Thursday, October 27, 2011

Two Steps Forward But Three Steps Backward

...Or how I learned to stop worrying about the bomb.

Humans have spent over five-thousand years engaging in organized conflict fighting over such things as resources, religion, and political ideology continually developing larger and more destructive weapons systems along the way in an effort to stay ahead of the “enemy.” In the dusty and stranger regions of my mind, I somehow picture this all beginning with your average Joe Caveman looking down and finding a nifty sharp and pointy rock on the ground. After picking it up, he studies the stone with all his cave man intellect and suddenly realizes that if he attaches it to the business end of his trusty wooden spear it will be a whole lot easier to kill the jerk living in the cave on the other side hill preventing him from taking his woman. Since then it has been a never-ending arms race to build the next awesome weapon.

Hell, in a way I am sure even during cave man days the need for those “high tech” spears was justified in similar terms we use today such as “national security” and “protecting peace through strength” because some nearby tribal bogeymen were surely out to harm God’s true people. Of course, back then some very nasty critters with long claws and jagged teeth were always looking to have Fred and Wilma Flintstone on the menu, which made having a sharp spear an extreme necessity.

Speaking strictly about dangerous and threatening humans it would be severely naïve not to believe that there were times when some primitive version of Hitler did try to dominate the local scene in the name of Lebensraum or some even greater abstract glory like Manifest Destiny. In fact, some people got so good at their empire building they went down in history like the Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, and several others.

But the weapons used back then were far less destructive and with the world a much larger place the consequences of some glory hound organizing an army with the purpose of conquering the world, while terrible did not endanger the entire planet. The development of our modern versions of spears during the Cold War, nuclear-tipped Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles changed all that.

Now understand while no reasonable or intelligent person could ever considered the leaders of the United States as saints in world affairs the Soviet Union was never govern by innocent and peace-loving men and women either. As much as some rightly condemn American Imperialism, the Soviets were just as power hungry having bathed themselves fully in the blood of countless atrocities in their own country and the repression of Eastern Europe. So in a way I truly believe nuclear deterrence during the Cold War did keep the peace by forcing the more rational individuals in both Washington and Moscow to keep those with a desire for conquest and glory in check.

But like all conflicts the Cold War eventually ended and as amazing as it may seem nuclear stockpiles in both the United States and Russia have been steadily declining even though the number of active nuclear warheads in both countries remains insanely high. So, I have to admit I greeted the news of the United States dismantling the last of its most powerful nuclear weapons with glee.

The nuclear beast, a thermonuclear device designated B-53, had a yield of nine megatons and was designed to destroy command and control bunkers built deep underground. While I have not researched the issue given previous arms control treaties and the one recently ratified in the United States Senate, despite fanatical politically inspired obstructionism from Republicans, I am confident similar dismantling activities are occurring in Russia.

Even with the world still endangered by an overabundance of nuclear weapons it is a very small step in the right direction. Yes, before anyone busts a gut eager to shoot down my humble essay I understand there are still some very dark clouds on the proverbial horizon that have become a greater threats to the planet and humanity than nuclear war.

For me the main danger to the planet does not come from warheads and other weapon systems sitting in some heavily guarded bunker gathering dust. Sure, the money that went to purchase and maintain most of those weapons would have seen far better use in other areas but I believe the threat comes from a mindset hopelessly mired in the caveman mentality equating security with the ability to kill or at least enslave anyone not part of the right tribe or nation.

It utterly amazed me to hear some jackleg blather on about the United States being the greatest, freest, most super-duper special place that God ever graced on Earth. Do not get me wrong, even with an overabundance of idiots and morons messing up the works and refusing to address real problems the country faces it is a damn fine place to live. I just believe that with seven billion people on the planet we have long passed the point of the nation-state being a viable independent political system.

The problems of environmental degradation, pollution, climate change, over population, poverty, and the threat of terrorists using weapons of mass destruction long ago became global issues that individual nations do not have the will or funds to solve alone. Personally, I have to throw in multinational corporations as being a unique global problem in a league all by themselves. With a lot of corporations having operating funds far greater than that of many nations and on average possessing less morals and ethics than that of 19th century European imperial powers they are a threat that would make most gun-wielding terrorists turn green with envy.

So while I am feeling some serious warm fuzzies about the slow but steady dismantlement of nuclear arsenals given the current global situation we seem to be in a position of having taken two steps forward only to have fallen three steps backward. All told, given the size and scope of the problems we now face the 21st century will be even more dangerous and uncertain making the worst parts of the 20th century look like the good old days.

U.S.-made 'monster' nuclear warhead B53 dismantled
from USA Today
The B53 nuclear bomb was made to deliver a 9-megaton blast about 600 times more powerful than the one that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945.

Starting in 1962, about 300 of the 10,000-pound, minivan-size bombs were made, meant to be carried on bombers kept on 24-hour alert at the height of U.S.-Soviet tensions.

"Obviously, this was one of the largest weapons we had. It was a big one," says Greg Cunningham of the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration's Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas. At the plant, a ceremony marked the removal of high explosives from the last of the final 50 B53 bombs held in a reserve after the weapon's 1997 retirement.

"Monster really is the word. It would have created a fireball several miles wide," says noted nuclear history author Richard Rhodes.

"The world is a safer place with this dismantlement," said NNSA chief Thomas D'Agostino, in a statement. "The B53 was a weapon developed in another time for a different world."

The B53 was a thermonuclear device: An atomic bomb set off a larger hydrogen one, creating a tremendously powerful blast intended to annihilate Russian command bunkers deep underground. It was replaced by smaller, more accurate "bunker buster" weapons.

Uranium from the dismantled bombs will be sent to the Energy Department's Oak Ridge, Tenn., facility.

"The good news is we are taking some of our old nuclear weapons apart," says Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), a national security think tank based in Washington, D.C. "On the other hand, it's not like we still don't have plenty." Bomb dismantlement work at the Pantex plant, scheduled until 2022, he notes, has been slowed by weapon modernization work underway there.

Under 2010 treaty obligations, U.S. active strategic nuclear warheads will drop to 1,550 by 2018. About 5,000 nuclear weapons now remain deployed by the U.S. military, Kristensen notes.

Although President Obama has called for lowering nuclear weapons numbers, the administration urged a Senate committee this month to support efforts to modernize U.S. nuclear weapons, an estimated decade-long $85 billion commitment.

"We're not losing any military capability with this (B53) weapon's disappearance," says nuclear security expert Micheal Levi of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

F&@king American Insanity

Truthfully, by now I should not be surprised when it happens but just when I think the insanity that passes as normal civilized behavior here in the United States cannot get any disgusting I am slapped upside the head with something even worse. At least this time it came from a source relatively close to home, the senior senator for South Carolina, his closeted sweetness the honorable Lindsey Graham.

It is strangely funny in a way; his honesty about profiting from war by rebuilding Libyan infrastructure and gaining access to their oil is very refreshing since he left out most of the usual hackneyed propaganda about spreading democracy. The very bizarre Moammar Gadhafi's body is not even cold and you can almost see Lindsey salivating at the idea of his corporate friends making even more profit. For Lindsey and his fellow Republicans America’s own decaying infrastructure is something to be ignored, or at best thrown a few weak platitudes before they divert attention back to some war they want to fight.

The question I want answered is do Lindsey and the others who spout this neocon dogma of eternal war even believe what they say? Have they deluded themselves to believe that Americans can conquer the world and spread democracy or do they understand they are just puppets controlled by multinational corporations?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday (Cycle 53) Over Playing Your Hand

Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.”  Romans 12:20

Having a front row seat to the second burning of the great city of Atlanta was enough to send a chill down the spine of David Walker as he watched the destruction from the safety of his personal bunker miles away from the actual battle. The bunker being buried deep inside a hill on his estate  he both relished the warm feeling of security it provided and marveled at the heavily camouflaged observation deck mounted on the southern side that allowed him to watch the ongoing obliteration of the beautiful city.

The big difference this time was that the invaders were not Union forces from the north but troops from the Chinese Army pushing up from the Gulf Coast after pulling off the largest amphibious landing in the history of armed human conflict. In the back of his mind, thoughts of hatred for the people of Cuba for allowing their island to be used as the staging point for the invasion radiated through his body causing his hand to shake enough to spill the cup of Earl Grey tea he was sipping. Even though he was a Prime Citizen of the Second American Republic allowing him greater access to rationed items such as the tea, David steadied his hand and carefully lowered the expensive porcelain cup to his patio table.

Inside the bunker, computer screens displayed, government approved, data showing the front lines stretching from coastal South Carolina all the way to eastern Texas with a second front on the west coast still confined to coastal California and Oregon. Blinking lines on the screens showed refugee routes broken down in different colors for the levels of American citizenship.

Even with the obviously deteriorating situation with the enemy pushing deeper into American territory everyday David took solace in that the Great Leader up in Washington would set aside part of his valuable time each day to broadcast assurances that final victory would belong to the glorious American people. Being a Prime, David also felt compelled to show the proper level faith in the soldiers fighting the battles to save the nation even though the army ranks were largely made up of worker and underdeveloped citizen classes.

“Please sir, can you help us!” A voice cried out without any warning scaring David to the point he dropped to the floor of his deck.

Taking cover from behind a railing David looked further down the hill from his camouflaged position seeing an adult woman carrying a toddler and a boy in his late teens tagging close behind her. They were walking along an old game trail that he knew several miles back came very close to the main road. While watching the three people approach David knew from their cheap clothes and desperate looks they were at best Working class citizens. He silently cursed the construction company that built his shelter for not fully concealing his deck from any trespassers coming from that direction, it was a huge violation of his rights as a Prime.

“You can’t be here,” David called out after getting up from the floor, “this is private property and if you are refugees there are approved routes for you to travel. You need to turn around and go back from where you came, I have a right to defend myself from trespassers.”

“Please sir,” the woman began again after coming to a stop and almost dropping her small child, “the Chinese have overrun those routes, we only barely avoided being captured after abandoning our car and running into the woods. Please my children are hungry and tired, and we are citizens in good standing with the government with my husband and their father fighting in Texas.”

David eyed the trio carefully taking their gauge as Americans the best he could. The woman and young child did indeed seem exhausted but the teenager looked back at him in barely concealed contempt. Realizing that there were rules even requiring Prime citizens to assist American of any class, as long as they were loyal, David was forced to bring them inside his bunker. As he waved them forward, he mentally calculated the amount of food they would probably consume over the course of several weeks. His one hope was that they would be required to reimburse him, with interest, for the cost of their stay once the national emergency was over.

As David watched the three slowly walk up the side of the hill the thought of actually leaving his safe perch and helping the tired woman by carrying the toddler for her never once crossed his mind. He was a man of power and prestige, someone who had created jobs in the great American Renaissance movement following the final collapse of the decadent First Republic, they should be grateful that he was giving them safe harbor at great cost to himself.

For a brief moment, heactually felt magnanimous with such kindness and humanity flowing from him. But the sudden sound of screeching from above and the explosion that followed soon after interrupted his thoughts.

Looking up David saw a flaming American jet spiraling towards his hidden deck. A Chinese fighter in pursuit was still firing tracers rounds into the damaged craft. As the final rounds impacted the American jet it exploded into a brilliant fireball two hundred above knocking everyone to the ground. As David’s consciousness slipped away, he was at least partially satisfied with the idea that he would not be forced to provide sanctuary to the woman and her children.


Much to his surprise David awoke to find himself lying in what was obviously a cot in some sort of medical ward. Disorientation and the mass of bandages wrapped around his head made comprehending the words spoken by those around him impossible. With great effort, David lifted his head throwing his vision in and out of focus to the point he really did not know if what he was seeing was real or some sort of hallucination. Seeing the blur of a man in what looked to be a white medical coat march by the foot of his cot, David raised his arm in an attempt to get his attention and was rewarded with the person coming to his side.

“Hi,” the man said in English while punching up data on a computer tablet attached to the cot, “I’m Doctor Ling of the Chinese Army Medical Corp and I'm the senior physician in this ward. One of our scout units found you, a woman, and her two children while inspecting the wreckage of a crashed American fighter. The mother and older child survived while the younger one did not.”

Enraged that one of the hated invaders was so close to him David ignored what the doctor said while doing his best to sit up preparing to say the words the Great Leader had instructed all Prime citizens to say if captured. “As a duly commissioned Prime citizen of the Second American Republic I formally demand your forces leave American territory and begin to pay reparations to the government of the Second Republic.”

Much to David’s surprise the Chinese doctor began laughing, pulled out a box from underneath his cot, and sat down on it looking at him in the most pitiful manner. “May I ask what earned you your Prime Citizenship? Are you a banker, corporate executive, or a figure in the ruling political party? Ling asked while checking the IV running into David’s arm.

Unsettled by the doctor’s almost friendly demeanor David answered matter-of-factly, “I am an investment banker.”

“Listen sir,” Doctor Ling began after sighing deeply. “You need to understand some basic facts. For decades your country played roughshod with the rest of the world acting like a petulant child when it did not get its way. Your repression only worked because no one had the ability to stop you. But the situation had greatly changed by the time your country brutally invaded Mexico and Canada to overthrow duly elected democratic governments. The rest of the world finally had the will and ability to act. What puzzles me was how the country that once championed democratic rights for the rest of the world devolved into a plutocracy controlled by a bizarre corporate aristocracy.”

“I’ll have your know,” David said enraged, “that the Second American Republic is the greatest and freest country God ever saw fit to grace this planet and free market capitalism made it that way. Your words mean nothing to me.”

“Fine,” Doctor Ling said clearly disgusted, “your army’s lines have collapsed again and this hospital will be moving northward in a few days. Seems many of your Working and Underdeveloped citizen classes doing all the fighting just do not care for the idea of dying for the Primes and your Great Leader. By the time we move you will be able to ride in a regular bus, that will allow you to see what many of your fellow Americans think about your great Second Republic and us heathen invaders. By the way, unlike your government there’ll be no charge for the medical treatment you have received or the food we gave you.”

Days later tears of despair rolled down David Walker’s eyes as he saw thousands of his fellow Americans greet the Chinese army convoy as liberators as it drove northward through town after town bringing an end to his world. In the back of the bus he heard cries of joy and happiness coming from the mother and her teenager son who just weeks before had begged him for help. For them a whole new world of hope and possibilities was being born.

(Author’s comment: In recent weeks a truly grassroots movement, Occupy Wall Street, has developed with common people protesting the blatant criminal behavior by corporations, bankers, and their political sycophants. The vast wealth the Wall Street “One Percent” controls has come at the expense of the middle and working class resulting in deteriorating social conditions here in America. Far from embracing this Occupy movement many in the business and political classes have made it a point to question the protesters intelligence and motives. The most shocking is how several of those business pundits (assholes) have stated that to be anti-capitalist is to be anti-American. Excuse the hell out of me but unlike many I have actually read The Constitution of the United States and some bright boy or girl in love with money will have to explain to me where "Capitalism" is enshrined in that document. 

While I am liberal I have honestly tried my best to keep some balance to my political viewpoint figuring that no ideology has all the answers. However, if the business classes want to define anyone who questions their omnipotent knowledge and religion of unrestrained capitalism as “anti-American” I will have to state for the record that I accept that title. I seriously doubt I have any more conservative readers at my humble blog but if my declared Anti-American stance offends you please feel free to kiss my pale, hairy ass. Just understand that one day you will have to pay the price for putting money and power above your humanity.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday (Cycle 52) A Special Kind of Hell

Flash Fiction Friday Cue: Tell the tale of two people pulling up in a car to a remote lake.
Length: As of 10/14/2011 under massive rewrite sure to exceed the word limit by thousands.
Genre: open

The cold case file that landed on my desk one morning was from the early days of the Cold War. The official investigation had ended back in the late-80's for lack of any leads and had long been assigned to the third-level subbasement of CIA headquarters in Langley,Virginia. A place where dead cases are stored, usually forever, and careers languished under life-sucking fluorescent lights and among a rat-like maze of cubicles. It is where I now find myself confined after a string of unfortunate operational disasters in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

In some ways, I should consider myself lucky that I am still an active agent and not euphemistically running CIA operations in northern Greenland. The agency is not a forgiving place, especially when a disaster embarrasses some elected official to the point he, or she, might lose their privileged position of power and influence. Trying to put an even more positive spin on things, at times I find myself thoroughly engrossed in the old cases that the basement mainframe randomly assigns me to review with me praying one would rescue my career.

Just when I was about to give up any hope of finding redemption a very special case was dropped on my desk. Right from the start, I was intrigued because it dealt with a couple, a male and female, of identified Soviet spies extensively trained in the arts of infiltration and sabotage that had disappeared as the Cuban Missile Crisis began.

Reading the file I learned the male, codenamed “Serge”, during that time was the best agent the KGB ever produced. He was fluent in seven different languages and scores of dialects, a master in weapons, explosives, hand-to-hand combat, and if that wasn't enough was a skilled SCUBA diver. From the ancient picture of him taken at some unknown embassy function I was not surprised to find he resembled a young Sean Connery. Reports also suggest he enjoyed a similarly glamorous Bond-like lifestyle with the ability to melt the heart of any woman. Nearly nothing was known about his life before joining the KGB although it was a given he was probably a member of Red Army special forces.

A little more was known about the female, codenamed “Isidora.” She was a beauty who was a combat aviator back when the very mention of female pilots in the United States Air Force would have ruined your career. The picture of Isidora in the file showed her wearing a tight fitting flight suit and posing next a MIG-21 fighter loaded with missiles. After leaving the Red Air Force, she supposedly married a senior Soviet diplomat but it was a safe assumption that was just a cover.

Individually, from the mid-1950’s until they finally fell off the face of the earth they were extremely effective agents successfully counter scores of Western intelligence operations. In fact they had caused so much trouble that both the CIA and MI6 still had active “kill on sight” orders issued for both.

After reading through the file, the crux of the whole affair came from a reliable report from one of our Russian moles back then of a list of KGB operatives chosen for training as sleeper agents with Serge and Isidora’s names at the top. These”sleepers” were to infiltrated a western country and live there quietly for years without drawing any attention to themselves. But, if war ever broke out they had specific orders to assist the Soviet Union by aiding other agents or performing active sabotage on their own.

From corroborated reports inside the Soviet Union Serge and Isidora were given the granddaddy of all sabotage missions. Their training involved the placement of a duffel bag-sized nuclear weapon inside the Washington D.C. area in an attempt to behead as much of the United States government as possible.

My assignment was, of course, to locate and capture if I somehow found them still alive although given the problems they caused the West I am sure my supervisors would reissue the kill on sight order if I asked.

Given the nature of their talents and with the reports that their mission was to nuke Washington the entire spectrum of American intelligence agencies began moving heaven and earth to find them after they disappeared. During those tense and dangerous years rumors surfaces that no less than two assistant directors had heart attacks because of the stress coming down on them from the White House to find and kill those two. After the Cuban Missile Crisis subsided the pressure to locate Serge and Isidora eased to the point that some clever bureaucrat was able to sweep the entire affair under the proverbial rug with the case being suspended until new leads developed. Except that no new leads ever appeared and after the Soviet Union fell the case was mostly forgotten until it fell into my lap. 

At first the situation seemed hopeless, after reviewing seemingly countless reports neither of the two Soviet super spies had ever reappeared, even briefly. I went as far a to contact long retired American and British agent asking their opinions with the consensus being that the two were probably dead. But it was technology that supplied the new lead that made locating them unbelievably easy.

Being sleeper agents trained to act as a “normal” American married couple for however long it took before World War 3 began it was a safe assumption that they had kids. Rightly or wrongly Soviet trainers back then believed that spies working under the cover story of being married had to produce children, otherwise they might be tagged as "odd" drawing unwanted attention which might endanger the mission. 

Finding Serge and Isidora meant running the pictures of Virginia and Maryland high school students of the 1970’s through facial recognition software designed to find characteristics of the two suggesting they did indeed have offspring. It took a couple of weeks but I eventually narrowed it down to a group of siblings whose aging parents still lived fifty miles outside Washington. Which made sense Serge and Isidora would need to live close to Washington to respond in time if orders came down to fulfill their mission. Researching the parents, I knew I had hit pay dirt when under close examination their personal histories fell apart before 1962.

After winning approval to proceed with the investigation from my bosses I located their home in a gentrified subdivision in northern Virginia. Given what I read of their glamorous lives among the powerful before becoming sleeper agents it was quite the shock to see two highly skilled Soviet spies that in their day utterly terrified Western intelligence agencies living a mundane suburban existence.

After bugging their house, I discovered not a nest of cunning spies still await orders from a country that no longer existed but a bickering old couple who hated the sight of each other. Serge, far from the dashing spy of the 1960’s, now looked like a permanently disgruntled old man whose best days had long since passed him by. The beautiful Isidora had become a hypercritical old woman whose grandchildren avoided her at all costs.

How do I know they even remembered their days as glamorous and dangerous spies? The thing I found extremely curious while I had them under surveillance was their habit of driving to a nearby lake and just parking in front of it for hours without saying anything to each other. The look of utter misery that took over their faces was overwhelming. After days of surveillance, I was struck by the thought that the lake represented some sort of escape from their wretched existence.

That caused me to scan the lake with a radiation monitor were I found the nuclear weapon they had smuggled inside the country. A team of Navy SEALs secretly removed the watertight container holding it soon after. As for Serge and Isidora, I thought long and hard on their ultimate fates. It was clear from their recorded conversations that their covert assignment had become its own special kind of Hell. I suppose that if I wanted to be merciful I could terminate them both but some sick side of me realizes letting them live is a far worse punishment.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Burdens Most Americans Ignore

“I fear they do not know us,” Adm. Mullen said of the nation’s civilians. “I fear they do not comprehend the full weight of the burden we carry or the price we pay when we return from battle.”

Call me antiquated but I grew up actively listening to first-hand accounts of the World War Two era from people who lived through the events leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor, during the war, and as the dust settled with the defeat of Germany and Japan. I would be echoing very tired clichés saying that it was a horrific yet incredible time that saw both the absolute worst of the human species and our best as we sacrificed much to defeat fascism. The problems with clichés is that they are essentially true, while people all over the world gave everything to make the world a better, safer place it is the stories of those here in the United States that I know best.

Looking from our vantage point back to that ear it is very hard to fathom the collective state of mind of Americans before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The horrors of the First World War were still very much alive back then and with the nation still overwhelmed with surviving the Great Depression very few people wanted to get involved with another European war. I guess the world was viewed as a much bigger place with two massive oceans safely separating the North American continent from the bloody carnage going on over there.

All that changed the day after December 7th, 1941 with the news of the Japanese attacks on the Hawaiian Island, men who a few days before wanted nothing to do with war found themselves standing in lines for hours in an effort to sign up and defend their country. My own grandfather attempted to enlist twice but was declare “4F” both times because he was completely deaf in one ear after suffering through a severe case of the mumps as a child.

During those uncertain years, Americans pulled together in ways that even now have become legendary. Everyone sacrificed whether it was the men who fought overseas or those who stayed home working in the factories, organizing scrap metal collections, buying war bonds, or just dealing with the hardships of rationing and shortages. It was truly a unique, unselfish age in American history where everyone shared in the adversity the situation demanded.

Wow, things have really freaking changed since then! Where once we had a unified response earning the people who lived through those years the nickname the “Greatest Generation”, we now have a hollow, self-absorbed nation full of squabbling idiots. Even after attacks arguably worse than Pearl Harbor with only a few exception the vast majority of “patriotic” Americans have decided to sit out this war and just cheer from the sidelines.

Poor Winston will have to excuse me but never in the American history have so few suffered the mental and physical injuries for so many who while being all for fighting the latest evil horde out to destroy the republic and defile our woman just never found the local recruiting office themselves.

Now you would never really know there was such a huge military-civilian gap if all you looked at were the magnetic yellow ribbons adoring the bumpers of American SUV’s. An entire damn industry has arose so civilians can buy placate that almost non-existent conscious nagging them when they just happen to be caught in traffic as a military funeral procession slowly drives by.

Living here in the South, which prides itself on having true blue patriotism encoded in its very DNA you would figure we would be bending over backwards to support the members of the Armed Forces and their families. Now since all things are relative yeah, I would have to say that on average goodwill and pride towards the troops is overabundant but it pretty much stops there.

Case in point was at my last job where two times a month I had to work Saturday and Sunday, which often conflicted with my weekend National Guard duties. This was a manufacturing plant and my associates loved mouthing off about the evil bad guys and how super-duper great our glorious troops were at blowing them up. Their support of the troops last only as long as they did not have to cover my weekend shift. See my service to the country at a time of war disturbed their hunting and fishing time and they resented the Hell out of it.

Being an astute observer of the ever worsening American condition I have come to accept this “Patriotism Light” as just another symptom of madness marking the decline of the United States as a great power. American patriotism has become a form of Japanese Kabuki dance where style and appearances triumph actual form and function. The country can go to war and as long as the majority does not have to send off their kids or pay higher taxes, they will gladly wave their tiny, Chinese made, American flags during parades and shed tears at the singing of the national anthem but do not ask any more of them.

The following is a NPR report from today on this very subject:

Veterans, Civilians Don't See Eye To Eye On War

Veterans and the general public have different views on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the value of military service and even the subject of patriotism, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center.

The United States has never seen a moment like this one, with sustained combat for a decade, and a small fraction of American men and women in uniform, the Pew Center says.

"At any given time in the past decade, only about one half of 1 percent of the public has been on active duty in the military," says Paul Taylor, who edited the Pew study. He contrasts that number to another generation. "At the height of World War II, nearly 9 percent were on active duty."

'Patriotism Light'

Pew interviewed 4,000 veterans and civilians and found that the civilians largely agree that soldiers and their families are bearing much of the sacrifice of the two wars. So Taylor says Pew asked whether it's fair that the military is making the sacrifices when the public is not — or whether it's just part of being in the military.

"The public says, 'You know what? It's just part of being in the military,'" Taylor says.

He says that answer gets at the title of the study: The Military-Civilian Gap. That gap even extends to whether you'll recommend that a young person serve in uniform. Eight in 10 veterans say they would suggest a military career; just half of the civilians would.

Mac Owens, a professor at the Naval War College and a Marine platoon leader during the Vietnam War, says that amounts to what's been called "patriotism light" – the idea, he says, "that it's real easy for folks to praise the troops and thank them for their service, but turn around and say, 'But my kid's not going in the military.'"

Those ritual forms of patriotism — bumper stickers and yellow ribbons and greeting troops at airports — don't require sacrifice. Contrast that with World War II when all civilians sacrificed, at least through rationing. What's different today is the only civilians affected are the spouses and family members of those who serve. And more and more, the military is becoming something of a family business, says Owens and other experts. Many officers say fathers or uncles have served before them.

A Sacrifice Others Aren't Making

But putting on that uniform and serving during the past decade has taken its toll.

More than one-third of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan say they've suffered from post-traumatic stress, whether or not they were diagnosed. That's why, the study says, nearly half of those coming home from those wars say it's been hard adjusting to civilian life.

"There's a very heavy psychological and emotional component here," Taylor says. "They've had strains in their family life, frequent outbursts of irritability."

Among those veterans polled, grueling and repeated deployments reflect a love of country. Two-thirds see themselves as more patriotic than other Americans. That doesn't surprise Owens.

"The military guy is saying, 'Well, I put on the uniform and I subject myself and my family to all these sorts of things, so yeah, I guess I am,'" he says.

The vast majority of those civilians polled acknowledge that the troops are bearing a large burden. As for sacrifice by the rest of the nation? Fewer than half think the American people have had to do much.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Technical Difficulties

Once upon a time, just last Saturday morning actually, this delusional social critic and half-assed story teller sat down at the kitchen table with his laptop and was typing out a pretty good story. It was going to involve yet another heroic loser living abroad in Belize, a beautiful but confused red-head, a jealous scarlet macaw, and a twenty-four hour marriage chapel made up like Elvis' Graceland whose minister is an ex-mafia type hiding from former employers, the FBI, and MI6. Unfortunately, last Saturday morning was such a beautiful day Dragonwife got up wanting to do yard work, after all the effort and gnashing of teeth by me when it was over I was lying on the living room floor after pulling something in my back. Long story short, As I was cutting down dead limbs from one of our trees it fell in a zig fashion while I twisted around in a zag manner. As I returned to writing my story later that afternoon the pain whenever I sat down in a chair ranged about a 230,120,516.21 on a scale of zero to ten.

After a couple of doctor visits and even a seriously awesome massage by a red-headed lady who could be the female lead in my story I can finally sit down and concentrate long enough to string more than two sentences together. As for my story, just because I am stubborn I plan on posting it when I am done even though the Friday Flash Fiction topic has passed. All things being equal, this past week just confirms my belief that yard work sucks and that I need to live faraway from any suburban setting where such activities are eventually unavoidable if not outright mandatory.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Walking the Arthur Ravenel Bridge

Since my Friday Flash Fiction story at this moment appears to have run aground on a small island called "Lost Plot Cay" I am posting a few pictures of my abortive trip down to the coast last weekend. Like most of my trips to the coast they are essentially unplanned excursions which tend to make them huge successes or total failures. At least this time I have a real reason why this one failed. With the passing of my dad-in-law back in late August Dragonwife has been spending most weekends with her mom in Manning, South Carolina leaving me to hold down the fort at home. Up until the very last minute it looked like last weekend was going to be another trip to her mom's to help organize things. When it fell through I had my chance to head down to the coast for a much needed session of rest and relaxation, especially since my usual travel companion my daughter Darth Wiggles wanted to stay home since she had invited a friend over.
It started out good with a rough idea of heading down to Charleston and finally visiting Fort Sumter, something I have never done in all my years of living in the Low Country of South Carolina. But like the saying Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance I did not check times and arrived at the Patriot's Point Naval Museum a couple of hours early. Making matters worse I do not have a cell phone and did not think about calling my cousin who lives in Charleston until I was strolling in the Patriot's Point gift shop. Compounding my mistakes I called his house rather early and left a message on his answering machine with no way for him to call me back. After so many mistakes what does one do? I started walking the Arthur Ravenel Bridge connecting Mount Pleasant, South Carolina with Charleston. Something I have wanted to do since the bridge was opened back in 2005.   

I know next to nothing about bridge architecture and design but have always loved how graceful some bridges can look. This one is in a class all by itself since I already have such an affinity for the Holy City. At first the day was glorious with a nice steady breeze and enough clouds in the sky to block the worst of the sun. It had already rained several times, something that would eventually ruin the trip, leaving a partial rainbow in the sky. Click on the first picture above to enlarge it so it can be seen.

Had to quickly learn the rules of the bridge because when I started up I noticed a dividing line which I took to mean the same rules of the road applied to those walking the bridge. As I was walking the right side of the walkway I noticed a guy on a bike heading straight for me. Figuring he was wrong I stood my ground forcing him to move, just a few yards later I see symbols painted on the cement below me showing that walkers go on the left side of the dividing line while bikers stay on the right. Oh well, I know now. The picture above was taken at a rest area about a third of a way across heading into Charleston. It is a remarkable location and if I was smart I would have just stayed there longer soaking up the view.  

A photo of the USS Yorktown, the center piece of the Patriot's Point Naval Museum. Patriot's Point did have a retired navy destroyer and Coast Guard cutter on display as well also but for reason I can only guess at the have been removed leaving only a very old diesel-electric submarine as the only other vessel on display. I have some vague knowledge that the Patriot's Point is having some funding issues which may have required the other ships to be sold. I know from a newspaper article hanging in the museum gift shop dated sometime in 2009 that the US Navy has told Charleston county the Yorktown herself needs massive and expensive restoration. On a side note the ominous clouds hanging over Charleston harbor are the main reason my trip was a bust.   
A view of Charleston Harbor overlooking a crab boat in the water and a nice portion of the city itself.

A shot of the "Easy Lady" using my camera's zoom feature. Now if there was a job I would lave to try it would be on that boat.

This a picture of an ACTIVE US Navy vessel docked on the other side of the harbor. I just thought it was cool and did my best to get a decent shot.    After walking about halfway across the bridge I returned to Patriot's Point with all intention of doing the trip over to Fort Sumter. What stopped me was an already very crowded boat loaded with families and groups. Since my daughter usually accompanies me on these trips a crowded boat would have been no issue but something just did not feel right about going with her not with me.

The back up plan I came up with would have had me traveling over to nearby Sullivan's Island and the Isle of Palms and just walking around on the beaches and seeing what trouble I could get into. Later I would have gone into Charleston, found a bar serving She-Crab soup, and called my cousin again. Just as I arrived on Sullivan's Island and got out of my car it started pouring rain. As luck would have it not two minutes after getting back in my car the rain utterly stopped and the sun came out. Oh well, I figured the I would drive over to the Isle of Palms and hang out there. Just as soon as I parked it started raining again and this time my frustration level was getting to the point that I considered calling off the whole thing and going home.  Long story short, while heading back into Charleston I developed a headache and it started raining again. By this time I figured it was best to abort the trip and head home since I had spent little of of my mad money slush fund. I figure I can come back down in a month or so, of course after making a real plan and calling my cousin first.