Marines.Together We Served

Monday, August 28, 2006

Rancor, or the Golden Rule?

Now here’s a topic I’ve been intending to write about for some time. You may be saying to yourself, “I know what this word means . . . at least I think I do. Agh! I can’t remember! All I know is it isn’t good.”

If you are able to recall that much about the word rancor – that it isn’t good – you’re half way home. Here’s what Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary says: “Rancor – bitter, rankling resentment or ill will; hatred; malice - “The rancor of sworn enemies.”

Not surprisingly both rancor and rancid (rotten smell) have the same Latin root word.

You are probably wondering where I’m going with this. I’ll tell you.

It is apparent to me that there is an emerging sociological shift taking place in the United States, as well as around the world, that places people at odds with each other, at times over the most ridiculous matters. Make no mistake, people have always had disagreements, and they always will. But the level of disagreement is clearly over the top.

The original rancor raised its ugly head when Cain killed his brother Abel.

Do you remember the story? Adam and Eve’s first son, Cain, became jealous of his brother, Abel. He was jealous because God was pleased with Abel’s attitude, and displeased with Cain’s. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door; it desires to have you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:6-7).

Today I see far too many Cain’s with fewer and fewer Abel’s. One of the most obvious examples of this is what we call “Road Rage.” People will get behind the wheel of a car that weighs several thousand pounds, backed by lots of horse power, and go thundering down the road as if they owned it. Little care for the consequences of such behavior is considered. Hardly a day goes by that we do not hear of some car being T-boned, or run off the road by out-of-control drivers. Then there are those who take it personally when they are cut off in traffic, or find some other reason to feel slighted by someone they do not know and will probably never meet.

Another area that is disturbing is the matter of descent behavior in public. Recently, while having lunch with my wife on the garden patio of a very upscale restaurant in Napa Valley, we couldn’t help but overhear language being used a couple of tables over by four young men. Typically, people avoided looking in their direction, and the food servers simply busied themselves with their customers. This was unsatisfactory, so I told my wife I’d be back in a moment. I walked over to the table where these four potty-mouths were spewing their filthy talk. Politely I asked them to curb the language. They said they would. I returned to my table and resumed my lunch. No more obnoxious language came from their table.

But have you noticed how such language is common fare today? Movies and television are full of such ugly language. The cable channels are the worst. Because of my many travels, I spend way too much time in hotels. Not really being much of a TV watcher, I will occasionally click through the channels made available by the hotel. Wow! Emmy-winning shows like “The Sopranos,” and “Deadwood,” are as profane as anything I ever heard. And I’ve spent my entire adult life around sailors and Marines!

Such language does not work toward bringing people together. The opposite actually occurs. Tone of voice, inflection, and meaning are spewed out in an attack on another person, or simply as a form of speech.

Did we lose the bubble somewhere? Yes, we did. When as a nation we decided moral values and principles were no longer important, or were out of date, or were old fashioned, we opened the proverbial Pandora’s Box, thus ushering in an era of “Me-ism.” This is called other things, but it has as its focus the importance of self. It is usually exhibited in “I can do whatever I want, and you can’t stop me.”

Increasingly, we see more people opting for this attitude toward life. Such behavior starts in the mind, and eventually becomes a pattern of behavior. What would have been unthinkable only a few years ago is commonplace today.

Such behavior creates uneasiness in society because people never know what to expect. Now people are afraid to challenge such behavior, because there efforts seem wasted since “everybody’s doing it.”

There is a reason for the Golden Rule. It works. Every time. And it creates the sort of environment where people can relax.

You say you’ve forgotten the Golden Rule? Okay, here it is: “Do to others as you would have them do unto to you.” This principle is found in every major religion. Interestingly, in Muhammad’s Farewell Sermon, he says, “Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you.” In the Jewish faith we read, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary.”

So what’ll it be? Rancor, or the Golden Rule?

Monday, August 21, 2006

These are the Times

Recently President Bush referred to those terrorists who are creating so much trouble in the world as “Islamic Fascists.” He has been roundly criticized for using such a term. I got to thinking about that.

Perhaps we would do well to review the definition of “fascism.” Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary defines fascism like this: “A government system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism.” The etymology of the word is Roman-Italian, and was popularized by Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini from 1922-43. “Fascio” means, “group, association.” Thus, “fasci” were groups of men organized for political purposes. The word goes back to Roman times when similar groups, called fasces, conducted political campaigns, in modern times becoming the symbol of Mussolini’s party.

Robert O. Paxton in his book “The Anatomy of Fascism,” gives a more thorough definition of fascism. He says fascism is “a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.”

Allow me to dissect Paxton’s definition of fascism. In fascism, a group forms that shares similar views where they perceive that their way of life and view of the world are no longer taken seriously. They focus on being victims, complaining that they have been humiliated by present political philosophies. They join together believing they must take matters into their own hands, using violence to achieve their objectives. This is called “purifying,” or “cleansing,” a euphemism for wholesale slaughter of those who do not fit their fascist view. Elitism within the group rises to the top. Democracy and freedoms are abandoned. In an attempt to achieve dominance, ethical behavior is redefined – meaning the end justifies the means. Hitler’s Third Reich would be such an example. Saddam Hussein would be another example, as would be the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Add Kim Jung Il of North Korea to this list of infamous characters. Also Osama bin Laden.

In Chuck Colson’s daily article for August 21, he points out that “the fascist influence on today’s Islamic terrorists is made crystal clear in the book ‘In the Shade of the Koran.’” This book was written by the late Sayyid Qutb. It is a book that has had a profound impact on Osama bin Laden. In it, Mr. Qutb addresses all the characteristics that were mentioned in the definitions of “fascism” listed earlier in this article.

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, President Bush was loudly criticized for using the term Islamic Fascists. The fear expressed was that the bad guys, i.e., the Islamic Fascists, might be made even angrier than they already are if we use such inflammatory speech. Are they serious? These guys care nothing about you, me or anyone else. And that includes their own. They are mad at the world and don’t care who knows it. Their perception of those who try to “make nice” with them is that such people are weak – therefore an easier target to attack. They do not sit back and reflect on how they can restore “normal” relations with their western neighbors. In their view, we are the enemy. This is a war that must be won in the hearts of all who love freedom, and then on the field of battle in whatever form and in whatever environment it takes.

Fascism is what we face today, and the President is perfectly correct in calling it what it is.

Allow me to close with this thought from American Revolutionary and Patriot, Thomas Paine, The Crisis -- December 1776:
“These are the times that try men's souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict the more glorious the triumph."

As the Iron Lady, Britain’s former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, said to the first President Bush concerning Iraq, “This is no time to get wobbly in the knees, George.”

She had it right.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Hooray for Hollywood!

At present, I am on my two weeks of Annual Training which is being conducted at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar in San Diego. As usual, the weather here is fabulous. Since I have to be gone, it’s a great time to be away from the 100+ degree weather in the Central Valley of California.

During this weekend between the training evolutions several of us decided to take in a movie. It was agreed that we would have dinner Saturday night at a local Mexican restaurant before seeing “World Trade Center,” (WTC) which was just released this week. I like movies well enough; I just don’t care for most of the stuff Hollywood puts out. The last movie I went to see, “Cinderella Man,” was during my annual training last summer at MCAS Yuma, Arizona. For those of you who have been reading my weekly articles for a while, you may recall the article I wrote on that movie.

Since I’m not very trusting of Hollywood to produce wholesome and historically accurate movies, I approached WTC with some skepticism. Occasionally they get it right. This is one of those occasions.

Obviously the movie is about 9/11, but specifically it takes a personal look at three very real people and how their lives were affected by the collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Mind you, this is an extremely intense movie! The producer, Oliver Stone, did a masterful job. In particular, despite the nail-biting drama unfolding on the screen, he managed to include some light-hearted humor which was just enough to relax the audience periodically. One of the three characters profiled in the movie is a Marine reservist who leaves his Lower Manhattan office, puts on his camouflaged uniform, and heads into the rubble of the collapsed towers looking for survivors. He encounters another Marine there doing the same thing. They both wander over the wreckage calling out, “United States Marines! Call out if you can hear us!” After locating the two other main characters (both of who are officers with the Port Authority Police Department [PAPD]), the Marine uses his cell phone to call for help from fire and medical. Once at the scene, one of the firemen asks the Marine in a friendly manner for his name. The Marine replies, “Staff Sergeant Karns.” The fireman then says, “You got a shorter name?” To which the Marine replies, “Staff Sergeant.” Every Marine in the theater busted out laughing. It’s a Marine thing!

The main focus of the movie was on the importance of relationships in life. The movie followed the harrowing ordeal of the families during the hours following the collapse of the twin towers, switching back and forth from the PAPD officers trapped deep in the rubble, to their wives and kids desperately hoping against hope that their loved one would come home. As one of our happy band of five commented over Cold Stone Ice Cream following the movie (“comfort food” we called it!), after seeing the movie he simply wanted to go home and hug his wife and kids. This movie will force you to reevaluate what’s important in life. One of the wives in the movie confessed to a friend, “I can’t even remember what my last words were to John!”

What surprised me the most about this movie was the role that faith played. Specifically: faith in God. In fact, it was central to the story line. The two Port Authority officers were Catholic: one, who when he died, saw a vision of Jesus; the other claimed not to be a religious man, but when he was slowly being crushed by the cement blocks and steel girders, he cried out to God, and recited the Lord’s Prayer. The Marine was a strong Protestant. After a time of prayer in his church, he sensed God leading him to search for survivors in the rubble of the World Trade Center. An interesting piece of information at the conclusion of the movie said the Marine Staff Sergeant returned to active duty and did two tours in Iraq.

We are spared the gratuitous images of the planes being flown into the towers, but the reality of what had taken place could not be missed. The sound effects, creating the sensation of the towers crashing to the ground, is breath-taking. The movie kindly avoids the gore and carnage, focusing instead on the three main characters and their families.

After all, what’s most important in life than family?

What’s most important in your life?

Monday, August 07, 2006

Welcome to America

I stopped to get a haircut today, but not at my normal barber.

There were a number of errands I had to run before leaving town for a couple of weeks, so I pulled into this strip mall where I’d previously seen a sign for a barber shop. I was relieved to see that there was nobody waiting for a haircut. Stepping inside, I noticed the area for the barber chairs was separated by a partition. Several people were gathered behind the partition that were of Asian descent. A man, who looked to be the patriarch of this group, motioned me to a chair.

I was feeling real good about this decision to stop and get my ears lowered at this barbershop since it meant I would be done quickly and could move on to my other errands. As I was settling into the chair, my eye caught a faded picture on the partition. What I saw caused me to pop back out of the chair to inspect this picture more closely. It showed two Huey helicopter gunships that looked a lot like the ones we used in Vietnam. Next to the picture was a certificate announcing the person so named had successfully graduated from military flight school. The barber stood behind me, patiently waiting. He then said in a quiet voice, “Vietnam.” I turned, looking at him, and said, “Are you Vietnamese?” He nodded yes.

As I returned to the barber chair we began a discussion. I mentioned I’d been in Da Nang working on F4s (Phantoms) and A6s (Intruders). I learned that this man had been a captain in the South Vietnamese Air Force. As I suspected from the picture, he flew the Huey gunships. These birds are one of the workhorse helicopters used extensively throughout the Vietnam War. Gunships are an armed aircraft (in this case a helicopter) which is used to support troops and provide fire cover. It is not an assignment for the faint of heart. Usually these birds had a .50 caliber machine gun that provided the fire power. Thus – a “gun” ship.

Having gained this bit of knowledge, I knew I was dealing with more than a refugee who had managed to escape to the United States. I asked him how he managed to get to the U.S. He said that he and his family escaped South Vietnam in 1976, a year after the fall of Saigon. He was, once again, a captain, only this time he was the captain of a small ship designed for the water. He, his family and others crowded onto the small boat and set sail. On the second day out, they were attacked by pirates who boarded their craft and forced them to give up all their valuables. They were fortunate. Many “boat people” attempting to escape Vietnam perished on the high seas. After four days and nights of sailing across the China Sea, they arrived in Indonesia. He went to work there to earn money so he and his family could apply for entry into the United States.

It was apparent that he is very proud of his children. I asked if they attended school in America. He assured they had and they had all graduated from college. He spoke softly, in halting English, causing me to have to listen very carefully. As I absorbed this man’s story, I could only imagine what manner of horrors and hardships he and his loved ones had endured in order to escape the clutches of Communist Vietnam. They simply wanted to make a better life for themselves and their children. No price too high; no sacrifice too great; no hardship too daunting.

Being as he had been a military man, I knew he’d know how to give me the right kind of haircut. After I paid him, I shook his hand and said, “My name’s Chuck.” He said, “Tao.” “Well, Tao,” I replied, “It may be thirty years late, but ‘Welcome to America!’”

He looked at me for several seconds through misty eyes. It was just one of those special moments that life offers you sometimes. As we looked at each other, it struck me that here were two men, born and raised in two uniquely different parts of the world, and yet we had a common bond that men share that have fought together. As I turned to leave, I squeezed his shoulder and said, “Thanks.”

Why did I say thanks? I thought about that as I climbed into my car. On the surface, of course, I was thanking him for the haircut. But the meaning of that thanks went much deeper. I thanked him because we had, without knowing it, served together for the cause of freedom. I was also thanking him because his life was an inspiration of perseverance and fortitude. And, I was thanking him for reassuring my belief that America is still the great beacon of freedom in a world that seems to have gone mad.

God bless America!