Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


I was reading an article from the spring issue of The Journal of International Security Affairs the other day and found myself troubled by the author’s analysis of our current war situation. The title of the article is, “Wishful Thinking and Indecisive Wars,” by Ralph Peters. Mr. Peters is a retired U.S. Army officer who currently serves as a military strategist, as well as being an author of 24 books, and a journalist reporting from various war zones. In other words, he has the bona fides to tell us what is happening on the war front and how the U.S. is handling the challenges.

What was particularly troubling to me was his assessment of our enemies’ determination in fighting this War on Terrorism and our own resolve in seeing this war through to the end. “The greatest advantage our opponents enjoy is an uncompromising strength of will,” Mr. Peters writes, “their readiness to ‘pay any price and bear any burden’ to hurt and humble us. As our enemies’ view of what is permissible in war expands apocalyptically, our self-limiting definitions of allowable targets and acceptable casualties – hostile, civilian and our own – continue to narrow fatefully. Our enemies cannot defeat us in direct confrontations, but we appear determined to defeat ourselves.”

I have often been invited to speak to various groups, many of which are military organizations. Everyone wants to know how the current war is progressing! Retired almost a year now, I’m feeling more and more detached from a functional understanding of what is happening in our prosecution of the war. But I like to remind my listeners at such gatherings that those of us who fought in Vietnam never lost a battle over a ten year time period. Our military responded to the call, defeating an entrenched and determined enemy. The politics of war, however, prevented our military from closing the deal and defeating the North Vietnamese. Coming home from a war that we were not allowed to win, and then having to face our fathers who were the heroes of World War Two, with the moniker of “The Greatest Generation,” was a bitter pill to swallow. Where did we lose the Vietnam War? Right here at home. This is why I find Mr. Peters’ article so troubling. There is a certain déjà vu in what he presents. Do we as Americans have the courage and stamina to see this War on Terrorism through to its successful conclusion? Or will we once again fail to stay the course, asking our military to tuck their tails and scurry home where we’ll all be safe?

I’m only too aware that our current administration is rewriting the definitions for terrorists and the War on Terror, and that we shouldn’t identify the religion of Islam with the radicals who are perpetrating these offenses against otherwise peaceful peoples around the world. All the more reason I find Mr. Peters’ remarks to be cogent. “While our most resolute current enemy – Islamist extremists – may violate our conceptions of morality and ethics,” he says, “they also are willing to sacrifice more, suffer more and kill more (even among their own kind) than we are. We become mired in the details of minor missteps, while fanatical holy warriors consecrate their lives to their ultimate vision. They live their cause, but we do not live ours. We have forgotten what warfare means and what it takes to win.”

Mr. Peters makes several interesting insights as to why we find ourselves in this predicament. First, “we, the people, have lived in unprecedented safety for so long (despite the now-faded shock of September 11, 2001) that we simply do not feel endangered.” Second, “collective memory has effectively erased the European-sponsored horrors of the last century.” Third, “ending the (military) draft resulted in a superb military, but an unknowing, detached population.” Fourth, “an unholy alliance between the defense industry and academic theorists seduced decision makers with a false messiah catechism of bloodless war.” Fifth, “we have become largely a white-collar, suburban society in which a child’s bloody nose is no longer a routine part of growing up, but grounds for a lawsuit; the privileged among us have lost the sense of grit in daily life.” And “last, but not least, history is no longer taught as a serious subject in America’s schools. As a result, politicians lack perspective; journalists lack meaningful touchstones; and the average person’s sense of warfare has been redefined by media entertainments in which misery, if introduced, is brief.”

If we choose to pull our horns in and hope for the best, what will we say to succeeding generations when they find themselves faced with a dauntless enemy of Islamo-fascists who want our children and grandchildren dead? This is not a vision of the future that I find very appealing.

I am troubled that we might miss the opportunity to stand and say, Enough!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Pressing Need

I’ve done a lot of strange and peculiar things in my life, but this one is going to jeopardize my standing in the All Man Club. However, I do believe it will gain me automatic membership into the Dennis Rodman Club. For those who have no idea who Dennis Rodman is, he is a former National Basketball Association player who was a teammate of Michael Jordan’s during the Chicago Bulls great championship run nearly twenty years ago. Rodman is perhaps better known for his bizarre behavior off the court – particularly, the wearing of wedding dresses!

On June 13, my wife and I were in Monterey for our eldest daughter’s wedding on a spot of beach in Carmel. As a retired military officer, I was able to get some very nice rooms for all of us at the BOQ (Bachelor Officer Quarters) on the Naval Post Graduate School base in Monterey. Since the wedding was scheduled for mid-afternoon, we had plenty of time (so I thought) to get up Saturday morning and get everyone ready. The night before I had been assigned the task of ironing the pants and shirts for the guys. Like many of my fellow military colleagues, I had acquired a skill at ironing my uniforms. In fact, when Isaura and I met, I was already a staff sergeant in the Marine Corps and long accustomed to getting the perfect crease in my pants and shirts. She offered to take over this responsibility for me after we were married, but I chose to continue ironing my uniforms. Not that she couldn’t do it – I just knew how I wanted it done, and I’d been doing it for seven years at that point.

So this is why I was delegated to be the ironer of all the men’s clothes for the wedding party. This may sound like a lot, but it wasn’t. It consisted of pants and shirt for Ken (the groom), Daniel (the best man and Ken’s son), and me (the pastor and father-of-the-bride). Since I was at it, several more items from my wife appeared during my efforts to make us all look good. You see, since this was a wedding to be conducted on the beach, my daughter wanted all the guys to be casual – khaki pants and Filipino style dress shirts. And bare feet! Ironing khaki pants and straight hanging dress shirts is a piece of cake. In all my years of ministry, both as a civilian pastor, and as a military chaplain, I have never performed a wedding in casual clothes. I have always worn a coat and tie, or a tuxedo, or a military uniform. I have to admit that I was warming up to this casual approach.

Saturday morning we had a bunch from the wedding party and various family members in our quarters on base for breakfast. There was a lot of laughter and good times being enjoyed by all. I needed to be at the beach by 2:30 to meet with the wedding coordinator and the photographer. Along about 1:45 I received a call from my wife who was with Laura at the hairdresser’s. Could I take care of something for her? Sure, I said, just name it. Laura’s wedding gown needs to be pressed, she said. What? Her wedding gown? I thought to myself, “Well, why not?”

I found the dress in her room, still with the plastic protector over it. I confirmed that it needed to be pressed, so began to check the iron to be sure it wasn’t going to do something really ugly, like spit out some rusty water, or be too hot and scorch the white satin fabric. It was with some fear and trepidation that I proceeded to put the iron to the gown. Since this garment was rather long, it did not fit on the ironing board, which folded down from the wall. I grabbed a dining room chair and draped most of the gown over the chair back. I began ironing each panel of the gown while rotating the gown in systematic form, gaining confidence as I went along. I was deeply engrossed in my task when I realized my friend, Jerry, a.k.a., “The Photographer,” was preparing to take a picture of me in the act. I grumbled something about his early demise, and continued ironing.

Reputations are gained and lost on the click of a camera. So I thought I’d better come clean and explain the picture so you would understand should this ever surface, raising questions about my extra-curricular activities.

The wedding went off without incident and Laura and Ken are enjoying their honeymoon far removed from the last minute scrambling necessary to close the deal.

Isaura and I can relax now. But I can’t help but wonder if I now actually belong, by default, to a select group of men who hold the distinction of having ironed their daughter’s wedding gown at the last minute!

Daddy Wedding Gown Pressers - Unite!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

America - A Reprise

A number of people were very interested in the article I wrote last week entitled, “America, Watch Out!” The following is an update – a reprise, if you will – on this story.

As I recounted then, a pastor and his wife were being harassed by the County of San Diego for conducting Bible studies in their home. On Good Friday they were personally informed that they were in violation of some obscure codes prohibiting the gathering of folks (in this case 5-27) without first obtaining outrageously expensive permits.

A friend of mine replied to my story at some length with these cogent insights: “Zoning laws and associated use permits are allowed by the case law interpreting the California and US constitutions. If people are concerned about such laws, they can easily amend the state constitution by referendum. It has been amended about 500 times in its nearly 160-year existence. Next time Christians are presented with an initiative limiting land use regulation--such as Proposition 90, which was defeated 52% to 48% in the polls on November 7, 2006--they should vote for freedom.”

He concluded with this reminder to all of us who love our freedom: “If Christians care about their civil liberties, then they must organize and be heard at the ballot box. They must Vote Freedom! Remind your readers to actively exercise their franchise and Vote Freedom next time.”

I could not agree more. Our history in terms of voting on issues has been gradually weakened over the years. Folks do not stay current on affairs taking place in their own cities and counties. With abysmally low voter turn-out, policies and laws are voted in by a handful (relatively speaking) of our friends and neighbors that may adversely affect us personally, as in the case of this pastor in San Diego.

The Associated Press reported that the pastor and his wife were offered an apology by San Diego County. That’s both good news and bad. The good news is that the officials in charge of the county government recognized the error and owned up to it. The bad news is that this county ordinance is too obscure in its meaning and intent; therefore, it is left up to interpretation. In this case – misinterpretation.

The following is the brief article by the Associated Press: Pastor Gets an Apology over Demand for a Bible Permit. San Diego – “San Diego County has apologized to a pastor and his wife who were cited and told to get a permit for a weekly Bible study session held at their Bonita home. In a letter dated Wednesday, County’s Chief Administrative Officer Walter Ekard blamed the mistake on ‘unclear language in the zoning ordinance.’ In April, David Jones and his wife, Mary, were told they could be fined $100 to $1000 if they didn’t comply with county codes that prohibit holding religious assemblies without a major-use permit. 5-27 people attend the gatherings.”

In another case much closer to home, a friend told me, “This type of infringement happens all over the place. Example: a Ripon library official told me that a new law (now in place since just a few weeks ago) will not allow me as a parent to seek information from them regarding the status of my children's library account. So, if I just want to find out if they have late fees (and if so on what book title) they are no longer allowed to give this to me.”

Let me ask you – Do you know what’s happening in your community? Such laws may initially appear to be valid at first glance, but we the people need to look carefully at how such laws might be interpreted, and then enforced.

We are the keepers of our freedoms – not politicians.

So next time there’s a special election, such as we had here in California a few weeks ago, pay attention; learn about the propositions being put forth to the voting public; and then make your voice heard and vote. I worked the polls in this election with four others and most of our fourteen-hour day was spent chatting amongst ourselves, snacking, and reading. We had less than 100 people come in and vote that day. About half that many dropped off absentee ballots.

This is deplorable! There is no sense in crying foul when our freedoms are impinged upon. It has always been my contention that if a person doesn’t care to take the time to vote, then they have no right to complain.

The America of the future is being decided by the Americans of today. What does that America look like to you?

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

America, Watch Out!

I am not an alarmist, but this is frightening!

This story has me very concerned. As an American, I am concerned. As a Christian, I am concerned. As a minister of the Gospel, I am concerned. And as a former member of the military, I am concerned, because for thirty-four years I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Now it would appear that the domestic enemies are raising their ugly heads. Our Constitution is being threatened from within.

This past week in Southern California, a pastor and his wife were confronted by a San Diego County official threatening them with ever increasing fines if they continued to hold Bible studies in their home. That’s right! Bible studies! The pastor and his wife were questioned as to their activities: “Do you have a regular meeting in your home?” “Yes.” “Do you say ‘Amen’?” “Yes.” “Do you pray?” “Yes.” “Do you say, ‘Praise the Lord’?” “Yes.” About fifteen people attend the Bible studies. For this the County official says they are in violation of County regulations. What?

A few days later this pastor and his wife received a letter from the County warning them of their so-called “violations.” One violation is “unlawful use of land.” They were told in no uncertain terms to “stop religious assembly, or apply for a major use permit,” something that could cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Those of us called to the pastoral/preaching ministry already are concerned about the “Thought Police” and the politically correct crowd that is waiting to bring charges against preachers who say anything, from the pulpit or elsewhere, which could be loosely classified as “hate speech.” Now we’re told we can’t even get together with others of like faith to share in Bible study. This has a chilling effect.

The lawyer for the pastor and his wife had this to say, “If the County thinks they can shut down groups of 10 or 15 Christians meeting in a home, what about people who meet regularly at home for poker night? What about people who meet for Tupperware parties? What about people who are meeting to watch baseball games on a regular basis?” And I would add, “What about folks who have weekend barbeques with lots of people over?”

The overriding question and concern is: What about our Constitutional rights? In particular, what about our First Amendment rights? The right to free exercise of religion? The First Amendment, ratified by Congress in 1791, reads like this: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Here’s my take on the First Amendment and the points that pertain to this story.

First, Congress is not in the religion business, nor should it be.

Second, Congress is to keep their fingers out of the religious affairs of “we the people.”

Third, “we the people” have the right to peaceably assemble. When we do, Congress and other government bureaucracies need to keep their collective noses out of our business.

President Ronald Reagan said it better than anyone. In his now famous first inaugural address of January 1981, he said, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government IS the problem.” And everybody said: Amen!

There is a growing disregard for our Constitution and the rights that have been purchased for us by the shed blood of American patriots. Do we simply allow the enemies of freedom to steal these precious gifts of freedom, liberty and rights from us without so much as a whimper of protest?

My prayer is that “we the people” will unite and say to our governing officials that we will not have our freedoms trampled on. The Declaration of Independence gives clear instruction to “we the people” as to what our right and our duty is when government gets out of hand. We are to “throw them off.”

Do not dismiss this case lightly. This pastor’s rights are being abused, and by proxy, he is all of us. This is a fundamental right that is being violated by a government official and the laws of the County that are clearly wrong. The eventual legal decision on this case may well have a profound impact on the rest of us.

Are you paying attention?