Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Isthmian Iron

When the Panama Canal opened in 1914, its chain of mechanical locks lifting ships from sea level to lake level and back down again to cross between Atlantic and Pacific was considered (and still is) one of the greatest technological feats of all time. The fifty-five mile waterway halved the distance American commercial and naval shipping had to travel to trade coasts, negating the need to loop way south through the stormy oceanic junction at the lower tip of South America.

One hundred and fifty-four years ago today the Panama Canal's cross-isthmian predecessor officially opened. The Panama Railroad's completion through malarial swamps and snake-infested triple-canopy jungle owed its impetus to the California Gold Rush. Forty-niners headed from the East Coast to the gold fields were taking ships to Nicaragua and caravanning cross-country in an arduous foot and boat journey through that country's mountains and lakes to reach shipping waiting for them on the Pacific coast, and thence on up to California. This trip was still considered preferable to the much shorter distance across Panama at its narrow waist due to the aforementioned malarial swamps and snake-infested triple-canopy jungle. The Panama Railroad effectively by-passed Nicaragua, taking that country off the commercial trade route like an American small town center left aside and dried by an interstate. Nicaragua lobbied hard for the American canal to be built there instead of Panama, but a Nicaraguan postage stamp (I kid thee not) showing a smoking volcano was used to convince the decision-makers that Panama would be a safer location for the canal.

There was a trail across the isthmus that the Spanish had built a couple of centuries previous to carry their gold loot between ships plying the Atlantic and Pacific. Cobble-stoned segments of the Las Cruces Trail are still visible--or at least were when I hiked the trail as a Boy Scout in the early 70's. Whole segments of the trail, (and lost gold shipments, local legends say) now lay below the surface of the man-made Gatun (hosts the between-locks shipping channel across the isthmus) and Madden (controls the water source for the locks, impounding the upper Chagres River during the wet season to provide water during the dry) Lakes created by damming the Chagres River. In its glory days, nearly four centuries ago, the Las Cruces Trail carried the wealth of a nation. It is all but forgotten, today. Likewise, the Panama Railroad, carrying fortune seekers west and east between oceans, created an economic boon at each port terminus.

The glory days of the Panama Railroad ended with the completion of the American Trans-Continental Railroad which took the freight traffic previously carried between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. The Panama Railroad continued to carry passenger traffic between coasts until the re-United States gave control of the Canal Zone to Panama in 1999. It fell into disrepair, shortly thereafter. A cross-isthmian highway system now carries that traffic.

I last traveled aboard the Panama Railroad in 1979, while on a training deployment with the 2d Battalion, 2d Marines to the now, sadly, defunct Jungle Warfare Center at Fort Sherman. It was a short trip--less than two hours between Colon on the Atlantic and Balboa on the Pacific--but its route through the largely uninhabited interior of Panama was like going back centuries in time. Hadn't thought of the connection until this morning, but my trip on the Alaska Railroad last May was a similar experience--riding the rails through history.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Shameful Shams

Sometime late yesterday I began my fifty-fourth revolution around ole Sol. Is it just my imagination, or has time been passing with increasing rapidity lately?

One thing for sure that increases with each passing day is the amount of unsolicited offers I receive from companies who have begun to equate my advanced age with a decline in the ability to discern value in their offerings. I have no doubt that an entire rain forest has disappeared to provide the paper making up the bundles of marketing basura (my espanol word of the day) that jam my mail box daily. I can only imagine the copious amounts of greenhouse gases spewed into our atmosphere in order to transport the tons of trash to my doorstep here at the northern end of southern nowhere. There's not a modicum of doubt in my military mind that we could erase the national debt and pay for all of us to have $35,000 commodes with a nominal tax on junk mail.

Gotta go. My double order of sham wows just arrived.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Gitmo Solution

One of the first acts of the new administration has been to begin the process of closing the terrorist detention center at our naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The debate since has centered on what to do with those currently held there. On the political right, the argument has been that we dare not trust the detainees' disposition to our criminal-loving criminal justice system. At best, the terrorists would be convicted and incarcerated in our prison system where they would be free to recruit a legion of domestic terrorists. At worst, the terrorists would be set free and would rejoin the jihad.

In my not so humble opinion, we should take all of them to the Iraq/Iran border and point them in the direction of Teheran. The mad mullahs paid for them--they get 'em. "But, wouldn't they show back up on the battlefield?", you ask. They probably would. At which point we kill them. Problem solved. Any questions?

If our new, kinder, gentler administration would rather keep the terrorists here in our homeland, I'll take two of them. I'm sure there's 500 or so good-hearted retired Marines like me out there who would volunteer to take one or two in. We have plenty of practice molding hearts and minds to our will. Riding herd on scores of testosterone-fired teenagers well-trained to fight at the drop of a hat certainly qualifies us to keep a close eye on a couple of poorly-trained jihadis.

Heck, give me three of 'em.

Monday Morning MOTOs; Vol. II, Ed. 1

Good Monday Morning to all! It is time for yet another installment in the sporadic series of the Colonel's Monday Mastery of the Obvious (MOTO) awards. The Colonel's Monday MOTOs are gleaned from a plethora of possible award winners for comments demonstrating their steel-trap grip on reality. As this is the first installment of the Colonel's Monday MOTOs in 2009, and because the Colonel's pea-sized brain could conjure no other reason, this will be codified as the first edition of the second volume of the series.

The Colonel's Monday MOTO Bronze medal is awarded to the egomaniacal governor of the state of Illinois, who, while otherwise continually displays a complete lack of touch with reality, commented quite lucidly at a news conference last Friday that, “the heart and soul of this has been a struggle of me against the system.” Yes, Governor, it is you against the system, and the system will prevail. The wheels of justice turn slowly, but anyone who fights what is right is eventually ground to dust.

The Colonel's Monday MOTO Silver Medal goes to Eric Holder, President Obama's nominee to serve as Attorney General, who declared during his Senate confirmation hearing that, "waterboarding is torture." It is indeed! Those who would justify such torture and other "enhanced interrogation" techniques as necessary to save American lives miss the whole point. American lives are not more important than American ideals. Whole armies of patriots have fought and died for those ideals. Some even died under torture believing that their deaths were righteous because America would never treat anyone like they were being treated.

The Colonel's Monday MOTO Gold Medal goes to President Obama who answered, "I won" when confronted by a Republican congressman with concerns about the obvious socialist direction the new administration's "stimulus" bill takes with, among other odious inclusions, the provision for giving tax rebates to those who paid no taxes in the first place. Yes, Mr. President you did indeed win. But that doesn't answer the question or assuage the concern of those who chose to live on this side of the Iron Curtain precisely because socialism is a morally and intellectually bankrupt political/economic model.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

God's Gift Refused?

Men of good conscience may indeed differ in opinion. But in our efforts to further civility in our discourse we should not become so open-minded that our brains fall out.

Thirty-six years ago today, the Supreme Court of these re-United States handed down one of their most controversial and divisive decisions, declaring that the "right to privacy" -- a right theretofore (and still) not explicitly found in our constitution -- prevented the States from restricting the use of infanticide as a method of birth control. Since 1973, the abortion industry's own statistics indicate that 50 million pregnancies have been terminated within the first six months following conception.

Let's put that number in perspective.

Fifty million is 8 times the number of people put to death in Hitler's death camps.

Fifty million is 30 times the number of people killed on our nation's highways since 1973.

Fifty million is 40 times the number of men and women in uniform who died in ALL of the wars in which this nation has participated.

Who knows but in that vast multitude of slain children was not the future scientist who would have discovered a cure for cancer or the secret of cold fusion, the future novelist whose prose would inspire a generation, the future composer whose music would lift our spirits, the future leader who would lead with an eye on what is right for our nation not re-election. But our future has been truncated and diminished for the sake of our present convenience.

On the other hand, if you are going to draw your right to life line in the sand and convince a young lady to have the child she is carrying, you had darn sure be ready to support her and her child materially as well as spiritually.

The position of right to life carries the responsibility to love.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Change the Fight

Don't know if my television and computer screens will survive much more of this ignorance. Every time I hear or read about the "two wars" I want to send some nearby solid object hurtling in the specific direction of the purveying display. For the sake of convenience we have settled for simple stupidity as the appropriate level of intelligence in our discourse.

We are not, I say again, NOT, fighting two separate wars--one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. Our limited combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are, at most, separate CAMPAIGNS in a larger war. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines a (military) campaign as "A series of military operations undertaken to achieve a large-scale objective during a war: [i.e.] Grant's Vicksburg campaign secured the entire Mississippi for the Union."

Of course, the foregoing definition applies to our current limited military operations if you accept that we are fighting a "war." I do not.

Make no mistake, we are involved in a war--have been for nearly three decades--with Islamic totalitarian fundamentalists whose goal is the subjugation 0f the world according to their perverted interpretation of the Koran. These zealots, yet lacking control of a state with the wherewithal to conduct conventional military operations to achieve their objectives, have resorted to terrorism as their tactic. They have, at least, tacit approval and support for their actions from several nation states; Syria and Iran chief among them.

In reaction to the attacks of September 11, 2001, our nation responded in righteous anger as if attacked unprovoked and for the first time. It was not unprovoked, any more than Japan's initiation of open armed hostilities against us on December 7/8, 1941 was "unprovoked." Japan did indeed surprise us with their attack of our fleet at Pearl Harbor, but we had provoked that fight with our correct, in my opinion, economic and political pressure on them for their expansionist rampage in China. Our Islamic totalitarian fundamentalist enemies have been under pressure from our correct, in my opinion, attempts to expand democratic republican ideals in the Middle East, and they fought back with increasing effectiveness until we could not ignore them any longer.

But, we are not fighting like we are at war. We are behaving as the Romans did when Palestine revolted--sending a couple of handy legions to put down the rebellion, with hardly a ripple of effect on the lives of the citizenry of Rome. I do not intend to disparage the efforts of our military--they have been magnificent--but they have not been fighting a war.

A WAR would have been declared as such by a congress with a spine and an eye on the future of our nation--not their next election. A WAR would be fought, not against our enemies' tactic--i.e., The Global War on Terror--but against the nations supporting the Islamic totalitarian fundamentalists as their proxy army. Only when the totalitarian ayatollahs and hereditary totalitarians are replaced by some form of rational representative government will terror recede to the level of street crime.

A WAR would be supported by the sacrifice of every member of our great nation. A nation truly at WAR, our nation truly at WAR, would overwhelm our enemies in a matter of months--not in the ambiguous generational "long war" by which the previous administration sought to balance war aims with societal ease. When we went to war against Germany and Japan, we marshaled every ounce of our national will and strength, lifted our nation out of a debilitating economic crisis, utterly defeated our enemies with stunning rapidity, and created incredibly stable democracies and invaluable trading partners in their wake.

Mr. President, that's Change we can believe in. Mr. President, that's the way to bring us out of this economic mess and bring prosperity lapping back on our shores--and the world's.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Patriot's Pride

Forty-two times in twenty-two decades, over a dozen generations, the American people have taken the baton of power from one leader and handed it to another. In most cases, the ballot box, the supreme (and sublime) symbol of our democratic republic, has determined who the new leader became. In some tragic cases, our constitution has determined the new leader to whom OUR power peacefully passed even before the previous leader was buried with honor. As contentious as each electoral contest is, the wonder, the strength, the greatness of America is our peaceful transition of power.

As you witness the forty-third such peaceful transition today, please realize how rare it is in the experience of man.
As you witness the forty-third such peaceful transition today, please remember that a continued strict interpretation of our constitution is the only thing that will preserve our nation for forty-three more peaceful transitions.

As you witness the forty-third such peaceful transition today, please remember that nearly a million graves hold the remains of patriots whose ultimate sacrifice was for this day.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Gridiron Irony

A key ingredient in many a success is having your chin strap fastened even when you aren't a starter.

Forty years ago this date the third annual installment of the championship game, and advertising promised land, pitting the champions of the then two separate National and American Football Leagues, was played between the NFL's Baltimore Colts and the AFL's New York Jets. This was the first game bequeathed the moniker--Super Bowl. The previous two such games were retroactively dubbed Super Bowl I and II. Nineteen point underdogs, the Jets were considered a mere speed bump on the way to the coronation of the Colts as professional football's kings and enshrinement as one of the best teams ever to play the game. The Jets had other plans. Joe Namath famously "guaranteed" a win for the Jets, and even though Broadway Joe was named Super Bowl III's MVP, his team's defense delivered, intercepting the Colts' Earl Morrall three times.

Johnny Unitas, one of the best pigskin passers to ever line up under center (and my childhood hero), was the Colt's starting QB in 1968, but was injured early in the season and replaced by journeyman Earl Morrall. Still, the Colts nearly ran the tables that year behind the MVP performance of Morrall, losing only to Cleveland in the regular season--a loss they avenged by blistering the Browns 34 to 0 in the NFL Championship Game. Morrall, a veteran of 12 years in the NFL during which he had never earned a permanent starting position on any of the four teams for which he played, performed so well that even after Unitas was healthy enough to return to duty, Colts coach Don Shula kept him in the starting line-up.

Four years later, the 1972 Miami Dolphins lost their starting QB, Bob Griese, to an injury early in the season. Dolphins coach Don Shula (yep, same one) turned to his 38-year-old back-up, Earl Morrall (yep, same one) and this time his team did run the tables, finishing the regular season without a loss. Griese returned to duty to lead the Dolphins through the play-offs and into NFL immortality. But, Morrall, so old that his teammates had a rocking chair placed in the locker room for him, was the true hero of Miami's yet unequalled undefeated season.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Depression Darwinism

"Our Country won't go on forever, if we stay as soft as we are now. There won't be any AMERICA left because some foreign soldiery will invade us and take our women and breed a hardier race!"

When Lt. Gen. Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller, USMC, the Marine with whom all others who bear the title compare themselves, proclaimed the foregoing he was passing judgment on the precarious position of the American way of life TWO generations ago. If he were alive today, he would be amazed that our citizenry's hardiness has declined so dramatically and that we, and our women, have yet not fallen prey to an invading foreign army. If there is any good to come of the impending economic depression, it may be that it will give birth to a 21st century great generation to match the one that came of age in the crucible of depression and war in the 1930's and 40's.

The Greatest Generation's parents could be compared to the young generation bearing children today. They were enjoying unprecedented luxury and leisure in the wake of great technological and cultural advances that had ushered in their new century. Some of that generation had fought briefly in the First World War, but the vast majority were spared any hardship let alone military service. Yet, there was an unwarranted feeling throughout American society of having suffered and survived that war, and that feeling led, in part, to an attitude of deserving to party--the excesses of the "Roaring Twenties" ensued; the Great Depression-heralding "Crash of '29" resulted. Sound familiar?

No doubt anyone of my generation, and later, reading this will feel that I have "dissed" them. Yep, they'd be right. I'm listening to a growing chorus of whining and wimpering from an over-privileged generation and the politicians pandering to them, and I can't help but believe that they haven't seen nuthin' yet! Even if "H" and the lefties that will be in charge are able to take decisive action over the next few months, the cure is liable to be just as painful as the disease. Either way, a deflating depression or a hyper-inflated recovery, the spoiled simps thumb-texting their way through life are in for a very rude awakening. There will be great sacrifice required if our nation is to survive. Those that answer that call to greatness will gain self-respect, and mine.

The rest will never get either.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Lost Platoon

Thirty years ago this week I took command of my first rifle platoon--a position, privilege, and responsibility for which I had been preparing for the better part of the previous four and a half years. Frankly, I wasn't really fully prepared for the challenge of leading combat Marines. Thought I was. Considered myself the reincarnated combination of Puller, Patton, and Pickett. The sad truth was those Marines needed a leader who would inspire them to better themselves, not battle their enemies. And I needed as much bettering as they did.

On the books a Marine infantry platoon consisted of forty-two Marines and three Navy hospital corpsmen. The platoon--3rd Platoon, Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines--in front of whom I stood for the first time on the 7th of January 1979, numbered not much more than half that. Of the thirty Marines in my first platoon, there were three, count 'em, three high school graduates--and I was one of them. When we went to the field the next day for a three-day exercise, I took 7 Marines--the rest found other places to be, authorized and not. To say that I was disappointed would be just a bit of understatement. Where was the March on Moscow Marine Rifle Platoon I had been promised?!?

I busied myself in those first few weeks of taking charge with attempting to single-handedly turn that platoon into the text-book fighting machine I had been trained to lead in combat. I concerned myself with every tiny detail of those Marines' equipment and deportment, earning the nickname "Fly." I thought it was in reference to my diminutive size and reflexive quickness. Found out later it was because my Marines thought I ate crap and bothered people. It was at the end of that first month that I learned my biggest and most valuable lesson in command. I walked back into the broom closet that passed for my platoon office one afternoon to find my platoon sergeant sitting with his boots propped up on the desk. I asked him, not so politely, what he was doing. He swung his feet off the desk, sat up straight, looked me dead in the eye, and said, "Well, I figured if the Lieutenant was gonna do my job then I had better do his."

My last and lasting memory of Sergeant Herrera is standing behind the barracks at Camp Lejeune listening to him conduct close order drill with our platoon. He had been a drill instructor at Parris Island before his assignment to Camp Lejeune, and had an almost melodic way of counting cadence and ordering movements. I remember reading the summary of his court-martial for "assaulting" a recruit in his service record book. He had been a staff sergeant, selected for promotion to gunnery sergeant--his punishment had been reduction in grade to sergeant. I was lucky to have him.

Never saw my first platoon sergeant or any of the Marines in that platoon again during the rest of my career. I have often wondered at that. It is as if that year was only a dream.

They probably thought it was a nightmare.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Counting Coup

Unseasonably warm today here at the northern end of southern nowhere. The chances of deer moving before dark on a day when the mercury pushes 70 degrees on Herr Fehrenheit's scale are pretty slim. But with southerly winds bringing rain later this evening, I reasoned that just maybe I'd see something heading for the chow line before the weather got wet. And, I was right...barely.

With just minutes of legal shooting light left, I heard the unmistakable slight footsteps of deer moving purposely from my right and turned my head to watch two does make a beeline for the food plot in the field in front of me. As they approached, I heard a crunch to my left and turned to see the eight point I call Lucky Buck standing front and center at no more than fifty paces. He's a nice buck, but not as nice as he will be in a year or two. Many hunters would have taken him without a moment's hesitation and with no shame. But, I decided before the season started that if given the chance at him I would let him pass. There's a much older and better buck on the property that is my target.

As I watched him feed through the scope on my muzzle-loader, I felt as if I were standing next to him and could reach out and touch him. Mentally, I tapped Lucky Buck on the shoulder. The Chickasaw warriors who inhabited this land up until 200 years ago were known for their ferocity in battle. They and many of the other tribes had a practice of purposely touching their enemies in battle without the intent of delivering a maiming or killing blow, and kept a tally of the number of their enemies they had so touched in battle. The French explorers and traders who first witnessed this called it Counting Coup.

When I got back to the house this evening I told Miss Brenda that I had seen the nice buck and had counted coup on him. She said I'm just getting old and didn't want to drag the deer out of the woods.

I like my story better, but she's probably more right than I care to contemplate.

Case for a 4-Loss Champ

Looks like we won't have a two-loss National Champion this year--how about a four-loss one?

Allow me to make my case for the Ole Miss Rebels. Regardless who wins the Florida--Oklahoma match-up next week, my Rebels have a legitimate claim to the title. If Florida wins, the choice of Ole Miss for number one in the polls is an easy one. Reference September 26th in the Swamp: Ole Miss 31; Florida 30. At the very least, the men in red and blue should get a number two ranking behind Florida, out of respect for their assist in motivating Tearful Tim and the Gators to rededication.

An Oklahoma win over Florida next week is a highly unlikely occurrence. Seems that Big Twelve coaches are so in love with high-powered spread offenses that they neglect one little thing--Defense. Now, I'm not a fan of the defense. I'm an offensive-minded (Miss Brenda would leave off the hyphenated ending, were she describing me) sort. Defense is the enemy. Winning is accomplished by killing, er, scoring on the enemy. But, even I know that you gotta have a defensive capability to hold the line when your offensive culminates. Big Twelve offenses look so great because they just don't play defense out there. So, Florida should roll. But, if that pointy-ended ball bounces Oklahoma's way, there is still a case, however circuitous the logic, to be made for Ole Miss as National Champs. Texas beat Oklahoma; Texas Tech beat Texas...and, in case you missed it...

Ole Miss beat Texas Tech yesterday in the 73rd playing of the Cotton Bowl!