March 31, 2003
Life during wartime.
There’s nothing I can say about the parade of still pictures, the faces on the television – except, perhaps, that they all seemed to share a fierce pride in their eyes, photographed for the first time in their Marine Dress Blues. Surely their families are proud of them. I certainly am, and I never got to know any of them. And now, I never will.
Names scroll in little yellow letters across the bottom of our glowing screens: Sergeants, and Captains, and Privates. These men have died for us. More will follow. You may be against this war, but even if you are, the fact remains: these kids died for all of us. We asked them to go, and they went.
All across this nation -- here and there, sparkling across the map like fireflies on a summer night – sedans are slowly rolling to a stop outside of small, modest homes. Men in uniform emerge, straighten their tunics, and walk slowly up driveways. Doorbells are rung. Maybe here and there smiles will evaporate in shock and surprise as doors are opened, but more likely the face will be one full of stunned realization that the very worst thing in the whole world has happened. And children will be sent to their rooms. And the men will speak in somber, respectful tones. And sons and mothers and fathers and wives will be told that the one thing they love more than anything in this world has been taken away from them, that their sons and daughters will not be coming home, that their fathers or mothers have gone away and will never come back, not ever.
Why do we do this? What could possibly be worth this?
This war is an abject and utter failure. What everyone thought would be a quick, decisive victory has turned into an embarrassing series of reversals. The enemy, -- a ragtag, badly-fed collection of hotheads and fanatics – has failed to be shocked and awed by the most magnificent military machine ever fielded. Their dogged resistance has shown us the futility of the idea that a nation of millions could ever be subjugated and administered, no matter what obscene price we are willing to pay in blood and money.
The President of the United States is a buffoon, an idiot, a man barely able to speak the English language. His vice president is a little-seen, widely despised enigma and his chief military advisor a wild-eyed warmonger. Only his Secretary of State offers any hope of redemption, for he at least is a reasonable, well-educated man, a man most thought would have made a far, far better choice for Chief Executive.
We must face the fact that we had no business forcing this unjust war on a people who simply want to be left alone. It has damaged our international relationships beyond any measure, and has proven to be illegal, immoral and nothing less than a monumental mistake that will take generations to rectify. We can never hope to subdue and remake an entire nation of millions. All we will do is alienate them further. So we must bring this war to an immediate end, and make a solemn promise to history that we will never launch another war of aggression and preemption again, so help us God.
So spoke the American press. The time was the summer of 1864.
Everyone thought the Rebels would be whipped at Bull Run, and that the Confederacy would collapse within a few days or hours of such a defeat. No one expected the common Southern man to fight so tenaciously, a man who owned no slaves and who in fact despised the rich fire-eaters who had taken them to war.
Lincoln was widely considered a bumpkin, a gorilla, an uncouth backwoods hick who by some miracle of political compromise had made it to the White House. Secretary of War Stanton had assumed near-dictatorial powers and was also roundly despised. Only Secretary of State William Seward, a well-spoken, intelligent Easterner and a former Presidential candidate, seemed fit to hold office.
After three interminable and unbelievably bloody years of conflict, many in the Northern press had long ago become convinced that there was no hope of winning the far, and far less of winning the peace that followed. After nearly forty months of battle and maneuver, after seeing endless hopes dashed in spectacular failure, after watching the magnificent Army of the Potomac again and again whipped and humiliated by a far smaller, under-fed, under-equipped force, the New York newspapers and many, many others were calling for an immediate end to this parade of failures.
It took them forty months and hundreds of thousands killed to reach that point. Today, many news outlets have reached a similar conclusion after ten days and less than fifty combat fatalities.
A few years ago, I made up my mind to visit for the first time many of the places I had come to know so well. So before my 1996 Christmas trip to visit my father at his house in Valley Forge – another place rich with ghosts and history -- I made a tour of as many Civil War battlefields as I could, driving northward through Virginia, seeking out the unremarkable hills and fields that I had followed with Shelby Foote through more than 2,300 pages of his magnificent Civil War trilogy.
It was bitterly cold the day I walked up the steep embankment where Hood’s Texans broke the Union line at Gaines Mill, and then I thrust my hands into my pockets and walked a few hundred yards and three blood-soaked years away to the lines at Cold Harbor, where the remains of the opposing trenches lay almost comically close.
As I walked from the Confederate to the Union positions, the green pine forest was as peaceful and serene a place as is possible to imagine. And there I stopped, halfway between the lines, listening to the winter breeze swaying the trees, and looked around – at nothing. Just a glade like any other in the beautiful back woods of Virginia. And yet here lay seven thousand men – here, in this little clearing. Seven thousand men. The Union blue lay so thick on this ground that you could walk from the Confederate lines to the Union ones on the backs of the dead, your feet never touching the grass.
You can see them, you know. Not that I believe in ghosts, or the occult. But when you stand on a field like that, in a place like that, with a name like that – Cold Harbor – you feel it. You feel the reality of it. This happened, and it happened right here. The history of that ground rises like a vapor and grabs your imagination by the neck, and forces you to see what happened there.
The next day, I stood in a tiny rut, a small bend in a shallow, grassy berm, where for sixteen hours men cursed and killed each other at point-blank range, where musket balls flew so furiously that they cut down a foot-thick oak tree. Here, at the Bloody Angle of Spotsylvania, the fighting was hand-to-hand from the break of dawn to almost midnight, uninterrupted horror that to this day remains for me the most appalling single acre in human history. There, on that unassuming, peaceful, empty field – it might as well have been the back of a high school -- men had become so agitated that they climbed the muddy, blood-slick trenches, clawed their way to the parapets to shoot at a man a foot or two away, then hurled their bayoneted muskets like a javelin into the crowd before being shot down and replaced by other half-mad, raving automatons.
What trick of time and memory, what charm or spell does history possess, that can turn such fields of unremitting violence and terror into places of religious awe and wonder? Why are some people called to these places, in America and around the world, to stand in wonder – not only at the brutality of war, but at the transcendental, ennobling power of them? How does slaughter and death turn into nobility and sacrifice? Why can we recite the names of places like Roanoke, Harrisburg, Phoenixville, Marseille, Kiev, Vanuatu and Johannesburg with no more passion than we muster while reading the ingredients on the back of a cereal box, while names like Antietam, Gettysburg, Valley Forge, Verdun, Stalingrad, Guadalcanal and Rorke’s Drift thunder through time as if the earth itself were being rung like a bell?
Today we are at War. The future is dark and filled with uncertainties. We are at a time of great peril and momentous decisions are being made by the hour. We know history is being written before our very eyes. No one knows how things will turn out – only history will know.
We can, however, step back from 24/7 embedded coverage. We can in fact gain what is most missing in these anxious days -- perspective. Like all worthwhile journeys, this will take some time.
First, we need to go to the one place that could perhaps best make sense of all this blood and terror and waste and pain.
I found it, finally. As with all the other places I had visited, I had great difficulty realizing where I was because the reality was so much smaller than what I had imagined. Off in the distance stood Seminary Ridge, where Pickett and Armistead and the rest would march into history – but that was not what I wanted to see.
I had made my way over the boulders of The Devils’ Den, caught my breath when I found myself in a small alcove where a dead Confederate had lain in one of the most famous photos from the war. And finally, I found the marker I was looking for, and walked – such a small distance – down and then up again that little stretch of hill.
This was it, all right. This was the place. I was standing on the exact spot where the very existence of the United States of America, where all of our lives and our history, all our subsequent glory and tragedy, turned on what lay in the heart of an unassuming professor of Rhetoric from a small college in Brunswick, Maine.
One of the most subtle distortions caused by history’s telephoto lens is the sense of predetermination. We know the Allies won World War II, as decisively as any conflict in history. But in London, 1940, such an outcome would have seemed unthinkably optimistic. The fact is, it was a very, very near thing.
We look back on the Union victory in the Civil War with the same sense of it being a foregone conclusion. But it was not. By the second day of July in 1863, the mighty armies of the Union had been beaten in every major battle except Antietam – and that had been not much better than a tie. And they had not just been defeated. They had been thrashed. Whipped. Sent reeling again and again and again by a half-starved collection of scarecrows in homemade uniforms.
None of this was lost on the Union men that morning, not the least on that Professor of Rhetoric from Bowdoin College. He had seen, first hand, the disasters at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. For those men, as for us today, the future was dark and unknowable. Yet history can often show where we are going by showing where we have been, in the same way that a ship’s wake extending to the Southern horizon is a sure sign of a Northward course. And that course, for the Union, for the United States as we know it today, was bleak.
Were the South to win that July day, the first northern state capitol – Harrisburg – would fall to the Confederates. Nothing would stop them from reaching Baltimore, and Washington. If the Army of the Potomac lost yet again on this field, the South would very likely take Washington, the British would enter the war on the side of the Confederacy and the mighty Royal Navy would break the Union blockade. In the words of Shelby Foote, the war would be over -- lost.
The Federal position was strong, but it had a fatal weakness. At the southern end of the Union line were two small hills. The smaller and nearer, called Little Round Top by the locals, overlooked the entire Union position. Artillery placed on that hill could fire down the entire Union line, wreaking carnage on the men below. The entire position would become untenable.
No one was on Little Round Top.
Across the ground that Pickett would cross the next day, this did not escape the eye of Confederate Lieutenant General Longstreet. He knew that if he could get some guns on that little hill the battle would be over. Indeed, the war would be over – won. He asked Lee if he could send his toughest men, John Bell Hood’s Texans and Alabamians, to take that hill. Lee agreed.
Back on Cemetery Ridge, the Blue commanders realized, to their horror, the danger they were in, and sent some regiments down the line to hold that hill, extending the left of their line up Little Round Top. And there, on the afternoon of July 2nd, 1863, history and the Professor of Rhetoric collided.
Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was an amateur. And everything he knew about tactics he had read, on his own, in a little book he carried with him in case it would come in handy. He knew that his 20th Maine Regiment was the extreme left of the entire Union army. In fact, he could look over to that man standing there, the one with the neatly trimmed beard: that fellow, right there, was the end of the line.
Chamberlain knew the significance of his position on the field. He knew if he failed the Union left would roll up and crumble the way the right had a few weeks before in the disaster at Chancellorsville. He knew the Union could not bear another defeat of that magnitude.
Up from the valley below came Hood’s men: fierce, shrieking, caterwauling demons, the same set of wolves that had shattered the Union line at Gaines Mill and whipped and humiliated their opponents every time they had taken the field. They came up through the thin forest yelling like furies.
Chamberlain casually walked the line, keeping his men cool, plugging holes and moving reserves while showing the utter disregard for his own life that commanders of both sides were expected to show during those horrible brawls.
Repeated and steady volleys drove the Southerners back, but not for long. They came again. Again they were driven back. Again they came with their weird and terrifying Rebel Yell, and again they were knocked back by withering volleys from the 20th Maine. The Northerners were holding on, but by sheer guts alone, for each charge and counter volley knocked more men out of the line, heads and arms and torso exploding under the impact of the heavy lead musket balls. Worse, they were by now almost out of ammunition.
The Confederates were skilled tacticians. When the men from Maine showed more determination than expected, they looked for a way around them, to hit the line from behind. Quickly they sent their men sideways, to the left, trying to get around the corner and attack from the rear.
Chamberlain saw this. Armies could readjust themselves, but there was nothing in the little book about what to do with a single regiment. So he planted the flag, and on that spot, he sent men off at a right angle, like an open gate, to confront the flanking Confederates head on.
Again they came on, getting right to the lines this time. Again they were shot and clubbed back down the hill. Again they massed for another charge, their determination to take that hill as strong as the 20th’s was to defend it. Only now, Chamberlain’s men were completely out of ammunition. During this latest repulse the Rebel veterans had staggered back down the side of Little Round Top under a hail of rocks being thrown by the exhausted men in Blue.
And so we come to this exact time and place. It is the 2nd of July, 1863, just south of a small Pennsylvania town. You are on a small hill covered with thin pine trees. Your face is black with gunpowder: it burns your throat and eyes, it has cracked your lips, and you are more thirsty than you believed possible.
All around you are dead and dying men, some moaning, some screaming in agony as they clutch shattered arms or hold in their bowels. The field in front of you is covered with dead Rebels, and yet the ground looks alive, undulating, as the wounded Confederates try to crawl back to safety. In the woods below you can hear fresh enemy troops arrive, hear orders being issued in the soft accents of the deep South. You have no more musket rounds. There aren’t even very many rocks left to throw. And you know that this time, they will succeed.
These men have never been beaten, least of all by you. You are a professor of Rhetoric at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. As you walk what is left of your line, you know you have fought bravely and well, done more than could ever be asked of you. You have no choice but to fall back in orderly retreat. Your men are out of ammunition. To stand here and take another charge is to die. It’s that simple. These men are your responsibility. Their families depend on you to bring them home. Many have already died. To not retreat will likely condemn many more wives to being widows, not the least your own.
You look down past the dead and dying men to the bottom of the hill. Masses of determined Confederate men are emerging, coming for you. They are not beaten. They are determined to have this hill. Off to your left stands Old Glory, the hinge in your pathetic, small gate.
You know that this is war to preserve a Union, a system of government four score and seven years old. Many said such a system of self rule could not possibly survive. If you retreat now, today will be the day they are proven right.
You cannot go back. You cannot stay here. Your men look at you. You utter two words:
You can see the reaction on the faces of the men. No, that can’t be right. He couldn’t possibly mean it.
But you do mean it. You know history. In the middle of this shock and death and agony, amid the blood and stench and acrid smoke, you have the perspective even now to see what is really at stake here.
As Chamberlain walked his line one last time, he smiled, and shouted, “Stand firm, ye boys of Maine, for not once in a century are men permitted to bear such responsibilities!"
Today, the United States is at war with Iraq.
Before the Civil War, we would have said, “the United States are at War with Iraq.” Before the Civil War, the United States was plural, a collection of relatively weak, sovereign nations. After the Civil War, we were welded by fire and death into a single, indivisible nation. There is a marker, in a forest, on a hill, to mark that transition.
We are a nation because the Rhetoric professor did not retreat. He did not tire, he did not falter, and he did not fail. As the Confederates charged Little Round Top to take the hill, the battle, and the war, the schoolteacher from Maine drew his sword, and swung his gate around like a baseball bat, hitting the Rebels on the side as they leapt down upon the shocked and awed Confederates who promptly broke and ran.
There would, of course, be two more years of blood and carnage: Pickett’s Charge was 24 hours in the future; the Bloody Angle and Cold Harbor further down that dark, unseen road. If you told the men of the 20th Maine that day they had saved the Union on Little Round Top, they would have looked at you as if you were mad. It was, after all, a relatively small engagement in the biggest, bloodiest battle in the history of the Western Hemisphere.
But you have to ask yourself if perhaps Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain might have had a glimpse of the future. “Not once in a century are men permitted to bear such responsibilities!” he had shouted. He knew, on some level, that this history being written large, that the actions of a small, battered regiment, indeed, the actions of a single man, would determine whether we would live in one country, or two.
In 1865 the issue of American Slavery, an issue dodged in 1783, an issue compromised in 1850, and an issue that tore us apart as a people was settled once and for all, by force of arms. By War. Secession was settled, too – settled most emphatically.
War settled whether the Mediterranean Sea would be a Carthaginian Lake or a Roman one. War settled whether Jerusalem would be Christian or Muslim. War determined whether a surrender document would be signed aboard the Missouri in Tokyo Bay or on the Yamato just off Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay. War determined whether France would be living through four years, or a millennia of darkness under Nazi supermen, and a weird, ghostly war determined whether or not there would be Englishmen and Scots and Americans living and dying in gulags in Siberia.
And four years of unimaginably brutal war determined whether or not the United States of America would in fact be a land where all men are created equal. War determined whether the fatal, poisonous stain of slavery would split the nation into two irreconcilable camps, or whether the blood and sacrifice of men at Little Round Top and The Angle and Cold Harbor would, in part, wash away that stain and put right that which was unable to be put right at the birth of this awesome experiment in self-rule.
We have markers on the fields at Gettysburg because there men died so that men and women like Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice and Vincent Brooks and Shoshana Johnson and millions of other African-Americans would have a chance to experience the American promise as full and equal members. Having walked these fields of slaughter and murder, I now know that the marble and monuments are not glorifications of death, but reminders of the sacrifice of men determined to fight and die to do the right thing for people other than themselves.
Lincoln’s purpose at the beginning of the war was to preserve the Union. “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.”
But if our Civil War was started for the most pragmatic of reasons, by the time it was over the motivation had changed. When Grant took overall command and swung the Union armies deep into the south like a sledgehammer, the war took on a brutality and carnage unbelievable even to those jaded by the previous horrors. And yet as the Union armies swung through the south singing The Battle Hymn of the Republic, the voices of the men would swell in choked emotion as they sang:
As he died to make men holy
Let us die to make men free
While God is marching on.
Sacrifice and death transformed that War, and remade the nation. Abolition, at the outset a position taken by a vocal minority in New England and the Midwest, became the great cause of liberation and freedom for all men.
Back in 1996, when I walked those fields, I did not know how such a thing could have happened. But now I do. For I see exactly the same thing happening today regarding our War in Iraq. And for that I am deeply gratified and very proud.
No sane person wants to fight a war. But many sane people believe that there are times when they are necessary. I believe this is one of those times.
For it seems to me that if you are against any war – if you believe that peace is always the right choice -- then you must believe at least one, if not both of the following:
1. People will always be able to come to a reasonable agreement, no matter how deep or contentious the issue, and that all people are rational, reasonable, honorable, decent and sane,
2. It is more noble to live under slavery and oppression, to endure torture, institutionalized rape, theft and genocide than it is to fight it.
History, not to mention personal experience, shows me that the first proposition is clearly false. I believe, to put it plainly, that some people have been raised to become pathological murderers, liars, and first-rate bastards, and that these people will kill and brutalize the good, meek people and steal from and murder them whenever it is in their personal interest to do so. You are, of course, free to disagree about this element of humanity. I, however, can put a great many names on the table. History is littered with people and regimes just like this: entire nations of murderers and thugs, savage and brutal men who could herd grandmothers and babies into gas chambers and march to battle with guns in the backs of old men and teenage girls for use as human shields. I believe these people are real, and that they cannot be reasoned with. I believe that there are entire societies where dominance and force are the norm, and where cooperation and compromise are despised and scorned. Again, history gives me quite a sizable list, and that list is evidence of the first order.
There are people – pacifists – who do not deny this, and these are the people who I really do find repulsive and deeply disturbing, for these are people who acknowledge the presence of evil men and evil regimes, and yet are unwilling to do anything about them. These are the people who cling to fantasies about containment and inspections and resolutions, people who acknowledge that barbarism and torture are rampant but who desperately cling to these niceties as long as nothing bad happens to them. When you point out to them that 9/11 showed that bad things can happen when you ignore such people, they simply point out that Hitler or Stalin or Mao is not as bad as all that, that they haven’t done anything to us yet, that action against them is unconscionable and illegitimate.
There are also people who say “better Red than dead,” people who would rather face the possibility of slavery – for ourselves or others -- than the certainty of a fight, with all it’s attendant blood and misery.
I’m sorry to say it, but to me that is nothing but sheer cowardice and refined selfishness.
We fight wars not to have peace, but to have a peace worth having. Slavery is peace. Tyranny is peace. For that matter, genocide is peace when you get right down to it. The historical consequences of a philosophy predicated on the notion of no war at any cost are families flying to the Super Bowl accompanied by three or four trusted slaves and a Europe devoid of a single living Jew.
It would be nice if there were a way around this. History, not merely my opinion, shows us that there is not. If all you are willing to do is think happy thoughts, then those are the consequences. If you want justice, and freedom, and safety, and prosperity, then sometimes you have to fight for them.
I still don’t know why so many people haven’t figured this out.
Growing up a sci-fi nerd has a few – very few – advantages. One of the greatest was getting to read the Time Guardians series of novels by the late, and deeply gifted Poul Anderson.
These stories were the cream of a hoary old sci-fi genre, that being the idea of parallel universes, histories where interference or accidents caused the chips to fall in very different ways. Poul Anderson showed me worlds in which the Chinese discovered America, where Carthage defeated Rome. Other writers have taken us to worlds where desperate Americans vie for jobs as household servants to the occupying Japanese administrators after the American loss in World War 2, and to a 1960’s Nazi Germany where all evidence of the Holocaust has been buried and destroyed. I’ve read accounts of Winston Churchill emerging from behind the barricades of 10 Downing Street, Tommy gun in hand, being cut down in a hail of bullets from the invading Nazis at the collapse of street-to-street fighting in London. There are many others.
All of these stories have a common thread: someone has gone back in time, tinkered ever so slightly, and produced a horrific world in which, for example, the Nazis and the Japanese divide their American possessions at the Mississippi. In them, something has gone horribly wrong.
But I have often wondered, what if this history, the one we know as reality, was the one gone horribly wrong? For example:
In the fall of 1999, the Clinton Administration took the hugely unpopular decision to invade Afghanistan to root out Islamic terrorists organized by a largely-unknown fanatic named Osama Bin Laden. Operation Homeland Security cost the lives of almost 300 servicemen, and did long-lasting damage to our relations with NATO, the UN, and especially Russia. President Clinton, at great political cost to himself and the Democratic Party, claimed to be acting on repeated intelligence that Bin Laden and his “phantom” organization – whose name escapes me – planned massive and sustained terrorist attacks against the United States. Peace protestors gathered between the towers of the World Trade Center in September, 2004 on the five-year anniversary of the illegal and immoral invasion, calling on President Gore to pay the UN –ordered reparations to the Taliban Government.
Today, April 20th, Germans again celebrate the birthday of Adolph Hitler with a parade down a stretch of the autobahn, one of his greatest achievements. Although forced from office in disgrace when a platoon of French soldiers contested his entry into the Rhineland in 1936, his rebuilding of Germany following the ruin of the Great War, and his subsequent lobbying for American economic support, culminating in the Lindbergh Plan and Germany’s spectacular economic growth through the forties and fifties, so rehabilitated his reputation that he remains one of the greatest and most revered figures in German history.
And we can go on like this for a very long time.
I see history as an unimaginably huge and complicated railroad switching yard, where by moving a pair of steel rails a few inches one way or another, the great train of history can be diverted from Chicago to Atlanta. These switches may seem ridiculously small at the time, but the consequences are often immeasurable.
So when I stood on Little Round Top and walked down that little hill for the last time that day, I saw more than dead and dying men littering the ground. I saw two nations where today there is one. I saw a Second Civil War, perhaps in 1909, or 1913, for these two countries would never peacefully co-exist – not with people as proud and energetic as we. I saw not seven thousand dead at Cold Harbor, but 70,000 cut down in an hour by machine guns in the Battle of Tallahassee, saw the gas attacks along the Cleveland Trenches that left half a million dead and dying. I saw, perhaps, the dimmest outlines of a Third American War, fought perhaps in ’34 or ’37 with millions of civilians killed in great air raids over Washington and Richmond. Of course, these millions never died. They lived long and full lives, most of them – and had children, namely us. They didn’t die, these millions, because the men at Cold Harbor and The Angle and Little Round Top did.
Now it seems fair to say that you can boil down the opinions of many of those opposed to the War in Iraq to a question uttered by leading anti-war activist Susan Sarandon, who asked, “I want to know what Iraq has done to us.”
There are two reasons to fight this war. One is so that History will never be able to answer that question. I don’t ever want to read about the VX attacks that left 16,000 dead at Atlanta Hartsfield airport. I don’t want to see the video of makeshift morgues inside the LA Coliseum as more anthrax victims are emptied from the hospitals. And I don’t want to look at helicopter shots of a blackened, radioactive crater where Times Square used to be, or of millions of dead bodies burning in funeral pyres, like columns of failure, dead from starvation and disease in the worldwide depression that such an attack on New York would produce.
I’m sure Miss Sarandon, and others, would criticize this response as fantasy. I’m also sure that had President Clinton taken military action against Bin Laden in the 1990’s, the idea that planes could be flown into skyscrapers, that thousands would die as the New York skyline collapsed upon them would be seen as equally as fantastic and absurd. Preposterous. Paranoid. Impossible.
But the fact remains that History will be written one way or another. Saddam’s crimes are well documented, as are his ambitions and his WMD programs. Are they worth stopping with force, before they have been used? I say yes, emphatically, and that anything less from the President is a dereliction of duty.
Many do not see it this way. I have to ask those people if they would have supported a military invasion of Afghanistan, with all the consequent upheavals, UN condemnation, and protest, in order to get Osama Bin Laden before he made 9/11 a symbol of disaster and death. The howls of protest that such people would have put up at such pre-emptive action are exceeded only by the shrieks from these same people that something wasn’t done about 9/11 before it happened.
Here is what I personally believe:
I believe that after September 11th, 2001, the Bush Administration sat down and took a very cold and hard look at what was going on in the world. I believe that they came to the conclusion that the post-WWII policy of depending on a strongman, an Attaturk or even a Nasser, to lift the Middle East into the modern world was an abject failure. I believe that they saw a region so seeped in despair and failure and repression that it would continue to generate, through asymmetrical warfare and weapons of mass destruction, an intolerable threat to the United States.
I believe that they came to realize that even if we were to pay the price of living in a police state, we cannot stop terrorists with flyswatters. Despite our best efforts, sooner of later, some of them will succeed, either with jet-fueled airplanes, or smallpox aerosols, or Sarin-filled crop dusters, or a suitcase nuke in Times Square or the steps of the capitol. As long as the failure of Arab nations generates such rage and hatred, they will keep coming. There is no end to the numbers a swamp like that can generate.
I believe that the United States government has taken a very bold decision to take the first steps to drain that swamp, and that this War in Iraq is the throwing of a railway switch to divert us from a very terrible train wreck lying ahead in the dark tunnel of history yet unwritten. Surely they know full well that this action will, in the short term, cause even more hatred and anger to be directed to us. But I see this as a chance – perhaps our last chance – to eliminate one of the states capable of and committed to the development of such weapons, and in the bargain establish a foothold of freedom and democracy in a region notable for its resistance to this historic trend.
Furthermore, I see it as a means of averting such wars in the future, for it shows in the most stark terms available that we are serious about this issue, and more than anything, when we talk about the safety and security of the United States of America we mean what we say. Entire wars have been cause by miscalculations of an enemy's resolve. As Tony Blair made clear in his ringing speech before Parliament on the eve of the war, to back down now, to show ourselves incapable of action, would have made all subsequent diplomatic efforts essentially meaningless. Showing that we will fight -- and fight all the way -- will make it far less likely that our enemies will miscalculate the way we allowed Saddam and Bin Laden to miscalculate.
As national policy, it is risky, and it is extremely dangerous. It is also an act of astonishing courage and leadership, because the alternative is horrible beyond contemplation. We are in the very early stages of a great and difficult campaign, one fraught with many setbacks and much loss. Although chaotic and uncertain to us today, it is a campaign that makes sense only through the long lens of history, for despite the blood and destruction, and the faces of those brave men and women held up to us nightly, it is the course most likely to steer us through these reefs into the open waters of security and a peace worth living under – a peace based on real security, on a free and democratic and successful Middle East, not the petty and false peace of inaction and denial in the face of the threatening storm. The world faced this choice in the late 1930's, and chose an easy 'peace' -- "Peace for our Time." History records our reward.
Those who oppose this war may not be willing to face the pages of history that will forever remain unwritten by us taking this action in Iraq. But two things we can be assured of, and both of them are worth noting in these anxious times.
First, while we cannot say that Weapons of Mass Destruction will never be used against the United States, we can -- because of this courageous action --say that they will not be Iraqi weapons. No one denies that these exist -- only that a raving lunatic, a paranoid, murdering psychopath can be trusted to not use them. A swamp littered with chemical weapons shells, with anthrax-dispersing jet aircraft, and with a robust, stubborn and dedicated nuclear weapons program is being drained nightly before our eyes. That is a great victory.
Second, while the long-term outcome is hard to see through the fog of war, we are in fact sending our own children to die to set a people free. When Saddam’s murdering henchmen are dead and gone, when he and his psychopathic regime lie burning and shattered like his posters and statues, we may – or may not – see people emerge from three decades of horror to greet us as liberators, once they truly realize that doing so will not cost them their lives.
But even if they don’t, it does not matter. The Japanese and Germans saw us as conquerors and occupiers too, not to mention the people of Alabama and Georgia and South Carolina. All of these people fought, and fought hard, for regimes that had kept them in bondage. Nazism and Japanese Imperialism fell away relatively quickly and painlessly. American racism was a deeper problem; it has taken more than a century to remake this society, and while that war is not yet over it most certainly has been won.
We may or may not have prevented more attacks on the United States. We may or may not have generated a greater short-term threat from terror. I personally think that recent history has shown that resolute action, that taking the offensive, has been a great deterrent to terror, and that the operation in Iraq will do much more in that regard. I could be wrong. History will tell us, soon enough.
But of one thing I am absolutely certain. Despite all the switches in the rail yard, there is a flow and a direction to history that cannot and will not be denied.
It is the slow, uneven, grasping climb toward freedom. There are markers on Little Round Top, on the beaches at Normandy, and in the sands of Nasiriyah that show us where men have fought and laid down their lives, and willingly left their wives without husbands and their children without fathers, all for this idea. It is an idea bigger than they are, bigger than self-centered movie stars, bigger than cynical and bitter journalists, bigger than Presidents and Dictators, bigger, in fact than all human failure and miscalculation.
It is the idea that people – all people – deserve to live their lives in freedom. Free from fear. Free from want. Free from despair and hatred.
My country has, again, taken up that banner, and the behavior of our young men and women under unimaginable stress and provocation have filled me with fierce and unremitting pride. We fight, nearly alone, alongside old and true friends, British and Australian, themselves decent and honorable people, long champions of freedom who have their own Waterloos and Gallipolis and cemeteries marked with fields of red poppies, rolls of sacrifice and honor that should fill all American hearts with pride. For friends like this are worth having, and I will always prefer the company of one or two solid, dependable friends over legions of fashionable and trendy and unreliable ones.
And someday, centuries from now, in the world we all hope for but which only a few will fight for, all of this death and destruction will be gone. All that will be left will be small markers in green fields that were once deserts, places where Iraqi families may walk someday with the same taken-for-granted sense of happiness and security I had in Pennsylvania and Virginia.
And perhaps they will read the strange-sounding names, and try to imagine a time when it was all in doubt.
Feedback always invited, please email me.
March 30, 2003
I write this blog somewhere between zero and 35,000 feet, traveling with US Air on route to Las Vegas on business.
This is my first business trip that has included a flight for over a year, my first to Nevada, and without question my first ever flight during wartime,
The security at my local airport was noticeably higher; I have never had my bags swabbed to check if they have been in contact with explosive materials before. Every zip was opened and checked, including my toiletry bag.
This is a long flight, over 5 hours, made longer by a delay due to bad weather at my home city. Once cleared of security I have a couple of personal "things" I need to have for a flight of this length. One of the most important is earplugs. For me it cuts down the air drone background roar, and makes for a more pleasant journey.
Hats off to Taney she did me very proud by making up a meal package for me to have on the plane. Real food and plenty of it. Cheese & Branston Pickle Sarnies, drinks, chocolate and a personal favorite, chiples.
I have passed on the in-flight entertainment on this leg, some hazy film portraying fifties middle small town America. I can't say from the screen I can just about see from my seat that I am missing anything.
With no in-flight magazine this far down the plane and being one of the first on, at least I have a comfort pillow to curl up against the bulkhead as I am sitting comfortably in the back row.
One thing that perplexes me, sitting at gate B15 for over an hour I noticed an owl perched on the air bridge. This large brown specimen was constantly alert, watching the planes take off and land as though air traffic control had packed up for the day and left the owl in charge.
This feathered beast was easily eighteen inches tall, if not more and unruffled by the air traffic passing along the apron at the end of the air bridge.
When I return I am going to ask the airport authorities if they use owls at the airport. Or if my suspicions are correct, this was not a real owl, but a mechanical owl to keep the feather population away from Terminal B.
So much for my Harry Potteresque encounter this afternoon.
With some time on my fingers for a change, I have a chance to write something other than a few paragraphs for London Chimes on my favorite subjects.
Lets start with Iraq; specifically TV coverage. As previously mentioned I am limiting my intake of news each day to no more than headlines. 30 minutes, enough to get a reasonable account of how the war is going. My main source is Fox News, sister company of Sky News in the UK (a fact I was unaware of until this last week). Using the resources and talents of the correspondents "embedded” within military units in the battlefield from both Sky and Fox, they provide excellent coverage.
Thinking back to the last Gulf War when reports came from hotel rooftops in Kuwait, this is far different using satellite telephones and computer technology to provide first hand by the moment reporting.
Sadly the BBC reports on BBC America leave much to be desired. Rarely do I blast "Auntie Beebe" but fear that their reporting is lagging behind.
Las Vegas, Part 2, written as our pilot struggles to take off from Denver in the thin air at high altitude, location from my connection back to Philly and home.
If you ever have to travel to Las Vegas - arrive in the hours of darkness. With a time difference of 3 hours it was midnight EST when the plane stopped at the gate. As soon as I walked off the air bridge my senses were overwhelmed with the noise and activity of hundreds of one-armed bandits - slot machines.
I took the shuttle bus to my hotel that I discovered was on the outside of the main hotel area. However fellow passengers were being dropped off and the combination of the lights, noise, traffic (we were at a standstill for much of the time), and the sight of so many people out walking the strip was an assault on my senses.
The fountains outside the Belagio Hotel are without question impressive, the scaled down Eiffel Tower at Paris looks as though I have landed in France while the other hotels are truly immaculate. Without question this is America's playground. And the hotels are the icing on the cake.
My trip was business, I was staying at the Las Vegas Hilton, while not in the same league as the Belagio, and the convention center was most impressive especially when you add in the meeting space inside the hotel.
Normally I would complain for being given a room next to the elevator shafts, on this occasion not. Given the expanse of the floors, and the long walk to the Convention Center - through the Casino, and thousands of slot machines, I was glad not to walk further.
Las Vegas appears to be in a large valley surrounded by the mountains of the Nevada desert. It reminded me a little of the volcanic mountains on Gran Canaria except I was a great distance from any sea.
Arriving at night from the air the streets that make up the city of Las Vegas looked very much like a jewel encrusted gaming table.
This is most apt as Las Vegas is all about money, your money, and there are any numbers of ways they want to take it from you. Being something of a spendthrift I avoided a twenty-dollar taxi ride (given the closeness of the airport to the hotels this is disgusting). Preferring to take the shuttle bus for $4.25 plus a small tip for the driver.
Once in the Hilton your eyes are drawn to the casino area as you walk through the doors right in front of you. You need to search around for the check-in desk that is almost hidden to one side.
On the way to the elevator/lifts to my room on the 13th floor (another unusual feature as many hotels do not have a 13th floor), you have to pass through yet more slot machines.
There are a number of places to eat at the Hilton, - for breakfast I have to recommend the Buffet, again pass by the gaming tables, more slot machines to the racetrack screens for the entrance. The draw of taking a chance having a gamble is very tempting. This is after all sin city. It took me 36 hours from arriving before I finally fell into the trap - and lost a couple of dollars on the slots.
Was it worth it for the thrill? No. Did I win anything and walk away? No.
Gambling in the US is not like the UK. the penny arcades and machines in every pub and bar across England is not the case in the USA. Gambling is limited to very few areas. Las Vegas and Atlantic City being but two. There are no gambling machines on the piers or boardwalks. So the opportunity to play a slot machines, a one armed bandit for the first time since I left the UK was a temptation. And as with any bandit, - it took my money. Well have you ever heard of the house not winning?
My business trip was a success in meeting my objectives, I have much to follow up on to secure the business links I am looking for but on balance without question it has been a couple of very useful days.
I cannot say that I wanted to stay longer; the hotel as unique as it truly was is not home. One of the highlights from a personal perspective is that on Friday night there was a wrap up sponsored party by Coca Cola at the Star Trek Experience. As a closet Trekkie, I have to admit to loving every bit of this, the museum offered the biggest display of props outside Paramount, and the "experience" includes being beamed on board the Enterprise. with a trip onto the bridge. I cannot say more, but if you get the chance - go!'
This morning after an early breakfast I headed back to the airport on the shuttle bus. For the first time I used United Airways to shuttle me up to Denver to make the tight connection to US Air (my preferred airline) to Philly
In the last few days I have been limited to CNN for news on the war. The only mention of the war at the hotel was on the opening day of the trade show, before they opened up, a moments silence was held followed by the playing of the Star Spangled Banner as a large flag was hung over the entrance. Everyone was respectful, everyone stopped.
The check in desk at United this morning looked like organized chaos that was far from organized. The snake line took 45 minutes to negotiate before joining another queue to hand over our checked in baggage for screening.
I arrived at Terminal B; I was departing from Terminal D, a new addition that needed a monorail trip to enter.
But before that was the screening check at the entrance to the Terminal. Another even longer queue that took another half hour, only for the magic arch to go "beep" on me as I walked through. The culprit was my shoes; they have metal eyelets and set the arch off. Taken to one side I had to remove my shoes to that they could be scanned separately, and body scanned with one of those magic wands, while assuming a position with my legs apart on a mat that had yellow footprints for where to place my feet.
Did I complain? No. did anyone complain? Not one bit. We are at war, the airline industry has proven to be a soft target and are taking great precautions to ensure everyone’s safety. My fellow passengers and I that each and every one of them.
While my journey through Philly took little time on the outward leg of my journey, given the scenes on the return leg, I am more than pleased I left extra time,
There is one part of my journey home that I want to comment on. The flight from Las Vegas over the mountains of the desert to the snow topped mountains outside Denver is one the most awe inspiring views. I am not a geologist, yet the formation of the rocks, mountains and valleys is a beautiful sight. There appear from the height I flew at to be few roads through this scenery, but there do appear to be those that twist and switchback (hairpins) through narrow gorges. The color of the rock warn by erosion thousands of years ago has sparked a personal interest for me to seek out a little history of this area for it is truly a place of wonder and natural beauty that runs for hundreds of miles.
Feedback always invited, please email me.
March 24, 2003
From the BBC today:
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have been speaking to relatives of service personnel in a visit to Devonport Naval Base.
Friends and family of those serving in the Middle East said the visit was the tonic they needed after a weekend of mourning in the South West.
Royal Marines from Plymouth-based 3 Commando Brigade were among eight Britons and four US troops killed when a helicopter crashed in northern Kuwait on Friday.
On Saturday, six British and one American service personnel based at RNAS Culdrose near Helston died when two Sea King helicopters were in collision near the Royal Navy flagship HMS Ark Royal.
Last year we saw the passing of Princess Margret, the emotional funeral of the Queen Mum and the Queens Golden Jubillee. Yet in times of conflict the royal family have placed their own safety on the line by staying at Buckingham Palace during the Blitz, flying helicopters under fire during the Falklands and supporting the families of those away from the battlegrounds.
Again the House of Windsor, so few days into the start of the conflict are supporting the families in the South West.
Given the news of the last week, one major news story that I have only just read in last Thursdays Philadelphia Inquirer, is that searchers believe they have found the data recorder from the Shuttle Columbia. It was located near Hemphill, Texas and have reported that the recorder is intact but has sustained some heat damage.
Feedback always invited, please email me.
March 23, 2003
I have deliberately kept a distance from the TV and radio news this week. That’s is not to say I have not tuned in at least once a day for the “confirmed” headlines. As I found out in the days after 9/11, continual news coverage reporting few known facts can be emotional drain as I got “sucked in” to the news broadcasts. With the first volley of shots this week that announced the start of the Iraq invasion, MTV (yes I do watch MTV sometimes), broke the news that was the signal to turn to Fox News. By the following morning listening to the radio news on the drive into work, I realized that I was beginning to get “sucked in” and hit the off button on the radio.
Meanwhile in Malcolm’s real world, work continues to play a huge part in my life, and continues to keep me in great spirits with a smile on my face.
A previously unreported fact on London Chimes that Taney & I have become an Aunt and Uncle to Scott and Nicole's baby boy, Trajan Hill Frazier, and were privilaged to see him last weekend.
Back in the UK, my cousin, Elizabeth is moving to West Cheshunt, my parents are making their new home very much their own, and niece Hannah recently went to her school on St. Davids Day dressed as a Welsh Rugby player.
Only a month after the big snowstorm, the snow has melted away and the garden now has been (for the most part), cleared away of dead leaves, twigs and ground ivy, as my lawn is looking threadbare just waiting for the next phase of “the perfect lawn”.
I have been to Home Depot for on the last two Saturday mornings, yesterday with the gardening section opened up, it was a regular hive of activity with gardeners eager to get what they need for their horticultural spring clean.
For the first time this year we have thrown the windows open in the house in the last week, to blow away the stale winter air and get fresh air in the house.
Away from the news life is very much normal. Petrol prices have actually dropped a little, good job too as they have been pumped up over recent weeks to a staggering $1.60 odd a gallon. When for months we have been used to paying $1.37. (I can only imagine how expensive petrol is in the UK right now). There are no problems with food in the supermarkets and walking around home depot yesterday saw piles of duct-tape for sale.
Activity at the local air base seems to have dropped with only the occasional plane flying overhead on their approach to the runway. While the multiplex cinema next to the airbase continues to pack the customers in for Friday night for the movies
To conclude this shorter than normal Weekend posting (as I still have some gardening to do before I head out to see the family today), there seems to be an unmentioned expectation that the war in Iraq may not take very long. Certainly with the ground covered in such a short space of time and the question over the health and well being of the leaders of Iraq, may have a direct bearing on a short conflict.
I am heading out west to Las Vegas next week, and will be writing London Chimes during my trip out and back. This is very much a business trip but an opportunity to observe a new slice of American Pie – I can’t wait!
Feedback always invited, please email me.
March 17, 2003
From the outside looking in to America, it appears that everyone has a point and wants their point to be heard.
This is the result of the right to free speech.
Just because an American says something you don’t agree with, does not mean they are not entitled to make that opinion public.
For the last few months, there have been the Blair/Bush supporters and those whose actions and voice indicate little if any support.
America & Britain are great, some countries, Iraq for example you could be tortured or worse for speaking your mind in public.
As previously blogged on London Chimes, my wife & I with many of my in-laws attended the “Support our troops” rally in Valley Forge PA yesterday the venue the turning point of the Revolutionary War, where the militia fought the red coats. A site of great American historical significance.
It could well be the final peacetime weekend we have for some time. All the more reason that it was important to attend. As to the estimated ten thousand in total, many of them simply found themselves sitting in lines of traffic slowly crawling towards the rally site.
It was without question a beautiful Sunday to be in the park for any reason. The weather was warm enough to give a touch of sunburn on the back of my neck.
The rally promoted by 1210AM “The Big Talker” a national equivalent of BBC Radio London or LBC (if either are still broadcasting), was an excellent example of the power of the radio. My personal motive was that as an individual it was the least I could do to show my support to the American service personnel who may have to offer the ultimate sacrifice over the coming weeks. Of 250,000 troops of that number 45,000 troops are British, geography does not permit me to show my support in London, so I carried my Union Jack with me yesterday. After the speeches, sitting down with some liked minded strangers; they were very pleased to see a Union Jack among the hundred of Stars and Stripes. The “American man on the street” is very pleased to have Britain as an ally, as Spain, Portugal, Australia and many other countries including Poland who have sent 200 troops to the Middle East.
Without question there is a great anti-French feeling here. Many bottles of French wine remain corked and unbought as an example of consumers simply saying “non” to French goods. Sadly, while I understand the motivation of the American public this action will have little to no effect on the French government. It is the responsibility of “corporate America” who has a presence in France to relocate elsewhere that will have a stronger punch to the French economy. Yet seven days is a long time in politics hardly measures in business. With a number of corporate refusing to take a position on political issues, sadly the pressure on the French will only hurt the small French businessman and wine merchant, not the French government.
Morale in Valley Forge yesterday was akin to a great patriotic party. Nobody complained about the traffic. Nobody complained that there were too few shuttle buses or the parking was too limited. Everyone was in good spirits and simply wanted to send a message to the troops overseas that they were respected and being thought of.
For some reason only the biased anti-war movement was previously being reported in the mainstream media offering a dim view of support to the troops. It was high time that America showed that it cared. Another similar support our troops rally in Atlanta GA attracted a reported 25,000 people. At both rallies ordinary folks, men, women, children, teenagers, adults, grandparents, servicemen, reserves and last but not in any small way least veterans of previous conflicts, including the allied serviceman of World War 2, as well as more recent wars such as the last conflict in the Gulf, twelve years ago.
My wife and I have a number of great photos we would love to share with anyone who requests them. If you have a friend or family member in either the British or American or allied forces waiting for their orders this week, we would be happy to forward some of these photos to boost morale.
Listening to 1210AM today (Monday), the presenters were deeply moved by the show of support yesterday. One mentioned that in all the years he has been associated with the radio this was without question the best day in his broadcasting career.
The crowd was not just well behaved but exceptionally polite, courteous and kind. No line jumping, no litter thrown around. Just respect and understanding to all. This was a side of America that you rarely see. This is a side of America that is rarely reported on the mainstream news (without severe bias).
So if I witnessed the power of real America, or at least a thin slice of the pie yesterday, it was truly awesome. For one of maybe a couple of Brits in the crowd it was a little like the goldfish bowl affect. Looking out through the glass of the bowl, it was a powerful display of the might of the people of a nation. Or in the case a small representative sample, for those who attended had traveled in some cases across more than a state or two to attend to demonstrate their support.
The euphoria of attending Valley Forge is like a bright warm light deep within. For there are thousands like me who while they do not want to see war start, recognize that for lasting peace there is a price to pay, and we are standing at the front of the checkout line today.
President George W. Bush spent 15 minutes on TV tonight (Monday), not the final speech to the citizens of America this week I am sure. With political resignations, among the allied countries today, including my old boss Robin Cook (former Foreign Sec). A deadline has now been given to Saddam Hussein, we now wait. The diplomacy is over, while many may say that the actions of the next few days are a failure of diplomacy of Washington and Westminster, I have to disagree.
Feedback always invited, please email me.
March 13, 2003
This weekend I am heading off to historic Valley Forge in PA for a "Support the troops" rally, which I am personally referring to as "Support our Troops", all troops who are waiting out the diplomatic game, in bases around Europe, and the Middle East, waiting for orders.
These orders could be to stand down, they could be to invade, either way they are waiting, and of the 250,000 troops some 45,000 are British.
I am making a personal statement by attending, I do not as a rule feel so strong on an issue to actually do something so direct but I have reached the end of my patience of the Anti-War protestors.
Without wanting to be seen as a hypocrite, I am NOT looking for a war. Who in their right mind does? But I am fed up watching and listening to the anti-war protestors who have nothing more constructive to offer than "No War". Or direct personal attacks on the democratically elected President (Bush) and Prime Minister (Blair). As many managers, I do not care for anyone who comes and complains to me at any level for any reason without having put added thought to offer at least one constructive solution to the problem.
Sadly the anti-war protests are not reasoned, to emotional, and hardly in the least constructive, when the problem that is being faced is complex, involves many international agenda's and positions based upon hard reason. Hardly a balance.
Meanwhile for weeks there are men and women from Britain and America, as well as other allied countries sitting waiting, not sure if the actions in the next few weeks will result in lives being taken, the ultimate sacrifice for ones country. We should be supportive of each and every member of our armed forces, regardless whether we are in peacetime or especially now, on the brink of armed conflict in a far away land.
My opinion is biased, I was a few short miles away from the World Trade Center on September 11 2001. I saw with my own eyes the pauls of smoke over New York. I felt sick to my stomach as I stood surrounded by 3 of the busiest airports in the world, as the threat of a number of planes falling out of the sky was very real and a living nightmare. For a time I experienced a kind of terror that I never want to experience again.
In the months that followed, I worked in an area that was affected by the Anthrax mail scares.
Despite growing up in London, being steeled at the various terrorist attacks by a number of groups in the city, pipe bombs, car bombs, chemical bombs. Watching the litter bins removed from the rail system. On one occassion getting caught up in a bomb scare. Careful when going into the West End. Always on the alert for something that seemed wrong. I grew up appreciating the ability to be street-wise, not as much as some, but more careful than those living in the country. The actions by those in September 2001 and in the months following unnerved me more than ever.
Do I want to experience anything like this again? No. Do I want terrorists to have access to the kind of weapons that can inflict mass death and destruction? No. Will invading Iraq prevent this, probably, but we need to understand that terrorist are not confined to one country, they are aligned with a number of countries that put individuals before citizens and rule of the gun and threats to ones wellbeing serve a harder kind of justice than the British Courts or those based on the British system could ever hand out for the smallest of crimes, including speaking your mind let alone publishing on a web page.
Our troops should see that there are people back home that support them, recognise their awesome responsibility and salute the sacrifices that are "part of the job". Without this first best line of defence, we would live in a world that does not offer the freedoms, the independence and the rights that we all enjoy in both Britain and America.
I support our troops, and I will be proud to just be at Valley Forge with my Union Jack and my Stars & Stripes in my hand.
For more information please link to the 1210AM web page. The Big Talker the local talk radio station in Philadelphia who is a main driver behind this event.
On a note, my wife Taney is back blogging poety on the Water Lilly Papers, (see perma link on this page), and has recently added this poem she wrote this week. Given this blog entry it is more than appropriate that I should copy it here:
women are dying
men are lying
children are crying
where do you stand?
the pain is coming
the voices are rising
the anger is brewing
where do you stand?
Will you support them in the streets?
Or will you spit at their feet?
for those who protect our freedom
Where do you stand?
(Taney Friend 2003).
Feedback always invited, please email me.
March 09, 2003
In the years before “Ground Force” and other gardening programs that appealed to the millions, there was a highly established gardening program on BBC2 titled Gardeners World, with a nationally respected presenter, Percy Thrower. This man knew his onions from his rose weevils, and for many years sat at the helm of the only TV program for gardeners. As a kid this was switch-off TV, until Ground Force (viewing daily on BBC America) hit the screens many years later.
With a green-fingered heritage in my family, from professional gardener (my grandfather) to seriously talented (parents and other grandparents), I must have green fingers somewhere below the wrists.
This weekend marks the start of my gardening season, as bulbs planted at the end of last fall have under the influence of warm weather and gradually melting snow raised to just above ground level.
With the birds, squirrels and rabbits returning to the garden, and the snow melting across the lawn like a high tide leaving the beach on a summer afternoon, winter may be holding on with one last breath and frost worries my little shoots.
It was a pleasure standing on my porch yesterday with a cup of tea on one hand just to listen to the bird song, and see my first cardinal of the year. Already we seem to have a couple of nests around the property, one seems to be occupied, the other to high to tell.
My thanks to the gardening pages on the www.weatherchannel.com for picking the right weekend to plant my bulbs, their gardening pages and “jobs to do this weekend” will undoubtedly be a regular read over the coming weeks, and months.
My garden is a sad dark canvas and needs an injection of color and life. The wild life has returned, in a month the garden furniture will be dusted off and set up, something I always look forward to.
In the last week in Wales was St. David’s Day, a celebration that is represented by daffodils. The children in my niece Hannah school all dressed up for the day in something that was uniquely Welsh. Hannah wore a rugby shirt in recognition of the world beating Welsh rugby players.
Mother Nature may have woken up the UK, the snowdrops and crocuses have given way to the daffodils and the first signs of tulips, but has only just visited this part of America this weekend to wake the gardens and the wildlife from their winter slumber.
I am itching to get out into the garden, the expression “cabin fever” has been all to often use in our household recently. To be able to walk outside without need of a jacket yesterday, to feel a little warmth on your cheeks was appreciated. Spring for the moment is here, but that last gasp of winter is still a threat. The garden however will be here all year long.
Thanks to a number of "www.com's" I have this morning identified the weed on my lawn that will be banished as a beautiful lawn for the summer is high on my list of priorities.
Feedback always invited, please email me.
March 07, 2003
A funny thing happened on the way to work the other day. I had followed this car for a couple of miles until we stopped at a stop sign. The driver in front rolled down his window and poured the remains of his morning cup of coffee out of the window from a regular ceramic mug.
I have joined the millions in take a hot cup of my favorite brew in the car with me in the mornings. The vast majority of cars have holders for travel mugs and the disposable beverage containers from Starbucks and the like that secures the cup of brew, on the move.
But this guy had a standard ceramic mug. – Had he been driving one handed, as the cup holders don’t take this sized mug! The view sitting behind in my warm car was enough to produce a belly laugh from me and set me up in a sunnier disposition for the remainder of the day.
Given my work, the recent weather and other commitments, my time for blogging has crashed, this in turn is relative to the amount of time I have been plugged into the news of the world. Even on my journey into work I have switched off my listening to a fluffy breakfast show changing channels for a touch of smooth jazz on the return leg. In both cases news hardly rates above traffic and weather reports on stations that are biased to the music and their advertisers.
Well the good news is that the world has not blown itself up this week. The bad news is that it might happen next week.
I did sit and watch GW Bush make a speech to the nation last night. A good speech well presented, but with little coverage on the BBC web pages at least the following day. We seem to be in a countdown of days until March 16 or 17, whichever news service appeals to you the most, for some kind of threatened military strike by allied forces.
It seems that we have been counting down for months, resetting the countdown several times. But such is the game of politics. The one story that incensed me was the stories around the world of students, some as young as 13 marching in protest against War.
How can a 13 year old rationalize the facts? Given the current situation I could not have at that age. Only through working in Westminster first hand do I start to understand how the game between diplomats is played. Everyone has a chip in the game, the rules are complex and the perspective on the game is very different for each player. Yet if the objective is trade rather than Iraq the rules between the same players is totally different.
It continues to both me that these polls asking closed questions, those with a Yes/No answer, are being banded around as though they have some meaning, Yes / No read as Black / White, In a game where these are but two colors of thousands of shades and permutations between.
Washington is in a disagreement with Paris and Berlin over the issues of Iraq, specifically a handful of people representing the USA, France and Germany. Yet on other issues the three countries remain staunch allies.
To say that any country has fallen out is petty and wrong, as this is but one facet of a mutli-faceted game between only three of the players.
So what will happen over the next few days? The historians of tomorrow hold their pens at the ready, the diplomatic map of the world may change, the stature of the United Nations may fall, or not. Then again a terror attack on the UN could change everything.
President Bush and PM Blair do not want to go to war. This is clear, but there is a clear and present danger that unless Iraq disarms, there is every likelihood that given the relationship Iraq has with terror groups, and terrorizing its own citizens, that such weapons and technology could be used against any allied country with devastating results.
We witnessed what 4 aircraft could do, on one sunny September morning.
It is easy for every homeowner to consider that they would never be bur glared yet, each year they take out insurance for their contents against other things, loss.
Yet, day after day, many are victim to this crime. This very personal attack on you, your family and your property for many forces them to move home to feel safer. Able to replace that which is lost through insurance, yet when items of high personal value are taken they are irreplaceable.
We stand on the brink of a policy change, an opportunity to save the future from national personal attack, both in America and the UK as well as many other countries that stand with them. The future will be the only witness to if a course of action that if taken over the next few days will prevents such dreadful crimes of terror.
Feedback always invited, please email me.
March 01, 2003
From Glenn Frazier a "blog" that has been AWOL for a short while is back with avengence and good job too. There is seldom little worth reading out there in blogsphere and his blog has been missed in these quarters.
"Homeland Security" the SeriesA pilot for a new "current events" series (think West Wing) is headed to NBC. Among the cast of terrorist-busters will be Scott Glenn:
Glenn will play a CIA agent on the verge of retirement in "Homeland Security," a fictionalized look at the fight against domestic terrorism. After the Sept. 11 attacks, he puts off leaving his job to work at the new Office of Homeland Security.
Assuming the network doesn't interfere too much, I have great hopes for this series. Former U.S. Marine and current NRA-member Scott Glenn (Absolute Power, The Silence of the Lambs, The Hunt for Red October, The Right Stuff, U.S. Navy recruiting commercials, etc.) is hardly Hollywood, and a reliable source says the writing team on the pilot is pretty fired up (in all the right ways) about the War on Terrorism. Add to that some close consulting on the show provided by the CIA itself, and I suppose, on second thought, you really shouldn't think West Wing....
Personally I am looking forward to this program.
Feedback always invited, please email me.
I had cause for concern to ring customer services for Mars the confectionary people yesterday.
I openly admit to having a sweet tooth, (always have), and living in the US, have actually cut down on my confectionary intake dramatically as I am not a big fan of Hershey Chocolate. Hershey has the license to manafacture Cadburys in the US, but it is not the same. Thanks to my sister in law living north of the border, she on occasion will smuggle the odd bar across bless her. My Brother and his family in South Wales sent me a basket full of British Chocolate goods for my birthday a month ago. Lion Bars, Galaxy Bar, Turkish Delight, Yorkies, Cadburys even a tin or sparking Ribena. The only thing left one month on is – the basket!
Back to my phone call, at my new office we have one of those vending machines that dispense small bags of crisps (chips), pretzels, orios, and selected candy. (Peanut M&M’s, Sour Skittles – UGH!). I noticed the cholcoate M&M’s did not last too long without being bought out so I guess I am not the only one with a sweet tooth.
On balance there is less to appeal in this vending machine than items that do. But having a hankering for something sweet I bought a pack of Starburst (Opal Fruits, for those of us that have a long memory). Cherry, Berry flavors and a mystery flavor which Mars wanted the purchaser to log on line and guess. The web page was not simply down it had been removed as the competition finished nearly 5 months ago. How old was this pack?
Concerned that my purchase was well beyond its eat me my date, I phoned Mars for the information. They were most helpful, and asked me for the code printed on the pack, 211F14 or some such coding.
Here is a fact worth knowing, the 2 represented that the pack was manafactured in 2002, the 11, that it was in the 11th week of the year. This pack had a shelf life of 60 weeks and was therefore still good to be eaten. So I learned something yesterday.
I have a great interest in the vending industry lately, as this dovetails into some of my varied responsibilities with my new job. (No I don’t load the machines in the kitchen area). When you consider the varied number of vending machines that exist, it is a huge international industry, an industry that is meeting in Las Vegas next month for a major EXPO and I shall be attending on business. My motive for attending for I cannot write here but rest assured it has nothing to do with an almost expired pack of Starburst from my office vending machine.
February Fact file.
Another snowfall yesterday takes our cumulative snow total this winter to 48.25 inches. We have either beaten or only below the all time record for snowfall in the month of February since records began, thanks to Ben Franklin. As a former resident of Philly, he is responsible for many things including the weather records which go back further than for any other city in the US.
The remains of the 2 feet of snow still sits silently on the ground, most since turned to a pile of ice. I have not seen the hint of a blade of grass for weeks, I don't beleive I have a lawn under the blanket of white.
Yet yesterday I noticed flocks of birds flying over Cherry Hill, a sure sign that spring is getting ever closer.
Feedback always invited, please email me.