Archive for May 2010

Happy Memorial Day

May 31, 2010

In honor of those who lost their lives while serving our country, I would like to share President Ronald Reagan’s 1986 Memorial Day remarks at Arlington National Cemetery:

Today is the day we put aside to remember fallen heroes and to pray that no heroes will ever have to die for us again. It’s a day of thanks for the valor of others, a day to remember the splendor of America and those of her children who rest in this cemetery and others. It’s a day to be with the family and remember.

I was thinking this morning that across the country children and their parents will be going to the town parade and the young ones will sit on the sidewalks and wave their flags as the band goes by. Later, maybe, they’ll have a cookout or a day at the beach. And that’s good, because today is a day to be with the family and to remember.

Arlington, this place of so many memories, is a fitting place for some remembering. So many wonderful men and women rest here, men and women who led colorful, vivid, and passionate lives. There are the greats of the military: Bull Halsey and the Admirals Leahy, father and son; Black Jack Pershing; and the GI’s general, Omar Bradley. Great men all, military men. But there are others here known for other things.

Here in Arlington rests a sharecropper’s son who became a hero to a lonely people. Joe Louis came from nowhere, but he knew how to fight. And he galvanized a nation in the days after Pearl Harbor when he put on the uniform of his country and said, “I know we’ll win because we’re on God’s side.” Audie Murphy is here, Audie Murphy of the wild, wild courage. For what else would you call it when a man bounds to the top of a disabled tank, stops an enemy advance, saves lives, and rallies his men, and all of it single-handedly. When he radioed for artillery support and was asked how close the enemy was to his position, he said, “Wait a minute and I’ll let you speak to them.” [Laughter]

Michael Smith is here, and Dick Scobee, both of the space shuttle Challenger. Their courage wasn’t wild, but thoughtful, the mature and measured courage of career professionals who took prudent risks for great reward—in their case, to advance the sum total of knowledge in the world. They’re only the latest to rest here; they join other great explorers with names like Grissom and Chaffee.

Oliver Wendell Holmes is here, the great jurist and fighter for the right. A poet searching for an image of true majesty could not rest until he seized on “Holmes dissenting in a sordid age.” Young Holmes served in the Civil War. He might have been thinking of the crosses and stars of Arlington when he wrote: “At the grave of a hero we end, not with sorrow at the inevitable loss, but with the contagion of his courage; and with a kind of desperate joy we go back to the fight.”

All of these men were different, but they shared this in common: They loved America very much. There was nothing they wouldn’t do for her. And they loved with the sureness of the young. It’s hard not to think of the young in a place like this, for it’s the young who do the fighting and dying when a peace fails and a war begins. Not far from here is the statue of the three servicemen—the three fighting boys of Vietnam. It, too, has majesty and more. Perhaps you’ve seen it—three rough boys walking together, looking ahead with a steady gaze. There’s something wounded about them, a kind of resigned toughness. But there’s an unexpected tenderness, too. At first you don’t really notice, but then you see it. The three are touching each other, as if they’re supporting each other, helping each other on.

I know that many veterans of Vietnam will gather today, some of them perhaps by the wall. And they’re still helping each other on. They were quite a group, the boys of Vietnam—boys who fought a terrible and vicious war without enough support from home, boys who were dodging bullets while we debated the efficacy of the battle. It was often our poor who fought in that war; it was the unpampered boys of the working class who picked up the rifles and went on the march. They learned not to rely on us; they learned to rely on each other. And they were special in another way: They chose to be faithful. They chose to reject the fashionable skepticism of their time. They chose to believe and answer the call of duty. They had the wild, wild courage of youth. They seized certainty from the heart of an ambivalent age; they stood for something.

And we owe them something, those boys. We owe them first a promise: That just as they did not forget their missing comrades, neither, ever, will we. And there are other promises. We must always remember that peace is a fragile thing that needs constant vigilance. We owe them a promise to look at the world with a steady gaze and, perhaps, a resigned toughness, knowing that we have adversaries in the world and challenges and the only way to meet them and maintain the peace is by staying strong.

That, of course, is the lesson of this century, a lesson learned in the Sudetenland, in Poland, in Hungary, in Czechoslovakia, in Cambodia. If we really care about peace, we must stay strong. If we really care about peace, we must, through our strength, demonstrate our unwillingness to accept an ending of the peace. We must be strong enough to create peace where it does not exist and strong enough to protect it where it does. That’s the lesson of this century and, I think, of this day. And that’s all I wanted to say. The rest of my contribution is to leave this great place to its peace, a peace it has earned.

Thank all of you, and God bless you, and have a day full of memories.


A Crack in the Stoic’s Armor by Nancy Sherman

May 31, 2010

In a remarkably prescient moment in September, 1965, James B. Stockdale, then a senior Navy pilot shot down over Vietnam, muttered to himself as he parachuted into enemy hands, “Five years down there at least, I’m leaving behind the world of technology and entering the world of Epictetus.” As a departing graduate student at Stanford, Stockdale received a gift of Epictetus’s famous “Enchiridion,” a 1st-century Stoic handbook. The text looked esoteric, but in his long nights aboard the U.S.S. Ticonderoga, he found himself memorizing its content. Little did he know then that Stoic tonics would become his salvation for seven and a half years as the senior prisoner of war, held under brutal conditions by the North Vietnamese at Hoa Lo prison, the Hanoi Hilton.

Epictetus, who was a slave around the time of Nero, wrote: “Our thoughts are up to us, and our impulses, desires, and aversions — in short, whatever is our doing … Of things that are outside your control, say they are nothing to you.”

With these words, Stockdale drew a stripe between what he could and could not control. But he never lost the sense that what he could control was what mattered most and that his survival, even when tortured and in solitary confinement for four years, required constant refortification of his will.

Stockdale’s resilience is legendary in the military. And it remains a living example, too, for philosophers, of how you might put into practice ancient Stoic consolations. But for many in the military, taking up Stoic armor comes at a heavy cost.

In the military, even those who have never laid eyes on a page of Epictetus, still live as if they have. To suck it up is to move beyond grieving and keep fighting.

The Stoic doctrine is essentially about reducing vulnerability. And it starts off where Aristotle leaves off. Aristotle insists that happiness depends to some degree on chance and prosperity. Though the primary component of happiness is virtue — and that, a matter of one’s own discipline and effort — realizing virtue in the world goes beyond one’s effort. Actions that succeed and relationships that endure and are reciprocal depend upon more than one’s own goodness. For the Stoics, this makes happiness far too dicey a matter. And so in their revision, virtue, and virtue alone, is sufficient for happiness. Virtue itself becomes purified, based on reason only, and shorn of ordinary emotions, like fear and grief that cling to objects beyond our control.

In the military, even those who have never laid eyes on a page of Epictetus, still live as if they have. To suck it up is to move beyond grieving and keep fighting; it is to stare death down in a death-saturated place; it is to face one more deployment after two or three or four already. It is hard to imagine a popular philosophy better suited to deprivation and constant subjection to stressors.

And yet in the more than 30 interviews I conducted with soldiers who have returned from the long current wars, what I heard was the wish to let go of the Stoic armor. They wanted to feel and process the loss. They wanted to register the complex inner moral landscape of war by finding some measure of empathy with their own emotions. One retired Army major put it flatly to me, “I’ve been sucking it up for 25 years, and I’m tired of it.” For some, like this officer, the war after the war is unrelenting. It is about psychological trauma and multiple suicide attempts, exacerbated by his own sense of shame in not being the Stoic warrior that he thought he could and should be. He went to war to prove himself, but came home emasculated.

Still we oversimplify grossly if we view all returning warriors through the lens of pathology and post-traumatic stress. Many soldiers wrestle with what they have seen and done in uniform, even when their conflicts don’t rise to the level of acute or chronic psychological trauma. And they feel guilt and shame even when they do no wrong by war’s best standards. Some anguish about having interrogated detainees not by torture, but the proper way, by slowly and deliberately building intimacy only in order to exploit it. Others feel shame for going to war with a sense of revenge and for then feeling its venom well up when a sniper guns down their buddy and their own survival depends on the raw desire for payback. They worry that their triumph in coming home alive is a betrayal of battle buddies who didn’t make it. And then once home, they worry that their real family is back on the battlefield, and they feel guilt for what feels like a misplaced intimacy.

These feelings of guilt and shame are ubiquitous in war. They are not just responses to committing atrocities or war crimes. They are the feelings good soldiers bear, in part as testament to their moral humanity. And they are feelings critical to shaping soldiers’ future lives as civilians. Yet these are feelings blocked off by idealized notions of Stoic purity and strength that leave little room for moral conflict and its painful residue.

One of the more compelling stories I heard was from a former Army interrogator who had been at Abu Ghraib as part of the “clean-up” act, a year after the torture scandal. This young interrogator had not engaged in torture or “enhanced” interrogation techniques: He did not subject detainees to waterboarding, or prolonged stress positions, or extreme sleep or sensory deprivation. Still, what he did do did not sit well with his civilian sensibilities. In one incident that especially bothered him, he showed a resistant detainee who had been stonewalling him a disturbing picture of a family member who had just been killed by a rival insurgent group in a bombing. The detainee broke down and after months of silence, finally started to talk. After the session, the interrogator walked out of the cell and chuckled to himself: “That finally got him to talk.” That crowing at getting another to become so vulnerable felt morally repulsive to him now.

He offered a striking analogy for what it felt like to be the interrogator he once was: Entering the interrogation cell was a bit like going into a mass with Gregorian chants sung in Latin: It takes place, he said, “in a different universe.” “War, too, takes place in a different time and space.” In essence, he was describing dissociation, or for the Stoics, what amounts to detachment from certain objects so they cannot affect you. Yet for this young interrogator detachment was not ultimately a viable solution: “I know I am the same person who was doing those things. And that’s what tears at your soul.”

Cicero, a great translator and transmitter of the earliest Greek Stoic texts, records a similar inner struggle. After the loss of his daughter Tullia in childbirth, he turned to Stoicism to assuage his grief. But ultimately he could not accept its terms: “It is not within our power to forget or gloss over circumstances which we believe to be evil…They tear at us, buffet us, goad us, scorch us, stifle us — and you tell us to forget about them?”

Put in the context of today’s wars, this could just as easily be a soldier’s narrative about the need to put on Stoic armor and the need to take it off.

Nancy Sherman is University Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown and has served as the first Distinguished Chair in Ethics at the U.S. Naval Academy. She is the author of five books, including her most recent, “The Untold War: Inside the Hearts, Minds and Souls of Our Soldiers.”

Iran: From Hostage Crisis to the Bomb?

May 29, 2010

Iran: From Hostage Crisis to the Bomb?
Even Adolf Hitler respected diplomatic immunity.
By WARREN KOZAK Published in The Wall Street Journal and on May 24, 2010
We measure their rhetoric, we monitor their actions both within their borders and abroad, and we wonder: “Once they get it, would they use it?” But perhaps we are asking the wrong question when it comes to Iran’s race to get the bomb.
That question may have been answered 31 years ago in the very first days of the Iranian Revolution. The regime was barely born when it manifested personality traits that clearly told us this was no ordinary group of rulers. The Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Tehran and established the Islamic Republic on April 1, 1979. Seven months later, on Nov. 4, 1979, the Iranians threw out centuries of international diplomatic rules that every other country on earth observes, stormed the American Embassy, and held everyone inside hostage for over a year. What does tossing out diplomatic immunity really mean? Is immunity some quaint old custom or is there a greater message in this act?
Here’s a clue: In the middle of the bloodiest global conflict in human history—World War II—even Adolf Hitler understood and respected the importance of diplomatic immunity. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, the U.S. rounded up the Germans and Japanese in their embassies in Washington and put them in hotels under guard (including the luxurious Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia). Germany and Japan did the same with our embassy staffs in Berlin and Tokyo (although their hotels were not as deluxe).
The Swiss negotiated an exchange and within six months all embassy personnel on each side were back home. Hitler and Hirohito understood the mutual benefits of this protocol.
This is not to say the Iranians haven’t used diplomatic immunity when it serves their purposes. On July 18, 1994, a powerful car bomb detonated outside the Jewish Center in Buenos Aires, killing 85 and wounding 300. Although no one has ever been brought to justice for this terrorist act, Argentine prosecutors laid the blame squarely on Iranian government officials tied to their embassy in Buenos Aires. Ahmad Vahidi, the former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, is still wanted by Interpol for his alleged participation in that bombing. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reaction to this indictment? He tapped Mr. Vahidi to be Iran’s minister of defense last year.
From the very start we have conducted our diplomacy with Iran as if it were Belgium, and we seem surprised when we get the same dismal results. President Jimmy Carter tried and failed miserably, ending his political career, and every secretary of state since seems unable to accept that the Iranian leaders don’t negotiate like us, they don’t think like us and they certainly don’t like us. Yet we continue.
Throughout the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama focused his future foreign policy on engagement with Iran, repeatedly distancing his diplomacy from that of George W. Bush. On May 18, 2008, candidate Obama suggested Iran “doesn’t pose a threat to us the way the Soviet Union posed a threat” and he reminded his audience that “Kennedy talked to Khrushchev, Reagan talked to Gorbachev and Nixon talked to Mao.” Backing up his campaign rhetoric, just two months after his inauguration, President Obama reached out to Iran offering “the promise of a new beginning” to be “grounded in mutual respect.”
That respect has hardly been mutual. Iran’s uranium-enrichment plants continue to hum. Its missiles can now reach Western Europe with longer range vehicles on the way. And when Mr. Ahmadinejad clearly says he envisions a world without Israel, many refuse to take him at his word.
Instead, we are reminded that we feared a Soviet bomb in the 1950s and a Chinese bomb in the 1960s and we survived. We have even learned to live with a nuclear North Korea and Pakistan. And while the Iranians have been killing Americans for decades—243 Marines in Beirut in 1983 along with countless IEDs that have been exported to Iraq—we tend to sweep these issues under the rug.
Even the apocalyptic views of its leaders—who believe and await the return of an imam from the 13th century for the day of judgment for all infidels—are ignored, as are those “Death to America” rallies that have been a constant in Iran from the start of the Revolution.
For all the talk about Israel that comes out of Tehran, few seem to remember that the major focus of Iran’s bile since 1979 has not been the Little Satan (Israel) but the Great Satan (the United States).
All of which leads us to the question we should be asking. What if the Iranians mean what they say?
Mr. Kozak is the author of “LeMay: The Life and Wars of General Curtis LeMay” (Regnery, 2009).