Rants on relevant stuff by an old coot
LENOIR, N.C. – I try not to write on the weekends. Generally, I don’t. The problem with that, however, is that by Monday I have notes on various topics stuck all over and around my desk. So, I’m trying something new. Every Monday (more or less) I’ll be offering brief musings on a variety of relevant stuff. So, here we go …
Is Critical Thinking on Sabbatical at NPR?
In a story published today on NPR, “The American Dream is Harder to Find in Some Neighborhoods,” writer John Ydstie accepts as fact that the so-called American Dream is something to which we all aspire. In at least two places, he refers to the American Dream without any critical thought. In short, he has assumed that everyone knows what it is (probably, in a vague sense) and aspires to it (wrong!). He also quotes a source that doesn’t critically question the concept of the American Dream.
Maybe it’s because I write about the health care industry, public health and the environment so much that I always look for a root cause to any problem. I certainly do my best to not make assumptions. In this case, Mr. Ydstie has demonstrated that critical thinking is on sabbatical at NPR. If people are no longer able to aspire to the American Dream as reported in the article, perhaps it wasn’t a dream at all. Maybe it’s a nightmare.
I know what is implied with the term American Dream. It boils down to essentially working ourselves to death to stockpile toys and gadgets that we don’t need – and indeed interfere with our interaction with other people and the environment in which we live. That is not my dream. Mine is to live simply, consume only what I need, be self-sufficient, limit my ecological footprint, and live in harmony with others.
It seems to me that our sad state of affairs today – acrimony, incivility and mass shootings just to name a few – would have us at least questioning the root causes of these problems. If we were, we would quickly find that one of the root causes is our obsession with “achieving” the American Dream. As we all reach across the table for our share of the pie, we compete for power and we exclude the most vulnerable – always.
So, is it a dream or is it a nightmare? You will have to answer that for yourself, but NPR should at least be asking the question, as should all journalists. But, as usual, the artists are ahead of elected officials and the so-called “Fourth Estate.” Check out this music video, “American Dream,” by the Christian contemporary rock group, Casting Crowns. Notably, this song was released in 2003 on the group’s self-titled debut album. They got it – 15 years ago!
Trump Insults all Korean War Veterans with His Revolting New Love Affair with Kim Jong Un
Speaking in my home state of West Virginia in the northern panhandle city of Wheeling on Sept. 29, Trump said of North Korean dictator Kim Jun Un, “He wrote me beautiful letters and they’re great letters. We fell in love.”
I don’t know who disgusts me more – Trump or the West Virginians that fall for that line of crap. I suggest they all pay a visit to Charleston, the state capital, and visit the monument to fallen veterans from West Virginia in our 20th Century wars. Among the hundreds of names of those killed in Korea is my Uncle George. He was killed in a delaying action in the first days of the war – as were many West Virginians. You can read about him here.
What you won’t read in that article are the circumstances of my uncle’s death. I’ve never printed them out of respect for my father, who did not want to know the horror of how his brother met his end on the battlefield. Dad died three years ago, so here’s a brief account of my uncle’s murder at the hands of the North Koreans:
Lt. George M. Barrick was reported killed in the Chockiwon area of South Korea on July 12, 1950, while commanding an ammunition and pioneer weapons platoon of Headquarters Company, Third Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment. Decades later, R. E. Culbertson, a member of Barrick’s company, recalled that Lt. Wadie Roundtree, also a member of that company, stated that he had seen George lying beside the road. His head was bleeding, and he appeared mortally wounded. Although a prisoner and unable to stop, Lt. Roundtree was able to ask George if the North Koreans were responsible for his injuries. The reply was ‘yes.’ Culbertson later saw Barrick’s body in the same place and reported that he looked as though he had been run over by a tank.” (Source: West Virginia Division of Culture and History).
You say that was a long time ago? Yes, it was. However, we know the regime has not changed its human rights abuses.
North Korea is our enemy. At one time, every red-blooded Mountaineer knew that Communists were our enemies. So, I am stunned. I reckon many of my fellow West Virginians only understand Trumpese Twitter shorthand. So, here’s what you need to know: Communists Bad. Lovers of Communists are traitors. I think you can figure out the rest. Still, I have to ask, what happened to “Mountaineers Are Always Free”?
Lindsey Graham the Poster Child of GOP Hypocrisy
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.), said to Democrats during the Senate Judiciary confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh, “Y’all want power really bad.”
Good grief, Charlie Brown! That’s exactly what politics is all about, especially in a Republic where we get to choose our representatives. So of course, in a nation of 330 million people and nearly as many tribes, the stakes will always be high. So when one considers that the Republican Party refused to even have hearings for Merrick Garland, Graham’s words ring hollow, self-serving and of course, ironic. Sadly, that is today’s GOP (though Democrats don’t exactly have halos over their heads).
Easier is not Always Better
This little rant is minor in comparison to the other topics, but it is still a systemic problem in our nation, so its relevant. It is rooted (there’s that word again) in our dependence upon the internet. I am constantly refusing to bank or conduct business online. Why? Because billions of dollars have been stolen that way, not to mention personal data. And, I reckon because my writings upset a few people, attempts to hack into my email have occurred several times. In any event, an ongoing exchange with our auto insurer illustrates this conundrum. They want us to do everything online. I refuse. I hear the programmed response from what I think is a real person, but can’t say for sure: “But it’s easier.” I ask in return, “But is it better?” Dead silence.
“Just mail me the bill,” I conclude. “Well, OK, but that will increase your rates.” I didn’t ask the programmed person what immediately came to mind, “What the hell does me not using the internet have to do with my insurance rates?” The only legitimate reason for higher rates is because I’m a lousy driver, not stubborn.
But, such is the life of a curmudgeon. Talk to you again next Monday – but only if I feel like it.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2018.
The Republican Party must stop its deranged leader now
By Michael M. Barrick
United States President Donald Trump must be removed from office. On New Year’s Day, North Korean President Kim Jong Un declared that a “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Trump took the bait, or just threw a temper tantrum for all we know, and replied via a tweet, “Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
I must defer to people better trained in psychiatry to address the “bigger button” metaphor.
This I do know; we are living under the tyranny of a toddler.
Unfortunately, we’re not the only people stuck with a child in an adult’s chair. The whole world is because of our nuclear arsenal. Throw in another child in an adult’s chair – Kim Jong Un – and we have the perfect cocktail for all those nuclear explosions I practiced for during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
So, Vice President Pence – or somebody in the Cabinet with courage and clout – must lead the effort to remove President Donald Trump from office under Section 4 of the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. What they have to do is prove that Trump is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”
Check. His tweeted, taunting rantings clearly reveal a man incapable of handling the grave responsibilities of the office. Such behavior is not suitable from a leader in any workplace. I can see it from North Carolina. Certainly Pence and the Cabinet members can see it from where they genuflect.
The argument that Section 4 has never been used is a straw man. Let the lawyers figure out whether a 71-year-old man should be conducting foreign policy using a teenager’s platform that could start a war that would cause the deaths of millions of people.
The president has done enough. He has revealed – repeatedly – his cruelty and wickedness. His presidency threatens the life of every human on the planet. The GOP must mitigate the existential threat posed by Donald Trump.
So, we need to ask a couple of question of the Republican Party. Do you not care about even your own families, let alone all of civilization? And, as Boston attorney Joseph Welch asked of Senator Joe McCarthy regarding his Red Scare witch hunt of the early 1950s, “Have you no sense of decency?”
That is not all that Welch said though. According to the U.S. Senate website, McCarthy accused a lawyer on Welch’s staff of having ties to Communists. Welch responded, “Until this moment, senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.” He continued, “Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?”
The president has done enough. He has revealed – repeatedly – his cruelty and wickedness. His presidency threatens the life of every human on the planet. The GOP must mitigate the existential threat posed by Donald Trump. Is there a person of courage left in the GOP? Or shall we all die under the tyranny of a toddler tyrant?
© Michael M. Barrick, 2018
Mattis suggests that troops read sobering Korean War history
By Michael M. Barrick
FORT BRAGG, N.C. – When U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis recently advised soldiers to read, “This Kind of War: A Study in Unpreparedness” by T. H. Fehrenbach, I immediately walked over to a book shelf and grabbed my copy of it. It is just one of many books I own and have read about the Korean War, but I knew instantly why Mattis recommended it to the troops. Fehrenbach’s book is the ultimate After Action Review (AAR) of the Korean War.
The diplomatic, political and military failures are mercilessly explored. So are the successes. However, based on other remarks that Mattis made at Ft. Bragg, I believe he was warning the troops to study about the dangers of unpreparedness.
I am particularly interested in the Korean War because my uncle died there on 12 July 1950, six years before I was born. However, to people who knew him, such as my dad and grandmother, he remained very much alive in their memories. So, his life narrative was an integral part of our family history.
His name was George M. Barrick Jr. I have written about him before, here. He was among “ … the majority (that) had fought and died” (Fehrenbach, p. 87) in the early days of July, 1950. His death, recorded in detail by a surviving companion, was horrid. Fehrenbach’s version is sanitized; “And on the retaken ground Jensen found six American soldiers with their hands tied behind their backs, shot in the head” (p. 87). In short, it was routine for POWs, especially officers, to be executed by the North Koreans.
In Korea, Americans had to fight, not a popular, righteous war, but to send men to die on a bloody checkerboard, with hard heads and without exalted motivations, in the hope of preserving the kind of world order Americans desired.” – T. R. Fehrenbach
With Mattis doing his duty – preparing soldiers for war with North Korea as diplomatic options dwindle – his advice is good for all Americans: pick up a copy of Fehrenbach’s book. Be prepared though. He pulls no punches. On p. 84, in summarizing the slaughter of American troops after their arrival in South Korea around 1 July, he writes, “What happened to them might have happened to any American in the summer of 1950. For they represented exactly the kind of pampered, undisciplined, egalitarian army their society had long desired and at last achieved.”
Ouch. Yet, he continues, “They had been raised to believe the world was without tigers, then sent to face those tigers with a stick. On their society must fall the blame.”
This last assertion by Fehrenbach is severe. Yet, he wrote this book just 10 years after the cease-fire was signed at Panmunjom on 27 July 1953. In that three years, more than 50,000 U.S. troops and millions of Koreans died. Since then, millions more have died in North Korea at the hands of its Communist leaders, people just as ruthless as the ones that shot my uncle in the back of the head after he had surrendered.
Fehrenbach and others also point out that the Truman administration had sent signals to North Korea, as well as Russia and China, that the United States would not go to war over Korea. In short, everyone miscalculated.
So, let’s just consider one more section from Fehrenbach’s book about those miscalculations. “In the first terrible, shattering days of July 1950, casualties among officers of high rank in the United States Army were greater in proportion to those of any fighting since the Civil War. They had to be. There were few operable radios with the regiments in Korea, and almost no communication from command posts down to the front positions.” He continues, “If commanders wanted to know what was happening, or make their orders known, they had to be on the ground” (p. 85).
He added, “The high-priced help was expendable, true. They too were paid to die. But it was no way to run a war” (p. 85).
No, it was not. And despite many heroic actions, including the delaying action in which my uncle was killed, we accomplished no diplomatic objectives through the military action. The 38th parallel was the demarcation line between North Korea and South Korea the day the war started and was roughly so three years later, when the cease-fire was signed.
Writing in July, 1962 in the book’s Preface, Fehrenbach asserted, “In Korea, Americans had to fight, not a popular, righteous war, but to send men to die on a bloody checkerboard, with hard heads and without exalted motivations, in the hope of preserving the kind of world order Americans desired.”
He added, “Tragically, they were not ready, either in body or spirit.”
It is no wonder Mattis wants his troops to read Fehrenbach’s history. It is full of sobering words for our nation and our leaders. Are we, as a people, committed to sending more troops to fight and die on distant hills in Asia? For too long, we have asked too few to sacrifice too much. That is symptomatic of a nation “not ready, either in body or spirit.”
Mattis has issued a wake-up call about the existential threat caused by unpreparedness – of mind, body and spirit. How shall we respond?
© Michael M. Barrick, 2017
Trump’s threat of ‘fire and fury’ against North Korea undermines Nikki Haley’s incredible diplomacy – and the Constitution
By Michael M. Barrick
Nikki Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, did what none of her 28 predecessors were able to do – get a unanimous vote of the U.N. Security Council. The 15-0 vote, in short, is intended to deny North Korea of roughly $1 billion in revenue annually in hopes it will bankrupt the nation’s nuclear program. It also sends an unprecedented unanimous message to the North Korean leadership.
Ms. Haley hit a diplomatic grand slam. Naturally, President Trump immediately undermined her work, threatening “fire and fury” against North Korea. That’s war, not diplomacy. And, it’s amateurish, as noted by Senator John McCain (R- Ariz.). He told the Associated Press, “You got to be sure you can do what you say you’re going to do. That kind of rhetoric, I’m not sure it helps. The great leaders I’ve seen don’t threaten unless they’re ready to act and I’m not sure that President Trump is ready to act.”
So, we’ve just leap-frogged over a moment to achieve peace to almost certain war.
It is not unreasonable for there to be skeptics as to whether or not nations voting for the resolution will actually abide by it. Nevertheless, it is inconsistent with the values of the United States to initiate war. In fact, one would think that recent history would have taught us that.
I’ve got a stack of books about the Korean War sitting on my bookshelf. I offer them to the White House. Chief of Staff General John Kelly can sit the president’s butt in a chair and read to him just a few select passages of the madness that a war on that peninsula would unleash. It would be an apocalyptic example of man’s inhumanity to man.
I’ve even got the word-for-word account of my uncle’s death there on 12 July 1950. It makes for sobering reading. I’ll also be happy to provide a copy of my grandmother’s letter to President Truman, a letter saturated with anguish that only a mother can feel.
Speaking of reading, somebody needs to read the president a copy of the Constitution. The same thing is true in Congress. When President Harry Truman sent troops into Korea in 1950, he started our 67-year history of unconstitutional wars. A journalist called it a “police action” and the president claimed it as his own. Those books I mentioned have a lot of colorful quotes from soldiers that actually participated in that “police action.”
If reading just isn’t an option, then show the president episodes of “M*A*S*H.”
It’s time for that executive abuse of power to stop. Indeed, the lesson here is that while the U.N. resolution is impressive, it is not legal cover for war. Only Congress can authorize war. I can think of no more appropriate time in our nation’s history than now for Congress to re-assert its rightful authority. At least men like my uncle will not then have died in vain.
Today, the media is just as irresponsible, talking and writing about a “conflict.” No, it’s a war, and it is very, very ugly. So, it’s time for everyone to do their job, especially Congress. It seems only it can check the White House. It must send a clear signal to the president – if you do not come to the House chamber for a Joint Session of Congress with a Declaration of War that will be debated live for every American to see, there will be not one cent made available for war. There will be no such declaration. And, Articles of Impeachment will be introduced the second you should initiate an unconstitutional war.
We can hope.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2017
On Twitter: @appchronicle
No Nukes for anyone
By Michael M. Barrick
In the early 1980s, I had a t-shirt that exclaimed, “No Nukes!” It caused more than one confrontation, which of course was my intent. The reason I was so confrontational was because I considered escalation of nuclear weaponry insane. President Reagan, in particular, seemed to be a bit trigger-happy.
He was not the first though. I have known since I had to throw by butt under my desk or up against a wall at school in 1962 that nuclear weapons could make all of mankind extinct. As a first grader, I was not old enough to grasp the “All of mankind” concept; however, television and magazine images of exploding mushroom clouds I did understand – it meant I would be vaporized – extinguished!
My awareness of all of this began with the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was enlightening to a six-year-old. The president was serious, our parents more so with each passing day. The nuns at St. Mary’s in Clarksburg, W.Va. were the ones having us diving under the desks. We followed that by saying the rosary and going to confession quite regularly. At six, I was a handful, but I really didn’t have much to confess. In hindsight, I’d like to say, “Thanks for messing with my head.”
Speaking of which, during the time I was wearing my “No Nukes!” t-shirt, President Reagan mused about eliminating nuclear weapons from the planet. In a Time magazine interview in 1984, he revealed, “I just happen to believe that we cannot go into another generation with the world living under the threat of those weapons and knowing that some madman can push the button some place.” He added, “My hope has been, and my dream, that we can get the Soviet Union to join us in starting verifiable reductions of the weapons. Once you start down that road, they’ve got to see how much better off we would both be if we got rid of them entirely.”
That interview occurred the same year our second child was born. We are now grandparents of an eight-year-old. She is the second generation since that interview to live with the ongoing threat of nuclear annihilation. This lack of leadership simply won’t do. And, before we can lead, we have to get over our sense of moral superiority – which is clearly the reason we think we should have nuclear weapons and have the right to tell others they cannot. The United States would never submit to such dictates from a foreign power (OK, there is that Trump/Russia “thing,” but let’s just let it play out for now).
Additionally, from the perspective of those who don’t live between the shores of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the borders with Canada and Mexico, the United States is, at best, hypocritical to demand that other nations not develop nuclear weapons programs. That is true even when we are dealing with a nation that threatens us almost daily, as does North Korea. After all, we are the only nation to ever use them in war – twice.
Put frankly, the United States lacks the moral authority to demand that any nation adhere to our wishes – about nuclear weapons or anything.
So now, we find ourselves in a helpless diplomatic situation with North Korea. We can’t bend them to our will. If we choose war to do so, we will witness human, cultural and environmental destruction that few of us alive today have ever seen our nation engaged in.
So, what to do? Resurrect the vision of Ronald Reagan – and much of humanity since the end of World War II: A nuclear weapons-free world. Does such a vision seem impossible? Yes – until you consider the alternative. All weapons of war are always used. As I’ve written before, waging peace is much more difficult than waging war. It requires more patience, creative thinking, and a humble spirit. Humility is not exactly our nation’s strongest attribute. It is even less so under Donald Trump. So, the Anti-Nuke movement must re-originate from our neighborhoods and our towns.
As a child, in fact, I was taught that peace was to begin with me – a lesson I learned at home, my Catholic parish and Catholic school. Indeed, David Haas, a singer-songwriter that has written hundreds of songs that are used in Mass of Catholic parishes in the United States and beyond, challenges nations to wage peace in his song, “Enter God’s House.” The lyrics begin, “All you nations, all who seek peace: / leave your arms and weapons behind. / Come and climb the mountain of God. / Enter God’s house!”
The United States must heed this call for two reasons. First, as the only nation to use atomic / nuclear weapons, our nation is obligated to lead the effort to eliminate them. Secondly, this nation is run by a political party that claims to be the party of God. Of course, that’s cowpatties, but they certainly have a chance to prove it.
All they – and many hawkish Democrats, too – have to remember is: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:19).
On Twitter: @appchronicle