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Earlier this week, a photo popped up showing my little sister pinning on one of my gold bars as I was commissioned an Army  2nd Lieutenant out of the OCS Brigade at Ft. Knox, Kentucky in 1969. Ten months and 10 days after enlisting in the OCS program, I’d been propelled from recruit to officer. I had skipped my college graduation in May in order to take a cruise of Lake Michigan and the North Channel with my family before reporting for duty. My enlistment was forced by the draft, which proposed to grab me within two weeks of graduation.

What followed were two years of active service, in places ranging from the Army War College (where I served as officer in charge of 43 military funerals at Gettysburg National Cemetery) to working as a press escort officer out of a forward corps press camp in Vietnam.

While a proper sense of the appropriateness of honoring those who fought and died in war was imbued in me through my own service and exposure, it was only years later that I learned that the war in Vietnam had been extended, with the loss of 20,000 additional Americans and a million Asians, by a political calculation to Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger when they maneuvered to cancel the proposed Paris Peace Talks of 1969 in order to deny the Democrats the Presidential election that year.

My god, how can politicians play tinker toys with the lives of millions of people, as if we were just pawns on a board? And that’s just what they did, and what they have continued to do in the generations since Vietnam, despite the lessons we could have learned there, but didn’t.

So, this Memorial Day, I do mourn the lost, those who were sacrificed as much as gave sacrifice for their country. But I also mourn the continuation of the crass, inhuman brand of politics that characterize the highest levels of leadership in our country., then and now.  If only humanity were our true brand of politics, and that humanitarians were our one and only brand of politicians.

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Yesterday, I met an authentic modern hero. Not the kind of domestic hero, who works as a volunteer at a food bank, or rushes to put out a fire, or adopts a needy child. But a modern military hero, who acted to save lives at the risk of his own in a combat zone, who accepted the role of leadership, even when it meant personal sacrifice. A living oxymoron: a French Algerian, who came to America, renounced his French citizenship to join the U.S. Army, and rose to become the newest and one of the 10 living Medal of Honor winners alive today.

Captain Florence (Flo) Groberg appeared yesterday at a small luncheon hosted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. He brought along his charming girlfriend and his Pentagon handler, a public affairs master sergeant. Groberg described coming to America from a Paris suburb, where his French Algerian mother had married an American businessman. He attended high school and college in the U.S., and after 9/11, and becoming a naturalized American citizen, joined the Army and attended Infantry Officer’s Candidate School and advanced Ranger training.

On Groberg’s second tour in Afghanistan, he was leading a personal security detail for senior American and Afghani officials walking toward a local conference, when an elaborate suicide bomber attack began. Identifying the nearest would be bomber, Groberg pushed down the assailant, taking part of the blast himself, but saving many others in the process. While four died in the attack, Groberg survived, and after 33 surgeries is back on his feet. Two weeks ago President Obama presented him with the Medal Of honor at the White House.

Captain Groberg, now a Pentagon civilian employee,  is an intelligent, personable, modest patriot. When asked to comment on national policy issues, he reminds the audience that, “I am just an Army Captain, not a talking head political commentator.” He believes the U.S. is well prepared and our forces are well trained to fight the asymmetrical battles of the 21st century. Asked what his calling was in Afghanistan, he said, “to help the villagers with their local security issues.”

Asked what military traits he thought would be most beneficial in civilian employment, Groberg smiled and said, “punctuality, and then planning. Punctuality means we should up when, where and as needed, and planning means we approach every situation with a plan of action.”

In today’s era of widespread cynicism about America’s foreign adventures, with which I can heartily relate, it is moving to meet and hear from one of hundreds of thousands  of young people who live to serve and sacrifice in the name of American principles and leadership that they trust and admire.

 

 

For those who know no more about the Barbary pirates than the movies and stories of Barbarrosa, there were between one and 1.25 million Europeans captured and sold into slavery by the Muslim Barbary pirates from the 16th to 18th centuries. My point is that Muslim “terrorists” have been after non-Muslims for a long time.

The current attacks by ISIS and similar Muslim radicals in the Mideast have not been focused on non-Muslims, notwithstanding the beheading incidents of late, but have been intramural attacks on fellow Muslims. Yet the U.S. has felt compelled to take the strong lead in international reaction to the modern terrorists. Meanwhile the Muslim countries surrounding Syria and Iraq, as well as the nearby European powers, are providing light support, to say the most, to the latest American-led initiatives.

I fail to understand why the U.S. feels so compelled to take the strong lead, when it is the regional Muslim countries that are, or seemingly should be, so threatened by the Syrian Muslim extremists. Even more so, considering that it is the U.S. that has sold modern arms and trained the military of so many neighboring Muslim countries. This is not the age of the Barbary pirates, when a million or more Europeans, and some American warships, were directly impacted by Muslim extremists, yet by the actions being led by America, you would think it still is.

While U.S. airstrikes may or may not have the desired negative impact on ISIS, one thing is sure: the collateral damage among neutral civilians we are now inflicting, will assure another generation or two of America-hating among the families of those innocents effected. If you lived, for example, in some American small town, and an overseas nation bombed your community because they said some bad guys were hiding there, how might you feel toward that foreign nation? While collateral damage is inevitable in air strikes, the point is that the U.S. is courting repercussions that will last for generations ahead by not deferring to the Muslim nations in countering the extremists there. The unwillingness of fellow Muslims in not reacting more forcefully against ISIS suggests we are either misinterpreting the situation in the Middle East, or we are being sucker-punched not just by ISIS, but by all the Muslim countries surrounding Syria.

In my view it is the U.S. that should be in the supporting role in countering ISIS, with the surrounding Muslim countries in the lead, NOT the other way around! While Washington stretches to tell us that there is some support for our initiatives from other Mideast Muslim countries, while we lead the attack with missiles from our warships and American bombers, and have sent nearly two thousand soldiers back into Iraq (so far), we are not hearing the truth about how and why ISIS is not being seen as an imminent threat by Middle Eastern countries. It is time for the truth to be heard.

June 2019
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