Monday, August 31, 2015

Knowing Nothing

The populist siren call of ant-immigration is not a new phenomenon in the life of our republic. Donald Trump is but the latest (and, sadly, probably not the last) in a long line of populist demagogues who rally discontented voters by demonizing and fixing blame on the newest members of American society.

Nativist sentiment has manifested itself in political movements several times since the founding of the republic.

A wave of Irish and German Catholic immigrants flooded cities on the Eastern Seaboard in the first half of the 19th Century, straining physical and societal infrastructure. Overcrowding, high unemployment, and the inevitable soaring crime rate -- coupled with anti-Catholicism -- created a toxic brew of resentment and retaliation. 

The resultant sectarian violence would make Northern Ireland's "Troubles" look like a domestic squabble in comparison.

Institutional violence against immigrants in northern cities during this time would make Bull Connor blush.

Unscrupulous, power-hungry politicians climbed into the saddle aboard the wild steed of anti-immigration sentiment in the late 1830's and by 1856 had forged a third-party movement that named a former U.S. President (Millard Fillmore) as its Presidential Nominee.

Fillmore lost, of course. Buchanan won that election.

The party went by many names -- The American Party, The American Republican Party, The Native American Party -- but members were universally referred to as "Know Nothings" because most local chapters began in secret and members denied their early participation with the phrase: "I Know Nothing."

Seriously. The Colonel ain't makin' this stuff up.

And, finding a curious echo in the current Trumpista movement, the vast majority of Know Nothing party membership were middle class with a distinct disdain for politicians. As the movement grew, Northeastern state legislatures, in particular, became majority Know Nothing, the new members by and large possessing no prior political experience.

The Know Nothing movement faded as the country fell inexorably into the gravity well of civil war. By the second year of that war, whole divisions of the Union Army were completely Irish or German immigrants, many stepping off a boat in New York or Boston and right into formations that marched toward Richmond.

And, therein lies a probable solution to our current debate.

Jeb Bush is right, you know. The vast majority of illegal immigration to our country is an act of love. They love our freedom. They love their children. They fear the violence and repression in their native lands.

Oh sure, there is a small, but not insignificant, percentage that have come here as a clear and present threat to the security and welfare of our citizens.

But, security is rarely found on the defense.

Walls don't work.

Qin Shi Huang's Great Wall didn't keep out the Mongols.

Hadrian's Wall failed to secure Britannia for Rome.

No, dear readers, walls and other defensive measures are not the answer.

Offense wins.

You take it from here...

Friday, August 28, 2015

Goofing Off, Generally

Twenty years ago, this month, the Colonel graduated from the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Virginia.

The class was a collection of U.S. and Allied officers and DoD civilians completing the second phase of Congressionally mandated Joint Professional Military Education (JPME II).

In the early 1980's, Congress passed legislation that reformed the Department of Defense and drove the services to work together in a much more "joint" manner. Interoperability was a mandated goal of the Goldwater–Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986.

Goldwater-Nichols codified many of the recommendations of Reagan's Packard Commission that had critically assessed the stove-piped U.S. Military and its warfighting command structure.

Among other things, Goldwater-NIchols established the position of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs with a Joint Staff that would oversee service procurement and operations of joint combatant commands.

To hold the services' feet to the fire with regard to ensuring that they assigned their best officers to joint duty -- not necessarily considered a plum assignment within any of the services -- Goldwater-Nichols mandated that before any officer in any service could be selected to "flag" rank (brigadier general or rear admiral) that officer had to have completed JPME phases I and II and served in a joint assignment for at least three years (waivers for shortened joint tours granted for officers selected for command tours within their services.

What this meant in practical terms was that as an officer reached the rank of major and lieutenant colonel (lieutenant commander and commander in the Navy) that officer's service began to pay much closer attention to the "tickets" being "punched." By and large, the services' requirement for an officer's selection to flag rank was that the officer successfully completed command tours as a lieutenant colonel and colonel. Under Goldwater--Nichols the services now had to "dual-track" the "ticket punching" of officers on their way to eligibility for selection to flag rank.

The two tracks -- command and joint -- actually began to influence each other.

If an officer got his or her "joint ticket" punched early in his or her career (as a major), the likelihood that he or she would get a command tour as a lieutenant colonel was increased, because the services, taking a long view of their officers' careers, had to ensure that they had a large enough pool of Goldwater-Nichols -qualified colonels (Navy captains) from which to select flag officers.

There is no other way to explain how a mediocre Marine infantry officer by the name of Gregory achieved the rank of Colonel.

After surviving a tour on recruiting as a major, the Colonel was rewarded by assignment as a student at the intermediate level command and staff college of his choice.

The Colonel chose the Air Force's Air Command and Staff College (ACSC).

He could blow smoke up your trouser leg and tell you his choice was a purely professional one designed to broaden his professional military education, but the Colonel will be honest.

ACSC is aboard Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama -- halfway between the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda's folks in Panama City, Florida and the Colonel's folks in Columbus, Mississippi.

That, and, seriously, how hard could the Air Force's staff college be?

After three grueling years of recruiting duty, the Colonel was ready for a year of hunting, fishing, and general non-military goofing off.

All of the services' intermediate and senior level schools (command and staff, and war, colleges) were required by Goldwater-Nichols to include introduction of joint education (JPME Phase I) and include officers from the other services on their instructor staffs as well as in their student classes.

As the Colonel (then still a major) completed his year as a student at ACSC, the opportunity to stay on staff as an instructor presented itself -- not due to any particular excellence as a student, mind you. There were two Marine officers (one major and one lieutenant colonel) on the instructor staff and they both had orders to leave at the end of the school year.

The Colonel called his assignment monitor at Headquarters, Marine Corps (HQMC) and volunteered for the job. The monitor said something to the effect of, "You wanna stay in Alabama?!? I had you penciled in for a staff job at HQMC. Wouldn't you much rather live in Northern Virginia?"

The Colonel's druthers most certainly did not include working at HQMC as one of a hundred majors on a staff, and, oh, by the way, commuting in and out of D.C. everyday.

But, one dare not tell his assignment monitor that he would rather not do what the monitor wants him to do.

"Look," the Colonel offered helpfully. "I know you aren't going to find any volunteers to come live here in Alabama." The Colonel pronounced "Alabama" in his best Forrest Gump accent, paused for effect, and concluded his sales pitch with, I'm already here; saves you a PCS move."

The monitor was quiet for a long moment -- he was no doubt doing the calculus of what course of action was going to save him the most staff time. Finally, he said, "Okay, but you need to call the joint duty monitor to get his approval."

"Joint duty monitor?" The Colonel had no idea that the job was actually a joint assignment. No where else in DoD can one go on vacation for three years and get joint duty credit.

The joint duty monitor was an easy sell and the Colonel told the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda later that evening that, "We will probably end up retiring right here in Alabama. I'll make it to lieutenant colonel, take the 20-year retirement, and find a job at Walmart or something to keep you in the standard of living with which you have grown accustomed."

After a year teaching airpower theory -- yeah, that was a hoot -- the Colonel was assigned to the small instructor branch that taught the joint education requirements mandated by Goldwater-Nichols. The Navy commander running the Joint Branch welcomed the Colonel with, "You got your JPME Phase II ticket punched, yet?"


"You haven't been to the Armed Forces Staff College, yet, have you?"

"Uh, nosir."

"Well, call your monitor and get in the next class -- they're three months long and you should be able to knock it out and be back in time to start the next academic year here."

The Colonel (still a major, but selected for promotion to lieutenant colonel) spent the summer of 1995 in Norfolk, Virginia at the Armed Forces Staff College, where he majored in golf and softball.

One morning, the Colonel was sitting in his seat in his conference group's small classroom -- strategically situated nearest the coffee machine -- when the conference group leader walked in and announced, "Gregory, report to the Commandant's office, ASAP."

On the way to his office, the Colonel rehearsed his excuses for any number of reasons why the school's commandant would call the Colonel onto his carpet.

The Colonel reported in and the commandant smiled broadly and waved a piece of paper at the Colonel, "Congratulations, major, the Marine Corps has selected you for battalion level command!"

"Sir, the major apologizes for his poor showing on the last exam. I'm just a knuckle-dragging infantry Marine, and... Excuse me, sir, did you say I was selected for command?"

Needless to say, there was a bit of a celebration that night at which the Colonel will neither confirm nor deny that prodigious amounts of adult beverages were consumed.

A few months later, the Colonel pinned on the the silver oak leaves of a lieutenant colonel of Marines. A couple of months after that, the Colonel got a call from his assignment monitor, "Congratulations, a battalion just came open and you are the next in line. Report to 3rd Marines for duty this summer."

"Third Marines? That's in Hawaii, ain't it?"

"Yep, pack your board shorts."

Three years later, after successful command of an infantry battalion -- due completely to the excellence of some of the best Marines with whom the Colonel had ever served -- and a year as the executive officer of the regiment, the Colonel was selected for attendance at the Navy War College in Newport, Rhode Island.

While at the Navy War College, the Colonel was selected for promotion to colonel. And, because he had his JPME Phase II and Joint Tour tickets punched, the Colonel was designated a Joint Specialty Officer (JSO) -- another requirement of Goldwater-Nichols.

Designation as a JSO got the Colonel assigned to an insane job running the operations division at US Forces, Korea, in Seoul.

But, that's another story.

Bottom line: the Colonel owes his success to a deep desire to just goof off.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Constitutionally First

The 4th of March passes quietly and without fanfare in most, if not all, of the lives of the citizens of these re-United States. 

However, the day is of much greater import than the 4th of July and should be celebrated accordingly. On the 4th of March in 1789, the Congress of the United States met for the first time operating under the precepts of the Constitution of the United States.

In June of 1776, the band of rebels, traitors, and opportunists calling themselves the Second Continental Congress appointed committees to draft two critical documents. One committee wrote the Declaration of Independence. The other was tasked with formulating a constitution that would unite the rebel alliance governments of the 13 British colonies on the American continent declared as independent states by the work of the former committee, into a confederation that would cooperate in government, not just for the struggle against the British crown, but in perpetuity

A draft of the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union was finally completed in the summer of 1777, approved by the Second Continental Congress in November of that year, and submitted to the states for ratification. While the states wrangled and dithered over ratification, the approved draft served as the de facto constitution. The last state, Maryland, to ratify the Articles of Confederation, did so on March 1, 1781.

The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union proved to be a weak and relatively ineffective constitution as far as the central governance of the new nation was concerned. As luck would have it, British bungling, and the arrival of a French army and fleet to aid the American rebels in 1781, outweighed the dysfunction of the rebel government. 

And, luckily, the British occupied and governed a significant portion of the colonies throughout the Revolution. 

But, once the United States were truly on their own to govern the entire lash-up, the inherent weaknesses of the Confederation government became glaringly obvious. In short, the operation of the central government was completely at the mercy of the sovereignty of the states in all but a relatively few, and minor, matters over which the Articles of Confederation gave it power. It was as if, using today's re-United States as example, the states had all of the federal government's powers of taxation and appropriation exclusively, and the federal government had no power to compel the states' compliance in any matters.

The Confederacy was so dysfunctional (as would be the Southern Confederacy in the next century) that even ratification of the 1783 Treaty of Paris, ending conflict between the United States and Great Britain and granting the United States everything for which they had fought, languished for months because the Confederacy could not compel enough state representatives to attend a congressional session.

A Constitutional Convention was convened in Philadelphia to draft a new, more federally strong constitution. Thirty-eight of forty-one delegates to the convention signed and approved the new constitution on September 17, 1787, and it was sent to the states for ratification.  Article VII of the new constitution required 9 of the 13 states' ratification for it to become effective. The ninth state to ratify, New Hampshire, did so on June 21, 1788, and the new constitution designated March 4th of the next year as the date on which the First Congress of the United States would convene under the Constitution of the United States.

The 4th of March is a day to reflect on the fact that the endurance of the Constitution of the United States is no mere accident. The original Constitution, with appropriate amendments mostly strengthening the protections of the people for, and by, whom the Constitution exists, has proved a remarkable standard of government, unique at its origination and copied in whole or in part by numerous new nations since. The Constitution, in its present amended form, is, in the Colonel's not-so-humble and not-so-little experienced opinion, the single greatest and most effective government, as Lincoln said, "of the people, by the people, for the people."

All who find themselves, by election of the people, representatives of the people's will and guardians of the people's rights would do well to daily reflect on their solemn oath to "support and defend" the people's Constitution against "all enemies, foreign and domestic." 

Failure to govern according to the Constitution makes one a "domestic enemy" of the people.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Pay Attention, or Pay the Piper

There is a clear and defining difference between "standing up" and "taking a stand."

The Colonel begs you, with tears in his eyes and all the love he can muster in the flinty cinder that passes for his heart, to discern that difference in the motives of those who would vie for your vote.

Contrary to shallow popular belief and star-struck sentiment, discerning the motives of someone who would assume the mantle of leadership is really rather easy.

That ease of discernment, however, does not come with the sole reliance on the study of sound bytes or parrotting of carefully crafted slogans -- no matter how compelling.  Discernment requires a bit more study.

Discernment does not require an exceptional education, nor any particularly acute mental faculties -- were that the case, the Colonel would be out of luck.

The first requirement for knowing the difference between "standing up" and "taking a stand" is understanding the definition of each term. They are polar opposites.

One who stands up draws attention to one's self.

One who takes a stand draws attention to the principle on which one stands.

One who stands up denounces the actions of others and derides their "stupidity."

One who takes a stand makes no claim of personal character superiority, nor relative intellectual superiority.

Standing up screams, "Look at me!" Use of the first person pronoun is prevalent. (For the LSU grads, that's the word "I")

Taking a stand calmly pleads, "Look at the issue!"

Standing up means drawing approving attention, with the most strident appeals, to the audience's biases and prejudices.

Taking a stand means drawing attention to the merits of a principle -- even when that principle runs counter to the audience's biases and prejudices.

By the Colonel's count, at least half of those vying for our vote, of both parties, are just "standing up."

The Colonel pleads with you, with tears in his eyes and all the love he can muster from the flinty cinder that passes for his heart, to look beyond the flashy and feel beyond the simple appeals to your baser nature.

TAKE A STAND with a principled, "others first" leader -- and go down, if you must, fighting the good fight.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

As for Me and My House

The Colonel will never be a candidate for Sainthood.

The only miracles associated with his time on earth involve his salvation, convincing the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda to marry him, and achieving any rank in the Marine Corps beyond second lieutenant.

That, and the precedent for a Southern Baptist's canonization is kinda hard to find...

The low opinion the Colonel holds for himself is matched only by his opinion of those with whom he disagrees. Although hamstrung by a lack of education (he went to Ole Miss instead of college), he still considers himself at least the second smartest person in any room -- and he often has a hard time finding the first.

But, the Colonel is not-so quickly coming to the conclusion that his principled opinion, while fortified with the brick and mortar of studied fact and built on the bedrock of conviction, is corroded to inviability by his own attitude and conduct.

The Colonel's heart is as cold and unfeeling as one of his diabetic-riddled toes in a duck blind in January.

His lack of empathy would make Genghis Khan wince.

The meter measuring his concern for the welfare of others is pegged on empty.

The Colonel could blame his scorched earth nature on three decades of training to visit his nation's righteous wrath on enemies of the Constitution, but that would be a cop out worthy of comparison with a Nuremberg defense.

This toxic brew of narcissism, selfish pride, and positional self-righteousness, while quite entertaining personally, is poison delivered straight to the heart of any cause, no matter the moral strength of the argument.

So, the Colonel's quandary is this:

How does he stand up for what is Godly, right, and just, without the mangudai in him attempting to lay waste to the homeland of his opponent?

Look, the Colonel knows the answer. Second smartest guy in any room, remember?

God doesn't need any of us to fight His battles for Him.

The Colonel believes that God expects him to take a stand...

...behind Him.

And, the place to stand is at home.

The Colonel doesn't mean to ignore the evil in the world. He means there is plenty of evil to confront within the confines of his own home and heart.

Joshua's challenge to the Israelites sums up what the Colonel means best.

"Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." Joshua 25: 14 - 15

The Colonel is convinced, without the shadow of a doubt in his military mind, that confronting evil begins at home.

Fair warning, though:

When God gets the Colonel's heart right and turns him loose, there will be hell to pay...