Saturday, February 21, 2015

Hungering for Clarity

Since the attack on Pearl Harbor, some things have not changed.  Some have.

This month two small items appeared in newspapers and on news websites.   Both serve as reminders of what this country has not lost, and what it has.

Recently an article about yay big (I’m holding my hands six inches apart) appeared in the inside pages of my local news rag.  It concerned the passing of one Leon Kent, who had died at the age of 99.  Kent just happened to be the officer on the spot one day who received an order to hold the enemy during a key moment in World War II’s Battle of the Bulge.  In this case that meant stopping a fast-moving column of German tanks.   Kent and his men were anti-aircraft gunners not trained in tank warfare.  They had a single anti-aircraft gun, and it sat in a position so exposed that a single shot from one of those German tanks would have killed everyone.  The prudent course of action would have been to run for their lives.  Kent and his men stood their ground—and, as he later put it, “stopped them cold,” taking out five tanks, including a King Tiger.  He didn’t consider himself a hero.  His Silver Star says otherwise, although it took 50 years for him to get it.

Also this month we lost retired Navy Lt. Cmdr. Joseph Langdell, who’d been the oldest living survivor of the U.S.S. Arizona.  Langdell won no medals.   What he did do was to step up and do his duty, rescuing men from the burning water, retrieving the dead and preparing for the next assault.   The Associated Press article noting his passing at the age of 100 was 400 words long.

I had a chance to visit the Arizona at Pearl Harbor a few years ago.  It was one of the most moving experiences my life.  If you’ve been there then you know what I mean.  If you haven’t, then I’m not sure I know how to explain it to you. 

Note that the flag flies from the vessel, not the building
I’m sure you’ve probably seen pictures of the memorial, a white structure that stands over the water, constructed to lie across the sunken battleship.  From there you can look down on the shattered, rusting hulk as it rests on the harbor floor.  The ship looks nothing like what you’d expect.  The gun turrets are mostly gone, having been salvaged for the war effort after the sinking.  But then as you’re gazing into the depths trying to project your mind into the past, a very slight disturbance in the water brings you back to the present as a black dot of ink rises to the surface and bursts into a growing circular rainbow.  It’s quite beautiful. 
Fuel oil rises from the Arizona

What’s happening of course is that the battleship tanks, having never been drained, continue to leak fuel oil one drop at a time.  Environmentalist would call that pollution, and they do, continually.  I see it differently, as a sign that U.S.S. Arizona is still alive.  Bleeding, but alive.  Alive in our hearts.  Alive in our  minds.   Alive in our nation’s consciousness, and conscience.  Did you know that her flag still flies, exactly as if she were still an active commissioned naval vessel?
The Arizona, as seen from the memorial

You stand there and you think of two things, or at least I did.  Your first reaction is to contemplate, and admire, the sacrifice these Americans made.   And second, you can nod your head, proud that their countrymen did what was necessary to see that they did not die in vain.

And that is why I expect never to visit the 9/11 memorial in New York City.   Because the latter cannot be said there.   More people died in on that fateful date in 2001 than lost their lives at Pearl Harbor.  But things were very different in the aftermath of 1941 than they have been after 2001.

One thing that has not changed is this:  Now, as then, we have no shortage of heroes.  For some reason America never seems to run out of those.   When challenges arise, people who love their country step up and do what’s necessary.  Some get noticed.  Most don’t. 

One thing we had in 1941 that we do not have today is clarity:  Clarity of purpose.  Clarity on who the enemy is.  Clarity of leadership.

In 1941 neither our leaders nor we the people wrung our hands, consumed with worry about how to name the enemy and define—and not define—its ideology.  We focused on stopping them.  Our leaders didn’t avidly avoid calling the enemy by name.  Can you imagine being afraid in 1941 to state that our enemies at that time were the Germans and the Japanese, out of fear that people everywhere of German and Japanese ancestry might rise up in hatred and fight us for all eternity?

But that paralysis is the situation in which we find ourselves now in the struggle with the Islamic State—two words our president refuses to say together, because doing so would conflict with the mission he has given all of us to deny that the terrorists are even remotely connected to Islam.  He has no such compunctions about protecting the public relations image of other religions, however.  Through recent comments and speeches, particularly at the National Prayer Breakfast, Mr. Obama gave us clear insight into his vision of the world.  Christians, he said, should not get up on their “high horse.”  Who carried out the Crusades?  Christians.  Who was responsible for the Inquisition?  Christians.  Who gave the world slavery?  Christians.  Who came up with the Jim Crow laws?  Christians.  Who is responsible today for beheading non-believers, selling women into sex slavery, machine-gunning bound captives by the hundreds, and lighting the occasional prisoner of war on fire?  Zealots.

To make sure the nation, and the world, understand that his swipe at Christianity was no accident, afterthought, or casually tossed-out comment, the president then trotted out his Secretary of State spokeswoman, Marie “Jobs for Jihadis” Harf .  She reminded us that the so-called Lord’s Resistance Army, headed by the infamous Joseph Kony, is a “Christian militant group.”  And she chided us, “I don’t remember people talking about that as much anymore.”

For a reality check as to what groups the world should be talking about, Harf and her bosses would do well to read Wikipedia’s list of the worst terrorist attacks in modern history.   Which group stands out as being responsible for the vast majority of the killings?  Don’t take my word for it; follow the link and see for yourself.

But the actual facts of modern terrorism are completely lost on the current leadership of our nation’s administrative branch.  The president’s attack on Christianity in the context of a discussion about radicalized, bloodthirsty jihadists has left us confused, uncertain as what to do, and mired in inaction—the exact position in which you might expect our enemies would hope to find us.

Not only are we confused about who the enemy is, but we’re no longer sure of our allies.  For most of its existence Israel has been the only democracy in the region, and our closest friend.  In my morning paper I read that the Obama administration and its party, not content merely to give the cold shoulder to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his upcoming trip to Washington, is looking for new ways to snub him.   Israel is a little postage stamp of a country that's sometimes called a “one bomb nation”—a reference to how many strategic thermonuclear weapon strikes it would take to wipe it out.  Netanyahu is coming here to express his concerns about whether the president truly intends to stop Iran—which openly fantasizes about wiping Israel off the map—from building such a bomb.  Based on the foreign policy accomplishments of this administration to date, Netanyahu is right to be concerned, if not outright panicked.  Critics warned Obama when he relaxed sanctions against Iran as a lure to “come to the table” on its nuclear program that the mullahs were merely playing him for time.  When those predictions came to pass, the administration’s response was to extend the talks.  Now some fear that the president, desperate for a face-saving “deal,” will give away the farm rather than admit defeat.

It was not always this way.  In fact, the current confused situation in which 21st century America finds itself is not normal for our nation.  Nor did the current president and his party get us here by themselves; they had lots of help, to be sure.  But nevertheless, here we are. 

To measure the difference, think back again to 1941.  President Franklin Delano Roosevelt did not declare, as our current one just did, that no military solution was possible.   He didn’t say it would be easy.  But he exhibited the statesmanship you’d expect a great president to show, pulling us together and building our confidence that with dedication, courage and sacrifice, victory could be achieved, and must be.  And he led a world coalition of allies to make it happen. 

Less well remembered is that a year before the war broke out, Roosevelt warned us about the “small minority who want to see no evil and hear no evil.”  At no point, either before we were in the fight or once we were, did he try to tell us that “All of us have a responsibility to refute the notion” that the Nazis were truly German or that the Japanese war mongers represented the true Japanese.   No one tried to make excuses for avoiding a fight with such idiotic remarks as, “What the Japanese and German people really need are jobs, economic opportunity and education.” 

We didn’t care what the enemy wanted.  We didn’t care what the enemy believed.  We did know who the enemy was.   We were willing to fight that enemy—applying diplomacy at first and then, that having failed, taking the next obvious steps.  We called the fight what it was:  a war.  Congress declared it as such.  We and our allies won it.  And together we changed the world. 

That was then.  This, most definitely, is now.

Without a doubt, the scourge of war is mankind’s greatest sin.  God willing, perhaps someday our race may find a way to end it and erase the plague of violence that now forms a basic component of the human condition.  Until that day comes, we have few attractive options.  When an enemy declares war on a nation, its people have two basic choices:  fight or capitulate.  When an enemy wants only land, capitulation may only mean  appeasement.   When the enemy is on a course of national conquest, capitulation may mean subjugation or even enslavement.  In the face of a foe bent on annihilation, capitulation means death--or, more precisely, death for the men, sex slavery for the women and girls.  From time immemorial, it has ever been thus.  The Islamic State has left no doubt about its goals.  IS underscores its aims repeatedly with slickly produced TV shows depicting some of the most chilling horrors imaginable, some of which have not been seen since the Middle Ages. 

The president is not wrong to assert that the Islamic State does not represent the views of the vast majority of Muslims.  But when he insists on serving as the public relations chief for all of Islam—and on enlisting all of us in that effort—he’s doing for that faith what it should be doing for itself.  In the process he absolves Islam of any responsibility for the serious soul-searching it must do to learn why radicals keep springing up from within its ranks, and to stop that from happening.  The president’s actions only create confusion, and they weaken opportunities for confronting the enemy.

My personal hope is that the current period of uncertainty and lack of clarity in face of this challenge will end, and that soon our nation will find the statesmen, and the will, to lead the world forward in dealing effectively with the threat posed by radicalized Islamic jihadists.   When that day comes, I know that Americans will do what they’ve always done, and step up to the challenge.


©2015 by Forrest Carr.  All rights reserved.

No comments:

Post a Comment