Inauguration Day: A Re-Dedication

Two weeks ago, it seemed the grand experiment called America was coming to an end. A seditious mob had stormed through the halls of the Capitol, at the behest of the president. It was startling. It was shocking. It was surprising. The ransacking, the reckless disregard. The nation was at stake. Could it all have ended, left to the capricious whims of a mob?

Deep political divisions has been part of the story that is America. The founding fathers had their disagreements after independence was won. They singularly agreed on one thing, America. Setting us apart from the rest of the world was our ideals. A nation trusting their people to self-govern. Our commitment to freedom, then and now, unmatched. In America, where anything is possible. In America, where anyone can achieve their dream.

The scourge of slavery nearly destroyed our nation. Before, we referred to ourselves as “these United States.” Afterwards, we became “the United States.” Only through the crucible of war did we become one nation. Far from perfect. It is in the Preamble of the Constitution, “We The People, to form a more perfect union,” To be a more perfect union, we will always be working in this direction.

In the previous life, I was occasionally asked if what they heard about America was true. “Could you do anything, be anything? Go anywhere? Speak freely without fear? Worship freely?” I answered it was true. “You have to nurture it, recommit yourself to freedom everyday.”

I believe every word of the Constitutional oath I had taken upon entering naval service, then and now.

Could it all have ended? Yes.

Freedom is fragile. Love it, cherish it, with all you have.

We are blessed to live in America.

On The Edge

Last Wednesday, we were lucky. It could have been worst.

For the founding fathers, the concern was not so much an invasion by a foreign power; the greatest danger would be from ourselves. They understood the fragility of freedom and self-governance. It can break in an instant.

In his Farewell Address, George Washington warned against faction (better known as partisanship) and sectionalism. Dividing into factions and sections, while natural, would tear at the political fabric of America. A populist would use those divisions to deprive the people of their power and place it in the hands of a few, unjust men. Further, it would undermine the common ground needed in which we can agree on those principles and matters that unite us as a people and a nation. We would need to remain vigilant against those who would divide us. If not, all that had been hard won would slip from our grasp.

Washington’s warning seemed prescient as scenes from the Capitol played out a week ago. A manipulative, self-aggrandizing opportunist playing and preying upon the fears of his supporters. “I am a nationalist,” he said, not knowing what it meant. His supporters not knowing what it meant. Nationalist movements are most repressive and most dictatorial by nature.

Four years ago, actor Sam Waterston, wrote an opinion editorial in which he notes how lying has become a daily constancy and danger. “The great issue of today is lying — constant lying in public. Lying is the ally of faction … it is the greater danger. Yes, the word is lying — not negotiation, salesmanship, bluster, attention-getting, delusion, deception, braggadocio, exaggeration, bullying, alternative facts, or any other euphemism.”

The corrosive nature of lying, Waterston wrote, poses the greatest threat: “… the frequency of his lying [Trump] has revealed a truth we have avoided confronting. Like partisanship, regular and habitual lying is an existential threat to us, to our institutions, our memories, our understanding of now and of the future, to the great American democratic experiment … It blurs the truth, subverts trust, interferes with thought, and destroys clarity. It drives us to distraction.”

Waterston’s words have come to pass. A steady diet of lies and outlandish fiction has led us to this moment. A handful willing to violently overthrow the government in the guise of the common good. They exhort each other to “take every government building, kill the police, kill federal employees, kill anyone who stands in the way.” These are not the words, nor actions, of patriots. Nor, the exercise of protected speech. Rather, they are the words and actions of traitors.

Traitorous mobs like these rarely fade away. They only disappear when directly confronted. The days leading into the inauguration, and the days after, may likely be the roughest. Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, this past weekend, said the next few weeks, the next few months, we may see more of the same.

Chertoff’s advice, “Buckle up.”

Twilight Zone

A most surreal day. One that you don’t quite understand, but do understand.

I’ve been in places that can be described as “less than free.” In one instance, our presence was strictly to protect our consular offices. If need be, we were allowed to use deadly force against the gathering mob. Every effort, though, would be taken to avoid that kind of confrontation. While we had taken sniper fire, we did not return fire. But, we knew who fired on us. The mission to evacuate our consular offices was concluded successfully.

Today is one of those days that belongs in The Twilight Zone.

A certain president now finds himself to be obsolete. He can no longer be trusted. His orders will be considered to be unlawful. Those acting on his behalf, a seditious mob willing to be led into oblivion. A faithful follower today, an unwanted liability tomorrow.

The mob, they do not trust nor believe in the Constitution and the rule of law. Instead, they choose to believe a complex weave of outlandish fiction, conspiracies and lies that fits the narrative of a given moment.

Moreover, today was an object lesson on the fragility of freedom. It can disappear in a flash.

November 11

Many had perceived the question to be impertinent. It made sense though. “What’s in it for them? Why do they serve?” The setting may have been inappropriate, Arlington National Cemetery. But consider, he has no acquaintance, no familiarity with anyone in the military. Yet, he is hardly unique in this sense. Sure, he may say, “I have a great reverence for anyone who has served.” But a lot people say that too, much in the same vain as “Thank you for your service.”

dad near field hospital, 1st ID Lai Khe, South Vietnam (1967)

With slightly less than 1% serving in the military, the disconnect between the military and civilian population is becoming greater. Few know of anyone currently serving, or anyone who has served. It results in misperceptions and a lack of understanding of the military in general. The disconnect has made it easy to disparage, to dislike, those who wear the uniform. I have been called a natural born killer. My dad, a baby killer. Yet, when any kind of civil aid is needed, military assistance is often requested.

Earlier this year, an article appeared in the NY Times discussing those who serve. For some, it is the “family business.” Military service, a tradition passed from one generation to another – grandfather, father, son, grandson. The military life is a different way of life. It is more regimented, more ordered, more disciplined. It is about responsibility and accountability. It is a 365/24/7 commitment.

In the Times piece, the notion about mom and/or dad encouraging their sons and daughters to enlist, however, is far from the truth, especially those who have seen combat. Dad really did not want Ginny and myself to enter military service. “At some point,” he said, “you will have to pay the piper.” And, that is being sent into a hazard zone. Inside or outside the wire doesn’t matter. A frontline medic during the Korean War, a chief OR technician in Vietnam, dad had seen enough of dying and dead. “It is one of those things no one should see, least of all, your own children.”

with the surgeon dad worked with, 1st ID Lai Khe, South Vietnam (1967)

A family friend, Cam and Bobbie discouraged their three sons from military service. Yet, all three became career military men. Two of their grandchildren are currently serving. One, an infantry officer, the other a linguist specialist with military intelligence.

Mom and dad were surprised when I enlisted into naval service. They genuinely thought my career profile would not include military service. When I was accepted into BUD School, a few years later, dad was most surprised. “I did not know you are a true believer.” Ask, I will tell you there is absolutely no better place than America. We are imperfect. We have faults. We make mistakes. But, we strive to overcome them. I believe every word of the Constitutional oath I had taken, then and now.

I was asked, one time, “Why do you choose to risk your life for us? We are so unworthy to have liberty and freedom. No sooner you leave, we’ll return to our old ways of killing.”

Bravo, the unit dog 1st ID Lai Khe, South Vietnam (1967)

Of those who enter military service, they would be the last to call themselves patriots or keepers of the peace. Instead, they would call themselves ordinary men or women doing a job. Heroes, not really. Warriors, not really. “Thank you for your service,” not all that important.

My dad and I, we simply did our jobs.

Photo credit – all photos taken with dad’s Brownie camera.

The Other Fall Event

The other fall event, Election Day, is intimately connected with the weather too. It can be nice. It can be snowy. It can be brutally cold. The in-between days seem to be very few.

This Election Day, the weather has been a most splendid. Mostly sunny skies. Temps in the upper 70s. The clouds, the fair weather kind. A beautiful sunset.

The politics of the past four years has been most corrosive, chaotic and without purpose. Dad and I laughed quite a bit about the elected leaders, from the locals to the very top. Stupidity and idiocy does not discriminate among those in politics. Dad stopped voting, primarily for having to decide who is less stupid, who is less of an idiot. And, those tax amendments that keep appearing on the ballot, there was a reason why they failed the last time.

After all the counting is done, what matters is what has always mattered.