Thursday, January 15, 2009

The High Ground

By Robert Clark
*The High Ground*
P.O. Box 457 Neillsville, WI 54456

A couple of years ago someone asked me if I still thought about Vietnam. I nearly laughed in their face. How do you stop thinking about it?

Every day for the last twenty-four years, I wake up with it, and go to bed with it. But this is what I said. "Yea, I think about it. I can't quit thinking about it. I never will. But, I've also learned to live with it.

I'm comfortable with the memories. I've learned to stop trying to forget and learned instead to embrace it. It just doesn't scare me anymore."

A psychologist once told me that NOT being affected by the experience over there would be abnormal. When he told me that, it was like he'd just given me a pardon. It was as if he said, "Go ahead and feel something about the place, Bob. It ain't going nowhere. You're gonna wear it for the rest of your life. Might as well get to know it."A lot of my "brothers" haven't been so lucky. For them the memories are too painful, their sense of loss too great. My sister told me of a friend she has whose husband was in the Nam She asks this guy when he was there. Here's what he said, "Just last night." It took my sister a while to figure out what he was talking about. JUST LAST NIGHT.

Yeah I was in the Nam. When? JUST LAST NIGHT. During sex with my wife. And on my way to work this morning. Over my lunch hour. Yeah, I was there.

My sister says I'm not the same brother that went to Vietnam. My wife says I won't let people get close to me, not even her. They are probably both right.

Ask a vet about making friends in Nam. It was risky. Why? Because we were in the business of death, and death was with us all the time. It wasn't the death of, "If I die before I wake." This was the real thing. The kind where boys scream for their mothers. The kind that lingers in your mind and becomes more real each time you cheat it. You don't want to make a lot of friends when the possibility of dying is that real, that close. When you do, friends become a liability.

A guy named Bob Flanigan was my friend. Bob Flanigan is dead. I put him in a body bag one sunny day, April 29, 1969. We'd been talking, only a few minutes before he was shot, about what we were going to do when we got back in the world. Now, this was a guy who had come in country the same time as myself. A guy who was loveable and generous. He had blue eyes and sandy blond hair. When he talked, it was with a soft drawl. Flanigan was a hick and he knew it. That was part of his charm. He didn't care. Man, I loved this guy like the brother I never had. But, I screwed up. I got too close to him. Maybe I didn't know any better. But I broke one of the unwritten rules of war. DON'T GET CLOSE TO PEOPLE WHO ARE GOING TO DIE. Sometimes youcan't help it.

You hear vets use the term "buddy" when they refer to a guy they spent the war with. Me and this buddy a mine . . ""Friend" sounds too intimate, doesn't it. "Friend" calls up images of being close. If he's a friend, then you are going to be hurt if he dies, and war hurts enough without adding to the pain. Get close; get hurt. It's as simple as that.In war you learn to keep people at that distance my wife talks about. You become so good at it, that twenty years after the war, you still do it without thinking. You won't allow yourself to be vulnerable again.

My wife knows two people who can get into the soft spots inside me. My daughters I know it probably bothers her that they can do this. It's not that I don't love my wife, I do. She's put up with a lot from me. She'll tell you that when she signed on for better or worse she had no idea there was going to be so much of the latter. But with my daughters it's different.

My girls are mine. They'll always be my kids. Not marriage, not distance, not even death can change that. They are something on this earth that can never be taken away from me. I belong to them. Nothing can change that. I can have an ex-wife; but my girls can never have an ex-father. There's the difference.I can still see the faces, though they all seem to have the same eyes. When I think of us I always see a line of "dirty grunts" sitting on a paddy dike. We're caught in the first gray silver between darkness and light. That first moment when we know we've survived another night, and the business of staying alive for one more day is about to begin.

There was so much hope in that brief space of time. It's what we used to pray for. "One more day, God. One more day."And I can hear our conversatioins as if they'd only just been spoken I still hear the way we sounded, the hard cynical jokes, our morbid senses of humor. We were scared to death of dying, and trying our best not to show it.

I recall the smells, too. Like the way cordite hangs on the air after a fire-fight. Or the pungent odor of rice paddy mud. So different from the black dirt of Iowa. The mud of Nam smells ancient, somehow. Like it's always been there.

And I'll never forget the way blood smells, stick and drying on my hands. I spent a long night that way once. That memory isn't going anywhere.I remember how the night jungle appears almost dream like as the pilot of a Cessna buzzes overhead, dropping parachute flares until morning. That artifical sun would flicker and make shadows run through the jungle. It was worse than not being able to see what was out there sometimes.

I remember once looking at the man next to me as a flare floated overhead. The shadows around his eyes were so deep that it looked like his eyes were gone. I reached over and touched him on the arm; without looking at me he touched my hand. "I know man. I know." That's what he said. It was a human moment. Two guys a long way from home and scared sh"tless. “I know man" And at that moment he did.

God I loved those guys. I hurt every time one of them died. We all did. Despite our posturing. Despite our desire to stay disconnected, we couldn't help ourselves. I know why Tim O'Brien writes his stories. I know what gives Bruce Weigle the words to create poems so honest I cry at their horrible beauty. It's love. Love for those guys we shared the experience with.

We did our jobs like good soldiers, and we tried our best not to become as hard as our surroundings. We touched each other and said, "I know." Like a mother holding a child in the middle of a nightmare, "It's going to be all right." We tried not to lose touch with our humanity. We tried to walk that line. To be the good boys our parents had raised and not to give into that unnamed thing we knew was inside us all.

You want to know what frightening is? It's a nineteen-year-old-boy who's had a sip of that power over life and death that war gives you. It's a boy who, despite all the things he's been taught, knows that he likes it.

It's a nineteen-year-old who's just lost a friend, and is angry and scared and, determined that, "Some *@#*s gonna pay" To this day, the thought of that boy can wake me from a sound sleep and leave me staring at the ceiling.

As I write this, I have a picture in from of me. It's of two young men. On their laps are tablets. One is smoking a cigarette. Both stare without expression at the camera. They're writing letters. Staying in touch with places they would rather be. Places and eople they hope to see again.

The picture shares space in a frame with one of my wife. She doesn't mind. She knows she's been included in special company. She knows I'll always love those guys who shared thatr part of my life, a part she never can. And she understands how I feel about the ones I know are out there yet. The ones who still answer the question, "When were you in Vietnam?"

"Hey, man. I was there just last night."

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Moral Clarity in Gaza

Moral Clarity in Gaza
by Charles Krauthammer

Hamas has only one grievance: Israel's very existence.

Late Saturday, thousands of Gazans received Arabic-language cell-phone messages from the
Israeli military, urging them to leave homes where militants might have stashed weapons. --
Associated Press, Dec. 27

Some geopolitical conflicts are morally complicated. The Israel-Gaza war is not. It possesses a
moral clarity not only rare but excruciating. Israel is so scrupulous about civilian life that, risking the element of surprise, it contacts enemy noncombatants in advance to warn them of approaching danger. Hamas, which started this conflict with unrelenting rocket and mortar attacks on unarmed Israelis -- 6,464 launched from Gaza in the past three years -- deliberately places its weapons in and near the homes of its own people.

This has two purposes. First, counting on the moral scrupulousness of Israel, Hamas figures
civilian proximity might help protect at least part of its arsenal. Second, knowing that Israelis
have new precision weapons that may allow them to attack nonetheless, Hamas hopes that
inevitable collateral damage -- or, if it is really fortunate, an errant Israeli bomb -- will kill large
numbers of its own people for which, of course, the world will blame Israel.

For Hamas, the only thing more prized than dead Jews are dead Palestinians. The religion of
Jew-murder and self-martyrdom is ubiquitous. And deeply perverse, such as the Hamas TV
children's program in which an adorable live-action Palestinian Mickey Mouse is beaten to
death by an Israeli (then replaced by his more militant cousin, Nahoul the Bee, who vows to
continue on Mickey's path to martyrdom).

At war today in Gaza, one combatant is committed to causing the most civilian pain and
suffering on both sides. The other combatant is committed to saving as many lives as possible
-- also on both sides. It's a recurring theme. Israel gave similar warnings to Southern Lebanese
villagers before attacking Hezbollah in the Lebanon war of 2006. The Israelis did this knowing
it would lose for them the element of surprise and cost the lives of their own soldiers.

That is the asymmetry of means between Hamas and Israel. But there is equal clarity
regarding the asymmetry of ends. Israel has but a single objective in Gaza -- peace: the calm,
open, normal relations it offered Gaza when it withdrew in 2005. Doing something never done
by the Turkish, British, Egyptian and Jordanian rulers of Palestine, the Israelis gave the
Palestinians their first sovereign territory ever in Gaza.

What ensued? This is not ancient history. Did the Palestinians begin building the state that is
supposedly their great national aim? No. No roads, no industry, no courts, no civil society at
all. The flourishing greenhouses that Israel left behind for the Palestinians were destroyed and

Instead, Gaza's Iranian-sponsored rulers have devoted all their resources to turning it into a terror base -- importing weapons, training terrorists, building tunnels with which
to kidnap Israelis on the other side. And of course firing rockets unceasingly.

The grievance? It cannot be occupation, military control or settlers. They were all removed in
September 2005. There's only one grievance and Hamas is open about it. Israel's very

Nor does Hamas conceal its strategy. Provoke conflict. Wait for the inevitable civilian
casualties. Bring down the world's opprobrium on Israel. Force it into an untenable cease-fire --
exactly as happened in Lebanon. Then, as in Lebanon, rearm, rebuild and mobilize for the next
round. Perpetual war. Since its raison d'etre is the eradication of Israel, there are only two
possible outcomes: the defeat of Hamas or the extinction of Israel.

Israel's only response is to try to do what it failed to do after the Gaza withdrawal. The
unpardonable strategic error of its architect, Ariel Sharon, was not the withdrawal itself but the
failure to immediately establish a deterrence regime under which no violence would be
tolerated after the removal of any and all Israeli presence -- the ostensible justification for
previous Palestinian attacks. Instead, Israel allowed unceasing rocket fire, implicitly
acquiescing to a state of active war and indiscriminate terror.

Hamas's rejection of an extension of its often-violated six-month cease-fire (during which the
rockets never stopped, just were less frequent) gave Israel a rare opportunity to establish the
norm it should have insisted upon three years ago: no rockets, no mortar fire, no kidnapping,
no acts of war. As the U.S. government has officially stated: a sustainable and enduring ceasefire.
If this fighting ends with anything less than that, Israel will have lost yet another war. The
question is whether Israel still retains the nerve -- and the moral self-assurance -- to win.

This article originally appeared in the Washington Post.

This article can also be read at:
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Lakewood, NJ 08701

"Crash Course on the Arab Israeli Conflict."

BRIEF FACTS ON THE ISRAELI CONFLICT TODAY.... ( It takes just 1.5 minutes to speed read!!!! ) It makes sense and it's not slanted. Jew and non-Jew -- it doesn't matter.

1. Nationhood and Jerusalem. Israel became a nation in 1312 BC, Two thousand years before the rise of Islam.

2. Arab refugees in Israel began identifying themselves as part of a Palestinian people in 1967, two decades after the establishment of the modern State of Israel.

3. Since the Jewish conquest in 1272 BC, the Jews have had dominion over the land for one thousand years with a continuous presence in the land forthe past 3,300 years.

4. The only Arab dominion since the conquest in 635 AD lasted no more than 22 years.

5. For over 3,300 years, Jerusalem has been the Jewish capital. Jerusalem has never been the capital of any Arab or Muslim entity. Even when the Jordanians occupied Jerusalem, they never sought to make it their capital, and Arab leaders did not come to visit.

6. Jerusalem is mentioned over 700 times in Tanach, the Jewish Holy Scriptures. Jerusalem is not mentioned once in the Koran.

7. King David founded the city of Jerusalem. Mohammed never came toJerusalem.

8. Jews pray facing Jerusalem. Muslims pray with their backs toward Jerusalem.

9. Arab and Jewish Refugees: in 1948 the Arab refugees were encouraged to leave Israel by Arab leaders promising to purge the land of Jews. Sixty-eight percent left without ever seeing an Israeli soldier.

10 The Jewish refugees were forced to flee from Arab lands due to Arab brutality, persecution and pogroms.

11. The number of Arab refugees who left Israel in 1948 is estimated to bearound 630,000. The number of Jewish refugees from Arab lands is estimated to be the same.

12. Arab refugees were INTENTIONALLY not absorbed or integrated into the Arab lands to which they fled, despite the vast Arab territory. Out of the 100,000,000 refugees since World War II, theirs is the only refugee group in the world that has never been absorbed or integrated into their own people's lands. Jewish refugees were completely absorbed into Israel, a country no larger than the state of New Jersey.

13. The Arab-Israeli Conflict: the Arabs are represented by eight separate nations, not including the Palestinians. There is only one Jewish nation. The Arab nations initiated all five wars and lost. Israel defended itself each time and won.

14. The PLO's Charter still calls for the destruction of the State of Israel. Israel has given the Palestinians most of the West Bank land, autonomy under the Palestinian Authority, and has supplied them.

15. Under Jordanian rule, Jewish holy sites were desecrated and the Jews were denied access to places of worship. Under Israeli rule, all Muslim and Christian sites have been preserved and made accessible to people of all faiths.

16. The UN Record on Israel and the Arabs: of the 175 Security Council resolutions passed before 1990, 97 were directed against Israel.

17. Of the 690 General Assembly resolutions voted on before 1990, 429 were directed against Israel.

18. The UN was silent while 58 Jerusalem Synagogues were destroyed by the Jordanians.

19. The UN was silent while the Jordanians systematically desecrated the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives.

20. The UN was silent while the Jordanians enforced an apartheid-like policy of preventing Jews from visiting the Temple Mount and the Western Wall.

These are incredible times. We have to ask what our role should be. What will we tell our grandchildren about we did when there was a turning point in Jewish destiny, an opportunity to make a difference?

Saturday, January 03, 2009

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: 2009-01-03

If you can't be a good example then you'll just have to be a terrible warning.

Catherine Aird