Who Knew?

I just got back from the North Coast so I am a little behind. First the leader of North Korea gives us dotard, which happens to be brilliant, but then the Secretary of State says what we all know, and calls him a “F*cking Idiot. Yes, those who know him best, know him well. The cabinet is afraid to resign for fear of what might happen, and there are few quality people willing to work in his administration. Of course this is a false attack from NBC, right? Of course not except for the little dotards (LDs) that still think having him as a president is a good idea.

They must think throwing paper towels to Puerto Ricans (also known as Americans) was not a “let them eat cake moment” here in the United States. Then there was him leading us in prayer in Las Vegas today, and make no mistake, distract them with Americans preying and coming together is just a smoke screen from actually doing something about guns. I can’t remember the source but someone pointed out the absolute stupidity of the Republican position on guns with a quote that went something like this, “We don’t care if Kim Jong-un gets a nuke, nukes don’t kill people, people do.”

Oh, and really you religious ones out there. Think about it. Does a magical being who knows all and takes care of your lives arm up a nut in Nevada. Don’t forget to thank him for that. At what point do you quit believing in a fairy godfather and get real about the world around us? If I believed in God, I would be running a “dump this God for a better one” campaign except that was already done when they wrote the New Testament. Oh, and lt”s not forget The Book of Mormon.

So we have a narcissistic imbecile for president, a party (Republicans) who can’t quite bring themselves to understand it is guns that are killing people*, and a large part of our population who as near as I can tell is brain dead, yet controls the Republican Party. I think that about sums it up. I think I will head back over to the North Coast where there is no cell reception.

*Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) baffled MSNBC’s Willie Geist on Wednesday when he said that the type of AR-15 rifle used by the gunman in Las Vegas Sunday night were “not dangerous.” Asked by Geist if he was “alarmed” by the fact that the shooter was in possession of at least 49 such weapons, Cole replied, “I have friends that have that many weapons,” adding, “That’s not uncommon in my part of the country.” The congressman went on to say of the semi-automatic rifles, “When they’re used appropriately, they’re not dangerous.” When Geist pointed out that “they have been dangerous for some,” Cole replied: “So are trucks driving into crowds.”

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Las Vegas

24/7 News of nothing. I am not saying the shootings were nothing, but I mean there is no point to the coverage except maybe practice for the next one. Who was he? Why did he do it? Who cares? The next one will be totally different and we learn nothing. Let’s lower the flags to half mast, express our profound grief, label the shooter evil, oh and let’s not forget to pray. You are in our thoughts. That about covers it, then let’s move on to the next shooting. Where we can repeat and rinse.

There is a common denominator here that sets us apart from other places where this is rare and that is guns, guns everywhere. I listened to an interview with a cop whose daughter was at the scene and he himself was a gun collector so controlling guns can’t possibly be the problem. People kill people, not guns, right? Except it is the problem. Wait, the shooter used an illegally modified weapon (alleged). And I can buy a gun like he had and modify it with little effort. Thank you NRA, I feel so safe now with my basement full of guns, until I go postal and kill everyone around me. Tick, tick, tick.

No, we are going to thank God for what the fuck? Tell those parents, wives, husbands, sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters to thank God for killing their loved one? It’s horseshit. It was as Lenin who said that religion was the opium for the people and that is exactly how religion is being used. Trust in God and do nothing. Thank him that you were not shot.

See a trend here? God does not exist or if he does he either doesn’t give a shit or his grand plan is BS, and we have to solve this ourselves. But after Virginia Tech in 2007 where 32 were killed, Sandy Hook in 2012 where 26 little kids where shot to pieces, Pulse nightclub where 49 more were killed last year,well, we declare it evil, lower the flag, look for answers not to be found, express profound sadness, have you in our thoughts, and of course pray. Maybe we could just tape the usual bullshit and replay it at every shooting. Save all those never-ending interviews of what happened, the same thing. Nothing changes.

Note there is one common denominator here, rapid fire high-capacity guns. Can’t talk about that. Oh, that is political (Sarah Huckabee Sanders yesterday) in these emotional times, maybe later, much, much later. Maybe even never. Why is it political to say guns are the cause of this mayhem and if we got rid of them or closely regulated them, then maybe we could really limit the damage? Show me a guy throwing knives from the 23rd floor who could kill 59 people. That does not seem political at all, just common sense. Ask yourself why are we the only country with this kind of repeating mayhem? The answer is simple, easy access to guns.

Second Amendment rights my ass. Read the damn thing. WE DON’T HAVE MILITIAS ANYMORE! We have standing armies. If you want to find evil, look no further than the NRA and the politicians who will do nothing. There is where the real evil is. Conservatives are a major part of the problem, but watch most Democrats kneel to the god of unregulated gun ownership. There is the real evil. But ignore all that. Let us pray.

WTF!

Shooting in Las Vegas? Could this be domestic terrorism? They found at least 10 guns in the alleged shooter’s room. Can we connect the dots yet? But the Dotard in Charge (DIC) is showing his empathy and labeled this an act of evil so I already feel better. I can’t figure whether to outlaw outside gatherings or multi-story hotels. Then again could guns be the problem? Oh shut my mouth! Nevada has legalized silencers! Apparently what happens in Las Vegas does not stay there anymore.

Meanwhile things are still fairly desperate in many parts of Puerto Rico although the relief effort is beginning to crank up. Of course once again the DIC is telling us the response has just been amazing. “We have it under great control.” That was after someone finally explained to him where Puerto Rico was and that they were actually American citizens (I don’t know that, but the big water statement and other comments indicates he did not). So if you want to find leadership, this is not it. His enablers are showing how empathetic he is and I just want to laugh. Empathy is not water, food, power, medical support, or a dry place to sleep. “Hey, get out there and fix it yourselves!” Really, that is leadership? He should have been on top of this from day one. Speaking of one, that was the first hole of his golf course he was on yesterday expressing his sympathy. Right on top of it.

Then we have the North Korean snafu (situation normal, all fucked up). Rex, doesn’t need a staff, Tillerson tells us we are talking to the North Koreans through back channels, and the DIC tells Rex he is wasting his time talking to Rocket Man. Of course enter the enablers who try to spin this as great strategy, good cop/bad cop approach when we all know there is no grand strategy. I expect Rex to quit pretty soon.

Then there is the story that the DIC can only respond to and hear good news or he lashes out so that is all he hears. On the immigration issue he is only told what they cost us, not what they add so he does not have to deal with complex thoughts or get confused by complex issues which might counter his policy ideas. Stephen Miller is probably the architect of that approach. He has no real intellectual curiosity and has decided what he believes, so telling him different is a good way to be unemployed. Remember the crowd size at inauguration? I am a normal person and I like to hear good stuff about me, but I also want to hear the bad so I can fix it. That is how I stay married. The DIC just reinvents reality so there is nothing to fix.

There was the vote and violence in Catalonia.  WTF.  People do not have a right to vote?  Spain’s reaction just reinforced the need to separate.  Oh, I understand that a nation, like ours in the Civil War, may have to go to war in a secession, but they were participating in a non-binding vote. There is a problem there Huston and it is not solved by a police riot and brutality.  And while I am at it, why is the United States against the vote for and secession of the Kurds?  Vice President Bidden even proposed that solution to Iraq years ago.  Why do we not understand the need for freedom and independence from a state that has repressed them?  We are really good at being on the wrong side of an issue.

Finally, I have been reading some snarky reviews of Burns’ and Novick’s The Vietnam War. Snarky because they said we should not be too quick to draw lessons learned, and some complexities were too simplified. Hmm. I wonder if these people lived through it? There were all kinds of complexities and all kinds of contradictions, but the big lessons are fairly simple. Here they are if you missed them:

  1. War is an atrocity. Entering into a war can only be done when our very survival is at stake. The wanton loss of life is never justified and what it does to us can never be repaired. It damn well better be worth it. See #2.  Oh and it wasn’t here.  Neither was Iraq.
  2. We humans find out things about ourselves in war, our savagery, that we did not want to know and that is what damages us the most because we find we actually enjoy it. And to be effective at it, we devalue the lives of the enemy through racism and hate.  That reduces our humanity.
  3. Our government will lie to us for political ends, and transparency and a vigorous free press is necessary so we the people can decide if we want to pay the price for war, or if the reasons are made up.  See both Voetnam and Iraq.
  4. As noted above about the DIC, generals/leaders are on top of an organization that needs to feed them what they want to hear.  Real leaders dig deep to find the truth, report it, and act on it.  There are not many of them in the real world.
  5. Governments glorify war to get us to fight them.  Medals, hero-worship ceremonies, and the lie that most wars are about protecting freedom, democracy, and the Constitution are the ways they do it.  Sure there are real heroes and we should admire them.  But because you wear a uniform does not make you a hero.  The guy who stopped the killing at My Lai was the real hero.  Somehow he maintained his humanity.  The idea of the fog of war and that this is understandable (only Calley was convicted and then had his sentence reduced to nothing) is nonsense.  Maybe it is in the sense that we lose our humanity, but it should never be tolerated.  It is the best argument against war itself.

Those are fairly simple. There might be all kinds of lessons about how to fight a war, who should be our friends, tactics in the field, yada, yada, yada, but really, they are minor players to the big ones above.  So Monday morning and another WTF wakeup.

The Great Leader is a Bust

From the NYT:

President Trump lashed out at the mayor of San Juan on Saturday for criticizing his administration’s efforts to help Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, accusing her of “poor leadership” and implying that the island, which lacks electricity and has limited cellphone service, water and fuel, was not doing enough to help itself.

In a series of early-morning messages on Twitter from his New Jersey golf club, where he is spending the weekend, Mr. Trump dismissed the statements by the capital’s mayor, Carmen Yulín Cruz, as political and asserted that his administration had organized a response by federal workers who are “doing a fantastic job.”

The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017

…Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They….

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017

Mr. Trump said his critics in Puerto Rico should not depend entirely on the federal government. “They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort,” he wrote. “10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job. The military and first responders, despite no electric, roads, phones etc., have done an amazing job. Puerto Rico was totally destroyed.”

He does not seem to understand the difference between an island and say Houston. Well, he did say big water around it, really big water. And as he and his colleagues did their best to not help the island when the banks and corporations were raping them, now they blame them for their plight. The mayor of San Juan just got tired of kissing ass and nothing happened. Even the General deployed down there has said he does not have the resources.  But the DIC blames Puerto Ricans.  I wonder if they are brown makes a difference?

Yesterday I blogged what should have happened day one after Maria. He sat on his ass and did not pay attention. And as always there is no truth to power (everyone is covering their asses) so everything is working out fine. “Your doing a great job Brownie.” Now when people are desperate, he blames them instead of solving the problem.

Oh, and it is really rich that he is doing this from his New Jersey golf club. I hope he got two scopes of ice cream on his desserts. The man has no idea how to manage and he does not give a flying fuck about the little people. As a leader, you solve the problems first, then later look to see what went wrong. This was a ticking time bomb and it finally went off. He has no idea how to keep his eye on the ball, or which ball is the one he should be watching. Can’t wait to see how he is going to handle North Korea.

This really, really smart man is a dotard. Kim Jong-un got that dead on. Maybe all the folks in Puerto Rico need to take a knee next time they play the national anthem. Maybe then they would get some attention.

Oh and one other thought.  Maybe it is time to give those folks in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands the vote.  Then we might not get an idiot for President.  Just how dispicable can he get before Republicans quite legitimizing him?

I Don’t Think Puerto Rico is Hard

Yes, it is the DIC’s (Dotard in Charge) Katrina. This was not hard if you were paying attention. The place was flattened and he did nothing. I would have deployed an assessment team, declared martial law, deployed the military to set up distributions centers, temporary hospitals, portable generators, and temporary living facilities. What was the DIC doing? Tweeting about taking a knee. He is an idiot. He could not anticipate this because he has no empathy. Now they will explain how they could not of known, yada, yada, yada, when what you see is his veneer ripped off. This guy is going to deal with North Korea, Iran, or our economy? You idiots that voted for him ought to take stock. Oxymoron, idiots taking stock.

And Then Saigon Fell

It is the morning after and I feel wrung out. The last episode of “The Vietnam War” was last night. I was pulled in many different directions. Back when it actually happened I was training in B-52s, this time my mission was the destruction of the planet as you and I know it. One might wonder why after I completed my tour in RF-4Cs I did not just hang it up then, I was definitely not Air Force material and the B-52 quite frankly sucked. Well, I was coming back from South East Asia to my family in the States and I did not see any options.

I had been out of the country in the Far East for five years. I wonder how many in the military today have faced that same quandary? With the new training as a B-52 Radar Navigator (bombardier), I had to finish my new commitment to the AF after my training, but when I did, I pulled the plug in 1979. For the first time in my life, I was true to myself. But back to the point. When Saigon fell I was glued to the TV. But I was kind of numb. I had put it all away. It had been coming for a long time. I watched Cambodia and South Vietnam degrade from the air in combat reconnaissance missions flown in 1973/74. Then, afterwards, I did not think about it much. Ticking time bomb for many of us.

This time when I watched it again, I was not numb. I was a bit depressed and really, really saddened by the whole tragedy. In the end, we were just as incompetent as we had been throughout. I wanted to save all those Vietnamese refugees, stop the advance of the North Vietnamese, and of course that was nonsense. Yes I felt we betrayed them in the end, but the option was a never-ending war. It still amazes me that they have more or less forgiven us.  There is a lesson there.

I guess what sadden me the most is the absolute stupidity and futility of it all. Not just for us, but for the Vietnamese too. Even some of our former adversaries  questioned the cost in lives lost. And looking at Vietnam today, why did we do it? Why did so many people have to die for what? I guess that is the ultimate lesson if we are listening. I wonder if we are listening because so far I see no real discussion of the series or what lessons we should take away are.

Ken Burns tells us that the divisions that were created in that war live on today. I am not sure what he means and what those are. Yes, we are divided today, but those divisions are born out of ignorance, fake news, in a world where truth is considered relative, and blaming and simple-minded solutions to complex problems reign supreme.  Vietnam taught me that truth and reality hits you right in the face whether you want it to or not. And when you ignore it, the cost in human lives and our humanity are high. I would love to have a one-on-one with Mr. Burns to hear his lessons learned.  The series tried to achieve balance, but I don’t think the lessons are balanced.  Generally they tell us war is futile enterprise.

I sadly see the Iraq war as a repeat of the failure to learn the lessons of Vietnam. We destroyed the Taliban and al-Qaeda mostly from the air in Afghanistan after we were attacked and if we would have just finished it by getting Ben Laden and then gotten out, one could say we did learn something. But we invaded Iraq on a made up reason (sound familiar?), and then totally ignorant of the factions and political motivations of the country, tried to nation build, an island of democracy in the Middle East. It was Vietnam all over again. And it is still ongoing.

Oh and my lessons learned from Half Way Through the Vietnam War Thoughts? Well in Iraq our government lied to us, the generals who fought it were mostly clueless using the tactics of the last war, and the biggest lie of all is that we are fighting to protect the Constitution, freedom, democracy, and our country. The biggest assault on our Constitution, democracy, freedom, and our country is the person now holding the Oval Office and the people who elected him. A man who tries to explain to us patriotism and never served anyone but himself. A man who was a draft dodger and knows nothing of history. A man who has no understanding of our Constitution and its founding principles.

When you see real patriotism, dissent in the face of large opposition, like  defying the status quo to take a knee during the national anthem to point out some of our injustices to try to make us better, and you deride it, see it as a slap in the face and an attack on the flag, you know we have learned nothing and understand little.

So I guess that is where Burns and Novick left me. Have we learned anything? There are so many parallels to today from the stupidity and counter productivity of violent protests, to simple-minded thinking about what is possible in someone else’s country. But I fear that many will look at all our failures and just say if we were smarter, with better tactics, it could have been won. They have no idea to this day what that war was about.  And again the question is won what at what cost. When Vietnam fell, the wanton killing stopped, the country evolved, and it is their country to decide how it is to be run. They seem to be doing okay today.

There is one parallel here between what the Burns’ series The Civil War taught us and what the Vietnam war taught us as previous adversaries can now show the respect and even affection for each other. In the brutal conflict of war, bravery and the sacrifice to our fellow combatants forges a bond that goes beyond almost anything else. And maybe there is some closure there in forgiveness.

But still, I am left saddened, a little depressed, and feeling guilty about that war and my participation in it. It absorbed my life from 1964 until 1979 when I left the Air Force. All those lives, Vietnamese, Korean, Australian, Cambodian, Laotian, and American, for what, the next election? The Vietnam Memorial has always been a humbling and powerful reminder to me of the cost of human hubris. I cannot go there without shedding tears for my fellow Americans and what we lost. The artist, Maya Lin, who came up with the design, and those that picked it knew something about the lessons of that war.  It wasn’t without controversy. The memorial screams the lessons and cost of war, while honoring our dead.

Some of the best days of my life were flying in an RF-4C, having “slipped the surly bonds of earth“, being part of a tight-knit group who had a mission, and we served that mission faithfully. Maybe the lesson is that in all the tragedy of the loss and destruction of that war, the very best of what we can be came out more than the very worst. To enter into such an enterprise again must only be made by those who have suffered the costs before and know the terrible costs to come, not only in lives, but to our humanity.

So again I am going to put this away, maybe a little more settled this time thanks to Burns and Novick. I ordered the soundtrack to the series, because the music defined the times. I am going to make a compilation of the songs from it that were part of my experience. Then I am going to pick a warm evening, maybe this weekend, sit on my patio overlooking my vineyard and watch the sunset with a bottle a very nice wine, slowly drink the whole thing while I listen to the music that defined me and my emotions in that time, and maybe cry a little bit. We should grieve for our lost innocence, those we lost, and most importantly, forgive ourselves. Then we should learn what we can and move on.  That’s what I am going to do.

The Vietnam War – Getting One Thing Right, POWs Coming Home

As I watch this train wreck, not the documentary, but our Vietnam nightmare, I was reminded last night of one thing I took part in that the military and specifically the Air Force, got absolutely right. That was Operation Homecoming when the POWs came home. I know because I was there in the Philippines as an escort officer for one of the POWs. So let me tell you the story of my experience in all of this.

As the negotiations dragged on in Paris, it was clear that we were going to repatriate the POWs so the Air Force kicked into action. One day in my squadron at Kadena AFB, Okinawa, I was told to report to specialized training for those selected to be POW escorts. I was “selected” by line of sight management. I wasn’t flying that day and I was available. There were two of us from my squadron, a pilot named Don Jones, and myself, a Weapons Systems Operator (if you consider navigating and operating the cameras weapons) (back seater). Nobody really believed this was going to happen and I am sure if my squadron commander had thought it through, he would have picked someone else, but that is how the chips fell. Escort Officers were to be the first contact with the POW after the medical teams to access their health (mental and physical). Basically you were going to run interference for him and stay between him and the outside world until he was comfortably reunited with his family and was comfortable with you getting out of the way.

The training was well thought out. As a combat aircrew member we were trained and refreshed with the POW experience in case that was our fate. But this was something extra. My small group met with ex-POWs who had been released early and they had gathered their experiences and lessons learned to guide us on how do this. They noted that POWs will be inundated with family friends comrades and it could be too much. A really important thing was to give them space to get acquainted with their family again. They were a tight knit group that through all the torture and mistreatment and fared fairly well. Try to keep that support group in tact and step in only when necessary.

So I went back to my squadron and continued my flying until January of 1973, when all of a sudden it happened. They were going to be released. I was immediately sent to Clark AFB, Philippines to await their arrival with my other fellow escorts. Now the North Vietnamese would only release 40 at a time and the POWs demanded that it be by earliest shootdown date forward. We would not get the names of who was to be released until 24 hours prior to their release. The POWs were to spend 3 days at Clark under going Medical assessments and any necessary urgent care, sequestered out of the public eye at the Clark AFB Hospital, and then be flown to the United States to be reunited with their families and be assigned to the hospital there for follow-up care. All these guys were emaciated, had not had a toothbrush in many years, and been beaten severely, so this was not an unreasonable plan.

Watching the first group arrive at Clark Air Base in Burns’ and Novick’s documentary brought it all back. I was there in the crowd welcoming them home and crying my eyes out. There were all of us escort officers awaiting our assignment, steely eyed aircrew members all wearing sunglasses to hide the tears of joy and emotion in our eyes. That general they showed greeting Everett Alvarez, the first guy shot down, was the guy who headed up the POW program and he was one hell of a fine man. I remember him telling us that every Tom, Dick, and Harry of every rank was going to try to get into the action, meet with the POWs, whether ex-commanders, or high-ranking officials and we were to block them. They only wanted trained experts (so to speak) meeting with these guys in the early going. These guys (POWs) needed their space to decompress. If we needed anything just call him, and he would take care of it. And he did.

The waiting was interminable. My guy was released on March 4th. I was called as soon as the list was released and given his complete file, including his Air Force record, current grade level, status of his marriage, children, finances, sensitive information, everything. We escort officers were there to give them back their lives. There were red flagged files that indicated there was potentially troubling information (your wife divorced you, took all your money, child died, parents status, etc.) and special procedures for handling that because in most cases they did not know. But I was fortunate and my guy, an RF4-C pilot was not one of them. I am not going to name him, because well, that’s for him to do. While this is about him and what I learned, he still deserves his privacy.

I studied that file and knew it backwards and forwards. When the POWs arrived they were formally greeted at the ramp where they landed then off to the hospital for an initial check, then they were cleared to meet with their escorts. I was nervous. I had a man’s life in my hands. He had been shot down in January 1967, so you do the math. He had children he barely knew. I was also concerned about his mental condition. Ha! These guys were amazingly resilient. As I was soon going to learn, in some ways they were mentally more ready for their challenges than I was. Then I got the call. Your guy is waiting for you.

There was an amazing air of comradely within the group as I met my guy in his room at the hospital. Here is the thing, and I don’t think I can adequately describe or explain our connection. These guys were connected. They had depended on each other to get through their captivity and deal with the torture and forced confessions. They were open books. They had developed an amazing openness to their fellow human being and I was immediately accepted into that group. It was the best of humanness we rarely ever see and I have never experienced that level of acceptance and openness again. All those defenses that we have and don’t even think about were all down.

My guy was anxious to call his wife, which was my job to set up as soon as they were ready. We had private booths set up and I just knew this going to be tough. There were stories of that first call going awry, even in several cases an announcement of a pending divorce that the wife wanted to tell them personally. That was not the way to do it, but they thought they were doing the right thing. I was fairly certain I did not have any of those issues (and I did not). His wife was wonderful woman who had stayed out of the political limelight, saved his money, and kept the family together, so I was on easy street*. So I placed the call and got her on the line and then handed him the phone and left the room, an emotional wreck. He was fine. He had practice this call for six years.

The rest of the stay at Clark was hectic. Remember the press and the public were being kept at arm’s length. We made a trip to an elementary school where the POWs meet with the kids. The kids were climbing all over them and there was such a moment of joy and love that I wore my dark glasses throughout the visit. One navy commander dressed in his navy uniform was wearing sandals because after all those years without shoes, he could not wear them yet. The kids loved that. We made a trip the Base Exchange, me with his finances and cash, to buy cloths and other things they needed. My guy and most of the others wanted to look normal and they had no idea what normal was. I personally thought some escorts advice on clothing was questionable. I think we also bought a very expensive Nikon camera because he had been dreaming about this in captivity and a UPI reporter had told him what the best was. He could afford it. He had earned it.

One official duty I had was to debrief him about who else he had seen alive in captivity. A first hand experience. There were many that just disappeared and so the Air Force was trying to build a database of last seens to challenge the North Vietnamese with. Did not work out so well. I explained to my guy what the purpose of the debriefing was and started the recorder, but he wanted to talk about his torture. Every one at some point broke and living with that was very hard for them. The command structure within the POWs came up with a new code of conduct which said resist to your utmost ability and then when they do break you, and they will, give them the minimal. That would be a win, not a failure. It allowed them to survive and not succumb to deep depression, but there was still a sense they somehow failed their country and wanted to get it off their chest. It was not pretty (the torture) and I had spent much of my earlier career wondering just how I would hold up in the same circumstances, whether I would measure up. It was gut wrenching. As for the list of names, well these guys had passed around (knock code) everyone they had seen or heard of and they could list off 200 names in a flash. It kind of defeated the purpose because we were looking for eye witness sightings.

Then it was time to fly to the U.S. I will never forget the night before. We were to depart at 0800 hours the next morning on a C-141, stopping in Honolulu for refueling, and then on to the Air Force Hospital in San Antonio Texas, where he was going to be reunited with his family. So about 0200 I get a call from my guy and he wants me to pick up two cases of Johnny Walker Black and get it on the airplane. Don’t ask. He had been talking with some of the other POWs and it occurred to them that they could get it duty free and, well it had been almost 6 years since he had had a drink. Now this was the thing about being an escort officer, you could call anyone and you could get things done very quickly. Colonels would jump for captains. It was loaded on the plane.

The flight back was uneventful except for the stop over in Hawaii. A friend of my guy and his wife requested to see him as we stopped over gassing up. I asked him what he thought and he was okay with it. They had a teary reunion, which I stayed out of, but they brought him a dozen roses to give his wife when he got off the plane in San Antonio. That was a very nice touch. As we approached San Antonio he got a little nervous (wouldn’t you). “How do I look?. What is the first think I should say?” kind of questions. Then we landed. Families, media, and the general public where all at the flight line. Escorts were to get out of the way and way out of the lime light. Like all the rest of the program, this was not about us.** I hurried out a rear exit away from the light of the press so I could photograph a record of his meeting with his wife. It was beautiful. Again, not a dry eye in the house.

The rest of it went fairly well. My guy and his wife were put up in the VIP quarters. After sometime with his kids getting to know them, they went with their grandparents so my guy and his wife could spend some time together. I was there to run errands and blocking as required. I did have a long discussion with his parents, which I am sure broke their hearts, about giving him some space. That was a biggy we learned from our training. But they did it. We had one tough session together one night as he, I, and his wife were sipping some of that Johnny Walker Black and he broke down wondering why he survived and so many others did not. Survivor’s guilt. Remember my job was to listen not to be an amateur psychologist. After about a week there I broached the subject of going home. His was a little resistant at first, but he and I worked out a time table.

These were tough, tough guys, but they got through it as we get through life, depending on each other, only more so than most. They were losing that support group as they reintegrated into normal life. We knew this day would come and we had trained and prepared for it. The day I said goodbye to him, my parents, (my dad was a retired General in the Air Force) picked me up. I introduced them to my guy and then we said goodbye, hugged, and we were both crying. I think my parents were a little shocked. Grown men crying and hugging. Then after a short visit with my parents it was back to Kadena and my family. And guess what. I was then headed to Thailand to fly combat, 89 missions over Cambodia, Laos, and South Vietnam as the war, now Vietnamized, progressed and Cambodia fell apart. I got three Air Medals (merit badges) for participation in hazardous aerial combat. Yeah, the war was over for some, but not us in reconnaissance, and all I think about on all those missions was, what if I become a POW now? Crazy right?

It was an amazing experience. I saw my guy the following summer when I was down in Florida for counter insurgency school and I thought he looked fat. He wasn’t, just had put on normal weight. After that, we both kind of moved on. It was one of the amazing experiences of my life, wondering how if I was shot down, would I perform, and then to be in the midst of repatriating the POWs, guys I was in awe of. I learned one thing for sure. There is no black and white, and the human being is an amazingly adaptive creature. The Air Force did this as right as it could be done and I was extremely grateful and proud to be part of it.***

*This is not to imply that divorce or political action were bad. Shit happens in life and they all did what they needed to survive. It was just hard, but life is hard. Wives were in a horrible bind and getting politically active was a two-edged sword. The North Vietnamese were going to use it to try to break you in captivity, yet they wanted to do something to get their husbands home.

I will make one comment here about Jane Fonda and war protestors who flew the North Vietnamese flag.  They knew we were wrong, but that did not make the other side right.  It is one thing to protest the war, it is another to put our POWs at jeoporady as Jane Fonda did when she call them war criminals.  We were not war criminals, we were fighting a war that our Constitution required us to fight and she aided and abetted the North Vietnamese.  POWs suffered for her visit. There were a lot of Fuck You Jane Fonda patches being worn on our informal flight suits (party suits) back then.  She was young and stupid, but then weren’t we all.  And if I have learned anything, it is to forgive.  The Vietnamese have certainly forgiven us and I don’t know why.

**There were several escort officers removed when it was preceived that their behavior put themselves before the POWs.  And rightly so.

***This is not the whole story and if you really want to learn about their experience, their conflicts, their feelings, I suggest you read one of their accounts. There were war protestors among the POWs, there were deaths that some things other POWs were responsible for, and there accusations of collaboration.  There is also the amazing story of how they learned to communicate, to depend on each other when they thought they were done, and survive in impossible conditions. This just my experience as a minor player in this amazing story.

And a Chicken in Every Pot!!!

I am listening to the DIC (Dotard in Charge) talk about his tax cut plan and lie through his teeth about he or his wealthy friends not getting big breaks.  I am thinking he must really think we are stupid, and then I look at Alabama’s nomination of a right wing nut (more religion in government (whose religion?), and outlaw gays) to run as their GOP candidate, and maybe he is right.  But let us just stick with the tax “reform” plan.

First question you might want to ask is how do we pay for all this cutting?  One, if he were rational, would start from the understanding of what we need to invest in future, add that to our current obligations and figure out how much money we want to have coming in.  Now this would include what is a reasonable debt (based upon % of GDP) and how to pay for programs in the future.  Then understanding our income needs, we could look are reforming the tax code to simplify, and decrease/increase where it makes sense.

Now we could argue about expanding Social Security by allowing the tax not to be capped at a certain income level.  We could argue about Medicare for all and how to pay for it with a trade-off of higher taxes versus no private insurance bills.  But we are not doing that, we are cutting, cutting, cutting, and what of the deficit.  Oh wait,  I forgot, tax cuts pay for themselves except of course, they don’t.  So the first question to be asked is how does this devastate the deficit.  I happen to be one who thinks a reasonable debt is okay and necessary, but make no mistake, they guys who want a balanced budget don’t give a shit about the debt when it comes to tax cuts, and will cut programs like healthcare (Medicare and Medicaid), education, R&D, infrastructure spending, and Social Security to keep their cuts.

Now, it is true that some pay way to much in taxes.  They are the ones who really need a tax cut, and they have no power.  Those that have power have already massaged the system.  You don’t really think that while we have the highest corporate tax rate, they actually pay that right?  Of course they don’t because they have gamed the system with their money and the gaming continues with the DIC out there lying through his teeth.  So let’s see the details and see what this really costs us, but unless they can pass this with 50 votes, it is probably dead meat.

In many ways one has to ask, what is the strategic plan of Republicans and how does this fit into a vision of  a great tomorrow.  It doesn’, and it is repeal and replace and cut taxes and the devil is in the details.  It assumes as always that government is bad, regulations are bad, and markets should be free to solve all problems.  It has never worked and this is more of their nonsense.  But hey! who does not want a free ride?  That is what America has become.

“The Vietnam War” Continues

Bomb Craters in Cambodia

I had forgotten that Dick Nixon committed treason to get elected in 1968. Talks were finally going to begin in Paris for peace in Vietnam helping Humphrey’s campaign for president and the Nixon campaign did a backdoor deal with South Vietnam not to show up until after the election promising them a better deal than the Democrats. Johnson would not expose it because he did not want the people to know these conversations were wire taped. Sound familiar? The Iranians would not do a deal on the hostages until Reagan got elected, and it is becoming fairy obvious that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. Must be a Republican thing.

Americans, while fickle, had figured out the brutality of the war. This is another point where you want to stop and think about winning that war and at what cost. Was it worth the human sacrifice? My Lai killed between 347-504 unarmed old men, women, and children. How many in free fire zones and bombing and artillery fire?  Sure you “won”, but everyone is dead. This is where Kent State became such a shock to the country. Kids on the campus were protesting and the National Guard opened fire on them.

What would have happened if the National Guard had just walked away? Nothing, but you can’t let those kids win can you? So now we shoot our own kids? Note the hate letter the parents on one student killed there got (An ROTC scholarship kid just watching the action). Kind of sounds like the hate Donald Trump is sowing today. There is another truth here, emotion trumps rational thinking.

And like Johnson, Tricky Dick figures out it is unwinnable, South Vietnam is a mess, the government corrupt as ever, so the question becomes how to get out with “honor”. Oh, I know! Let’s pretend we have stood up the South Vietnamese Army and we are turning it over to them. Again, sound familiar? Now we are late 1969, early 1970 and note the body count, ours. So now how many more have to die while we withdraw with honor? And don’t forget we had now invaded Cambodia and Laos with ground troops (we were already bombing the shit out of it). I remember flying over Cambodia and seeing nothing but crater holes from B-52 strikes for miles.

So we are starting to wind down the war (on the ground) and we are trying to pull out knowing full well the South Vietnamese cannot stand against the North and the VC, and that “withdraw with honor” is going to cost almost 10,000 more lives. And to get the North Vietnamese to the conference table, we are getting ready to crank up the air war over the North.

I am training, learning my trade, in Okinawa, Korea, and Japan (when I was stationed at Okinawa it was not part of Japan but under U.S. military control). I was trying to delay as best I could, hoping that the war would be over, but my time was coming and probably some of the best story telling in Burns’ and Novick’s story is about the conflict we all felt about this war. I discussed mine in Ken Burns’ Vietnam. I still think those that went to Canada or jail were the real brave ones. They stood for something.

But I think what is most remarkable at this point of our journey in Burns’ and Novick’s story is that the nation had turned against the war, and now there was no question we were throwing bodies away for some measure of “withdraw with honor”. What does that mean if you are dead. Oh, and that bullshit about we are fighting for freedom and democracy, to protect your right to protest, to defend the Constitution is just that, bullshit.

That is probably the other big lesson from Vietnam which is true in most wars. What did wanton killing of Vietnamese have to do with our Constitution? Were we hurt when it fell? Where were the dominos?The country was against the war, and Tricky Dicky told us he was not listening.  Once again, sound familiar.  Both he and the Dotard in Charge (DIC) redefined reality to support what they were doing.

All those names on a cold granite wall and we learned nothing. My time was coming, I knew it was stupid, insane,  and immoral and I took solace in the fact that I wasn’t killing anyone with taking pictures. But I was facilitating it. I wish to this day I could have been stronger. So now we bring on the air war to bring the North Vietnamese to the negotiating table.  And all I could think of is will this insanity ever end.

Think about it.  We entered into a massive bombing campaign to really get an agreement to leave the South Vietnamese government in place so it looks good when we left, and to do that we killed 10,000 more kids and untold number of Vietnamese.  And when the whole thing finally collapsed as we all knew it would, what were all those live for?  Defending the Constitution?  Bull shit.  And ask your self, have we learned anything? Do we see the same ignorance in office today?  Yes we do.  I am beginning to wonder if we should ever elect a President who has not served in a war and knows what it really costs.

Opinion Panels and Tribalism

One of the things you hear and is becoming conventional wisdom is the idea we just need to listen to each other, and that tribalism is how we verify our ideas. To me they are both bull shit. First better listening and polite dialogue, I think, is really a good idea if we had people with open minds and a definition of what a fact is. I was watching Oprah on 60 Minutes last night try to get people to understand each others concerns. And they were talking their feelings. One woman was expressing her fear of what the Republicans might do to Obamacare and its promise to protect those with pre-existing conditions (annihilate it), and clearly a Republican who says we can agree at least on Obamacare needs to be fixed. So what is the problem?

Well it has to do with facts. Feelings are nice, but they can sadly badly mislead you. The woman above has a right to be scared because the Republican Plan while it keeps existing conditions in theory, allows the states to wave coverage and says nothing about limiting cost, so sure they cover existing conditions at only $100K. Now the guy was wanting what we all want, lower costs and better care. Okay, me too. So how do you get that? Well, you got to know the facts, not opinions or feelings, but facts.  Fact, all other nations have universal care, most do not use the market place, and when they do it is highly regulated, and their costs are half our’s with better outcomes.  So why can’t we get there and why if they can afford it, can’t we?

So the obvious answer is to look at all those other systems, take what works, be inventive, and change Obamacare accordingly.  So why don’t we do that?  Because many Americans feel Obamacare must be repealed forgetting the nightmare of serious illness the previous system was.  And when you examine the things we need to do to get cost under control, and provide affordable care to everyone, these are the things that mostly move the system away from marketplace which is heresy to the Party in charge.  But, I don’t care what you feel, I only care about facts and neither should you.  You don’t want to do what it takes because you feel the market place provides the best solutions.  If I give you a 100 places where market place has failed us, well, those facts don’t matter.

And the reason for that is tribalism.  The Red tribe hates government (except their Medicare and Social Security) so government solutions cannot be considered.  The tribe reinforces the belief in our feelings.  The tribe even develops think tanks to cull facts to prove their case.  But culling does not give us truth, just facts to support our feelings (See Cheney on WMD).  So when you mix tribes in the opinion discussions, you certainly expose each side to the other sides “facts”, but most of them have it wrong to begin with.  Now we are back to the issue of what is true.  Who moderates the facts?

Now, I don’t think this is hard.  Climate change exists because the preponderance of science verifies it.  Because you can cull some minor disputes and say it is in question is nonsense.  But in tribal thinking that is where we are.  I am an engineer and I believe in the scientific method.  I love the quote, “Science does not give a shit what you think” (I have a tee-shirt to prove it).  The point is that science and its use of data allows us to arrive at the best version of truth we can no matter how we feel about that truth.  Politics and ideology simply try to skew the data to trick us into following one path or another that meets the parties emotional needs.

We need to get back to finding solutions based upon science and data, and if those solutions don’t work, we modify our approach.  Here again is where the Republicans went off the deep end with ideology.  We all agree Obamacare could be better (especially if the present administration wasn’t trying to sabotage it).  So what are the fixes?  Well one side says we just need to destroy it without any ideas about that. That is ideology at work.  Their tribe has been chanting Obamacare sucks and it has become the conventional wisdom until they figure what they are losing when it goes away. Feelings and tribal beliefs out of control.

Now here is an example.  If you accept finally the truth and consequences of global warming, then the question is what is the best way to control carbon rmiddiond into the environment.  We can have a legitimate argument about whether cap and trade or a carbon tax would be the best way to do that.  But now we are arguing about means, not ignoring the problem.  And data can inform us.  If we select one and it is not as effective or has other deleterious effects, we can change.  That is impossible today. The Red tribe can’t even admit to the problem.

Now the Red Tribe has sold government is bad (big government), taxes are too high, regulations kill innovation, and the market place unregulated is the best way to solve problems. Let’s not forget state’s rights*.  Now I can find instances where all of this is true.  I can also find instances where the opposite is true.  But what the Red Tribe has done is then build a false strawman.  If they believe the above, Democrats, the Blue tribe, must believe the opposite.

And nothing could be further from the truth.  The Blue tribe is much more science and data driven.  When big government works (Medicare anyone? How about FEMA? How about Obamacare?) they are all for it.  If it issues regulations that stymie growth and turn out to be counter productive, they are against it.  Taxes are a mixed bag and sometimes we have to poney up for the things we need. Most of our issues today are ideology driven from the Red side, whether it is tax reform, spending, immigrants, Iran nuke deal, climate change,

The blue tribe has its blind spots, but science, fact, and data are more likely to hold sway.  That’s why the preponderance of scientists are Democrats.  The Red tribe has shown their inability to see gray.  So I want to end this tribal/opinion way of thinking.  Accepting tribal thinking is counter to the ideals of democracy.  Opinion panels without a moderation of facts, are a waste of time.  Ind of like our current approach to our newsmedia.  It is bullshit.  It is destroying America.  Try to remember that the Red tribe’s icon, Ronald Reagan, warned us in 1961 that Medicare will bring a socialist dictatorship.  How many lives has it saved and allowed those of us over 65 to actually afford healthcare, yet the Red tribe is still trying to kill it.  It works and they want to kill it, not improve it, kill it.  It is ideology run amok. I rest my case.

*Right now they are selling state control of healthcare.  Didn’t that work out so well for voting rights, segregation, pollution control, to name just a few giant failures?  Remember the Constitution and where it came from?  It came from the states running amok.  So make no mistake, the Red tribe is trying to hand off the costs to the states so they are out of the game and then the states can be blammed for the cutbacks.  I don’t mind giving local control to better decide how to deal with local conditions, but with lots and lots of strings to ensure affordable healthcare to all.  Right now that is exactly what you are not getting.