Monday, May 28, 2007

America's Honor: The stories behind Memorial Day.

BY PETER COLLIER
Monday, May 28, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT

Once we knew who and what to honor on Memorial Day: those who had given all their tomorrows, as was said of the men who stormed the beaches of Normandy, for our todays. But in a world saturated with selfhood, where every death is by definition a death in vain, the notion of sacrifice today provokes puzzlement more often than admiration. We support the troops, of course, but we also believe that war, being hell, can easily touch them with an evil no cause for engagement can wash away. And in any case we are more comfortable supporting them as victims than as warriors.

Former football star Pat Tillman and Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham were killed on the same day: April 22, 2004. But as details of his death fitfully emerged from Afghanistan, Tillman has become a metaphor for the current conflict--a victim of fratricide, disillusionment, coverup and possibly conspiracy. By comparison, Dunham, who saved several of his comrades in Iraq by falling on an insurgent's grenade, is the unknown soldier. The New York Times, which featured Abu Ghraib on its front page for 32 consecutive days, put the story of Dunham's Medal of Honor on the third page of section B.

Not long ago I was asked to write the biographical sketches for a book featuring formal photographs of all our living Medal of Honor recipients. As I talked with them, I was, of course, chilled by the primal power of their stories. But I also felt pathos: They had become strangers--honored strangers, but strangers nonetheless--in our midst.

In my own boyhood, figures such as Jimmy Doolittle, Audie Murphy and John Basilone were household names. And it was assumed that what they had done defined us as well as them, telling us what kind of nation we were. But the 110 Medal recipients alive today are virtually unknown except for a niche audience of warfare buffs. Their heroism has become the military equivalent of genre painting. There's something wrong with that.

What they did in battle was extraordinary. Jose Lopez, a diminutive Mexican-American from the barrio of San Antonio, was in the Ardennes forest when the Germans began the counteroffensive that became the Battle of the Bulge. As 10 enemy soldiers approached his position, he grabbed a machine gun and opened fire, killing them all. He killed two dozen more who rushed him. Knocked down by the concussion of German shells, he picked himself up, packed his weapon on his back and ran toward a group of Americans about to be surrounded. He began firing and didn't stop until all his ammunition and all that he could scrounge from other guns was gone. By then he had killed over 100 of the enemy and bought his comrades time to establish a defensive line.

Yet their stories were not only about killing. Several Medal of Honor recipients told me that the first thing they did after the battle was to find a church or some other secluded spot where they could pray, not only for those comrades they'd lost but also the enemy they'd killed.

Desmond Doss, for instance, was a conscientious objector who entered the army in 1942 and became a medic. Because of his religious convictions and refusal to carry a weapon, the men in his unit intimidated and threatened him, trying to get him to transfer out. He refused and they grudgingly accepted him. Late in 1945 he was with them in Okinawa when they got cut to pieces assaulting a Japanese stronghold.

Everyone but Mr. Doss retreated from the rocky plateau where dozens of wounded remained. Under fire, he treated them and then began moving them one by one to a steep escarpment where he roped them down to safety. Each time he succeeded, he prayed, "Dear God, please let me get just one more man." By the end of the day, he had single-handedly saved 75 GIs.

Why did they do it? Some talked of entering a zone of slow-motion invulnerability, where they were spectators at their own heroism. But for most, the answer was simpler and more straightforward: They couldn't let their buddies down.

Big for his age at 14, Jack Lucas begged his mother to help him enlist after Pearl Harbor. She collaborated in lying about his age in return for his promise to someday finish school. After training at Parris Island, he was sent to Honolulu. When his unit boarded a troop ship for Iwo Jima, Mr. Lucas was ordered to remain behind for guard duty. He stowed away to be with his friends and, discovered two days out at sea, convinced his commanding officer to put him in a combat unit rather than the brig. He had just turned 17 when he hit the beach, and a day later he was fighting in a Japanese trench when he saw two grenades land near his comrades.

He threw himself onto the grenades and absorbed the explosion. Later a medic, assuming he was dead, was about to take his dog tag when he saw Mr. Lucas's finger twitch. After months of treatment and recovery, he returned to school as he'd promised his mother, a ninth-grader wearing a Medal of Honor around his neck.

The men in World War II always knew, although news coverage was sometimes scant, that they were in some sense performing for the people at home. The audience dwindled during Korea. By the Vietnam War, the journalists were omnipresent, but the men were performing primarily for each other. One story that expresses this isolation and comradeship involves a SEAL team ambushed on a beach after an aborted mission near North Vietnam's Cua Viet river base.

After a five-hour gunfight, Cmdr. Tom Norris, already a legend thanks to his part in a harrowing rescue mission for a downed pilot (later dramatized in the film BAT-21), stayed behind to provide covering fire while the three others headed to rendezvous with the boat sent to extract them. At the water's edge, one of the men, Mike Thornton, looked back and saw Tom Norris get hit. As the enemy moved in, he ran back through heavy fire and killed two North Vietnamese standing over Norris's body. He lifted the officer, barely alive with a shattered skull, and carried him to the water and then swam out to sea where they were picked up two hours later.

The two men have been inseparable in the 30 years since.

The POWs of Vietnam configured a mini-America in prison that upheld the values beginning to wilt at home as a result of protest and dissension. John McCain tells of Lance Sijan, an airman who ejected over North Vietnam and survived for six weeks crawling (because of his wounds) through the jungle before being captured.

Close to death when he reached Hanoi, Sijan told his captors that he would give them no information because it was against the code of conduct. When not delirious, he quizzed his cellmates about camp security and made plans to escape. The North Vietnamese were obsessed with breaking him, but never did. When he died after long sessions of torture Sijan was, in Sen. McCain's words, "a free man from a free country."

Leo Thorsness was also at the Hanoi Hilton. The Air Force pilot had taken on four MiGs trying to strafe his wingman who had parachuted out of his damaged aircraft; Mr. Thorsness destroyed two and drove off the other two. He was shot down himself soon after this engagement and found out by tap code that his name had been submitted for the Medal.

One of Mr. Thorsness's most vivid memories from seven years of imprisonment involved a fellow prisoner named Mike Christian, who one day found a grimy piece of cloth, perhaps a former handkerchief, during a visit to the nasty concrete tank where the POWs were occasionally allowed a quick sponge bath. Christian picked up the scrap of fabric and hid it.

Back in his cell he convinced prisoners to give him precious crumbs of soap so he could clean the cloth. He stole a small piece of roof tile which he laboriously ground into a powder, mixed with a bit of water and used to make horizontal stripes. He used one of the blue pills of unknown provenance the prisoners were given for all ailments to color a square in the upper left of the cloth. With a needle made from bamboo wood and thread unraveled from the cell's one blanket, Christian stitched little stars on the blue field.

"It took Mike a couple weeks to finish, working at night under his mosquito net so the guards couldn't see him," Mr. Thorsness told me. "Early one morning, he got up before the guards were active and held up the little flag, waving it as if in a breeze. We turned to him and saw it coming to attention and automatically saluted, some of us with tears running down our cheeks. Of course, the Vietnamese found it during a strip search, took Mike to the torture cell and beat him unmercifully. Sometime after midnight they pushed him into our cell, so bad off that even his voice was gone. But when he recovered in a couple weeks he immediately started looking for another piece of cloth."

We impoverish ourselves by shunting these heroes and their experiences to the back pages of our national consciousness. Their stories are not just boys' adventure tales writ large. They are a kind of moral instruction. They remind of something we've heard many times before but is worth repeating on a wartime Memorial Day when we're uncertain about what we celebrate. We're the land of the free for one reason only: We're also the home of the brave.

Mr. Collier wrote the text for "Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty" (Workman, 2006).

Link.

Rows of New Markers, and Untold Sacrifice by Civil War Soldiers

Remembering those from the war of the states:

Conrad Joachim, a German immigrant, marched off to war from his home on Greenwich Street in Manhattan on May 13, 1862, enlisting as an assistant surgeon in the 15th New York Heavy Artillery. Charles Joachim, whom historians believe to be his son, had already joined the same unit.

Four months later, Conrad was dead; and in another year, so was Charles, at about the age of 20. They were buried in the same grave at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, beneath a marble headstone that is an exquisitely carved open book inscribed with both their names. But the stone slowly sank into the earth as the centuries turned twice, and the cemetery and the city were completed around them. Read More.

Saudis arrest Christian for entering Mecca

Interesting:

Saudi officials have arrested a man in Mecca for being a Christian, saying that the city, which Muslims consider to be holy, is off-limits to non-Muslims.

Nirosh Kamanda, a Sri Lankan Christian, was detained by the Saudi Expatriates Monitoring Committee last week after he started to sell goods outside Mecca's Great Mosque.

After running his fingerprints through a new security system, Saudi police discovered that he was a Christian who had arrived in the country six months earlier to take a job as a truck driver in the city of Dammam. Kamanda had subsequently left his place of work and moved to Mecca.

"The Grand Mosque and the holy city are forbidden to non-Muslims," Col. Suhail Matrafi, head of the department of Expatriates Affairs in Mecca, told the Saudi daily Arab News. "The new fingerprints system is very helpful and will help us a lot to discover the identity of a lot of criminals," he said.

Similar restrictions apply to the Saudi city of Medina. In a section entitled, "Traveler's Information," the Web site of the Saudi Embassy in Washington states that, "Mecca and Medina hold special religious significance and only persons of the Islamic faith are allowed entry."

Highway signs at the entrance to Mecca also direct non-Muslims away from the city's environs.

Link.

Robert Mitchum on Vietnam

Yow!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Cape Buffalo and Lions

With Crocs thrown in for good measure.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

An Authentic Life

Are we authentic in our daily lives? This really applies to leadership.

I hear the stories and am amazed. I hear stories about men and women who grew up in the homes of ministers/pastors/preachers/church leaders and yet witnessed up close anything but a Christ-like person. Some of the stories? Read the rest.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Muslim Americans

Pew report on Muslims in the US. Key paragraph:

Relatively few Muslim Americans believe the U.S.-led war on terror is a sincere effort to reduce terrorism, and many doubt that Arabs were responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Just 40% of Muslim Americans say groups of Arabs carried out those attacks. Read the rest and pull up the PDF of the whole report.

That is actually quite a frightening statement. 40% of Muslims in the US are truthers. That is not a good sign.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Bizarre Fatwa of the Day

Al-Azhar University, one of Sunni Islam's most prestigious institutions, ordered one of its clerics Monday to face a disciplinary panel after he issued a controversial decree allowing adults to breast-feed.

Ezzat Attiya had issued a fatwa, or religious edict, saying adult men could breast-feed from female work colleagues as a way to avoid breaking Islamic rules that forbid men and women from being alone together.

In Islamic tradition, breast-feeding establishes a degree of maternal relation, even if a woman nurses a child who is not biologically hers. It means the child could not marry the nursing woman's biological children.

Attiya - the head of Al-Azhar's Department of Hadith, or teachings of the Prophet Muhammad - insisted the same would apply with adults. He argued that if a man nursed from a co-worker, it would establish a family bond between them and allow the two to work side-by-side without raising suspicion of an illicit sexual relation. Link.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Climate Momentum Shifting

It will interesting to see how this all pans out. HT: Ken.

Many former believers in catastrophic man-made global warming have recently reversed themselves and are now climate skeptics. The names included below are just a sampling of the prominent scientists who have spoken out recently to oppose former Vice President Al Gore, the United Nations, and the media driven “consensus” on man-made global warming. Read More.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

How to Muzzle a Mufti

Scientology - South Park Style

This is probably the only time I will ever show part of a South Park show. This happens to be true on what scientologists believe, which is hard to believe:

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Monday, May 14, 2007

Parenthood Abortion Rape Coverup

This is not surprising. There is a lot of money to be had in abortions. It also fits in with the pre-conceived notions of planned parenthood.

More details are emerging in a case where a counselor at the UCLA student health center advised a pregnant student to have an abortion. The woman in the case, a pro-life student posing as a pregnant teenager, says Planned Parenthood attempted to advise her to disguise statutory rape.

In an undercover investigative story for a student-run newspaper, UCLA student Lila Rose posed as a pregnant 15 year-old and entered a Santa Monica Planned Parenthood.

She told officials there that a 23 year old man had impregnated her and her article in The Advocate newspaper says PP staff assured Rose that if she said she was 16 or older, they wouldn't have to report the rape.

The abortion facility staff encouraged her to "figure out a birth-date that works," to obtain the abortion and avoid getting the man in trouble with the police.

"California's mandatory reporting laws for statutory rape are supposed to protect pregnant minors," Rose told LifeNews.com in a statement Thursday.

"Underage girls are being targeted by predators, and Planned Parenthood is busy covering up the evidence. How many other rapes has this one clinic covered up?" she asked. Read More.

The global warming article I'd like to read in the newspaper.

Good point:

I keep reading about how hybrid cars and compact fluorescent lightbulbs can reduce the production of greenhouse gases, but I have yet to see an article about the savings that could be achieved if we were to stop delivery of newspapers and magazines and do all of our news reading on line. Read More.

Illinois Tax Implosion

Taxes usually don't attract votes:

"Universal" government health care has once again returned as a political cause, with many Democrats believing it's the key to White House victory in 2008. They might want to study last week's news from Illinois, where Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich's tax increase to finance health care became the political rout of the year.

The Democratic House in Springfield killed the proposal, 107-0, after Mr. Blagojevich came out against his own idea when it became clear he was going to be humiliated. Only a month earlier he had said he was prepared to wage "the fight of the century" in defense of his plan to impose a $7.6 billion "gross receipts tax" on Illinois businesses. Read More.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Cancer survival rates worst in western Europe

Read the article and compare Europe's cancer survival rates with the US. It's buried so you have to dig. In short, your chances of surviving cancer after 5 years is much better in the US:

British cancer patients are substantially more likely to die of the disease than those in other western European countries because of poor access to the latest drugs, according to an authoritative report to be published today. Read the rest.

New era for U.S., France, Germany

The times, they are a changin:

Amazing, isn’t it, how the conventional wisdom that holds sway among many sophisticated — i.e. liberal — Washingtonians and New Yorkers is often so completely divorced from reality.

These folks have come to take it as a given that America’s involvement in Iraq has inflicted severe damage to our nation’s image abroad, especially in Europe. But the most recent national election results from France and Germany demonstrate that this “truth” about George W. Bush’s America is about as credible as the recurring rumor that Elvis is actually alive and well flipping hamburgers in happy obscurity somewhere near Seattle.

Exhibit A here is France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, who is described by the editors of the old gray lady on West 43rd Street in Manhattan as “unabashedly pro-American.”

In an election with a record turnout, Sarkozy won more than 53 percent of the vote in his contest with Socialist Segolene Royal, who was anything but pro-American. Sarkozy admires American initiative and hard work, and has made it a first order of business to mend the relationship almost strained beyond repair by a decade of Jacque Chirac’s shallow echoes of Charles De Gaulle’s “Third Way” illusions of the Cold War. Read More.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Perfection in Children

This is a letter sent to Dean Barnett who posts on Hugh Hewitt.

Dean,

Thank you very much for your thoughtful and very personal commentary. It is perhaps even worse than you realize. Obstetrical care providers now have multiple tools which potentially reveal abnormalities in unborn babies. Triple screening and quad screening cast the net widely for a multitude of potential defects.

All this screening and testing is a double edged sword. As a neonatologist I fully appreciate the ability to prepare for the delivery of an infant with complex medical problems. This screening allows infants who will require higher levels of care to be identified and delivered at suitable centers. Ultrasound has been invaluable in this regard. It is relatively non-invasive and it presents what we believe to be a relatively minimal risk to the fetus and mother.

The obsession with “perfection” in pregnancies is, in my view, a result of many factors. To be fair to obstetrical providers, some of it has to do with legal considerations. More important, however, is that we have lost the ability to see the value in imperfection. Only perfection matters. Most of us deny our own imperfections (we are human) and cannot appreciate that a child, no matter how “different”, is a gift. In an age in which many children are raised by day cares, nannies or public schools, children have become a possession, albeit an important one, but a possession nonetheless. Why shouldn’t “it” be perfect?

As humans, decisions such as abortion are accompanied by a significant amount of emotional baggage, namely guilt. Society, including the obstetrical community, has gone to great lengths to mitigate this distasteful feeling. We assuage these feelings by the knowledge that “we are saving the unborn child from a life of suffering and pain.” Counselors made available to families with difficult diagnoses have great expertise in the pathology that accompanies a multitude of syndromes and genetic disorders. These counseling sessions invariably include the topics of mental retardation, cerebral palsy, and quality of life. Rarely in my experience are these potential parents ever exposed to families who have recognized the gift given them in an “imperfect child”, families who have made the decision to keep their child. You mention CF, Dean, and it is a great illustration of this conundrum. Let me mention another in more detail - Down Syndrome - as another great example of a potential diagnosis in which parents are often counseled without exposure to sources who can describe what life is like with a child with Down Syndrome.

Before my wife gave birth to our second child, she was placed in that most depressing of maternal categories, advanced maternal age (AMA), an ever increasing demographic in the obstetrical world. Routinely, AMA mothers are advised to pursue triple or quad screening for a variety of problems that increase as maternal age increases. We refused such testing.

We did obtain an ultrasound. As a neonatologist, I wanted to be sure that a resuscitation team would be adequately prepared if our child had cardiac or other problems. There were some “soft signs” on ultrasound that our child might be at risk for other problems. While these were non-specific signs that were not diagnostic of any specific disorder, it prompted the immediate response from our obstetrician that we should consider an amniocentesis to “rule out Down Syndrome.”

We explained to our doctor that we would not abort our child, did not wish to expose our baby to the risk of amniocentesis, and refused her recommendation. We were blessed with a beautiful daughter…who has Down Syndrome.

We do not see our daughter as someone with a disorder. She can be stubborn, has difficulty expressing herself, and will never be a part of the rat race we all run everyday. She is overjoyed with simplicity, recognizes beauty in everything, cannot walk through a garden without making 10-20 stops, and is not burdened by the frivolities that consume the rest of us “normal” folks. She has Down Syndrome, it is part of who she is, and it makes her a beautiful person.

We have had many people over the years actually ask (believe it or not), “Didn’t you have the test?” We pray for these folks.

Many obstetrical providers will say, “We do not encourage termination, not in my practice, not in my clinic.” The best estimate, however, is that from 70-90% of mother’s given an antenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome abort their child. It is unclear to me how any reasonable member of the obstetrical community could make the case that large scale efforts are being made to offer parents a meaningful view of what life with a child with Down Syndrome is like given these statistics.

Still, there may be a glimmer of hope. Ultrasound has given parents a window into the womb, allowing them to see that what they are considering aborting is not a mass of tissue, but a really little baby. Religious and private organizations supporting adoption programs have offered alternatives to parents dealing with difficult decisions. While not a majority, there are medical providers out there who understand the unavoidable results of endless testing which emphasizes the pursuit of perfection. And there are many families who have been blessed with the knowledge that life, in whatever form, is a sacred gift.

Life never came with the promise of an absence of pain and suffering. Ask Jesus. We can only pray that more families will be given sight…the ability to see a blessing in what initially appears to be a very distressing disguise. We all must eventually come to terms with the fact that none of us is perfect. Given the current state of world affairs, and our determination to glorify self, it appears to me highly likely that the “imperfect” among us have a vital mission. They are sent to reveal to us our own humanity and imperfection.

It is hard enough to dodge and avoid such messengers as we pass them in the hallways or on the street. It is quite another thing to welcome them into our lives and homes.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Global Baby Bust

Really interesting:

Summary: Most people think overpopulation is one of the worst dangers facing the globe. In fact, the opposite is true. As countries get richer, their populations age and their birthrates plummet. And this is not just a problem of rich countries: the developing world is also getting older fast. Falling birthrates might seem beneficial, but the economic and social price is too steep to pay. The right policies could help turn the tide, but only if enacted before it's too late. Read the whole thing.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Lawful incest may be on its way

Once the slippery slope has been opened:

WHEN THE BBC invited me onto one of its talk shows recently to talk about the day's hot topic -- legalizing adult incest -- I thought of Rick Santorum.

Back in 2003, as the Supreme Court was preparing to rule in Lawrence v. Texas, a case challenging the constitutionality of laws criminalizing homosexual sodomy, then-Senator Santorum caught holy hell for warning that if the law were struck down, there would be no avoiding the slippery slope.

"If the Supreme Court says you have the right to consensual sex within your home," he told a reporter, "then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything." Read More.