suddenly sweep through my mind, gripping me with more fear, than I’d ever experienced before someone started calling me daddy.

It’s like what that parent once told me: You know no fear until you’re a parent. That fear makes me a better parent. I hope it never goes away.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Rhymes of History

Sitting down in his study, the President of the United States reviews the war briefing he’s just received from his top military, political and foreign policy advisors and writes a few notes:

“This is what I know:

• We’re fighting a suicidal enemy.
• The enemy is militarily beaten but belligerent.
• There’s no sign of surrender.
• The enemy appears to be breaking up, with some saying they want peace while others want to fight. The ones wanting peace don’t speak with authority.
• The American populace is war weary.
• Problematic Allies.”

Sound like George W. Bush dealing with the war in Iraq?

Try Harry S. Truman, around June or July 1945, figuring out how to end the war with Japan so World War II could come to a conclusion.

President Truman likely never wrote those words, or anything similar, after talking with his advisors about the way to end the war with Japan, but he probably had thoughts along those lines. In the summer of 1945, as U.S. troops were occupying Germany, and the fighting on Okinawa against Japanese forces was ending, Truman was feeling pressure to end the war, on U.S. terms, as fast as possible.

Prior to Truman becoming president, senior U.S. military officers were focusing on the best way to bring the war with Japan to an end. Invasion plans were prepared for the Japanese islands and commanders and military units, as well as personnel, were selected for the pending assault, which was scheduled for November 1945. The goal was for Japan to surrender unconditionally, just like Germany did, 12 months after the Nazis gave up.

While plans were being finalized, top U.S. military officers, including the president, learned that a new weapon, the atomic bomb, would be at their disposal sometime that summer. There were a number of questions and issues about the bomb. Would it work? Was it a strategic or tactical weapon? Would it shock the enemy into surrender? Or would Japanese leaders react to it the way they did the night U.S. planes fire-bombed Tokyo, killing nearly 85,000 people? They didn’t.

These questions, the positions of top U.S. leaders, the debates between them, potential casualties resulting from the assault on Japan, as well as the complex issues the United States faced abroad and at home, are discussed with great authority by John Ray Skates, a history professor at the University of Southern Mississippi, in his book The Invasion of Japan: Alternative to the Bomb.

The book is especially pertinent today as the United States debates the best way to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while extracting some sort of political-military victory from the effort that’s been expended. It forces the reader to think about how the United States can shock its enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan into ending the fight; the book also makes the reader consider that perhaps there is no possible way to stun Al Qaida and Iraqi insurgents into submission. Skates, a retired army colonel, lays out, in excruciating detail, the debates, positions and discussions had by America’s leaders on the quickest and best possible way to coerce Japan into accepting the Allied policy of unconditional surrender.

In mid-1945, Japan still had five million men under arms. They’d lost every battle they’d fought against the United States since June 1942; however, Japan’s leaders didn’t see themselves as defeated. They knew U.S. troops would likely land on Kyushu, the Japanese island that American troops would invade in Operation Olympic, and they were preparing an intricate defense. While they couldn’t stop the invasion, Japan’s top brass thought, instead, that they could bleed the United States into accepting a negotiated settlement that was far short of its clearly stated, very public, and Allied-approved objective of unconditional surrender.

Skates shows how the policy of unconditional surrender for both Germany and Japan, as pushed through by President Roosevelt in early 1943, as well as the level of casualties the United States had sustained, determined military actions and, eventually, the use of the atomic bomb. The policy, as well as the experience from fighting Japan, forced America’s top leaders into coming up with the most efficient way into forcing Japan’s surrender.

By the time the summer of 1945 rolled around, the United States had suffered nearly 400,000 combat deaths with another 600,000 troops wounded. Top military commanders worried about the additional casualties the United States would suffer should it invade Kyushu. Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, the Navy’s top officer, thought Japan could be brought down through a blockade that would essentially starve Japan’s populace – at minimal cost of U.S. lives; others, like General of the Army George C. Marshall, the Army’s top general, feared that the blockade would extend the war beyond the patience of the American home front; he thought the invasion was the faster way to bring about an American victory.

The United States was holding more than 400,000 prisoners of war: 370,000 Germans, 50,000 Italians, and 5,000 Japanese. German and Italian troops were far more prone to surrender because it was not considered unpatriotic if they did. For the Japanese, however, surrender was simply out of the question. Japanese troops were instructed to fight to the death; if they ran out of ammunition, they were told to charge the enemy or commit suicide. Anything less would bring dishonor to themselves and their surviving family members. The fact that there were so few Japanese prisoners of war reinforced the military’s view that any battle on the Japanese mainland would be arduous and bloody.

Top U.S. military officers had also reviewed the post-action reports of the battles for Iwo Jima and Okinawa, which, combined, cost the United States more than 100,000 casualties. As Skates writes, “Public concern already simmered over the casualties of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. What would the cost of Downfall (the overall name for amphibious assaults against Japan) be and could Americans sustain it? Could any methods be used to minimize the casualties?”

General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, the Army’s commanding officer in the Pacific, would lead the ground attack on Kyushu while the Navy’s top officer in the Pacific, Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, would be responsible for transporting the troops, the amphibious assault itself, and providing all the necessary support for MacArthur’s troops, including food, fuel, ammunition and other supplies.

Operation Olympic, had it occurred, would be one of the largest amphibious assaults in all of military history. It would have entailed 12 divisions “comprising 427,400 troops and 626,800 tons of supplies,” writes Skates. The assault on Normandy, in comparison, looks small: It only involved five divisions for the beach landing and another three airborne divisions that were dropped in the middle of the night, just prior to the amphibious landings.

American military analysts thought that U.S. forces would occupy at least half of Kyushu, if not the entire Island. If Japan’s leaders still refused to surrender, even though U.S. forces were on Kyushu, then MacArthur and Nimitz would initiate Operation Coronet, an amphibious assault on Honshu, Japan’s main island, in March 1946. This operation would have involved “14 divisions with 462,000 troops,” writes Skates.

The best military estimates said that Japan would put up an all-out fight in the defense of Kyushu. They may not have had the best troops to prevent American forces from succeeding but the thinking was that at Kyushu, Japanese soldiers, sailors and airmen would make a gallant, albeit suicidal, stand.

Casualties, Skates says, would have been higher during Operation Olympic than on Operation Coronet. MacArthur’s intelligence officers estimated that “about fourteen thousand soldiers and airmen would die in the first sixty days of Olympic,” writes Skates. MacArthur estimated that there would be nearly 80,000 American casualties – killed and wounded – during the first 60 days of the invasion of Kyushu. If the battle lasted 120 days, MacArthur estimated there would be more than 100,000 American casualties.

The battle losses, Skates writes, were based on the casualties that American forces endured on both Okinawa as well as in Normandy, where the First U.S. Army suffered more than 60,000 casualties of whom 16,000 were killed during the first 48 days in France. “Much evidence exists that casualty estimates for the invasion were realistic and based on past experience,” writes Skates. And while the invasion of Kyushu would cause no more American losses than had been realized in Normandy or on Okinawa, as Skates writes, that “was small comfort” to American civilian and military leaders.

“The earlier fanatical and suicidal, yet hopeless Japanese defenses created a psychology that the normal conventions of war did not apply against a nation of potential kamikazes,” writes Skates.

In addition to facing a suicidal enemy, the United States attempted, throughout the war, to gain the participation of the Soviet Union in its fight against Japan. The Soviets made a number of promises to the United States about its willingness to fight Japan, including invading parts of the Japanese Empire, but they didn’t declare war against Japan until the day after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.

Like all leaders, President Truman and those he consulted for achieving a military and political victory in World War II, couldn’t foresee the future. What they had before them, as they debated the tactics and strategy to be employed in bringing about Japan’s surrender, was the results, including the number of dead and wounded so far, as well as an idea of the level of patience that the American public had for finishing the war.

“The bomb, whether used strategically or tactically, promised to keep U.S. casualties at an acceptable level,” writes Skates. “The bomb also would shock Japanese leaders, and combined with other demonstrations of hopelessness of continued resistance, might tip the balance toward surrender.”

As a result, the President ordered the atomic bombing of Japan. The first one was dropped on August 6, on Hiroshima; the next one was dropped three days later on Nagasaki.

It took two atomic bombs killing about 200,000 people to shock Japan’s emperor into realizing the war was lost. The objective of the war, Japan’s unconditional surrender, had been achieved. More than 100,000 U.S. lives had been spared death and injury.

Overall, this is an excellent book. It’s very well researched and lays out a number of details that the average history reader would likely find tedious. The only flaw in the book is that not enough attention is given to Truman’s perspective. The reader would have been better served had the author given us some details on Truman’s fears and hopes on both the atomic bomb as well as the invasion. Perhaps this information isn’t available.

The lesson here, if there’s any, is that the victory usually comes about when the enemy is “shocked and awed.” The best way to “shock and awe” the enemy, as military historian Michael Doubler points out, is to “let your enemy tell you that you’re shocking and awesome. Don’t tell the enemy you’re going to shock and awe them.”

The idea of shocking an enemy into surrender is nothing new. During the Civil War, Union forces shocked the Confederacy into capitulation through General William Tecumseh Sherman’s march on the South. It showed the South that their position was hopeless. Only the Union could win. During the American Revolution, the Battle of Yorktown, while not exactly a stunning U.S. victory, showed the British that the French were committed to the American cause and that for the British to continue it was to put at risk more than the fight was worth.

Today, the United States faces a suicidal enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan. The difference is that neither enemy fights for a particular government. And the question remains how does the United States force these enemies into realizing their position is hopeless; for that matter can it even be achieved? Do we march an Army or Marine Division or two up into the mountains of Afghanistan, killing everyone we encounter? Or do we shock them into making peace by showing them the benefits of harmony with the United States and the West? How will we shock the Iraqi insurgency into accepting a peaceful settlement with Iraq’s government and, consequently, the countries with troops stationed in Iraq?

Any given day, President Bush might say the following to himself:

• “We’re fighting a suicidal enemy.
• The enemy is militarily beaten but remains belligerent.
• There’s no sign of surrender.
• The enemy appears to be breaking up, with some saying they want peace while others want to fight. The ones wanting peace don’t speak with authority.
• The American populace is war weary.
• Problematic Allies.”

Mark Twain is reported to have said, “History doesn’t repeat itself but it sure does rhyme.” And so it does.

(Writer’s note: The Invasion of Japan: Alternative to the Bomb, published in 1994, can be found on The writer of this blog makes no money from but wishes he did.)

Publishing Information: The Invasion of Japan: Alternative to the Bomb, by John Ray Skates, University of South Carolina Press, 1994, 276 pages

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Lessons Not Learned

Instead of learning to stay above the fray, the group’s leaders taught them another lesson: How to jump into the muck.

Instead of learning one of life’s hardest lessons – ignoring your detractors – they learned how to present themselves in a display that could be considered passive-aggressive.

Instead of learning another lesson – don’t excite those who are all too ready to do your bidding – they watched two men they’ve never met, and whose characters are entirely questionable, speak for them.

Instead of learning how to handle matters discreetly, this impressionable group learned how to go public.

Instead of turning an opportunity – as gross as it was – into a learning experience that would benefit them well into their future, the Rutgers University woman’s basketball team was failed by its leaders. They taught the ladies how to get even.

The team’s coaches and the school’s administration were presented with an opportunity to prepare their young charges for the other insults and knocks they may receive later in life.

This is not to make light of what Don Imus said about the team. I don’t know if he’s is a racist, but he certainly sounded like one when offered up that gross description about them.

And I can’t help but think that the basketball team, filled with gifted student-athletes, was failed by its leaders, people who will leave a lasting impression on them.

Yes, they were insulted. Imus’ remark was gross, indecent, sophomoric, racist, sexist and absolutely inexcusable. But anyone who’s ever listened to Don Imus knows that’s his schtick. He insults people. So why stoop to his level, even if you don’t mean to?

The next time one of these ladies is insulted, the coach and Rutgers University likely won’t be standing by their side waiting for an apology on their behalf. It’s also likely that the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton will have forgotten them.

So the next time they’re insulted, they’ll learn the lesson they should have learned during their collegiate years -- fugeddaboutit. Toughen up, in other words.

It’s one of the hardest lessons to learn. Insults cut to our core. The ladies of the Rutgers basketball team were probably thinking they were doing all the right things in this life, when suddenly, without warning, some jerk – who happened to have a nationally syndicated radio show – deeply offended them with a few choice words.

It’s no surprise that they, their families, their coach and the University felt awful about the insult fired off at these accomplished young ladies. They should have.

But the coach and the University’s administration could have done their young charges a far better service had they quietly taken them aside, without any reporters, and delivered this message: “That’s life – especially in the fishbowl of collegiate athletics.

“There will always be someone willing to insult you. If it happens, ignore it and move on. Don’t dwell it. If you do, your assailant wins.

“Also keep this in mind: If this happens to you, after you leave college, we won’t be there to defend you. Your loved ones won’t be able to help you either. And as far as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are concerned, they’ll be off frying bigger fish.

“If you let the insult run off of you like water, there’s a better chance you’ll go through this life at peace with yourself and others. That’s what matters. That’s justice!”

And that would have been the end of it so far as the basketball team was concerned. The coach and the University’s administration would have placed themselves and their team above the fray, showing them how to deal with terrible incidents from unkind people.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Invisible Jews in Nazi Germany: A Book Review

(Editor’s Note: This week ItsFourthAndLong initiates its first book review.)

Too often history comes across as dull, gray, lifeless text that will sooner put people to sleep than give them any insight on the lives we live today. Part of that is due to the way it’s taught, which is not all that well from everything this correspondent has learned from those who detest the subject. And part of it is attributable to the very nature of the subject itself: Why should anyone become excited about something that happened decades or centuries ago? How does it apply to the lives we lead today?

This is the reason I’m a fan of first-person accounts. They bring historical events to life because someone has taken the time to write down their experiences, often during a tragic, horrible or dramatic period of time.

No. 12 Kaiserhofstrass: The Story of an Invisible Jew in Nazi Germany, written by Valentin Senger, brings Nazi Germany alive. Senger and his family survived the Nazis in Frankfurt, right out in the open, even though they were Jews. And this is what makes his story all that more compelling.

Senger’s story is one of constant deception. His mother and father were Russian émigrés who had been associated with Communists revolutionaries during the early days of the 20th century; they immigrated to Germany to escape the Tsar’s henchman, well in advance of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. So no one in Germany would know they were Communists, they lied on their immigration papers that they were from Switzerland.

As they were settling into their apartment in Frankfurt in 1909, they completed residency papers for the local police who noted that the Sengers were “Hebraic.” It never occurred to Senger’s parents, the author writes, “that in a liberal, cosmopolitan city like Frankfurt, where Jews and Christians had been living side by side for centuries, the mere fact of being a Jew could ever become a mortal danger.”

The author, born in 1918, describes his neighbors, friends, acquaintances and professional colleagues; what is frightening is how some of them could so easily betray and inflict harm on people they'd known well in advance of the Nazis ever coming into power.

Whether or not they believed what they were being fed by the Nazis is something we will never know. They may have thought they were being good, patriotic Germans. They may have feared for their own safety, thinking they needed to make a deal with the devil; or, perhaps, they wanted all whose lives didn’t reflect theirs exterminated.

Senger’s childhood, with the exception of a few events, was unexceptional. He attended school and did all of the normal things any boy would do – ran around with other boys and challenged his mother and father.

In the 1930s, after the Nazis took power, everything changed. From 1933 to 1945, the Sengers “felt trapped” in their apartment, “expecting the Gestapo or the SA to arrest us (at) any minute.”

They survived the Nazis, in large part, because a local policeman, Sergeant Kasper, risking his own life, perhaps because he liked Senger's mother, altered their registration papers. He changed their religious affiliation from “Hebraic” to “Nonconformist,” thereby keeping the Gestapo on the search for others but not the Sengers.

The Sengers became as inconspicuous as possible so as not to attract the attention of the authorities. But they did have a few a moments when they were convinced they’d be arrested.

One of the more frightening times was when the author needed medical assistance. Unlike European Christians at the time, circumcision was standard practice for Jews. Since the author was suffering from a stomach ailment, his parents knew he’d be required to drop his pants, thereby giving away his religious affiliation.

To make matters worse, the local doctor wore a Nazi uniform. He looked over the young man and even noticed his circumcised penis. Senger told the doctor that his family was from Russia and a particular Christian sect that believed in self-mutilation. The doctor didn’t buy it for a minute, noting that his circumcision looked like the ones performed at a bris.

The doctor kept young Senger’s circumcision to himself. And, as it turned out, this same doctor saved a few Jews who continued to live in Germany, outside of the concentration camps, during the Nazi regime.

As the war progressed, Germany, desperate to fill the ranks of their killed and missing soldiers, started drafting eligible men who were not citizens. Senger and his younger brother soon had their papers to report for a military physical. Here, again, they thought the game was over because, certainly, the doctors would notice their circumcisions.

They may have but the doctors passed them anyway, sending the two brothers to basic training. Senger’s younger brother, Alex, was killed during the war, fighting an enemy he knew would save him. Senger himself survived the war due to some unforeseen medical issues as well as a kindly doctor who drew up orders to send him to a hospital.

One of the book’s more interesting moments happens shortly after the author leaves the doctor who had written his orders. This was weeks prior to the war’s end. Senger was making his way out of the military base when he was befriended by a local man who put him up for a few days. Essentially, the author deserted.

During Senger’s stay at the local man’s house, he met a woman, named Gerdi, who had served in Germany’s army as an auxiliary. He described her as taller, a few years older and “as strong as an ox.” He never says she’s beautiful. In spite of all that, they made love one day. One can’t help but to wonder what it was like to have sex with the enemy. Maybe this proves that hormones can overrule politics.

After the war, Senger became a reporter, working for German newspapers and at television and radio stations.

No. 12 Kasierhofstrass is a gripping account that, at times, will have readers on the edge of their seats. The tension, the fear and the downright fright of living under conditions few can imagine comes through loud and clear in this book.

At times, while reading this book, you have to wonder if the author isn’t suffering from survivor’s guilt. There are times when he’s speaking to his mother, sometimes in an accusing tone of voice.

The author appears to have mixed views about his mother. She certainly ruled the roost. She also did everything possible to keep the family intact – and alive. Compared to joining Germany’s underground, or heading off to a death camp, it may not have been particularly heroic. But by keeping her family alive, Mrs. Senger did all of us who never lived through the Nazis an incredible favor: Her son wrote a rich account about their experiences under a terrible regime.

No. 12 Kaiserhofstrass was first published in 1978 in Germany, and the English translation was published two years later. It can be purchased on by searching under the author’s last name. (ItsFourthAndLong is not schilling for, although any money they’d like to throw this way would be happily accepted.)

While reading this book, I wondered if anyone, at some point, will write a first-hand account of their times under more recent dictatorships, like North Korea or Saddam Hussein. I hope someone does so we gain some insight about life under these regimes.

And while George W. Bush and his band of Republicans certainly have their detractors, all of those are opposed (or consider themselves oppressed) to his presidency, his policies, his followers, and his government would be well served by reading No. 12 Kaiserhofstrass. Mr. Bush is flawed man but he is no Adolf Hitler.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Taking Time Off

ItsFourthAndLong will not be writing this week. Best wishes to you and yours.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Give a damn: The obligations of a U.S. citizen

So you don’t like the Iraq War, doubt the outcome of the one in Afghanistan, and just wish the War on Terror would go away. Who doesn’t?

In fact, that line of thinking could be found within anyone who ever lived through a war that’s ever been fought by the United States, from the Revolution to Vietnam to the first war we fought with Iraq.

The problem, as a noted historian said, “It’s your country, your army and your war.” And peace, as scholars Paul Seabury and Angelo Codevilla noted in their book War: Ends & Means, in spite of what you may think, is not your birthright.

This is a democracy in which the citizenry is obligated but not required all too unfortunately, to vote, understand domestic politics, foreign policy, the government – local, state and national – military affairs and, yes, war. And sometimes a country’s citizens are required to participate in a war.

The American people, wrote John Adams, the country’s second president and likely the most intellectual of the Founding Fathers, were to become, he hoped, statesmen, writes one of his biographers, C. Bradley Thompson, in the book, John Adams and the Spirit of Liberty. He sought an enlightened citizen that “could distinguish between a necessary ‘reverence and obedience to Government on the one hand,’ and its ‘right to think and act’ for itself on the other, writes Thompson. Adams wanted all men, since they were the voters at the time, to be suspicious of those in power, says Thompson.

To take Adams’ argument a step further, not only should we be suspicious of those in power but we should be equally suspicious of those who seek it. This is not, as critics might say, to be paranoid or delusional but, rather, as Adams saw it, to be “independent, reasonable, and public-spirited,” writes Thompson.

In other words, as citizens, we need to raise our level of consciousness about our government. None of us should believe the sound bites bandied about by our politicians; instead, we are required, as Adams saw our obligations, to become informed on the issues facing the country, to discount the zealots on any given side, and to determine the best course of action for the nation. If necessary, we should also be willing to defend this nation, even if it requires the ultimate sacrifice.

None of this is easy. The idea behind the American Revolution was that we had the ability and the intellectual capacity to lead ourselves. Those who fail to vote, fail to become fully informed on current events, blindly accept the arguments of any fanatic, and remain apathetic about the nation’s actions lend credence to arguments made centuries ago that people are incapable of self-government.

This blog entry seeks to put today’s foreign affairs into historical perspective, show the failings of the Bush Administration, and explain why we need to be concerned about the state of our military. We face a situation that hasn’t been seen since World War II or the Cold War. Our way of life, as well as that of the entire civilized world, runs counter to every terrorist organization in existence. All Americans are the enemy. They want the United States ruined, maybe even eliminated.


We have enemies. Osama Bin Laden is one of them. Others include North Korean dictator Kim Jung-Il and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. There are likely more, and they’re not pacifists.

In fact, they’re warmongers and cold-blooded killers. And unlike the U.S. government or our allies alongside us in Iraq and Afghanistan, our enemies report to no one. They’re terrorists. They violate a basic principle of government, which is to seek legitimacy from its people through elections. Terrorists we’re fighting gain authority through fear, threats and intimidation.

Their losses are of no concern to them. The only thing that matters to them is the number of people they kill and how much damage they inflict.

“The art of war is vital to the state,” wrote Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu more than 2,000 years ago. “It is a matter of life and death, a road to either safety or to ruin … under no circumstances can it be neglected” – even if you’re opposed to the ones we’re fighting or will fight in the future.

“I must study politics and war, that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture, in order to give their children the right to study painting, music, architecture, statuary tapestry and porcelain,” wrote John Adams to his wife Abigail during the Revolution.

Had cooler heads not prevailed, Adams would have found himself putting his knowledge about war to work as the country’s commander-in-chief. While he was president, Adams nearly took us to war with France. Fortunately, the dispute was resolved before shots were fired.

If you believe the polls, a number of people disapprove of the Iraq War because it was preemptive, or illegal, based on deceit, and the endgame isn’t in sight. All of this might be true but keep in mind that President Bush, his Cabinet, and each and every member of Congress approved the war against Iraq looking at the same intelligence.

The biggest criticism one can offer about the information used to approve the Iraq War was that it was dated. It was, based on news reports, much of the same information that was used by the Clinton Administration to secure Congressional approval for a regime change in Iraq.

Did the President Bush lie to us? Perhaps. But if he did, he wasn’t the first president to lie to the American public about foreign and military affairs.

A splendid little war

President James K. Polk deliberately provoked Mexico into a war by ordering U.S. troops to march into disputed territory – and it became almost as unpopular in the 1840s as the ones we’re fighting today – in the name of Manifest Destiny. Polk had one political goal during his term as president – expand the country to the other shining sea, the Pacific Ocean. (It makes him one of the few presidents who did what he said he was going to do.)

There are two significant differences between the Mexican-American War and the ones we’re fighting today: First, hostilities were concluded in two years; second, the war resulted in territorial gains for the United States, including resolving the status of Texas (Mexico recognized it as part of the United States), and picking up New Mexico, Arizona and California.

Had the United States Navy possessed aircraft carriers in the 19th century, perhaps President Polk would have given a victory speech on the flight deck with a banner hanging in the background proclaiming “Manifest Destiny: Accomplished.”

There’s even evidence that Franklin Delano Roosevelt set the United States on a course to fight World War II. Day of Deceit: The Truth about FDR and Pearl Harbor, a book about the Pearl Harbor attack, describes a memo written by naval officer who suggested eight actions to provoke Japan into a war with the United States.

Lieutenant Commander Arthur H. McCollum, a naval officer working in the War Department, writes the book’s author, Robert B. Stinnett, suggested the following policies in October 1940:

1. Arrange to use British bases in the Pacific, meaning Singapore
2. Make an arrangement with Holland for the use of base facilities and acquisition of supplies in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia).
3. Give all possible aid to the Chinese government of Chaing Kai-shek.
4. Send a division of long-range heavy cruisers to the Orient, Philippines, or Singapore.
5. Send two divisions of submarines to the Orient.
6. Keep the main strength of the U.S. Fleet, now in the Pacific, in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands.
7. Insist that the Dutch refuse to grant Japanese demands for undue economic concessions, particularly oil.
8. Completely embargo all trade with Japan, in collaboration with a similar embargo imposed by the British Empire.

FDR enacted many of these suggestions. They resulted in Japan attacking Pearl Harbor – which Stinnett maintains the President and his top commanders knew was coming – and, as a result, FDR gained vital public support for fighting Japan and, subsequently, Germany and Italy.

The State Department, says Stinnett, predicted what the world would look like if the Nazis stayed in power in Germany and the militarists continued to run Japan, concluding that neither was in the best interests of the United States.

As a result, FDR and his advisors, writes Stinnett, devised a strategy (outlined above) to provoke Japan into attacking the United States, which, they thought, might force Hitler into declaring war against us.

It’s important to remember that FDR was enacting his strategy against Japan in a clandestine manner while the American public believed that it had nothing to “fear but fear itself.” Did President Roosevelt lie to the American public about his intentions and the causes of the war? Most likely.

Would FDR have initiated a preemptive war against Japan or Germany? That question will remain unanswered because the U.S. military, just prior to the Pearl Harbor attack, was a fifth-rate power – on a good day. Given the limited forces at the president’s disposal, not a single member of the U.S. high command could have possibly told the commander in chief how we could successfully, and preemptively, attack anyone.

World War II was costly to the United States: There were 400,000 combat deaths and another 600,000 wounded, a heavy price to make the world safe. Our involvement in the war lasted just under four years, and we averaged about 5,000 casualties a week.

Because we entered World War II, the Holocaust ended, fascism was severely ruined, the thought that a democracy could defeat a militarist power was proven, Atlantic Ocean shipping was made safe, and Japan stopped carrying out atrocities across Asia.

If we hadn’t fought World War II, there’s a possibility that today’s Nazi Germany might possess intercontinental nuclear missiles (their scientists were attempting to build nuclear weapons and had successfully launched rockets, armed with conventional weapons, against Great Britain); Japan was developing its own weapons of mass destruction, including the world’s first intercontinental bomber as well as biological weapons.

Carl von Clausewitz

Today’s War on Terror can’t help but to make one wonder if there’s anyone in the Bush Administration who has ever read a history book, like one about the Vietnam War, or bothered to study Carl von Clausewitz’s 19th century classic On War, a tome containing lessons that remain applicable today. It’s very likely that the generals and the admirals have studied these books; but, based on performance, one might doubt if their civilian leaders have done the same.

A Prussian officer, Clausewitz recognized that there were three key elements needed for any country to be successful in war – the will of the people, a well-commanded army and a government cognizant of its political aims. To suit a 21st century populace, we might the following: The government’s leaders need to effectively communicate the reasons their country needs to endure such hardship.

“A theory that ignores any one of them or seeks to fix an arbitrary relationship between them would conflict with reality to such an extent that for this reason alone it (the war) would be totally useless,” Clausewitz wrote.

In other words, all three need to be aligned on the means, ends and goals of any war. Otherwise, the effort is doomed.

During Vietnam, the Johnson Administration was criticized for only taking the Pentagon to war. President Johnson failed to do a number of things during the Vietnam War, including preparing a strategy for victory against North Vietnam; in addition, he also failed to bring about necessary American public support for the war effort.

As a result, four years after the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, in 1968, as American casualties began to escalate significantly, along with CBS News Anchor Walter Cronkite’s televised critique of the war, public support for Vietnam suddenly went cold.

Wars, especially ones fought by democracies, need to be won quickly. George C. Marshall, the Army’s World War II chief of staff, and likely the country’s most underrated military and political leader, wanted the war ended as fast as possible. He’d learned during his career that the United States public did not have an appetite for long, protracted wars.

Shortly after receiving his commission in 1903, Marshall went to the Philippines after the Spanish-American War, “when public opinion, once exultant about the new (U.S.) empire, had shifted to sympathy with the Filipinos resisting conquest,” write Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May in their book Thinking in Time: The uses of History for Decision Makers.

Just prior to his retirement from the Army, with World War II concluded, Marshall “spent his final weeks as Chief of Staff coping with ‘bring the boys home’ demonstrations,” write Neustadt and May.

The problem with the current wars is that, after five years, victory isn’t in sight; the political leadership fails to communicate effectively about our challenges and what’s at stake.

The other difficulty with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that we’re fighting a non-uniformed enemy. And unlike previous wars, with the exception of Vietnam, when we took and held enemy territory, we’re attempting to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqis and Afghans. Finally, all too often, our soldiers are contacting a military lawyer about the rules of engagement prior to taking out an enemy position, says retired Army Col. Michael D. Doubler, a military historian; these discussions have caused countless missed opportunities to kill the enemy.

Are we doing the right thing?

Any thought about whether our policies are correct in Afghanistan and Iraq needs to also take into consideration what the world would have looked like had we not fought any of the wars that mark our history.

Some questions we might ask:

Had we not fought the Civil War, how long would slavery have continued? What would a Nazi Germany look like today? If we had not fought Germany, would the United States, in effect, be tacitly supporting anti-Semitism?

Should we have continued to sell oil to Japan so it could kill innocent people and force women into sexual slavery but leave us alone? Could we sell our goods into the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, Japan’s economic plan for East Asia, had we not fought World War II?

Should we have let Kim Jung-Il’s father occupy South Korea in 1950? Did our involvement in Vietnam make the Soviets reconsider any plans they might have had to occupy Western Europe? Should we have let Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein occupy Kuwait? If we had left Hussein well alone would we be complicit in supporting his domestic policies, which included using rape and torture against his own people.

Would the world be safer with Hussein in Baghdad and the Taliban allowing Afghanistan to be a sanctuary for terrorists? How will the United States be perceived, by both its friends, enemies and detractors, in the Middle East and elsewhere, should it withdraw its military forces from Iraq, or Afghanistan, before the dispute is decided?

The answers to any of these questions are likely filled with speculation. But, I believe, more of often than not, our leaders acted correctly, even in Iraq and Afghanistan. Countries go to war, write Seabury and Codevilla, because they don’t like the peace.

A peace that involves a tense standoff with neither side firing a shot isn’t peace. That’s a cold war, like the one we experienced for 44 years with the old Soviet Union, and, on occasion, it goes hot, as it did in Korea and Vietnam.

The notion that wars don’t solve anything is, as scholars Seabury and Codevilla point out, a “historical howler.” They solve all kinds of problems; but, to be accurate, they also give birth to other issues, which can become troubling.

The arguments made against our involvement in Iraq are similar to the ones that were made prior to our involvement in World War II. It was Europe’s war or Asia’s war, not ours, said the Republicans and those supporting isolationist policies. Emotions ran high on both sides of the argument.

So what does the world look like had we not invaded Iraq and Afghanistan?

With Iraq, a dictator remains in power, abuses his people, snubs the United Nations, pays Palestinians to commit suicide in Israel while the Arab World looks the other way. With Afghanistan, religious zealots are in power, abuse their people, allow terrorists to occupy their country and use it as a training ground for other terrorists.

We knocked off the Taliban without too much difficulty but instead of reinforcing our troops in Afghanistan and making sure that our quick victory was actually a victory – which involves changing the hearts and minds of the people – we went, as the British say, “civilian,” meaning we installed the government we wanted and hoped that Afghanistan was resolved, says Colonel Doubler.

It wasn’t. The Taliban returned and, as a result, 25,000 U.S. troops, along with soldiers from Canada, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, are fighting them again.

Iraq is a similar story. We defeated its military without too much difficulty but then proceeded to lose the peace. Had we kept the Iraqi Army intact, many of its soldiers would not have become insurgents. In addition, we never blew up Iraqi ammunition installations, which were later raided by the insurgents.

Our biggest military accomplishment in Iraq, since defeating its Army, appears to be having divided and split the insurgency. There’s a group of insurgents made up of Iraqis, and they appear to be beginning to support the new government; in addition, this group of insurgents has provided, on occasion, information about Al Qaida in Iraq, another band of insurgents that’s composed of fighters who are from other Arab countries and tend to be more zealous in their approach.

The biggest political victory we can claim from Iraq and Afghanistan is that they have some sort of democracy. In addition, the Arab World, especially Saudi Arabia, is beginning to realize it needs to engage in a political discourse, without weapons, with Israel. Finally, the Saudis are beginning to take a leadership role in the Arab World.

The failures of the Bush Administration

The Bush Administration might be as close an example as can be found of being the Keystone Cops when it comes to directing foreign and military policies. They have effectively acerbated just about every ally we ever had; in addition, and more importantly, President Bush had an opportunity before him that no president had seen in nearly 60 years – an attack on U.S. soil.

Through a patriotic appeal, he could have won Congressional approval to expand the military. And had he bothered to explain what was at stake, both militarily and politically, America’s military forces would have grown substantially because people would have enlisted. All he had to do was appeal to the country’s sense of patriotism, which ran red hot after the 9/11 attacks.

Instead, we were told to go shopping. Or travel. We were directed to go about our lives as if nothing had happened. In fact, any change we made about our lives, as a result of the 9/11 attacks, the president said, was tantamount to conceding victory to the terrorists.

President Bush did something that no president should ever be allowed to do – he conducted a war on the cheap. It was thought that the current force could handle its challenges. It can’t. It’s stretched to its limits, resulting in our troops – regardless if they’re part of the Regular Army, reservists, in the National Guard or Marines – returning to Iraq for their third and fourth tours of duty.

Colonel Doubler, speaking at the First Infantry Division Museum in Wheaton, Illinois, last week, said that only one percent of the country volunteers for the armed forces. At some point, Doubler said, “that one percent will begin to ask why it’s doing all the fighting and the dying.”

And what’s worse, in my estimation, is that if you walk down any street in America, with the exception perhaps of those near a military base, you’d never know the country is at war. What the Bush Administration has effectively done is told the citizens to become apathetic about this war. Others will think about it. Others will fight it. Others will die in it.

Apathy is the Bush Administration’s policy for the Home Front. The last thing the Bush Administration wants is a public that cares. Because a concerned citizenry might demand either that we pull out from Iraq or Afghanistan, as it’s beginning to do, or, worse, insist on better results for the energy, blood and treasure that’s been expended.

Finally, prior to hostilities with Iraq, President Bush should have directed his secretary of state, Colin Powell, to increase his diplomatic efforts. The secretary should have been directed to travel to France, Germany and Russia, our leading critics of the war, where he would have spoken privately to their leaders about what we knew about Iraq and our intentions.

The diplomatic effort might have failed. But, at the very least, President Bush could say that he had tried to show our allies and critics what was at stake and describe for them our intentions. The Bush Administration’s refusal to reach out to its foreign critics only further strained relations with those countries.

“Your country, your army and your war.”

Our fellow Americans, which include 19-year-old men, along with those in their 20s, 30s, even their late 40s, as well as women, are dying, being wounded or maimed on the grimy, sandy, rocky grounds of Iraq and Afghanistan. They’re sacrificing their lives as well as their entire future to secure one nation against civil war and keep another safe from terrorist occupation. They deserve our highest respect.

The stakes in Iraq have increased because the insurgency just introduced chemical warfare. They’ve blown up at least one bomb laced with chlorine. If this weapon is successful in Iraq, al Qaida will likely use it in Afghanistan, and it may just make its way to our shores.

Causing additional concern is Iran. It may have a nuclear bomb or it may be creating one, which will only increase peril and anxiety in the Middle East, perhaps the world. A nuclear-armed Iran should make all of us uneasy.

The bigger problem is the Bush Administration. It insists that our foreign and military challenges can be faced down with the same size armed forces, albeit a limited increase, as we had prior to 9/11.

To hear President Bush or Vice President Cheney speak, this is a clash of civilizations. It’s us or them. If we take them at their word, this is the greatest threat the nation has seen since World War II or the Cold War.

Our troops, already with two or three tours of duty in Iraq under their belts, are returning for their fourth. The United States armed forces aren’t sized properly. They need to be increased so we have the necessary number of troops to face down these grave threats.

“It’s your country, your army and your war,” said Colonel Doubler last week, meaning that every American needs to increase their level of awareness about the armed forces. You may not approve of the war, you may not see the current challenges as threat to our national security, but you need to concern yourself, because you’re a citizen, with the shape, size and well being of our armed forces.

If we don’t prevail in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s hard to say if we’ll prevail tomorrow, when the threat might be even more severe. Our enemies will feel empowered if they’re victorious in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The best way to increase our armed forces, and end American apathy, is to reinstate the draft. Unlike the one we had during the Vietnam War, which deferred married men, those in college, as well as those over the age of 26, we need one that’s far more equitable. All men, up to age 50, should be subject to the draft. The only deferments should be for those who are veterans. A draft forces every American to live up to their obligations as a citizen.

If soldiers like 57-year-old Army Staff Sgt. Carlos Dominguez and 51-year-old Army Master Sgt. Robb G. Needham can make the ultimate sacrifice, why can’t any American who’s younger, perhaps in better physical condition, do the same?