Monday, May 31, 2010

O Captain! My Captain!

Today is when Americans honor their war dead. At one time, the 30th of May was known as "Decoration Day." Citizens would decorate the graves of the fallen with wreaths or flowers. In more recent years, what is now known as “Memorial Day” is celebrated on the last Monday of May.

A growing number of Americans are weary of the cost, that of maintaining freedom not only here, but abroad. Some call it the cost of empire, others a gratuitous exercise in wielding influence. All may wonder about the men and women themselves, what it means to them.

In the science-fiction television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, the fifteenth episode of the third season is entitled "Yesterday's Enterprise." The crew of the Enterprise must decide whether to send a ship of the same name from an earlier time period, back through a temporal rift and certain death, in order to restore balance to the time line. In the briefing room before the decision, an argument ensues. In the clip linked below, it appears at about 6:00.

RIKER: With all due respect, sir, you'd be asking one hundred twenty-five people to die a meaningless death.

DATA: Not necessarily meaningless, Commander. The Klingons regard honor above all else. If the crew of the Enterprise-C had died fighting for the survival of the Klingon outpost, it would be considered a meaningful act of honor by the Klingon empire.

PICARD: Even their deaths could have prevented this war.

Today, our President cannot stop apologizing for our country's prior actions. This was not always how our Nation's leaders have handled it.

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Dean Rusk, Secretary of State under President John Kennedy, was in France in the early 60's when French leader Charles DeGaulle decided to pull out of NATO. DeGaulle said he wanted all US military out of France as soon as possible.

Rusk responded "does that include those who are buried here?"

DeGualle did not respond.

In the UK, during a large conference, General Colin Powell was asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury if our plans for Iraq were just an example of empire building by George Bush.

He answered by saying, "Over the years, the United States has sent many of its fine young men and women into great peril to fight for freedom beyond our borders. The only amount of land we have ever asked for in return is enough to bury those that did not return."

The Archbishop did not respond. How could he? His Immenseness neglected a fact of history, of how conquering nations generally extend their welcome by continuing mistreatment of those conquered. How do America's own occupational forces behave? There are many ways to answer that. We'll come to ours shortly.

There was a conference in France where a number of international engineers were taking part, including French and American. During a break, one of the French engineers came back into the room saying, "Have you heard the latest dumb stunt Bush has done? He has sent an aircraft carrier to Indonesia to help the tsunami victims. What does he intended to do, bomb them?"

A Boeing engineer stood up and replied quietly: "Our carriers have three hospitals on board that can treat several hundred people; they are nuclear powered and can supply emergency electrical power to shore facilities; they have three cafeterias with the capacity to feed 3,000 people three meals a day, they can produce several thousand gallons of fresh water from sea water each day, and they carry half a dozen helicopters for use in transporting victims and injured to and from their flight deck. We have eleven such ships; how many does France have?"

Has this ever been the posture of a conqueror?

A US Navy Admiral was attending a naval conference that included Admirals from the American, British, Canadian, Australian, and French navies. At a cocktail reception, he found himself standing with a large group of officers that included personnel from most of those countries.

Everyone was chatting away in English as they sipped their drinks but a French admiral suddenly complained that, whereas Europeans learn many languages, Americans learn only English. He then asked, "Why is it that we always have to speak English in these conferences rather than speaking French?"

Without hesitating, the American Admiral replied, "Maybe it's because the Brits, Canadians, Aussie's and Americans arranged it so you wouldn't have to speak German."

But the most remarkable story we can provide here, is the one of Robert Whiting, an elderly gentleman of 83 when he arrived in Paris by plane. At French Customs, he took a few minutes to locate his passport in his carry on.

"You have been to France before, monsieur?" the customs officer asked sarcastically.

Mr Whiting admitted that he had.

"Then you should know enough to have your passport ready."

The American said, "The last time I was here, I didn't have to show it."

"Impossible." The Frenchman became indignant. "Americans always have to show your passports on arrival in France!"

The American senior gave the Frenchman a long hard look. Then he quietly explained, "Well, when I came ashore at Omaha Beach on D-Day in 1944 to help liberate this country, I couldn't find a single Frenchmen to show a passport to."

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Still, there are those who may ask themselves, what is America doing for nations like Afghanistan, other than securing her own interests in someone else's back yard?

Last month, the Scout Commissioners for my district received an appeal from a United States Army Captain and civil affairs officer serving in Jalalabad, a small city near the eastern border of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is no joke. It's a difficult place with unfathomable problems. Rebuilding this country also has to take into consideration her children. Education is the first step and children are going to school in droves. Children's programs are another step in the process. I know if there had been a viable Scout program here, the Taliban would have been minimalized before they could have taken hold. But they are a huge problem ... These kids need Scout Handbooks. With the new edition there must be truckloads of out-of-date handbooks. We do not need new books ... Believe me, these boys have nothing. Someone sent me 8 used neckerchiefs and I had a ceremony this past Saturday and gave each of the patrols leaders a neckerchief. I felt like the Wizard of Oz awarding Courage and Heart and those boys could not have been more proud. The rest of the Troop could not have been more envious. There are over 120 of them now.

Scouting was first introduced to Afghanistan in 1931. The national association was dissolved in 1946, but re-established in 1956. When the Soviets invaded in 1978, Scouting was outlawed. The government's Ministry of Education, which traditionally oversees such programs, attempted to begin anew in 2002, and attempts to keep it going over the last decade have been precarious. Even with the assistance of American and Canadian personnel, the World Organization of the Scout Movement revoked its endorsement last year.

I was called upon to assist the Captain. He needed help from Afghans with Scouting experience, any headquarters that could be established in the capital city of Kabul, as well as other military personnel with experience in assistance. I found a Lieutenant Colonel from the Canadian Forces, and put him in touch with our Captain. Meanwhile, other Scouters donated literature and equipment, and several of us pooled funds to purchase over one hundred copies of the previous edition of the BSA Handbook still in supply. (Sending used copies was difficult, as the boys use them to maintain a record of advancement.)

Today we received a communique from our Captain, which included a slide presentation of his progress.

Senior Patrol Leader (SPL) and Patrol Leaders (PL) conducted the Patrol Leader Council (PLC) meeting to plan and organize for their execution of the Troop meeting. US Boy Scout handbooks shipped from home were issued to the boy leaders. ... The SPL and PLs led the Troop in the review of the square knot and sheet bend and taught the Troop the two half-hitches and taut-line knots. The Scouts were introduced to basic first aid with a lesson in how to treat bleeding using a dressing, bandage, and a square knot. The lessons are based upon this teaching principle tell-show-do and all Scouts teach Scout and all participate in the practical exercises. ... The Troop was introduced to the [General Secretary of the Ministry of Education] ... and we look forward to developing a Provincial Scout Council over the next year.

As the BSA has been involved for much of the year in centennial activities, including a national jamboree, resources for official efforts have been diverted. In a sense, our local organization was "going rogue," which is not the stuff for which accolades are ordinarily bestowed. But we will know better. So will the Captain.

And hundreds of boys in a far-away land will know, that America is not only a land of opportunity, but of generosity, of freedom, and that these are among the things worth dying for. Those of you who ever saw the movie "Charlie Wilson's War," and remember how it ended, will understand why I took the lead with this, and why I was prepared to do more, much more.

This effort was worth it for our countrymen overseas, and for Scouting's centennial here at home.

God bless America. HOO-rah.

1 comment:

Bob said...

I'ts funny you titled this post "O Captain My Captain!" from Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, the quintessential American poet, a certified homosexual. (nothing wrong with that at all.)