Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Bitter Harvest

A lot of heat and light is being generated this week about an atrocity alleged to have been committed by US Marines in the Iraqi city of Haditha. Frankly, I'm not surprised, neither by the allegation, nor by the poorly concealed glee with which political opportunists have fired up their torches and taken to the streets.

I will not be among those who are proclaiming guilt without benefit of the slightest knowledge of the facts. Nor will I defend the innocence of anyone connected with the events in Haditha. I don't know the facts of the incident. And neither does anyone else on this side of the world.

There has been considerable buzz in my leatherneck network regarding the theatrics of a fellow Marine. Maybe Congressman Murtha is positioning himself for a committee chairmanship once the Democrats take back the House. Perhaps he is even positioning himself to challenge Pelosi for Speaker. I don't pretend to know the mind of a politician and I am already on record regarding my feelings about hypocrites, so I need not and will not pontificate further on Murtha's motives.

I will, however, speak to the germane topic of leadership. When it comes to standards, I follow the guidance given me by one of the most respected and circumspect officers with whom I served as a Marine. When it came to setting and enforcing standards of conduct for our Marines, Major General Gene Deegan had no peer. As a young captain, I served under then-Colonel Deegan when he commanded The Basic School. To paraphrase an impromptu lesson he once gave a group of us captains as we prepared leadership classes for brand new lieutenants, "Combat soldiers must be held to the highest moral standards possible in peacetime, because, once exposed to the stress of combat every man's standards slip. If you have high standards before you go into combat, your standards can slip a little and you're okay. If you have low moral standards before you go into combat and they slip, the next thing you know you are committing atrocities."

I served with other leaders who not only condoned the rowdy and raunchy conduct of their men, but openly encouraged and often participated in the debauchery to which most young men will default if allowed. This often manifests itself in a "boys will be boys" attitude, and the leader who gives that sign will get that pitch.

I am neither a saint nor a prude. Rather, I recognized early on that the death-defying, killer attitude we leaders fostered in our Marines HAD to be tempered and disciplined by a high moral standard. If not constrained thusly, it was an open powder keg in a room full of candles.

SOMETHING bad happened in Haditha. Of that there is little doubt. My gut tells me that, if there were innocent victims of a Marine combat patrol's actions, it was not premeditated. I hesitate to say it, but my gut also tells me, and their relief from command reinforces the feeling, that the battalion and company commanders of those Marines may not have established the highest possible moral environment for their subordinates. At the end of the game, the leader is responsible for the actions of his men. But, if you wait until the endgame to uphold a high standard, you are probably too late.

In his letter to the Hebrews, Paul wrote, and I have clung to the hope of, the following: "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." Heb. 12:11 NIV

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Face Time

Next week marks my 28th anniversary of the beginning of an experience shared by all Marine officers. Regardless of future assignment, whether as a pilot, logistician, tanker, motor transport officer, or whatever, all Marine officers go through a six-month basic officer course, known as The Basic School, or "TBS." Because the Marine ethos is that every Marine is a rifleman first, every graduate of TBS is trained to the point that he is prepared, at least intellectually, to command an infantry platoon in combat--many non-infantry Marine officers have been pressed into service as such in every war, police-action, and glorified bar fight in which the Corps has participated. TBS is the great equalizer and unifier for all Marine officers, who go on to their non-infantry assignments with a complete understanding and a sharp appreciation of the combat grunt they will support, as well as a common frame of reference.

With the newly minted gold bars of a second lieutenant on my collar, I stood in a formation that first morning at TBS with nearly 250 other shave-tails and met the man who would shepherd us through the next six months of training and education. Our company commander was a newly promoted major named Wheeler Baker. But he was no ordinary junior field grade officer. Baker had a decade or so of enlisted service (including combat in Vietnam) under his belt before he was commissioned as an officer. His face was chiseled, unkindly to say the least, by nature and by combat experience, and we were soon to discover that he intended to chisel our minds and bodies in like fashion. Baker was, in simple Marine parlance, "hard;" an appellation that in a Corps of hard men was not lightly assigned. He was a superb leader who understood that young men responded to, and bonded as a team with, challenge and adversity. He provided us with ample amounts of both. While other companies went through a light work out and then played football or softball as part of their daily physical training, Baker took us on grueling formation runs, culminating towards the end of our training in "The Loop," a hilly hardtop 9-mile route that encircled TBS and our neighbor FBI Academy.

Baker was never seen smiling, and we lieutenants reveled in rumors and unconfirmed reports of a "Baker-Smile." Some of us began to believe that his battle-wearied visage was physically incapable of anything beyond his ubiquitous scowl.

Baker had served on an exchange tour with the Royal Marines and had undergone the arctic warfare training in Norway for which the Brit Marine Corps is famous. As winter neared in Northern Virginia, and our final field exercise, known as the "3-Day War," approached, he assembled us in a large classroom and gave us a class on surviving and fighting in cold weather. He lectured on the critical contents of a cold weather fighting pack and summarized each article with, "good piece of gear; put it in your pack," as he packed his pack in front of us. At the end of his presentation, he scanned the audience in his hawkish way, and asked, "Any questions, lieutenants?"

One of our class spring-butts leaped to his feet. Ordinarily, the rest of us would have accompanied this action with a low "sproing." But not in Baker's class. "Sir, Lieutenant Smack," (not his real name, but descriptive nonetheless) he began, and meaning to ask about protection from the cold, he stated, "I would like to ask about your face." The atmospheric pressure in the room dropped precipitously as 250 men collectively sucked in their breath at this gaff. I swear, the only sound audible for at least ten long seconds was the faint whistle of air entering under the doors of the auditorium as the atmospheric pressure equalized.

Baker stood stock still, and we waited in mounting terror for the verbal lightning bolt to arc from his mouth and turn the errant lieutenant to a pile of grey ash. Then..., he smiled. The resulting roar from our company resounds to this day in my memory, and can still raise the hairs on my neck at its remembrance.

Wheeler Baker retired from the Marine Corps as a colonel. Today, Dr. Baker serves as the President of Hargrave Military Academy. I can only imagine the awe in which those cadets hold him.

Wonder if they have ever seen him smile.

Friday, May 26, 2006

No Death in Vain

This weekend is the celebrated and much anticipated Memorial Day Weekend. It is celebrated and anticipated for many reasons, most of which, I'm sad to say, have nothing to do with the solemn significance of the holiday. Now, lest anyone think I am too puritanical, I have nothing against the pursuit of gaiety (used to be you could use that word without it meaning something perverse) and happiness on the first long weekend of summer. Although I am reminded of what John Keenan, for whom I served as regimental executive officer, said about me at an Officers' Call at the O' Club at Kaneohe, "The XO lies awake at night worrying that someone in this regiment might just be having some fun in Waikiki."

No, I truly want folks to enjoy this weekend. I just wish that every American (including the psuedo-Americans trekking into town across the Arizona desert) would stop at least for ten seconds sometime this weekend and remember why we celebrate Memorial Day. Not to strike a maudlin tone here, but Memorial Day is about remembering the sacrifices of those who died to keep us free to be able to take fun-filled three day weekends.

But, Memorial Day is about more than remembering the sacrifice of American patriots. Memorial Day is about remembering the ACCOMPLISHMENTS of those patriots. Not one American who has died in the sevice of our nation, died in vain; no matter how worthless some self-indulgent liberal peaceniks would try to portray it. Even the vilified efforts of Americans in Vietnam WERE NOT IN VAIN. That we stood and fought communist totalitarianism for 10,000 days made a huge impression on the world. Even in the process of eventually losing the Vietnam campaign against world socialism, we shaped our enemies and impressed our friends. Objective history written 100 years from now will show (despite the current crop of jerk journalists' best America-hating efforts) that by 1975, the world was actually much more ready to accept the bankruptcy of socialism than it had been just fifteen years earlier. That the US was able to expend so much national treasure over an insignificant sliver of rice paddies half-way around the world, while at the same time placing men on the moon and reforming our racially biased society, proved that America, and her democratic ideals, was the pre-eminent force (for good) on the planet.

However, in 1976, we Americans were so down on ourselves (for reasons mostly ginned up by self-serving members of the media establishment) that we picked Jimmy Carter, of all people, to be our president. Had we been more clear-eyed about our place in the world we would have chosen Ronald the Great in 1976 (history lesson: he lost to Ford in the '76 Republican Primary). Just think how much more, and sooner, we would have accomplished in the world if we had Reagan as president 4 years earlier (not to mention before alzheimers began to rob him of is vitality). The thought just occurs to me that the Great Opportunist, Clinton, might have not been able to besmirch our national honor for two terms if the political timing had been shifted so. Ah, but then we would have missed out on the great political theater of impeachment...but I digress.

I watched portions of a special on A&E last night about the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, a Reserve infantry battalion that fought in some of the hardest battles in the on-going campaign against Islamo-fascism in Iraq. They lost 46 Marines and 2 Navy Corpsmen during their tour of duty in Iraq. One of the surviving Marines put it remarkably well when he said, and I paraphrase, "I hate that this battalion is getting all of this attention [parades, TV specials, etc.] for the fact that so many of our fellow Marines died in Iraq. I wish the attention was not for their deaths, but for what they accomplished in Iraq."

If by chance you stop to do so this weekend, remember the fallen, not for their sacrifice alone, but for their freedom-ensuring accomplishments, as well.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Dissin' Dat

Watched the media's coverage of the reception given Senator McCain at the New School in NY and Secretary Rice at Boston College. They were invited to deliver commencement addresses to the newest crop of northeastern elitist bedwetters and were heckled and disrespected by mindless children. I use the term children loosely--some of the graduates acted more like infants than children. While they have every right as American citizens to disagree with the political positions of their commencement speakers, I think these draft-dodger progeny abused their freedom of speech when they heckled them and attempted to disrupt their addresses. Seems to me that there ought to be a few yankee families ashamed of the disrepectful conduct of their kids. But then again, their tye-dyed-jeans-in-the-trunk parents probably approve.

This sort of stuff went on to a much greater degree during the Vietnam War. I heard one commentator lament that there was not more anti-war sentiment on campus, like that in which he, no doubt, participated during his hippy dippy youth. There is one huge reason why there has been little or no anti-war protest on campus this time around--NO DRAFT. And therein lies the truth about the real reason for liberal anti-war sentiment. The kids demonstrating on campus in 1968 weren't really upset that babies were dying in Vietnam (as a result, they claimed, of our indiscriminate attacks). They were upset that they might get drafted and have to go fight themselves. If the liberal kids of '68 were so worried about a few hundred babies dying as a result of fighting in Vietnam, where are they now when millions of babies are dying every year in US abortion clinics. I respect a person who stands for principle. I detest a hypocrite.

Contrast the reception of Republican speakers on yankee campuses then and now with the reception Senator Edward Kennedy received on the campus of Ole Miss when he gave the commencement address at my graduation in 1978. Only 16 years previous, his big brothers had sent federal troops to Mississippi to put down a rebellion by idiots who thought they could start a second civil war over the issue of desegregation. In 1978 (and even today) the Kennedys were about as popular in Mississippi as a riled-up skunk at a church barbecue. And there were many of us in that graduating class who considered ourselves the vanguard of a conservative movement that we saw come miraculously to fruition many years earlier than we dared dream, with the election of Ronald the Great. Yet, I do not recall even one hint of disrespectful dissent from the graduates. Indeed, we sat politely and behaved because our mommas were there and we dared not embarrass them with a show of childishness, no matter how fervently we detested Mary Jo Kopechne's killer and his liberal yankee haughty disregard for Southern culture and states' rights. Now, I believe that my parents may have quietly excused themselves, along with many others, prior to Senator Kennedy's introduction, and made it back to their seats in time to see me stand for my diploma; but we graduates twitched nary a muscle.

The good liberal folks from Ted Kennedy's Boston and the rest of the North made great show of forcing their brand of desegregation on us southerners; and they were right to do so. But, more people died in anti-bussing riots in Boston a few years later than even got injured as a result of such dissent in the South. I absolutely detest a hypocrite.

Back to the subject of dissent on campus, as I wrap up this rant. To those spoiled children of idiot baby-boomers who turned their backs on and heckled Senator McCain and Secretary Rice: If you are graduates, particularly of an (ahem) esteemed ivy league school, I would think that you would have been taught how to write and express your ideas and positions in a forum more appropriate for intelligent discourse. That you chose the method of uneducated street rabble to convey your thoughts, betrays the bankruptcy of your ideas.

Grow up, open your eyes, and get a job. Good luck with that.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Crawl, walk, run amok.

It is with the bucket-load of pride that only the heart of a granddad can produce that I hereby announce the earth shaking news that my grandson, Caleb Thomas ("Mr. C") Gregory, has joined the ranks of those whose position is not stationary. His locomotion resembles more of an infantry low-crawl than a hands and knees movement, but he is moving forward nonetheless. I expect that he will shortly determine that he can get places on his own and that riding on the hip of one of the "big people," though not as tiring, doesn't always get you where you want to be. When that happens, we (I mean, "his parents") are in big trouble. If the kid is half the adventurer that his dad was as a kid..., well, let's just say that if Josh had been born 200 years earlier, we would be reading books about Gregory and Clark. Caleb shows all the signs of his dad's inquisitive nature. He also seems to have his dad's stubborn independent streak. That combination was flammable in his dad. I hope Caleb can be kept from spontaneously combusting--it will require great parental patience from the time he turns fifteen until he is twenty-five or so.

I am convinced, both from raising two boys of my own and from raising several thousand boys entrusted to the uniformed care of Uncle Sam, that males lose their minds about the time they turn fifteen, and do not begin to regain control of themselves until their mid-twenties. In some cases, mine for example, majority ownership of a man's mind does not convey until somewhere in his mid-forties. That is actually a good thing--since the majority of my life from fifteen to forty-five was Marine environment induced testosterone turmoil, my midlife crisis consisted of relaxing and breathing deeply and slowly from the flowers of civilian life. (Okay, that "flowers of civilian life" part is a load of Barbara Streisand, but you get the picture.)

It has really been a pleasure to regain sanity at roughly the same time as my sons. There was a time when #1 and I couldn't be in the same room with each other for 3/4 of a short second without someone having to throw cold water on us. Number 2 shared my inability to suffer fools lightly, and as he enters his late twenties and I learn to speak in polysyllabic utterances heretofore not required in Marine to Marine communication, we have mellowed appreciably into caring, sharing, gentle souls who...(Okay, that's Barbara Streisand, too). Suffice it to say that my two sons and I can now be in the same room together for extended periods of time without a heated argument interrupting a fist-fight...and most people can stand to be in the same room with all three of us for at least the entirety of the aforementioned short second.

I guess there are worse things than the purgatory of raising sons. I once confided to my brother that I envied the fact that he only had daughters. The look of utter disbelief that crossed his face was one that I did not fully comprehend until my two sons went off to college and left me alone with their mother and sister. The lack of my sons' presence tilted my homeworld on its axis and spun it backward. The hormonal balance in my house shifted so cruelly in my wife and daughter's favor that this Marine literally broke down and cried at the airport when my sons went back to school at the end of Christmas break. At that broken point I instantly thought of my brother and wondered aloud at his amazing strength of character.

I better get back in shape. Caleb is going to need his granddaddy around to pull him out of the quicksand.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Copy this, if you dare!

An old proverb says that "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." This Marine, however, wishes the other US armed services would stop "flattering" my beloved Corps and do their own thing. Didn't used to be that the Marine Corps was the one being copied by the other services. In fact, for most of the Corps' illustrious history, it copied, and received hand-me-down uniforms and equipment from, the US Army. It is a little known fact that our cherished red-striped blue trousers are not a Marine original creation. Our "tradition" is that the red-stripe is worn by officers and NCOs to commemorate the 100% casualty rate in those ranks at the Battle of Chapaltepec during the War with Mexico. We don't mention the fact that we have the blue trousers with a red stripe because some time in the last half of the 19th Century the quartermaster of the impoverished Marine Corps clothed Marines in US Army artilleryman's trousers (blue with a red stripe) that he "procured" from a ill-secured Army warehouse (a lot of the "hand-me-down" equipment we have gotten from the Army over the years was, shall we say, of the "five-finger discount" variety).

On the subject of Marine procurement at the Army's expense, I am reminded of something my first battalion commander once told a group of his second lieutenants. We were gathered at some social function and, like most lieutenants, didn't know better than to talk shop. At the time, the Marine Corps was going through a paroxysm of uniform flux, and one of the issues was whether to wear our bright shiny officer rank insignia on our combat uniforms or adopt the Army's practice of wearing subdued olive drab rank insignia. LtCol Summerlin overheard our discussion and put it to an end with the following observation: "Lieutenants," he intoned in his soft North Carolina drawl, "I was a rifle company commander in Vietnam for 13 months, and the only time I took the shiny rank insignia off my uniform was when I went to the rear to steal from the Army."

During the late '70s the Marine Corps developed and adopted the woodland camouflage pattern for our combat fatigues (we call them "utilities" -- Marines don't recognize fatigue). After a couple of years, in the first ever such occurrence that I can verify, the Army copied the Marine Corps and adopted the woodland camouflage pattern for their fatigues. Soon, the Air Force was wearing woodland camouflage. The Air Force! Why in the world would an F-16 mechanic need to be camouflaged?!?

For the past 20 years or more, the woodland camouflage patterned up-dated jungle fatigues has been the identifying uniform for American servicemen. We Marines wanted to be sure not to be confused with the Army, or the other para-military branches, so we used some subtle ways to keep ourselves separated. At first, we didn't put any organizational patches or other do-dads on our combat uniforms, other than rank insignia. Then the air wing Marines started wearing their flight wings. Then the jump and scuba club (recon) Marines started wearing their jump and scuba badges. Then, after the 1991 desert drive-by reality show (Desert Storm), we adopted the Army practice of name and service tapes over our pockets. The only way to distinguish a Marine in woodland camouflage was by the way we rolled our sleeves up in a non-tactical inside-out fashion, as opposed to the Army and their "NBC" roll.

But, in full combat uniform it was very hard to distinguish US Marines from US soldiers, and we desperately wanted to make sure that our enemies knew they were up against US Marines--for reasons that are patently obvious and need not be discussed in this forum! So, a few years ago, the Marine Corps began redesigning our field utility uniform. We upgraded the old jungle fatigue standard, making pockets and such more accessible, and, in a stroke designed to make us stand out separate from all of the other US forces, we developed a digital camouflage pattern complete with tiny Marine Corps emblems in the pattern. We stood out again, for the first time in nearly 30 years. Our unique look was short-lived. The Army quickly copied our uniform design and digital camouflage pattern.

And, if that isn't bad enough, the US Air Force is dangerously close to copying the Marine Corps' most cherished and easily distinguishable dress uniform--the high-collared Dress Blues. They are calling it the "Billy Mitchell" or some such nonsense. At first glance, you would swear you were looking at a Marine in bad need of a haircut!

I have an idea for a new stand-out Marine "uniform", and the current crop of youngsters would love it. I say we dispense with all of the costly articles of clothing and go with total body tattoo camouflage.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

First Salute

Three days ago marked one of the more important anniversaries in my life. There was a time in my life when celebration of the date meant adding another year to the proud count of my time in the Marine Corps. Since my retirement from active duty, the date doesn't hold the same accountant interest. On the 14th of May, 1978, I received my diploma from the Harvard of the South and by virtue of that milestone achieved the last requirement the President of these re-United States had for my commissioning as a regular officer in the United States Marine Corps. With shiney gold bars on my shoulders, I marched out of Fulton Chapel on the campus of Ole Miss and was stopped short by a chief petty officer who blocked my path and gave me the first salute of my career. I returned his salute and, by custom probably dating back to a time when enlisted men could have a whale of a weekend on a dollar, placed a silver dollar in his outstretched palm in recognition of my first honors as an officer.

I miss being in uniform the most I think because I no longer have the opportunity to recognize fellow warriors with a salute. Returning salutes never became a chore for me as it seemed to become for some of my fellow officers. One of the reasons for this perhaps was that I never looked on receiving the honor of a junior's salute as anything but that--an honor. Correctly returning a salute with as crisp a snap as I could manage was the least I could do for the men who followed my all too often errant lead without hesitation and accomplished remarkable feats for which I all too often received the full credit.

Returning the wave of the rent-a-cop on guard at the local Air Force base gate just doesn't cut it.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Munchkin Candidate

There are not many things the Colonel loves better than an audience.  Despite his social introversion, one of the Colonel's gifts is public speaking.  

Gifts and talents are two different things and it took a lot of practice to develop this particular gift into a talent.

The first public speech the Colonel ever gave was part of his long-shot campaign for junior high student body president.  It was a horrendous flop, as was his entire campaign. 

The Colonel had rehearsed for days, and, like a true politician, had inserted positions and promises aimed at pleasing the greatest number of voters. He had worked out each pause and hand gesture, and, in front of his mirror, was the most polished and Kennedyesque (right down to the Bobby Kennedy hand-through-the-hair move) candidate in the race.

In front of an assembly of his classmates, the Colonel mounted the stage in bell-bottoms and hang-ten shirt, flipped his hair out of his eyes, and looked out over a sea of pimpled faces and braced teeth. 

It was the most frightening sight he had ever seen. 

It was so quiet by the time the Colonel got to the podium, that the squeal of sweat squeaking out of his pores was audible to the bee-hive coiffed teachers in the back row of the auditorium. 

The Colonel's heart was pounding so loud, the band teacher was looking around the room to find the percussion prodigy. 

The Colonel's speech notes called for a grand sweeping wave gesture, a pause for the applause to die down, and a smile and finger-point to friends in the audience. 

From behind the podium, the Colonel shot his hand in the air and then retracted it like an over-eager student who realizes too late that he doesn't know the answer. 

A titter of giggles broke the silence, but the Colonel couldn't see who was laughing because he couldn't see over the podium.  

"Step up onto the booster step, Mr. Gregory," a teacher commanded loudly -- evoking a round of tittering. 

When the Colonel stepped up on the booster and poked his head into audience view the giggling increased and then subsided at the collective "SHHHHH" from the teachers in the back row.

Grateful for the end of the giggling, the Colonel suddenly realized that he was going to have to delete the issue portion of his speech dealing with banning teachers' "SHHHHH." 

The Colonel began frantically sorting his 3 x 5 note cards to cull the one dealing with the dreaded "SHHHHH" issue and in the process so jumbled his speech that he actually began with: "So, in conclusion..."

Out of several hundred votes cast the next day, the Colonel got several. The worst part was when the Colonel compared his paltry vote tally to his paltry number of friends. 

You guessed it, less votes than friends. 

Just as well the Colonel didn't win -- his dad got orders later that spring and the Colonel was in another school the next fall. 

Friday, May 12, 2006

Salute to "Sonny"

A true American hero passed away this week. G.V. "Sonny" Montgomery served his nation in uniform and in the United States Congress with the kind of distinction and patriotism that seems sadly lacking today. A veteran of the Second World War and the Korean War, Montgomery retired from the Mississippi National Guard in 1980 as a Major General. A conservative Democratic, he ably represented not only his Mississippi congressional district, but all men and women in uniform as well. He was a champion of the troops and many important pieces of legislation benefiting veterans bear his mark and in some cases his name.

He attended Mississippi State, was president of the student body, and was well on his way to certain success and prosperity as one of Mississippi's rising stars. But, in January of 1943, just a few months shy of graduation, he voluntarily left school and went to war. He had every reason in the world not to volunteer for combat in Europe, and two reasons to go: his love of his country and his sense of duty to his nation. This man was a hero in every sense of the word.

His voting record in the House of Representatives would make Nancy Pelosi look down her partisan probiscus in demagogic disdain. He and fellow "Boll Wevil" conservative Democrats teamed with Ronald Reagan and helped restore America to greatness. Would that we had some like him in the House today; men and women who would put the good of the nation ahead of what is good for their party.

General, Congressman, Mississippian; this Marine salutes you and laments your passing.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Cinco de Franco

The French are always involved in momentous occasions in US history. Fighting the French and Indians gave George Washington all the military experience he needed to lead a revolution against Great Britain. A French army and a French fleet at Yorktown secured Cornwallis' surrender and the subsequent independence of the thirteen American colonies from Britain. Thomas Jefferson doubled the land area of the United States in 1803 when he bought the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon (the state of Louisiana's current government is still influenced by the Napoleonic Code, but that's another story). American soldiers and Marines saved Paris from the Germans in 1918, and the American Army and Marine Corps became a modern fighting force in the process. American soldiers landed at Normandy in 1944 and subsequently liberated France from Hitler. The French repaid us by refusing to participate in NATO against the Soviet Union, by leaving a mess in Indo-China that American forces fought for 10,000 days trying to clean up, and by attempting to thwart our current campaign to save the Middle East for democracy.

Today marks another significant day in American-French relations. In the spring of 1862, the American War Between the States was barely a year old and just beginning to get serious. While Union naval forces had scored significant victories, seizing the important port cities of New Orleans and Port Royal, the armies of the Confederate States of America had fought Union land forces to a draw. In March of 1862, Stonewall Jackson executed his brilliant campaign in the Shenandoah Valley, defeating far larger Union forces, and European sympathies began to swing in favor of the Confederacy.

One European power in particular, Napoleon III of France, was openly hostile to the United States. With the US preoccupied with its life and death struggle with the Confederacy, Napoleon III invaded Mexico with the intent of placing a vassal on a Mexican throne and thereby placing himself in position to provide direct aid to the Confederacy. With Mexico's resources, and perhaps Mexican forces, the balance might swing significantly in the Confederacy's favor. The French army landed at Vera Cruz and marched on Mexico City, mimicking Winfield Scott's landing and campaign against the Mexican capital 15 years previous. On May 5, 1862, the French army was annihilated by Mexican forces at the Battle of Puebla. A year later, the Confederacy was weak and the US Army was strong enough to handily defeat Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg. The British were still wavering on the issue of recognizing the Confederacy. The US ambassador to Great Britain warned the British something to the effect of "See that huge modern army and navy we have built to fight our Civil War? If you recognize the Confederacy, we will defeat the rebels and then come get you next."

Interesting, given the current tension with Mexico, that these re-United States owe our existence as an undivided powerhouse to a French defeat at the hands of a Mexican army.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Fight or Fry Tortillas

I am a very frustrated retired centurion. I understand it is hard to stay on top as an empire, but our precipitous slide toward irrelevancy is alarming, galling, and scary.

I have watched with utter amazement as the greatest superpower in the history of the world has impotently allowed third world neighbors overwhelm its borders and flood its cities with millions of illegal immigrants who now have the gall to demand recognition as a separate culture within our borders. Some Mexican voices have even proclaimed that they are reclaiming lost territory. Let's pause for a second (okay, several minutes) and review some American history...

One hundred and seventy years ago we helped Americans and Mexicans in a land called Texas in their revolt against a tyrannical dictatorship in Mexico City. A former US congressman, Davy Crockett, and a small band of American adventurers died at the Alamo fighting alongside "Texians" (many of whom were latino). A ragtag Texas army later defeated the Mexican army at San Jacinto, and the Republic of Texas was born. Mexico continued to dispute the fact that Texas territory was no longer theirs for the next 9 years. In 1845, the United States annexed the Republic of Texas, at their request, and in response to untoward British attention in the region. This precipitated the American war with Mexico--the Mexican government actually declared war on the United States, to which President Polk and the US Congress responded with their own declaration of war. We invaded Mexico. Mexico lost the war, gave up their claim to Texas, and ceded California and New Mexico (including territory in what is now Arizona, Colorada and Nevada) to the United States. Mexicans have groused about this loss ever since. Tough. They can commiserate with the Cherokee, Mohican, Souix, Navaho, Chickasaw, et al.

In fact, there was a fairly strong faction in the US Congress that pushed for annexation of the entirety of Mexico at the conclusion of the war. That we did not, established a precedent for our American Imperialism--we would defeat you in war, but not take ALL of your land and assimilate you. Mores the pity--think how pre-eminent we would be now if not for that precedent. Had our empire building followed more ample historical precedent these re-United States of America might well today include western hemispheric states stretching from the north pole to the equator, perhaps even extending below the Tropic of Capricorn (go look at a globe)--it was an American adventurer, Simon Bolivar, who led most of South America in revolt against their European colonizers--as well as states ringing the western edge of the Pacific Basin. Today, the Spanish language would be spoken only in Spain. Does this sound far-fetched? Imagine how far-fetched the existence of a State of California would have seemed to George Washington.

But I digress. My point is, we took most of the North American continent by wars of conquest--we had better be willing to keep it by means just as ruthless.

Or, we can all learn to sing in Spanish.

Monday, May 01, 2006

From Grey to Black

One hundred and forty-five years ago this date, a company of students and faculty members marched off Ole Miss' campus in Confederate butternut and headed East to join the Army of Northern Virginia in the War Against Northern Aggression. They were organized as Company A, 11th Mississippi Infantry Regiment and numbered 136 at first muster. Nicknamed the University Greys, they fought in nearly every major engagement in the first two years of the war in the East. By the time Robert E. Lee decided to take the war to the North and marched into Pennsylvania in the summer of '63, the University Greys numbered only 36. Somewhere in the wheat field short of Cemetary Ridge, they ceased to exist as a fighting force.

When classes resumed at Ole Miss at war's end, none of the former students returned, save one, who visited only to address the student body.

Today, a tall monument stands at the entrance of the Campus. Atop the monument, the figure of a Confederate soldier faces East up University Avenue. His hand is held to the brim of his cap, not in salute, but shading his eyes against the rising sun. He will likely stand for hundreds more years, waiting for the return of comrades who put down books and took up rifles.