Monday, November 30, 2009

Economic Electrons

Today is Cyber Monday. This productivity-sapping, at-work, on-line Christmas shopping day rivals Black Friday in the lemming-like behaviour of humans swept up in the holiday shopping frenzy and rushing over the cliffs of rampant, credit-fueled consumerism. By the time this post joins the crowd of trons taxing bandwidth, on-line retailers will have a good idea whether this holiday shopping season will be a successful one for them, and economists will have a good feel for whether our spending will boost the economy, or if we'll be mired in a moribund recovery. I'm betting on the latter. It's not that I want the recovery to be a slow, painful experience. I'm just a student of history, and history tells us that consumer-driven commodity/asset bubbles drive recoveries. Unfortunately, the soap-slick on the deck from the popped housing and credit bubbles is going to make getting back on our feet much, much harder this time around.

The Colonel is, as may surprise many of you (at least two of the three of you who regularly subject yourselves to rod and cone wastage perusing posts hereon), a huge fan of the electronic technology that allows me to sit here at my computer and do my shopping. No need to subject myself to the sanity-testing inanity of parking lot bumper cars and shopping cart traffic jams. No need to stand in line at the cashier behind a crowd of teenagers whose vocabulary is restricted to the words "like," "dude," and "I'm all." No screaming snot-nosed miscreants announcing their parents' inability to grasp even the most rudimentary elements of imposing their will on a child and instilling a modicum of discipline. No slack-jawed, dull-eyed, un-caring cashiers dumping my treasures in flimsy plastic bags, one per bag, until a modestly-numbered list of purchased items swells in crinkly crush to fill an entire shopping cart with land-fill bound, petroleum-based baggage and packaging.

The Colonel is content to test the claims of Life Lock and and answer the question: "What can brown do for you?" When the rumble of a delivery truck up my gravel drive announces the arrival of my cyber-bought booty, I might even put on some clothes and go out and meet the man in the van.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Bloody Betio

It was an unnecessary battle that had to be fought, in a necessary war that needn't have been. The vengeful victors of the Great War imposed a punishing treaty on Germany in 1919 and one of the punishments was to strip Germany of its colonial possessions in the Pacific. Japan filled the colonial vacuum and occupied islands and atolls across the western Central Pacific. One of these was Betio in the Tarawa Atoll. In the run-up to its war with America, Japan began to heavily fortify its ring of protective islands and Betio was such a bulwark in this maritime Maginot Line that the Japanese commander boasted that it would take a "million men a thousand years" to wrest the speck of coral from him.

Thirty-five thousand Americans, the Second Marine Division and elements of the Army's 27th Division, commenced their assault on Betio sixty-six years ago this morning and took just 76 hours to secure the island. The cost was horrific. A thousand Marines died at Tarawa. Nearly 700 US sailors died ferrying the Marines ashore. Of the Japanese garrison, only 100 were taken prisoner.

After the war, the commander of the invasion force, Lt Gen Holland M "Howling Mad" Smith, wrote the following about the battle in his controversial memoir "Coral and Brass":

"Was Tarawa worth it?" "My answer is unqualified: No. From the very beginning the decision of the Joint Chiefs to seize Tarawa was a mistake and from their initial mistake grew the terrible drama of errors, errors of omission rather than commission, resulting in these needless casualties." [We] should have let Tarawa 'wither on the vine.' We could have kept it neutralized from our bases on Baker Island, to the east, and the Ellice and Phoenix Islands, a short distance to the southeast."

The assault on Tarawa was the first truly opposed landing by American forces on Japanese held territory. A year earlier, at Guadalcanal, the First Marine Division had caught the Japanese by surprise and landed unopposed to seize the airfield on that vital island astride the sea line of communication north of Australia. If the ensuing series of bitter battles on that island spelled the end of Japan's march south in the Pacific, the taking of the Tarawa Atoll signalled the beginning of America's march westward across the Pacific to bring the war to Japan. While Tarawa may not have been strategically important from a location standpoint (Smith's point above), the assault itself provided enormously important tactical and operational lessons that paved the way for successful amphibious assaults against fortified defenses in both the Pacific and European Theaters over the remaining two years of the war.

The Colonel joined the Second Marine Division in January of 1979, thirty-five years after the blood-bath on the beaches of Betio. As I sat in the passageway outside the office of the Commanding Officer of the 2nd Marine Regiment, waiting on my opporturnity to report in to my first operational assignment as a Marine, I had time to scan the paintings, plaques, and pictures on the bulkheads. Opposite me was a painting of Marines wading ashore at Tarawa. I was overwhelmed, and am still awe-struck, by the bravery of those men who waded into the meat-grinder on the beaches of Betio.
Throughout my time on active duty as a Marine, the thought was never far from my mind that, as General Lejeune wrote in 1921, before the heroics and sacrifices of the Second World War, "In every battle and skirmish since the birth of our Corps, Marines have acquitted themselves with the greatest distinction, winning new honors on each occasion until the term Marine has come to signify all that is highest in military efficiency and soldierly virtue. This high name of distinction and soldierly repute we who are Marines today have received from those who preceded us in the Corps."

Not many of the survivors of the battle for Tarawa are still with us. And, true to the virtue of their generation, they would disdain any recognition on this day. All the more reason to give it.

Thank you, gentlemen.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Death Before Bowing

The Colonel has fumed and fussed electronically with friends for several days regarding the image of our President (the democratically elected leader of the greatest nation on the planet) bowing before the hereditary Emperor of Japan, penning explanations of the two century old American tradition of not bowing that arises from our Constitution's explicit prohibitions regarding titles of nobility. But there was something else so fundamentally disturbing about H bowing that I could not put my finger on it. That is until the Colonel's brother wrote, "One can only imagine the feelings of the Greatest Generation as they see him bowing to the emperor of the nation they fought and defeated in the Pacific. And what about the families of those who paid the ultimate price?" Then I knew why the bow bothered me so much.

Excerpt from the account of 2nd Lt. Ben R. Morin, US Army:

"In late March, 1942, Ben and the other [American prisoners of war] were sent to Tarlac. It was there that they came under the control of the Japanese military governor Capt. Tsuneyoshi. He later became the commandant of Camp O'Donnell. The first night at Tarlac, Capt. Tsuneyoshi sent two NCOs into the jail to persuade the POWs to bow. Ben recalled being slugged and beaten. In response to this, the POWs met and decided that it would be best to bow if they hoped to survive. The next morning the POWs bowed to the Japanese. To them, they had achieved a small victory because the Japanese had to use force to make them bow."

Excerpts from "The Watcher," by Peter vanRuyter Schoeffel:

Stratton was all bones, but for a persistent little pot belly. He was so bony he could barely sit or lie down. He could put his thumbs and fingers together in a circle and run them all the way from his ankle to his upper thigh. A half-inch shy of 6 feet tall, 100 pounds. Still, he could get beyond hunger, into some place where the pangs merged into the dull ache of daily existence. But thirst? Three days without water, and you’d kill your grandmother to get hers. In 1967, after some three months of torture, Stratton was photographed at a Hanoi news conference as he bowed deeply to all four corners of the room in front of his captors. The iconic image went around the world. Bowing was a matter of honor to the Vietnamese; a lackluster bow was excuse enough for another round of beating. His bowing, he says, was meant as an exaggerated, cartoonish gesture of defiance. But in America, some wondered if he had been brainwashed, or fallen in with his captors, though those rumors lessened as word of the prisoners’ sufferings leaked out. And upon his release from Vietnam, a wire service reporter wrote that “Stratton’s gaunt, stooped figure and haunted expression” had become “a symbol of the plight of the American POWs.”

Still, the suspicion lingered far longer than that, even as McCain, shortly after his release, took pains to clear Stratton’s name. “He stood up for me when other people were saying things,” Stratton says. “When I was down, people kicking me, he stood up for me, and he didn’t have to. He gained nothing.” As for his captors, Stratton figures most were just doing their job. But every day he sees the thick rope scars they burned into his forearms. His forgiveness knows bounds. “There are two or three, if I saw them today, I’d kill them

The foregoing are but two of tens of thousands of stories from Americans who suffered unspeakable horrors at the hands of their captors and yet knew at their very core that to bow was un-American. Untold numbers of Americans were summarily executed by their Imperial Japanese Army captors for their refusal to bow. American prisoners of the North Vietnamese communists, like Stratton above, endured fierce torture before they broke and bowed. When Stratton was trotted out before international visitors to the "Hanoi Hilton" he knew that if he were filmed bowing, it would be an obvious sign back home that the Vietnamese communists were torturing and attempting to brainwash the Americans they held.

Bile rises in the Colonel's throat each time he sees the images of President Obama bowing before Saudi and Japanese royalty. I am personally offended that my representative to the rest of the world is so narcissistic, vain, and pompous that he believes he knows better than the rest of us. His actions are clearly calculated not for American consumption, but for the world's. In a sense that should be the way it is when our president travels abroad.

One wonders what the rest of the world really thinks when Obama abases himself and his country.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Presidential Obsequity

Our president is making the rounds of Asian capitals this week and the first photo the Colonel saw from his sojourn was of H bowing very low before the Japanese Emperor. One wonders if the Saudi king, for whom our president "didn't bow," is miffed at this. Frankly, the Colonel was almost willing to give H a pass on the Saudi bow; chalking it up to a reflexive action reflecting our President's childhood indoctrination in an Indonesian madras. Old habits are hard to break. But, the bow before the Emperor of Japan cannot be explained as anything but a calculated show of deference. The irony is that the Japanese emperor ought to be bowing to American presidents. Were it not for American grace, unprecedented in the history of victorious warring nations, at the end of WWII, the present emperor's father, Hirohito, would have been hanged, as was the fate of his war minister, Tojo.

President Obama's evident disdain for American tradition and time-honored protocol has the Colonel wondering just how far all of this will go. What America-demeaning gesture or self-serving apologetics will be employed in the next capital on his overseas schedule? Having an affable bumbler like our previous president making personally embarrassing gaffs abroad is one thing. Reducing our great nation in the eyes of others just to gain favor is quite another, and constitutionally unacceptable.

The irony of all of this foreign royalty reverence is that it runs diametrically opposed to the egalitarian ideals inherent in socialism and liberalism (if a difference can be discerned between the two). In this is manifest the vacuous nature of the political positions staked out by those on the left. Were liberals true to their ideals, they would be howling in protest at an American president fawning over representatives of the last vestiges of hereditary royalty on the planet. Instead, they will defend the obsequious actions of our president abroad as pragmatic steps to curry favor with peoples whose opinion of us must be softened.

It's enough to drive this old centurion crazy--if he weren't already several rounds short of a full magazine.

Friday, November 13, 2009

No Hope in Dixie

The inexorable, common sense-sucking gravity of the political correctness black hole pulled another victim past its event horizon this week and the law of unintended consequences is poised to assert itself in response.

The new chancellor at Ole Miss is getting quite an education in his first few months in office. One of the first lessons has been: "Never issue ultimatums to spoiled fraternity boys." Bowing to what the Colonel suspects was very little pressure from a small handful of wadded-panty simps worried that the University's reputation was being adversely effected by the student body chanting "The South will rise again!" at the conclusion of "From Dixie with Love" (an awful admixture of "Dixie" and the "Battle Hymn of the Republic"), Chancellor Jones warned that if the students persisted in the chant, he would ask the band to stop playing the tune. Need the Colonel tell you how the students reacted?

So, amid a football season that has fallen dramatically from the hyped heights of preseason hope to the near despair of cruel reality, a fresh controversy has bubbled up from the cauldron of resentment and disappointment. And, despite the best intentions of those whose naive wish is for a bland society in which no one's feelings are ever hurt and no one's delicate sensibilities are ever the least bit bruised, there is going to be a whole heap of hurt feelings and bruised sensibilities before this unnecessary brouhaha blows over.

Turns out that Chancellor Jones has a talent for recruiting. The only problem is he is recruiting for those mouth-breathing, pillow case-wearing, pit bull-raising, knuckle-dragging, uneducated, ignorant, village idiot, trailer trash buffoons who march under the banner of the Ku Klux Klan. By drawing attention to an innocuous, if offensive to a small minority, chant, and by making such a public spectacle of banning the song at whose end the chant occurs, Jones has played right into the hands of the sheet-wearers and they have seized on the controversy to grab some free publicity and recruiting air time. The Klan has announced that they will be on campus, in full regalia, for tomorrow's football game against Tennessee and next week's game against LSU. Just what we need.

Not 14 months ago, Ole Miss and Oxford, garnered positive national attention beyond our wildest hopes as we played host to the first presidential debate. As hard as some in the effete, intellectually-challenged yankee liberal media tried to find it, there was none of the un-reconstructed ugliness upon which they had hoped to report. But, this morning the Colonel is certain there is hand-rubbing glee erupting in editorial board rooms from Boston to New York at the prospect of pictures of the Klan marching through the Grove tomorrow morning.

The sad thing is the sentiment behind the chant, "The South will rise again!" was clearly not racially motivated. It was a matter of plain old regional pride. The Colonel knows full well that the simple-minded, sheet-headed, non life-having, eighth grade-educated segregationists use the phrase. They also use the phrase, "God Bless America." Are we going to stop saying that as well?

That is the problem with black holes--once you start feeding one, its appetite becomes insatiable.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veteran's Day Salute

For over four years, the "Great War" churned the fields of France and claimed the lives of 9 million soldiers and 10 million civilians. At 11 AM "French Time" this date 91 years ago--11 November 1918--an armistice ending the fighting went into effect. As the guns went quiet at the appointed hour, observers at the front reported an unbroken cheer that rose from both the Allied and German trenches and ran the length of the line from the Vosges Mountains to the Baltic Sea. An entire generation of French and German men had been bled white--each of those nations sent nearly 80% of their men between the ages of 18 and 49 to battle. The United States entered the war officially in its last year and suffered nearly 117,000 killed in action.

The next year, November 11, 1919, President Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day: "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations." In 1921 Congress passed legislation approving the establishment of a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. The dedication ceremony for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was held on November 11, 1921 and that date was declared a legal Federal holiday to honor all those who participated in the war.

In 1926 Congress resolved that the President should issue an annual proclamation calling for Americans to observe Armistice Day, and in 1938 passed legislation making every 11th of November the legal Federal holiday, Armistice Day. Because the United States Constitution does not grant the Federal government the power to establish national holidays (only holidays for federal workers and the District of Columbia), that right is reserved to the states. However, most states followed the Federal government's lead and declared 11 November a holiday to honor all of the Americans who had fought in the First World War.

With the advent of the hostilities that consumed the world in the late 1930's and early 40's the "Great War" soon lost its claim on greatness and became known as the First World War. During the Second World War, the world's total population was just shy of two billion souls. Total deaths attributable to the war by its end have been estimated to have been somewhere between 62 and 79 million. The United States suffered nearly 417,000 military deaths.

On June 1, 1954, President Eisenhower signed legislation changing the name of the legal federal holiday from Armistice Day to Veteran's Day--a day to honor all U.S. military veterans, separate and distinct from Memorial Day (the much more solemn and important day on which we commemorate the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrificial price for freedom in our nation's wars). In 1968, Congress passed the Monday Holiday Law making the fourth Monday in October the new date for the observance of Veteran's Day. The new date, which took effect in 1971, was recognized by all of the states except Mississippi and South Dakota. Over the next four years, 26 more states asserted their holiday rights and changed the date of their state observances of Veteran's Day back to the 11th of November. Congress followed suit and passed legislation in 1975 returning the Federal observance of Veteran's Day to November 11 beginning in 1978.

It is appropriate on Veteran's Day to salute, recognize, and remember any American who has honorably served or is serving in the armed forces of the United States. The Colonel wishes to extend particular thanks to three members of his immediate family(SMSGT Vernon Gregory, LTCOL Jack Cannon, and MAJ Bruce Gregory) whose combined career uniformed service to their nation in the United States Air Force totals nearly two thirds of a century.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

November 10, 1775

Thirty-five years ago the Colonel was introduced to the solemnity and tradition of the celebration of the Marine Corps' birthday. That year it was the 199th anniversary of a resolution in the Continental Congress that "two battalions of Marines be raised consisting of one colonel, two lieutenant-colonels, two majors, and other officers, as usual in other regiments; that they consist of an equal number of privates with other battalions; that particular care be taken that no persons be appointed to office, or enlisted into said battalions but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve with advantage by sea when required; that they be enlisted and commissioned to serve for and during the present War with Great Britain and the colonies, unless dismissed by order of Congress; that they be distinguished by names of First and Second Battalions of American Marines..."

A part of that first ceremony, and every one in which I participated every year thereafter was the reading of General John A. Lejeune's 1921 birthday address to the Corps. There has never been a better summation of what it means to be a Marine. On this the 234th anniversary of the founding of the Corps, the Colonel republishes the 13th Commandant's message below:

On November 10, 1775, a Corps of Marines was created by a resolution of the Continental Congress. Since that date, many thousand men have borne the name Marine. In memory of them it is fitting that we who are Marines should commemorate the Birthday of our Corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history.

The record of our Corps is one which will bear comparison with that of the most famous military organizations in the world's history. During 90 of the 146 years of its existence the Marine Corps has been in action against the Nation’s foes. From the Battle of Trenton to the Argonne, Marines have won foremost honors in war, and in the long era of tranquility at home, generation after generation of Marines have grown gray in war in both hemispheres, and in every corner of the seven seas that our country and its citizens might enjoy peace and security.

In every battle and skirmish since the birth of our Corps, Marines have acquitted themselves with the greatest distinction, winning new honors on each occasion until the term ‘Marine’ has come to signify all that is highest in military efficiency and soldierly virtue.

This high name of distinction and soldierly repute we who are Marines today have received from those who preceded us in the Corps. With it we also received from them the eternal spirit which has animated our Corps from generation to generation and has been the distinguishing mark of the Marines in every age. So long as that spirit continues to flourish Marines will be found equal to every emergency in the future as they have been in the past, and the men of our nation will regard us as worthy successors to the long line of illustrious men who have served as ‘Soldiers of the Sea’ since the founding of the Corps

Happy Birthday, Marines!