Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Morality - Or To Have And Have Not

As a small child my Grandmother often said to me, "remember, for every good you do in this world you receive a good back and for every bad you do you receive a bad back". These certainly were not the words of a great philosopher or even of a country preacher but they were the words of a Grandmother explaining to a small child that you should do good in the world and not bad. The interesting thing is that even as a small child of 4, 5, or 6 I fully and completely understood what these words meant. It wasn't Christian, it wasn't Muslim, it wasn't Hindu or Jewish and it wasn't Agnostic. It was just Grandma guiding a small child down the right path. It was simple morality. It was simple right and wrong. Do good. Don't do bad.

Many years later when I joined the United States Army my Drill Sergeant (Not to be confused with my Grandmother.) gave me something called the "Code of the U.S. Fighting Force" as well as a "Geneva Conventions Card". The first was a guide to how a soldier should conduct himself or herself if a Prisoner of War. The second was a card outlining the Geneva Conventions on how a soldier should treat a Prisoner of War and how a soldier should expect to be treated as a Prisoner of War. To me, now a young man, these documents made perfect sense. They said do good don't do bad.

Today I am an old soldier having enjoyed a long military career. When I look back on that career and all of the wonderful, good, and great soldiers I served for and with I am a proud but not prideful man. We served in peace and we served in war. We served in the hell holes of the world and the paradises of the world but we, to a soldier, always struggled to do good and not do bad. I am proud to say that every one of those soldiers struggled to always do the right thing because that was who we were and what we had been taught. We knew what our Grandma and Drill Sergeant had said. It was what our parents and grandparents and teachers and ministers and yes even drill sergeants taught us. In other words, we, to a soldier, fulfilled our oath to the constitution of the United States of America.

Today as I listen to the rhetoric and reporting on "torture memo's" I find myself heart sick, embarrassed and ashamed beyond words. I am astounded that the products of the greatest generation have descended to these depths of depravity. That we have elected officials and officers sworn to uphold the constitution and laws of this nation who could instigate such atrocities on other human beings.

As a soldier this gives me great pause to think and to also question. For what did we serve and fight and die. Was it so that a group of people, though duly elected and appointed, could take the constitution for which they took and oath to support and defend and use it for toilet paper. Did we fight and die so that they could take the laws of this nation and twist and torture them into something that we the citizens can hardly recognize.

I hear it so often said that we are a "Christian" nation and that we are a nation of laws and of high morals and that we are the "leader of the free world". I must now ask myself how can any of that be? Where in any bible does it say that you should go forth and torture? Where in any law is it written that it is legal to commit "Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment"? Since when does this nation lower itself to the level of committing the self same acts as those committed on us by common terrorist? At what point do we move from "outrages upon personal dignity" to beheading on television.

As a soldier and a citizen I demand that those who instigated and perpetuated the torture of any person be held accountable and that they be held accountable regardless of what job or position they held or are holding. As a soldier and a citizen I demand that my elected representatives take the necessary steps to investigate and bring to justice those who are responsible for these acts. We are indeed a nation of laws and a nation which aspires to set the example and as such we must go to whatever lengths necessary to insure that justice is done. How far is the distance from detainee to citizen? It's not about politics. It's about the Constitution. It's about justice. It's about America. It's about Morality.

Those Are The Sergeant Major's Thoughts On That.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Question Of Moral Courage - Or I Want Truth And Not Spin

Each day I read through my newspaper and online news sites and one thing seems to always stick out in my mind and that is that the shrillest voices are those on the extreme right followed at a somewhat distant second by those on the extreme left. I use the term shrillest because those seem to be the voices that grab the headlines day in and day out and take up the most space. The following are some of my thoughts on these shrill voices and sometimes not so shrill voices.

Growing up as a young boy when radio was still in it's heyday and television was beginning to make its serge into the American living room I remember sitting around a radio and later the television and listening and watching with my parents and grand parents. It was always a family time that I very much enjoyed. After the programs ended we would often have lengthy conversations about what we'd heard or seen. As a child I not only listened to the radio shows that I loved like The Shadow and The Lone Ranger and later watched like the Life of Riley and Ozzie and Harriet but I also listened to and watched news programs. Yes even back then I liked to listen to and watch the news. You remember the broadcasters like Walter Winchell, Edmund R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite or maybe Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. But my point is that we would listen and watch as a family and then talk about what was reported to us.

When comparing the news programs I listened to and watched back then with today's "shows" I immediately recognize that back then we didn't get nearly as much news but we got what I think was "real" news. Looking back on those programs it seems to be that they were filled with much more real and factual information and much less "opinion" or "slant" or "take" or the infamous "spin". Sure there were smut sheets and rag news papers and yes some of the reporters would sometimes try very hard to put color in their language but then I think it was because with the radio you couldn't see it and with the early television it was black and white and they didn't "tape" the news so the reporters put more effort into describing the events and describing them accurately. It just seems to me that back in the day you knew much more readily the difference between the smut and the news. Today this is no longer true. Even the "big" three networks no longer stick to just reporting the news. It has become apparent that they have become more interested in sensationalizing and creating entertainment to gain eyeballs than in "reporting" the news. The big networks and cable outfits are successfully blurring the line to the point where the average citizen can hardly tell the reporting from the opinion. It seems it is no longer about presenting news facts to the reader, listener, or watcher but more about sensationalizing, entertaining, and converting or changing the mind of the individual.

It's my thought that the citizens of this country are no longer allowed to read, hear, or watch the news and come to their own conclusions but must be proselytized. They are no longer left to make their own decisions but are told if they don't believe this or don't think that then they must be unpatriotic, weak, soft, or they don't believe in God, or are not so intelligent as everyone else.

I believe it is apparent that during the buildup and invasion of Iraq the media went after the sensational story and failed miserably to dig and report facts. The results have been painfully and disastrously evident every since. Today the media is once again embarking on that same path. They cannot simply dig for the facts and report on the rescue of the Captain of a pirated ship but they have to make it a test of a new President. It can't be simply reporting on the facts of the G20 summit it's got to be sensationalized and made to look like the Presidential debut and a test of the President as a diplomat and the President is pandering to the French or kowtowing to a communist dictator or accepting gifts from enemies of the country. These failures to conduct proper investigation and reporting on the part of "news organizations" and "news and cable networks" is in my mind unconscionable and shows an absolute lack of moral courage. Have the courage to tell us why the President went there and not conjure up mystical reasons. What were his stated goals and how did he do in achieving those goals? Was his purpose to open up a line of dialogue or to sign a treaty? There's a big difference.

I think most Americans are quite capable of listening to and watching real news programs and coming to appropriate conclusions. For instance, I might say that no, the action at sea was not a test of the President. It was a piracy incident that was taken care of appropriately by the United States government (paid for by your welcomed tax dollars). Yes the President had to make some decisions which he did and yes some military personnel had to do their jobs and they did and yes thank God the Captain and his crew were brought home safe but, it was not a test. It was real life and everyone involved did their jobs. That's all it was. Will there be more piracy incidents, yes. Will the President have to make decisions and the military carry them out, yes. That's all there is to it. Will it, over time, develop into a pattern and then we will see the whole picture that is the foreign policy of this President and this nation, yes but let's just report the facts and then let the American people make up their own minds.

You might ask why the title of this post is "A Question Of Moral Courage"? That is because I believe that if you have News in your name it is a question of moral courage, or lack there of, on the part of the news media to report the just the facts. To dig and know all of the facts and present them to the citizens of this nation as simple facts for them to draw their own conclusions. Show us pictures, tell us what happened and who said what. That's why we're watching.

If you're not a real news organization then label yourself what you really are "entertainment" just like Jon Stewart or Steven Colbert. It's my thought that the difference between Stewart and Colbert and the Fox "News" organization and its ilk is that when Colbert and Stewart tell their rare comedic lie they tell you they are lying and that's at least honest. They don't pretend to be real news organizations.

So my bottom line is this. If you are just a 7 day a week hard copy print blog or a 24/7 broadcast TV blog then have the moral courage to admit it and then those who are interested in being converted can read or tune you in. Otherwise take the News out of your name because your not.

Those Are The Sergeant Major's Thoughts on That.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Civil Discourse, Real Civil Discourse

Let me say at the outset that I begrudge no citizen their constitutional right to protest. After all, the documents that our founding fathers drafted when establishing this great nation guarantee every American citizen that right but I also have a right to a few observations and the following few paragraphs are those observations on the sad mockery that was yesterdays protests.

I consider myself to be an average American. I grew up in the south in the 1940's, 50's, and 60's and I would add, in a fairly poor family. The first few houses we lived in were situated on dirt roads which received the occasional spray of tar to keep down the dust as well as the occasional pest control truck passing to fog for disease bearing insects. The tar got tracked all over everything and it's a wonder all of our children weren't born with some defect as a result of us breathing in the fumes. When living within the city we even had city water and sewage provided at a fairly reasonable price and we were always lucky enough to have electricity even though it came in on an overhead wire. I knew many rural residents and neighbors who didn't have electricity and still used oil lamps and out houses. Anyone remember the TVA and the other projects to bring electricity to rural America. When we traveled a long distance it was on very narrow two lane roads that were sometimes paved and sometimes not. There were no interstate highways. A trip from Ocala to Moultrie could take nearly a whole day. I think what was most frightening was that we had no such thing as medical insurance so the vast majority of Americans simply didn't go to the doctor because they couldn't afford to and all dreaded a serious illness because it meant probable bankruptcy. I tell you this because today, I and indeed most of the collective we in this country, live a very different life from that of 60 or 50 or even 40 years ago.

Today I would venture to say that most Americans can't imagine living on a dirt road and though in the south they still spray for disease bearing insects I seldom if ever hear or notice because it's just a normal fact of life. How many other things have become just a normal fact of life. It's become a normal fact of life that we have a standing Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard to fight our wars and protect our international interest. It's become a normal fact of life that we have competent well equipped police forces. It's become a normal fact of life that we have Fire Departments and Paramedics to respond to our home fires and accidents and medical emergencies. It's become a normal fact of life that we have health departments to protect the public health. It's become a normal fact of life that we have Homeland Security along with the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Border Patrol. It's become a fact of life that we have an incredible network of roads and highways and interstate highways that take us where we want to go in minutes if not hours and certainly not days. And we virtually all have access to electricity, water, communications and sewage treatment. I think I need not go on with this nearly endless list of services that our city, county, state, and federal government provides for our taxes but there are one or two other services I do not want to pass. Those are Social Security and Medicare. My great grand parents, like most Americans of their time didn't have either of those and because of that they mostly died prematurely and often in abject poverty or living with their children if they were lucky and the children could house and feed them. If not they went to a poor house.

It is my thought that the reason these things and many others don't stand out in our minds is because they have become part of the American landscape and we have grown accustom to them and the many, many other services that our "government" provides to the citizens of this great nation in return for our taxes. This brings me to a few final thoughts on the protest of yesterday.

First I believe the Tea Party idea was grossly misguided for one simple reason. The Boston Tea Party was about taxation without representation. Today in the United States of America that is simply not an issue. Every citizen of this great nation has a vote and a representative in city, county, state, and federal government. Second, as far as higher taxes are concerned I can only say that after President Obama came into office and just a few weeks ago my paycheck went up because he and the Democratic Congress passed a law reducing 95% of all Americans taxes.

My third point is this. I believe it is past time for real civil discourse in this country. It seems to me that the far right knows only how to shout down people using catch phrases that grab simplistic headlines. It's time for that shouting and the sound bites to stop. It's time to talk about the real issues facing this nation and all their complexities and look for real solutions that benefit the nation as a whole. I served and defended my country for 27 years in every hell hole on the planet. I didn't serve part of my country I served all of my country, white, black, red, and yellow, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian and Independent, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Agnostic and Hindu, straight and gay, naturalized and native born and everyone in between. I did this without question because I swore and oath to support and defend the constitution of the United States. Our political leaders took that very same oath and I think it's time they started living up to it.

Those Are The Sergeant Majors Thoughts On That.