West Pointless

Robin Wright in The New Yorker, “Trump’s Vacuous West Point Address and the Revolt Against It.”

Could it be, a faux Conservative Republican losing the military establishment?

Ironically, for being so media savvy, Trump is not an orator. This was further confirmation:

“In contrast to the tradition of big ideas and new initiatives, Donald Trump’s first graduation address at West Point was vacuous—or, as Slate put it, in a headline, ‘West Pointless.’ Danny Sjursen, of the Class of 2005, who is a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and also a former West Point instructor, noted that Trump said nothing to heal a fractured nation. He didn’t address the protests over racial injustice which are taking place in more than two thousand America cities. . . . He didn’t mention a single theatre of U.S. military operations—not Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, or the many places where special forces are deployed or U.S. warplanes have bombed,’ Sjursen, who has chronicled Presidential appearances at West Point since Kennedy, told me.

Trump also offered no words of comfort about the coronavirus pandemic—or thanks to the cadets for the most complicated commencement address ever held at West Point. It was a stark and lonely graduation, because family and friends could not attend. The cadets paraded onto an empty field, in white face masks and their famed gray jackets, to sit on white folding chairs more than six feet apart. Instead of marching onstage to get their degrees, they exchanged salutes with Trump from a distance. It was another Trump photo op—writ large.”

How do you really feel Barry McCaffrey?

“Barry McCaffrey, a retired four-star general from the Class of 1964, who taught at West Point, called Trump’s address ‘a collection of awkward, badly delivered bromides. It was dead, disjointed. The good news is that it’s over.'”

Exactly what we’ll say on Tuesday, January 19th, 2021.

Who Is Eddie Gallagher?

Navy SEAL accused of the following:

“SEALs from the platoon that Chief Gallagher led during a deployment to Mosul, Iraq, in 2017 told military officials that they saw the chief fatally stab a wounded ISIS captive. Navy investigators said while several SEALs were providing medical aid to the fighter, Chief Gallagher took out a handmade hunting knife and stabbed the captive, a teenager, several times in the neck and torso.

The chief was also accused of firing a sniper rifle at civilians, striking a girl wearing a flower-print hijab as she walked along a riverbank and an old man carrying a water jug. Several SEALs broke the group’s code of silence and testified against Chief Gallagher in a military trial.”

Furthermore, Gallagher threatened to kill any Navy SEALs that reported him.

Imagine the Oval Office conversation.

Navy secretary: “Mr. President, he struck a girl wearing a flower-print hijab as she walked along a riverbank.”

Trump: “That’s okay.”

Navy secretary: “Mr. President, he struck an old man carrying a water jug.”

Trump: “So what.”

Navy secretary: “Mr. President, he fired his sniper rifle at civilians.”

Trump: “That’s okay.”

Navy secretary: “Mr. President, he took out a handmade hunting knife and stabbed the captive, a teenager, several times in the neck and torso killing him.”

Trump: “So what.”

Navy secretary: “Mr. President, he threatened to kill any SEALs that reported him.”

Trump: “That’s okay.”

The fallout from the New York Times:

“The Navy demoted him, but Mr. Trump earlier this month reversed that demotion, angering Navy officials, including the commander of the SEALs, Rear Admiral Collin Green, and Mr. Spencer, the Navy secretary.

In a letter acknowledging his termination on Sunday, Mr. Spencer said that he regarded good order and discipline throughout the Navy’s ranks to be ‘deadly serious business.’

‘The lives of our sailors, Marines and civilian teammates quite literally depend on the professional execution of our many missions, and they also depend on the ongoing faith and support of the people we serve and the allies we serve alongside,’ the letter said.

He added: ‘Unfortunately, it has become apparent that in this respect, I no longer share the same understanding with the commander in chief who appointed me, in regards to the key principle of good order and discipline. I cannot in good conscience obey an order that I believe violates the sacred oath I took.'”

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Always. Warfighters.

Trump isn’t “pro-military”, he’s anti-human dignity. He’s shown he doesn’t care about the sanctity of human life, let alone “good order and discipline”. The same is true for those blindly following him.

The True Costs of War

Sorry if you were wanting to ease into the weekend with a new girl scout cookie review.

In a chapter titled “Economics Confronts the Earth,” Juliet Schor, the author of True Wealth, writes about a group of economists, natural scientists, engineers, systems dynamic researchers, and other who came together twenty-five years ago around the view that ecosystems should be at the core of economic analysis.

“They were especially interested in what conventional economics wasn’t measuring or studying,” Schor explains. “These dissenters recognized a fundamental point about how our system has been operating. If the market economy gets large, and nature remains external to it, threats to basic ecosystem functioning will arise.” “Ecological economics,” she notes, “has mostly been ignored by the mainstream.” 

And she adds, “Environmental economics has also been closely intertwined with energy economics, which in turn has ties to energy companies and interests. And in the last few decades, special interests acting against environmental protection, often from the energy sector, have enlisted economics to water down regulations and forestall action.”

Put most simply, mainstream economists, by ignoring ecosystems, underestimate the true costs of production and consumption. Similarly, we grossly underestimate the true costs of war by slighting the devastation inflicted both upon civilians in the war zone and upon our surviving soldiers and their families following their return from combat. This MIT-based “The Human Cost of the War” website touches upon unaccounted for domestic costs, but is an especially good place to start to learn about the war’s devastating impact on Iraqis.

When economists total up the costs of the Iraqi war, they calculate the costs of the planes, artillery, food, energy, equipment, training, salaries, and Veteran Administration hospital costs. But they don’t factor in a litany of qualitative, post traumatic stress-related costs including substance abuse, depression, conflict-filled marriages, separated families, violent crimes including murder, and suicides.

More specifically, they don’t factor in Benjamin Colton Barnes and vets like him who can’t shake the violence of their war experience. They don’t factor in the loss of Margaret Anderson, the Mount Rainier park ranger that Barnes recently shot to death before fleeing and dying himself. They don’t factor in what Eric Anderson’s life is like, Margaret’s husband, also a Rainier ranger. And they don’t factor in what Eric Anderson’s 1 and 3 year old daughters lives are like now without their mother.

Just as many special interests that don’t want environmental economists to highlight economic costs to ecosystems, many others don’t want a full accounting of war’s costs. The tragedy of this failed accounting is aptly described on the MIT “The True Cost of War” website—”. . . if there is no accountability for the human toll of war, the urge to deploy military assets will remain powerful.”

The Most Difficult Three and a Half Words

A close friend has been experiencing extreme leg pain for over a year. She’s seen a medical conference worth of docs, had tons of tests, and is still lacking the thing she wants most—a diagnosis.

A month ago I went with her to an appointment with a rheumatologist who said the root problem was not rheumatological. Unable to string together the most difficult three and half words, he offered up a boilerplate myofascial something or other hypothesis.

Today we travelled long distance to see The Man at the Pain Center at the hospital in the Big City. I am always in awe of ace doctors. Dr. Ace studied her file for a long time, asked clarifying questions, and then continued with more questions during a physical exam.

In the end, he said, “I’m not clever enough to know what’s wrong.” I dig the way Brits use “clever” instead of “smart”. It’s clever. “There’s still a lot we don’t know about the brain,” he explained. Deeply disappointed, my long-suffering friend pleaded with him for a diagnosis. “I just want to know what’s wrong with me.” At which point he said the three and a half words, “I don’t know.”

Imagine if we lived in a world where one political candidate attacked another about flip-flopping and asked, “How can we be sure you’re not going to change your mind again?” And the candidate responded, “I don’t know.”

Or one in which every financial analyst asked to make predictions about the market in 2012 said, “I don’t know.”

Or one in which a Westpoint political science prof when asked about the lessons of the Iraq War said, “I don’t know.”

Or one in which Christopher Hitchens, when pressed to explain why he was so sure there’s no God had said, “I don’t know.”

Or one in which a man driving aimlessly in a car, when asked by a woman whether he’s going in the right direction said, “I don’t know.”

Or one in which Billy Graham, when asked to explain why he’s so sure there’s life after death said, “I don’t know.”

Or one in which Hilary Clinton, when asked what will be required to bring genuine Middle East peace said, “I don’t know.”

Or one in which Tom Friedman, when asked what the United States must do to reclaim it’s greatness said, “I don’t know.”

Or one in which Bill Gates, when asked why he thinks his teacher evaluation plan is going to improve schooling said, “I don’t know.”

Or one in which a blogger, when asked why he thinks everyone would be well served by greater humility and honesty said, “I don’t know.”

Teaching War

For all the excellent work social historians have done the last few decades, most social studies teachers still teach top-down history. This is history as experienced by presidents, generals, business chieftains, not ordinary citizens. Wars garner lots of attention and tend to be taught as too-sterile sequences of events.

Few teachers and students purposefully and carefully examine the human costs of war and peace movements are usually ignored altogether.

Too often a hawkish teaching of war is wrapped in one dimensional patriotism that devalues the constitution and the commitments, courage, and contributions of conscientious objectors. 

Iraq and Afghanistan offer daily reminders of the human costs of war, whether it’s the loss of military and civilian lives, the ripple effects on loved ones at home, or the psychological legacy of post traumatic stress syndrome.

When I was in Victoria, B.C. last week, I read the Globe and Mail. I was riveted by a picture on the front page of Sergeant Gregory John Kruse and his 11 year old daughter, Kari, who looked a lot like my daughters at the same age. Sergeant Kruse died in Kandahar province a few days ago from an improvised explosive device. 

A week before Christmas a soldier knocked on his wife’s door bearing a gift from him. Jill, his wife, said that’s the kind of thoughtful guy he was. He’d picked out a precious stone two months earlier while he was home on leave from his mission. The paper explained, “He had arranged for a fellow soldier to pick up and deliver the rock so it would be under the tree at their home in Pembroke, Ont., on the 25th.”

“Another soldier knocked on the same family door yesterday,” the story continued, “this time bearing grim tidings that Sgt. Kruse was dead.” “It was a beautiful sapphire diamond necklace, and now I don’t want it,” Ms. Kruse said. “I want him. I just want him. I loved him so much. It seems so surreal that he’s gone.” 

More students will learn that war is incredibly destructive to both sides and represents huge failures in diplomacy when more social studies teachers incorporate the Jill and Katie Kruse’s of the world into the curriculum.