Marines.Together We Served

Monday, November 27, 2006

World War III? (Part II)

Picking up from two weeks ago, I had written about wars and the ways nations typically find themselves embroiled in them. What I have presented in the previous article and what you will read now are the ways the United States has become ensnared in various major wars during her history.

Just after the conclusion of WWII, the United States found itself confronted on the world-wide scene by a muscular, robust Soviet Union. When the Tsarist regime was toppled in 1917, communist forces, under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin, established a new political government known as Communism. Communism spread rapidly, incorporating the basic teachings of Karl Marx. This form of Communism became known as Leninism. This set in motion a movement under the general banner of Communism which has caused the United States decades of challenges and problems.

Ironically, though the United States was ardently opposed to Communism, the Soviet Union became an ally during WWII in our struggle against Hitler and the Third Reich. So devastating was the German military advance into Soviet Russia that it is said that the Soviet Union lost an entire generation of men. Because we shared a common enemy (in this case, Hitler’s Germany), we were allies. But we were not friends. The old adage is true, “My enemy’s enemy is my friend.”

Since the Second World War allowed the Soviets to become a world force, they made moves into Asia: specifically, China. Communism had made huge inroads into China during the 1920s & 30s. Chiang Kai-shek, became the ruler of China in the 1920s. He attempted to eradicate Communism from China during a twenty-two-year-long civil war. The Communist Chinese prevailed and took control of this massive country in 1949. Chiang Kai-shek took his military forces and retreated to Taiwan. It was his dream to rebuild his army and retake what was now known as The Peoples Republic of China. We in the West have called it “Red China,” the color associated with Communism. As a kid in the 50s there was a common saying: “I’d rather be dead than Red!” My first roommate in college in 1966 was a Chinese kid from Taiwan. He was an ardent follower of Chiang Kai-shek, believing he would return to Taiwan to join his leader in militarily retaking China.

Once Communism was entrenched in China, it began to expand rapidly. The northern part of Korea embraced this philosophy, placing them at odds with their southern brothers. The United States, still recovering from the effects of WWII, was asked by the United Nations to help stop the spread of Communism in the Korean Peninsula. This led to the Korean War. After a back and forth struggle for several years, the “Forgotten War” as it was known, ended in a truce, with the geographic 38th Parallel line now separating the two nations of North Korea and South Korea. It should be pointed out that American forces were not just fighting North Korean troops, but Chinese troops as well. There were also Soviet advisors working with the North Korean and Chinese forces.

Communism was making its way into Indochina, (Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos). Northern Vietnam was coming under the influence of Communism. The southern portion of Vietnam was fearful of Communism’s advance. In the 1950s, President Dwight Eisenhower cautioned the U.S. against getting involved in a conflict in Southeast Asia. President John Kennedy provided American military advisors to the Diem regime in South Vietnam. However, South Vietnam’s President Ngo Diem, had lost influence with world leaders, and also with his own military. In a coup held November 2, 1963, Diem was assassinated. The U.S. had promised to stay out of the way. Oddly, President Kennedy was assassinated twenty days later.

Under President Johnson, the United States committed troops to South Vietnam in 1965. For the next ten years we fought a war in an effort to halt the spread of Communism. It was during President Nixon’s administration that the United States exited Vietnam, causing our Vietnam veterans to bear the scorn of having lost a war – something that had never happened in our country previously.

Now here’s a bit of history you may not be aware of. We, the United States, lost the Vietnam War. This is true. But it was not the military that lost the war. In fact, our military never lost a single battle in Vietnam. We lost this war back home. The American people grew tired of the war dragging on, with the nightly news giving the daily tally of dead American soldiers. Domestic concerns were taking center stage. We endured the assassinations of two dynamic and popular leaders: Bobby Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King. There was ongoing unrest on college campuses. Coupled with that was the racial unrest and rioting in the inner-cities. The counter-culture movement was in full swing with its free love, hedonistic lifestyle. Add to that the Watergate break-in with an increasingly paranoid President Nixon, and Vietnam was old and tired news.

This bit of historical background is important if we are going to understand where we are today, and how we got here. If the United States is going to survive a far graver threat than Communism, we had better wake up. The threats of world leaders and nations such as Hitler’s Nazi Germany, Hirohito’s Imperialist Japan, Lenin’s Soviet Union, Ho Chi Min’s Vietnam, Mao Zedong’s China, or any other dictatorial leaders, pales by comparison to the threat of radical Islamists.

This will be continued next week.

Monday, November 20, 2006

All About Attitude

I intended to write a continuation of last week’s article addressing World War III. But this being the start of our holiday season an article on Thanksgiving seemed more appropriate. What follows are thoughts and excerpts taken from my sermon on Sunday. So, here goes.

Thanksgiving is more than recognizing God’s providential blessing on you, your family, or the United States. It is more than a federally authorized day off. It’s even more than a long weekend. In particular for the Christian, or any person who desires to know God more fully, thanksgiving is a way of life.

When you get right down to it, it is your attitude that makes the difference. Some Christians I know want a closer walk with the Lord, yet their attitudes are hardly godly. I would submit that your attitude is more a reflection of your heart than anything else. Are you smiling on Sunday, but the rest of the week you’re walking around with a chip on your shoulder? Are people avoiding you because you’re angry about something? Do you claim to have a great marriage but in reality resent your wife/husband? The best face you can put on this would be to say you are na├»ve. At worst, you are hypocritical. So, what do you do?

An attitude is something you develop by the choices you make. For instance, you choose to listen to the positive and negative attitudes in your life. You embrace them, or your reject them. It’s your call. There’s no blaming others. No pointing the finger at parents. No passing it off on your heritage. This is why you have heard the phrase, “You are known by the company you keep.”

God has the most positive attitude of anyone. After all, he’s the one who sees us at our worst – and he still does not give up on us. If you and I had treated our parents the way we have treated God, we could hardly blame our folks for washing their hands of us. Not so with God. He loves you and me so much that he is willing to endure our bad behavior because he knows what he can accomplish in us given the chance. This is one of the primary reasons why I rejoice in my relationship with the Lord. He never gives up on me.

I find it interesting that Jesus always gave thanks. When he was holding the loaves of bread and the fish he gave thanks. Four thousand and more people were fed from those few loaves and fish. So momentous an occasion was this that the hillside where this miracle occurred became known throughout the region as, “the place where people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.” (John 6:23)

When Jesus was enjoying a final meal with the disciples, “he took the bread, gave thanks and broke it.” He also “took the cup, gave thanks, and offered it to them.” He was able to give thanks at a meal where he knew he would experience the ultimate betrayal. In a matter of hours he would be hanging on a cross.

Since the Bible says we are to be conformed into the image of Jesus, God’s son, it makes sense that we might ask the question, “What should my attitude be then?” Answer: It should be the same as that of Jesus.

One final thought about attitude. How do you want people to remember you? Ask yourself this question: “If I were to die today, how would people remember me?” If you’re not sure, or you don’t like the obvious answer, you may want to ask God to help you with this. He’s an expert at changing our attitude. It begins with a new heart.

This Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, begin the rest of your life with an attitude of thanksgiving. You’ll be amazed at how much better you’ll feel, not to mention the difference family and friends will see. Being thankful is not a feeling – it’s an attitude. Others will see it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 13, 2006

World War III?

There’s a question being bandied about in recent days as to whether we are involved in a world war. Is this the long dreaded World War III? Good question!

On the surface it would not appear to be so. Historically, we have imagined a cataclysmic clash between two equally potent armies who are in a colossal struggle for potential world dominance. In the 20th Century we had our first ever identified World Wars. First, 1914 became the first of our world wars. This conflict came about over disputed land in the Balkans. Because of past European colonization, alliances were made to protect their territories or to grab more from neighbors. What is often thought to have been a war fought in Europe, this conflict literally spread around the world. The United States did not enter this war until 1917. It ended in late 1918.

German and Russian forces were fighting throughout Eastern Europe in a see-saw rhythm of battle. Early in the conflict, Britain, Australian and New Zealand forces were fighting a losing effort against the Turks. Eventually prevailing, the British managed to capture Baghdad and Jerusalem. This sounded the death knell for the Ottoman Turks. The cost in human life is enormous. Britain alone lost 19,240 soldiers on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

What made the First World War so unique was the development of what would be 20th Century technology using 18th-19th Century battle tactics. For the first time in history the recently invented airplane was used in war. This provided a clear advantage to nations that could afford such expensive weapons of war. Add to this the cost of training and you have the makings of an expensive war machine. Compounding the horrors of modern-day warfare was the introduction of what would be known as “Mustard Gas.” This chemical agent in its pure form is odorless and colorless. When used in warfare, the agent is given a yellow-brown coloring, and the smell is that of a mustard plant, garlic, or horseradish, thus gaining its name. The German Army first used it in 1917. Other modern war machines were the tank and the submarine. We also saw the use of parachutes by those in observation balloons; flamethrowers were brought into the mix; and the machine gun was modernized to be used by a single individual instead of the cumbersome Gatling Guns of only a few decades earlier. The advancement in the many ways of killing caused this war to be known as the “War to End all Wars.” If only that had been true.

In World War Two the United States found itself in a two-front war. As President Woodrow Wilson had done before him leading up to America’s participation in WWI, President Franklin D. Roosevelt made a valiant effort to keep the United States out of any entanglements in what was then thought to be Europe’s War in the mid-1930’s. We were in the midst of the worst depression our country had ever experienced. Unemployment lines, soup kitchens, and hobos (what we would call homeless today) were part of the American landscape. Feeling relatively secure, protected by two large oceans on either side of the country, we figured that through hard work we would emerge triumphant from what was being called, “The Great Depression.” Good old American ingenuity, know-how and determination would get us on top again.

But with the growing threat of Nazi Germany, despite the hollow promises of a duplicitous Adolf Hitler, the United States still felt safe enough. Japan was making trouble for her neighbors throughout Asia, but again, that was not any immediate concern to us. Our shores were far from the blustering Emperor Hirohito and the Imperialist Japanese Army and Navy.

What brought about our involvement in World War II in both Europe and Asia is an interesting study. Europe was of particular interest to Americans because of the close ethnic ties we shared with our European cousins, not to mention long-standing trade relations. As for Asia, we had developed trade lines with some of these nations, but what was of particular concern to us were the island nations we had acquired as a result of the spoils from the Spanish-American War in 1898. Of strategic significance to American interests was the Philippine Islands. We had a respectable contingent of American army forces there keeping watch on activities in that region of the world. Unfortunately, when Japan attacked our naval forces in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, December 7, 1941, there were also Japanese forces preparing to land on Luzon Island in the Philippines in a coordinated attack. American forces fought as long as they could at a place called Corregidor. Eventually out of ammunition and food, our diminished forces surrendered to the Japanese. What followed became known as the Bataan Death March.

Next week I will continue this article looking more closely at the possibility of a World War III. But let me close with this thought. Wars are normally the result of perceived or real hurts. Or, to put it another way, you have something I want. This causes folks to want to right the wrong that was done. Then back and forth it goes until someone quits or is defeated.

The first war was waged between two people: Eve and the devil. He used the same reasoning with her that causes wars today – You’ve been hurt by someone. In this case, the devil suggested that God was not being entirely truthful with Eve. After all, why shouldn’t she be allowed to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? A perceived hurt brought about man’s war with God.

I trust you had an enjoyable Veterans Day weekend. More next week.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Death by Hanging

I’m back in Newport, Rhode Island with the Navy for a three week Strategic Leadership and Ministry (SLAM) Course. As I was sitting in my room watching the news the other morning the announcement was made that the trial of Saddam Hussein was over and he was sentenced to die by hanging.

Like most everyone else around the world I was intrigued by these developments. As I watched this former dictator, having the ignominy of being known as the “Butcher of Baghdad,” I was struck by his apparent surprise at the verdict. He seemed to look around for someone to come to his defense while the presiding judge read the sentence. Suddenly realizing he was all alone, he quickly reverted to his modus operandi (MO) of interrupting the judge, showing disrespect for the due process of law, and generally attempting to intimidate everyone in the courtroom. One news commentator even said Saddam’s presence is so intimidating that she was grateful for the protective glass that separated her and her cohorts from Saddam. His aura is nearly tangible.

My thoughts immediately centered on what I perceived would be the likely reaction of folks around the world. Allow me to share some of these with you.

First, some people will (and already have) reacted with horror that this newly formed democratic nation, Iraq, would resort to such a barbaric practice as hanging. Let me ask a question in return. Exactly what form of execution is not barbaric? Or putting it another way, what form of execution would be appropriate? Would a firing squad be preferable? Or an electric chair? Or how about a needle in the arm dripping a life-ending chemical? Would dragging the offender through the streets satisfy? Then there’s the traditional beheading. How about that? Or we could simply chop up the miscreant into little pieces, placing the pieces in a plastic bag for delivery to his family. All of these ways of execution were previously implemented by Saddam against his enemies.

When I was in Babylon, Iraq in 2003, the stories of atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein were chilling. One story that will ever remain with me had to do with Saddam’s occasional visits to this ancient city, a city of biblical antiquity. Saddam would drive through town with his henchmen, pointing to various women and girls that caught his eye. His goons would then forcibly abduct these females for an evening or more of sexual pleasure in his palace. Once he was through with them, these women would have there heads cut off and their bodies thrown into the river where they would then be retrieved by their families.

There was an Iraqi man who worked on the base in Babylon whose mother had disappeared at the hands of Saddam some years earlier. No one knew what happened to her, or why. During my brief visit to Babylon a mass grave was unearthed not far from the base. One of the bodies was that of this man’s mother. She was identified by her dress and by a photograph of one of her sons in her pocket. What was her crime? There was no crime. Saddam simply wanted to make a point. He was sending a message to the residents of Babylon that as a dictator, he could do anything he wanted to them, any time he wanted. He ruled by intimidation. Is it any wonder that the Iraqis were celebrating in the streets upon hearing that their nemesis was now going to be permanently removed from planet earth?

Second, this trial was timed to end 48 hours before the mid-term elections in order to benefit the Republicans running for office, and to help the president’s popularity numbers by highlighting the war on terrorism. These allegations are unfounded primarily because the Iraqi government is controlled by Iraqis – not the United States. Hanging by the neck until dead is the preferred method of execution in Iraq. I would surmise that the United States government would prefer to have Hussein incarcerated for life rather than be executed. A Saddam pathetically languishing behind bars sends a stronger message to other dictators than a dead Saddam who could be painted by his admirers as a martyr or, (gasp!) a saint.

That Saddam was a vicious, hateful man is not to be argued. That he invokes the teachings of Islam when he did not practice that religion underscores his hypocrisy. That he believed he was the embodiment of the ancient caliphs is clearly evident (much as Iran’s Ahmadinejad believes about himself today).

This pitiable figure now faces the end of his life. He will not be missed. Yet, I cannot help but think of him facing death and eternity - a death by hanging. If only he knew the Savior, Jesus, who also died a death by hanging, hanging from a cross. Then he could experience God’s grace and forgiveness. Such a gift is offered even to a wretch like Saddam Hussein.