Sunday Roast: Memorial Day

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

~Lt Col John McRae

This is our daily open thread — In Memoriam of those service members who died while serving their country.

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Sunday Roast: D-Day

My grandfather was an ambulance driver in WWII.  He was a conscientious objector, but that didn’t mean he didn’t want to serve, he just didn’t want to shoot anyone.

In 1945, he spent his birthday — June 6 — picking up the dead and wounded on Normandy Beach.  He never really talked about his time in the war, except to say that if the Germans caught an ambulance driver with a gun, they shot the driver immediately; and that he’d been a Private “several times.”

Granddad, Dad, and I, along with several sailors from my Dad’s shop, took one of those salmon fishing excursions that took us beyond the Golden Gate Bridge.  On the way back from a great day’s fishing, the guys running the boat were gutting the fish and tossing them to the hovering seagulls.  In my mind’s eye, I can still see Granddad standing on the back of that boat, standing ram-rod straight, with his hands clasped behind him, staring in the opposite direction.

He never went to any of the D-Day reunions.  He said he didn’t see the point.

This is our daily open thread.

To Know War Is To Know Madness In This World – President Lyndon B. Johnson

I posted this yesterday on Pennsylvania for Change.

Chuck Hagel served in this war.  So did John Kerry.  Yet the yellow elephants that got deferments find fault with these warriors.

Here’s a few cowards that were unwilling to serve or made sure that they didn’t have to fight:

  • George W. Bush – remained in the States
  • Ted Nugent
  • Rush Limbaugh
  • Donald Rumsfeld
  • Dick Cheney
  • Mitt Romney

They wear flag pins and called themselves patriots.  Yet when ‘Uncle Sam’ called them to serve, they found ways to get out of fighting in a war.   I’m sure there are more names to add to this list.

Let’s take a look at this war…

We fight differently these days.  Now the drones fly over our ‘enemies’ and someone thousands of miles away gives the command to fire off the smart bomb.   Without the close contact, our enemies are faceless and their deaths have less of an emotional impact on us.

I once had a soldier tell me that firing a gun at someone that is 100 yards away isn’t that difficult.  Killing someone with a knife is hard to do because it is up close and personal.  It’s hard to kill someone when you are looking in their eyes.

There’s no two ways about it.  War sucks.

Playing for Change:

Give me love my brother, give me love my sister, it’s just a kiss away.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, February 9, 2013: The Right Frame of Mind

As usually happens when a re-elected president begins a second term (and this is the first time since Jefferson-Madison-Monroe that we’ve had three consecutive two-term presidents) many of the people who served during the first term leave and new people get picked to replace them. Many of these replacements need to get confirmed by the US Senate, and it was during one of these recent Senate confirmation hearings that the subject of our nation’s use of unmanned drones was discussed, specifically their use against American citizens. It’s a very controversial subject. [NOTE: In the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. I have never taken a law class nor attended a law school (though I used to fix copiers in one.) But none of those things should matter because, well, you’ll see where I’m going with this.]

The nominee in question, John Brennan, appointed to replace Leon Panetta as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (or NAMBLA), was being asked about a report by NBC’s Michael Isikoff regarding a Department of Justice White Paper that laid out the legal reasoning behind why it was felt the president had the legal and constitutional authority to order the assassination of a US citizen in another part of the world. Not just any citizen. The person in question had to be “a senior operational leader of al-Qa’ida or an associated force of al-Qa’ida.” According to a footnote, “An associated force of al-Qa’ida includes a group that would qualify as a co-belligerent under the laws of war.” And by “senior operational leader” they mean “an al-Qa’ida leader actively engaged in planning operations to kill Americans.” You’ve been hearing a lot about this White Paper in the news lately, and that’s primarily because John Brennan was involved in the crafting of that policy. What you haven’t heard very much about is that none of this is really news. It turns out Attorney General Eric Holder pretty much laid out the same rationale in a speech given at Northwestern University back on March 5, 2012. But what is even less widely reported is the Attorney General’s stretching of the truth in making that case.

In his speech, AG Holder said

Let me be clear: an operation using lethal force in a foreign country, targeted against a U.S. citizen who is a senior operational leader of al Qaeda or associated forces, and who is actively engaged in planning to kill Americans, would be lawful at least in the following circumstances: First, the U.S. government has determined, after a thorough and careful review, that the individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States; second, capture is not feasible; and third, the operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles.

He then goes on to discuss what constitutes “imminent threat” and whether a capture is “feasible.” I’m not particularly impressed with his justifications for their definitions, and I’m not the only one, but my main problem goes even deeper. All of this discussion is based on one overarching concept with which I fundamentally disagree: That this is a “war.”

A lot of the discussions frame the conflict with al-Qa’ida (I’ll use the same spelling consistently in this post even though I have used other spellings in other posts) as a “war” and the justifications of how we use lethal force against Americans all speak of what we’re allowed to do in a “wartime situation.” This is very dangerous thinking because once you decide that you are engaged in a “war,” the door opens to do all kinds of things you would not ordinarily be allowed to do if you were not at “war.” In the same sense that if the only thing you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail, if you decide you are engaged in a war, everyone can look like an enemy soldier.

After long and careful thought, it is my very considered opinion that we should never have responded to the attacks of September 11, 2001, as if they were Acts of War, even though the perpetrators of those attacks considered them as such. I feel it was wrong of Congress to pass the Authorization for Use of Military Force, especially one so minimally but broadly stated. Under that AUMF, a president would have the authority to go after practically anyone because the decision on who to go after would be made solely by the president (as opposed to Congress or the Courts.). It says

the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

Anwar al-Awlaki, the American killed under the program discussed earlier, was not part of al-Qa’ida on September 11, nor did the al-Qa’ida in Yemen (or the Arabian Peninsula) exist at the time of the attacks. How they can be considered “co-belligerents” or even persons who aided the terrorist attacks confuses me. (This AUMF, BTW, was used as a justification for authority to invade Iraq even though they had nothing whatsoever to do with the 9/11 attacks, but let’s not even go there. The Congress foolishly left the determination of who we would attack to the president, and this authority was severely abused in the case of Iraq.) And yet the alleged authority to carry out these drone attacks against persons in Yemen supposedly stems from the AUMF. How can it? We have already strayed way too far in our excuses for why we are allowed to do what we’re doing, and it’s all because we have decided “we are a nation at war.” And we shouldn’t be.

Tragic and horrific though the 9/11 attacks may have been (and believe me, living about an hour and a half north of New York City, and knowing someone who lost relatives and friends in the attacks, and having personally witnessed the smoke rising from the rubble of the fallen Twin Towers, I know the horror of that day), they were still crimes, not Acts of War. And our nation’s response to them should have been appropriate to crimes. And you don’t send the full force of your military after people who broke the law. (After all, we are not a military police state.) Even in his speech, the Attorney General admitted that “we are not in a conventional war.” Do we have the right to defend ourselves against those who wish to do us harm? To a certain extent, yes, but that does not mean we can decide that we can send in our military to any country in the world and conduct war operations there. As much as some people would like to think it, we do not have the moral or legal authority to do whatever we want anywhere in world. I do not feel that terrorists should be treated like a nation state’s army. I believe that terrorists are criminals, guilty of committing, or planning to commit, horrible crimes, but they are not soldiers, and no matter how many guns they carry, they are not an army, and we shouldn’t wrap all our justifications for how we deal with them in the framework of a war. Because then there’s almost no end to what we feel justified in doing.

Usama bin Laden is dead. The hijackers who took over the planes that long ago day are dead. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the plots, is in custody. Why are we still “at war”? It cannot be because there are still terrorists in the world. There will always be terrorists and it’s impossible to kill or capture them all. The very fact that we keep sending unmanned drones in to kill alleged terrorists almost guarantees that more frustrated people will decide to join a terrorist organization near them in retaliation. Violence begets more violence. Something that never ceases to amaze me is the willingness of our citizens to use such deadly force and tactics, despite the fact that so many of these same people profess to be Christians. Didn’t Jesus say that if someone should slap our cheek we should offer him the other? How can so many people call themselves Christians and yet defy one of the main tenets of their religion?

There will always be people wanting to do harm to our nation and its citizens. We can’t just decide to call them all “terrorists” and convince ourselves the AUMF applies. The use of terrorism has always been a problem, and with advances in technology the danger has always increased over time. You’re never going to be able to kill everyone who wishes to conduct acts of terrorism, so when do we stop sending our military all over the world to kill them? When does it all end?

This is our daily open thread. The opinions expressed in this post reflect those of the author and not necessarily those of other members of The Zoo. Feel free to discuss this topic or any other.

Sunday Roast: The Death of a Butterfly

by Chris Streich

The New York Times

There was a suicide bombing in Afghanistan the other day.  So far away…the other side of the world.  It means so little in our daily lives.  What does it have to do with us anyway…?

At 8 years old, with freckles and a penchant for frilly dresses and soccer cleats, Parwana was just as I was at that age: equal parts tomboy and little princess. In the last few weeks, she had begun to wear a head scarf, but she clearly was not willing to grow up completely just yet. She was the undisputed ringleader of the little girls, and enough of a spitfire to give the bigger boys as good as she got.

She could belong to any one of us, really.  But she doesn’t.  She doesn’t belong to anyone now…except maybe our consciences.  We hear of another suicide bombing on the other side of the world, and think “Not again,” for about 10 seconds, and then it’s gone.

But this time, we see a face.  We can’t un-see her.  Because sometimes in this world, heroes come in the form of an eight year old child and her friends, who, beside skateboarding, loved nothing more than standing up to a big “bad boy.”

Her name was Parwana, which means “Butterfly” in Dari.  She gave all she had to give, and it has everything to do with us.

This is our daily open thread.