Thanks to Those Who Serve
(I’m Looking at You, Harry)

Among the many things I’m thankful for on this Thanksgiving Day, I’m grateful for the 1 percent.

No, not the targets of misguided OWS derision — I’m  talking about the 1 percent of Americans who wear the uniforms of the United States Armed Forces.

In particular, I’m thankful for one newly-promoted (yesterday!) Petty Officer Second Class, Harry Kirk Petersen, second from the right.  (I’d be thankful for a better picture from the ranking ceremony, too — I ‘shopped it as well as I could, but I suspect it’s a cell-phone-from-the-balcony shot, and it’s downloaded from Facebook.)

Harry is now officially known as ABE2 Petersen (AW/SW).  Unpacking that leads to Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) Second Class (Air Warfare/Surface Warfare).  Proud though I am of my son, there is a tiny part of me that wishes he were in the Army — then I could just call him “Sarge”.  As a Third Class Petty Officer before yesterday, he was the equivalent of a Corporal.

ABEs wear anchors with wings

Boatswain’s Mate“, a generalist designation for a deck sailor, is one of the oldest ratings in the United States Navy, dating from the Revolutionary War.  “Aviation Boatswain’s Mate” is a more recent and more specialized field, designating the people who launch and recover planes on an aircraft carrier.  To make things even more confusing, Aviation Boatswain’s Mates are subcategorized as (Equipment), (Handling) or (Fuels).  (AW/SW) means he has qualifications related to both air warfare and surface warfare.

ABEs like Harry are responsible for maintaining and operating the catapults, arresting gear, and other highly sophisticated equipment used to launch and recover planes.  The pilots themselves are officers, but they take direction from Aviation Boatswain’s Mates when preparing for takeoff.  ABEs wear green shirts on deck (ABHs wear yellow, ABFs purple).

U.S.S. Nimitz

Harry is assigned to the “waist cat” crew of the U.S.S. Nimitz, the lead ship of the Nimitz-class carriers, which include 10 of the 11 active aircraft carriers in the American fleet.  The waist catapult (as opposed to the bow catapult) launches planes diagonally off of the port side of the ship.

The Nimitz is a multi-billion-dollar, nuclear-powered floating city of 5,000, with its own zip code (96620) and five dentists onboard when under way.

It was commissioned in 1975, 13 years before Harry was born, and currently is in dry dock in Bremerton, Washington, across the Puget Sound from Seattle.   Harry has been deployed twice on six-month “cruises” to the Indian Ocean in support of the war in Afghanistan, once on the Nimitz and once on temporary deployment with the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan.  On the Reagan he participated in relief efforts after the tsunami devastated Japan.

He’s in one of the hardest-working ratings in the Navy — while under way, he routinely works 14-hour days or more.  Life on shore is less frenetic.  The Nimitz will get under way again for testing purposes early next year.

Harry delights in telling family and friends that he has the most dangerous job in the Navy, other than Navy SEALs.  But while a suicide bomber killed 17 American sailors on the U.S.S. Cole when it was moored in a Yemeni port in 2000, at least the jihadis don’t have a navy or air force, and carriers are surrounded and protected by other ships while at sea.  I’m proud of him for serving, and as a parent I’m grateful that he’s not carrying a rifle in Kandahar.   The riflemen and their families are also in my prayers, today and every day.

Congratulations, Sarge, and Happy Thanksgiving.

(Photos from Facebook and Wikipedia)

Nice to See an Oscar for a Largely Pro-U.S. War Movie

College buddy Tom Streithorst is out with an article in the UK’s Prospect Magazine titled “Why The Hurt Locker shouldn’t have won,” based on Tom’s extensive experience as a journalist embedded with U.S. forces in Iraq.  Tom’s thesis is that although some aspects of the movie are outstanding, it is marred by an unrealistic portrayal of the troops.

Three scenes are absolutely wrong. In one, Sergeant James escapes his base and roams Baghdad by himself, lost and confused, looking for an Iraqi he suspects of killing a boy. No, Americans never leave the base by themselves. In the second, the soldiers wander around their base, drunk out of their minds. One of the exceptional features of the Iraq war is it is probably the first war ever fought without alcohol or drugs. And, in the last and worst, our boys have their guns aimed at an Iraqi they suspect to be a car bomber. Despite his repeatedly not obeying their orders to back up, they don’t shoot him, even though they themselves might die.

Tom left out the scene where the one sergeant sucker-punches cowboy Staff Sergeant James — his superior — after the cowboy took off his headphones.  And when the sniper team waited hours for a shot at the enemy sniper in the cinderblock pillbox, rather than calling in air support in a setting where there was no danger of civilian casualties.  I also thought the Iraqi with the time bomb locked to his body would have been dropped when he disregarded translated orders to stop walking toward the troops.

But while I agree with Tom that the bizarre roaming-around-Baghdad scene is a serious flaw, the rest of it I can chalk up to creative license.  After years of reading about tediously polemical anti-war movies set in Iraq — all of them box-office duds — I’m just glad that the first Iraq movie to gain critical acclaim avoids taking cheap political shots.  Sergeant James is reckless to the point of pathology, but he’s clearly a Good Guy.

My acid test for the quality of a movie is how much of it I remember later.  There are probably 20 scenes in Schindler’s List that I can replay in my mind after seeing the movie once, in 1993.  Hurt Locker is a lesser film, but I’ll remember James’s heart-wrenching apologies to the walking Iraqi time bomb he couldn’t save.  I also saw Avatar, the other major Best Picture contender, and while it was enjoyable enough, the main thing I remember is fiddling with the 3-D glasses.

(Photo: Everett/Rex)

Why The Hurt Locker shouldn’t have won

Not Quite the Clarion Call I Had in Mind, But…

White House photo of the announcement at West Point

… I like the fact that Obama said he would expedite the deployment of the additional troops to Afghanistan.

I went to bed annoyed about the wishy-washyness of what David Ignatius has labeled the “surge, then leave” strategy — why commit to a July 2011 date to begin drawing down the troops?  The administration can’t even predict how many Americans will accept free money to buy a new car. What makes them think  they can predict that the country will be stable enough to start leaving in 18 months — in a situation where the enemy gets a vote?

But this morning I remembered that with Guantanamo, Obama has already proven his ability to abandon a silly deadline.  Once the troops are deployed, the boots on the ground will be real.  The withdrawal date will be a goal.

It’s Mr. Obama’s war now.

(White House photo of the announcement at West Point)

Dumbest Headline of the Day, as the Afghanistan Speech Looms



Obama Faces Risk of Wartime Presidency” — so reads the headline on a CNN commentary by Princeton professor Julian Zelizer.  I have no quarrel with most of it — the professor provides a useful and balanced review of how “war sucks the political oxygen out of almost any presidency,” citing LBJ and the Great Society, Truman’s long-forgotten domestic agenda, et cetera.  But the headline…

Authors (except for bloggers!) normally don’t get to write their own headlines, and I was inclined to cut the good professor some slack, but a variation of the jaw-dropping headline is in his text as well.  With his anticipated decision to send more troops to Afghanistan, Zelizer writes, “Obama inches closer to becoming a wartime president.”

Gracious.  At the risk of belaboring the gob-smackingly obvious, Mr. Obama became a wartime president on January 20.  If you don’t want to be a wartime president, don’t run for the office while America is prosecuting an Iraq WAR, an Afghanistan WAR, and a broader Global WAR on Terrorism (although they seem to have redefined that one out of existence).

The true risk, and the reason some of us favored John McCain for the role of Commander-in-Chief, is that Obama and many Democrats seem intent on convincing us that America is NOT at war.  This is why the indefensible decision to treat Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as a criminal, rather than as an enemy, is so appalling.

I’ll necessarily be away from the television tonight when the president lays out his plan for Afghanistan, but I’m setting the DVR to record, and I suspect I’ll watch it before my head hits the pillow tonight.  Earlier in his term, President Obama showed at least an occasional ability to put pragmatism ahead of partisanship when it comes to foreign policy.  I’m clinging to the hope that he will begin to do so again tonight, regarding the conflict he rightly called “a war of necessity.”

I’m not so much worried about the number of troops.  If Obama authorizes 30,000 instead of the 40,000 that his hand-picked general requested, I don’t see that as a half measure — it’s quite a bit more than half.  What I’m looking for tonight is a sense of commitment to victory.

Step up tonight, Mr. President.  The troops are counting on you.  America is counting on you.


Support the War, Mr. President — It’s Personal

Harry on his way to the Nimitz from my back yard in New Jersey.  He subsequently got his third green stripe.

Harry on his way to the Nimitz from my back yard in New Jersey. He subsequently got his third green stripe.

Update: Welcome, readers from Navy For Moms (in the comments),  Maplewood Patch and Maplewoodian.  (I love the Internets!)

Updated update: Welcome, New York Times readers! It’s a Maplewood BlogolopolisTM trifecta!

Candidate Obama called Afghanistan “the war we need to win.”  Just last week, President Obama vowed to “finish the job.”  In a prime-time speech on Tuesday evening, he intends to announce his plans for prosecuting the war, including whether he will supply the 40,000 additional troops requested by his hand-picked general, Stanley McChrystal.

Prominent conservatives, pundits, and even a key foreign ally have all accused Obama of “dithering” over his decision, and thereby weakening troop morale and public support for the war.  I share these frustrations to some degree, but I think it is still possible to turn the situation around with decisive leadership.  The big question is whether such leadership will occur.

I’ve been a continuous supporter of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq from the beginning, and now I’ve got a personal reason. Last month, my son Harry reported for duty on the USS Nimitz (CVN 68), currently somewhere in the Indian Ocean in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.  (Obviously, Harry is not responsible for his father’s opinions about his commander in chief.)

The Nimitz, the oldest of America’s 10 Nimitz-class nuclear powered aircraft carriers, has been in service since 1968, making it about 20 years older than Harry.  With a complement of more than 4,000, it’s a small floating city — the carrier’s welcome brochure notes that the Nimitz features a dental facility with five dentists (which seems like a lot, given the population).  When he gets off duty, Harry usually goes to the gym or the library, where he can send emails from his military account.


Aviation Boatswain's Mate insignia

Harry, currently an E-3 Airman, is working toward promotion to petty officer as an Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) — the folks who operate and maintain the catapults, arresting gear and other mission-critical equipment, enabling the aircraft to take off and land successfully.  He works long hours, but likes the work and the people around him.

He’s already suffered his first “war wound” — two stitches on the top of his head for a gash caused when he stood up too quickly while he was, I kid you not, swabbing the deck.  Joking aside, there are real dangers involved in tending the powerful launching and recovery equipment, but I’m grateful that I don’t have to worry much about an enemy attack.

President Obama, the brave men and women of the United States armed forces are looking to see if you are committed to victory in Afghanistan.  On Tuesday evening, I hope you’ll start showing them that you are.

Harry, be safe, and thank you for your service.


A Good Choice to Head the Fort Hood Investigation

Carter_F._Ham_low-resKudos to the Army for appointing General Carter Ham to lead the investigation into the Fort Hood massacre.  Here’s why I like it, from the Wall Street Journal:

Gen. Ham, who commands U.S. Army Europe, is a decorated four-star general with a personal connection to mental health: Almost alone among his peers, the officer has spoken publicly about his own struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder after he returned from Iraq in 2005.

I remember reading about General Ham in USA Today a year ago when the news first came out that he and another general had sought counseling to help them deal with PTSD.  The competition in the upper levels of the military is fierce, and careers can be ruined or derailed over very minor weaknesses or shortcomings.  The article pointed out that by being candid about his own mental health issues, the general hoped to reduce some of the stigma that often deters military personnel from seeking psychological help.

I thought his candor was a welcome development, but that it still might be harder for a junior officer or enlisted person to seek help than it would be for a general.  I also wondered whether Ham’s career would suffer after making his revelation.

Apparently not — he was already a four-star general when the story came out, but the timeline in his Wikipedia listing indicates he was a one-star when his traumatic event occurred (a suicide bomber killed 22 people in Iraq, including 14 troops under his command).  The timeline isn’t precisely clear from the USA Today article, but it appears he was “only” a two-star when he sought help.  So after seeking help he was promoted twice and put in charge of U.S. Army Europe — and now he’s been named to an important and highly public role, investigating the Fort Hood massacre.

Ham seems ideally suited to achieve a delicate balance in the Fort Hood inquiry.  He can be sensitive to whatever factors may have prompted Major Hasan’s rampage, while still serving as a walking reminder that even people with mental health issues can be, and need to be, responsible for their own actions.

People in my life have grappled with mental health problems.  I know that mental illness often can be treated — but only if the individual has the courage to seek help.  I salute General Ham for his bravery and his service.

The Gun Wasn’t Smoking Until Hasan Pulled the Trigger

Ft_Hood copy

AP photo of a war zone in Texas

As more information emerges about jihadi-Major Nidal Hasan, I’m reconsidering my declaration that it’s “silly” to debate “whether Hasan’s rampage could have been prevented if authorities had paid more attention to warning signs.”  Based on reports since I posted Sunday (actually late Saturday night), I might now refrain from using the word “silly.”

But I still believe it’s unrealistic to think atrocities can be prevented by flawless foresight based on evidence that seems screamingly significant in hindsight.

Here is the passage from Jenifer Rubin (a hard-working blogger with whom I frequently agree on other matters) that sparked my previous post:

The Post’s own report tells us:

Six months ago, investigators came across Internet postings, allegedly by Hasan, that indicated sympathy for suicide bombers and empathized with the plight of Muslim civilians killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a federal official briefed on the situation. The official, and another source, said investigators never confirmed whether Hasan was the author of the postings and did not pursue the matter.

Didn’t pursue the matter?

And then we learn: “Friends and acquaintances said Hasan had been increasingly agitated over the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he reportedly said the U.S. ‘war on terror’ was a ‘war on Muslims.’ Officials have seized Hasan’s computer to determine his role in the blog posts and other writings.” It seems he even had a PowerPoint presentation. (”Val Finnell, a classmate of Hasan’s at the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda a few years ago, recalled a presentation that ’started out with a semblance of a health issue but his PowerPoint turned into his view that the war was against Muslims. He brought that up throughout the year.”)

Listen, ignoring reality and feigning indifference to the views and behavior of Major Hasan is how we wound up with 13 dead and 30 wounded, right?

I have a confession to make.  Although I have no sympathy for suicide bombers, I do “empathize with the plight of Muslim civilians killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.”  Better lock me up.

Seriously, while everything in the passage above is clearly ominous now, there’s simply nothing there that would, in advance of the shootings, justify cashiering Hasan from the Army or putting him under physical surveillance as a potential jihadi.  And nothing short of those actions would have prevented the massacre.

Subsequent to my post, the London Telegraph reported:

Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the gunman who killed 13 at America’s Fort Hood military base, once gave a lecture to other doctors in which he said non-believers should be beheaded and have boiling oil poured down their throats.

Gulp. OK, if true, that’s a big fat warning sign.  But did any investigative authority know about these alleged statements before the shooting?  The Telegraph article doesn’t attribute the boiling-oil statement or put it in quotes, but the story appears to be based on discussions with Hasan’s former colleagues at Walter Reed.  Plenty of bloggers and pundits have cited this supposed statement, but I can’t find any independent reporting confirming it.

Here’s one thing the authorities did know before the shootings: Hasan carried out an extended email correspondence with “a radical cleric in Yemen who has criticized the United States for waging war against Muslims,” as the Washington Post and others report today. That comes closer than anything else I’ve seen to justifying complaints that Hasan’s rampage should have been prevented.  But it’s still not very close.  From the Post:

The FBI determined that the e-mails did not warrant an investigation, according to the law enforcement official. Investigators said Hasan’s e-mails were consistent with the topic of his academic research and involved some social chatter and religious discourse.

We can all fervently wish that the FBI had taken things further at the time.  But like any organization, the FBI has finite resources, and it doubtless spends a lot of time and energy gathering huge amounts of information, most of which ends up bearing no fruit. Any investigative agency must make decisions every day to refrain from pursuing this lead or that one.

I’m making only a limited argument here.  Despite admonitions that we should not “jump to conclusions” about Hasan’s motives, I’ve concluded that Hasan was a jihadi.  Certainly his movements and associations should now be examined in intense detail.  My point is just that while there may be comfort in the notion that the feds could have stopped Hasan, I don’t buy it, based on what has emerged to date. The various clues that now appear so ominous in the aggregate did not constitute a smoking gun when viewed individually a week ago.  It’s hard to protect against a lone gunman who is prepared to die.

Fort Hood Reminds Us That We Can’t Consistently Anticipate Evil

hasan2Two debates are under way regarding the monster who gunned down fellow soldiers at Fort Hood.  Both debates are silly, for different reasons.

The first debate is about whether the shooting spree constitutes “terrorism.” This issue comes up every time a Muslim commits a high-profile violent crime.  Just a week before Fort Hood, when a mosque leader was killed in Michigan in a gun battle with the FBI, authorities quickly declared that it was not “terrorist-related.”

The debate is silly because terrorism has become a meaningless word.  The term “Global War on Terrorism” is a politically correct euphemism that conflates the enemy with the enemy’s tactic. Through this misuse, the word “terrorism” has taken on more significance than it deserves.  It’s simply not useful to debate whether Nidal Malik Hasan is a terrorist. [Update: We should instead be debating whether he is a jihadi.]

It would be useful, of course, to determine whether he acted in concert with others.  So far it appears that he did not.

The second silly debate is about whether Hasan’s rampage could have been prevented if authorities had paid more attention to warning signs.  “One of the most obvious questions as investigations go forward is whether the FBI or military authorities missed an opportunity to prevent Maj. Hasan from acting,” said the Washington Post, citing internet postings expressing sympathy for suicide bombers and his opposition to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which he apparently considered a “war on Muslims.”

Hasan’s political beliefs are clearly significant in hindsight — but it’s absurd to think the Army somehow should have known he was dangerous.   Our society doesn’t take action against people for thinking wrong thoughts, or for giving voice to them. Nothing I’ve read about Hasan’s behavior comes close to justifying the kind of heightened scrutiny that would have been required to prevent his rampage.

And yet, some on the right insist otherwise. On Contentions, Jennifer Rubin writes, “Listen, ignoring reality and feigning indifference to the views and behavior of Major Hasan is how we wound up with 13 dead and 30 wounded, right?” Roger L. Simon takes the argument even further:

But that pathology of political correctness has now been laid bare before us. More than the two handguns, it was the murder weapon in that room at Fort Hood. Those thirteen innocent people are indeed PC deaths because it was PC that allowed Hasan to be there.

Please.  Political correctness didn’t kill anybody.  Hasan killed them.  The authorities certainly should make every effort to learn anything that might help them prevent a recurrence.  But they’ll never be able to eliminate the possibility of a lone gunman.

George Will Bails Out on Another War

George WillYou’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind; a journey into a wondrous land where left is right and hawk is dove.  Next stop… the George Will Zone.

Columnist George Will, whom I generally admire, seems intent on undermining America’s war effort.  He set the rightosphere atwitter this week with a column headlined “Time to Get Out of Afganistan,” becoming the first major conservative to advocate surrender in the one war President Obama has expressed interest in winning.

He’s making a habit of prematurely declaring defeat — he wrote “the surge has failed” in September 2007, just when it was starting to show tentative signs of success.

As an antidote to Will’s nay-saying, the Wall Street Journal today published a much more hopeful assessment from Michael O’Hanlon and Bruce Riedel, who note:

Democracies sometimes talk themselves out of keeping up the faith in tough situations, and we should avoid any such tendency towards defeatism, especially so early in the execution of the Obama administration’s new military/civilian/economic strategy, which combines stronger and more widespread counterinsurgency measures with increased nation-building efforts.

Rich Lowry has been good on this as well, taking issue with Will’s fantasy about fighting the war from offshore:

This counter-terrorism from afar is very dicey business. What would our sources of intelligence be if we don’t have a substantial presence on the ground? Remember: The further away you are, the better your intelligence has to be because you have a longer lead time until you can strike. This is why we kept hitting empty terrorist training camps with cruise missiles in the 1990s.

The strategy that so clearly has worked in Iraq deserves an opportunity to succeed in Afghanistan as well.  I hope that President Obama, who seemed to latch onto the Afghanistan war as a way of proving that he’s not a doctrinaire pacifist, can withstand increasing pressure from his left.  (George Will notwithstanding, I don’t think he’ll face a lot of pressure from the right.)

Obama Wins Battle to Defund F-22 — and I’m Glad


Just hours after celebrating a decline in “the administration’s ability to steamroll Congress,” I find myself celebrating a successful Obama veto threat.

With Senators crossing party lines in both directions, the Senate voted 50-48 today to strip $1.75 billion in funding for additional F-22 fighters from a military authorization bill.  Hawk though I am, I’m pleased by this, and this passage from the New York Times explains why:

Critics have long portrayed the F-22 as a cold war relic. The plane was designed in the late 1980s, when the Air Force envisioned buying up to 750 of the planes to dominate dogfights with Soviet jets.

The F-22 can perform tactical operations at higher altitudes than other fighters, and it can cruise at supersonic speeds without using telltale afterburners. With a stealthy skin that scatters radar detection signals, it was also meant to sneak in and destroy enemy surface-to-air missile defenses, clearing the way for bombers and other planes to follow.

But the F-22 has never been used in war, and in recent years, the Pentagon’s focus had shifted to the fights against Islamic insurgents. The Bush administration also tried to halt its production.

Proponents say more of the planes are needed as insurance for possible wars with countries like China and Iran.

I propose this rule of thumb: If President Obama and former President Bush both want to cancel a weapons program, the Congressional pork protectors should lose.

(Photo: Wikipedia)