Monthly Archives: August 2014

WAR WEARY AMERICANS

In 1864 the Civil War between the states had been dragging on for over 3 years. Soldiers on both sides were being slaughtered by the tens of thousands on blood-drenched battlefields. It appeared that both sides had fought to a stalemate, and war fatigue or weariness was beginning to set in big time, especially in the North. Although the Union had superior forces, its incompetent generals were continually being out-manuevered by the Confederacy’s more clever Robert E. Lee and his generals. (At one point in 1864, Confederate troops had come within 5 miles of the White House.) Northerners were becoming sick of the on-going bloodshed and mayhem. There was a growing feeling in the North that the South should be allowed to leave the Union, and keep their slaves, if that’s what it would take to end the bloody conflict. President Abraham Lincoln himself, believed that his re-election effort due in November of that year would almost certainly fail, because of the public’s sour mood.

And then, suddenly, the Union finally got its act together. For years, Union troops had been led by incompetent or timid leadership, that was largely responsible for the ensuing stalemate. But with the appointment of Ulysses S. Grant as Commanding General of all Union forces, and William T. Sherman as head of the Union armies marching through the deep South, the Union’s fortunes improved dramatically. Sherman’s march through the South was unparalleled, and left a trail of total destruction of Confederate resources. When Sherman’s troops captured Atlanta on September 3, 1864, burning most of it to the ground, it was apparent to everyone that Confederate aspirations were doomed. The mood in the North improved dramatically, as it was believed that the war would quickly come to an end, and Lincoln easily won reelection. He would live to see passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that would ban slavery forever. The problem was, however, that war weariness resulted in Union troops leaving the South on its own, too quickly.

Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865, and was succeeded by his Vice-President, Andrew Johnson from Tennessee. Johnson’s primary objective was to ensure that the country returned to normalcy as quickly as possible. So he pulled Union occupying forces out of the South in short order, leaving the Southern states to their own devices. But as what usually happens when the good guys leave the scene and a vacuum is created, did occur. Evil moved in to fill that vacuum. Each Southern state quickly passed strict segregation laws which made blacks second class citizens. Poll Tax legislation was also enacted which effectively barred most blacks from voting in all elections. These laws and practices, known as Jim Crow, effectively kept blacks in a state of semi-slavery for the next hundred years, until they finally started to break down in the 1960s.

Now fast forward to the outbreak of World WarI, in 1914, or a hundred years ago. The war pitted Germany against the allies of Britain, France and Czarist Russia. As I’ve written before, that conflict soon broke down into a despicable nightmare of trench warfare, where again, troops on both sides were being killed by the tens of thousands. Being stuck in the trenches was a hellish existence of mud, filth and disease. It was estimated that more soldiers died from disease, than from bullets or bombs. Again, that conflict was stalemated and people around the world were sick of it all. But President Woodrow Wilson, after being reelected in 1916 on a platform that said-“he kept us out of war”-decided that U.S. forces did, indeed, have to go overseas in order to break the stalemate. Shortly thereafter, the Bolshevik revolution took place in Russia, which then pulled out of the war. That meant that Germany had to be concerned with fighting the war on only the western front. But with the infusion of fresh American troops the stalemate was finally broken, and the Allies went on to victory. But the trouble, once again, was that the good guys pulled out too soon, leaving a vacuum for the bad guys to fill.

With no Allied forces left in Germany, it was open season on hate and deception. A little man, with a funny mustache and bad haircut, who had been a Corporeal in WWI, nevertheless found that he had enormous powers of persuasion to peddle his hate-filled invective, and beyond all odds, rose to become dictator of Germany. With no U.S. forces left on the continent, Adolph Hitler and his Nazi troops were left unfettered to rampage through all of Europe. It was only the British Royal Air Force (RAF) that prevented Hitler from taking England too, at least until the U.S., unwillingly, finally came to the aid of Allied forces. But not until 60 million lives were lost during that bloody conflict. The U.S. had finally learned its lesson the hard way, and this time, kept U.S. forces in Europe
after the war’s end. Today, almost 70 years since the end of WWII, U.S. troops and bases are still stationed in England, Germany, Italy and other countries.

So, we now come to present day world events. The U.S. has been at war in Afghanistan for 13 long years and has just pulled out of Iraq after 10 bloody years that cost 6000 American military and civilian deaths, and tens of thousands more of severely wounded American troops. Talk about war-weariness. Who isn’t sick of it all. Who doesn’t want us to just get out of Afghanistan and be done with the Mid-East once and for all. The trouble is, as we’ve seen before, when the good guys leave, evil comes in to fill the vacuum. And like clockwork, evil has made a grand entry into Iraq upon our departure. A terrorist group with the initials ISIS, that makes Al-Qaeda look timid, has suddenly captured thousands of square miles in Iraq and Syria, all the while committing unspeakable crimes and murders, and threatens further gains and advances. They recently beheaded a British journalist, just for kicks, I presume, and they threaten to gobble up the rest of Iraq. The current U.S. Administration’s response has been to launch a few lackluster bombing raids against ISIS trucks and other vehicles.

So the question is, do we launch a full throttle military assault on ISIS and other similar terrorist organizations, while it still can be done relatively cheaply in terms of lives lost and resources expended. Or do we sit back and watch events unfold from the sidelines. Each day that we delay meaningful action, they get stronger, and a future conflict becomes more costly. Will it take a repeat of 9/11 to make us realize that we don’t have the luxury of not taking military action. Evil, as I’ve said before, is a bottomless pit, and if the good guys don’t act to crush it in its infancy, it will just keep spreading across the planet. Yes, we’re all war-weary, but sometimes you just have to put all that weariness behind you, and do what needs to be done.

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ELECTRICITY JUNKIES

These days, when most of us arise in the morning, we’re likely to scan our I-Phones for any texts, or missed calls we may have received while we were sleeping. Who knows, maybe we’ve won a giant jackpot somewhere in the world during during the previous night. Or someone is texting to inform us that our long lost Uncle Willy, that we didn’t even know we had, just died and left us a fortune in his will. Then, still using our I-Phones or perhaps a laptop or tablet, we’ll next check our e-mail to see if such fortuitous news might be lurking there. Perhaps we might turn on the TV to keep up with the latest events both audibly and visually. We might also get out our ATM card because we plan to stop by the bank to obtain some cash. Or our credit card if we’re headed for the department store or the gas station. (I’m an exception to all this, since I generally read the newspaper when having breakfast.) All of this, of course, totally depends on the free flow and availability of an unseen product called electricity. Something that didn’t exist when Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, or when the U.S. Constitution was ratified.

But what would happen if the silent, unseen current of electricity that we all take for granted, suddenly vanished like the morning mist. Devastation is what would happen. Devastation beyond beyond all imagination. Planes would fall out of the sky and massive traffic jams and accidents would occur. Your ATM cards would be useless at banks no matter what your account balances were. Credit cards would also be worthless. Food inventories in stores would be ransacked by roving mobs until the shelves were empty. All this, and much, much more would occur within an hour should our electrical grid be destroyed. Unfortunately, such an event is well within the realm of possibility. Welcome to the world of EMP, or electromagnetic pulse.

A sudden burst of EMP could create an apocalyptic nightmare, which would destroy, in moments, the electronic gadgetry that civilization increasingly depends on. Here’s the scenario.  A U.S. enemy, like say North Korea or Iran, or a terrorist organization that could its hands on a nuclear weapon, could launch a nuclear missile at high altitude above the U.S. The explosion of such a weapon would release a burst of radiation that would interact with the Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere, and deliver a powerful burst of electrical current that could totally devastate our grid and all electrical appliances. And don’t think that terrorist groups around the world are not working around the clock to secure such a weapon and bring this event to fruition.

A recent report by a Congressional EMP Commission stated that: “terrorists or state actors that possess relatively unsophisticated missiles armed with nuclear warheads may well calculate that, instead of destroying a city or military base, they may gain the greatest political utility from one or a few such weapons… in an EMP attack.” And by the way, in 2012, North Korea successfully orbited a satellite, the KSM-3, compatible with the size and weight of a small nuclear warhead. The Commission further stated that within one year of a nation-wide blackout, up to 90% of the U.S. population would likely perish from starvation, disease and societal breakdown. One other thing. Even if an enemy does not strike in such fashion, the possibility exists that a catastrophic EMP could occur naturally, triggered by a severe solar flare.

Congress, in reaction to the EMP Commission’s findings, did introduce legislation in 2013, that would initiate actions that could  possibly shield our electrical grid from EMP attacks. The legislation, thus far, has gone nowhere. After all, enacting such legislation would require a spirit of cooperation, instead of the dysfunction and polarization that Congress is so well noted for. Meanwhile the vulnerability is there, and the saddest part is that most people are totally clueless that it exists in the first place. It’s far more important to keep up with the Kardashians than to worry about things like EMP attacks.

Like the assault on our ecology, electrical grid vulnerability falls into the category of ignoring the steady ecological degradation of our planet’s resources, such as the disappearance of phytoplankton from our oceans, which provide a large chunk of the Earth’s oxygen. (Most people have probably never even heard of phytoplankton.) Or the steady disappearance of our rain forests which give forth most of the rest of the planet’s oxygen. They’re only important if you decide to inhale all the time. But there is one difference, however. While ecological degradation won’t be seriously felt for perhaps decades, a successful EMP attack will impact us within minutes. So while we can pass along all the ecological damage that’s occurring on to our children or grandkids, we can’t do that in the case of EMP. In the meantime, we’ve all become electrical junkies, depending more and more each day on electronic gadgetry and appliances in the functioning of this country.

I guess Ben Franklin never fully appreciated the impact electricity would have on our lives, when the kite he was flying was supposedly struck by lightening. That event, however, would truly change the world as it had existed for tens of thousands of years.

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BRAZIL’S MORAL EQUIVALENCE

So there’s a new 72-hour cease-fire in the on-going war between Hamas in Gaza and the Israelis. We’ll see if this one will hold for awhile, or if it will collapse into a new round of violence and bloodshed. But I thought that one interesting aspect of this conflict was the fact that Brazil, about a week and half ago, broke off diplomatic relations with Israel, apparently because of the disproportionate number of casualties suffered by the Palestinians versus those on the Israeli side. Let’s see. Hamas began this war by murdering 3 Israeli teenagers, and then launched a barrage of missiles directed at Israel’s civilian population; but, somehow, it all turns out to be Israel’s fault. Several other smaller South American also followed Brazil’s lead in severing diplomatic relations with you know who.

Brazil’s current President is Dilma Rousseff, who succeeded the very popular President Lula da Silva, a couple of years ago. President Lula was considered a left-winger when first elected, but moved to the center after taking office. He turned, pragmatically, to championing a market economy, and was credited with substantially expanding the Brazilian economy and reducing poverty levels. His approval ratings were through the roof when he left office after 8 years. However, his chosen successor, Dilma Rouseff, has been struggling since being being elected. The Brazilian economy, the seventh largest in the world, has begun to stagnate under her leadership. Poverty levels are inching up. There was great controversy over the vast sum of resources spent to host the World Cup Soccer Tournament earlier this year. The supposed benefits of increased tourism spending didn’t seem to quite cover the expenditures of building a new soccer stadium, increased security, etc.

So, did President Rouseff run out of problems at home, that she suddenly thrust her country into diplomatic affairs regarding a Mid-Eastern war. Not hardly. While tourists from all over the world flock to Rio, especially during carnival time, few ever venture forth to see its seamier side. While wealthy tourists are enjoying Rio’s golden beaches, about a hundred thousand people live in some of the world’s worst slums in the hills above Rio. Drug lords and cartels pretty much rule the lives of these slum dwellers. The police, over the last 10 years, have significantly increased their presence in these slum neighborhoods in an attempt to quell the crime and violence evident there, but have barely made a dent in criminal activity. Speaking of the police, a human rights organization has found that a greater percentage of people in Brazil fear police brutality, than any other nation in the world. With all the tyrants that rule so many countries on this planet, that’s quite a finding.

So why did a Brazilian president suddenly break diplomatic relations with a country far from South America, that it had scant economic ties with in the first place. My theory is that it all goes back to WWII. After that war, a number of high-ranking Nazi war criminals managed to elude Allied capture, and made their way to South America where they found a safe haven. Even back then, it appeared that Latin America was so envious or otherwise so distrustful of the United States, that they tended to side with Nazi Germany during that bloodiest of all wars. Hence those Nazi officials that managed to escape being tried for their crimes, naturally made their way to S.A. For example, Adolf Eichmann, who was in charge of the Nazi death camps that killed 6 million Jews, wound up in Argentina. He was actually captured  there by Israeli agents in 1960, and brought back to Israel to stand trial. It was during that trial that he uttered the famous phrase that would be used by scum all over the world, ever since. In his defense, he stated that he “was only following orders,” that were issued by his superiors. He was found guilty and hung for his crimes, in 1962. Another prominent Nazi war criminal that ended up in S.A. was Dr. Josef Mengele, who performed the most heinous physical experiments on Jewish prisoners in Nazi concentration camps. Mengele  managed to elude Israeli agents hunting for him, and supposedly drowned while swimming off the coast of Brazil in 1979. There’s no proof of that, however. Other, lesser known Nazi war criminals also made a haven for themselves in S.A. after the war.

So, continuing a 70 year tradition, the president of Brazil naturally sides with the enemy of the Jewish state. No matter that Hamas deliberately targets Israeli civilians in attempting to register as many kills as possible. No matter that Hamas uses its own people, including small children, as human shields to deliberately run up the Palestinian civilian death toll. It’s certainly of no importance that Hamas hides its rockets and weaponry in civilian apartments and houses, in schools, in Mosques, in shopping centers, etc. so that deaths among civilians can be further increased. And, of course, the multitude of tunnels Hamas built from Gaza into Israel in order to kill or capture Israelites is also of no consequence. To say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of tons of cement and the huge amount of resources it took to build these tunnels.

This is called selective moral equivalence. Since Israel has suffered far fewer casualties in the current conflict, they must automatically be considered the bad guys. But where is the moral outrage from Brazil when it comes to Syria. The despot Assad has killed 150,000 of his own countrymen during that 4 year, on-going civil war, but not a peep of protest from Brazil. Less than 2000 Palestinians killed versus 150,000 dead Syrians. Hmmm. I guess that when it comes to Muslims killing Muslims, they get a free pass from the Brazilian president. How about the on-going slaughter of thousands, currently taking place in the Ukraine. Where is Brazil’s moral anger against Vladimir Putin’s tyranny that is fueling that civil war. No mention of Brazil breaking diplomatic relations with Russia that I read about.

Of course, Brazil is certainly not the only country indulging in moral equivalence, so perhaps it’s unfair to single them out. But it’s highly illustrative of the collapse of civilized behavior that should be inherent in the human condition, but apparently isn’t. When countries that are supposed to know better, seek to accommodate the increasing strength of the new spreading, terrorist barbarism, instead of promoting decency, compassion and humanism, this planet is in a whole heap of trouble.

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A CENTURY OF VIOLENCE

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. It was called the war to end all wars; but, sadly, it turned out to be the war that heralded in a century of increasingly bloody armed conflicts that has resulted in tens of millions of casualties. It began in 1914 almost by accident; but in a certain sense it’s still on-going 100 years later. And it best illustrates the ultimate failure of the human condition.

WWI was fought between 1914-1919, and was incredibly bloody with huge losses of life, and precious little ground gained or lost. It came to be known for its trench warfare, as both sides become bogged down for years in filthy, disease-ridden trenches. At least 10 million military lives were lost and an estimated 20 million more were wounded. And in the end, Europe looked almost exactly the same as it did previous to 1914. The war was sparked by the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie while they were visiting Sarajevo in what is now known as Bosnia. The assassination was carried out by a Serbian anarchist, who today, would probably be called a terrorist. Austria then demanded apologies and reparations from Serbia which in the end, never materialized.

It’s important to note that both Austria and Serbia were two-bit players at that time, in the European scheme of things. If the hard feelings resulting from the assassination had been confined to just Austria and Serbia, WWI would likely never have occurred. However, Austria, getting nowhere in the demands it placed on  Serbia, then called on its much more powerful ally, Germany, to come to its aid. After all, they were both German speaking nations. Serbia, realizing that the German Army could conquer them in days, called on its more powerful ally, Russia, to protect its borders. The trouble was, that Russia also had treaties with both France and England, who were also major players, so the festivities were on. It became a shooting war, essentially between Germany and the allies of Russia, France and England.

Germany realized it probably couldn’t win a 2 front war (Russia to the East, and France and Britain to the West) so its plan was to destroy France and drive the British off the continent in the 2 months or so it would take Russia to mobilize enough troops and armaments to engage in the fighting. It didn’t quite turn out that way, however. The French were able to stop the German invasion before it reached Paris, and both sides became mired down in deeply dug trenches, shooting at each other across a patch of ground known as no-mans land. Each side fired long-range artillery or lobbed grenades at one another, but any significant territorial advancement seemed impossible. The trenches were muddy and filthy beyond description, and soldiers on both sides contracted and died from disease by the tens of thousands. Never had the futility of war been so clearly demonstrated.

Finally the Allies were able to persuade the United States to come to their assistance. The U.S. up to that point had been highly isolationist, but President Woodrow Wilson finally agreed to aid the Allied cause, and the first U.S. troops entered WWI in 1917. At about the same time, Russia became swept up in its Communist revolution and decided to withdraw from the fighting arena. Germany then could concentrate its war efforts on only one front. The fighting then continued on for another year with millions of more casualties; but the infusion of fresh American troops made all the difference, and Germany was finally beaten in 1918. On a personal note, my father fought in WWI, and was wounded by mustard gas in the Argonne Forest in France. Both sides, at the time, started using chemical warfare, but the results were so horrific, that this type of weapon was rather quickly banned from use. It seemed so much more humane to kill people with bullets and bombs, rather than chemicals.

The war finally concluded with an armistice at the end of 1918, and then was followed by the infamous Treaty of Versailles in 1919. That treaty’s provisions were so harshly written against German interests that it allowed a little man with a funny mustache, but with powerful demagoguery instincts, named Adolph Hitler, to rise to power and set the stage for WWII. That war, again initiated by Germany as well as Japanese militarism in the Pacific, was estimated to account for the loss of a mere 60 million lives before it concluded in 1945. Once again the U.S. retreated to isolationism after peace was declared. Surely, after seeing the horrors of WWII, the concentration camps, the holocaust, the starvations, people would never again engage in such despicable adventurism, would they? Well, it didn’t take long thereafter for the U.S. to be engaged once again in a shooting war, this time on the Korean peninsula, which started around 1950, a mere 5 years after the end of WWII. President Harry Truman called it a police action at the time, instead of war. Like sweetening the cough syrup, it goes down much easier that way. In that fracas, the U.S. had to settle for half a loaf, as South Korea was freed to become a democracy, but North Korea, to this day, is dominated by a brutal despot.

And as we all know, it was a hardly a few years after the end of the Korean War that we once again became burdened with a shooting conflict, this time in the hellhole jungles of Viet-Nam. About 58,500 Americans lost their lives in that fiasco, to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of Viet-Namese deaths. And the beat went on. Hardly a decade later, the first Iraqi war was thrust upon us, although with far less casualties. Not too long after that came the Afghan war followed by the second Iraqi war from which we’ve finally disengaged. But it’s not just the U.S. Today war rages on in the Mid-East, in the Ukraine, and in Africa. It’s as if the human condition has degenerated to the point where the only way to settle our differences is by killing one another. The last man or woman standing gets to have their philosophy of life prevail on the planet. As it was in the dark ages, welcome to the new era of unbridled barbarism.

 

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