Friday, December 22, 2006

What It Means

The old man didn't believe in much, and he certainly did not believe in anything he couldn't prove. He was too intelligent and too learned to allow himself the indulgement of beliefs that required faith--that was just too simple-mindedly uneducated for a college professor. He wasn't completely passionless--he did love his birds. As a trained biologist, he knew every detail of the physiology and behavior of animals in general, and, as a ornithological specialist, his knowledge of birds was particularly deep and broad. He was unabashedly vain in the surety that he knew practically everything there was to know about birds--he was darn near omniscient when it came to feathered fauna. He lived alone and kept several feeders in his backyard to attract the birds he loved so much--they were his company, and he often, embarrassingly, caught himself talking out loud to them.

He stood at the window as the light of the late December evening dimmed. It had snowed most of the day and several inches had accumulated. The temperature was dropping precipitously--it was going to be one of the coldest nights of the year. But, that hadn't deterred his neighbors from their annual ritual of asking him to join them at church for Christmas Eve services. He had politely refused, and even wished them "happy holidays," even though he considered it hypocritical to do so. His principled disbelief in the basis for the holidays prevented him from even recognizing Christmas in any way. There was no decorated tree in his house, no silly lights outside, and certainly no gift giving. He was no hypocrite.

As darkness fell, he heard the bells ringing from the church down the road, and he marvelled at the waste of time, energy, and resources devoted to Christianity. How could anyone with half a brain buy in to the immaculate conception fairy tale? If there was a God running this universe, and he was fairly certain there wasn't, why would he waste his time on the insignificant life forms on an insignificant rock circling a tiny star?

It was snowing again, and he reached over and turned on the outside light so he could watch the flakes fall. His attention was drawn to the ground just at the edge of the circle of light, where a flock of small birds was huddled motionless in the snow. He was immediately concerned. He had seen this kind of behavior before and it normally resulted in the death of all the birds in the flock. Stunned by the bitter cold, they would just sit there and freeze. He hated to see that happen. He loved his birds and it just tore at him any time he found one dead. He had to do something for this flock.

He quickly pulled on his coat and boots and stepped outside in the snow. He thought maybe he could scare them into some life-saving activity. Maybe he could chase them into the air and they would fly somewhere safe. He waved his arms and stomped his feet, but the birds just moved out of his way and continued to huddle in the snow.

He walked across the yard to his workshop at the back of the lot, opened the door, turned on the light, and stooped to turn on the space heater in the corner. He propped open the door and then stepped outside and into the shadows. He hoped that if he remained motionless and hidden the birds would see the light and warmth of the workshop and move inside. After a few minutes, it was obvious that the birds weren't going to take the initiative to move into the workshop on their own. He would have to try to move them himself. He walked over to the flock and bent to pick up a bird, but it fluttered away and landed on the other side of the flock. He tried several times to catch a bird, but the results were always the same. He tried to herd the birds toward the warmth of the workshop by stooping and waving his arms, but the birds just scattered in front of him and then rejoined to huddle in the snow. Again and again he tried to shoo the birds toward the lifesaving warmth, and he became increasingly frustrated at his failure to save them.

The temperature was perceptively dropping and he noticed that one of the birds had slumped lifelessly. He redoubled his efforts to herd them to the workshop. Another bird slumped in the snow. He was frantic now, speaking to the birds, trying to reason with them, and then caught himself, embarrassed. He said to himself aloud, "If I could just become a bird for one minute, I could lead them to the light and warmth of the workshop and save them from dying in the snow."

At that moment, the bells on the church down the road began to ring again. The old man sank to his knees in the snow and understood.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Guns and Butter: Recipe for Defeat

Commentators in the media noted recently that the Iraq Campaign in the War on Terror has now lasted longer than the US involvement in the Second World War. I think that is significant, but not in the way most of the superficial comparisons do.

First of all, most of the newsies got it wrong, claiming that the "War in Iraq has lasted longer than the Second World War." The historical fact is the Second World War lasted nearly eight years, beginning with the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938 (one could argue it started earlier than that--with Japanese operations in China) and our entry as an official belligerent came halfway through the war.

Second, the correct military way to view our current operations in Iraq is as a CAMPAIGN in a larger war--a la the Pacific, African, and European Campaigns in the Second World War. If our global military operations against terrorism were confined to Iraq, then we could (still not technically correct) call it the Iraq War (or some derivative term, thereof). But they are not; we have forces (some overt; most clandestine) in the fight in Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa, the Philippines, Indonesia, Latin America, and in the "Stan" republics of the Former Soviet Union, to name a few of the many countries in which Islamo-fascists are fomenting hatred and plotting attacks against the interest of the US and our allies.

Third, the most important point to be drawn from the comparison of the current fight with the Second World War (and, inevitably, with our involvement in the Vietnamese Civil War of 1945--1975) is the level of commitment to absolute and rapid victory over our enemies. I've said it before, and it bears repeating (like the preacher who repeats the same sermon week after week until the congregation repents); we are fighting this war with one arm tied behind our backs and sitting in a rocking chair. President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld repeated the same mistake made by President Johnson and Secretary McNamara. Our involvement in the Vietnamese Civil War was (despite the 58,000 lives lost over a decade), for the most part, a limited application of the military and economic power of the re-United States. Unlike the 3 and 1/2 years of our full-scale involvement in the Second World War, there was no rationing or other shared privation during the 60s. Johnson did not want to jeopardize his "Great Society" goals, and he relied on McNamara's high-tech vision of future war (sound familiar?) to fight the Vietnamese communist insurgency.

If we had fought the Second World War like we fought in Vietnam, and are now fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, WWII would have lasted until 1950 and we would have probably met the Soviets at the Pas de Calais (check out a map) instead of at the Rhine. But, Roosevelt committed nearly the entire economic output of the re-United States to war-making resources necessary for victory, and we (once those resources reached the fighting fronts) quickly overwhelmed Nazi Germany and the Japanese. Americans on the homefront made sacrifices for the Second World War that are unimaginable today. There was virtually no new cars or trucks for three years. Sugar, gasoline, rubber, and other resources were strictly rationed. Most colleges and universities in the land did not field football teams in 1943. And, (a little known fact that casts our worship of the patriotism of the "Greatest Generation" in a different light) the proportion of draftees in the American Armed Forces during WWII was far higher than during our "unpopular" involvement in the Vietnamese Civil War a generation later.

If we had fought the Second World War like we fought most of the war in Vietnam, and are now fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, we would have not conducted the strategic bombing campaigns over the German and Japanese heartlands, but would have instead only pounded France (which is not necessarily a bad thing) to kill Vichy French, and Germans AFTER they crossed the Rhine.

The point is until we COMMIT to rapid and complete victory over our enemies, we are fighting a losing battle. To win this war, we must fight it like we fought World War Two. Our President needs to lead us in a crusade (I know that word makes Muslims mad--that's why I used it). He needs to quit trying to balance guns and butter. We need to put the Space Program on hold, devote one whole year of automobile manufacturing to building military vehicles, ration food so that we can overwhelm our Islamo-fascist sympathizers with American bounty for one year, and CALL on American men and women to join the crusade in uniform (either as fighters or as homeland support). We need to attack Iran and Syria, now, and end their support of Islamo-fascism.

I know that last paragraph sounds way over the top. It does to most who don't know the history of our empire in particular and world empires in general. Rome was at its zenith when its citizenry fought. Rome declined when its citizenry paid others to do the fighting.

I knew we were on the wrong track in this "War on Terrorism" by the late fall of 2001. I told Miss Brenda the morning of September 12th that I believed we were about to embark on the first world war of the 21st Century and that she needed to prepare herself for the agony of seeing her man and her sons go off to fight. I believed our president when he declared that we would make no distinction between terrorists and those nations that supported terrorism.

Turns out he didn't mean it.