Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan War’

HAUNTED BY HISTORY

Old newsreels and propaganda films of World War One can be difficult to relate to. Camera vibrations and slower frame speeds produce herky-jerky images in black and white. But Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies) has completed a documentary that brings the Great War to life. It’s haunting.

The trailer for They Shall Not Grow Old shows how Jackson digitally restored footage from Britain’s Imperial War Museum, adjusting the frame rate, colorizing many clips and transforming some into 3-D. (Read a fascinating overview in The New York Times.)

The documentary also provides voiceovers taken from BBC interviews with British vets in the ’60s and ’70s. Additionally, lip readers determined what some troops were saying, and actors with accurate regional accents dubbed scenes.

Obviously, uniforms and equipment are dated. The number of missing teeth, given the British love of sweets and war’s ravages, is astounding. But these soldiers no longer seem caricatures from an almost mythological past but our contemporaries. Note: Britain and its colonies lost 750,000 troops. The U.S. lost 53,000 after entering the war in 1917. Altogether, World War One took nine to 15 million lives.

Most Americans don’t come close to knowing these figures or the causes of a war that never should have been fought. We long have become a nation—even more so over the last two years—proudly ignorant of history and its impact on our present and future. The vengeful Treaty of Versailles (1919) sowed the seeds of World War Two.

In 1954, the U.S. became the dominant Western power in Indochina following France’s humiliating defeat at Dien Bien Phu. The Eisenhower administration knew little about Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, but Cold Warriors feared Communist Ho Chi Minh becoming a puppet of China. In reality, Vietnam had been hostile to its northern neighbor for 1,000 years. Some historians believe that Jack Kennedy would have withdrawn American advisors. I wouldn’t have bet on it.

Lyndon Johnson feared drawing conservatives’ wrath and sent more advisors until we staged the Gulf of Tonkin incident as an excuse to land major combat forces in the South. Richard Nixon, who won the presidency in 1968 after LBJ chose not to run for re-election, boasted of a “secret plan” to end the war. He waited until ’72—after re-election—to unveil it. Slaughter continued there, riots and societal breakdown here. Nixon’s secret? “Peace with honor.” Translation: Leave. We lost the war and 58,000 troops. South Vietnam fell.

George W. Bush and his handlers knew nothing about the Greater Middle East. Post-9/11, we went into Afghanistan to find Osama Bin Laden. Fine. Then we blew it. He escaped. We stayed. We’re still there. In 2003, we invaded Iraq to destroy weapons of mass destruction and create an American-style democracy. We found Saddam Hussein but no weapons. No matter. Mass destruction followed.

Ultimately, that led us into Syria. Now, we’re reversing course and leaving. I believe this move is premature—and dangerous. Secretary of Defense James Mattis does, too. He resigned yesterday.

They Shall Not Grow Old reminds us of George Santayana’s advice: “Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.” It offers sound advice to each new generation. What truly grows old is our ignoring it.

To those who celebrate these holidays, Merry Christmas and Happy Kwanzaa! To all, Happy New Year!

The blog will take some time off and return on Friday, January 4.

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PRESIDENTIAL LEGACIES

During this season’s “House of Cards” (Netflix), the wife of the presidential candidate challenging the evil incumbent Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) says of her husband: “He has a chance to be a fine president. A great president.” Maybe. But presidents don’t create legacies, and those who think they do subject the nation to great and unnecessary risks.

We hear much about the Affordable Care Act being Barack Obama’s legacy. Obamacare represented just a step forward. American healthcare has a long way to go. Moreover, President Trump and Republicans vowed to “repeal and replace.” Will they? We’ll see. But I suspect Mr. Obama’s legacy will reflect not what he set out to do but what he had to do. (More later.)

I doubt George Washington took office thinking about his legacy rather than the job at hand. He had to react to the creation of a new form of government under the Constitution. During his eight years in office, Washington had to shape the executive branch from scratch. He also had to contend with the pioneering efforts of a newly devised Congress, Supreme Court and thirteen states. All had their own Constitutional visions. Washington’s legacy consists of navigating unchartered waters successfully.

Abraham Lincoln assumed office with the nation on the brink of splitting. Shortly after his inauguration, the nation toppled over the brink. Lincoln’s greatness lay not in promoting grand plans by which history would hail him but in meeting this daunting challenge—leading in ways about which he may never have given prior thought.

Yes, some presidents see opportunities. Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark across the west and spearheaded the Louisiana Purchase. But he did so in response to Napoleon and European geopolitics. Jefferson earned good grades. To assure peace after “the war to end all wars,” Woodrow Wilson pushed the establishment of the League of Nations following World War One, which America entered well into his prsidency. Congress balked. Ultimately, the League failed. Wilson’s reputation is spotty. Franklin D. Roosevelt took office during the Depression and did much to provide a safety net for Americans while pushing the economy towards recovery. FDR made mistakes along the way, but he’s idolized by many.

George H.W. Bush, with no legacy in mind, responded to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and ousted Iraqi forces in a 100-hour war. Then he withdrew American troops. His son George W. Bush responded to 9/11 with the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. The younger Mr. Bush, with little knowledge of the region, decided to remake the Middle East. History will not be kind.

Back to Barack Obama. Whatever he thought he might accomplish—health care reform being a massive item on his agenda—he entered the White House with the American economy unraveling. He responded by rescuing financial institutions “too big to fail.” For that, he’s been lauded and vilified. While time will offer new perspectives, I think his actions will establish a very positive legacy if one unplanned.

I’m baffled by people who believe that a president’s first concern should be his (and someday, her) legacy. All presidents can do is shoulder their burdens and meet challenges with their best efforts. The world mocks our plans, and history exercises its own judgement.

Have a great Fourth. And remember, you can purchase THE ODD PLIGHT OF ADONIS LICHT directly from me or at Amazon. If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too.

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THE PATHWAY HOME

As a kid, I read comic books about war. World War Two had ended not long before. We were fighting in Korea, and the Cold War would continue after. The soldiers and marines in those comic books were amazing. They could fire a rifle, throw a grenade then throw a punch and crack wise all at the same time. Humor has always been part of soldiers’ equipment. Wisecracks ease the burdens of pained hearts. War, after all, is serious stuff.

So is coming home.

One in five veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and veterans account for 20 percent of U.S. suicides, according to facethefacts.org, a project of George Washington University. Tens of thousands of vets have been diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI). Then there are all those vets who have not been diagnosed.

Some people get it. Last Sunday, The Pathway Home, a non-profit, non-government treatment center for Iraq-Afghanistan vets at the Veterans Home in Yountville, held a show of veterans’ art. Robert Green Fine Arts in Mill Valley donated the space. The show was based on work by the Walking Point Foundation. Walking Point helps veterans come to grips with their wounds through art. Volunteer mentors work with the vets in Yountville, encouraging and guiding at the vets’ pace. My friend Jim Shay, a fabulous painter, is one of the mentors.

Not surprisingly, the striking paintings, drawings, collages and masks emphasized death. That’s what men in combat experience. Additionally, several of the men read prose and poetry. They revealed what they’d been through and the raw emotions with which they must deal daily. Their words were profound and meaningful because they were real. No comic book heroism here.

The Pathway Home understands what our veterans have been through, what help they’re getting from the Department of Veterans Affairs and what they’re not getting. It offers a residential setting in which veterans—at no cost—receive comprehensive, leading edge therapy to provide the tools needed to help complete educational programs, get jobs, restore personal relationships and finally “come home.” Technology, art and service dogs all play a role in the healing process. The Pathway Home has treated more than 380 veterans since its inception in January 2008.

The Walking Point Foundation mentors vets through the arts. It helps them express themselves, connect with others and heal. In addition to The Pathway Home, Walking Point works with the Palo Alto Veterans Administration. It soon will expand to the Oakland Vet Center, the Homeless Veterans Rehabilitation Program at the Menlo Park VA, the San Francisco VA, the San Francisco Vet Center and the San Rafael Vet Center. It hopes to develop a national model to assist vets everywhere.

Most of us have heard the old saying, “War is hell.” Coming home can be hell, too. We also know that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. We can bitch. Or we can do. I ask you to offer our vets a better route by going to Pathways’ and Walking Point’s web sites and making a donation.

This column honors the memory of 1LT Howard Schnabolk, US Army, who never got the chance to come home.

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