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Seventy Years Ago…..

Friday, June 6th, 2014

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened, he will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man to man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our home fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory!

I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory!

Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

– Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, June 6, 1944   

My fellow Americans: Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.
And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest-until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home – fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas – whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them – help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

Many people have urged that I call the Nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

Give us strength, too – strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us Faith. Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogancies. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister Nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.

Amen.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, June 6, 1944 

The men who landed at Normandy seventy years ago when they were young saved the West from Nazi tyranny. They are now all very old and for the most part, frail and far fewer of them will be with us ten years hence to commemorate the eightieth anniversary of D-Day. They were not like the fabled generation of the Civil War, their only peers in American history, whose “hearts were touched by fire”. The GI Generation, unlike their great- grandfathers were not kindled by fire, they were summoned by duty; danger appeared of the greatest order and they shouldered the burden and defeated the enemy utterly.

Utterly. How many in all history can make that boast from the Walls of Troy to the villages of Paktia?

Furthermore, they were not conquerors with a bloody sword bearing chains for slaves, but liberators whose victory changed the course of world history for human freedom.

Even fewer can boast of that.

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Mandela – countless silken ties of love and thought

Friday, December 6th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- mostly written as news came from the hospital that his condition had turned critical, updated and posted now that his death has been announced ]
.

Already I am feeling the presentiment of grief, and so much of what I feel stems from this picture:

**

Nelson Mandela is dear to me not so much as the great first President of the new South Africa, nor as the statesman he doubtless was, but the man who loved my own mentor, Trevor Huddleston, so much.

So it is not global with me, it is personal, and as news of his health reaches the critical mark and his family gathers in deep concern, I sense my own potential for grief rolling in over the near hills.

Robert Frost, in his great poem A Silken Tent, speaks of “silken ties of love and thought” that bind us one to another, indeed to “every thing on earth the compass round” — in my case it is his love of Trevor that binds me to the man — and the little detail in Mandela’s autobiography where he recalls Trevor addressing a group of South African police who were approaching to arrest him, saying:

No, you must arrest me instead, my dears.

It’s that “my dears” that I can hear so easily in Trevor’s voice, and that Mandela was so brilliant to catch, recall and tell…

Less personally it is the Isitwalandwe, the signal honor these two men shared, for each was “one who wears the plumes of the rare bird”.

**

I respect also the insurgent Mandela, who emerged from his long imprisonment with calm and clarity — Mandela the meditator if you will. This passage from a letter he wrote in jail in 1975 moves me, as Merton moves me:

Incidentally, you may find that the cell is an ideal place to learn to know yourself, to search realistically and regularly the process of your own mind and feelings. In judging our progress as individuals we tend to concentrate on external factors such as one’s social position, influence and popularity, wealth and standard of education. These are, of course, important in measuring one’s success in material matters and it is perfectly understandable if many people exert themselves mainly to achieve all these. But internal factors may be even more crucial in assessing one’s development as a human being. Honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, pure generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve others – qualities which are within easy reach of every soul – are the foundations of one’s spiritual life. Development in matters of this nature is inconceivable without serious introspection, without knowing yourself, your weaknesses and mistakes. At least if for nothing else, the cell gives you the opportunity to look daily into your entire conduct, to overcome the bad and develop whatever is good in you. Regular meditation, say about 15 minutes a day before you turn in, can be very fruitful in this regard. You may find it difficult at first to pinpoint the negative features in your life, but the 10th attempt may yield rich rewards. Never forget that a saint is a sinner who keeps on trying.

Here, I believe, is the secret which gave us this man.

**

And because it is so very beautiful, I offer you also Frost’s poem:

The Silken Tent
.

She is as in a field a silken tent
At midday when the sunny summer breeze
Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent,
So that in guys it gently sways at ease,
And its supporting central cedar pole,
That is its pinnacle to heavenward
And signifies the sureness of the soul,
Seems to owe naught to any single cord,
But strictly held by none, is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To every thing on earth the compass round,
And only by one’s going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air
Is of the slightlest bondage made aware.

**

Update:

Mandela’s death has been announced, and I feel as though I knew it already, back in those days at the end of June when he was hospitalized, when every day and each breath might have been his last. I feel little grief now, I wish him peace — but more than that, I feel gratitude. Nelson Mandela showed us, through foul weather and fair, what a human with integrity is, and what such a single human, in the companionship of others, can do.

So many of us must be feeling this gratitude today. Mandela has gone from among the living, to exert his influence now — his person, his strength, his story — in the ever-opening realm of inspiration and human possibility.

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The Vietnam War at Fifty

Monday, November 11th, 2013

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

Today is Veteran’s Day. It is a day when Americans remember all of those who served, in peace or war.

Originally, this day was called Armistice Day in honor of the cease fire that came in ” the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” and brought the horrific slaughter of  World War I to an end. This was fitting.  The First World War loomed large in the memories of our great grandparents and grandparents the way the Civil War did for earlier generations. It was an ominous touchstone of the nadir of which Mankind was capable until it was thoroughly eclipsed by the subsequent horrors of Nazi barbarism in a Second World War – a conflict that seemed a maturation of the first. In the postwar era, Armistice Day became a national tribute to the sacrifices of all veterans.

This year also marks the fiftieth anniversary of American entry into the Vietnam War.

Historians may quibble with this, as American involvement in Vietnam went back to WWII and OSS agents giving advice to Ho Chi Minh in the jungle war against Imperial Japan and Vichy French puppet colonialists, but 1963 is when “American boys” first went to South Vietnam in real numbers.  And many of them were indeed little more than boys. Fifty-eight thousand, two hundred and eighty six of them did not come home.

Those that did are now grown grey with the passage of time.

The Vietnam War caused deeper divisions in the American psyche than any other war except the one that began at Fort Sumter. The wounds have never really healed and they rest inflamed and sore just beneath the scabrous surface of American politics to this day. America has an unenviable historical track record of not treating its veterans very well and those who served in that unpopular war that ended in defeat received on their return home far more than their share of  disdain and abuse.

Even the attempt to build a memorial – the now famously cathartic Wall – roiled at the time in a controversy of unimaginable bitterness. The site eventually became a place of pilgrimage, alive with memory of the dead and compassion for the living. This was a good thing but in truth as a nation we could have done far, far better for the men who served in Vietnam than we did.

The best tribute to these veterans of Vietnam that we can make as a people would be to see that the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan do not repeat the sad experience of their fathers.

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Memorial Day

Monday, May 27th, 2013

I. The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form or ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose, among other things, “of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.” What can aid more to assure this result than by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foe? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their death a tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the Nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and found mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice of neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten, as a people, the cost of free and undivided republic.

If other eyes grow dull and other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain in us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as sacred charges upon the Nation’s gratitude, — the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.

II. It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to call attention to this Order, and lend its friendly aid in bringing it to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.

III . Department commanders will use every effort to make this order effective.

By order of
JOHN A. LOGAN,
Commander-in-Chief
Grand Army of the Republic
May 5, 1868

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A Century of Nixon and the Nixonian Century

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

Richard Milhous Nixon, 37th President of the United States of America and the only man to resign that office would was born one hundred years ago.  His life spanned from the Great War, included service in the Second World War and saw the end of the Cold War – an American victory to which Nixon substantially contributed with the deft statesmanship that was his greatest strength. Nixon stood for national office five times and was on the winning ticket in four of them, a political record matched in American history only by Franklin Roosevelt, a record that includes re-election by the second greatest landslide in history. A triumph that was undone by the paranoia, insecurity and bitterness that ate away at him and led Nixon to betray his oath to uphold the Constitution and forced him out of the Oval Office in disgrace.

So numerous and far-reaching were Nixon’s actions that we can justly say, for good and ill, that a century of Richard Nixon may have helped usher in a Nixonian century.

Richard Nixon named four justices to the Supreme Court, shifting the judicial branch in a more conservative direction, built upon by later Republican presidents; he created the EPA and the first affirmative action program, cut the dollar from it’s last tie to the gold standard,  declared war on drugs, ended the draft and began the All-Volunteer Force and began the movement to decentralize power from Washington bureaucracies to the states.

Some of these policies were ultimately disasters and some were a great success, but domestic policy (in contrast to politics) was never more than an irritating chore to Richard Nixon, one he frequently delegated to Bob Haldeman and John Ehrlichman. Nixon’s true, all-consuming passion – from his first days as a freshman member of Congress to his grim final moments “alone in the White House” to a winter street in Moscow as an elder statesman – was foreign affairs. It was on the world stage that Nixon yearned to not just be “in the arena” but win the game.

Sometimes he did.

Richard Nixon, an inveterate poker player, came into office in 1969 with a bad hand and too few chips on the table. The Nixon administration were the victors in a three-way presidential race inherited a losing war in Vietnam begun by the Democratic “Best and the Brightest” that had savagely divided the American people like no other conflict since the Civil War. Richard Nixon in partnership with Henry Kissinger managed to accomplish, by design and improvisation, a restructuring of American relations and the world order. They blunted a potential nuclear war between Communist China and the USSR, opened up detente with the Soviet Union, negotiated the first SALT and ABM treaty with the Soviets, unilaterally initiated the international monetary regime of floating currencies. In the Mideast, Nixon saw critical American support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War  as an opportunity to move toward a future general Arab-Israeli peace negotiation, that later came to pass in the Camp David Accords during the Carter administration.:

TO:        Secretary Kissinger

FROM:  The President

  1. I have just written a note to Brezhnev emphasizing to him that you speak with my full authority and the commitments you may make in the course of your discussions with him have my complete support.  I also told him that you would be conveying to him my strong commitment to devote my personal efforts toward bringing a lasting peace to the area.
  2. I believe that, beyond a doubt, we are now facing the best opportunity we have had in 15 years to build a lasting peace in the Middle East.  I am convinced that history will hold us responsible if we let this opportunity slip by.
  3. The current Israeli successes at Suez must not deflect us from going all out to achieve a just settlement now.  There is no reason to believe that Israel will not win this war now, as it has won all the previous ones, but you and I know that, in the long run the Israelis will not be able to stand the continuing attrition which, in the absence of a settlement, they will be destined to suffer.
  4. It is therefore even in Israel’s best interests for us to use whatever pressures may be required in order to gain acceptance of a settlement which is reasonable and which we can ask the Soviets to press on the Arabs. [....]

And torturous secret negotiations with Hanoi in Paris led to the painful but necessary American withdrawal from the Vietnam while Nixon’s greatest and most far-reaching triumph was opening relations with Communist China:

While some would argue that China’s opening to the world was inevitable, an isolated China at Mao’s death might have seen power pass into the hands of the Gang of Four, with terrible consequences for the Chinese people. It remains Richard Nixon who changed the strategic geopolitical balance at a time of acute weakness for the United States and set forces in motion that have transformed China and have only yet begun to shake the world.

Nixon’s most important achievements in foreign affairs came at the price of managing his administration first through secrecy, then guile then machiavellian intrigue against even his closest associates and finally with a resentful, angry, ill-will that seemed to consume Nixon and turn every “win” sour:

….At eleven o’clock in the morning, Nixon met with his staff in the Roosevelt Room. To many in the room he seemed oddly cool and quietly angry as he thanked them all for their loyalty and said something few of them understood. He said that he had been reading Robert Blake’sDisraeli and was struck by his description a century ago of William Gladstone’s ministers as “exhausted volcanoes” – and then mumbled something about embers that once shot sparks into the sky.

“I believe men exhaust themselves in government without realizing it” the president said “You are my first team, but today we start fresh for the next four years. We need new blood, fresh ideas. Change is important…..Bob, you take over.”

Nixon left then, turning the meeting over to Haldeman. The men and women of the White House stood to applaud his exit, then sat down. The chief explained what Nixon’s words meant: a reorganization of the administration. He told them that they were expected to deliver letters of resignation before the end of the day, then passed out photocopied forms requiring them to list all official documents in their possession. “These must be in by November 10,” he said. “This should accompany your pro forma letter of resignation to be effective at the pleasure of the President”. They were stunned. Speechless. Were they being fired? Haldeman said they would know within a month whether or not they could remain. At noon, the same drama was played out with the entire Cabinet, with Haldeman again passing out the forms. 

The man who had campaigned in 1968 as the smiling “New Nixon” did not want a chief of staff anymore. Nixon craved a “Lord High Executioner” who would keep underlings at bay and reporters and Congressmen away.

H.R. Haldeman, Nixon’s tirelessly faithful right hand man, obliged, even as he struggled in a losing battle to keep Nixon’s dark side and worst impulses under wraps, tabling orders he deemed vindictive, politically unwise or crazy from being carried out until Nixon had calmed down and had time to reflect. Most of the time Nixon sheepishly thanked Haldeman, but Nixon found other willing hands in Colson, Liddy, Hunt and others. It is probable that Nixon himself approved of the Watergate break-in, but even if he had not done so specifically in that instance, he consented to abuses of power and an illegal apparatus with which to carry them out. The most malign proposal toward American democracy during the Nixon administration, known as “The Huston Plan“, was rejected even by J. Edgar Hoover, was later partially revived during the writing of The Patriot Act. An authoritarian trend that will haunt us for a long time to come.

If Richard Nixon is the father of the multipolar world and contributed greatly to the defeat of Communist totalitarianism, he also laid the foundations of the Creepy-state here at home through Watergate, which damaged the faith of Americans in their government and tarnished democracy. This is as much a part of Nixon’s legacy as Detente or China. Nixon had badly needed the free and absolute pardon that he received from Gerald Ford.

Richard Nixon managed a final comeback as an elder statesman, dispensing often wise geopolitical advice at private dinners where, in his early eighties, Nixon held forth at length, speaking without notes, on the dynamics of how the world really worked, at least through the prism of brutal realpolitik which he saw it. He lived to see the husband of the woman who once sought his prosecution, solicit his counsel in the Oval Office. His funeral drew tens of thousands of mourners and four former presidents of the United States. To the very end, Richard Nixon never gave up. We can’t take that away from him.

Let history judge.

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