Posts Tagged ‘war’

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

The Suffering Displaced

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

By Gretchen Gibbs

The United Nations estimates that there are more than 45 million displaced persons worldwide, some still living within the borders of their own country. The Western world continues to be shocked and to feel some responsibility to provide for the needs of at least some of these refugees, like the Yazidi on the mountain in Iraq. After we’ve provided tents and drinking water in a relatively safe location, however, we tend to think we’re finished.

One need we tend to ignore is the mental health problems of the displaced. We have no figures on the percentages of refugees with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following rape, viewing murder and maiming of one’s near and dear, and the hardships of flight.

PTSD is only one of the possible outcomes – there are many forms of depression, anxiety and substance abuse. Lest my concern be dismissed as that of a soft-hearted psychologist, let me note that the World Bank estimates that mental health costs are of enormous importance to the world’s economy. They look at how many days of productive work are lost to the world each year through illness of all kinds, and estimate that mental illness accounts for over 8 percent of those days, more than is caused by either cancer or heart disease.

Thinking about these issues made me remember my own extremely minor experience of being displaced. I did not have to flee and neither I nor anyone in the family was ever in any kind of danger. However, in World War II, my father joined the Navy, knowing he would be drafted soon if he did not. (He was posted to Hawaii in officer’s training, a very easy war.) I, a little over 2, had been his darling draft exemption. Daddy was the affectionate parent, and I was always in his arms.

Mother and I, at that time the only child, went to live at her parents’ house, in another state. I certainly wasn’t neglected. Grandma was the most nurturing woman I’ve ever known, and I will always cherish her memory. Grandpa read me Uncle Wiggly stories from the newspaper every night, making up his own ending about how Uncle Wiggly, a rabbit, was eaten by the fox. I was enthralled.

There were some down sides. All kinds of food – sugar, butter, meat, canned fruits and vegetables – were rationed. I developed my lifetime habits of eating cereal without sugar, bread without butter and salad, when we had it, without dressing. We used margarine that came white as lard in a plastic sack with a capsule of yellow food coloring, which we had to work through the fat so that it didn’t look so disgusting.

One night I was eating my snack of graham crackers and milk, and I couldn’t finish it. Rather than simply leaving it, I was so ashamed of wasting food that I hid the bowl under the table in an orange crate we used as a stool.

With the war coming after the Depression and its impact, there was a deprivation theme to our lives. Mother’s favorite joke was this one from Sam Levenson: “We had unexpected company one day, and Ma drew each of us kids aside and told us, ‘Don’t eat any of the pork chops, as there aren’t enough to go around.’ We did as we were told, because we knew there was a delicious blueberry pie for dessert. At the end of the meal, as Ma was clearing the plates, she said, ‘Those children who didn’t eat their dinner don’t get dessert.’ ”

My aunt did a little still life water color of my toys. They were: a stuffed horse that Grandma made for me, some wooden beads on a string, and those colored wooden doughnut shapes that you fit over a stick to make a tower. She had to add some things from my cousin to have enough for the painting. Ten years later, my new brother and sister needed a chest to hold all their toys. During the war they didn’t make many toys.

I don’t think the minor deprivations affected me emotionally. It was the loss of my father that hurt. When he returned I was almost 5, a young girl who had been to kindergarten, who could read and write. I was a stranger to him, and he, in his uniform, 40 pounds heavier, was a stranger to me. We eventually reconnected, but it was never the same. It set me up for a life where I was sensitized to abandonment, and I perhaps made some bad decisions about men.

I think about all those children with the big eyes in the wan faces, living in tents, having fled gunfire, having not enough to eat, shivering at night, and having lost forever people they’ve loved.