In 1492, Columbus Sailed the Ocean Blue

Arms of the Portuguese Prince Henry, the Navig...

Image via Wikipedia

Another Columbus Day has come. And again we celebrate the (re)discovery of the New World. And look what has been erected on that discovery! If you didn’t know; Columbus was a student of Prince Henry the Navigator’s school.

Those students made almost all of the voyages of discovery from the Iberian Peninsula. By the way, Prince Henry of  Portugal was the Grandson of John of Gaunt, time-honored Lancaster. The English always make it into these stories of the sea, don’t they?

So we know that Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492. But why? His crews were afraid of starving or falling off the edge of the world. His ships were ridiculously small. What exactly was the point? Nobody in Portugal had even heard of Brazil, nor were they all that enthused about an overseas empire. So, why?

Trade, that’s why. Everybody knew where India and China were (at least all the cool cats that knew the world was round). They had since Marco Polo made that remarkable trip, if not before. They liked the silk and other good things that came from China. But there was a problem.

You see there were pirates in the Mediterranean, then one had to get through the totalitarian Ottoman Empire, the Safavid Persians, and various and sundry other Islamic States. If you remember Spain had just managed to reconquer Spain from the Moslems and just plain didn’t want anything to do with them. So they decided to take a shortcut and sail west to go east. Yeah, their calculations were off a bit about the size of the world, but that’s why.

Now let’s think about this a little, Spain went way out of its way to avoid the clowns and founded both the New World and New Spain in the process: and got themselves into a shooting war with England that would eventually cost them their world power status. See A Cloud Smaller Than a Fist.

A few hundred years later, the United States won its Independence from Great Britain. The United States’ very first war was a regime change in Tripoli. There are still Islamic pirates, they still hold slaves and all in all they are still living in the 7th Century. And still today, Iran threatens war on Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. Some things never change.

Only now with their oil wealth, instead of modernizing and improving their people’s lives and such, they seem intent on conquering the world and seem to believe the world will use its modernity to help

They have found some fellow travelers, who had best hope they lose because they aren’t going to enjoy winning for long. Ask the survivors of the Kingdom of the Visigoths in about 1000 AD.

So there you have it. The cause of Columbus sailing the Ocean Blue.

In Other News:

  • General Robert Edward Lee, the commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, dies peacefully at his home in Lexington, Virginia. He was 63 years old.

Lee was born to Henry Lee (Light Horse Harry) and Ann Carter Lee at Stratford Hall, Virginia, in 1807. His father served in the American Revolution under George Washington and was later a governor of Virginia. Robert Lee attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and graduated second in his class in 1829. He did not earn a single demerit during his four years at the academy. Afterward, Lee embarked on a military career, eventually fighting in the Mexican War (1846-48) and later serving as the superintendent of West Point.

  • On the morning of October 12, 1915, the 49-year-old British nurse Edith Cavell was executed by a German firing squad in Brussels, Belgium.

Before World War I began in 1914, Cavell served for a number of years as the matron of a nurse’s training school in Brussels. After the city was captured and occupied by the Germans in the first month of the war, Cavell chose to remain at her post, tending to German soldiers and Belgians alike. In August 1915, German authorities arrested her and accused her of helping British and French prisoners-of-war, as well as Belgians hoping to serve with the Allied armies, to escape Belgium for neutral Holland. As I wrote on the centenary of her execution, here, there was no doubt at all of her guilt. And you can watch (no sound BTW) the procession for her state funeral at Norwich Cathedral in 1919 here.

  • On this day in 1776, British Generals Henry Clinton and William Howe lead a force of 4,000 troops aboard some 90 flat-boats up New York’s East River toward Throg’s Neck, a peninsula in Westchester County, in an effort to encircle General George Washington and the Patriot force stationed at Harlem Heights.

This was the largest British amphibious attack before Normandy.

After hearing of the British landing at Throg’s Neck, Washington ordered a contingent of troops from the Pennsylvania regiment to destroy the bridge leading from the peninsula to the Westchester mainland. The destruction of the bridge stranded Clinton and his men at Throg’s Neck for six days before they were loaded back onto their vessels and continued up the East River toward Pell Point.

  • On this day in 1946, Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell, the man who commanded the U.S. and Chinese Nationalist resistance to Japanese incursions into China and Burma, dies today at age 63.

All courtesy of This Day In History.

In 1492, Columbus Sailed the Ocean Blue

Arms of the Portuguese Prince Henry, the Navig...

Image via Wikipedia

Another Columbus Day has come. And again we celebrate the (re)discovery of the New World. And look what has been erected on that discovery! If you didn’t know; Columbus was a student of Prince Henry the Navigator’s school.

Those students made almost all of the voyages of discovery from the Iberian Peninsula. By the way, Prince Henry of  Portugal was the Grandson of John of Gaunt, time-honored Lancaster. The English always make it into these stories of the sea, don’t they?

So we know that Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492. But why? His crews were afraid of starving or falling off the edge of the world. His ships were ridiculously small. What exactly was the point? Nobody in Portugal had even heard of Brazil, nor were they all that enthused about an overseas empire. So, why?

Trade, that’s why. Everybody knew where India and China were (at least all the cool cats that knew the world was round). They had since Marco Polo made that remarkable trip, if not before. They liked the silk and other good things that came from China. But there was a problem.

You see there were pirates in the Mediterranean, then one had to get through the totalitarian Ottoman Empire, the Safavid Persians, and various and sundry other Islamic States. If you remember Spain had just managed to reconquer Spain from the Moslems and just plain didn’t want anything to do with them. So they decided to take a shortcut and sail west to go east. Yeah, their calculations were off a bit about the size of the world, but that’s why.

Now let’s think about this a little, Spain went way out of its way to avoid the clowns and founded both the New World and New Spain in the process: and got themselves into a shooting war with England that would eventually cost them their world power status. See A Cloud Smaller Than a Fist.

A few hundred years later, the United States won its Independence from Great Britain. The United States’ very first war was a regime change in Tripoli. There are still Islamic pirates, they still hold slaves and all in all they are still living in the 7th Century. And still today, Iran threatens war on Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. Some things never change.

Only now with their oil wealth, instead of modernizing and improving their people’s lives and such, they seem intent on conquering the world and seem to believe the world will use its modernity to help

They have found some fellow travelers, who had best hope they lose because they aren’t going to enjoy winning for long. Ask the survivors of the Kingdom of the Visigoths in about 1000 AD.

So there you have it. The cause of Columbus sailing the Ocean Blue.

In Other News:

  • General Robert Edward Lee, the commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, dies peacefully at his home in Lexington, Virginia. He was 63 years old.

Lee was born to Henry Lee (Light Horse Harry) and Ann Carter Lee at Stratford Hall, Virginia, in 1807. His father served in the American Revolution under George Washington and was later a governor of Virginia. Robert Lee attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and graduated second in his class in 1829. He did not earn a single demerit during his four years at the academy. Afterward, Lee embarked on a military career, eventually fighting in the Mexican War (1846-48) and later serving as the superintendent of West Point.

  • On the morning of October 12, 1915, the 49-year-old British nurse Edith Cavell was executed by a German firing squad in Brussels, Belgium.

Before World War I began in 1914, Cavell served for a number of years as the matron of a nurse’s training school in Brussels. After the city was captured and occupied by the Germans in the first month of the war, Cavell chose to remain at her post, tending to German soldiers and Belgians alike. In August 1915, German authorities arrested her and accused her of helping British and French prisoners-of-war, as well as Belgians hoping to serve with the Allied armies, to escape Belgium for neutral Holland. As I wrote on the centenary of her execution, here, there was no doubt at all of her guilt. And you can watch (no sound BTW) the procession for her state funeral at Norwich Cathedral in 1919 here.

  • On this day in 1776, British Generals Henry Clinton and William Howe lead a force of 4,000 troops aboard some 90 flat-boats up New York’s East River toward Throg’s Neck, a peninsula in Westchester County, in an effort to encircle General George Washington and the Patriot force stationed at Harlem Heights.

This was the largest British amphibious attack before Normandy.

After hearing of the British landing at Throg’s Neck, Washington ordered a contingent of troops from the Pennsylvania regiment to destroy the bridge leading from the peninsula to the Westchester mainland. The destruction of the bridge stranded Clinton and his men at Throg’s Neck for six days before they were loaded back onto their vessels and continued up the East River toward Pell Point.

  • On this day in 1946, Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell, the man who commanded the U.S. and Chinese Nationalist resistance to Japanese incursions into China and Burma, dies today at age 63.

All courtesy of This Day In History.

 

Saudi Reformation?

Haaretz

Have you ever wondered what it was like to live in Martin Luther’s Germany, Henry VIII’s England, or revolutionary America? I sure have. And now we can watch what it is like. That is essentially what is happening in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Myron Magnet wrote about it in City Journal yesterday.

How extraordinary to see a world-historical revolution unfolding before one’s eyes and not know how it will turn out: that’s what’s happening right now in Saudi Arabia. Mohammad bin Salman, a 32-year-old too young to be a partner in most law or finance firms, has managed, by intrigue not yet fully disclosed, to supplant his cousin Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef as heir to the throne and to carry out a purge of the royal family breathtaking in its sweep. Imagine: not only did bin Salman order the arrest of at least ten other princes and a score of former government ministers, now held in luxurious restraint in Riyadh’s Ritz Carlton; he also supposedly had Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, one of the world’s richest men and a major shareholder of 21st Century Fox, Citigroup, Apple, Twitter, and a host of other giant Western corporations, hanged upside down and beaten in an “anti-corruption” investigation.

No matter that “wasta”—corruption, kickbacks, and cronyism—has long governed Saudi Arabian business dealings. Now, the kingdom’s economic crown jewel—Aramco, the Saudi state oil company—is headed for sale on the public stock markets, and the financial future of the kingdom and its oligarchs is on the line. Sadly for the Saudis, Aramco is no longer as valuable, economically and geopolitically, as it once was. Natural gas from fracking has displaced oil as the fuel of the Western economy, with the result that OPEC (and, less critically, Russian oil) can no longer hold anybody’s economy hostage. […]

I’m not completely certain that the Russia part of the story is less critical, but the Saudi story is certainly more gripping at the moment.

Economic modernization and diversification, the prince saw, were essential, and they required social liberalization as the first order of business, beginning with allowing women to drive cars, the royal road to women’s liberation. Already, Saudi women are casting off the hijab and seizing modern social pleasures. The important point is that half the kingdom’s potential workforce will become free to produce, with hugely positive consequences for the economy.

But that’s only part of the social revolution that the prince’s economic transformation entails. Crucially, the royal family will find it harder to fund the radical Wahhabi Islam that OPEC has let grow like mushrooms. It’s hard to imagine that this well-established, well-fed worldwide network of terrorist-supporting fanatics, in their opulent mosques and madrassas—and especially in the more Spartan ones in Pakistan—will go quietly; little wonder that the prince has surrounded himself with a repressive security apparatus reminiscent of the Shah of Iran’s. He appears to be a quiet but inexorable foe of Muslim extremism, and consequently it is uncertain that he will emerge from his heroic and visionary remaking of the Saudi order with his head intact on his shoulders. Many a social liberalization has spun out of control and produced anarchy or fascist counterrevolution. But well-wishers have long hoped that some Muslim Martin Luther would purge Islam of its quotient of bloodlust and allow the self-perfecting, ethical version of its peaceful adherents to prevail in a secular society, where separation of mosque and state makes religion a private matter. In a medieval region like Arabia, it turns out, a king might do the job equally well—if he can survive to inherit the throne and rule from it. And then the question will be whether his revolution can last, as the Pahlavis’ and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s did not.

I tend to wonder whether Henry VIII is a closer parallel than Martin Luther, a top-down imposed reformation rather than Luther’s more or less bottom-up one, but then I’m an Anglophile, and its a pretty small point, overall.

But the ramifications are breathtaking. While we American worry more about the Iranians (not to mention their manifold connections with North Korea) Britain, who have more problems with homegrown terrorists than we do, worries quite a lot more about KSA and Wahhabism. Different experiences, different outcomes.

The US, for all our conventional power, often focusses on strategic weapons (read nuclear missiles). That’s important, and I think the Brits (and others) should pay more attention, that Nork launch last week means that all of the northern hemisphere is a target, in fact, London is closer than Los Angeles.

But that doesn’t make the British focus on KSA wrong. The Saudis have financed a lot of bad actors, especially in Pakistan, where a lot of the British problem originates. Remember Pakistan was, like India, part of the Raj, the British Empire in South Asia. It complicates a lot of things for them, and this is one of them.

What will happen? I simply have no idea, I don’t know enough. But it has many good possibilities, just as that document signed on 2 July 1776 did. But like that document, it may well have to be made good in blood, and even if it is, it may be worth it. I guess we’ll see if we live long enough.

Good luck to the Crown Prince though, I think he is on the right track.

 

Saudi Arabia Changes Course

Not gonna get overly heavy today, it is after all both the day after Thanksgiving and Friday. Personally, I spent too much time watching the equivalent of kitten videos far too late last night. But there is this, and it is important, and not much remarked. From Bookworm at Weasel Watchers.

Although I haven’t written about Saudi Arabia, I have been paying a great deal of attention to what’s going on in that kingdom. If Prince Mohammed bin Salman can avoid assassination (and I devoutly hope he can), he is a true reformer. He is trying to upgrade women’s status, he is purging the most corrupt members of the royal family and, most importantly, he is behind the outreach to Israel. There have been rumors that a member of the House of Saud made a secret trip to Israel and, assuming that rumor is true, Prince Salman is the best bet.

More recently, the hard-line Saudi Grand Mufti preached a very surprising sermon the other day. Melanie Phillips caught this story:

According to the Turkish Anadolu news agency, reported here, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdul Aziz al Sheikh, has issued a quite remarkable religious ruling. Answering a question on TV about the Palestinian Arab riots over Temple Mount last July, he didn’t merely denounce Hamas as a “terror organisation”.

Much more significantly he actually issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, forbidding war against the Jews; and he said that fighting against Israel was inappropriate.

How can this be anything other than highly significant?

After discussing the Grand Mufti’s conservative stands and enmity towards Israel, Phillips believes something important is happening:

Nevertheless, he is the most senior cleric in the state which has served as the epicentre of Sunni Islamic fanaticism and the most austere and conservative interpretation of a religion which has Jew-hatred at its theological core. If such a man is now saying that war against the Jewish state is not holy at all but must be forbidden on religious grounds, will this not have some impact within the Islamic religious world for which holy war against the Jews is an article of faith?

A friend of Book’s add this…

I will say this for the Sauds. They are an incredibly corrupt clan, but they also enjoy their petro-billions and have no desire to so rock the boat that they have ever willingly joined in the Middle East wars of their era except on the most tangential level. True, it is their Wahhabi religion that has created the world wide mess that is radicalized Islam, but the Sauds funded and fanned that toxin to keep Wahhabism pointed at outward expansion, not at inner Saud corruption. If the Saud clan were not frightened of the Wahhabi scorpions in their midst, one gets the feeling they would all, each and every one of them, much rather be on the Riviera drinking Scotch and banging European hookers.

That’s the thing about the Sauds. They may be (and are) corrupt, very corrupt, in fact. But they are also dependable, all one needs to do is figure out what is best for the House of Saud. That’s why they embraced Wahabbism long ago, and why it is logical for them to embrace Israel, Eqypt, and yes, the United States, now. In a backhanded way, like we used to say of Chicago, they are honestly corrupt. And that is something we can work with, Iran, not so much.

Sweden National Police Chief: “HELP US, HELP US!”

Photo: Sweden’s National police chief, Dan Eliasson

Then there is this.

Sweden is being torn to pieces by Muslim immigrants and refugees. Law enforcement is crying out for help, and it is only a question of time before the country will need military intervention from abroad in order to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe.

A leaked report concludes that the number of lawless areas (commonly referred to as “no-go zones”) in Sweden now totals 61. That is up from 55 in just one year’s time. This increase includes not only the total number, but also the geographical size of these areas.

Sweden’s National Police Commissioner, Dan Eliasson, spoke on national television and pleaded for assistance: “Help us, help us!,” he said, while warning that Swedish police forces no longer can uphold the law and therefore must ask all good powers in the country to support them.

A research expert regarding destabilized countries and 2011 recipient of Sweden’s Order of the Seraphim medal, Johan Patrik Engellau, has been working with organizations such as the UN and others that operate in crisis areas. He warns:

“I’m afraid it is the end for the well-organized, decent and egalitarian Sweden we have known up to now. Personally, I would not be surprised if a form of civil war occurs. In some places, the civil war has probably already begun.”

10News recently reported how the Swedish state has lost large areas to armed, religious groups best described as Islamist militias. Police chief Lars Alversjø says that, “There is lawlessness in parts of Stockholm (Sweden’s capital) now.” He also observed how, “The legal system, which is a pillar in every democratic society, is collapsing in Sweden.” Per Magnus Ranstorp, a researcher into terrorism and radicalization at the Swedish National Defense College, notes: “In the worst areas, extremists have taken over. The whole sense of justice and peace are threatened by the fact that the police is breaking down and it’s only getting worse. Sweden is in a disastrous situation.”

The Swedish Security Service (Säkerhetspolisen – abbreviated as Säpo), recently warned that the country is crawling with “thousands of Islamists sharing Islamic State’s ideology. In many places, public servants (i.e., non-Islamic authorities) require police escort or protection.

In related news: Sweden Changing: 150,000 Women Undergo FGM, Authorities Admit Large Areas UNDER ISLAMIST RULE

From: Sweden on the Brink of CIVIL WAR, National Police Chief: “HELP US, HELP US!”

Yeah, Well, No. I don’t think it’s going to happen.

Mostly because I don’t see why anybody would. The last time Sweden was involved really in Europe was when Gustavus Adolphus was king, and I don’t think he made too many friends.

And the other thing is, they’ve been asking for it, even more than the rest of Europe. They long since sold their souls (and I mean that very literally) for their multicultural beliefs. Even part of Europe, let alone the United States looked on rather bemusedly as they undermined every tenet of their former Christian beliefs.

There are lots of good Swedes, of course, and this will be a calamity for them. And that’s sad. But if you won’t fight for yourself and your culture…Well, really, why should anybody else?

Most of Europe is only a little better, and Great Britain is tending that way as well. And to be honest, in America, we’ve got our hands full with our own idiots. Certainly too much so to be wasting blood and treasure on those who will not fight. I suppose they could ask Russia, Vlad seems to have it pretty much under control. Or maybe they should take the Saudi’s advice:

The governments of the Gulf Cooperation Council nations, particularly Saudi Arabia, understand the threat presented by Islamic extremism and how illegal immigration is tied into that threat. Saudi Arabia experienced multiple attacks during 2003 to 2005 which brought the country to its knees economically and resulted in 100’s of deaths. Companies and government agencies were begging expatriate workers to stay, but could not halt the exodus of expertise until they hit back at the extremists, and hit back hard.

Part of that war on extremism was a recognition and subsequent action against people who were in the nation illegally. This became a real priority for them after the Arab Spring. The country had an estimate 2.5 million illegals and the Saudi authorities recognised these people as a significant threat to their culture, sovereignty and security. As a result, between 2012 and 2014, the Saudi Government rounded up approximately 1.5 to 2 million illegals and shipped them home. There was no fuss and no outcry. The police and security services arrested them as part of vehicle stops and sweeps of known areas. They were taken to holding areas where they were fingerprinted. Well over 90% of these illegals did not have any identification or passports. That was not an issue to the Saudis as they simply asked them their home country and put them on a plane to that country. The illegals knew that there was no point lying as it would only cause them more issues once they landed at the destination airport.

The Saudis also recognise the powerful roles Imams have in radicalisation. EVERY mosque in the country is monitored by the Ministry of the Interior. Every mosque has a member of the security forces, secret police, police or an informant monitoring what is preached. If an Imam is preaching a message which is against Saudi policy there is two possible results. If the Imam is not Saudi, they and their family are on a plane to their home country with their paperwork marked “never to return”. This process takes 12 to 24 hours. There is no courts, not AAT, not extensive detention whist various groups spend millions on lawyers. The Saudis recognise that these people have breached the conditions of entry to the country, cancel their visa and escort them to the airport. If the offenders don’t pay for an airline ticket, they are put in jail until the Saudi Government organises a ticket and then they are escorted to the airport for deportation.

If the Imam is Saudi, he is taken for “re-education”. This is a 6 month process and is a source of great shame to the Imams family. If the re-education does not work, they are jailed and their right to travel outside the country is revoked. The more offences, the longer the jail terms. We are talking years and decades here – not 2 months.

Today, Saudi Arabia still has an issue with extremism but in a far more controlled way. They have no issues with deporting or jailing people who are a threat to the community. Their government and population look at places like Europe and Australia and are amazed that we would allow the attacks which have happened.

That seems like pretty sound advice to me. Yes, it violates some of our laws, and so might have to be modified a bit, but in essence, it is what must be done.

Will Sweden, or Europe for that matter, do it? I doubt it, and if they don’t do that or something similar, they are simply doomed.

Is there anything much more despicable than a man who won’t fight for his own family? Not that I can think of.

The citizen-soldier: Moral risk and the modern military

takenoticeAs we move into Memorial Day weekend, and for once it legitimately is that, we are going to start thinking about the soldier, the sailor, the airman and the marine. More than most, they have made us what we are, and conversely, we have made them both what they are, and an image of us, and moreover an image of us at our best. And because of that, they have become the best in the world, and the best ambassadors of the American people. They, all of them, the quick, the dead, the maimed, the conservative, the liberal, yes, the ones who protest, as well as those who support, make us better.

This is long, it is also, in my judgment worth reading, and likely rereading, and a good deal of contemplation. By Phil Klay, and from Brookings.

The rumor was he’d killed an Iraqi soldier with his bare hands. Or maybe bashed his head in with a radio. Something to that effect. Either way, during inspections at Officer Candidates School, the Marine Corps version of boot camp for officers, he was the Sergeant Instructor who asked the hardest, the craziest questions. No softballs. No, “Who’s the Old Man of the Marine Corps?” or “What’s your first general order?” The first time he paced down the squad bay, all of us at attention in front of our racks, he grilled the would-be infantry guys with, “Would it bother you, ordering men into an assault where you know some will die?” and the would-be pilots with, “Do you think you could drop a bomb on an enemy target, knowing you might also kill women and kids?”

When he got to me, down at the end, he unloaded one of his more involved hypotheticals. “All right candidate. Say you think there’s an insurgent in a house and you call in air support, but then when you walk through the rubble there’s no insurgents, just this dead Iraqi civilian with his brains spilling out of his head, his legs still twitching and a little Iraqi kid at his side asking you why his father won’t get up. So. What are you going to tell that Iraqi kid?”

Amid all the playacting of OCS—screaming “Kill!” with every movement during training exercises, singing cadences about how tough we are, about how much we relish violence—this felt like a valuable corrective. In his own way, that Sergeant Instructor was trying to clue us in to something few people give enough thought to when they sign up: joining the Marine Corps isn’t just about exposing yourself to the trials and risks of combat—it’s also about exposing yourself to moral risk.

I never had to explain to an Iraqi child that I’d killed his father. As a public affairs officer, working with the media and running an office of Marine journalists, I was never even in combat. And my service in Iraq was during a time when things seemed to be getting better. But that period was just one small part of the disastrous war I chose to have a stake in. “We all volunteered,” a friend of mine and a five-tour Marine veteran, Elliot Ackerman, said to me once. “I chose it and I kept choosing it. There’s a sort of sadness associated with that.”

As a former Marine, I’ve watched the unraveling of Iraq with a sense of grief, rage, and guilt. As an American citizen, I’ve felt the same, though when I try to trace the precise lines of responsibility of a civilian versus a veteran, I get all tangled up. The military ethicist Martin Cook claims there is an “implicit moral contract between the nation and its soldiers,” which seems straightforward, but as the mission of the military has morphed and changed, it’s hard to see what that contract consists of. A decade after I joined the Marines, I’m left wondering what obligations I incurred as a result of that choice, and what obligations I share with the rest of my country toward our wars and to the men and women who fight them. What, precisely, was the bargain that I struck when I raised my hand and swore to defend my country against all enemies, foreign and domestic?

Grand causes

It was somewhat surprising (to me, anyway, and certainly to my parents) that I wound up in the Marines. I wasn’t from a military family. My father had served in the Peace Corps, my mother was working in international medical development. If you’d asked me what I wanted to do, post-college, I would have told you I wanted to become a career diplomat, like my maternal grandfather. I had no interest in going to war.

Operation Desert Storm was the first major world event to make an impression on me—though to my seven-year-old self the news coverage showing grainy videos of smart bombs unerringly finding their targets made those hits seem less a victory of soldiers than a triumph of technology. The murky, muddy conflicts in Mogadishu and the Balkans registered only vaguely. War, to my mind, meant World War II, or Vietnam. The first I thought of as an epic success, the second as a horrific failure, but both were conflicts capable of capturing the attention of our whole society. Not something struggling for air-time against a presidential sex scandal.

So I didn’t get my ideas about war from the news, from the wars actually being fought during my teenage years. I got my ideas from books.

My novels and my history books were sending very mixed signals. War was either pointless hell, or it was the shining example of American exceptionalism.

Reading novels like Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, or Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, I learned to see war as pointless suffering, absurdity, a spectacle of man’s inhumanity to man. Yet narrative nonfiction told me something different, particularly the narrative nonfiction about World War II, a genre really getting off the ground in the late-90s and early aughts. Perhaps this was a belated result of the Gulf War, during which the military seemed to have shaken off its post-Vietnam malaise and shown that, yes, goddamn it, we can win something, and win it good. Books like Stephen Ambrose’s Band of Brothers and Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation went hand-in-hand with movies like Saving Private Ryan to present a vision of remarkable heroism in a world that desperately needed it.

via The citizen-soldier: Moral risk and the modern military | Brookings Institution

And so, this weekend, as taps once more rings over the land, and volleys sound across the land, it is time, I think for us to think about what we owe these warriors, living and dead, who created America, and have sustained her, and us, across the last 240 years. Because yes, we owe them care for their injuries, and to make them as whole as we can, and to honor their memory. But we owe them, in large measure also, our way of life.

 

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