Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Dearly beloved, today our Savior is born; let us rejoice. Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness…Let the saint rejoice as he sees the palm of victory at hand. Let the sinner be glad as he receives the offer of forgiveness. Let the pagan take courage as he is summoned to life…Let us throw off our old nature and all its ways and, as we have come to birth in Christ, let us renounce the works of the flesh…

Christian, remember your dignity
Christmas sermon of Pope St. Leo the Great, ca. 450 A.D.


Slips of the tongue, slips on the stairs-- still, the Eagle Scout has landed –- Gerald R. Ford, the only ex-President with abundant grace and dignity, has passed.

He pulled off an impossible job, and then inexplicably blew a much easier one, that of getting elected to succeed himself. But that hasn’t
mattered for a very long time. Requiem in pacis.


[Now if we could just figure out who they are….]

It was a little disingenuous of me to re-post my recipe (below) for “Recovering the Merry in Christmas” when in fact I have been about as distant from “merry” as one could be—I guess it was a case of nowhere to go but up.

It has been a cruel autumn in many respects, with enough bad news to last for years. For me, the rank exhaustion from personal family circumstances (a sudden cancer death, and then cranking up the smiles which our bride deserved for a wedding two weeks later) collided with near-despair over the circumstances of the world in general and the deteriorating situation in the theatre of war, which for me and mine are all of a piece with “personal family circumstances”: a son in the Marines, a nephew in the Navy. I had hit bottom, and Advent was shaping up to be all about grief.

October brought one particular piece of bad news I could have done without— in fact, had purposely done without, since I had been curious about it for some time and could have sought answers earlier if I’d had the spine. But I chose not to. And when this one slice of news finally turned up, it took on a symbolism of the wider state of world affairs.

I have written more than a few times about the organization called Spirit of America a privately-supported organization that has been finding ways to assist the U.S. military in changing—improving—the lives of ordinary Iraqis, people who want what everybody wants: schools, homes, work, peace and quiet. The extraordinary work of this handful of private individuals, supported by thousands of generous donors, has gone virtually unnoticed by the major organs of communication in American life.

The President and the White House have been made aware of their work—“aware” in the way that a horse in the paddock is aware of the flies he is periodically compelled to attend to with his tail: a momentary flurry of recognition, with about a four-second retention rate on the meaning of the experience. The name of this organization, and scores of others like it, should have been on the minds and the lips of every American for the past three years—a way to genuinely support both the troops and the Iraqi people, whether you support the war effort or not. That relatively few people know of it is a sin.

Since I first heard of Spirit of America in 2004 I have donated to more than a dozen widely v
arying projects [mentioned here, scroll down to the bottom], the latest being warm winter clothes and blankets for the Iraqi locals. But the project that has stayed most on my mind is the very first one I heard about and supported: the purchase of television production equipment, and of industrial sewing machines, destined for the people of Ar Ramadi.

The TV equipment was to help residents make their own programming for the n
umerous local stations which were still functional but had no material to broadcast other than Al Jazeera, a network they did not wish to be the solitary voice on the airwaves. The sewing machines were the basis of several women’s centers which provided job training and income from the sewing, as well as training on computers. These centers were the brain-child of Marine Lt. General James Mattis (who led the 2003 advance into Baghdad), and the first assignment for the new television crews was to film the ceremonies which celebrated the opening of the women’s centers [watch here on You-Tube].

Many months passed between the time of my initial donations, when the name “Ramadi” lodged itself in my head, and the time when Ramadi began to crop up on every newscast due to its status as a hub of increasing terrorist activity. The more reports I heard, the more I began to wonder how Spirit of America’s Ramadi projects— fragile first steps toward normalcy and self-improvement— could possibly survive what was happening there.

They didn’t. I had known it in my heart, but hadn’t wanted to know any further.

The message came through in this past October that the women’s sewing center was no more—blown to smithereens by “insurgents.” Fortunately the deed was done at night when it was empty, and no one was killed or injured. Nevertheless, it is a potent symbol of the objectives of the terrorist presence in Iraq to this day: to unravel every effort of the Iraqi people to take charge of their own future, to learn what it feels like to achieve some degree of self-determination unfettered by a totalitarian oligarchy. This act was a case of Muslims (fanatics) wreaking destruction on Muslims, to no conceivable purpose.

I have often tried to picture that sewing machine I thought of as “mine”, over there in a dusty cement-block room, whirring along at the hands of lean, dark-eyed woman in a head-scarf, as she chattered to her neighbours and dreamed of getting her family back on its feet by the fruits of her own labours. “My” machine is now a heap of burnt and twisted metal, belts and gears blown apart, like the seamstress’s dreams.

* * * * *

Come November we slouched towards a grim crossroads. In the run-up to the American mid-term election, the Republicans seemed more out of touch with their electorate than one could have thought possible, and more desperate to say whatever it took to find favor with The Other Party’s electorate—‘splain this, please?!

The talk was of compromise and diplomacy (to be conducted with the uncompromisin
g and diplomatically-challenged “Death to the American Dogs!” crowd), and the off-loading of Iraq onto Iraqis, who were referenced as co-dependent slackers in need of weaning off the American teat (a grotesque insult to a people we have failed to protect after entering their house unbidden and tossing the place).

Most ominous of all, it appeared that those in power were actually considering taking the Baker-Hamilton Committee of Public Safety seriously. God help us, every one.

To no great surprise, the tongue-tied leadership of the American governing party— an administration which once stood upon the ashes of attack and dared to reverse years of escapism in the face of an epic global threat, but then gradually succumbed to a complete loss of nerve— suddenly lost control to an elected opposition which has for six years dedicated itself primarily to obstruction and defamation of both the administration and the military in the field. A tidal wave of retreat and defeat (and of the lobotomized notion that our need to combat the terrorist threat will end when the last of our troops “re-deploy”) seemed poised to wash over the seat of government, ridden by an incoming Democratic majority, “hanging ten” on their longboards as they coast toward the shore, oblivious to the wreckage below the surface.

After all, they could safely expect that ad-hoc Council of Elders, the Iraq Sur[vey]render Group, to produce recommendations to haul ass home ASAP, giving the new majorities all the rationale required for a late-term abortion of the infant Iraqi democracy. What other possible outcome could there be at the hands of James (F*#k the Jews—they didn’t vote for us anyway) Baker?

(Baker’s law firm, long on the payroll of the Saudi princes, is representing them in a legal battle against the 9-11 families who are suing the Saudis for their role in facilitating the hijackers and the brand of Islamist fanaticism that inspired them to mass murder. Chew on THAT.)

November brought one early Christmas present: the news that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was suddenly unemployed. [Well, not really so early if, like me, you had that item on your Christmas wish-list in November of 2003.] Yet this quickest post-election development was also the clearest sign of funk and panic in the Oval Office. It was a welcome change [Dear Sweet God, YES!], but nevertheless a bizarro, blindsiding move that pointed to some kind of Presidential freak-out. But freaked out about what? It is long past time to get freaked out about the lack of progress against Al Qaeda-In-Iraq. Instead it smelled of freak-out about that uniquely presidential disease, “legacy syndrome.”

So at the confluence of election shocks and Presidential queeziness, all the pieces seemed to be falling into place—the place where Iraq would lie in pieces, millions of them, just where they fell.

I have known since August, by the way, that my son would not be going to Iraq. This news naturally brought relief, but did not allow for joy.

Contrary to what many, if not most, on the political left might think, being part of the family of the United States Marine Corps affords one a particular insight into the experience of being part of the “family of man”. (Stop hooting out there— I’m serious.)

The family of man, in every moment of its history, has made war within itself. It’s easy to lose sight of that when you live in the north/western hemisphere, which has enjoyed centuries of relative peace, security, and (so we thought) impregnability to foreign incursions, especially within the contiguous 48 American states.

People often talk about “American exceptionalism” in reference to the enduring success of its system of government, based on a brilliantly-crafted constitution, and the individual freedom and op
portunity it provides, despite its many flaws, on a scale unequalled anywhere, ever. I don’t think any of that is an exaggeration, but America is really at its most exceptional in regards to its history of relative freedom from war at or within its borders, having seen only one devastating internal conflict, and a few limited actions with its near neighbours north and south—a record enviable in all other quarters of the world, and a consequence as much of luck as of virtue.

(Canada, in its 140-year history, has been an even more peaceable land-mass, but did fight two world wars on the basis of its being a limb of the British body politic—all attempts to re-write Canadian history notwithstanding, a trip to Normandy teaches the truth that Canada was attacked, and fought back, for King and Empire.)

Bottom line: war is more the rule than the exception in human history. We (humanity) seem unable to rid ourselves of pockets of territorial or ideological aggression on anything more than a temporary basis. We use logic and law and natural justice to try and establish standards of local and global public order—and we are idiots if we think we will ever be free of the need to use official, recognizable guardians and enforcers of those standards to protect the citizenry from violators.

We aspire to make possible a level of comfort and prosperity for all people that will unfortunately have the inevitable effect of giving them a reason to have doors, and to lock them. Tragic to say, it is not even the material fruits of prosperity that we must lock away and protect from the aggressively self-indulgent, but rather the person himself or herself, increasingly perceived as a “thing” to be taken and used, according to the dictates of fleeting appetites. This is the way of a fallen world. Vigilance is not optional.

That being the case, when we decide as a society to constitute a force of designated guardians, we are NEVER free to be cavalier about the decision to put them in the field, whether they be school crossing guards or firefighters or men in 70-ton tanks and missile-bearing jets and helicopters. They must know their mission, be fit for it, and be equipped and empowered to carry it out. More importantly, those who send them into the field must be clear on what the mission is and why it must be undertaken.

You don’t send a blindman or a drunk to be a crossing guard, place him two blocks west of where the kids cross the street, and tell him not to leave the sidewalk. You don’t sit back and let the wildfires consume the canyon communities for fear of putting the firefi
ghters in danger. You don’t send a man armed with missiles to hide in a bunker and fire at anything that moves, or to hunt for mines with his own feet.

And no matter how vigilant you are, in preparing your guardians and choosing their mission— in aspiring to serve the interests of long-term justice and order— there will forever be moral failures, technical disaster, treachery, stupidity, misjudgment, error, and accident. [The statistical breakdown of military deaths for the past 25 years tells this story in spades-- "peacetime" under previous presidents was as dangerous as war under Bush, and the suicide rate peaked under Clinton in 1995.]

There will also be spectacular valor, the overwhelming majority of it unnoticed and unrecorded. In the best case scenario, there will be evidence aplenty as to why St. Thomas Aquinas treats the issue of Just War under matters related to the virtue of Charity. Still, you don’t set yourself up to be responsible for THIS [warning: graphic photo alert] unless you are deadly serious, committed, and have exhausted all counter-arguments.

These are matters now under consideration, at a time when the most powerful nation (no, not "empire" by any rational definition) in human history contemplates its next move in a war effort that hasn’t really moved at all in about two years. The peace effort, heinously ignored by the world press, has in fact moved quite well in a good 80% or more of the territory of Iraq. But the war effort in the remaining territory has stalled out, while the Muslim-on-Muslim terrorism campaign has accelerated dramatically-- even as the most powerful military on the planet has appeared powerless against it.

As I say, I had known since August that my son was not destined to become desert IED bait-- so as far as we knew, nobody was going to owe him any personal explanation as to what it was all for. But over time I had grown more and more sickened at the thought that the Commander-in-Chief appeared ready to say to history (in a truly Clintonesque formulation), “Well, we tried. We tried really hard.”

It’s one thing to say it to history. But how do you say it to these people?

And, more to the point, how do
you say it to Steve Schultz? (here too)
To my nephew’s Naval Academy classmate, Andrew Kinard?
To the family of Jason Dunham?

Hey folks—you’re legless, your skull’s in puzzle-pieces, your kid lies in Arlington— YOU want
America to finish what you KNOW can be done, and leave Iraq a functioning democracy, for which an intact self was a worthwhile sacrifice. But the politicians-- do they want what you want, and know what you know? A-a-a-n-n-n-h-h-h, not so much.

Sacrificing limbs and grey matter, well, that’s one thing— but sacrifice your Washington sinecure? Your freebies? All that attention, the waving, the photo-ops, the incessant sucking-up from lesser mortals? Well, we tried that Iraq thing, but it just wasn’t worth the sweat. Let President Hillary deal with it—she can do ANYTHING. One cold stare, and she'll have the Jihadists running for cover. (On the other hand, they might opt for gang-rape because she’s not wearing a veil— they’re so unpredictable that way. Or on the other hand…. no, wait-- they cut that other hand off.)

I quoted my good buddy Shakespeare from his Henry V, in last January’s turn-of-the-year post on matters military, in a way that even then seemed starry-eyed:
And gentlemen in England, now a-bed,
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here
But it still holds true, or could if political will dared to match military will.

Yet in the interim, a different passage has kept echoing in the recesses of the fevered mind, the one where a good Welsh soldier named “Williams” argues with the cloaked and anonymous King Henry, as he wanders among his troops, about the division of responsibilities between soldier and sovereign.

He muses on the notion of whether the soldier can know if the king’s cause be "just and honourable", but he is sure enough of one thing:

… the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left.
… Now, if these men do not die well, it
will be a black matter for the king that led them to it…
King Henry argues, correctly, that, "Every subject's duty is the king's, but every subject's soul is his own." I still have no quarrel with the principal aim (unfortunately left unstated) of the invasion of Iraq, which was to establish a democratic foothold in the Muslim world, for the example and betterment of the other, largely failing, Islamist societies in the region. And I think it is fair to say that no one "purposed" the deaths of any soldier or civilian when the invasion was undertaken.

But there must be a quarrel with ANY invasion launched half-heartedly, stymied by timidity, stalled by indecision and internecine factionalism—and one has to wonder, indeed, how the advocates of a cowardly run for the exits cannot know that one day “all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place”and what for? So a president, a legislator, a network mouthpiece could say, “We tried— but, you know, it was just too much trouble. We didn’t have to fight it, we didn’t have to give up our butter or our meat or our power consumption, or our kids. But it made us look bad. And everybody was yelling at us and calling us names. So we quit.”

Speaking of heads chopped off, the too-little-too-late exit of Rumsfeld has prompted unexpected responses among rank and file military. Check out the best of the mil-blogs, like Blackfive, Mudville Gazette, or the Indepundit -- I swear I don’t get it, but vast numbers of them really liked the guy. ( here too)
Maybe they were swayed by his notorious plain-spokenness (which over time reveals itself to be a rather effective tool of obfuscation when it suits him). I just don’t know. But all over the mil-blogs are praises and accolades by the heap.

This is especially odd after the release of the clearly self-leaked, ass-covering final “snowflake” memo from the Secretary, listing suggested course-changes for the war, some allegedly “new” ideas, in an effort to distance himself (future) from himself (of the past three years).

No sale, as far as I’m concerned. And I felt compelled to leave a few snowflakes of my own on various tribute sites, like this one to Lt. Smash at Indepundit.
I'm willing to accept that you folks know something I don't, but as far as I'm concerned this Secretary of Defense has failed to guide the most powerful, well-trained, fully equipped, and intelligent military force in human history in the taking and holding of a handful of key areas within one medium-sized country where the invading force WAS originally welcomed as liberators. When his favored course of action was over-ruled by the Commander-in-Chief, it was his duty to throw all his energy and talent into the successful pursuit of the chosen strategy, and it is patently obvious that this was not done.

Most disheartening was to hear that Mr. Rumsfeld's "worst day" was the revelation of the Abu Ghraib mess. Sorry-- wrong answer. If his worst day wasn't the one where we learned what had been done to Privates Menchaca and Tucker (an atrocity that was allowed to pass almost unnoticed) then he has spent way too much time fretting about the New York Times, and not enough figuring out how to eradicate the jihadist plague.

His final flurry of snowflakes could have been drawn from the work of any number of serious pro-war journlists and military experts TWO OR THREE YEARS AGO. It is regrettable that he has been demonized so excessively by the extreme left, but this fact should not blind the rest of us to his faults and failures. We have been spinning the tires on this under-armored humvee for nearly three years now. Hail and farewell, but, alas, too late.
So, Mr. Rumsfeld—Abu Ghraib your worst day? Are you serious?


Legs and arms and heads chopped off—not in battle, but methodically, as Tucker and Menchaca lay sprawled on a cement walk, while self-appointed soldiers of God hollered “Allahu Akhbar” and luxuriated in the streams and pools of blood. The mutilated corpses were later found by a roadside, severed heads lying on top, the whole “package” booby-trapped to blow their horrified comrades to shreds as they went to retrieve the remains. (Fortunately they were too careful for that.)

If that wasn’t Donald Rumsfeld’s worst day as Secretary of Defense, his entire tour of duty has been indefensible. Period.

And what could be more galling at the moment of his departure than to glean from the memo his persistent lack of commitment to the occupation strategy which was in place— confirming to my satisfaction all suspicions that he was trying to fight this war on the cheap, in support of his precious theories about small light forces using big futuristic techno-toys.

Good riddance to him. He doesn’t get it, and never did.

However, a funny thing happened on the way to Armageddon. Once the Baker-Hamilton Commission revealed itself to be an over-hyped gas-leak, popping out clichés and vagaries like a Pez-dispenser on auto-pilot— and then the new Secretary of Defense, John Gates, proved he could be a force to be reckoned with, without pissing everybody off-- suddenly tongues were loosed and it was permissible once again to contemplate victory.

Is it “inappropriate”, not to mention ghoulish, bellicose, hypocritical, and perverse to celebrate the Nativity while welcoming the signs that we may be entering a decisive “surge” of war? To welcome, and pray to, the Prince of Peace as we gear up, at last, for an all-out attack on the “bad guys”? (that’s an actual slice of military terminology, by the way)

For the past three years American and coalition forces in Iraq have been in a war of attrition against terrorists who hide behind women and children, and who do not hesitate to bomb, store weaponry in, and snipe from the minarets of mosques. I think it’s time we took our cue from the Prince of Peace who picked up a whip-cord and drove the bastards out [Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19, and John 2] so the ordinary folk could come in and re-claim their rightful place.


First John Kerry (the haughty, French-looking Massachusetts Senator who by the way served in Vietnam, apparently as a self-admitted war criminal?) muffs his lines and stuffs it to the troops [hat-tip: Hot Air]— you know, that bunch of losers who ended up in Iraq because they couldn’t keep their grades up or get a better job.

Then New York Congressman Charles Rangel (mercurial, verbally-challenged but nevertheless decorated Korean War veteran) stuffs it to these same losers [Hot Air again] even more directly and purposefully, and I quote:

If a young fellow has an option of having a decent career, or joining the Army to fight in Iraq, you can bet your life that he would not be in Iraq… If there's anyone who believes these youngsters want to fight, as the Pentagon and some generals have said, you can just forget about it. No bright young individual wants to fight just because of a bonus and just because of educational benefits. And most all of them come from communities of very, very high unemployment.
And as if that’s not enough, no less than MATT FREAKING DAMON [Hat-tip: Hugh Hewitt] has let it be known that he doesn’t’ think it’s fair that seems like we have a fighting class in our country. That's comprised of people who have to go for either financial reasons or-- I don't think that that is fair.
It’s so unfair he just can’t even talk about it! He gets all tongue-tied and borders on being COMPLETELY INARTICULATE! It’s just that unfair.

Matt thinks President Bush’s two daughters belong in combat.
And if you're gonna send people to war ... then that needs to be shared by everybody, you know, and if the president has daughters who are of age then maybe they should go too.
But should they be free to make that decision themselves, like every other person who has ever put their toe into a military boot since 1973? Or should they be “sent” because of public pressure from voices of authority like Matt Freaking Damon? And should Matt Damon be free to decide whether he should serve in the war? Or should he be sent, drafted, like Elvis? Or should the public put so much pressure on him that he should enlist himself, like so many REAL STARS from Hollywood’s “Golden Age” did? People like Jimmy Stewart, Tyrone Power, Lee Marvin, Clark Gable, and many others, whom the admittedly talented Damon couldn’t hold a candle to on the screen, much less in the arena of public service.

The military is a profession that runs on acronyms. Here’s one for these guys: STFU.

These days, what with global communication and all, it doesn’t take long before this kind of stuff comes back to haunt you anyway. Check out the recent visit to Iraq by the desperate-for-a-comeback Senator Kerry. Guess it’s lonely at the top when you’re the new kid in the lunchroom:

Here’s the pathetic story from a soldier in the field (Hat-tip: Scott Hennen at AreaVoices, via the guys at Powerline). Money quote:
This is a true story.....Check out this photo from our mess hall at the US Embassy yesterday morning. Sen. Kerry found himself all alone while he was over here. He cancelled his press conference because no one came, he worked out alone in the gym w/o any soldiers even going up to say hi or ask for an autograph (I was one of those who was in the gym at the same time), and he found himself eating breakfast with only a couple of folks who are obviously not troops.
Further stories of how far Green zone personnel went to avoid encountering the Senator are here from Ben of Mesopotamia (via Instpaundit). His money quote:
Rumor has it that somebody gave his [Kerry’s] helicopter flights the designation "Weasel 61."
Apropos of all this, may I remind the reader that I’m the proud mom of a Magna Cum Laude graduate of St. Anselm College in New Hampshire, with a major in history and a specialist certificate in Classics, who on his graduation day was commissioned into the United States Marine Corps. And about a week ago I found out that another son, soon to graduate with an A-minus average from Providence College in Rhode Island, with Political Science major and a Theology minor, will be applying to the United States Navy Officer Candidate School.

Why didn’t anyone ever tell me my own kids were so poor and so dumb?

Here's a prayer for these men of good will (sing it, David-- #91 on the harpist's Top 150 chart):
…He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
For he will give his angels charge of you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.