Saturday, December 15, 2007


Getting to know Christ in Vietnam is the greatest thing to ever happen in my life. I volunteered out of pure love for my country. Where else can an orphaned kid and High School drop out, end up working for the richest company in the world, serve with dedicated and decorated fellow paratroopers, have 4 Grand-kids, 2 daughters and one son, survive the Tet Offensive with 2 bullet holes in my steel pot and even have our own Arty dropped on me, fall into an uncapped well at Chu Chi, get shot at nearly every day and still live to tell about it all and then to still be able to thank God and still increasingly love God with all my heart, spirit, soul, feelings, emotions, subconscious, mind, will power, strength and intensity.

Only in America !!! Even with all our hangups, we are a blessed by God nation with limitless opportunity for even the poorest of the poor to succeed--I know as I used to have to sleep on other people's couches and even on the floor at foster homes. GOD BLESS ALL AND GOD BLESS AMERICA gp

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Lions For Lambs

The movie, Lions and Lambs, spoke to me. Good ethereal movie! It had various stereotypes which were probably necessary to tell a story or to have a point or points of view. The usual implied stuff is there: bad intell that led us into Iraq; basically doing what the Preident wanted anyway, along with Rumsfelt, Pearl, Wofowitz; and, of course, no real consideration to what could happen and surely not an exit strategy. But, we know all this.

The movie is basically three stories and a little or a lot implausible--could this happen? There were no real heroes in Lions and Lambs other than the soldiers. Robert Redford, a college professor, (political science, I think) uses one of his disillusioned students to make his point. The disilusioned student is the prototype for the ipod or X generation.

Much of this seems contrived but for the purpose of the story is irrelevant to me. In the course of this amazing dialogue about all the issues of the war, we discover that Redford is himself a Vietnam vet and yet became a "John Kerry" type after the war, i. e. antiwar.

Two minority students from his class decide that they can make a difference but only in being directly involved; by serving--in this case, the military. Redford's character is taken aback because this is not what he intended. What makes it a little, "come on" is the idea that two minority students would opt once they are already in college, some place like UC, Berzerkerly, to go into Special Forces and suffer all that just to make a point. I don't think so. But, this was the movies and they can make anything happen they want too. The movie is done in many flashbacks, one being where the two minority students are making a presentation in the class. The class has to be about making a difference in society. They actually present my idea of National Service.

The politician, played by Tom Cruise, was really a stereotype of someone like, choose any: bombastic, a world view that is meddling in other countries, the cliches, etc.; didn't give one much confidence in politicians or politics, even if we needed any encouragement to think they were self serving.

The soldiers were part of a small A Team of Special Forces soldiers which represented a supposely new strategy in Afghanistan, fight and operate in small groups and be a force. This was a strategy that the Senator, a West Point graduate, finished 1st in his class, helped develop. A concept, which, by the way, we used in Vietnam. And, I believe would have worked there had we not introduced conventional forces into the mix--might work in Afghanistan or Iraq if we were willing to stay there for years and years, which we aren't.

The soldiers died, ran out of ammo as they were fighting the Taliban, we assume. It didn't seem that they had much ammo, no grenades, anything like that. Actually, they had fallen out of the back of a hook, close to the ground when it took fire and turned around, thus leaving them on the ground.

The critics panned it and I can understand but I don't think they saw the larger picture. One critic called the movie a "talkathon" and it is mostly. However, I think critics are jaded themselves mostly and have lost their sense of seeing soemting for its greater good. (I saw August Rush and loved it. Now, this is an implausible movie but you shoudl take your grandchildren).

I think the most striking thing to me had to do with the concept of those whom this country has given the least are in fact those most willing to serve, i. e, at least as this movie portrayed it. But, too, I think that it is much of the Volunteer Army concept even if soldiers are serving for different reasons.

Also, what is equally interesting to me is why the war movies aren't doing any better at the box-office and not just the Iraq ones: even Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, didn't do well. Americans or those who ordinarily give a whit, maybe tired of war, uninterested, uninvested, adinfinitum.

I think that what we are seeing or beginning to see are the early stages of the same things that Vietnam vets saw. There is already an apathy out there. I see it with comments from soldiers. Let's face it, people in America have little interest in hearing soldiers experiences. And, the few Iraqi vets that I've talked too seem to feel that since there is little sacrifice in America, this adds to the lack of interest. I think so but the soldies don't really objectively know this, simply they think it which is equally important. And, now, of course, the poor attendance at the war movies bear this out.

There's only so much to be said. But, still, these guys, like us, have participated in the event of their lives and they'd like folks to be interested. Even to see the movies. With the exception of one I haven't seen, Redacted, which is the first movie that is critical of soldiers, at least I hear it is. Bill O'Reilley, supposedly railed against it.

To be honest, I don't know: when I've tried to engage people about Iraq, not much traction. What most don't get either for us or for Iraqi vets, the war doesn't end when someone comes home. God bless them.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Thanksgiving morning, I was following my yearly tradition of watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and as an introduction there were several stories about the troops, to include greetings from them to their families back home. I was moved. In watching those youngsters say how they missed home, my first thought: amazing the sacrifices of these kids. One white soldier reached over and put his arm around an African American and said, "This is my family now."

This war has divided our nation and surfaced what I view as a kind of benign hypocrisy. It is easy to support the troops when we are so little involved. As I watched those kids, it was obvious to me that they are from struggling families across America, many single parents and lots of female soldiers. To confirm my view, I goggled the demographics of the Army and came up with all sorts of stuff. There were a couple of articles by some guy who is in the politician mode. If asked a question a politico doesn't want, he/she will choose to answer the question he wished they'd asked. For this guy, he used statistics to bolster his claim of how well the Volunteer Army has worked to include why the draft was so awful.

And, as all of us know, you can do anything with statistics you want. My counter to the argument is very simple and illustrated by a guy I don't even like (nothing personal) all that much but his last movie, Sicko, illustrates a point: Regardless of what you think about him or our health care system, we cannot deny that there are 45-50 million Americans who don't have health insurance. The same with the Volunteer Army--it works, relatively speaking. (We don't truly know if Iraq lasts for ten years) Like, Sicko, however, we can say we support the troops until the cows come home, but the fact exists that only a small portion of Americans make the sacrifices of war by serving in the military.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


When the Iraq war was in its infancy and we were thinking we'd be out of there as soon as the parade was over, a few of us thought naively that based on the good we'd done, we could put aside our earlier misgivings. Forget it.

Now, we find ourselves heading toward five years with no end in sight and here come the movies. This is really amazing. The war is still going on and we have all sorts of ink which is a little more acceptable than movies, yet baffling to those of us who tried to publish Vietnam stories for years to no avail. It was years before the writing market opened up and Vietnam didn't find any real movie audience before 78 or 79; first came Deer Hunter and the satire, Apocalypse Now.


I guess it's a sign of the times. There's already been a slew of documentaries and I just saw one on HBO hosted by Tony Soprano--heart rendering about wounded Iraqi vets. Later on this year comes a movie about the rape of a 14 year old by American soldiers. Who's going to want to see this movie? Muslims?

I doubt the new movies will look favorably at our involvement in Iraq. Robert Redford, both writer and actor in one of the coming attractions, Lions For Lambs, hardly will. From what I've read, his movie wants to give movie goers a chance to engage in dialogue. OK!

Another one has to do with FBI counter terrorism unit called The Kingdom and then there is one starring John Cusack as a stay at home spouse whose wife goes to war and doesn't come back. Now, that is going to drive you to the movies.


Hollywood has to do with money, always and I think there's something else, actors who have a name like Redford, often like to make movies with a message.

I'm still a little in doubt about it all. My real feeling is that these movies are not going to do very well overall. I'm not sure that people want to engage viscerally on Iraq--it is not like it is ended and the movies can paint a picture of what happened or can be. We don't know yet.


Movie goers want to be entertained not beat up with reality. Going to the movies for entertainment and getting political statements, I don't know. We have some past evidence: I saw Flight 93, which I thought was super but it was not very popular. Clint's Letters from Iwo and Flags of Our Fathers didn't knock anybody's financial socks off. And, even now, Ken Burns is getting beaucoup face time for his upcoming, The War. Maybe, enough already.

I think most of Hollywood is pretty much anti the president and will probably try to convey the war as Bush's war. And, using such a movie as a way to protest or as Redford claims, maybe to educate, might be over reaching. Whether or not movie goers will go for it, we'll have to wait and see. Watching the Iraqi war as a movie seems a little unseemly. Out of every war comes thousands and thousands of stories, most untold. But, to try to tell even a few of them while the real thing is happening seems somewhat misplaced. We don't have to see a movie about Iraq. The tragedy of it is right in front of us.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


It took Doonesbury to help me grasp a concept. With most Americans having no "skin" in the game in terms of the war in Iraq and what I believe to be feigned interest, Doonesbury came up with this statement, "emotionally, we outsourced this war--to a professional class that mainstream America has almost no contact with!"

The comic strip is a takeoff on one of the characters who happens to be in Iraq and is questioning the support at home. The players in the Doonesbury strip are dialoging over how to say yes, you are supported when they don't understand or believe.

One comes up with a way to at least let the soldier know they're thinking about him; give him some medals. This is the cruel joke: soldiers get medals for achievement, bravery, for serving. These characters in Doonesbury know nothing about the military as they are the mainstream who have outsourced the war.

From a comic strip comes this great and sad truism.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Recently, I met with a book club to dialogue about my book, Gun Totin' Chaplain. This is the first book club I've done face to face. I had done a few on speaker phone. Lots of fun but nothing like this one. Absolutely delightful.

Most writers who have penned something they feel noteworthy and with a message, are thrilled beyond means when it is actually read. It was read totally with this group. They asked penetrating questions about some of the things I'd said in the book; they wanted to understand what motivated me to go to war when I didn't have too. Did I achieve my goals? Did I think that the church condoned war.

The questions went on and on--we all determined that war is awful and yet while admitting that fact, accepted the premise that most Americans are untouched by our present conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And, then we started on my favorite subject: AllServe. Would these mothers be willing for their children to serve our great country for 18-24 months if their children had a choice in what and how they would serve, i. e. Peace Corp, Teach America, Habitat for Humanity, Americorps, military or designed their own. Since they had read about the idea in Gun Totin' Chaplain, they understood the concept. Absolutely they were willing for their children to serve.

The session ended with them giving me a cake they had made with AllServe on it. This has spurred me renew my letter and email writing campaign. I'm going to start with Paul Soris and Warren Buffet. These two guys are naturals to me. They've got more money than God and they are willing to give it away (Everybody and his brother's writing them a letter asking for money I'm sure). Plus, it appears that they want to leave some sort of legacy. What greater one than something like a national policy of AllServe.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that we don't have the political will to make choices for the greater good which AllServe is. However, the will to make AllServe a reality sparks a "hope springs eternal" commitment in me. The time is now.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


The Military. No, this is not a recruiting comment but a reaction to a book I recently read: The Trap. The thesis is that educated young people have practically no choice but to go into the corporate world and become everything they hate. What about an alternate, some kind of National Service. Why couldn't they do it. Well, according to this book, they could but won't: they want a lifestyle that working in corporate America would afford them while inwardly wishing they could pursue some altruistic course.

The book to me is almost beside the point but a realization that there are scores of young people out there who don't even consider they have a choice. WHY? The reasons are many. My personal favorite is that most of us need a push to do the right thing. National Service would need a push. Lamentably, based on the performance of our Congress in the last several years of both parties, this a far fetched hoped.

Some of these upper middle class kids do obviously choose a different course based on the statistics that come from nonprofits like Teach America. But, there's not enough of them. If National Service was a requirement, it would be a kind of forced volunteerism and why not? For all the benefits of being an American, why not have to give back from 18 months to two years in some kind of National Service: Peace Corps, Teach America, Habitat for Humanity, anything they might design and God forbid, even the military could be a choice.

One fascinating thing about The Trap is the fact that it is written by a twenty something. He's a good writer and has good ideas but imagine what a different book he might have written, had he served a tour in the Marines.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The King is Dead

One problem in our culture today is that Americans don't have a shared experience. There was a time when you could go into any bar or Church and say, "When I was in the Army (Navy, whatever) and there would be instant rapport. Most of it was positive and vets love to tell about their experiences/war stories. However, few Americans have military experience today and this is sad.

Here's a posting of exactly what I mean: 30 years ago today was my first day of Navy boot camp...time flies. I remember in August of 1977 while in boot camp my company commander (Freed was his name...never smiled-he was gung-ho), walked into our barrack and the only thing he said was "the King is dead" and walked out. We all kind of looked at each other dumbfounded...found out later it was Elvis Presley....we got a big laugh out of it!!!!

Sunday, July 01, 2007


This is a term I'm not hearing much these days. It envisions the "draft" too much. Over the last 10-12 years, I'd like to know how many letters I've written with an idea of the draft or of late, National Service with the draft as only one among many choices. It is like, "nobody is home."

All the present presidential candidates have good things to say about the troops and the vets. Senator Barack Obama has picked up on the idea that already we have homeless Iraqi veterans and he wants to do something.

Let's face the hard truth here; the vast majority of Americans are apathetic about the military. As a rule, they don't even know anyone in the military. And, stories of kids who had what would considered to be much better options and yet choose the military would be looked down upon. Those of us who believe that a military should reflect its democracy have to feel like someone cryng in the wilderness. What is incredibly obvious to those of us who care and think about it is how unrepresentive we are.

I miss the old days of the draft when soldiers were griping and disagreeing with government, leaders and others about why we were fighting. And, the more telling reason for sure: if we had "citizen soldiers" on a wholesale basis, the President and Congress would be reluctant to send us off to war and that is reason enough to change our system.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


A new poll says the American public ranks the U. S. Armed Forces first in terms of trust among American institutions. So ironic to me, in light of a couple of things. The institution that is ranked last is Congress who in essence, can send the military to war or at least collude in it.

Gallup polled Americans on 15 government, business, and cultural institutions asking, "Please tell me how much confidence you, yourself, have in each one." The military scored 69 percent of those answering a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence. It is also amazing to me that the military's high standing with the public comes despite generally negative news media coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I can't help but wonder and call me skeptical, if it isn't pretty easy to have confidence in the military since there is, by in large, no real sacrifice on the part of the vast majority of Americans. Some evidence lies in the fact that in another survey parents said they were less likely to recommend the military to their sons and daughters than if there was no war going on.

As much as I think the government's management of the war in Iraq, in particular, in every aspect, has been dismal, the fact exists that the military exists for one purpose: to fight and win wars. When a youngster joins the military, he or she is not joining a college fraternity or sorority. Consequently, I'm not all that high on the survey. Excellent books like AWOL(absent without leave) which persuasively puts forth the argument and fact that the more privileged Americans simply choose not to be part of the military.

Here's a good indication: recently on a News Hour on PBS, at the end of the program as they usually do, they profiled with a picture young Americans who had lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan: out of the 13, there were 8 Southerners, 4 from California, two others from across the country. This is pretty typical of the lack of national representation.

It is good that Americans are supporting the military but let us not break our arms patting ourselves on the back either.

Monday, June 11, 2007


This is the thought of Carmela Soprano to her son AJ who thinks he might want to go in the Army. Her words were something like, "the military might be good for AJ, some discipline, but there's a war on and so we have to rule it out."

Where did the Sopranos' writers come up with this idea? I'll tell you: it is the prevailing view of Americans. Military recruiting is way down because parents don't encourage their kids to go in the military because of Iraq. And, can they be blamed? A war that is devisive against an enemy that doesn't play by the rules.

And, of course, the writers had AJ, immature, as he has been on the show. He definitely could use a tour in the Marines. He has the unrealistic view of a kid--become a helicopter pilot, learn Arabic, get out and become Donald Trump's personal pilot. Where did he get those views, as we pretend this is the real world. Better still, how do the writers get such ideas? Well, simply, what they have mouthed through AJ are the prevailing views of the public.

Even though Tony is a mobster, in mobster terms, he is upper class. The military is not made up of upper class kids or anywhere close. Here's a slight example; on a recent Newshour on PBS, as they do weekly, they offer up in silence the names and pictures of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. On this particular broadcast, there were fifteen young Americans who had lost their lives over the last several days. 9 of them were from the South, 4 from California and two from other places. An example of how unrepresentative the Volunteer Army is of America. It is shameful as my Mom would say.

The fact that we do not have a plan in place to tap into the enormous youth resources in our country is unbelievable. AJ Soprano is young and willing and although the military might not be the place, there are other opportunities which he might choose if offered. Suppose we had a National Service obligation for American kids. If we had one in place, Tony could have said to AJ, "No way, you can choose something else for your service but not the military." Teach America, Peace Corp, Habitat for Humanity, scores of other nonprofits would be choices. The military would be only one among many.

The fallout from a National Service obligation would work for everybody. The military would benefit themselves. My suspicion is that many Americans would choose the military under almost any circumstances. We don't have enough faith in our kids to believe this but many kids want it tougher, to meet challenges, to be the best. Look at the Marines and the Airborne. They have always been volunteer. In the 82d Airborne Division, there is usually a waiting list. The pool of young Americans is large, between the ages of 18-26, the time is NOW for National Service.

Saturday, May 26, 2007


On this Memorial Day, Americans need to look closely into their hearts. For most Americans, Memorial Day is pretty much a holiday, some time off, a barbecue, traveling: that's about it. But, for Americans who care, it should be a time of reflection. We find ourselves at war--in a very divisive war where there seems to be no way out. Constantly, there is some revelation that we should have known better but acted blindly. All that aside, however, the issue and what should cause us pause on this Memorial Day is honoring those who have paid the ultimate price--those brave men and women who have given their lives for our country.

The why as to most Americans lack of sacrifice and interest is not my purpose here. Good books like AWOL have been written which seek to call us to answering the question of "why." In fact, it's subtitle has been one that I've used often: the unexcused absence of America's Upper classes from military service. The answer is pretty simple really--America's upper class or any class for that matter don't need to serve as we have a volunteer Army.

And, here is the contribution of the Volunteer Army during our present misadventure in Iraq: 3,443 who will never get to live out their lives.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Voluntary Army and cyberspace

The military recently decided that they didn't want their soldiers at war emailing and blogging and hanging out at on government computers. They say the issue revolves around too much bandwidth and some security issues. Who believes this?

The real truth is that the military has needed to reign in the commo of the troops and what they are doing when not fighting or prosecuting the war. All along, I have had my doubts in what all this instant communication is doing to their focus.

I can surely understand the other side. The loneliness, opportunity to talk to loved ones. A seemingly wonderful morale issue. But, what about a platoon leader whose wife has found interests elsewhere or families who need the dad at home for soccer matches or to fix the washer or to take a firm hand with a daughter on her curfew. In the old days of Vietnam, for instance, the soldier would think about all of this and may have gotten the word through letters but it was nowhere close to daily and instantaneous as it is now.

In an emergency, a soldier could possibly use what in the old days was called MARS. (Military Affiliate Radio System). The soldier would have to plan ahead or someone do it for him and then when he finally made connection, he would have to end the portion of his comments with "over." Think M*A*S*H, on TV--Radar with the ancient instrument to his ear, trying to accomplish some task. This now would be a neanderthal communication system. However, in Iraq, the soldier can be off patrolling the means streets of Baghdad, concerned for his life and his friends and in a few hours, be back somewhere on the "net" emailing or text messaging his wife or girlfriend or buds on MySpace. No way to run a war.

Having to deal with family issues while at war can be incredibly distracting and interfere with the mission. War is no day at the beach and allowing troops to be distracted from it is lethal for them among other issues.

In war, there is always inequity. We faced it in Vietnam with nine support troops for every ground pounder (combat arms soldiers). There were soldiers who were suffering the daily travails of war off in the jungles with nary a hot meal while others were living a good life. I'm not sure it is the same in Iraq but surely there are scores of soldiers who never go out on the road, who don't have to worry about insurgents, IEDs or suicide bombers. Those who are inside the relative safety of the Green Zone and those at bases spread throughout Iraq and are mechanics, mess hall personnel; those who operate the radios, and a thousand and one more supportive and necessary jobs. These soldiers may have time for MySpace but by in large, not a good thing.

WHO IS AT FAULT/and/or responsible for where we are? By in large, Commanders at all levels are at fault. Well meaning morale issues are always important but commanders have to know the overall picture and make decisions accordingly. It is very easy for us armchair quarterbacks to sit around and cogitate our navels about the war. But, commanders, especially young captains and their battalion commanders--they are on the ground and have to make hard decisions. We are at war and being focused on that task is the only paramount.

Sunday, May 06, 2007


A telling comment by a University writing professor, in talking to his students about Iraq, he railed with something like, "How can you let us get away with it (meaning the older Vietnam generation)? We are spending your inheritance and leaving you holding the bag." All nodded but what the Professor knew and was concerned about was the fact that for 3 years in his writing classes as the students were asked to write about the troubles of the time, not one had written about the war, other than the students in the National Guard who had been called up. They had written about deep perosnal wounds that plague our culture--absent or abusive parents, bulimia, anorexia, date rape, too much drinking and drug use--but not about the war.

Friday, May 04, 2007


For us old soldiers, I am absolutely amazed at the continuous coverage of the war. As someone has said, it is a "victims" war. What we are seeing is not the war fighter who is doing what soldiers are paid to do: fight. What we see are overall depictions of problems that soldiers have because of the war. Overall, I don't think it's healthy for us as a nation and surely not for our soldiers to constantly be a "woe is me." The constant use of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) language is almost a self fulfiling prohesy. Does this mean it does not exist. Of course not but there are all kinds of other questions.

Here's a for instance, the news media says that as much as one third of American soldiers (this means Marines, all servicemen and women) suffer from psychological differnces when they return. Of course, they do. They have been in combat. We are not talking a "day at the beach." What do we expect? And, the media is aiding and abetting it, constantly making the soldier out to be a victim. And, they do it in the light of "supporting the soldier." It is the media, not liberal or Fox news type, simply the media.

You cannot watch a news show on TV that they do not deal with the war and mainly its aftermath. Understand always that the news media is not interested overall in the truth rather a story. It is just a fact of life. All along, I was somewhat against the embedding of journalists with the military for lots of reason. Mainly that war is not something to be fawned over but a serious dying business.

We are in a difficult time as a nation. We want the news, to know what is going on but there is a price to be paid.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

ONE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE--what a great country!!!!

One of the wonderful realizations about being American is that we have these enormous freedoms to do all sorts of "off the wall" things, regardless of one's status in life. Here's a good example and very positive in light of so much negative stuff that happens, i.e., Virginia Tech. Here is this 60s (age 64)type from Berkeley, California--she travels to Iraq on her own; gets some small newspaper (Lonestar Iconoclast--Crawford, Texas no less) to issue her a press pass and blogs back and forth. We have to admire the sixty four year old. Gutsy for sure, she is a participant in life, not an observer. An interesting note had to do with her living in the Green Zone with the troops--she had never eaten so good: steak, lobster, and salmon steak choices every night. At least the troops are eating well. Don't think we saw any of that in the Nam.

Her reference to how great the food was highlighted her comments of subsiding on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a month. She lives in Section 8 housing which is government subsidized. Obviously, she has limited funds and came to Kuwait with her own money. See what I mean. God bless America.

Her comments about Iraq mirror thinking Americans--confusion. At first for her, it was pull out and then she said she spent time with the troops in a military transport plane from Kuwait to Baghdad, she grew quite fond of them and their idealism. (soldiers at war have to believe in their cause. It is part of their sense of sacrifice). She embraced their optimism, Maybe the military should stay to finish the job and help rebuild Iraq in a Marshal Plan sort of way. However, her position changed toward the end of her time in Iraq--the U. S. must withdraw all its troops. Not only is life in Baghdad unsafe for everybody, it's like the people of Iraq don't want the occupation. In her last blog from Iraq she wrote, "to hell with Iraq. Let God/Allah sort it out. It's high time for Americans to start watching out for America instead. (Sounds a little right wing). We can't afford to let a whole generation of fresh faced boys be forced to turn into gangsta wannabes in some foreign country just to benefit the Bush/Cheney deAmericanization fund. We need our troops at home. Here. Now." She calls Iraq an invasion/war/occupation/police action/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Bush blunder.


NATIONAL SERVICE--Mother's comments

I totally agree with National Service. It sounds fantastic. Tthis war is only costly to the men/women/families who serve and doesn't affect anyone else too much. So true. But then it's hard to get an entire country on board with a war that was based on such garbage and then heads off in 12 different directions when the head honchos try to justify it.

I really like the National Service versus Universal Service. Somehow it sounds more American, more patriotic. Does that make sense? National Service -- yep, that is a good change. I was telling my son about your ideas and he was all over it -- it's one of his big themes. Everyone should serve at least a year doing something with people from other backgrounds in this country, As he says, you'll meet some duds occasionally and some wackos, but by and large, you'll encounter lots of different, good people from all walks of life and from every socio-economic level. I remember him coming home from Basic Training at Fort Sill with a photo of his training class, and the guys had all signed it on the back (kind of like signing annuals in school), and one of the black recruits wrote: To the coolest white guy ever. He was pretty proud of that, and so was I. God bless the Army for all it taught him.

Saturday, April 14, 2007


When I think of the war in Iraq, my immediate thought is: what a mess. It goes really beyond a mess--a travesty. There are times I think that I'm the only one in America who gets it. I heard some general on TV the other day by the name of Lovelace--I remember the name as I had an archeology teacher in seminary by the same name. I thought "this guy's brain has been bottled in formaldehyde." This isn't personal rather, philosophical. It was as though he was talking about another country and a different war. He was saying things about our great soldiers which they are in Iraq, the wonderful volunteer army, what a privilege to fight such a glorious war. These were not his exact words but close. Unfortunately, he is more typical of the leadership than we like to believe.

The volunteer military is a good one, maybe the best in the world. However, it has one very real drawback: it is not representative of our great country. And, this is a moral as well as a practical dilemma. When only a very small fraction of our populace are making the major sacrifice in war, it is immoral. The practical implication is that as a country with a volunteer force we are denying young men and women in America the opportunity to serve. There's a bond of trust that comes from shared hardships, shared experience and a common set of values when sacrifices are made. Most Americans will never know this and the common ethos which comes with it.

Friday, March 30, 2007


I read the Weddings/Celebrations in the Style section of the NY Times every week. I think it is probably some of the best stuff of The Times. And, I always wonder how they choose the couples they highlight who are getting married. When I opened the page one week, I was blown away. There was a guy in uniform. I had seen military depicted before in the section but usually they were West Point graduates. However, this was different: A Specialist 4 (Corporal)Ranger (Rangers are the most elite single unit in the military. Their training is extreme. At the end of training, they are awarded a Ranger Tab, the most highly prized designation in the Army).

I almost fell over when I began to read--if not a marriage made in heaven, close. Marriages always start out with such promise. And, military marriages are very special. Sacrifices of unusual nature will be the order of the day for this young couple.

What impressed me, however, among many things, is the soldier Ranger's approach to his life. And, equally as much as how he came to be in the military is part of the thing that brought him to the day of his wedding. Older than most soldiers of his rank, 37, a Princeton graduate who after 9-11 and in his own words, "lots of soul searching" joined up. "I'd always wanted to do national service of some kind," the Army Ranger said.

Here is an example of what we are missing out on by not instituting some sort of universal service, community service, AllServe. If we gave youngsters a chance, a slight nudge, they would do it. Granted, this Ranger is a stand out by anybody's standards but still, there are more like him out there I know. If we had the political and moral will as a nation, we would be providing a chance for them to serve.

Thursday, March 29, 2007


Recently, on a trip back to my hometown, I had occasion to talk to lots of folks about Iraq. Most simply give the "nobody is home" look. Not because they're not interested but mainly out of not knowing what to say. And, those who have been such ardent supporters of the present regime, simply are nonplussed.

I don't know what to say myself. Honestly, I get so incredibly frustrated. We live in a country of such enormous inequities. On the one hand, Iraq has not really forced changes in anybody's life. The only ones affected are the soldiers serving and their families.

In our country, narcissism runs rampant. It is nothing to watch a newscast with some scant news about Iraq and then go to commercials which show such blatant narcissism that it is sickening. For instance, there's collagen treatments, luxury home sales, Farrari automobiles that don't have to advertise their 200,000 pricetags because there's a line out the door. And, this doesn't even smack at the realization of the actual money that a Wall street scion gets, i. e., Mario Gabelli, something like 435 million. And, this in a land where as MLK said, "if America is to remain a first class nation, it cannot have second class citizens." Well, guess what? Third and fourth class citizens. The inequities in our culture are staggering and the greatest example are our brave and sacrificing soldiers and families. God bless them.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


Wow, will this never go away. I don't think so. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs recently got himself in trouble by talking about the immorality of gays. In some ways, not to put words in his mouth, but he might have been OK, at least in terms of his comments, had he had kept away from the morality comment. Had he said being gay is not compatible with some aspects of military life, he might have escaped, at least sounded better. For this reason: Marines, hardcore infantry, macho type soldiers are homophobic, let's face it. The idea that at least philosophically they are not male chauvinists, beer swilling, gung ho, kill, kill, kill is an anathema to them. And being "gay" with all the stereotypical views of who a gay is will not hack it. Regardless of one's view, it is simply the way it is. And, who are these soldiers with all these homophobic views. They are the guys who are out there dying in Iraq. They are the "front line" troops. They are macho to the max. These are the ones probably that the good General Pace, Marine extraordinaire, is talking about.

Is this right, good, etc. Not the most appropriate question to ask? The better question, "is being gay in the military compatible with military life?" Yes, in many instances it is. The idea that in this day and time, we are discharging scores of qualified soldiers even though we have the "don't ask, don't tell" policy--from what I read, the equivalent of at least half a division (division is usually with support troops, twenty thousand men and women. This is ridiculous. Many are skilled technicians, many we've spent a great deal of money training them, i. e., language school. Statistics reveal that many are medical types, to include some doctors. This is an issue that is not going away and cannot be solved.

General Pace is right and wrong. "Outed" gay Marines are not going to fare well. It is reality. What I equate it to in some degree is women in the military. Introducing one woman into a classroom of Marines studying and the dynamics are changed. It is not the woman's fault. It is nobody's fault, simply the human element of men and women. Is this going to change? No. And, the reason we can't force it or push it is that the homophobic Marines are at war and they're dying. Kind of puts social issues on the back burner. In a perfect world, not a problem but guess what!

Friday, March 16, 2007


Recently at a book signing for the memoir, Gun Totin' Chaplain, I got a chance to test out the idea of National Service. The small independent bookstore owner hatched the idea that we'd give away a certain number of books to draw in a crowd. If the idea of the book was to get the message out: National Service--what a great chance to do it in what was possibly an unfriendly college environment. It was successful, the sun was out and students were everywhere. We took it outside and I began to buttonhole students.

I talked to at least a couple of dozen about National Service, now these are Berkeley students--so funny in a sense--here I am a Vietnam vet, the book is about Vietnam and during Vietnam, Berkeley or as we use to say, Berzerkerly, was the epicenter of the anti Vietnam war protest. These kids weren't even born during Vietnam.

The conversations went something like: "What is your thought about National Service, meaning where you'd have to give a year or say 18 months to some sort of Service to your country or a nonprofit organization. It could be the military but wouldn't have to be, could be Teach America or Peace Corp or literally anything like that or you could design your own. A couple of the students gave me the "nobody is home look." By in large, in this brief encounter, the vast majority of the students said, "I'd think about it." For Berkeley, believe me, this is ground breaking. One kid cracked me up! "What are college students interested in?" Answer. "Well, I think having a good time." Then, he grew more thoughtful, "I think my fraternity brothers are mostly interested in partying and getting laid." We laughed.

Upon reflection, the idea of National Service came out looking pretty good in an environment that could be construed traditionally as pretty hostile. I am encouraged more than discouraged when I talk to kids about National Service. For those who oppose the idea and yet could help with it, i. e., Congress, I think they don't give American youngsters enough credit. What I've discovered over the last twelve years or so is that kids want to serve and would with a slight nudge.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

What About The Draft


Martin Sheen directs his son Charlie in a military war of wills. It is a story about a rebellious white recruit befriended by African American prisoners in a West German Army stockade. Lawrence Fishburne is the cell block boss.

This is a movie that works on all kinds of levels. First of all, Vietnam is just heating up. It is 1965. Charlie Sheen is a youngster, emotionally lost, struggling to somehow put things right in his life and with his Dad who dies before he can. Somehow, the Army is all part of the plan. After the death of his Dad, he spirals down even further, goes back to Germany and gets worst. He's thrown into the stockade (jail) for 90 days. He's stubborn, unyielding and the jailhouse boss, Martin Sheen, is determined to break him. In the course of his attempts at breaking this upstart young soldier, Martin, a senior non commissioned officer, comes emotionally apart.

This is the "draft" Army. The movie doesn't deal with issues like, what am I doing here, how did I make this choice, it just was. In this draft Army, there's all kinds, sharing the collective experience.

On another level, it's a movie about race relations. The military has always been way above society in general in living with each other. And, the draft military had all the racial issues but was beginning to confront institutional racism. Cadence is a good example. Here is Charlie, the lost, stubborn young soldier who just wants to get by, live and let live. He faces the challenges, wins over the black charges with whom he lives and in the course of events, the implication is that he found himself. A good movie to watch with Iraq in mind. At least three parachutes

Monday, January 01, 2007


Dear Mr. Edwards, as a fellow North Carolinian, I applaud your entry into the Presidential sweepstakes. I am often amazed why anyone would be in politics unless it is a "calling" and I think yours is. Unfortunately, for many, it morphs into a career and politics as usual. I hope and pray that your commitment is different.

My basic purpose for writing, doubting you will ever see this but you might, based on a recent Newsweek article. Your desire for the voters to see the real you. "Untucked." I like it. And, the idea of putting your campaign on "youtube" is right on--very creative from my point of view and I sent the link to dozens. I think that the transparency is truly the only way for a democracy and what you're doing is part of it. You have my support, I assure you.

My feeling is that you are saying some good things. I saw you in New Orleans. Right on. However, many are going to say those same sorts of things and what you need is something to get you out ahead of the crowd. Here's your issue in my opinion: UNIVERSAL SERVICE. Congressman Rangel has proposed a draft but it simply won't fly. Too much opposition even if I think it is a good idea. Unfortunately, in my estimation, those who are in opposition to the draft or may even oppose Universal Service, are in NC parlance, "cutting off their nose to spite their face." What "peace" groups or even others in opposition don't get is that If we had a draft/Universal Service, a President would think twice before he sent us to war.

However, all that aside, Universal Service would be good for the country. For the last 12 years or so, I have been promoting the idea that we need Universal Service-- something unifying and what better to do it than requiring those 18-26 to give 18 months to 2 years in service to this great country. My basic theme has been simply that it is immoral to ask such an infinitesimally small number of Americans to fight our wars. Columnist Ben Stein says it this way, "In the old days, the rich, the famous, they all put it aside to fight. Now who fights for us: "Southerners, Hispanics from New Mexico, rural men and women from upstate NY. Small town boys and girls from the Midwest. No children of the powers on Wall Street go off and fight? They 've left the burden of defending an affluent nation to those who enjoy less of its affluence. They don't want to fight for a system that made them rich or a way of life that made them princes of finance."

I would add, and not original with me, "the kids who are in the military today are those whose economic prospects are less than stellar. They are high-school graduates who're not going to college because of costs, many young parents who need a regular paycheck and health care for their families." According to DOD statistics, soldiers come from households earning between $32,000 and $33,500. " (The median American income is $43,300.) It is not that the Volunteer Army is not working. We have a military that is as good as we've ever had. Simply, they are not representative of our country and this is not right nor good for us.

The difficulty, in my opinion, with selling the draft is simply too much opposition to the military, war, etc. Few can argue with universal service. From various reports, we've got lots of activism: students are getting involved in Teach America and there's been a resurgence in the Peace Corp. And, your comments in New Orleans, who came? Many students showed up to help.

Without a draft or any sort of Universal Service, kids by in large don't have any incentive to serve. I talk to parents of kids who are draft eligible with great regularity and simply unless there is an unusual circumstances, they don't think about it. Thinking has changed and more and more parents of eligible kids see the advantage of a Universal Service. Having a choice is the selling point. I have a blog called AllServe and constantly get comments about what a great idea this is.

What would a Universal Service do for America's kids? Lots of things, something like a common interest and experience, something that is nonexistent in our culture. Universal service would make a difference in changing our fractured America--a youth culture built around service. What I am discovering is that many Americans will go for Universal Service if youth is given an option. If they didn't want to choose from a list, let them define their own. American kids are smart and creative, we might be surprised at what they come up with and how willing they are to serve.

This is an issue that is begging for someone like yourself to take up--it is the JFK "ask not what your country can do for you" theme. Universal Service could be phased in over ten years and promoted among our youngsters now. A success story and the way AllServe could work is an organization I've read about: Teach America. I only know what I've read. They are getting top graduates who could be in medical school or Wharton business or wherever--yet choose to do something meaningful before they start their careers. Teach America sends graduates into poor rural and urban schools for two years. For many, it has become a next step after graduation. These kids want to contribute to improving society while keeping their options open. At Yale for instance, Teach America, drew applications from 12% of the graduates, 11% at Dartmouth, and 8% at Harvard. All told a record 17,350 applied in one year.

Are our present kids a post 9-11 generation ready to opt more aggressively for public service? I think so. Many of those volunteering for Teach America don't know what they want to do. The thought is that not knowing what to do, why not take some time to do something meaningful for a couple of years and think about the future. The military is as I've said only one of the options. Universal Service will work.

There's probably some opposition to Universal Service or anything related but what the hell: us North Carolianians know a cause when we see it. Universal Service will fly and I think you are just the one to make it happen.