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Belmont Club

Unfinished Business

January 23rd, 2014 - 1:55 pm

“Yes, Marcus. They died in vain.” Thus begins Jim Ghourley’s column in Foreign Policy. In an exchange between Jake Tapper and Marcus Luttrell over the movie Lone Survivor, Luttrell rhetorically asked Tapper: “We spend our whole lives training to defend this country, and then we were sent over there by this country, and you’re telling me because we were over there doing what we were told by our country that it was senseless and my guys died for nothing?” Ghourley answers with an emphatic yes.

Yes, Marcus. Your friends died in vain. They went selflessly. They fought bravely. They sacrificed nobly. They lived in the best traditions of duty, honor, and country — hallowed words which dictate what every American can and ought to be. But they died in vain for the exact reason that they went where their country sent them and did what their country told them to do. America failed you because it failed its obligation to those principles. It gives me no pleasure to write these words, because it applies as much to the friends I lost as it does to yours. But it needs to be said, because the sooner we acknowledge it as a country, the more lives we might save.

As I write this, America is two weeks into its 13th and presumably last year of war in Afghanistan. Already, two servicemembers have been reported killed there. The strategic outlook after our withdrawal is not optimistic. Indeed, current events forebode a harsh future for Afghanistan. We are only two years removed from our withdrawal from Iraq and the al Qaeda flag flies over the city of Fallujah, in which more than 120 American servicemembers died. The ultimate failure of American military might to secure Fallujah does nothing to diminish the honorable nature of their service. But likewise, all their gallantry cannot change the fact that they died for an unfulfilled cause. The honor is theirs alone. The disgrace belongs to America. …

It is my greatest hope that Luttrell’s response opens a national dialogue on this subject, and that people finally embrace the true, terrible nature of our self-inflicted losses. Let us as a nation finally feel the guilt we ought to for failing our civic duty. And let that be what we remember before we send the next servicemember to battle. For surely, there will be a next war.

The date on the Foreign Policy column is January 15, 2014. But in spirit is closer to January 15, 1939 when it dawned upon altogether too many that the vast losses of the Great War merely bought a chance to fight an even bigger war. Great must have been the temptation to cynically scrawl over the Menin Gate. “Yes. They died in vain.”

There is a similar sense today of a collapsing house of cards.  Disaster is the new normal. One of the greatest hurts the Obama administration has inflicted on the national psyche is a profound demoralization; an acceptance of hopelessness. People are no longer looking for good news any more than they’re hoping for jobs.  Many have stopped fighting the tide of woe and fully expect more to follow, with nothing whatsoever to be done about it. An administration premised on Hope has taught us to give up hoping.

News that health insurance premiums are rising is met indifference. Reports that insurers are being downrated by Moodys’  are greeted with a shrug. Reports that Obama is out of money already and wants the debt limit raised by February surprise no one. Tidings that Minnesota has joined Maryland and Oregon in the ranks of state health exchanges that want to shut down and begin all over again elicits no surprise. So what’s new?

If anything, we are shocked that anything still works. So when Fareek Zakaria interviews the Iranian negotiators and finds no resemblance between the nuclear deal described by President Obama and the Iranians there is hardly a ripple of astonishment. An Iranian nuclear bomb? Tell me you didn’t expect it?

In an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani forcefully asserted that Iran would not destroy its nuclear centrifuges “under any circumstances”…

Reacting to Rouhani’s position, Zakaria told CNN that the Iranian President’s comments struck him as a “train wreck”.

“This strikes me as a train wreck. This strikes me as a huge obstacle because the Iranian conception of what the deal is going to look like and the American conception now look like they are miles apart,” Zakaria said.

By now we expect Obama to lie; lie for the sake of lying;  misrepresent for the heck of it, even when the truth can safely be admitted in candor; to spit in the soup for no reason that even he can think of.

And nobody’s mad at Obama. For they know the truth. It isn’t Obama that is frightening since he’s just being himself. It is the circumstance that 50% of the electorate wanted him — and may want him still — that is absolutely terrifying.  That is the source of the despair. We gaze into the mirror and lose hope.

Jim Ghourley puts the epitaph in the wrong place. “They died in vain” is less apt upon their tombstones than “they lived in vain” is on the lintels of our homes. For to all appearances, Marcus Luttrell’s men are not half so dead as we are. They live in some way still.  In saga if not as a blockbuster movie. But what can we say for ourselves?  That we live after death on some voting roll? That we resisted until the first stern admonition from Candy Crowley or Chris Matthews?

Surely the question of whether anyone dies in vain is one that only the living can answer.  And to be sure some have forged ahead in spite of everything. After months of agonizing over the decline of its alliance with Obama administration, Israeli pundits are realizing that oil exploration is their best friend.  ”In Israel the idea of a truly independent Jewish state seems to be catching on,” one friend writing to me said. And that is paralleled by America’s prodigious advances in fracking; in the advances that take place daily.

Even while Obama has been busy generating debacles some of the rest of the world has been performing miracles.  The most effective retort has not been despair but the flank attack; to ignore Washington and make things work on our own. And perhaps that is the way of things; for the green shoot has outpaced the termite from the beginning of the world and the candle, though it wavers, never goes out without someone re-lighting it again.

If disaster has a silver lining it is the realization that the Obama cavalry is not racing to rescue just over the horizon. Any chance of getting out of this bind is strictly from initiative. Get going. There’s nobody here but us.

John Buchan, who was part of the generation whose universe was shaken by the Great War remarked upon the tremendous healing power of life. He talked about how “the world must remain an oyster for youth to open. If not, youth will cease to be young, and that will be the end of everything.” We try and try again, if not in one way then another.

Barack Obama may not have believed in the Afghan mission. But they being young men, as some of us were or are, were not wholly dependent on official reasons for existence. For the young sometimes do things for private reasons: out of an independent sense of honor, for comradeship, and in the name of a  loyalty that transcends bureaucracy. Buchan remembers that we live, not at some distant functionary’s behest, but fundamentally for ourselves:

I have known men like Hugh Dawnay and Francis Grenfell who would have ridden on a lost cause over the edge of the world. But our Oxford group was not of that kind; each of us would have rejoiced to ride over the world’s edge, but it would have been not for a cause but for the fun of the riding.

An event, Buchan would write, is never “at the moment fully comprehended … time hurries it from us, but also keeps it in store”; and only later do we see it for what it is. It is less than completely true to say the Red Wings died for a mission order. To a certain extent they advanced to their own private drummer and died for each other without counting it a loss. Maybe the right question to pose is “do we  live in vain?” That remains an open question. We know the administration had not the least iota of faith in the men of the Lone Survivor mission. But by their actions we know that they still had faith in us.

What we do with that bequest; well there’s the rub. The present is all the past has to show for itself. The ball’s in our court and the answer is for us to make.

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Top Rated Comments   
We had the goal of helping the South Vietnamese hold onto a non-Communist country. We had done it in Korea. We could have done it in Vietnam. Except the propaganda and student unrest broke the will of the politicians. We abandoned South Vietnam just the way we are abandoning Iraq and Afghanistan. I lost six friends/squadronmates there. I was proud of what we did. Until we abandoned the South and the slaughter began in earnest. The it hit me. We risked all and some gave all - for what? For twelve years seething rage at our cowardly politicians churned in my gut. Rage suppressed becomes depression and I was deeply depressed. Thank God I found a shrink who taught me how to get in touch with my rage and to channel it. I know there are going to be a lot of our military who are going to experience the same rage and depression from this failure of will. I hope they can get the help I did. They deserve it.

We have the means to win but not the will. There is slaughter beginning in Iraq and will soon come in Afghanistan. Those who stood with us are marked for death. PA Cat's reference to the Philip Larkin poem is spot on. For the vast majority of our citizens "it is all right." Sickening!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment

Regarding the LOTR quote from Gandalf, the Bard said it with brevity.

Pistol: "Let us condole the knight; for, lambkins, we will live."
- Henry V: Act II, sc 1

Courtesy to a rabid dog does not prove your love of dogs. The public has accepted the blandishments of the Left because they are offered candy and the GOP has offered "understanding" of the temptation. The screams of "Hate" directed at any potential resistance are effective for two reasons:
1. because the slanders are not confronted the public does not listen to the preemptively discredited alternatives. That keeps the LIVs safely ignorant and controlled.
2. because the slanders are not confronted the ugly nature of those threatening are kept veiled, or at least plausibly offstage. The public does not have to see how truly vile the Democratic Party establishment and their shock troops are.

The solution to these problems is in being much more proactive. The Left must be pushed to overplay their hand. They must be challenged to move beyond private character assassination and threats or blackmail to public thuggery.

The platform of the GOP/Tea Party should be explicitly "Not Obama." Slogans should be clear and concise. May I suggest a Churchillian gift from the Gipper?
"We Win, They Lose."
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment

Is it possible that nature arranged for us to grow old just so that we may fondly remember the things of our youth? Or is it the other way around? Is it possible that nature arranged for us to be youthful just so that we may anticipate the wonders of the future? It would seem the majority are neither very old nor very young, and so to them the present is foremost in their minds, accounting for the angst and weltanschauung, the questioning of all they would not have questioned in their youth or fondly remembered in old age. The Navy Seals in Afghanistan did not die in vain any more than the guys who died on Omaha beach. Did the Legions die in vain in the Teutoberg Wald or the Old Guard at Waterloo? They did not. They died because they were soldiers.

Past green trees newly leaved, new green fields on either side, we marched. Distant white farmhouses, distant dogs barking nervously, cloaks against the misty Spring rain, we marched. North Africa the rumor, Zama the town. We didn’t care. We marched. And sang. Sang because we were young, sang because we were immortal, sang because we were Scipio’s boys. Publius Cornelius Scipio. We would die, and they would call him Scipio Africanus. We marched, to the sea and the waiting ships.

The long swells laid many of us low, but finally, blessedly, we reached the bay and the river. Alexandria at last. We formed up on the quay, a bit unsteadily, still weak from the seasickness. Fifers leading, we marched up King Street, past capering boys and waving and cheering men and women. Braddock was but waiting on us, it was said, before pushing off for the great western forests. Fort Pitt was the rumor, and that meant a long campaign for the Forty-fourth Regiment of Foot, but that was all right, we were young and immortal. The long sea voyage and the longer campaign was a hardship on the married men, but for the rest of us women were a luxury of camp. But that was all right too, for we all loved the same woman, and her name was Brown Bess.

We made camp in the forest that night. The Cilician Gates was the rumor, then south along the coast to Aleppo, where was waiting King Muwatalli and the rest of the army. The weather, thanks to Tarhunna the Weather God, has been fair. Crown Prince Hattusili has told us the Pharaoh Ramses has left Damascus and is marching north, that the fight, when it comes, will be a hard one, for the Mizziri are accomplished warriors. We set out next morning. The coast road to Aleppo was clear, the Mizzri still far to the south. Rumor was if we hurried we would reach Kadesh before the Mizziri. The sea sounded very near at hand, and through a break in the trees we could see a beach.

Curiously, the beach looked peaceful. Boats coming ashore as if on a summer outing, no machine guns, no mortars, no arty. Equipment rolling off and onto the beach, long files of men trudging up the beach to the exits, not a shot fired. It was surreal. I found the beachmaster, and he stuck out his hand. “Welcome to Okinawa,” he grinned. Inland, clear in the distance, lay a range of hills.

Purple hills shimmered in the heat hazy distance, the day growing hot. The muted sounds of birdsong and insect hum swirled around us. Across the field, drawn up in battle array, waited the Carthaginians. We raised our shields, and at the order, advanced.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (66)
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Shouldn't somebody point out that Operation Red Wings happened in 2005, three years before Obama became President?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Beautiful tribute to those men. Thank you.

And a grown up real life reminder to the rest of us about our choices and our relation to their sacrifices. Thanks for that too.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Richard and the vast majority of commenters here have an advantage that Obama, the Clintons, Reid, Pelosi, and so many others (NOT all Democrats!) do not have. We are believers in something greater than ourselves, something of more worth, more value than just our own little lives. Most of us have dedicated years of our lives to our beliefs, have tried our best to pass those beliefs along to our kids and grandkids, and have tried to live up to those beliefs. I think what hurts the most about Obama, Kerry, Holder, Hillary, et al is that they seem to have no higher aspiration than themselves. Thus, they lie with impunity, knowingly, relentlessly, because they have no reason not to lie, no reason to tell the truth. Can anyone tell me with a straight face that they believe the idiocy they spout? Can anyone tell me what they really believe and what they intend to achieve for the country and its citizens? The only answer I know of that makes sense is self-aggrandizement. That doesn't leave any room for you and me and our families and friends. Why does Obama lie? And Hillary and Bill? And Holder and Kerry and Reid and on and on and on...? Because there is no difference in their minds between a lie and the truth, there being nothing greater than themselves to believe in and therefore no reason to consider anything or anyone other than themselves. Lie or truth is immaterial as long as it supports the narrative.

The most frightening part about all of this is the fact that a huge chunk of the voting public has seen this, is well aware of it, and still voted to approve it by electing these creatures. Denial may be easy but it is patently untrue for even the lowest info voter. "I did not have sex with that woman." "You can keep your insurance plan." "I won medals for heroism in Vietnam." "What difference does it make?" Unfortunately, there is an answer to that last question, in a much larger context than Benghazi: It makes absolutely no difference whatsoever in the greater scheme of things. And, yes, they would vote for Obama again.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
On our day before the Lord, Hells fire will be feed by those that tried to split the hair, Joshua was commanded to slew all, leave none, G_d decides their innocences not man. It was honorable to man not to kill the three, not to G_d.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
wholeworldswatching asked "Where does one stand on taking a stand? "

As a veteran of, the ultimately successful, containment efforts for three of the worst environmental disasters in current history, the Fires of Kuwait, the BP oil spill and the Fukushima nuclear accident, I would offer this advice

"And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” - Matthew 13:57

Do the right thing and let the chips fall where they may. Ignore the naysayers.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I have noticed a cultural wall when talking to friends about "Lone Survivor", and the incident that led to all the deaths in that movie. It's something we all know, but are culturally unable to acknowledge.

War is hell, and blood, and death, and it is not moral, not when it comes to the point of the bayonet. It is just survival - either you survive, or your enemies survive. Here's where it gets hard - we all know, even the men on that mountain knew, that when those three Afghans walked up on them, they should have immediately thrown them to the ground and put a bullet in each of their heads, in order that their mission and position not be compromised. That would have been the militarily correct reaction at the time. (maybe not "legal", but it would have been correct)

That mistake involving those three led to all the ensuing deaths, and led to a great propaganda victory for the Taliban, and yet each of us recoils from admitting that this was a horrible mistake, probably because we recoil from admitting to ourselves that Real War demands that those involved make that choice, if they wish to survive. If you're on a covert mission in enemy territory, you have to quietly and quickly kill any connected with the enemy who uncover your operation - and remember, this is a war where there is no meaningful distinction between "civilians" and "combatants" possible.

I submit that if we cannot face those hard, dirty, soul-numbing choices honestly, then we, both as a culture and as individuals, have no business fighting a war there. We can never win as long as our fighters are held back by wishful thinking about morality, or whatever. And if we can't win, we shouldn't be there.

I note that our "solution" since them is to simply use drones to kill those civilians we don't like, because then we don't have to do it face to face and no one appears to get any of that "icky" moral queasiness about killing people who's faces we cannot see. That hardly seems to me to be a "better" solution, but perhaps its the only left that we are culturally capable of.
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1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
When my eldest went off to Iraq, I suggested to following ROE

If unsure, shoot first and ask questions later.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
We are all inclined to believe (and rightly so) that the United States of America circa early 21st Century has crossed the "50 percent" threshold. We, as Richard scribes in this piece, should be more fearful (and rightly so) of this surpassed threshold than the Nazgul currently perched in the Oval Office who, along with the unabated abetment of his unelected Blind Faithful, promulgate the propagation of propagandized orc, goblin and (unfortunately) man.

Out of this malaise seeps what should be a most-quotable quote from our favorite PJMedia columnist: "One of the greatest hurts the Obama administration has inflicted on the national psyche is a profound demoralization; an acceptance of hopelessness." Or, as an Elf may mournfully suggest (or an Enya beautifully sing), we are in a mornie ultilie, mornie elantie Moment.

And so the Despondent debate, as in this and many other threads. The religious among us ask ourselves, should we beseech the benevolent God as per Abraham in Genesis 18:23-33, or resign ourselves to the malevolent One as per Lot in Genesis 19? Should an actor or musician (or Conservative Speaker) flee from the stage amid a chorus of boos, or should he stay and continue the show because of that flicker of applause that he faintly hears amidst the noisier riff raff?

Where does one stand on taking a stand? The emotions cork back and forth in an ocean of gloom, desperately trying not to despair. Should I stay or should I go? Should I turn on, tune in, drop out? Should we do that "parallel universe"/ John Galt thing?

Eventually for me it all comes back to how one interprets the numbers.

Okay, we've crossed the 50 percent threshold. At first glimpse it's so easy to fall into the "boo hoo-whoa is us" trap, ain't it? But then just start crunching the numbers. Use a- pardon the pun- "conservative" estimate. There's what? 350 million of us in the US? Let's conclude that more than 50 percent are as we fear they are. Heck, round that 175 up to 200 million. Further assume that half of what's left over don't give a damn (I personally don't think or at least hope that it isn't really THAT bad, but, heck, we're being "conservative" here). That leaves tens of millions, perhaps fifty-to-seventy five million, who, in the spirit of this article, are of the opinion that our soldiers must not, should not, cannot, never, ever die in vain.

That is a lot of people, people!

As Karol Józef Wojtyła the Great stated with magnificent simplicity, "You are NOT alone". There are (still) 75 million of us! Let's roll!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Clausewitz had a term, "the fog of war." Who knows in the midst of war what is a which deaths make sense and which do not. Tapper is not the beloved of Obama. Outside of the Fox members of the White House press corps, he has been the one most likely to make McGee and Carney squirm. He's entitled to a slip every now and then. It was unfair to ask Luttrell to belittle the deaths of his friends and his mission. They made a single controversial decision, they suffered the consequences, and they fought like demons. Tapper should have asked that question of the SEAL task force commander, after first defining "senseless." These were SDV SEALs, new to the area of operations, from Hawaii, not Coronado or Little Creek where they can pick up the scuttlebutt of what was acceptable and what was not acceptable, and not likely conversant with the number of missions aborted by reason of compromise. When a battle captures the will and admiration of the American people does it not automatically make some sort of sense? No one who served in Afghanistan in their organization faults them. I know, I served in Afghanistan. I served in that organization.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The Last of the Light Brigade
~Rudyard Kipling

There were thirty million English who talked of England's might,
There were twenty broken troopers who lacked a bed for the night.
They had neither food nor money, they had neither service nor trade;
They were only shiftless soldiers, the last of the Light Brigade.

They felt that life was fleeting; they knew not that art was long,
That though they were dying of famine, they lived in deathless song.
They asked for a little money to keep the wolf from the door;
And the thirty million English sent twenty pounds and four!

They laid their heads together that were scarred and lined and grey;
Keen were the Russian sabres, but want was keener than they;
And an old Troop-Sergeant muttered, "Let us go to the man who writes
The things on Balaclava the kiddies at school recites.

"They went without bands or colours, a regiment ten-file strong,
To look for the Master-singer who had crowned them all in his song;
And, waiting his servant's order, by the garden gate they stayed,
A desolate little cluster, the last of the Light Brigade.

They strove to stand to attention, to straighten the toil-bowed back;
They drilled on an empty stomach, the loose-knit files fell slack;
With stooping of weary shoulders, in garments tattered and frayed,
They shambled into his presence, the last of the Light Brigade.

The old Troop-Sergeant was spokesman, and "Beggin' your pardon," he said,
"You wrote o' the Light Brigade, sir. Here's all that isn't dead.
An' it's all come true what you wrote, sir, regardin' the mouth of hell;
For we're all of us nigh to the workhouse, an' we thought we'd call an' tell.

"No, thank you, we don't want food, sir; but couldn't you take an' write
A sort of 'to be continued' and 'see next page' o' the fight?
We think that someone has blundered, an' couldn't you tell 'em how?
You wrote we were heroes once, sir. Please, write we are starving now."

The poor little army departed, limping and lean and forlorn.
And the heart of the Master-singer grew hot with "the scorn of scorn."
And he wrote for them wonderful verses that swept the land like flame,
Till the fatted souls of the English were scourged with the thing called Shame.

They sent a cheque to the felon that sprang from an Irish bog;
They healed the spavined cab-horse; they housed the homeless dog;
And they sent (you may call me a liar), when felon and beast were paid,
A cheque, for enough to live on, to the last of the Light Brigade.

*O thirty million English that babble of England's might,
Behold there are twenty heroes who lack their food to-night;
Our children's children are lisping to "honour the charge they made -
"And we leave to the streets and the workhouse the charge of the Light Brigade!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
BTFP said: We are going to win because they love life and we love death."
- Hassan Nasrallah
We can prove him wrong. We can chose life and win. There is a future

Hoo boy, while this is a famous and poetic statement now, it is IMHO one of the dumbest things said in the past century, in the category of Pelosi's "Pass this bill to find out what's in it" only moreso. If I were the emperor and my enemy made such a statement, I'd be more than happy to give them what they wanted and see how that worked out for them, crowing about it the whole time. Nasrallah takes it on faith (sic) that we will not. Grrr.

Of course this comes down to the old "die for your country" versus "live for your country and kill the other bastid" debate.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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