Archive for the ‘Military’ Category

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Happy Veteran’s Day

November 11, 2013

Happy Veteran’s Day to all my bothers and sisters that served. We are more than some group or club, we are a family. It is a family I am very proud to be a part of. It is a happy day for us but also a day to reflect on all that it takes to become a veteran. Only 7% of citizens are part of our family. Like all families, we do have our share of dysfunction, but in the end all that fades away and leaves me thankful to call all veterans family.

If nothing else, take today and reflect on just one small point that never fails to make your service special to you, here is mine:

 

I woke up this morning thinking about my father. I miss him greatly. He always made it a point to wish me a happy Veteran’s Day. I remember well the only time he visited me while aboard ship. It was my first submarine, the USS Birmingham. That was one tour I was happy to give. He was fascinated and full of wonder, as if a kid. He asked a million questions. I had never seen him like that. For the first time, I was the teacher and he the student. I think that moment was very special for us both.

When we were walking down the pier to leave, he stopped me, put his hands on my shoulders and said, “I cannot tell you how proud I am, I could never do what you do.” That meant so much to me. You see, in my mind, my dad could do just about anything.

 

Again, Happy Veteran’s Day! May it be fair winds and following seas for all in my veteran family!

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Wednesday’s Humor: We Can All Use A Little Laugh

May 2, 2012

USS Birmingham (SSN-695)

I think we can all use a little laugh in the middle of our week, something to take our minds off work and all the things that drag us down.  Here is a reprint of my short story regarding my nickname in the Navy.

 

They Called Me Barbie

 

You really can’t tell someone what life is like on a submarine.  It’s one of those things you have to experience for yourself.  I mean, you can understand the words for sure; just it misses something in the telling.  Still, there are stories to share that, at the very least, should give a smile.  I guess the best place to start is at the beginning.

I joined the Navy way back when Jimmy Carter was still the President.  It was November 26th when I jumped on a plane heading for Great Lakes, Illinois.  We arrived there around 11:00PM so my first meals in the Navy where the next day, Thanksgiving Day.  It is enough to say, that meal was nothing like the one I was sure momma made back home, but they did try.  Later in my career in the Navy, I would have paid real money for a meal like that but those were lessons yet to learn, on that day, the only lesson was my life had taken a drastic change.

I would not dare compare the Navy’s boot camp to the downright toughness of the Marines, but as far as the Navy goes, Great Lakes was as tough as it got.  Not only the nature of it was harsh, but also I am a Southern boy and Great Lakes, Illinois is no place for the faint of heart in wintertime.  I am sure some smarty out there is just itching to point out that winter does not start until the end of December.  True as that is for the rest of the world, God starts it much earlier in Great Lakes!  I think the Navy put in a special request chit for that so our enjoyment of the nice, cool breeze off the lake would be all the more refreshing.

Back then, most guys that joined the Navy only had a general idea of what they would be doing, for me it was a given from the start.  I have always loved the field of navigation and refused to talk to them unless they let me do that, a job they called “Quartermaster.”  Now, no one gets a guarantee from the Navy unless they give something in return, for me, that give was to volunteer for the United States Submarine Service.  Only then would I be allowed to navigate, so volunteer I did.  As it turns out, that decision had a greater positive impact on my life than any other.

How we saw volunteering.

As others struggled in boot camp to figure out what they wanted to try for, I knew what was ahead for me.  After Great Lakes, I was off to New London, Connecticut for Basic Enlisted Submarine School or BESS as it was commonly called.  Then, it was Orlando, Florida to start Quartermaster “A” school.  I toed the line well through boot camp and BESS; nothing was going to stand in the way of my getting to “A” school.  That’s one of the funny things about the Navy; many a young man join because they are tired of school and want to do something else before going to college.  As soon as they do join, they end up in a year or two of school.  And let me promise you, they know how to give you and education!  On that score, the Navy does not play around.  A Navy school can best be described as long, hard, and demanding.  By the time I was finished, I was ready to go to sea, or so I thought.

I was assigned to the USS Birmingham (SSN-695) out of Norfolk, Virginia.  It was one of the few Los Angeles Class Submarines built at that time.  It was a type of sub called a Fast Attack and I was happy.  She was one of the newer boats in the fleet.  When I arrived in Norfolk, I discovered the Birmingham was out at sea and would not be back for several weeks.  In that time, I met the members of the crew whom did not make the run, along with the other new crewmembers waiting to report.

A new guy on his first submarine is looked on as a necessary waste of food and water by the more seasoned crew.  They cannot do anything and only get in the way.  I soon learned this fact meeting a crewmember topside whom came up to take us aboard.  “Where’s the nubs?” he demanded of the topside watch who just pointed at us.  He was Hap Clark, a Machinist Mate 2nd class or MM2(SS).  The “SS” after his rate meant he was qualified in submarines; new guys, like us at the time, had an “SU” after our rates.  A Master Chief told me “SU means stupid and useless,” who was I to argue the point.

As we followed Hap, he told us to call him Hap, he greeted all the men he passed and introduced us as “the new batch of air-breathing, food-eating nubs.”  We met Rat, Woody, Benny, Scooter, Cam, it seemed everyone had a nickname, most everyone that is.  We’d pass a few guys and Hap would say, “That’s Smith, he’s no good (I made Smith up, no point in putting the finger on them now).  It became obvious to us that when you got a nickname, you knew you had made it in with these guys.

I reported onboard with another new guy from West Virginia, Tim Pearce.  He was a Machinist Mate too, like Hap.  As it turns out, Tim and I often studies together that first year.  See, everyone has to “qualify” on his submarine.  When it is your first one, it takes about a year to learn all the systems and components.  I mean you have to learn everything, where it gets its power, how it operates, how to turn it off (they are big on knowing how to turn things off), and you have to know it from memory.  One day, Tim and I were walking aft to engineering and passed Hap along the way.  “How’s it going HD, you keeping Benton straight?” he asked.  Tim had a nickname!  Of course, Tim had red hair and freckles, so it was only natural for him to get HD.  That was short for Howdy Doody.

I had mixed emotions at this, I mean I was happy that Tim was fitting in but I began to wonder what it would take for me to get a nickname.  Some of the guys had really horrible ones.  You can imagine how rank a bunch of guys can get isolated at sea for a length of time.  Still, things were going well for me and I was well on my way to being qualified and earning my dolphins.  Dolphins are the uniform pin awarded when you qualify in submarines.  Regardless of my lack in the nickname department, I was fitting in.  I had learned to stand watch and at least earn my keep aboard.  I might not have been an expert on submarines at that point, but I was in navigation and being the guy that knows where you are and how to get you home goes a long way aboard ship.

After about six months, I learned that Hap gave out a majority of the nicknames aboard.  He had a knack for it.  I asked him one day if I had one in the offing, he simply told me they come when they come.  I would just have to wait.  We had been to sea a few times by this point and I was comfortable being there.  I did fit in and it felt good.  Still, a little part of me wanted that nickname.  When it did come, it took like wildfire!

In port one morning, about 3:00AM, Hap woke me up to go stand topside watch.  He was the “belowdecks” watch and part of his job was to make sure people were up.  “Barbie,” he said as he shook my shoulder.  “Barbie, it’s time to get up for watch.”  I was still half-asleep as I dressed.  I walked to the mess decks to grab a cup of coffee to take with me topside and saw Hap sitting there with a few others that were up.  Then is hit me – “What the Sam Hill did you call me?”  I demanded.

“Barbie,” he replied with a smile that reminded me of a jackass eating briers, and everyone burst out laughing.

Barbi Benton

“Why Barbie,” I further demanded to know while shaking my head in disbelief.  I knew regardless of his response, I had my nickname.  It was just too good not to stick.  He pointed out that one of Playboy Magazine owner, Hugh Heffner’s girlfriends had been Barbie Benton.  From that moment on, it did not matter, because we shared a last name, I was now stuck with her first name too, at least as a nickname.

Everyone called me “Barbie.”  Guys that reported after that never even knew it was not my name.  At first, it bothered me and when someone would call me that, all I could think about was that song by Jonny Cash, A Boy Named Sue.  A visiting Admiral even told the Captain “that Petty Officer Barbie does a wonderful job.”  Soon I began to accept it for what it was, a nickname given in fun.  It was the crew’s way of telling me I had indeed fit in at last.

 

Story previously appears in Military Writers Society of America and Writer’s Café.

 

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Samuel Dealey, American Naval Hero

December 11, 2011

World War II is full of heroes, as all wars seem to be.  Still, given the scope, scale and especially the sacrifice of our entire nation, the heroes of World War II stand apart as even the average soldier and sailor would be heroic, judged by the standards of other wars.  Samuel David Dealey is just such a standout when it comes to heroes.  His story speaks directly to the spirit of America and the ability of Americans to put country above self.

Born September 13, 1906 in Dallas Texas, Samuel‘s father died when he was six, causing his mother to move the family to California for a time.  He returned to Texas and finished high school and spent two years studying at Southern Methodist University before transferring to the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.  Sam was not the most dedicated student to say the least.  His studies lapsed at Annapolis in 1925 for a time.  He buckled down in 1926 and graduated in the middle of the pack in the class of 1930.  By all accounts, Sam was a smart young man who simply did not apply himself.

Entering the fleet in 1930, Dealey served on several ships (including the USS Nevada (BB- 36) and the USS Wyoming (BB-32)).  In 1934, Samuel made a decision that changed his life; he joined the United States Submarine Service where both his talent and bravado served his needs as well as the Navy’s.  Rising quickly, in 1941 he took command of USS S-20 (SS-120), an experimental submarine, stationed in New London, Connecticut.  He was serving on S-20 when war broke out with Japan attacking Pearl Harbor.

Due to his success on S-20, Sam was assigned to USS Harder (SS-257) a new-construction submarine as its commanding officer.  Many of the improvements tested while he commanded S-20, including the diesel-electric drive, were used on Harder.  After commissioning and shake-down in New London, while in the Caribbean, Harder survived an attack by US aircraft that mistook her for an enemy submarine.  After that, she sailed to Pearl Harbor to join the fleet in mid-1943.

Movie lore often obscures the true acts of heroism as they usurp notable achievements to advance their plots.  Separating fact from fiction becomes very hard.  Such is the case when talking about Commander Dealey.  You see, Commander Dealey earned a nickname during his time on Harder.  He was known as “The Destroyer Killer.”  It seems a requirement for World War II submarine movies to include what is known as the “down the throat” shot.  This is when you fire at a contact that is heading right for you and dive under them as your torpedo slams into them.  Commander Dealey did not invent the maneuver, but it can be argued he perfected it.   During his fifth war patrol, Dealey and the crew of Harder sank five Japanese destroyers in four days.  His tactics we so successful the Japanese thought the island of Tawi-Tawi was surrounded by numerous submarines and abandoned it as a base of operations.  The fact is, the numerous submarines they feared turned out to be just one, USS Harder.  For his actions during this war patrol, Commander Dealey was awarded the Medal of Honor.  The citation reads:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the USS Harder during her fifth war patrol in Japanese controlled waters. Floodlighted by a bright moon and disclosed to an enemy destroyer escort which bore down with intent to attack, Cmdr. Dealey quickly dived to periscope depth and waited for the pursuer to close range, then opened fire, sending the target and all aboard down in flames with his third torpedo. Plunging deep to avoid fierce depth charges, he again surface and, within nine minutes after sighting another destroyer, had sent the enemy down tail first with a hit directly amidship. Evading detection he penetrated the waters of  Tawi Tawi with the Japanese fleet six miles away and scored death blows on two patrolling destroyers in quick succession. With his ship heeled over by the concussion of the first exploding target and the second vessel nose diving in a blinding detonation, he cleared the area at high-speed. Sighted by a large hostile fleet force on the following day, he swung his bow towards the lead destroyer for another “down-the-throat” shot, fired three bow tubes and promptly crash dived to be terrifically rocked seconds later by the exploding ship as the Harder passed beneath. This remarkable record of five vital Japanese destroyers sunk in five short-range torpedo attacks attests the valiant fighting spirit of Cmdr. Dealey and his indomitable command.

In another act of daring, Commander Dealey placed his submarine nose-first against a reef off the Woleai Island to rescue a downed and injured pilot.  Using he engines to keep the submarine against the reef, Harder faced continued sniper and machine gun fire, as well and horrific rip-currents along the reef.  The crew used a rubber raft to cross the reef and retrieve the pilot.  Without his and his crew’s extraordinary efforts, the pilot would have fallen into enemy hands.

In the end, Commander Dealey simply took the fight to the enemy.  He was well aware of the danger he faced with the tactics he used.  Though successful as they were, sadly, USS Harder was lost to enemy action during her sixth war patrol with a loss of all hands aboard, including Commander Dealey.

While much controversy surrounds the reasons for this sixth patrol, nothing can diminish the bravery and sacrifice of men such as Commander Dealey and his crew.  They join the fifty-one other submarines, 374 officers, and 3131 men lost in World War II.  During the war, the US Submarine Service lost a higher percentage of men and any other service.  Remarkably, the entire service only made up 1.6% of the sailors in the US Navy but accounted for over 54% of Japanese ships sunk.  The submariners of World War II put themselves in harm’s way on a daily basis.  Commander Dealey exemplifies the spirit and love of country these special men had, to borrow from Winston Churchill “Of all the branches of men in the forces there is none which shows more devotion and faces grimmer perils than the submariners.” 

During his time as Captain of Harder, Commander Dealey was awarded the Navy Cross with three gold stars, the army’s Distinguished Service Cross (presented to him by Gen. Douglas MacArthur), two presidential unit citations, and a Purple Heart, all in addition to the Medal of Honor.  He was responsible for sinking over 15,000 tons (16 ships) and damaging over 27,000 tons of enemy shipping.

Today, if you visit the submarine base in New London, you will see most buildings are named to honor a hero of the submarine fleet.  Dealey Center, the base cinema complex, is named in honor of Commander Dealey and dedicated to the memory of him, his crew and the USS Harder.

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Gates, Defense Spending and the GDP

May 26, 2011

With his departure as Secretary of Defense coming soon, it is normal for Robert Gates to express his thoughts on the direction his department should go.  Moreover, given his experience under both Republican and Democratic administrations, he is uniquely qualified to put forward ideas devoid of the typical political rhetoric.  He made some qualified comments in a speech hosted by the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy[1].

Regardless of anyone’s stance on the United State’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, the fact is we are involved and someone has to run the Department of Defense (DoD) during that involvement.  In that capacity, Gates’ performance is a marked improvement over his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld.  During his tenure, he changed the philosophy of our strategy to one that works to end a conflict as well as reduced waste in spending within the Defense Department.  In other words, Gates is fighting our wars as cost effectively as possible.

In his speech, Secretary Gates points out the need to address the future needs of the military to meet our political goals.  He quotes Winston Churchill with “the price of greatness is responsibility…  [and] the people of the United States cannot escape world responsibility.[2]”  While the sentiment is true, it is more a question of if the United States can afford the price in the first place.  Mr. Gates frames his argument in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  While that is useful for generalized thinking, it masks the real-world reality he points to in his speech.

Using his GDP comparison is like an individual using his extended family’s purchasing power compared to one of his particular debts.  The amount of production of the US economy does not directly correlate to our level of debt.  A better index compares DoD spending in a particular year to tax revenue for the same year.  Secretary Gates does point this out in his speech DoD spending is less than 15% of federal spending, but couches in the number in the rosier GDP comparison.  Think about it, 15% of our tax revenue goes to military spending.  Using the $540 billion from his speech, that works out to $1,630.00 per citizen last year.  Taken in a vacuum, it is hard to understand the relevance of such numbers.  For that, we need to look at the United States compared to other countries.

Using information gathered from the search site Wolfram Alpha (www.wolframalpha.com), the United States, compared to other nations, spends an inordinate amount on defense.  Consider the following:

  • The United States spends 4.5 times as much on defense as China
  • The United States spends more on defense that the next ten highest spenders combined ($420 billion):
 Defense Spending (in billions) Compared to US
 United States  $ 503.40 N/A
 China  $ 114.70 22.79%
 France  $   55.29 10.98%
 United Kingdom  $   53.43 10.61%
 Germany  $   41.80 8.30%
 Japan  $   35.48 7.05%
 Italy  $   31.72 6.30%
 Saudi Arabia  $   30.98 6.15%
 Russia  $   29.81 5.92%
 Brazil  $   27.76 5.51%
  • The United States spends more per capita ($1,630) than any other country in the top twenty ranked by spending:
 Spending Per Capita
 United States  $1,630.00
 Israel  $1,406.00
 Saudi Arabia  $1,180.00
 Greece  $1,091.00
 Australia  $   869.00
 United Kingdom  $   863.00
 France  $   854.00
 Netherlands  $   604.00
 Italy  $   528.00
 Germany  $   509.00
 South Korea  $   486.00
 Canada  $   367.00
 Spain  $   298.00
 Japan  $   279.00
 Turkey  $   254.00
 Russia  $   212.00
 Brazil  $   142.00
 China  $     84.70
 Indonesia  $     36.30
 India  $     18.60
  • Indonesia (the country with the closest population size to the United States) only spends $36.30 per person.  The US ranks third overall behind Qatar ($2,816) and Kuwait ($1,757).
  • The United States maintains military bases in 28 foreign countries around the world (Afghanistan, Australia, Bahrain, Brazil, British Indian Ocean Territory, Bulgaria, Cuba, Germany, Greece, Greenland, Guam, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kosovo, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Netherlands, Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom).

Given this data, isolating spending to the United States alone does not paint a complete picture.  Secretary Gates points to the need of a military capable of fighting two simultaneous regional wars.  Perhaps it’s time to evaluate what other countries, out partners in many cases, are and are not doing.  Simply put, we (the United States) can no longer fund a military that serves as a positive externality for the economies with which we compete.

For example, our military spends billions of dollars in the Asiatic region.  We support goals like freedom of access to shipping lanes, mutual defense agreements, and deterrence of piracy.  While there is no question it is in our interest, it is in the interest of China too.  The question becomes why should we pay for something that benefits the Chinese economy.  Furthermore, given that China holds a substantial amount of our public debt, in the form of US Treasury Bonds, China loans us the money with which we finance our military.  This means we are paying for the privilege of defending China’s national interests in their own backyard.

By no means is the positive externality limited to China.  Every country listed above spends less of defense simply because we spend more.  In this regard, the amount of military spending compared to GDP is meaningless.  What matters is the long-term debt to GDP ratio.  In this regard, China is in a much better position to take on more costs in defense than the United States.  China’s debt is estimated at $483.5 billion with a GDP of $5.308 trillion.  The United Stated debt is estimated at $14.03 trillion with a GDP of $15.03 trillion.  China’s debt represents 9.6% of GDP.  The United States’ debt represents 93.47% of GDP. Again, calculations based on Wolfram Alpha search results.

By allowing China to avoid their rightful costs, we strengthen their economy and weaken ours.  They benefit not only by the sweat and labor of our military but also by loaning us the money to protect the region.  This is the aspect Mr. Gates does not directly address in his speech.  It is also the flaw in Mr. Churchill’s quote.  Our responsibility to our greatness does not extend to allow other’s to abdicate theirs at our expense.  Perhaps before Mr. Gates suggests the political strategy for the next decade, he needs to temper his thoughts with another quote, by Stephen Crane:

“A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
“A sense of obligation.”[3]


[1] Gates, Robert M. “American Enterprise Institute (Defense Spending).” America in the World: An Address by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Wohlstetter Conference Center, Twelfth Floor, AEI, Washington DC. 24 May 2011. Speech.

[2] Churchill, Winston S. “The Price of Greatness.” Welcome to WinstonChurchill.org. Web. 26 May 2011. <http://www.winstonchurchill.org/learn/speeches/speeches-of-winston-churchill/118-the-price-of-greatness>.

[3] Crane, Stephen. “War Is Kind.” The Literature Network: Online Classic Literature, Poems, and Quotes. Essays & Summaries. Web. 26 May 2011. <http://www.online-literature.com/crane/2560/>.

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The Reasoning Behind the Second Amendment

February 22, 2011

A lack of understanding our national history leads to erroneous debate surrounding the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.  Only by pealing back time does the correct view of its meaning take place.  Regardless of how loudly either side in the argument (gun ownership rights vs. banning guns all together) screams, the Second Amendment’s meaning is what it was back in 1791, when the States ratified the Bill of Rights.

Without question, the twenty-seven words of the Second Amendment are some of the most debated in American History.  In retrospect, one may wonder why our Founding Fathers constructed an amendment with such an ambiguous meaning, but that is the point – it is not ambiguous.  The text of the amendment reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.[1]”  In reading the amendment, if taken in the context of 1791, its meaning is clear.

Starting at the beginning, in May of 1607, England established its first permanent settlement in North America, Jamestown[2].  From then until February 1912, with the statehood of Arizona, the colonies and Untied States, as a nation, had frontier territory contained within its boarders.  Taking Alaska and Hawaii into account, the date moves to 1959.   The term frontier implies a certain wildness and untamed nature.  Even after statehood, vast areas within newly formed states remained untamed for years.

Since Jamestown, and through the implementation of Manifest Destiny, the areas of America’s frontier changed, changing the needs of the citizens along with it.  For instance, 1881 Washington, DC has more in common with today’s metropolitan areas than it did with the Western frontier town of Fort Sumner, New Mexico of its day.  Two notable killings took place that year, one carried out by a county sheriff and his posse (a type of temporary militia used at the county and town level) the other,carried out by a lone gunman.

The sheriff’s situation is well-known.  He was Pat Garrett and his posse (the number of men in posse is hotly debated) hunted down Billy the Kid in Fort Sumner[3].  Washington’s lone gunman has less notoriety, his name: Charles Guiteau.  Guiteau surrendered to Washington police who arrested him for the assassination of President James Garfield[4].  The point is, in the West, militias (posses) were commonly employed to answer specific needs while Washington counted on a police force.  As settled areas become stable, and communities grow, the dangers faced by its citizens change.  In Washington the need for a ready response of arms was no longer required, while in Fort Sumner existence itself depended on it.

In respect to the Second Amendment, it is the dangerous nature of frontier land, which promoted the need of local militia.  As settlements grew, displaced groups, like Native American, took exception to loosing land they lived on for years, if not centuries.  Moreover, settlers gave little notice to treaties with tribal governments or boundaries of native lands, making hostilities inevitable.

Before the American Revolution, the overall duty to protect citizens fell to the British Army.  The size of the colonies made protection impossible.  With its vast territory and over 3,000 miles distance from England, the American Colonies presented the British Army with a very large logistics problem.  The Army’s primary concern was holding off encroachment of other nations, like France and Spain, into areas England claimed.  This left far-flung settlements at the mercy of angry Native-Americans, as well as raiding parties of the other nations.  Raising local militia solved the immediate assistance issue.

At the outbreak of hostilities, a settlement’s government called out their militia.  The unit was expected to meet the particular event and resolve it, or at least hold out until regular army troops arrived.  It was a system of mutual benefit to the Crown Government as well as the colonists.

The most famous militia organization was the Massachusetts Minutemen.  The romantic view of this militia is farmers grabbing their guns and running to fight when called upon by the likes of Paul Revere.  In truth, the Minutemen were a formal militia unit given a charter by the Massachusetts Provencal Congress in 1774[5].  Every community supplied men for their local militia similar to the Minutemen, but all were under the control of some sort of civilian authority and not a rabble with bad intent.

Some of the same militia units employed in support of regular British Army units before the American Revolution, later supported, if not enrolled in whole in the Continental Army under General George Washington.  In fact, General Washington’s first experience in military affairs was as adjutant in charge of Virginia’s Southern District Militia.  In this role, Washington inspected, mustered, and regulated the various companies of men.  He later led Virginia’s Militia into the Ohio River region and briefly fought regular French troops and their Algonquin allies in the engagement that began the French-Indian War[6].

After America’s independence from Great Britain, the new federal army faced the same logistical issues suffered by the British before them.  Again, local militias formed to meet the need.  Again, the various governments authorized and organized militia under local authority.

One such organized unit was the First Regiment of the Chatham County Mailias, which served the Savannah, Georgia region.  Shortly after the war in 1786, a group of runaway slaves, which fought with the British “refused to return to the service of their owners,” as a history of the time put it[7].  No right-minded person could possible blame them.  This group marauded and waylaid traffic along the Savannah River.  Numbering over thee-hundred armed men, they were more than the normal civil authority (the county sheriff) could remotely handle.  The First Regiment Militia, assisting regular army troops stationed at Beaufort, SC. routed the men from their encampment in the swamps along Bear Creek and restored order.  As a side note, any society that chooses to enslave a large portion of its population is well advised to keep a sizable militia handy.

In the end, during our initial development as a nation, individual states required the militia to maintain order.  Rather than a position of sinecure, militia served, earned their pay (or received no pay at all) and often died in the process.  It was left to the federal government to maintain a national army and to the states to maintain a self-policing force the national army called upon from time to time.  That is what the Second Amendment is about, the ability of the individual states to maintain civil order and assist in national times of need.  Standing armies are costly.  Avoiding that level of public debt, states organized militia groups.

While gun advocates point to the Second Amendment and claim the right of gun ownership, the Amendment does not interfere with each individual state’s ability to regulate the practice.  In truth, it does not even require a state to allow gun ownership.  It simply prevents the federal government from outlawing it.  Unlike the First Amendment, the Second does not enumerate several different rights; it limits the authority of the federal government to interfere with individual states and citizens protecting themselves.

One reason militia worked before and not now – the large variety of weapons available.  Until the time of the Civil War, a man with a musket only needed a few pieces of flint, some bulk lead, and a supply of gunpowder.  With the limited caliber of muskets, casting of balls was a simple process handled in the field camp; many men carried their own casts simplifying matters further.  With the invention of cartridge style ammunition, supplies of pre-manufactured bullets for each type of weapon are required.  Imagine the supply chain nightmare of supporting a unit in the field with a dozen or so different cartridges.  Simply put, no longer can a government expect to supply ammunition to citizens bringing their own weapon to a fight; the variety is overwhelming.

Today, the National Guard takes on the role the militias filled in years past.  They are a hybrid of militia groups and a standing army.  Fringe survivalist groups claim some tie-in to our historic militia groups, but they lack the charter and civil oversight to operate in the public interest.  In the end, they are a bunch of guys with guns that challenge the civil authority, not work to protect the population at large.  Mostly, the need to call men at a moments notice to man the parapets is gone.  Organized militias, as intended by the Second Amendment, are simply of no practical use today.

It is easy to get caught up in the rhetoric of organizations like the National Rifle Association and its focus on the later half of the amendment, the “right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” portion.  What they fail to acknowledge is the role the states play or the “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State” portion.  Of course, the gun control fanatics are just as far off point, as the amendment does afford citizens the right to own a gun at the federal level and a state walks a fine line when they attempt to limit that right.

What both groups fail to understand is we do not live in 1791 anymore nor is our society some utopia where we sit around a campfire and sing Kumbayah.  Guns and gun related violence exist in our society today.  It is true statement that outlawing citizens from owning guns leaves only the criminals with gun.  It is equally true that improvements in firearm technology places in the hands of one individual the means to rapidly murder dozens of citizens.  The tragic events at Virginia Tech come to mind[8].

The Founding Fathers never intended our Constitution and the Bill of Rights to be static.  After two-hundred and twenty years of development, both in society and technology, it is about time we revisit the Second Amendment and modify it to reflect the times today.  Outlawing gun ownership is not any sort of answer, just as it’s not an answer to allow any nut with a diver’s license to own a bazooka.  What we really need is to address the issue respecting various points of view and craft a new amendment that will serve the United States over the next two-hundred and twenty years.

Follow Up Reading:

Here is another blog post expanding on the issues of rights and gun control: Guns, Driving and Our Rights

 


[1] “The Constitution of the United States of America,” Amendment 2. GPO Access Home Page. Web. 22 Feb. 2011. <http://www.gpoaccess.gov/constitution/html/amdt2.html>.

[2] “Jamestown Settlement.” Official Jamestown Settlement & Yorktown Victory Center Visitor’s Site. Web. 22 Feb. 2011. <http://www.historyisfun.org/jamestown-settlement.htm>.

[3] “Billy the Kid.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 22 Feb. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_the_Kid#Death>.

[4] “Charles J. Guiteau.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 22 Feb. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Guiteau#Assassination_of_Garfield>.

[5] Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia Standard: 2004, Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation.

[6] “The French and Indian War.” Antique Prints And Maps From The Philadelphia Print Shop. Web. 22 Feb. 2011. <http://www.philaprintshop.com/frchintx.html>.

[7] Charles Jones, Jr. The Life and Services of the Honorable Maj. Gen. Samuel Elbert (Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1887), SUPPLAMENTAL NOTES, 47.

[8] June, Early. “Virginia Tech Massacre.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 22 Feb. 2011.  <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_Tech_massacre>.

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The Deals We Make

January 22, 2010

In the work An Essay on Man, Alexander Pope writes, “The proper study of Mankind is Man.”  Extending this thought to a federal level, the business of the United States Government is the United States.  As simple as that theme sounds, the treaties and trade agreements we establish gives our government issues beyond the United States to consider.

Isolationism is not in the best interest of the United States; neither is a long-term tie that becomes outdated or has a broad scope.  With the complexity of the world today, both treaties and trade agreements need to be focused and short-lived.  As President Jefferson put it, “Observations on the expediency of making short treaties are most sound.  Our situation is too changing and too improving to render an unchangeable treaty expedient for us,” over two-hundred years later his words hold true.

Of course, other nations will not like a short time frame on our agreements.  It is in their interest to bind us for as long as possible.  While the same may hold true for our binding them, it works against our tradition of freedom of choice and the exercise of free trade with others not included in the agreement.  If we have free trade with only a few nations, we simply push the bar of exclusion out and remain isolationist in nature.  After all, free trade implies the ability to trade with anyone you wish.

Even long-standing treaties concerning national defense need review.  After World War II, we formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).  The alliance provides mutual protection against aggression.  The primary source of that aggression, the Soviet Union, no longer exists and European countries are now member of the European Union.  They no longer require a mutual defense agreement with the United States.  NATO, as a whole, is now a quasi-United Nations that deals with multinational issues other than self-defense.  The question is do we need NATO?  Is it redundant?

Treaties and agreements that deal with true international issues better serve us then ones that focus on a particular group or nation.  Issues like freedom of commerce on the high seas and climate change, issues that cross national boarders as easily as the wind.  No agreement with other nations should be long-standing or without review.  In the end, the United States needs only one country with “Most Favored Nation”  status –  the United States.

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The Mighty 8th

January 19, 2010

I saw in news recently the Georgia chapter of the Eighth Air Force Historical Society held their last statewide meeting.  Age is catching up to the men and travel is difficult.  After reading the article, I recalled my visit, a few years ago, to the Mighty Eight Air Force Museum outside of Savannah, Georgia.  I speed past the museum driving along Interstate-95 many times, seeing the bomber behind it catches the eye, but it was a long time before I stopped in.

Entering the museum grounds, you really do not get a sense of the place.  It is an attractive building but somehow does not capture the special nature of its contents.  I’m not sure any building could.  Opening its doors and entering is stepping back in time and you begin, just begin, to understand the debt we owe to these brave men.

I arrived late in the day and the museum had few visitors.  They give guided tours throughout the day but the last one was well underway.  The woman at the ticket counter said I was free to wander around though and suggested I speak with an older gentleman sitting near the entrance of the first exhibit.  He obviously was one of the tour guides and had finished for the day.  I felt bad at bothering him but did as the woman suggested.

The man sat in a folding chair and looked tired.  Not the kind of tired you get mowing the lawn on a hot day, rather the kind that takes a lifetime of accumulation.  Still, as I approached him, I could see a glint in his eye, a spark of the fire that started many years earlier.  I told him I knew I was too late for a tour but asked if he minded telling me about the museum and what I’d see.  He rose to his feet, no longer looking tired, full of life.  He took me by the arm and said, “Son, can’t do it, there’s just some things in life ya have to see.”  He took me on the tour.

Turns out, he fought with the Mighty Eighth during World War II and was one of several veterans giving tours.  He spent the next hour telling me what I would see at each exhibit, and then gave me time to take it in.  After, he told me something personal about each one.  Everything from letters from home and buddies lost, to flying in combat and finally coming home.  He gave me a history lesson I will never forget.  Without him, the day would have been special, with him – it was magical.  After the tour, I told my guide I wanted to write about it and asked if he minded me using his name, he said he did not but preferred me say, “it was just one of the boys.”

The Mighty Eighth paid a heavy price in World War II.  Of the over 200,000 men who served in it, 26,000 died in combat.  Over three times that number wounded.  They attacked Germany’s ability to make war, something the Germans were keen on protecting.  The Eight Air Force played a major role in the Allied victory.  Now, when I drive down I-95 and see the museum, I take my foot off the gas; give a glance and a salute to all the boys, the heroes of the air, who gave so much of themselves to our country.

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