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Each time I hear a news item that I know will involve members of our armed services being sent into danger, I am jarred just a bit. This wasn’t so early in my life.

I formed many political opinions without ever thinking of the individual human cost of those actions. The fact is that if we’re going to “teach ______ (country, group, etc) a lesson” someone is going to pay for it. Perhaps they will just lose time with their families or comforts. Some, however, will lose everything.

I do not say this with the intent of paralyzing our thinking. As a nation, we will sometimes have to do difficult things for freedom, yes, but also for security. But I pray that I never lose that jolt that I feel each time, that tells me, “With this policy, or this action, or in response to this threat, people are going to die.”

With that realization comes the responsibility to make those deaths count and to take care of the people who were willing to make those hopes real.

Somebody has to be willing to risk it all.

I’ve always thought of my own military service as relatively painless. Yes, there were plenty of things to complain about. Besides, what would one do in the boring hours between various activities if one couldn’t moan and groan?

On the other hand, I had the undeserved privilege of serving with some of the finest people I have every know. Rough, rowdy, sometimes difficult, yes. But at the same time totally dedicated, totally ready to serve, and totally committed to their crew and their unit.

I recently commented to someone regarding a movie scene in which guys who had moments before been yelling at one another immediately came together to fight their enemy. I said this: “You don’t have to like the guy to be ready to trust your life to them. There were always guys I didn’t like personally all that much. But they would all put everything into the mission when the time came.”

To all who have served, I thank you. To those I served with, I want to say that my time with you was the greatest privilege of my life. To those who have passed on, and there are plenty of you, your place in my heart, and I believe in all our hearts, is secure.

Featured image is from

Dona Nobis Pacem

Dona Nobis Pacem

I find myself unable to sleep. I was temporarily overwhelmed by something simple: the cast of M*A*S*H singing the song “Dona Nobis Pacem.” It’s a little thing, and somebody’s bound to say, “It’s a TV show. It’s fiction,” but last night what got to me was the thought that it has been 25 years since I served in the first gulf war, and our young men and women are still dying over there. I had to leave the room to get control of myself. No use putting all of this on my joyful grandchildren!

And yes, I thought first of our American young men and women. I should, as a Christian, be equally concerned with all who suffer and die in war, wherever and whoever they are. I did start to think of them in time.

This is not in any way about sympathy for me, or about any bad experience I had. In fact, I had a rather pleasant war, as wars go, and one I chose. I went out of my way in the two or three years before 1990 to get the qualifications that pretty much guaranteed I’d be headed out to any action in the Middle East, and I was even asked if I wanted to be deployed. I did.

This is not about being a pacifist. I still hold the beliefs, and have the character (I think) that sent me over “there” (wherever!) in the first place. A democracy, to be viable, needs a military that carries out the order of the elected government. I am proud to have been a small part of that, and to have been there when my country needed me.

But what is making it hard to sleep is the memories, the knowledge of what dedicated young people right now are giving for their country. There is a duty for those of us who remain, whether we’re veterans of such an experience ourselves, or are those who have  been privilege to live peacefully  while they have been giving.

I said that a democracy requires a military that will carry out the orders of its civilian masters. The other side of that is that our military needs—and deserves—a culture and government that makes effective use of their service, that makes sure that they do not die—or kill—for nothing.

Yet many do not want to take the time to think about this. While our men and women  fight and give their lives, we have little time to discuss whether we will make that effort effective. I’m not advocating one strategy or another here. I’m just thinking that how we’re going to go about this endless war on terror needs the application of more wisdom, more long-term strategy, and more weight. We’re mostly concerned about our jobs, our comforts, and our taxes next month. This is an issue of people dying.

While we’re at it, we need to count the full cost of war. Not just the cost of keeping the troops over there and equipping them well, though that’s important, but also the cost of caring for these people once they’re back, and caring for their families when they pay the ultimate price. We love to watch videos of returning service men and women. We love to see acts of charity that warm our hearts. But taking care of the people who have given this much is not an act of charity; it is  payment of a debt. It should not be left to chance. It should be systematically paid as a moral obligation.

I had it easy and came back in robust health. I recall a conversation with the son of one of my best friends who was still overseas when I had returned. His question was this: “Why can’t it be my daddy coming home?” His daddy did come home, thank God, but that etched in my mind the fact that somebody’s daddy or mommy is not coming  home, or is coming home injured in body or spirit.

The people who sent them owe them. We owe them every bit of support. We owe them a willingness to think and learn, to make sure their sacrifice is not in vain.

How we accomplish that is a good subject of debate. That we owe it is not.


Seals Prosecuted for Capturing Terrorist

Seals Prosecuted for Capturing Terrorist

… at least according to the Fox News headline: Navy SEALs Face Assault Charges for Capturing Most-Wanted Terrorist.

But there’s a problem with the headline. There are, of course, no charges for capturing the terrorists, but rather for his treatment after the capture. Now I don’t know the facts of the case beyond what is in the article, but if the contents (as opposed to the headline) are correct, the charges have to do with the way the detainee was treated after capture.

There would be two considerations there. The first is simply military discipline. Civilians may not understand this as well, but “punching in the gut” is not something you get to do because you’re a tough guy. There are times and places. The second is, of course, the treatment of someone that is under your control. I find it quite easy to justify violence before someone is captured. But once the defendant is under your control, that person should be treated properly according to military regulations. Your status as a hero, and Seals are heroes in my book just by virtue of their job, doesn’t exempt you from the rules.

What actually happened in this case? That is something to be determined by the military court. In this case, were I one of these men, that would be precisely the court in which I would wish to be tried. The members of the court will also be members of the military who should be capable of understanding the situation and rendering a verdict.

That there is a court martial as such, however, should not cause outrage. The military services are, as they should, investigating the behavior of their own.

On Being Christian and Killing People

On Being Christian and Killing People

I was reminded this morning that it was Veteran’s Day, not that I had forgotten, because I got an early note of thanks from my wife, who regularly thanks me for me military service, defending, as she always notes, her freedom. At the same time, I will either read or hear from some Christian friends who will say that military service is not compatible with being a follower of Jesus. This year, this function was served by my friend Peter Kirk, who is not happy with acts of remembrance in church, of which he says:

If military people wish to have their own parades to mark their fallen comrades, they are welcome to do so. But please can they do so well away from the churches, whose fundamental attitudes are, or should be, completely at odds with theirs. And please can churches stop pandering to the expectations of those in the world outside, and of those among their own numbers, who hold anti-Christian militaristic views and expect the church to hold ceremonies for them, and disrupt its own regular programmes to do so.

Now my point here is not to go after Peter or his position on this issue. What interests me on this is simply that I have many people in my life who simply would not be able to hear one another’s position. Many local Christians that I know consider pacifism a crazy notion held by people who aren’t really quite Christian, and probably live in California. They would be very surprised to meet Peter, hear his authentic testimony of Christian faith, and yet find that their views on war are so diametrically opposed.

I have an interesting family history here as well. My father spent part of World War II planting trees in Canada because he refused to bear arms. He was willing to work in the medical corps, a reasonable option considering he intended to be a physician, but he was not accepted into that form of service, and because he refused to train with or carry a weapon, he was given alternative service. He lived to see both his sons serve voluntarily in the U. S. military.

My father’s religious background was Seventh-day Adventist, many of whom reject bearing arms, but will serve in the military in medical capacity. One thing I found disconcerting about growing up in SDA communities was the rather large number of people who would reject personally bearing arms and yet voted for the most pro-military and pro-war candidates that were available. I have a much greater respect for pure pacifism than I do for those who refuse to do the killing themselves, but vote for the policies that lead to others doing so.

A few years ago I was teaching a group of teenagers at a United Methodist church, and I found that the one thing they wanted to know about me was whether I had ever personally killed anyone while in the military. As a veteran of the U. S. Air Force, that is unlikely. The Air Force is not generally very “personal” about killing, and I was simply a cog in the machine that made it happen.

I don’t believe that relieves one of responsibility. I consciously chose to be in that position. I chose the particular job I wanted in the Air Force. I knew what I was doing, and I re-enlisted to continue to do what I was doing. I was not a practicing Christian at the time, so it is appropriate to ask whether I would still do it.

The answer is yes. I’ve written about my position before in a post titled Why I Am Not a Pacifist. I think that there are circumstances under which peaceful protest is the correct approach. I think there are circumstances in which one must suffer evil silently. But I also believe there are circumstances in which one needs to respond with force. The state doesn’t carry the sword in vain, and my citizenship in this country in this world means I may be called upon to carry out my part.

A peaceful protest or civil disobedience is an approach that depends on the conscience of the enemy. There are times when one faces an enemy without a conscience. Peaceful protest often works by wakening the consciences of others who will bring force to bear. There need to be people with an ethical approach to bringing such force.

I recall a conversation while I was in the Air Force. Since I was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base, headquarters of the Strategic Air Command, we got an unusual measure of the nuclear freeze protesters, which was the major movement of the time. A group of us were discussing this, and most indicated they were annoyed to be defending the freedom for people to protest against them. Flag burning even got into the discussion, though I don’t recall any flag burning amongst the freeze protesters at the base. They were generally painfully courteous about their protests.

And indeed those protesters couldn’t have been doing the same thing on the other side of the conflict of the time. They were using the freedom for which we might be called to pay in order to protest against us.

But for me that was precisely the reason for me to be there–to defend the freedom of people to annoy me in any number of ways. That freedom was what made it worthwhile to serve in the military and to be prepared to be there in time of war.

It’s worthwhile noting that as a voter, I would have opposed every one of the wars in which I was involved (Grenada, Panama, and the first gulf war). I don’t think they were well conceived. At the same time, I believe that having a democracy in existence with the military force to stand against communism was absolutely necessary, and that helping to keep that democracy safe was a good thing.

Those who are regular readers of this blog will know that I have opposed the current Iraq war since before it started. But I want to be clear that my opposition is not to the use of force. Sometimes actual use of force is required. Frequently, the ability to effectively use force is necessary.

There are those who will respond only to force. For those force is ready. For this reason I look back on my own 10 years of service with satisfaction, and I thank all those others, especially those in those jobs that require one to get more personal about killing, not to mention being killed.

It’s because of you that I can engage in this debate.

Trust the Executive Branch?

Trust the Executive Branch?

Liberals tend to trust the government to do right in social spending. Conservatives tend to trust the government on security issues. I’d suggest we do neither. It seems some appeals court judges agree.

Allowing agents of the executive branch to simply declare someone outside the court system is ridiculous. I have a hard time understanding why someone would trust the executive branch to police itself on that matter. If nothing else there is the embarrassment of admitting one’s mistakes. That’s why we have a judiciary in the first place.

Reviewing after they are captured doesn’t present a security hazard in the field. It is only a hazard to those who are afraid to correct their own errors.

PTSS and Military Discharges

PTSS and Military Discharges

This is the sort of story that makes me so angry that I want to hope it’s not really true. Fortunately, it appears a couple of senators with some substance are on the case, and hopefully will get to the bottom of this and hold some people’s feet to the fire as appropriate.

According to an AP Report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (HT: Thoughts from the Heart on the Left):

After two combat tours in Iraq on a “quick reaction team” that picked up body parts after suicide bombings, Donald Schmidt began suffering from nightmares and paranoia. Then he had a nervous breakdown.

The military discharged Schmidt last Oct. 31 for problems they said resulted not from post-traumatic stress disorder but rather from a personality disorder that pre-dated his military service.

Assuming the facts are correct, I wouldn’t care if he did have a pre-existing condition. After two combat tours the military should be taking care of him.

Amongst those in congress who are moving to take action, Senators [tag]Barack Obama[/tag], Senator [tag]Christopher Bond[/tag] are investigating this in the Senate, and Rep [tag]Bob Filner[/tag] in the house.

Please read the whole St. Louis Post-Dispatch article. It has more information and the Pentagon’s response, which thus far doesn’t impress me.

Honoring the Troops

Honoring the Troops

Ten years in the U.S. Air Force have made me look differently at the news and feel differently on Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Memorial Day, of course, is to remember those who have fallen, but rarely do I attend a Memorial Day service any more at which there is not something done to honor both serving troops and veterans. As the armed forces medley was played at the service Sunday night in our nation’s capital, there was still a thrill, even sitting in my living room, when I heard “Off we go, into the wild blue yonder . . .”

When a civilian hears about a troubled spot in the world, he or she will often think about the grave hardship for those who are in that situation. If it’s one that might involve U. S. forces, there is perhaps a moment of wondering whose son or daughter is headed off to help deal with the situation. But for ten years when I heard about certain trouble spots, such as Grenada, Panama, and then Iraq in the first gulf war, I knew to pack my bags and wait for the telephone call that would surely follow. There’s a big difference in the way you think about it when you are going to pack your bags.

Now don’t get me wrong. My service was not some incredible series of hardships. As I was telling my wife, I was very anxious to go. It was what I had trained for and I wanted to do it! In fact, I had it rather light, compared to what our young people are going through in Iraq and Afghanistan right now. But what I did doesn’t even compare. I tell my family that I had the right perspective on war, assuming one has to be in it–looking down from about 32,000 or so feet. As an aircrew member (not pilot or flight crew, but working on an aircraft), I didn’t have to slog through sand hoping I didn’t encounter an IED, nor was I under hostile fire. But my experience gave me some extra sympathy.

I remember a call from my best friend’s wife after the first gulf war. I had been so lucky as to be rotated out of Saudi Arabia before Desert Storm. I got back in the war in another area, and I will say simply that it was the lap of luxury by comparison. My best friend, on the other hand, stayed in Saudi Arabia and was extended for some time. New housing for which they had been waiting for months had become available and she had to move before he would return. Those of us at our unit who were back home managed to move her, and I got the task of assembling the kids’ swing set. The best I can say of that was that it stayed together!

That word “extension” meant something different to her than it does to most people who watch television. It meant her husband wasn’t there to help with the move. It meant a son who was crying because he saw other people’s daddies coming home and wondered when his daddy was coming home. We hear things like, “Tours of duty will be extended 3 months,” (or 6 months, or whatever), and often we don’t think of the impact of that word on people’s lives. It’s not at all like having your boss tell you that you need to stay on a project you don’t like for a few extra months. To a serviceman, that’s three more months of danger for you, three more months of fear for your family, three more months for your finances to fall into disaster, three more months for your home to deteriorate, three more months of loneliness, and three more months of weariness. Yet you’ll do it, because you signed up for it, and it’s what you do.

Back home people will appreciate the things you do mostly with words and mostly on holidays. I don’t mean to belittle words and special holidays. The moments in these various services and commemorations are important, but they are only words unless they become motivators to drive us to do better.

I wrote a devotional for my wife’s list in which I asked whether we really thought that love, as defined in 1 Corinthians 13, was the sort of thing we talked about and wanted to listen to. To be honest, I don’t think it is. In that post I talked about a question my pastor asked on Sunday, about our view of celebrities and heroes. When we’re asked, we talk about how much we honor our heroes, but our actions show that we really care more about celebrities. The way you can tell is by checking what we listen to, what we watch, what we talk about, and where our money goes.

It’s important that we think about this, because whatever happens in Iraq at this point, we are going to need our armed forces for some time to come. Terrorism isn’t over. We haven’t run out of rogue governments that will sponsor terrorist activity. The tendency for the civilian population is to forget about the troops quickly after wars. Right now, even with fighting going on, we are behaving in this country as though the war is over. There is the sense among many that if we can just get the troops home from Iraq, that will be it.

But the state of the world is analogous to a ticking time bomb. It is not a matter of if we will again be the target of a terrorist attack, but of when. And when that happens we need to be ready to respond defensively, and ready to take action when appropriate targets present themselves. It is very easy for those who have opposed the war in Iraq (as I do) to slip into the assumption that this is it, that everything else can be solved through purely diplomatic means. But there are no purely diplomatic means. Diplomats only succeed because there are some unsung heroes holding the weapons of war. Even when diplomacy prevents a war, you can thank the folks who were willing to fight it. Nobody is stopped diplomatically where there is no force to back up the talks.

To honor the troops we need to pay them better, equip them better, train them better, provide them better medical care, and honor them not just for a few moments at a time, or for a few weeks after they come home, but for the long term. You don’t have to pack your bags and flee from your home, because there are thousands of young men and women who will pack their bags and voluntarily head toward where the trouble is.

A few moments of singing and talking doesn’t thank them enough for all that. If you don’t believe me, you go tiptoe through the minefields in a desert half way around the world. As I said, I’ve never done that. I had to go, but my life was comparatively comfortable. But I’m terribly thankful to this folks who have done it, or are doing it, or will be soon.

Turning Point? What Turning Point?

Turning Point? What Turning Point?

From the Washington Post:

Feb. 22, 2006, is the day the Bush administration says everything in Iraq changed.

Before that day, military and administration officials frequently explain, Iraq was moving in the right direction: National elections had been held, and a government was forming. But then the bombing of the golden dome shrine in Samarra derailed that positive momentum and unleashed a wave of brutal sectarian violence.

This is what gets me about people’s reaction to this war. I simply do not understand the number of people who have changed their mind about it. I’m especially annoyed with politicians like Hillary Clinton who seems to think she was deceived about the war. I commend John Edwards for saying he was wrong and apologizing. Nonetheless, I simply question all of their good judgment, and I have to ask what it is about this war that is surprising such as to cause them to change their minds? What on earth did they expect would happen?

The one doubtful issue was the presence of weapons of mass destruction. I opposed the war even if such weapons existed in the region not because I think a nation like Iraq, then or now, should have such weapons but because I didn’t think that was the most useful place to get them anyhow. People overestimate the value of a large country, friendly to terrorists, as a base. No doubt it is useful, but terrorists are often, unfortunately, more creative than their opponents. Governments keep thinking massive logistics, coordination, detailed planning, and command and control, while terrorists work around those things as necessary.

Nonetheless, even though I personally didn’t think it merited such priority, destroying materials and weapons would have been a reasonable goal for a war. It could be accomplished, finished, checked off, and declared a victory. The Iraqis were acting guilty, and there was enough evidence for a warrant.

But again, even so, there was the problem of what you’re going to leave behind. From a military point of view, you need a specific objective and the means to accomplish it. From the political point of view, and even from a more strategic military point of view, you need to see a situation develop from accomplishing those objectives that is better than the previous situation. Is Iraq less or more dangerous when all is said and done than it was before? And that is where I see the problem. Our troops didn’t fail. Certainly there have been problems of tactics and logistics, and political maneuvering that is not the greatest. But the one big problem with this war was there before we went in and remains there now. It hasn’t changed. There simply is no “after the war” scenario that is going to make things better than they were before.

We want contradictory things. Democracy, but no Islamic republic. The will of the Iraqi people, when the Iraqi people themselves divide into community without a strong, common national interest. Iraqi sovereignty, but measures that guarantee the security of the United States.

If we could accomplish all those goals, the cost in lives would be reasonable. I know many people will protest, but I’m a veteran myself, and when you go into the military, you know you might die. You may not think that you, personally will die, but you must be ready to put your life on the line for your country. If I were still in the military, that would be what I’d do. Further I expect politicians to be able to look at the folks in the military services and ask whether their lives will be well-expended. A peaceful, stable, democratic Iraq without weapons of mass destruction would be worth such lives.

The problem is that it isn’t going to happen, not with any amount of resources and lives we have at our disposal. That’s the tragedy of all this. There’s no turning point. Our troops have done well with the resources and the goals they were given, but the goals were badly laid out–not just badly stated. They were bad goals.

I recall a national championship game in which Nebraska played Florida and defeated them overwhelmingly. A radio commentator and Florida fan were discussing the game the next day on a call-in show, and the fan asked what was the turning point of the game. “Turning point?” said the commentator. “The turning point was the singing of the national anthem.” In the case of Iraq, the turning point was when the military was sent in to do a job that was not politcally feasible. No blame should attach to them for not accomplishing the impossible.

Persecution Victim as a Profession

Persecution Victim as a Profession

It seems that former Chaplain Gordon James Klingenschmitt, who claims to have been dismissed from the Navy for praying in the name of Jesus, is making a career now of being persecuted. The story is being kept alive. I was alerted to the current edition through my Breaking Christian News e-mail alert, a source that often provides me with valuable, positive news, but in this case refers me to the WorldNetDaily which appears to be a bit apoplectic.

WND said:

A chaplain who was dismissed from the U.S. Navy when he refused to following orders to make his prayers “nonsectarian” and remove the name of Jesus from them now has been commissioned by the governor of Kentucky as an honorary “Kentucky Colonel.

But CNN reported:

In September a military jury found Lt. Gordon Klingenschmitt had disobeyed a superior officer’s order not to wear his uniform to a political protest at the White House in March 2006.

Ah, he was not dismissed for praying in Jesus name, but for disobeying a lawful order. Interesting difference. The Kentucky legislature should be ashamed of themselves for commending an officer for disobeying orders. Kentucky’s governor should be ashamed of himself for giving such a person an award for courage.

Since I have commented on the issue before, I’m not going to go through the details of the original problem about prayer. Suffice it to repeat here that Klingenschmitt’s view on this differs substantially from that of others, including other Christian chaplains.