Posts Tagged ‘Navy’

Trump, Korea, the Marines and a Photo

Friday, August 11th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

The photo that inspired a nation ... in spite of the facts.

The photo that inspired a nation … in spite of the facts.

“Well, that’s good,” I said to myself with a tension-reducing sigh. Congress is taking August off and the Senate actually took steps to keep Trump from making any recess appointments should he decide to, say, fire the attorney general or anyone else. That probably didn’t sit well with the Donald, but what the heck, I figured, he’s going on another vacation, so what trouble could he possibly get us into?

 Yeah, I know. A momentary lapse of judgment on my part, perhaps prompted by a need for some relief from the constant drumbeat of incoherent, inarticulate, insensitive, insulting, indecent and incredibly embarrassing flow of bigotry and B.S. coming from the White House. A vocabulary-challenging administration.

I guess he figured a man can’t play golf and tweet all the time, so why not go mano-a-mano with North Korea over nuclear war. Ramp up the language and fire up the still-remaining base of support who don’t want to think about Russia or losing their health insurance because, after all, the Muslims are coming, the Muslims are coming. And Kim what’s-his-name, too!

It has come to this: Trump’s own staff members are telling us to ignore what he says. Don’t worry, says the secretary of state. Senators and generals are ignoring what he says. But the world is not ignoring what he says because, like it or not, he speaks for this nation.

I don’t like it.

Not when he talks so cavalierly about taking the lives of hundreds of thousands of people because of his ego. Not when he shows no awareness of the devastating power of nuclear weapons. Not when he displays no comprehension of the wisdom of trying to avoid war through frank and honest diplomacy: You have weapons; we have more weapons. We will suffer greatly. You will be destroyed. No one wins. What do you want to allow your people to see what a magnificent leader you are by giving up your nuclear weapons and giving your people a better life? Let’s talk.

What gets lost in this frenetic, theoretical talk about war is the simple fact of the individual lives that will be ended. Even efforts by some politicians to lower the threat level to Americans by saying any war with North Korea will not be nuclear and will be fought on the Korean peninsula ignore this fact. It is obviously intended to relieve Americans’ fears of war on their homeland, but conveniently overlooks the fact that, in addition to Koreans, it will be young American men and women fighting and dying on the Korean peninsula, which they have already done once before. Failure to negotiate a peace settlement after that war has led to a divided nation and well-armed ceasefire for more than half a century.

Trump’s ”fire and fury” remarks regarding North Korea coincided with the anniversary of the U.S. dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, to hasten the end of World War II with Japan in 1945. The reasoning by President Harry S Truman and his advisers at the time was that a traditional military invasion of Japan with a million or so troops would cost  hundreds of thousands of Allied deaths given the Japanese strategy of everyone, soldier or not, fighting to the death.

Whether or not one agrees with Truman’s decision, he and his advisers were undoubtedly correct in their assessment of a traditional invasion. Not long before the bomb was dropped, U.S. Marines fought their bloodiest, most courageous, most decorated battle on Iwo Jima, an island fortress defending the Japanese homeland. As recounted in often painful detail in the book, “Flags Of Our Fathers,” by James Bradley and Ron Powers, the conquest of Iwo, commemorated with the planting of the American flag on Mount Suribachi, was the result of sending wave after wave of young American men, with no cover, to attack a heavily armed, entrenched, literally underground, Japanese army and eventually overwhelming the enemy by determination, incredible bravery, and sheer numbers.

That is a strategy. A terribly costly one as it turned out for thousands of American families who lost sons, brothers, fathers, uncles, friends on the beaches of Iwo and on the slopes of Suribachi. It was thought to be necessary by some, at the time, in order to defeat an enemy that didn’t recognize any so-called rules of warfare. Maybe it was, but a nation that respects and cherishes its young people still ought not casually consider sending them off to die or be wounded in any war, however justified it may sound.

That’s what I hate most about Trump’s and others’ flippant remarks about war. They ignore the cost in lives, in futures, in dreams, by wrapping everything in a flag of patriotism. Duty. Honor. Courage.

In addition to being a chilling account of combat, “Flags Of Our Fathers,” which I’m reading as part of a stash of used books I recently bought at the library, provides a perfect example of Americans refusing to take an event at face value and, instead, repackaging it to fit their preconceived notions. It is about one of the most famous photographs ever taken — six Marines raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi. The photo brought hope to a war-weary nation, became a famous monument, propelled a successful bond tour to support the war effort, inspired a John Wayne movie. Today, it remains a stirring symbol of American courage.

But the photo itself was not of a heroic moment. As the authors recount, it was a lucky shot by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal at a second flag-raising, after the heroic one following an assault up Suribachi a day earlier. The Marine commander wanted a larger flag flying over Iwo. The men who planted the second flag happened to be there. Photos were taken. One was dramatic. They became heroes back home, sought after everywhere for much of their lives. As often as the three flag-raisers who survived Iwo Jima tried to tell the real story of the flag, they were ignored. The photo was too powerful. It said so much of what Americans wanted it to say. Needed it to say.

Bradley’s father, Jack “Doc” Bradley, was identified as one of the six flag-raisers, but even that remains questioned today. A medical corpsman who was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions on Iwo, all he and the others ever said was that the real heroes were the Marines and Navy corpsmen who died on the island — 6,800 of them. The Japanese suffered 22,000 casualties, mostly deaths. American casualties exceeded 26,000. One battle. One island. Two flags.

As a nation, we have a tendency to try to make things — flag-raisings, presidents — fit our perceptions (our hopes and wishes perhaps), so that we don’t have to face reality. War is brutal. Talk is cheap.

The Iwo Jima photo, while it does not represent an actual heroic moment in combat, has come to symbolize the heroism of U.S. Marines, especially at Iwo Jima. It has obtained true, lasting value because it represents something real — the courage, determination, resilience, loyalty, and brotherhood the Marines demonstrated on Iwo Jima and, indeed, have demonstrated throughout their proud history. If you need to raise a flag, they are there. They are the real deal.

Take as many photos of Donald Trump as you want. Wearing that silly Make America Great Again cap if you want. Wrap him in flags and give him tough-sounding words if you want. Gild the lily all you want. It doesn’t matter. The image will never match the reality of the man’s history. Gutless and callous and phony to the core.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Happy Birthday to Me, Dylan and JFK

Monday, May 29th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

JFK ... at a press conference

JFK … at a press conference

The headline tells the story. Well, at least the premise. Bob Dylan and I both turn 76 today (May 29). Funny, I can almost believe it about myself, but not about Dylan, even though he’s literally been around my whole life. But while I appreciate his contribution to music, which won him a Nobel Prize for its poetic, lasting message, it’s not the sound of Dylan’s unique voice that I carry around in my head every May 29.

That would be Kennedy’s, with his distinct Boston accent. I’ve been aware of sharing a birthdate with the late John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th president of The United States, considerably longer than I’ve known the Dylan connection. That’s because Kennedy, who would be 100 today, was president at a time when I first became intimately aware of how a president could have a profound impact on my life, personally.

That was in October of 1962, the Cold War was heating up. I was a senior in college, with a draft deferment and Kennedy was telling Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to get his nuclear missiles out of Cuba or else. When Khrushchev refused, JFK ordered a blockade of U.S. Navy ships around the island to prevent delivery of any further missiles or equipment from the Soviet Union. As Soviet ships steamed towards Cuba, I waited nervously with the rest of the world to see if nuclear warfare would break out. Kennedy refused demands from other world leaders to back down.

Eventually, U.S. sailors boarded one Soviet ship and looked around. Then the Soviet fleet turned around and sailed back to Russia. Khrushchev agreed to dismantle the missiles. Kennedy in return agreed that the U.S., having been humiliated in a failed invasion attempt at the Bay of Pigs a year earlier, would attempt no future invasions of Cuba.

A year after the Cuban Missile Crisis, as I awaited reporting to Fort Dix, N.J., for basic training, JFK was assassinated, postponing my duty for a month. And 20 years later, as fate (synchronicity?) would have it, the first editorial I was asked to write as the new editorial page editor for The Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., was to mark the 20th anniversary of Kennedy’s death. Headline: “The Measure of the Man.”

Some 34 years later, much of it still applies. The legend of JFK — Camelot (Jackie, John-John and Caroline), PT-109, Navy and Marine Corps Medals, the Purple Heart, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” “Ask not …”, the challenge to put a man on the moon, the Peace Corps, the New Frontier, a limited nuclear test ban treaty — still far outweighs his failings, including extramarital affairs, hiding illnesses from us, escalation of the American troop presence in Vietnam and a reluctance to take a firm stance in the growing battle over segregation in America.

He is regularly rated as one of this country’s greatest presidents, a testament I believe to his ability to inspire hope, faith and courage in Americans, especially young Americans like me, at a time of grave danger. Much of that owes to his youth (he was 43 when elected president, the youngest ever) and his ability to eloquently deliver the words written for him by Ted Sorensen, a synchronistic match if there ever was one. But Kennedy, a Harvard graduate, was no slouch at writing either, having won a Pulitzer Prize for biography with “Profiles in Courage.”

After considering a career in journalism, he decide on politics. Good choice. But as president he courted the news media, including initiating regular White House press conferences. He connected with people.

If Dylan’s message was often one of rebellion, Kennedy’s was unfailingly one of of hope. We can do this. We are up to the challenge. We care. His average approval rating as president was 70 percent, the highest in the history of Gallup. He also ranked third, behind Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa, in Gallup’s List of Widely Admired People of the 20th century, according to Wikipedia.

Four years ago in this blog, writing “The Measure of the Man II,” I recounted my history with JFK and wrote, “The question I still ask myself is, what might JFK have done, what might he have meant to America and the world, if he had lived longer?’’ That was on the 50th anniversary of his death.

I also wrote, “I’m also going to remember to honor him not on the date he died, but on the date we both were born.”

So happy 100th, Mr. President. And Bobby, stay forever young and keep on pluckin’. I’ll meet you at 100.

rjgaydos@gmail.com