Tom in Iraq as a Military Observer

Tom in Iraq as a Military Observer
They sent me here just to watch...

Monday, March 21, 2011

Now is the time for Congress to reclaim its authority to declare war

Qaddafi surely ranks among the worst leaders of the past fifty years.
Most people believe that Libya would be better off without him.
Almost a quarter century ago I was aboard the U.S.S. Saipan as part of a sizeable naval force that crossed the so called Line of Death that Qaddafi had supposedly drawn in the Gulf of Sidra.   He did nothing.  Had he done anything: we would have responded.   I would have believed it to be a just cause and would have gladly led Marines to welcome this yahoo to the infernal regions
Today, Qaddafi is still an affront to leadership but one which the international community has somehow accepted as a perennial institution in Libya.
The world would be better off without Qaddafi. 
I can’t believe we attacked Libya.  That’s not quite true.  I don’t want to believe that we attacked Libya.
Why?   I thought the guy was a total jerk and the world would be better off without him.
True, but we are worse off for doing this.  In what has gone virtually unnoticed by the American people, the President of the United States engaged United States military forces as if he were throwing a dollar ante into a Friday night poker game.
Where has the compromised constitution—better known as the War Powers Act—gone?
Can the President truly treat the Congress of the United States as an ancient Privy Council, consulting as he deems appropriate?
From Truman to Obama the authority to declare war has been on a pilgrimage from Congress to the President without the courtesy of swinging by the age old friend known as the Constitutional Amendment.
But what about the War Powers Act?
It was doomed in its genesis.  For an ordinary law to restrain a president when the Supreme Law of the Land has been ignored for over half a century is but a political placebo taken so we do not have to take our real medicine.
The authority to declare war resides in the Congress because that body of selfless public servants, self-serving knuckleheads, doctors, lawyers, saints, sinners, and everything in between is most representative of the will of the people. 
Our Founding Fathers knew that war is something not to be taken lightly.  It was not to be avoided at all costs, but it was not to be entered into without the will of the people who trusted their authority to those elected to represent them.
Does Qaddafi need to hit the road?  I can think of as many reasons to say yes as there are spellings of Kaddafi. 
Does the use of our nation’s military forces for war fighting purposes need to be preceded by a declaration of war?   Yes!
If we truly want to preserve the American way of life for ourselves and our posterity, we need Congress to man-up and reclaim the authority to declare war once again.  That means that they must be willing to impeach and convict any president who would defy the Constitution of the United States from this point forward.
It’s time for Congress to step up to this ultimate leadership task.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

War Stories

War Stories

A million men in a thousand years could not take this island.

One of the prerequisites of an expedited retrograde of allied forces at the end of the Gulf War was the emplacement of a United Nations force in Iraq and Kuwait.  In 1991, I found myself the senior Marine Officer in the United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observer Mission (UNIKOM).  I was the deputy commander in the southern sector of the DMZ.  The duty consisted of about a week to ten days in the DMZ followed by one or two days of rest in Kuwait City.  The destruction of Kuwait City during the war was significant, but not so remarkable as the speed and visibility of the post war construction and restoration.
I was driving to Kuwait City from the DMZ with a vehicle full of officers from other contingents.  After traveling a few miles, I asked the Indian officer seated in the front passenger position where his contingent apartment was.  He said it was near the big crane.   I replied that must be Rumaithiya.  The Russian in the back seat said that he thought it was near Salmiya, and in turn the Polish officer indicated that it was between the Third and Fourth Ring Roads.   The areas we had described were all in the same locale; however, the Indian officer repeated his request to just go to the big crane.  The atmosphere in the vehicle tensed, as it was apparent that our offerings made this officer uncomfortable.  We drove for another fifteen minutes in total silence until the Indian officer realized the temporary nature of his landmark and blurted out, “I hope they didn’t move that crane!”

 As we face the daily challenges of this world, we often become fixed upon very temporal landmarks.  This account examines two warriors that did not need a temporary landmark.  They knew where they were to go, what they were to do, and who sent them.  I will contrast their actions with both personal and historical experience in the secular world.

To begin this examination, we must move from the Desert surrounding the Wadi al Batin in Southwest Asia to the desert plains of Paran about 2 years into the Exodus.  If you're keeping score at home, I'll be using chapters 13 and 14 from Numbers, chapters 5, 6, and 15 from Joshua, chapters 19 and 21 from Revelation, and 1 John 2:17

God told Moses, send out one from each of the twelve tribes of Israel to explore Canaan--the land that I am giving to the Israelites.  So at the LORD's command Moses sent them out from the Desert of Paran. All of them were leaders of the Israelites.  There was one leader from each of 12 tribes on what today we would call a long range patrol of 40 days.  We will focus on two of them:   Caleb from the tribe of Judah, son of Jephunneh; and Hoshea from the tribe of Ephraim, son of Nun.

All 12 returned  and reported that this was truly a land of milk and honey, but ten of the twelve were very concerned because the land was occupied by powerful people, fortified cities, and even giant people.  Then it's written that Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, "We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it."  Other dynamic translations are more along the lines of  we should attack now for we will surely conquer. 

But ten of the others said it was impossible.  "We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them."  They were convinced that those in the land were invincible.

Again Caleb stood in opposition to the group and replied, "That dog don't hunt."  Okay, that's a paraphrase.  He said, "do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them."  If you want to translate this from the desert plains of Paran to the page in front of you, it reads God is bigger than the problem that you perceive. 

But still ten of the leaders said it couldn't be done and spread dissent among the Israelites.  In fact, there was such dissent that many  wanted to go back to what they believed was the protection of slavery in Egypt.  They argued that at least they wouldn't be slaughtered and their families plundered.  At least they would be fed.  Only two of these twelve stood ready to execute the will of God.  They were Caleb and Hoshea, and  Moses had another name for Hoshea.  He liked to call him Joshua. 

I'll briefly transition to a time and place a little closer to home:  the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina or boot camp.   This is where I found myself in the early 1980s.   As a series commander, drill instructors would come to me and tell me which recruits were not ready to go on to the next phase of training.  I generally had a couple choices in these matters.  I could treat them like a batter that watched three strikes down the middle of the plate, and say thanks for coming, and send them home.  If I thought they might still be able to become a Marine, I could recycle them back to the start of training.  Several welcomed the ticket home.  Just as many were glad to get another chance.  From a leadership and training perspective, these were fairly routine decisions.  Then came this kid whom I will call Heart.  That wasn't his name, but he had a lot of it.

Heart caught everyone's attention right away.  He was obviously too short l to get in.  This kid appeared to be just over four feet tall when he stood on the yellow footprints with the other newly arrived recruits.   He was, of course, a little taller than what he appeared, but still below the minimum height standard and should have never got past his recruiter's desk.  Even if the recruited fudged the paper work, Heart's height had to be obvious at the medical examination.  But there he was and I didn't have the heart to send him home without giving him a chance.  He struggled through boot camp, but he had the heart of a Marine, and it looked like he would graduate.  Now he was my problem for I surely couldn't send this kid to the infantry.  As an infantry officer I knew what I carried on my back and what my Marines carried.   Having conducted some additional studies on the individual mobility of infantrymen in the Marine Corps and the Army, I tell you that the average weight a Soldier or Marine carries is 118 pounds.  It's more if you go to  a cold weather area, and it continues to grow with our modern, man-portable technology.   Laser designators, global positioning systems, rangefinders, and other equipment is frequently piled on the backs of our front line fighters until they resemble pack mules.    So I talked to the classification people and told them, give him anything but the infantry.  They found one open slot in motor transport, and I said give it to him.  We will make him a truck driver and if he can just see over the steering wheel, he might survive four years in the Marine Corps.  All appeared to be well with Heart until a week before graduation, when the Marine Corps does what it often does and reassigns new Marines based upon the needs of the Marine Corps.    The Marine Corps needed grunts and Heart was assigned to the infantry.  When I told Heart what had happened, he wasn't concerned.  He said that he just wanted to be a Marine and whatever else we assigned him after that was just fine.  He had seen our poster that said, "We never promised you a rose garden" and had bought the whole package.  At least in his mind, all was well. 

All was well until the day before graduation.  On this next to the last day of recruit training,  recruits get liberty on base.  That is, they can go where they want to on the Depot without a drill instructor screaming in their ear.  It gives parents, relatives, and friends a chance to visit with someone that will become a Marine the following day.  That afternoon, Heart's senior drill instructor came to my office holding up a bag of Peanut M & Ms and said, "You'll never guess what Heart brought back to the squadbay."   After many years of affinity for my native language, a fairly rigorous writing curriculum in college, and some early success in writing contests and publication; I recognized this immediately as a rhetorical question.  What followed was not.  The DI asked me, "what do we do about it?"  Bringing candy--pogey bait--back to the barracks is a violation of an order.  Recruits are told not to do it.  On the other hand, it falls just a little bit short of being  a general court martial offense.  I told the drill instructor that I would handle it and there is a technical term for what I did that I'll mention later.  I told the DI to have Heart come see me.

Heart reported to me and I told him that after being on Parris Island for three months, he still did not have the discipline to become a Marine and that I was recycling him to the first day of training.  I took him across the grinder and left him with another drill instructor that I knew.  The DI looked at Heart and told him to clean the hut, the hut being the small drill instructor office in the squadbay.  I came back that evening and found him still cleaning the small office.  The drill instructor was also in the office and had removed his DI cover--the Smokey Bear type hat that is the symbol of the drill instructor's authority.  The cover was on the small desk in the office.  Heart saw me and stood at attention, but his eyes betrayed him.  He did not expect to see me again. I then asked him if he wanted to graduate with his original platoon, to which he replied:  YSSSRR!  When translated from recruit into English, this means yes sir.  I looked at the DI cover sitting on the desk and looked back at Heart and said, "smash it." 

 At this point it is appropriate to discuss something called existential risk.  Existential risk simply defined is a risk to your existence.  In ever simpler terms, you might call it danger.  In the training and consulting business, nobody pays you to talk about danger, so we talk about existential risk.  At this point, Heart should have logically examined the danger in the situation, but as soon as the words were out of my mouth, he was jumping past me in mid-air with his fist raised over his head.   He slammed his fist down on that old gray government desk and every drawer rattled.  The DI had pulled his cover off the desk a fraction of a second before Heart's fist came down.  Heart looked up at the DI wondering if he had misperceived the existential risk, then looked at me.  I just said, go graduate.   He was out the door and headed back to his platoon before the DI could say a word.  Actually, it was a few minutes before the DI could say anything because his jaw was in his chest, his heart in his stomach, his eyes were as wide as baseballs, and he was clutching his DI cover like a teddy bear.  I said that there was a technical term for the manner in which I handled this.  That term is hazing.  It is unlawful to haze recruits aboard the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina, but in this case it was the drill instructor on the receiving end.  From time to time they deserve a dose of their own medicine.

Heart had only three months invested in becoming a Marine, but did not hesitate even when he should have perceived some danger.  The nation of Israel stood on the verge of entering the Promised Land, and they lost their nerve.  This was a nation that had been delivered from slavery in Egypt by miracle after miracle, had crossed a parted Red Sea, and had seen that same sea engulf the Pharaoh's army.  This was a nation that should have known nothing could stand in their way, but they were not ready to execute the will of God.  Did God lead them into the Promised Land?  Not then.  He recycled them, not for three months or three years, but for another 38 years.

 The significance of forty years is that the warriors of the generation that lost its nerve were pretty much gone.  Their sons had taken their place.  There were still a couple of old timers left:  Caleb and Joshua.  Joshua was now leading his people and he stood ready to execute the will of the Lord.  Now forty years later, Joshua is ready to lead his nation into the land that God promised.

There was one minor obstacle.  It was the Jordan River.  On any given day, this river isn't much to speak of, but at flood stage, it presents a challenge even to modern military engineering.  Joshua was not concerned.  He was told to lead with the Ark of the Covenant and as the Ark was carried into the river, the waters stopped and walled up behind the Ark.  Joshua led his armies across the Jordan River on dry land. 

Now the Israelites are camped on the plains of Jericho and Joshua is walking the perimeter of the camp.  He is probably thinking about how he will attack the fortified city of Jericho.  Perhaps he's thinking that he will attack from the north with two tribes worth of warriors.  This would be the supporting attack, designed to fix the enemy on their northern wall.  With the sun at their backs, he will envelope with four tribes from the east, while sending one tribe each to the south and west to deny egress.  With a reserve of four tribes he will exploit the first weakness he finds and destroy the city.  As Joshua continues his trek around his camp, he encounters a man with a sword drawn.  And like a good military man he  challenges him.  Today, we would say HALT!  Who goes there!  Joshua asked something similar:  Are you for us or for our enemies?

And what was the reply of the man with the drawn sword?

The man with the drawn sword replied, I AM THE COMMANDER OF THE ARMY OF GOD!

Now there is an officer with some seniority.  Who is the commander of the Army of God?  I believe that you find your answer in Revelation 19:11.

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war.12            His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself.
13            He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.
14            The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean.
15            Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. "He will rule them with an iron scepter." He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.
16            On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

At one point in history, Martin Luther led an effort to remove two books from the New Testament.  One of them was Revelation.  He believed that it was just too hard to understand.  These verses seem pretty straight forward.  The commander of the Army of God is Jesus Christ.  Joshua fell on his face before him and took off his sandals because he was on Holy Ground.

Is this just a cameo appearance by Jesus in the Old Testament?  I don't think so.  The commander of the Army of God was there to deliver the battle plans to Joshua.  Now these plans would be a little unorthodox in today's military strategy.   What was Joshua told to do?  March around the wall of Jericho for six days behind the Ark of the Covenant without so much as a single battle cry.  Then on the seventh day, on the seventh time around the walls, on the long blast of the rams horn--all the people would shout and attack the city!

Did Joshua go back to his people and say, you're not going to believe this crazy plan?  No!  Joshua was ready to go into the Promised Land forty years ago and he conveyed the orders of his Commander as if they were his own.  Joshua's men marched silently behind the Ark of the Covenant for 6 days, then circled the city seven times on the seventh day and at the long blast of the Ram's horn they shouted.  The people were led by a warrior who was ready to follow the will of God, and the walls came tumbling down. The city and everyone in it was destroyed, except for Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house.  They were spared because she had hidden and given safe egress to the Israelite spies that were sent earlier.

You might think that's pretty much the story of the Israelites claiming the land that God had promised.  That's not exactly the case.  There were some ensuing battles and I will focus on those in support of the second warrior that I promised to address.    Remember Caleb, who 40 years earlier stood with Joshua in telling Moses and the leaders of the other tribes that they should go into the Promised Land.  This is the same Caleb who had been a slave in Egypt.  This was a Caleb who was probably about 85 years old.  This is the same Caleb, who from the tribe of Judah could have his choice of the Promised Land.  Caleb chose  a stretch of land extending up to the hill country called Hebron, and it was occupied by a people that induced fear into the Israelites forty years earlier.

I'm certain that none of Caleb's contemporaries would have faulted him for selecting a territory already subdued, or at least one less hostile.  Nobody doubted his mettle.  He had fought in every battle and today would have surely had a chest full of medals, but Caleb would have none of it.  He was going to take the land that he believed God had promised to his people, and in the fifteenth chapter of Joshua we know that he did just that.   Those warriors of the people feared by so many perished or fled as Caleb's army advanced into the land.

After the Israelites have claimed all of their land, I can visualize Joshua and Caleb sitting in the Promised Land Officers Club, probably with a glass of wine to go along with their daily ration of milk and honey.  They sit alone and the younger officers occupy another part of the officers club.  They are alone because their conversation is boring.  They just sit there shaking their heads and saying to each other, "you know, we should have been here 40 years ago."  While this scene has no scriptural basis; the books of Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua do tell us that Caleb followed the Lord in a certain way.  He followed wholeheartedly.  Caleb saw the same things that the others had seen forty years earlier, but his only concern was on doing the will of God.  He was not focused on what were perceived as obstacles.  He was concerned with doing what he was told to do.

Again, I want to transition to a time much closer to the present day.  For some younger readers, this too will seem like ancient history, but to every Marine, it is a time etched forever into our tradition.  During World War II, the Imperial Japanese Commander had boasted that a million men in a thousand years still could not take the island atoll of Tarawa.  On 20 November 1943, United States Marines set out to prove him wrong.  Tarawa was the bloodiest battle of the war for Americans with 1500 Marine casualties on the first day of the assault.  Of the thousands of Japanese that defended the island, fewer than 200 were alive at the end of 23 November 1943. 

After the battle, the Marine Generals were asked if the assault were worthwhile.  To a man,  they said no.  Tarawa did not have the strategic significance of the other islands in the Pacific campaign and should have been bypassed.  They were forced to follow the poorly thought out orders of their seniors in Washington.  Tarawa was not just heavily defended; it was also protected by a barrier reef that kept the amphibious tractors from reaching the beach.  Wave after wave of Marines were exposed to gunfire with no hope of cover as they waded in these last few hundred yards of ocean.  Many of the follow-on waves found a sea of bodies and of blood as they continued their attack.  These Marines continued forward, not because they were recapturing American soil and not because this small island atoll was essential to the Pacific Campaign.  Other islands were bypassed without hindrance to the Island Hoping Campaign.  There was no good reason to attack Tarawa.  The island defended so well that a million men in a thousand years could not take it could have been bypassed, except that the Marines were told to take it.  The Marines had no good reason to fight and die in taking this island.  They simply did as they were told.

The Israelites had every good reason to enter the Promised Land when they first arrived on the plains of Paran.  They had personally witnessed God's miracles in support of their exodus from Egypt.   Of the hundreds of thousands of Israelites, only Caleb and Joshua had the warrior's heart that was ready to do the will of God.  This brings us once again to the question of existential risk.  When we bring this question down to the personal level, it simply asks one thing.  Where is the safest place that you can be?
There is only one answer to this basic question.  The safest place that you can be is in the will of God.  His will may send you across the street to witness to a neighbor, or it may send you all the way across town to spread the good news.  The will of God may even send you half-way around the world to bear arms or to bear witness, but the safest place you can be is in the will of God.

At this point, some of you might be convinced that I was a few bricks short when I left the Marine Corps.  There are some places God may tell you to go where there is real physical danger.  In some of those places, people shoot at you.  Let me put this definition of safety in the context of eternity by looking at Revelation 21:8.

            But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars, their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.

But the cowardly!  What kind of deal is that?  This perspective shoots a lot of holes in a plan that is centered on accepting Jesus as savior, then going to lock yourself in your room until you die and go to heaven or get raptured.  God expects us to do more than seek our own salvation.  He expects us to do His will and not be deceived by the things of this world.  Much like the warriors of the secular world, we must recognize our fears and overcome them.  Many seek cover behind the argument that their faith is a personal thing, but we are called to make it very interpersonal.  We are called to be over-comers.  We are called to follow God wholeheartedly and find eternal safety in His will.


            The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.
I John 2:17 (NIV)

Command and Commission

COMMAND AND COMMISSION: A Marine's perspective on the Great Commission

            To understand the great commission, we first must recognize that God has commanded his people throughout history.  Perhaps the most ubiquitous of these commandments are the ten found in Exodus 20.  A command is direction with authority and just part of being a Marine.  Absent authority, the Ten Commandments resemble Stephen Covey's 7 Habits--purely secular wisdom with presumed natural consequences for deviation.   While there are hundreds of commandments in the Bible; the most recognized from the New Testament are found in Matthew 22:36-40. 

36            "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"
37        Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'
38        This is the first and greatest commandment.
39        And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'
40        All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

            These commandments do not contradict what God promulgated centuries earlier.  On the contrary, they embody the earlier commandments.  Having served almost half of my active Marine Corps service as a commanding officer, I appreciate the freedom and empowerment of these commandments.  The most difficult leadership challenge is the Marine who does exactly what he is told.  This individual lives in fear and does not understand freedom and responsibility.  Some would paint a picture of life in the service, especially the Marine Corps, as a life of endless orders.  Orders are a part of military life, but not nearly so much as the freedom to execute a mission.  Those with initiative need only the occasional application of rudder to keep them on course.  Those that look for orders at every juncture seldom find satisfaction in life as a Marine.  Such is the case with the commandments found in Matthew.  Those that can make their decisions based upon loving God and loving one's fellow man can find contentment not available through simple obedience to the letter of the law.

            My entire active service as a Marine was as a commissioned officer.  For some, the recognizable difference between officers and their men was simply rank and pay.  Closer examination reveals that the instrument of obligated service distinguishes the officer from the Marine from the beginning.  The Marine's oath requires him to support and defend the Constitution and to follow the orders of his seniors.  The officer enters into his service by commission.  The commission is more than an instrument of obligation, it is an act of committing.  Such is the case with the great commission.

Matthew 28:  Verses 16-20 (NIV)

18        Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
19            Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
20        and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

            There is a significant leap from following a commandment to executing a commission.  Both require obedience and execution, but to understand the nature of the commission, we must examine it in detail.

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  This is more than introductory prose.  It is an acknowledgement by Jesus of the source of his authority and his right to bestow the commission that follows.   Having been commission both as a reservist and as a regular commissioned officer, I have been empowered to execute my commission by both the President of the United States and the Congress of the United States.  The originating authority is important because what follows is not just a command, but the transfer of a portion of God's authority to those commissioned. 

The second part of this presumably simple statement conveys the duration of the commission.  The words "has been given" are the present perfect tense.  In another context this would appear to be a semantically sidetracked discussion.  Here it conveys that the commission is and will continue in effect.  Commissioned officers of the United States serve their commission at the convenience of the President or the Congress.  The great commission remains in effect until the end of the age.

            Therefore go could be relegated to a simple transition, but again it conveys much more.  Therefore establishes the relationship between the vested authority and the commission to follow.  Go is far from a simple word.  While publishers and editions vary, the Random House Dictionary listed 81 distinct definitions for the word go.  The 1st was to move or proceed and the 81st  was to function properly.  Perhaps the word is best defined by its single antonym:  to stay or remain.  While the word in Greek or Latin may not have conveyed as many meanings as have evolved in our present day language; this was and is meant to be a powerful word of execution and one that directs those commission to leave the comfort of their current environment.

            One of the simplest and most powerful pieces of counsel delivered to Marine officers is to be careful what you tell a Marine to do, because he will do it.  There are of course exceptions that prove the rule, but the premise is repeatedly validated.  On one particularly cold morning in Korea, I went through the field mess line and noticed our battalion commander was trying to motivate the Marines by serving the morning meal with the mess cooks.  All Marines that serve food to other Marines are required to have a mess physical.  This is a one or two minute process where a corpsman looks for open cuts or sores and good hygiene habits while concurrently interviewing the Marine on any of his sanitary habits.  I took my tray of food and sat down with a group of Marines, including the gunnery sergeant in charge of the Marines on the serving line.  I sarcastically told the sergeant that there was a Marine on the line that did not have a mess physical.  Before I could qualify my remark made in jest, he was at the serving line double checking every Marine.  In any other locale, this would have been insignificant.  In the freezing cold of this Korean morning, it meant that the gunnery sergeant's morning meal would be ice cold upon his return to his seat.  Despite the counsel I had received and generally lived by for fifteen years,  the lesson had finally hit home.  The current application of this anecdote is not to live by the maxim taught to Marine officers.  The lesson is the urgency with which the unstated task was executed by the gunnery sergeant.  If a senior Marine noncommissioned officer can drop whatever he is doing to execute only a hint of a task, how can believing Christians not do the same when commissioned by their savior to do what is surely of great importance.  

Make disciples of all nations is the first element of this important task.  A disciple in basic terms is a pupil or adherent of another.  Any professed follower of Jesus Christ during His life on earth was considered a disciple.  The commission did not task followers just to set a good example.  It task followers to recruit from all nations.  Recruiting is a tough business.    The typical individual that walks into a Marine recruiter's office eventually gets around to the question, "What can you give me?"   My typical reply was, "a pack, a rifle, and a hard time!  Do you want to join?"   Those that still had some interest and could qualify might also make it through boot camp.  The individual that was looking only for college money usually decided that there was probably an easier way to get it.  Contrary to the mystique associated with Marine Corps boot camp, the Corps does not make men.  Joining the Marine Corps is a lifestyle choice and not a remanufacturing program for young adults.   Likewise, recruiting disciples for Christ means asking people to give up their idols of this world for a God of forgiveness and often includes alienation from the world they are forsaking.

            Baptizing them in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the physical manifestation of what the new disciple has accepted internally.  There is significant discourse on the subject of baptizing, some of which only serves to widen the gulf among denominations.  Regardless of the method, timing, or relationship to salvation; this is an essential element of the commission.  The subtle wisdom of the great commission is that it requires only this one act that approaches ceremony.  All other growth is demonstrated through acts of faith and obedience. 

            Teaching them to obey all that I have commanded rounds out the three basic pillars of this commission.  What is not said here is perhaps as important as what is.  Missing from this task is the qualifier that such teaching must follow four, six, or eight years of study.  The apostles learned from a primary source reference.  Today we learn from those accounts but are task to teach those whom decide to follow the teachings of Christ.  The qualifier is not there because it is not needed.  Each follower exercising this commission does so in accordance with his talents.  The newest second lieutenant is expected to teach his followers--even though many of them have served in the Corps for years.  Lieutenants do not start off by teaching their Marines the strategy of the National Command Authority.  They start by teaching squad and platoon tactics, physical fitness, and other subjects within their expertise.  As they grow in their Marine Corps experience so does their ability and desire to teach more complex subjects.  Such is the case with the great commission.  Disciples teach, learn, and teach again.

            The subject of this teaching is to obey what Christ has commanded.  The commandments have not been abandoned in the execution of this commission.  Instead, the commission is an instrument of their fulfillment.  There may appear to be a contradiction in this part of the commission.  Obedience at first glance appears to be a throwback to compliance with the law from which Christ's sacrifice freed believers.  It is not.  From the day a Marine recruit sets foot in boot camp, he is taught instant, willing obedience to orders.  The instant obedience requirement roots itself in the demands of combat.  An order to shoot, move, or cease fire that is accompanied with hesitation frequently reaps friendly casualties.   The link between the insistence upon this standard and combat necessity is implicit and obvious.  The willing obedience part of this equation is the seed of leadership and professionalism.  A recruit learns obedience to his drill instructor within minutes of his arrival at boot camp.  Somewhere between the midpoint of his basic training and graduation, he learns willing obedience.  His will has been fully subordinated to that of his seniors.  This does not mean that he ceases to think for himself.  The contrary prevails:  the greater the submission, the greater the freedom.  This is the case with Christian obedience.  The sooner the believer submits to Christ's will, the sooner he realizes freedom.

            No commander sends his Marines on a difficult mission without some concept of support.  This may be in the form of intelligence, fire support, logistics, or other demands of the mission.  In some cases, the commander deems it necessary to accompany one of his subordinate units.  Marine commanders are frequently criticized by other services for placing themselves too close to the front line and the hazards of the men in the fight.   Marines seldom  justify this approach to their business outside of the Corps.  Likewise, the Apostles could have been provided a variety of support from their savior.  Jesus chose to accompany them through his intercession with God and by sending the Holy Spirit:  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.  

            The Christian understands that he exists in contrast to his society.  He is tasked by the great commission to make disciples from that society, but just as Paul did not convince everyone he encountered; neither will today's commissioned.    The commissioned must not become discouraged.  An old Marine Corps documentary titled To the Shores of Guadalcanal best conveys the culture of the Marine and the evangelist executing his commission.  The documentary was of actual footage of the fighting ashore once the Navy was ordered out of the theater.  The footage was narrated by survivors of these first Pacific battles by U.S. Marines in World War II.  The narrator said, "Seven times we attacked the hill.  Seven times the Japanese kicked us off.  We came back eight."
We should fulfill our commission with the same faithfulness and tenacity.
Semper Fidelis.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Message to Garcia

As both the author and the copyright attached to this masterpiece have been long expired, I am privileged to present this here.
I read this about every two or three years now.  I once read it two or three times every year.  I have caused hundreds of others to read it, including my own children.  It only takes a few minutes to complete and then you will want to share it.
It is a timeless piece but especially timely for the present generation.


"A Message To Garcia"
by Elbert Hubbard 1899

In all this Cuban business there is one man stands out on the horizon of my memory like Mars at perihelion.

When war broke out between Spain and the United States it was very necessary to communicate quickly with the leader of the Insurgents. Garcia was somewhere in the mountain vastness of Cuba - no one knew where. No mail nor telegraph message could reach him. The President must secure his cooperation, and quickly. What to do!

Some one said to the President, "There's a fellow by the name of Rowan will find Garcia for you, if anybody can."

Rowan was sent for and given a letter to be delivered to Garcia. How "the fellow by the name of Rowan" took the letter, sealed it up in an oil-skin pouch, strapped it over his heart, in four days landed by night off the coast of Cuba from an open boat, disappeared into the jungle, and in three weeks came out on the other side of the Island, having traversed a hostile country on foot, and delivered his letter to Garcia - are things I have no special desire now to tell in detail. The point that I wish to make is this: McKinley gave Rowan a letter to be delivered to Garcia; Rowan took the letter and did not ask, "Where is he at?"

By the Eternal! there is a man whose form should be cast in deathless bronze and the statue placed in every college of the land. It is not book-learning young men need, nor instruction about this and that, but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies: do the thing - "Carry a message to Garcia!"

General Garcia is dead now, but there are other Garcias. No man who has endeavored to carry out an enterprise where many hands were needed, but has been well-nigh appalled at times by the imbecility of the average man - the inability or unwillingness to concentrate on a thing and do it.

Slipshod assistance, foolish inattention, dowdy indifference, and half-hearted work seem the rule; and no man succeeds, unless by hook or crook or threat he forces or bribes other men to assist him; or mayhap, God in His goodness performs a miracle, and sends him an Angel of Light for an assistant.

You, reader, put this matter to a test: You are sitting now in your office - six clerks are within call. Summon any one and make this request: "Please look in the encyclopedia and make a brief memorandum for me concerning the life of Correggio." Will the clerk quietly say, "Yes, sir," and go do the task?

On your life, he will not. He will look at you out of a fishy eye and ask one or more of the following questions: Who was he? Which encyclopedia? Where is the encyclopedia? Was I hired for that? Don't you mean Bismarck? What's the matter with Charlie doing it? Is he dead? Is there any hurry? Sha'n't I bring you the book and let you look it up yourself? What do you want to know for?

And I will lay you ten to one that after you have answered the questions, and explained how to find the information, and why you want it, the clerk will go off and get one of the other clerks to help him try to find Garcia - and then come back and tell you there is no such man. Of course I may lose my bet, but according to the Law of Average, I will not.

Now, if you are wise, you will not bother to explain to your "assistant" that Correggio is indexed under the C's, not in the K's, but you will smile very sweetly and say, "Never mind," and go look it up yourself. And this incapacity for independent action, this moral stupidity, this infirmity of the will, this unwillingness to cheerfully catch hold and lift -these are the things that put pure Socialism so far into the future.

If men will not act for themselves, what will they do when the benefit oftheir effort is for all?

A first-mate with knotted club seems necessary; and the dread of getting "the bounce" Saturday night holds many a worker to his place. Advertise for a stenographer, and nine out of ten who apply can neither spell nor punctuate - and do not think it necessary to.

Can such a one write a letter to Garcia?

"You see that bookkeeper," said the foreman to me in a large factory. "Yes, what about him?" "Well he's a fine accountant, but if I'd send him up town on an errand, he might accomplish the errand all right, and on the other hand, might stop at four saloons on the way, and when he got to Main Street would forget what he had been sent for." Can such a man be entrusted to carry a message to Garcia?

"We have recently been hearing much maudlin sympathy expressed for the downtrodden denizens of the sweat-shop" and the "homeless wanderer searching for honest employment", "and with it all often go many hard words for the men in power".

Nothing is said about the employer who grows old before his time in a vain attempt to get frowsy ne'er-do-wells to do intelligent work; and his long, patient striving after "help" that does nothing but loaf when his back is turned.

In every store and factory there is a constant weeding-out process going on. The employer is constantly sending away "help" that have shown their incapacity to further the interests of the business, and others are being taken on. No matter how good times are, this sorting continues: only, if times are hard and work is scarce, the sorting is done finer - but out and forever out the incompetent and unworthy go. It is the survival of the fittest. Self-interest prompts every employer to keep the best - those who can carry a message to Garcia.

I know one man of really brilliant parts who has not the ability to manage a business of his own, and yet who is absolutely worthless to any one else, because he carries with him constantly the insane suspicion that his employer is oppressing, or intending to oppress, him. He cannot give orders; and he will not receive them. Should a message be given him to take to Garcia, his answer would probably be, "Take it yourself!"

Tonight this man walks the streets looking for work, the wind whistling through his threadbare coat. No one who knows him dare employ him, for he is a regular firebrand of discontent. He is impervious to reason, and the only thing that can impress him is the toe of a thick-soled Number Nine boot.

Of course I know that one so morally deformed is no less to be pitied than a physical cripple; but in our pitying, let us drop a tear, too, for the men who are striving to carry on a great enterprise, whose working hours are not limited by the whistle, and whose hair is fast turning white through the struggle to hold in line dowdy indifference, slipshod imbecility, and the heartless ingratitude which, but for their enterprise, would be both hungry and homeless.

Have I put the matter too strongly? Possibly I have; but when all the world has gone a-slumming I wish to speak a word of sympathy for the man who succeeds - the man who, against great odds, has directed the efforts of others, and having succeeded, finds there's nothing in it: nothing but bare board and clothes. I have carried a dinner pail and worked for day's wages, and I have also been an employer of labor, and I know there is something to be said on both sides. There is no excellence, per se, in poverty; rags are no recommendation; and all employers are not rapacious and high-handed, any more than all poor men are virtuous. My heart goes out to the man who does his work when the "boss" is away, as well as when he is at home. And the man who, when given a letter for Garcia, quietly takes the missive, without asking any idiotic questions, and with no lurking intention of chucking it into the nearest sewer, or of doing aught else but deliver it, never gets "laid off" nor has to go on a strike for higher wages.

Civilization is one long anxious search for just such individuals.

Anything such a man asks shall be granted. He is wanted in every city, town and village - in every office, shop, store and factory. The world cries out for such: he is needed and needed badly - the man who can "Carry a Message to Garcia."

So who will send a letter to Garcia?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Conspiracy Theory

It is the 3rd of November 2010 and I don’t know anyone who voted for Obama in 2008.  Seriously, I don’t know a single person who voted for him.  When I think back on it, I don’t know anyone that voted for Bill Clinton in 1992 or 1996 either.  I know some people who voted for him for governor, but not for president.
Put aside your partisan politics for a moment and consider this.  Most people in the United States do not remember who they voted for in the last Presidential Election.  I don't remember and I suspect that you don't either.  So you think I'm nuts do you?  Well that may be true, but I'm certain of my facts.
 I also have it on good authority that fewer than 600 people voted for Bill Clinton in 1992, and even with his mandate in 1996, there were fewer than 538 that voted for him that year.  I'm not getting these figures from some straw poll I conducted in downtown Burns Flat, America--though that is both the cultural and political center of this great republic (OK, that last part is only opinion, but the rest of this article is fact).  Being the only Republican from a family of Democrats, I often am not taken seriously when I tell them that I have never met anyone that voted for Clinton.  Still don't believe me?  So you want answers?  You want the truth?  You can't handle the truth.  In 1992, only 370 people voted for Clinton.  In 1996, only 379 people voted for him, but sure enough that's him in the oval office. 
 Want to know more?  The real election for president didn't occur until December in 1992 and in 1996.  We have narrowed it down to 538 people that could have voted for Clinton in 1996--and you thought we conducted elections by secret ballot.  Actually, the people that elected our current president even signed their names to their ballot and your government knows who they are.    You say that 538 number sounds familiar, but you can't quite place it.  It's got nothing to do with the grassy knoll or the number of times that your Microsoft operated computer shuts down each day due to an illegal operation.  That's right it's the total number of Senators and Representatives in the United States Congress, but they don't elect the president.  In fact, they are not even permitted to vote for the president.   So is this coincidence or conspiracy? 
 Actually, it's neither.  It's Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution of the United States of America that provides for the election of a United States President.  "Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector."  Yes our president is elected by people we call electors.  When you vote in a presidential election, you are voting for electors.  We call this group of people the Electoral College.  This is a special year in our country's constitutional process.  We get to experience both a census and a presidential election.  By mid September, when your television is inundated with political commercials and commentaries, you'll probably say "enough with the experience."  But with Independence Day still on our minds, this might just be a good time to find a copy of our Constitution and refresh our memories on how we elect a president.
 I'll close with a special warning to my Republican brethren.  The fox is in the henhouse.  Guess who is in charge of counting the votes for the 2000 Presidential Election?  You guessed it--Al Gore.  That Buddhist Temple stuff is small potatoes compared to this.  Speaking of potatoes, wasn't it Dan Quale that was in charge of counting the votes for president in 1992?  I knew we should have followed up after that spelling thing…
This was a piece first published in conjunction with the 2000 election.  I occasionally resurrect it during November. 

Paradox of Power

Paradox of Power
First Published 31 October 2000

Here's an issue on which most candidates have considerably different opinions, but soften their view points on the campaign trail so as not to alienate a segment of voters.  That issue is gun control.  I believe that gun control is fundamentally wrong.
Some readers will never make it to this paragraph after my last statement.  That same group may believe that there is only a First Amendment in the Bill of Rights.  There are ten and we can ignore none of them without eroding them all.  If we want gun control, then we need to change the Constitution not ignore it.
The Second Amendment, like the others in the Bill of Rights, was written in the context of preventing tyranny.  The founding fathers could not have envisioned a United States that grew to be the most powerful nation in the world.  They did envision a country that preserved individual freedom for each successive generation.  Their greatest perceived threat came from the government which they were creating--that it could become its own tyranny.  Federal power was distributed among three branches of government and the several states; while rights were retained by the people.  This is not a model for efficiency, but for preservation.  Our model of government preserved individual rights that permitted its citizens to come to its defense against a foreign adversary or to overthrow its own tyranny.   The Second Amendment is a paradox rooted in a country born out of revolution. 
How can I defend this position when violent acts have crept into our schools, communities, and way of life?  Every Officer of the United States takes an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.  That most fundamental document preserves the right of the people to keep and bear arms.  It is used in the context of a well regulated militia, but the right is reserved to the people.   Times and technology have changed the price we pay for this right.  There was always a price, but now it appears to be much higher with the ubiquitous availability of semiautomatic and automatic weapons.  The weapons themselves are not responsible for violent crime, but the lethality of today's weapons makes each act more atrocious.  The real question before the American people--one that should have been placed bluntly before our presidential candidates--is whether or not we need to change the Second Amendment. 
Some would argue that the NRA lobby is so strong that such a change is not possible.  That may or may not have merit; however, they should not be the strongest lobby against change.  The ACLU should be prime contender in such a brokered battle.  The Second Amendment is the only place where the people themselves are empowered to preserve the security of a free state, and embodies the ultimate civil liberty.  Some would argue that tyranny is no longer a threat and that the political power of our federal government has been kept in check.  If this is your position, consider where the power to declare war resides--in the Congress.  How then did we get involved in Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War.  Those that would classify these as police actions only hide the truth in Orwellian terminology.  These were wars.  The executive branch usurped power from the legislative branch and the people of this country didn't have a say in the matter.  The Congress later recovered part of its power via the War Powers Act, but how binding is such an ordinary law when ignoring the supreme law of the land created this situation.  The founding fathers recognized that power abhors a vacuum.  The Constitution is our foremost protection against the consolidation of power by a single group or individual.
But surely we must make an exception in the case of assault weapons--the founding fathers could not have envisioned such lethality in a domestic setting.  No such exception can be made.  The founding fathers could not have envisioned nationally syndicated newspapers either, but none of us would stand for regulating the USA Today, New York Times, or the Washington Post because they have become too influential.    We tolerate unprofessional journalists because we know that the ethical ones are essential to a free state.  Every individual freedom comes at a price.
To understand the paradox of the Second Amendment, we must look at the powers vested in Congress, specifically those enumerated in Article 1, Section 8.  Congress is empowered to call forth the Militia to suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions.  How can the same Constitution preserve the right of the individual to keep and bear arms while authorizing the Congress to suppress insurrection?  The sanity in this is that it is the militia that is called forth to suppress insurrection, not the Armed Forces of the United States, which are addressed separately in this same section.  It is the part time soldier--the militiaman-- that is vested with the responsibility to suppress an uprising or to join it if such a cause is to overthrow tyranny.  
Gun control lobbyists have clouded the issue by focusing on handguns and appeasing the NRA that none of their proposed legislation will impact the rights of hunters.  Hunters don't have any constitutional rights--the people do--regardless of whether they are outdoorsman or not.  Both the NRA and their adversaries are evading the constitutional issue.  The Second Amendment is designed to protect us against all enemies, including the accumulation of tyrannical power by our own government.  This has created problems in that some extremist groups within our own country have become well armed.  So long as these groups do not represent the values of our people, they will be a threat to our society.  Should the individual liberties of this country be usurped by our government, such groups become the mainstream of liberty.   It is the nature of our republic, that our domestic tranquility is afloat on a sea that separates revolution and tyranny.
I don't believe we are at either extreme today.  Our biggest threat to our liberty is not that our government will be replaced via a Coup d'etat, but that we will slowly erode the Constitution by ignoring it.  If you don't believe this is possible, consider the fact that George Washington had to convince the founding fathers that he should not be king.  Having just defeated a monarchy in forming our country, our founders considered establishing one of our own.  Consider the illegal acts of two presidents, Nixon and Clinton.  Nixon resigned for the good of the country.  Clinton was impeached and evaded conviction not because he was innocent, but because he was popular and fought to retain power.  Our Constitution recognized that power does indeed corrupt and it adequately distributed that power to avoid tyranny.   The Constitution cannot contend with emotion, popularity, and impulse unless we honor it above capricious causes.  We must aggressively fight crime and violence, especially in our schools.  These solutions will come slowly and cannot be legislated.  They must come from teaching the value of human life in our homes, schools, and churches. 
The Constitution also provides a mechanism to deal with the needs of a changing society.  The fifth article describes the constitutional process for changing our most fundamental document.  It's a tough process.  Obtaining a two-thirds majority in both houses of the Congress or three-fourths majority in a convention of the states requires the resolve of a nation.  If we truly have a need to regulate guns in today's society, we need to amend the Constitution.  Before we go down this road, we must carefully weigh what we are willing to give up in the way of liberty. 

Suggested by the author:

Are we going to war in Libya?

Is the talk of the day really about attacking Libya?
It seems to be.
The thinking is that if the U.S. were to impose or lead a coalition to impose a no-fly zone in the country ruled with an iron hand by Moammar Gadhafi for decades, it must first be preceded by an air campaign to knock out command and control capability and the ability to retaliate against enforcers of the no-fly zone.  To simply attempt to impose a no-fly zone without this preparatory step is to offer the Libyan Air Force a chance to engage in a more even fight.
Where did these no-fly zone requests come from?
Somewhat anonymous requests offered up by random, or perhaps more accurately by media hungry individuals among the rebels, seem to be generating action in our nation’s capital.
But to what extreme is the United States willing to respond?
To whom would we be responding?
Would we not be initiating an act of war that is not directly tied to a recent provocation?  In the 1980’s I was aboard the USS Saipan as we joined other US warships to cross the line of death in the Gulf of Sidra and thumb our collective noses at Gadhafi in hopes of provoking him into attacking any part of the US Fleet just so we would have a good reason to wipe his administration off the map.  But what are we responding to in 2011?
Granted, the world would probably be a better place without mush-for-brains Gadhafi in it.  Yes, in another context, I would use a more descriptive term than mush, but do we once again put our troops in harm’s way to remove this idiot?
What is in our national interest?  Today, that phrase is sometimes interchangeable with the word oil.  The interesting thing is that many don’t even bat an eye anymore that we would spill American blood to stabilize the price at the pump.
For over sixty years, we have wrestled with the question:  Are we the world’s policemen?
We have yet to develop a coherent policy to guide us through this recurring quagmire.  When do we exert the military might of this once peaceful nation and when do we let things run their course?
If American armed forces are called, they will respond with professionalism and selflessness.  Every U.S. commander is ready to lead his unit into battle but is also prayerful that those who issue the call to arms are judicious with our most precious military asset—our service men and women.  We as the American Electorate need to be more vocal with our leaders as to when we are willing to spill the blood of these men and women.
This is a call for our land of the free and home of the brave to pause, pray, and listen to the Almighty before we jump in just because we can.
It may be the right thing to do.  It may be the humanitarian thing to do.  It may be best for our national interest, but let’s wrestle with that question before we commit to battle.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Death of a newspaper?

The chain attached to nothing but concrete is a reminder of a day when there was a state-wide print version of the newspaper.  The Oklahoman  simply cannot make that claim any more.
Is this a nation-wide trend or just the destiny of this one paper?
The Oklahoman started making  drastic cuts in 2008.  This impacted their print product, personnel, and penetration area.  The paper also started its ventures into understanding the online dynamic, which up to that point had only been a pedestrian attempt to squeeze a print model into ones and zeros.
Back to the question of trend.  The Wall Street Journal  was the only paper of note in the last year to post any growth.  All others continue with the downward trend.  The Oklahoman saw the last of its growth in 2007.
Everything from IPads to IPods, e-zines and blogs, to the emergence of local expert and content rich is cutting into circulation at all papers.  The Oklahoman continues to be plagued with circulation issues many of which result in customer’s papers not being delivered.  Expecting either explanation or initiative on the part of OPUBCO usually gives way to simply stopping for bad service.
What does this mean for western Oklahoma?
For one thing, the incentive to move towards online news, coupons, advice, and other products and services that newspapers once offered with some monopoly is alive and working in rural parts of the state.
For another, this is a time to experiment in both the print and online worlds.  The reduced news stand availability and unreliable home delivery system may entice some to simply abandon the print version of the newspaper altogether.
For others, they will hold on to the print version for as long as it is offered.  There is still something to getting a little newsprint on your fingers as your greet the day.
The one saving grace of the print version may have now gone by the wayside with the advent of the IPad and its emerging competitors.  Now you can take the electronic paper to the can with you.

For more about newspapers:
Other thoughts on The Oklahoman.