Engaging in a little time travel

My daughter and I visited my mother today.  While I helped my Mom with a few things, my daughter ferreted around in my Mom’s bookshelves, and discovered something I didn’t know existed — a book in which my grandmother’s friends at her finishing school in Lausanne, Switzerland, wrote her farewell letters when she graduated and moved back to Belgium in 1913.

As befitted a young woman of her class back in the day before WWI began, my grandmother was multilingual, so the messages in her book were in French, German, Dutch, and English.  The young ladies all included their home addresses — in Belgium, France, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, America, Scotland, England, Wales, Romania, and Persia (Tehran).  Each inscription was written in beautiful copperplate and the girls all drew exquisite little flags reflecting each girl’s country of origin.

Since I, unlike my grandmother (and my parents), am not multilingual, I was able to read only the inscriptions from my grandmother’s English-speaking friends.  I have no word for how charming these little missives were.  An American girl wrote about the irony that she and my grandmother hated each other at first sight, only to become close friends by the end of their time together.  An English girl wrote about the “jolly good times” they had going to concerts with “modern” music consisting of one note, played so low no one could hear it.  Another girl wrote about the disappointment of endless dinners consisting of macaroni and disappointingly watery “chocolate creme.”

The book would have been delightful no matter when it was written, but there was a special poignancy to the fact that these young women were recording the last year before the Great War forever ended the innocence of the 19th century and began the 20th century’s battle with and slide into socialism.  One can so easily imagine them heading out for the day in Lausanne, carrying delicate parasols, wearing their hair plaited and curled under lacy, feathered or flowered hats, and clad in dresses that ended demurely just above their ankles.  For all but the young woman from Persia, the next five years would see their familiar worlds destroyed.  Their brothers, cousins, fathers, husbands, and boyfriends would have marched off to war and, if they returned, they would have carried scars, some visible, some buried deep within.

My grandmother had a hard time of it during WWI, as her German father was sent to prison in Belgium for the duration of the war.  Thankfully, he was a man of so much charm and rectitude that, at war’s end, the stigma attached to imprisonment vanished, and he was quickly able to resume his career as a very wealthy banker. The Belgian Army also conscripted the family’s beloved German Shepherd, Fricki.  When he left, he was a darling dog, who every day delivered to his master the newspaper and a pair of slippers.  When Fricki returned at war’s end, he had been so brutalized by his experiences on the front line that he had to be put down. Humans aren’t the only casualties of war.

I don’t have any pictures of my grandmother at this time, as my mother cherishes them and won’t release them.  Having seen the pictures, though, I can tell you that she my grandmother and her friends would have looked something like this in 1913:

Women's fashions 1913

Our diversity minded administration marks the end of the Iraq war in its own peculiar fashion

One of the most iconic British World War I recruiting posters had as its goal shaming slackers into enlisting by reminding them that, at some future time, their children would want to look up to them for their war service:

The Obama administration has just added a whole new twist to the concept of what constitutes memorable, boast-worthy service during war time.  The administration is putting together a special dinner party to mark the war’s end.  Since it obviously can’t invite every one of the men and women who have served over the past nine years, it’s put together a checklist for qualities the putative dinner guests should meet.

Now, if I were putting together this checklist, I might look at such things as bravery in battle, contributions to moral, dedication, etc.  Apparently, though, I’m stuck in the wrong war, in the wrong century.  Blackfive sets me right:

The military was always the place for people to succeed in ways that they may not have had the chance to in civilian society.  Whether grunt, medic or quartermaster, the military was a place where you succeeded based on the merits of your ability, your hard work.

That’s why I get really really pissed at the Obama Administration when I see things like this – this posting at the Daily Beast POLITICO via This Ain’t Hell about the guest list of enlisted military members for a dinner party to mark the end of the Iraq war (OIF):

The list is being assembled by the senior enlisted representative for the five service chiefs, and the goal is a mix that is racially diverse, old and young, gay and straight.

What the hell?!

Hey, congrations Master Chief, you’ve been selected to dine with the President because you’re the oldest Sailor in DC area who served in Iraq?!

Hey, Gunney, because you’re gay and worked at Balad, you get to meet the President?!

(Read the rest here, both ’cause it’s really good and because it suggests a much more appropriate guest list.)

Can you imagine the hysterical laughter and disbelief in the British War Office during WWI if the correct answer to the child’s question (“Daddy, what did you do in the Great War?”) was “I was gay” or “I was the oldest person in my unit” or “I had a Hispanic surname.”  There’s nothing wrong, of course, with being gay or old or Hispanic, but they are not the primary indicia of noble service to ones country — except, of course, in Obamaland.

I’m sorry to say this, but our Commander in Chief is a joke — a very bad joke.  I’m pretty sure, though, that this is one joke that would not make Martin Luther King laugh.  I believe it was he who thought the best criterion for judging a person wasn’t by looking at the color of his skin (or his sexual preferences or his age), but by examining the content of his character.  That sure goes double and triple for those who have served and who, unlike most of us, have been given the rare opportunity to learn about and put to use the best part of their characters.

Our very literate military

One of my favorite books ever is Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory. (Just as a “by the way,” another wonderful Fussell book is Thank God for the Atom Bomb.)  In The Great War and Modern Memory, Fussell examines how the literary British upper-class men who participated in the British war wrote about it, from the unadulterated patriotism of Rupert Brookes (who saw so little fighting and died of an infected mosquito bite at Gallipoli) to the tortured trauma of Siegfried Sassoon, who spent too many years on the Western Front.  Fussell gracefully weaves military history, literary history, and literary analysis into one seamless, tragic whole.  It is an epic work.

Helping to write a letter 1917

Fussell’s book also makes one aware that there are always two wars going on:  the war on the ground, and what I call “the war as perceived.”  Only the troops know the war on the ground but, if one has a literate military, everyone can experience the war second-hand.  Although not as excessively literary as the British, who were steeped in Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Donne, etc., American troops did a fine job of bringing the war home, at least through the end of WWII.  They wrote home from the front during the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War I and World War II.  Not just that, but during all those wars, a critical percentage of the American male population was engaged in the fight, meaning that, not only were troops writing, a critical percentage of the people at home were reading what the troops wrote.

Things changed after World War II.  We still fought wars and American troops still wrote home, but the audience was shrinking.  Fewer and fewer families had someone on the front.  Americans who did not have a friend or family member in the war lost sight of the “war as perceived.”  Into that vacuum stepped the Leftist propagandists.  They vigorously filled this informational void, most notably with John Kerry’s despicable Winter Soldier lies.  With Vietnam, on the home front, the “war as perceived” began to have a great deal to do with hostile sources — our home-grown communist fifth party — and nothing to do with the military’s own experience.

British chaplain helping WWI soldier write home.

The internet has changed all this.  In the ordinary course of things, between my environment (blue, blue Bay Area) and demographics (I’m too old to have friends who fight and my children are too young to be part of the fighting generation), “the war as perceived” would have passed me by.  Or, to the extent I did learn something about it, that knowledge would have come from the MSM filter, which is alternately maudlin or hostile when it comes to our fighting troops.

But with the internet  . . . well, that’s a different thing entirely.  We get front line reports, not from reporters, enemies, and propagandists, but from the troops themselves.  We also get “back line reports” (for want of a better phrase).  We don’t just learn from the troops about the blood and smoke.  We hear, first hand, about the camaraderie, the training, the boredom, the skill sets, the loss, and the foolish fun.

This first person war reporting is incredibly important.  It’s one of the reasons why, all efforts notwithstanding, the Lefties have been unable to turn Americans against the troops.  Because of the blogs, we know the troops, unfiltered.  They’re young men and young women who train, fight, play, dream, love and hate.  They are us.  We cannot pretend that they are some alien killer beings because the troops themselves won’t let that pretense exist.

The U.S. Army stays connected.

The other thing milblogging teaches us is that so many of those who serve in our military our excellent writers and thinkers.  They are well-informed, thoughtful, funny, intelligent and generally people with whom it’s nice to spend time.  When I read my favorite milblogs, I always think to myself “Gosh, I’d like to have lunch with that writer.”  (To my favorite milbloggers, that’s a hint.  If you’re going in be in town, drop me a line.)

I’d therefore like to introduce you to a few of my favorite milbloggers.  I’d also like it if you’d use the comments section to introduce me (and everyone else) to a few of your favorite milbloggers:

The Mellow Jihadi

Castra Praetoria

Neptunus Lex

CDR Salamander

Blackfive

And a newbie, a female Marine:  Tin and Phoenix

Why can’t we fight to the finish this time, so we’ll never have to do it again?

A friend sent me a link to an editorial bemoaning the fact that, by abruptly pulling out from Iraq and, soon, Afghanistan, the Obama administration is ensuring that we’re leaving a job undone — something that invariably means one has to do it again.  If history is going to keep repeating itself, why can’t we just repeat the good parts?

World War I ended with a definitive American victory, but a dangerous, un-managed peace, one that pretty much made World War II inevitable.  By 1942, my favorite songwriter, Irving Berlin, pretty much summed up the WWII mindset, which was “do it right this time.”

[Verse:]
‘Twas not so long ago we sailed to meet the foe
And thought our fighting days were done
We thought ’twas over then but now we’re in again
To win the war that wasn’t won

[Refrain:]
This time, we will all make certain
That this time is the last time

This time, we will not say “Curtain”
Till we ring it down in their own home town

For this time, we are out to finish
The job we started then

Clean it up for all time this time
So we won’t have to do it again

Dressed up to win
We’re dressed up to win
Dressed up for victory
We are just beginning
And we won’t stop winning
Till the world is free

[Coda:]
We’ll fight to the finish this time
And we’ll never have to do it again

Trust old Irving to hit the nail on the head. And, in fact, that’s what the Allies did.  First, they destroyed entirely the totalitarian states in Germany, Japan and Italy.  Then, in those regions over which they had control (as to those the Soviets held), the Americans carefully rebuilt the nations into democratic allies.  It was a tough, long-haul job, but it prevented post-war massacres and ensured that (so far) we haven’t had to “do it again” with Germany, Italy or Japan.

Clearly, we’re a whole lot dumber now than we were in the mid-20th century. In 1991 we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in Iraq (which is one of the reasons I’ve never liked Colin Powell, whom I’ve always blamed, fairly or not, for being the architect of that foolish retreat). Now, with Obama’s help, we’re doing it all over again, only worse. Does any nation get a third chance to remedy its chronic stupidity? I doubt we will, especially because Obama is also choosing to repeat the disarmament mistakes of the 20s and 30s. Ain’t those fancy Ivy League educations grand? They go in smart and come out stupid.

I’m an armchair warrior (aka a chicken hawk) and I’m disgusted and frustrated. I can only imagine how the troops — the ones who sweated and bled — feel as they watch their Commander in Chief dismantling all of their good work.