Saturday, September 11, 2021
Daniel J. Summers
The events of the last month have been difficult to watch as they unfolded. Pages and pages have been written about our withdrawal from Afghanistan, and its hasty collapse that occurred before our own withdrawal was complete. There is a discussion to be had regarding military withdrawal strategies, whether it was even necessary, etc. (especially when I've seen no one espouse how I would have handled it) However, that is not what is occupying the majority of my thoughts when I reflect over the past 20 years; rather, it's the people.
I've been thinking about Louis Neil Mariani (“Neil”). I profiled him back in 2009, and his story is heartbreaking. When I searched his name again, I found that his wife Ellen was one of the last victim families to sue vs. taking the compensation fund payouts. Losing her husband wasn't enough; she spent years raising funds and bouncing through some questionable legal representation, just to be told that she could not have her day in court. I have no idea what either of their politics are - it doesn't matter, and that's the point. I mourn for Neil, Ellen, and the entire Mariani family - and I wonder if we, as a nation, have learned anything from their involuntary sacrifice.
I've also been thinking about the time I spent deployed back in 2006. It got me thinking even then, but it's come to mind more frequently, particularly with the Afghanistan collapse. One of the aspects of that job was to open, inspect, and repair packages that were found to be damaged when they passed through our facility. In doing this, I would see glimpses of what was being sent to the military members downrange; quite frequently, it was pictures of children, love notes from spouses, and food items that weren't easily available in a combat zone. We also, on occasion, had to inspect mail headed home from the war zone. In these, too, I would see family memorabilia, often wrinkled and dirty; they had accompanied their owner through some very difficult times.
These difficult times didn't always have a happy ending. There were marriages strained, many broken; even among my paltry crew of thirteen co-workers, there were families dissolved because of those four months. This toll, too, is something I mourn; each party usually bears some of the blame when a marriage ends, but the circumstances that led to that dissolution were brought on by the stresses of war.
I realize that some of these marital partnerships may not have made it; if it wasn't the war, it would have been something else. Maybe Neil would still be alive and well, preparing for his 80th birthday soon - but maybe not. The “maybe” questions belie what is behind much of the mourning, which is the loss of potential - unrealized potential, unjustly snatched from its owner well before it should have been.
One of the hardest questions I've fielded over the past month or so is “How are you?” I try to say the requisite “fine” in return, but sometimes the question just hits differently. My… uh, eyes sweat… way more than they used too. I mourn that we lost thirteen Americans, and untold Afghans who had been “on our team” as we ham-handedly exited that nation. I mourn the “falling man” picture of 9/11, and the very similar images of people falling off the landing gear 20 years later, so desperate to escape. A younger version of me would have been angered by this; now, though, my main emotion is sorrow.
It is important, though, to not let the sorrow and long-term futility of the heroic efforts of so many - so great a price for so quick a loss - give rise to despair. One of the most encouraging things I have read over the past month was a Sunday French Press entitled “They Held the Line”; I would encourage you to read it as well, especially since this post is not going to end with some uplifting, inspiring hope for the future.
“Never Forget” became the rallying cry after 9/11 (even though it had previously been used regarding the Holocaust; I guess we did, in fact, forget). But, for those of us who prosecuted the War on Terror, forgetting will never be an issue. My prayer is that future generations will not have such an agonizing event, and a 20-year struggle to defeat a difficult enemy, where the hard fought gains are lost before our boots have even left the soil.
Today is Memorial Day in the United States, a day where we remember those who gave their lives in defense of our nation. The goal of this day, from its inception, is to remember and honor those who earned the freedom we continue to enjoy. I've written about it before, but it's been 12 years.
Thankfully, our current cultural zeitgeist recognizes and honors military service, possibly to a bit of excess, as a reaction to the anti-military sentiment prevalent throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Invariably, whenever I am out and about in a civilian establishment (grocery store, restaurant, etc.) and in uniform, I will be thanked for my service. I used to feel self-conscious about that, as I've spent very little time in a combat zone; however, I realized that every job is significant, and I'm still on call, so I began to simply reply “You're welcome; happy to do it.” In this spirit, many people make a special effort to say “thank you for your service” on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, as well as other military-related holidays, such as Armed Forces Day (which is actually the day set aside for that, the third Saturday of May), V-J Day, Pearl Harbor Day, and the like.
However - Memorial Day is set aside to remember those who gave their lives in defense of our nation, not just those who have worn or currently wear the uniform. Within the military, honor of these individuals is high; many of our military installations, and the roads within them, are named in honor of these brave warriors who gave their lives on the battlefield, or those who were killed in the line of duty at home. (It happens more frequently than many realize.) And, the last thing those of us who “fly a desk” want to do is, in any way, siphon off honor for those who gave their all for this land.
The past several years, though, have gotten more contentious around these holidays. People are correcting, and sometimes near-berating, those who dare to thank currently military members on Memorial Day. Possibly, some of these people's hearts are in the right place; I'm not critiquing motivation, just technique. I find this to be the worst possible way of honoring military sacrifice. I also see that the majority of people who do this have never once served a day in any branch of the armed forces. Y'all - stop it. If we're strong enough, courageous enough, and dedicated enough to defend our nation, you can trust us to defend the honor of our fallen comrades.
Into that mix, enter those who, in the spirit of togetherness and camaraderie, like to wish everyone a "Happy [insert holiday here]". If we thought “thank you for your service” set these defenders off, “Happy Memorial Day” sends them into orbit. However, if we stop to think about how those whom we honor on this day would want us to go about our day today, I don't think scolding people on the Internet would be an activity. An acquaintance on Facebook posted this in reply to someone who had been on the receiving end of such scolding, and it is more poignant and eloquent than I could express. (shared with permission, names changed)
Many years ago, I was at a Memorial Day cookout at a friend's beach house. There were probably 50 of us there, grilling ribs and burgers, eating oysters, drinking beer and wine coolers, and just enjoying being together. We'd played volleyball, gotten sunburned, gone swimming, and done all the things you would normally do at the beach with a big group of friends.
A girl I didn't know, wearing a t-shirt with a big, yellow ribbon on it, got there around sunset and said, “Hi! Happy Memorial Day!” She then turned to a group of about 10 guys who were obviously active duty and said, “Happy Memorial Day! Thank you for your service!” It clearly bothered another guy who was there, (who I later found out had no military affiliation whatsoever, himself OR family members), because he proceeded to loudly lecture her about how “Memorial Day is NOT a day to be HAPPY and it's NOT the day to thank the servicemen who are ALIVE; it's for the dead ones, and shouldn't be a big party…” Needless to say, when he was finished, you could've heard a pin drop.
Then one of the active duty guys, a young Marine officer, said, “Sir. You're wrong. It IS a day to be happy. It IS a day to thank those who are willing to go tomorrow or even today and lay their lives down for the rest of us. They might be one of ‘the dead ones’ when next year's Memorial Day rolls 'round. And, every serviceman I know who lost his life fighting for this country loved a good party, no matter how bad the situation outside the gate was. I leave on Thursday to go back to Kuwait for my second tour, and if I don't come home this time, do NOT make my life and my decision to risk it have been in vain by telling people that they can not have fun, be happy, and celebrate in my honor. I only want ONE funeral if I don't come back. I don't want a funeral every single year on Memorial Day. Instead, drink a beer and say, ‘Bob, this one is for you,’ then turn and thank a LIVING, young serviceman for picking up where I left off and being willing to die for you, simply because he loves his country. Then, be happy and celebrate the freedoms that you have. THAT, my friends, is what Memorial Day is SUPPOSED to be.”
Less than a year later, I went to his funeral and then to a memorial service so well-attended that it had to be held outside on the beach. And, every Memorial Day since, I raise my glass (whether it's a beer, a wine cooler, a Mt. Dew, or a lemonade) and say, “This one's for you, Bob.” And, then I thank a young member of our military for picking up where Pat left off, and I DO wish everyone a happy Memorial Day. Not because I don't have respect for those who gave their lives and not because I don't understand the meaning of Memorial Day, but exactly the opposite. Thank you to all who serve and selflessly risk everything for the rest of us!
Memorial Day is a day to honor those who have given their lives for our nation. As they come into our memory (literally the origin of the first word of the holiday), we should honor them. This should inspire a few emotions (none of which are sour-faced scolding):
Gratitude - Above all, honoring their sacrifice should inspire gratitude. By virtue of the timing of our birth, no one reading this had the opportunity to risk their life in any of the armed conflicts in which our nation has fought, up to and including “The Great War” (AKA World War I). We should be grateful to those who fought, and died, in those conflicts.
Motivation - The gratitude of the memory should motivate us. For some, that motivation is reflected in a similar method of service, in direct defense of our nation. For some, that motivation is reflected in the desire to thank those who are continuing to put themselves in harm's way for the rest of us. Forgive the bluntness, but it's really hard to thank a dead guy; it's much easier to thank those who are currently on his team. For all of us, though, that motivation should work itself out in living in a way that would make those who made that sacrifice proud. That doesn't equate to a political party, nor a demand for military discounts, but working for a nation where the (peaceful) battle of ideas can play out, as government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” evolves.
Celebration - No one who risks their life in defense of the nation actually wants to lose it, and we should not “pop the cork” every time we hear about a servicemember losing their life. At the same time, though, our government has set aside a national holiday to honor these people, and 99+% of them would want us to enjoy that. They and their families know, much more acutely than the rest of us, that time is precious. Spend it with family, go have fun somewhere, take advantage of it! Remember who made it possible, for sure, but enjoy.
So, all that being said - Happy Memorial Day to you.
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
Daniel J. Summers
Yesterday marked 16 years since the al-Qaeda sucker-punch known as “9/11” reached our shores. We are now far enough out that, if you were to survey high school seniors, very few of them would be able to speak of memories of that day. In a way, that's a good thing - even adults have trouble processing evil of that magnitude. In a way, though, that means that they've grown up with an ever-present threat of terrorism within our homeland; we have always been at war in the Middle East, and getting on an airplane has always been a tedious process.
As we observe this particular anniversary, we are a few days past the 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's landfall; we are watching Texas's recovery from Hurricane Harvey last month; and we are watching Hurricane Irma thrash through Florida up into Georgia, having devastated several islands in the Caribbean on her way up. Katrina was blamed for 1,833 deaths, while Harvey currently stands at 70, and Irma is at 26. Of course, these numbers are adjusted when emergency workers are able to fully assess the aftermath; but both Harvey and Irma will have U.S. death tolls less than 10% of Katrina, despite Harvey bringing (unexpectedly) more water and Irma bringing way more wind. These lower death tolls are not just dumb luck. We have poured lots of resources into identifying the threats these hurricanes pose to our mainland and territories, and we can give warnings far further in advance than we could 12 years ago. We evacuate people in harm's way, and we provide a strong law enforcement presence to protect the homes of those who evacuated.
What does that have to do with terrorism? The goal is the same - preservation of the lives of our citizens. To do that, we rely on intelligence to give us as much advanced warning as possible. We warn our citizens of danger, and we do our best to mitigate its effects. Unlike weather, we do have the capability to eliminate this threat before it makes landfall; however, like weather, sometimes unexpected shifts occur. In these intervening 16 years, we have had occasional attacks that have been carried out, but we've had others that have been thwarted before they could be. As this post-9/11 effort continues, approaching the 20-year mark, let's continue to pray for those who are defending us. Pray for their success, for their safety, and for them to complete this mission honorably.
There is one other way in which terrorism and the 2017 hurricane season are similar. I think I speak for all of us when I say “No way, José…”
Saturday, December 20, 2014
Daniel J. Summers
“Same vocabulary, different dictionary.” This is the way Skip Heitzig described false teachers in a recent sermon on 2 Peter 2. That certainly is good to remember when it comes to theological matters; think about how many different definitions, just in evangelical circles, you have of the word “worship” and of its role in the life of the church and believer.
It works outside the realm of the directly-theological as well. Take the CIA report released last week. I've been seeing a lot of banter back and forth over the results of the report, but relatively few questioning its characterization. Even though pretty much everyone is against “torture,” there are competing definitions at work. If we just debate back and forth without addressing the root issue, we're simply reinforcing the “other side”'s view of us.
Now, to be fair, it's generally the left who like to redefine things. Racist no longer means “one race is superior”; rather, it covers a host of things, from ethnically-related comments, stereotypes, or even common insensitivity, if the object has a different ethnicity from the one who is offended. Rape is expanded to include a whole lot of things that are not really rape, including simple after-the-fact regret. Marriage means something today that it has never meant throughout millennia of history. And, somewhere along the way, freedom of speech has been replaced with freedom from offense, and freedom of association has been replaced with freedom to compel.
That being said, I'm not necessarily advocating for “the right” either - it's not about the right, it's about being right. We cannot flourish, either as a Christian or as a society, if we do not share a common lexicon. And, until we do, it is futile to try to defeat one person's argument with an argument that has an entirely different meaning. All you've got is ships passing in the night. Same vocabulary, different dictionary.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Daniel J. Summers
Patriot Day. 9/11. The day the world stopped turning. Whatever you call it, today is a day of remembrance. Remember those who died for the crime of being on-time to work that day. Remember those who loved those who died; every year is a new time to be reminded of their loss.
In the remembering, though, we would be remiss if we did not remember the complacency which left us vulnerable, and the lack of response to previous attacks that left the attackers emboldened. I fear that, 12 years removed from that day, we are once again sliding into that complacency; we're war-weary, as evidenced by the general public's opposition to any action in Syria. I'm right there with them; I have no desire to continue or start any conflict, I simply want to live in peace.
However, peace requires vigilance against those who would use our peace and freedom against us. It also requires vigilance against those who would restrict our freedom in the name of peace. And, so, we will never see true peace while evil remains with us. Earlier this year, Boston showed us that just because we've “won” wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the problem of terrorism persists. We are stuck with evil for the rest of our nation's existence; my hope is that, doing my part for my generation, we can push that succumbing to evil out to many, many years in the future.
Wednesday, January 2, 2013
Daniel J. Summers
Either way you read it, this is the middle post of the “2012 Year in Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous” series. This past year has given me no shortage of things from which to choose to compose this post.
Mass Murder x2
2012 saw two mass murders on U. S. soil. On July 20th, at a premiere of the movie The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, 12 people were killed and 58 injured by a freak who made himself look like the Joker. Then, on December 14th, a troubled young man killed his own mother, 20 children, 6 adults, and himself at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. While the reaction made the ridiculous list this year, the murders themselves are here. They are a stark reminder that we live in a fallen world. Dr. Albert Mohler broke his less-than-a-day-old hiatus on The Briefing for a special edition, and he summed it up quite well.
Though the murders themselves were horrible and tragic, there were reports of heroes in both instances. In Colorado, men shielded others with their bodies, and ultimately gave their lives to save others In Connecticut, a teacher named Victoria Soto hid her students wherever she could, and told the gunman that the children were elsewhere. These ordinary people, stepping up to against evil, give us some hope that while we will never eliminate this sort of evil, it is far from the norm; and, there are those who will fight against it with little to no warning.
The Benghazi / Petraeus Affair
September 11th, for the past 11 years, has been a dicey day. Obviously, the one in 2001 was the worst; however, our intelligence and counter-terrorism forces have been vigilant to the point where we really had not had to deal with any actual attacks on that particular day. 2012 saw that streak come to an end, as a group of terrorists laid siege to the U. S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya, kidnapping and then killing our ambassador and three others. Initially, the State Department blamed the attack on a spontaneous reaction to the film The Innocence of Muslims, a 16-minute film that made a great deal of fun over Mohammad. In the past few days (see why you write these things after the year is done?), the report has come out calling it “sloppy security.”
Conflicting reports came out about the threat level surrounding that particular embassy, and there were even conflicting reports on our reaction to the attack once we knew it was underway. Even with the report, many people still feel that the entire story is not known. Why would that be? Well, when a cover-up or misdirection is the initial response, how are the American people to know when the next answer is the right one?
But, surely, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, or the Secretary of State, could get the answers and bring them out, correct? This, too, was not to be in 2012. Thanks to a sexual harassment complaint launched in April and concluded in August, an affair between the CIA director, retired General David Petraeus, and his biographer, was revealed. This “trump card” was not played until after the election, and was used to oust Petraeus before he could give official testimony as the CIA director. At the same time, the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, couldn't testify due to scheduling conflicts, then due to the “flu.” It may be just as well; she doesn't have a great history of having a very good memory when she's placed under oath. Additionally, the African Command commander was relieved of his position shortly after the attack.
September 11, 2001 is generally considered a failure of intelligence. The more we learn about September 11, 2012, it looks less like a failure of intelligence and more a failure to take appropriate defensive action based on that intelligence. To put it more bluntly, we hung our own countrymen out to dry, and four of them are no longer with us.
The Fiscal Cliff
If Benghazi's problem was inaction, then the CIA and State have learned it from the U. S. Congress. Over three years of Senate inaction have left us with a budget that is nearly 4 years old; Obamacare deferred-until-the-next-election mandates will kick in; we're about to hit the extended-several-times debt ceiling; across-the-board cuts, called “sequestration,” a compromise from the last debt ceiling expansion, are set to kick in; and the so-called “Bush tax cuts” which were extended a few times are once again set to expire (itself a concept that probably deserves a spot on a ridiculous list at some point). Since that's a lot to say, the term “fiscal cliff” was coined to describe these economic events all hitting at the same time.
What is required to keep the next U. S. national sport from being fiscal cliff diving? A budget. Will that be the solution presented? Probably not. As I write this (on the 1st), the Senate has passed a compromise bill, but several House members do not seem to approve. When the next congress is seated later this week, that bill will be invalid. Bills proposed by the president and the Senate have been rightly termed “unserious” by Republicans; however, their bills are not very serious either. On a family budget that's $24,000 in the red each year, we're cutting $360. Neither side wants to do the hard work of cutting spending where it needs to be cut.
Here's hoping the water is deep enough at the bottom of this cliff that we don't break our necks.
Mitt Romney Loses
I covered my incredulity at the results of the election in the ridiculous post; but here, the negative is that we do not have Mitt Romney at the helm to guide our nation away from this cliff. Not since Sarah Palin have I witnessed such a successful character assassination, where his positives became negatives, and his successes presented as disqualifications.
As a business, America is failing. The Securities and Exchange Commission wouldn't let our stock be traded. We need someone who cares enough about our country to make hard decisions about what needs to be cut, so that a leaner America can emerge and once again regain her strength. Who better to do that than someone who ran a company that did that for businesses over and over again? And what if this someone had also donated his entire inheritance to charity, and given 2 years of his life for his religion? Seems like a no-brainer to me.
I know some of my fellow conservatives had some problems with him on social issues, or the size and scope of the state. I wasn't 100% with him (though in an isidewith.com survey, I scored 97% Romney), but if our country is not economically viable, social and domestic policy matter little; at that point, we'll be answering to someone else anyway.
Cross an Atlantic hurricane with a nor'easter, and it's not good. Hurricane Sandy battered much of the U. S. east coast in late October, merging with a northern storm just before Halloween, leading many to call it “Frankenstorm.” Its wake was no laughing matter, though, with over 100 dead. New York and New Jersey sustained the hardest direct hit, and current estimates have it as the second most costly storm on record, just behind 2005's Hurricane Katrina.
Those two states provided a stark contrast in dealing with preparation and relief. New York City was particularly bad, with refugees being evicted from hotels for the “show must go on” New York Marathon, while generators were pulled from relief efforts to power the tents for the race. Mayor Bloomberg, at first a strong proponent of continuing to hold the race, changed his mind, and the organizers agreed to cancel it. Meanwhile, the Federal government has yet to vote on any special aid for Sandy relief; the Senate passed a bill, but the House won't take up any legislation except the fiscal cliff. (And these are the people we want in charge of health care? But I digress.)
Hurricane Sandy, Sandy Hook Elementary School, Sandra Fluke - 2012 was a bad year for disasters named Sandy.
Lance Armstrong Revelations
Lance Armstrong was a 7-time Tour de France champion. He did it while fighting cancer, and founding a charitable foundation. However, he had been fighting doping charges for years, and in 2012, decided to stop fighting the charges. All his wins have been vacated, Olympic medals stripped, and the Livestrong Foundation that he founded has kicked him out. His defense is that he was not taking any substance that was not banned, and that he had done nothing other than what others had done.
Even if we take him at his word - if everyone took the same enhancement, that's still a terrible way to determine athletic prowess. Professional sports should not be about who has the best chemistry; it should be people training their bodies to perform a specific task so well that no one else can do it equally. I'm not so naïve as to think that this means that no one is going to try; even NASCAR has had its fair share of drug problems. However, anything short of pure physical ability will inevitably lead to more and more use, and more experimenting. The NFL is already dealing with players who feel they were unfairly exploited and put in harm's way. How much worse would it be for the players who tried experimental (i.e., not-banned-yet) drugs whose side effects were unknown until much later?
There you have it. 2012 didn't lead to the end of the world, but there was much that we will be happy to see pass into the rear-view mirror. Other issues will still be here for us in 2013, waiting to be dealt with then. May we have the fortitude to do so.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Daniel J. Summers
Last Friday, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, David Petraeus, offered his resignation from that post. In that letter, he admitted to an extra-marital affair with his biographer. There are many more angles to this story than I really have time to cover and dissect, but one comment I kept hearing just struck me as not quite right. “A CIA director who is committing adultery opens themselves up to blackmail, and can compromise security. Good thing this came out before that happened.” The part with which I disagree is the second statement. I believe that, rather than a cautionary tale of “look what could have happened,” I believe it to be an illustrative tale of how it did happen.
Petraeus did a personal investigation of the 11 Sep 12 attack on the US embassy in Benghazi, Libya, where four people, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed. He was also scheduled to testify before Congress this week on that attack, but while he resignation does not preclude his testimony, he is reluctant to bring the media circus around. Bad timing, huh? Well, when you consider that the FBI launched the investigation in June, this timing looks less bad. The administration claims it didn't know. Now, if the administration didn't know, it's more incompetent than we give it credit for (a distinct possibility); if the administration knew, what were they going to do with that information?
This timing is highly suspicious. I believe that the information against Petraeus was known, and held, until the opportunity came where its use was needed. It's a hunch; I have no knowledge of anything in Washington, D. C., really, and it could all be happenstance. However, when there is the pattern of obfuscation, document redaction, “I forgot” as a legal defense, and “trust us, we're the government,” this smells wrong. Petraeus erred, and it was used against him to prevent what he found from being released.
And that, my friends, is a textbook example of why adultery is a security risk.
(NOTE: None of the above should be construed as an allegation against the current administration. It is an observation that the appearance of a lack of candor displayed in this circumstance is a pattern of behavior with the current administration, and is not the way I believe government should comport itself.)
236 years ago today, the United States of America became a nation, kicking off one of the most successful experiments in self-governance recorded to date. As we enjoy today's festivities, we should remember a few things. First, we should remember that our freedom was both gained and preserved at a high cost; over a million individuals have lost their lives in US military conflict. Second, we should remember that this freedom has no lasting ties here; we are not immune to the human lust for power that has created so many dictatorships and totalitarian regimes. If our freedom is to be preserved, it must be defended from “all enemies, foreign and domestic” (to borrow a phrase some of you may recognize).
So, on our nation's birthday, reflect on the great sacrifice that has been made for us to be able to live in this great nation. Tomorrow, get back to the work of defending this freedom, so that our children and grandchildren can enjoy the same freedom we have enjoyed.
Congress, addressing the Pentagon's request to increase TRICare fees. I don't know think that I can improve on this, so it's presented without further comment.
...career members of the uniformed services and their families endure unique and extraordinary demands and make extraordinary sacrifices over the course of a 20- to 30-year career in protecting freedom for all Americans. ... Those decades of sacrifice constitute a significant pre-paid premium for health care during a career member's retirement that is over and above what the member pays with money.