9/11

“I miss 9/12. I would never want another 9/11, but I miss the America of 9/12. Stores ran out of flags to sell because they were being flown everywhere. People were Americans before they were upper/lower class, Jewish/Christian, Republican/Democrat. We hugged people without caring of they ate Chic-Fil-A or wore Nikes.

On 9/12, what mattered more to us was what united us, not what divided us.”

Elizabeth S. Gray.

You talk to anyone who was old enough on September 11th 2001 to have a memory from that day and I guarantee they can recite where they were when it happened. The terror attacks that took place on that day altered the history of not only the United States but the world.

A simple date, 9/11, became a synonym for terror. There would be attacks after that fateful date around the world that would be refered to as a country’s “own 9/11.” Even up to this day, pundits and terror experts alike ask themselves if there could be “another 9/11”.

The world changed on that fateful day. While the attacks were targeted at the United States, the repercussions were felt around the world. Air travel is drastically different now than prior to the attacks. Law enforcement now has procedures and response in how to deal with terror attacks. Our intelligence community seemingly works on a continuous basis identifying the next threatening terror cell. We work with partner nations that have terror cells operating within their borders, helping teach them tactics to deal with them.

American soldiers conducting a foot patrol in Afghanistan.

The conflict in Afghanistan, which started as a response to the 9/11 attacks, will hit it’s 18th anniversary this October. That means that there are individuals entering the military and potentially going to Afghanistan who were born the year 9/11 happened. They grew up in a post 9/11 world, they know no different. They are going to serve in a war that is as old as they are. That is truly jaw dropping, and shows the breadth of fighting Islamic Radicals.

I was a sophomore in high school when the attacks happened. I remember hearing about the “bombings in New York”. Classes that day were suspended, as we listened to radio reports and watched news reports covering it. When I went home, it was silent outside. No aircraft passing overhead. Everyone seemed to be staying home, huddled around the television watching the coverage. The feeling permeating the area was one of sadness. Everything seemed still and quiet.

I went into our garage because I remembered we had some small flags left over from Memorial Day when the American Legion Post put them out. I grabbed them and the flag we had for the hook on the front of our house. I hung the big flag up and placed the small flags in our yard along the roadway. I felt I had to do something, and this was my contribution. After I finished that, I noticed other houses hanging their flags as well. Soon the whole street had houses with flags hanging off of them.

Aside from the violence of the day, this is the other major memory I have. The flood of patriotism that swept the nation after the attacks is something I am happy to have witnessed in my life. It seemed like everyone was friendly to each other, neighbors looking out for neighbors. I would never want the horrors of that day, however the patriotism that swept through the nation is something I wish we could experience again. I haven’t seen anything like it since, given all that has happened in this country.

We as a people have lost our sense of patriotism and pride in our nation. For some reason, being prideful of our nation is looked down upon. Maybe it is war weariness, however our society as a whole has been removed from war and it’s effects. Our military has carried the load for that, carrying that burden on behalf of the American people. Our society has broken up into groups, identifying more with their group than as Americans.

9/11 has faded into memory, seemingly not as impactful as it once had been. I wonder if the Greatest Generation felt the same way 18 years after Pearl Harbor. Granted we were not still involved in the war that resulted from Pearl Harbor, but I wonder if the generation that fought that war noticed the lack of patriotism and understanding of the events of that day like I feel about 9/11 today. Our way of life was attacked, and still is under attack by those that loath everything that makes America what it is. I hope the lessons we have learned in the last 18 years, the sacrifices made by those who gave their lives and those whose loved ones died were not given up in vain. As Americans we should always remember what it felt like to have our nation rocked by such violence. Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Korean War Series

“Funny thing is, I didn’t see any police where I was at.”

– Corporal Morris Kiefer. B Battery 955th Field Artillery Battalion.

My late Grandfather, Morris Kiefer, was a Korean War veteran. He was drafted and sent over to the peninsula to serve in a war that wasn’t declared a war and was instead called a “police action.” He would scoff at that and say, “Funny thing is I didn’t see any police where I was at.”

He didn’t speak much about his experience over there, and what he did share you could tell it troubled him. What stood out to me the most was what he said happened when he came home. He told me when he came back, people acted like he hadn’t been gone that long, (even though he was deployed for a year), and he was told to “get back to work”. This is a stark contrast to the ticker tape parades of the returning veterans of World War Two who returned home just five years prior to the start of the conflict in Korea.

There is an entire generation of veterans who now are disappearing, who’s stories are going to be lost. They are the veterans of a conflict that was stuck between the infamous battles of World War Two and the divisive aspects and implications of the Vietnam War. Go on Netflix or Amazon Prime and you can find a plethora of World War Two and Vietnam War films. Search any book seller and you will find the same. But a conflict that had its own heroics, that affected a generation no different than the war before or after it, is largely forgotten. No generation of veterans should ever be forgotten, but Korea had the moniker of being America’s “Forgotten War”. This should not be a thing, but sadly it is.

Given the ebb and flow of tension with North Korea making headlines recently, many people who will no doubt share their opinion online or on one of the various media outlets probably could not without the aid of Google tell you any of the major battles of the Korean War. They couldn’t tell you the nations involved in that conflict, or the leaders who sent them there. They couldn’t tell you how the nation of Korea came to be divided between a Communist North and Democratic South. More importantly, understanding the conflict and honoring those who served in a war that had global implications is necessary to ensure the veterans of this conflict get the honor and thank you long overdue. That is the plan with my upcoming series.

2020 will mark the 70 year anniversary of the start of the war. With this blog series, I will publish an “on this date” post covering significant events. I urge anyone who reads them to share it, and help spread the word of the conflict. My ultimate goal is to attract as much attention to it as possible, to try and get it on the same footing as World War Two or Vietnam. I need your help in doing so.

In order to get the message right, I must set the stage so to speak with the events that led up to the opening days of the Forgotten War.

Japanese Occupation of Korea

Following the signing of the treaty ending the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, Russia had to accept that Japan had vested interest in Korea. On 22 August 1910, Japan officially annexed Korea as a protectorate of the Japanese Empire.

Japanese forces during their occupation of Korea. Picture Credit: HistoryCollection.com

Japanese migrants had moved to Korea to help ease overcrowding in Japan. The Japanese treated the Koreans as second rate citizens. They created a Feudal state in Korea, where Japanese citizens owned the land and the Koreans worked the fields and paid their landlords from these efforts. There were a few attempted uprisings by the Koreans against the Japanese, however these were harshly put down by the Japanese.

Following their manpower shortages during the massive buildup of the military, Japanese authorities first recruited and then conscripted Korean laborers to work in Japanese factories to support the war effort. In addition to working in Japanese factories, Korean civilians were forced to work in abhorrent conditions in Korean mines to support the Japanese war effort. Total Korean forced labor deaths during the occupation is estimated at between 270,000 and 810,000.

The Dividing of Korea

American soldiers disarm Japanese soldiers in Korea following the Japanese surrender. Picture Credit: HistoryCollection.com

Japanese occupation of Korea abruptly ended with the Japanese surrender following the dropping of the atomic bombs on mainland Japan in August 1945. On September 8th 1945 Lieutenant General John Hodge arrived in Korea and accepted the surrender of the Japanese forces there.

Soldiers of the Soviet Union’s 25th Army advancing into Northern Korea during their Manchuria Offensive in October 1945. Photo Credit: Wikipedia.

Following an agreement among the Allies towards the end of the war, the Soviet Union took part in offensive operations against the Japanese. They invaded Korea from Manchuria and headquartered themselves in Pyongyang. US and Soviet leadership settled on a dividing line for their joint occupation of Korea, similar to what they did with Germany. The two sides settled on the 38th parallel as this dividing line.

As the two former allies began to enter what would be called the Cold War, Korea became two separate countries. The North, being aided and supported by the Soviets became a Communist country. The Soviets trained and supplied their military, to include creating an Air Force. In the South, the United States and other Western capitalist allies supported and supplied those Koreans. The peninsula, which had been under harsh Japanese rule, now was divided between two ideologies locked in a struggle to spread their own influence while restricting their opponent’s.

As the Cold War heated up, instead of a strictly administrative division between two allies with the ultimate goal of a reunification of the Korean peninsula, in 1948 each of the now “two Korea’s” declared themselves as seperate nations. In the South, the Republic of Korea (ROK) elects Syngman Rhee, a 70 year old Korean expatriate supported by the United States, as their first president. In the Soviet supported North, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is formed with Kim Il Sung at its head. Each of the two sides considered themselves as the head of a unified Korea, and did not recognize the government of the other side. They viewed the 38th parallel as a temporary issue.

Syngman Rhee, president of the newly formed Republic of Korea. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Syngman Rhee’s tenure as the president of the ROK would be tainted by corruption and abuses of power. He would use his fledgling military and police force during the first few years of power to violently put down protests and crack down on those he deemed a threat to South Korea.

Kim Il Sung, the Great Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Kim Il Sung fought against the Japanese in guerilla warfare during their occupation of Korea. This fact would give rise to the belief in North Korea, fueled by propaganda that he alone drove the Japanese from the peninsula. He was trained and cultivated by the Soviet Union who noticed him and his political alliance to the Communist party. He was selected by the Soviets to head the DPRK and he set about a path to reunify the peninsula under Communism.

There are a lot more smaller details during the lead up to the Korean War, but I feel this is a good start in laying the background of the Korean War. Since it is 2019, I will spend the rest of the year covering the events of 1949, the year before the war kicked off. Major changes in the region, most notably in China, would have MAJOR implications in Korea. I hope you enjoyed this blog and found it interesting. From this point forward, it will cover what happened “on this date.” I am excited to work on this and hope you enjoy reading it.

Father’s Day

Nothing in this world prepares you for being a father. There is no class you can take, book you can read, or experience you can call on to prepare yourself for it. For nine months you watch your wife carry around the child and understand that she will always share a bond with the child you will never know. Nor should you. However, when you hold that child for the first time, the weight of the responsibility you now are undertaking hits you. You are now responsible for the life of another person in a way so foreign it is hard to explain. Yet in the same moment, you seem to flash forward to all the memories you want to make with them. It’s as if you have seen it before, as if it had already happened. You embark on the challenges of fatherhood feeling nervous yet ready.

There are two things that fathers are responsible for, and one compliments the other. You have to raise your children in a way that will lead to them being good, successful, happy people, and you have to do so in a way that is kind, compassionate yet stern. One cannot happen without the other. It is a balancing act that I at times fail at. Mothers are naturals in the ways of raising children, fathers have to learn by their example. My two boys have taught me more in their short time here on Earth than I had learned leading up to their arrival. They are different people, have different needs and personalities that are unique to them. They have taught me patience in the ways only children can. They have taught me a different level of love I hadn’t even known existed. And they have taught me that the material things I have now do not matter, rather it is what I leave behind with them, memories and experiences with them that matter. It is the lessons I taught them of how to treat others that counts. It is the lessons I taught them of opening the doors for their mother, giving her flowers just because, that will hopefully make them loving and honorable spouses.

I hope that when they get to be my age and think of me on Father’s Day, they remember me in a way that makes them smile. I hope they remember me in a way that they say to themselves, dad did right by us, he helped shape who we are. That is the legacy I would like to leave behind. Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there.

Memorial Day

“We don’t know them all, but we owe them all.”

Unknown

A day set aside to honor the memory of those who paid the ultimate price for freedom, a vast majority of Americans don’t truly understand the significance of Memorial Day.

The last Monday in May was designated as the official date for Memorial Day in America. Modern society views that day as the unofficial start of summer, marked by cookouts, the start of camping season, opening of pools and other summer related festivities. However the true significance of of the day seems to have been lost or at least overlooked. That responsibility doesn’t just fall on those who haven’t served but also those who have.

The predecessor of Memorial Day was Decoration Day in 1868.

Decoration Day

The American Civil War claimed 620,000 lives, roughly 2% of the population at the time. To put that in perspective, if that percentage was applied to the American population today which is 328,830,848, the casualties would number over 6 million. There was not a family on either side who wasn’t impacted by the war. So much loss led to a movement to honor the dead. While various towns across the nation held their own services after the war ended in 1865, the Union Veterans organization called the Grand Army of the Republic pushed for a national day of remembrance. General John A Logan declared that May 30th should be the selected date, as across the country flowers would be in bloom. This day of honoring the dead would be called Decoration Day, because on that day the graves of those lost would be decorated.

It was first celebrated May 30 1868 in Arlington Virginia, and the graves of both Union and Confederate dead were decorated with flowers while the attendees, made up of war veterans, orphans of the war and other dignitaries sang hymns in honor of the dead. American Flags were placed on the graves as well, a practice that continues to today.

An unusual natural occurrence on the war torn battlefields of Europe, the poppy has become a symbol of remembrance.

The Poppy

Following America’s involvement in the First World War, the practice of honoring the nation’s dead shifted to anyone lost in one of America’s wars. Another symbol came to honor the dead from the ravaged battlefields of Western Europe; the poppy.

A battlefield surgeon, John McCrae, noticed that after the brutal Second Battle of Ypres, that the torn up battlefield began to bloom red under the growing poppies. Moved by this beautiful sight amid so much carnage, he wrote a poem “In Flanders Field” speaking as a fallen soldier buried in the field of poppies. This powerful poem would be used at countless memorial ceremonies honoring the fallen of the war.

A woman by the name of Moina Michael was so moved by the nature of the poem that during the course of her work with the YMCA, which at the time trained aid workers to work overseas, she vowed to wear a red poppy to honor the dead. After the war ended, she made silk poppies and sold them, raising money for returning veterans. In mid 1920, she convinced the Georgia chapter of the American Legion, a newly formed veterans organization, to adopt the poppy as it’s rememberance symbol. Shortly after that, the National American Legion made it the official National Symbol of Remembrance.

The American Legion sells poppies in the lead up to Memorial Day (you may have seen them at intersections asking for donations) and the money raised goes to help veterans. Keep some money in your car, and when you see them, get yourself a poppy.

Memorial Day as a National Holiday

As mentioned earlier, May 30th was designated as the date for Decoration Day and this was carried on for decades. Congress in 1968 passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which designated the last Monday in May as Memorial Day, and also made it a federal holiday. Across the nation, veterans organizations, schools, cities and towns put on parades honoring those who have paid the ultimate price for freedom. Veterans pay tribute to the fallen by placing flags at their graves and holding ceremonies honoring the nation’s war dead.

Our Duties as Americans

American Legion Post 192 firing a salute to the fallen during a Memorial Day ceremony at Marengo Community Cemetery. Photo credit: Your Photographic Memory.

American Legion Post 192 bowing their heads during a prayer for the nation’s fallen during a Memorial Day ceremony at the Marengo Community Cemetery. Photo Credit: Your Photographic Memory.

As Americans we take a lot of what we have for granted. We live in a nation where our freedom is the envy of the world. But the continuation of that freedom has come at a cost. Throughout our history, and right up to today, America’s finest have went forth and kept the wolf from our door. Some of them have paid the ultimate price, sacrificing their tomorrows for our future.

Most of the publicity that Memorial Day gets today is that it constitutes a three day weekend. It’s also looked at as the unofficial start to summer. Lost in all of this is the real meaning, the real purpose of the day, what General Logan sought during the first Decoration Day; honoring the memories of those who died in service to our country.

I have been acussed of being a “buzzkill” when it comes to Memorial Day weekend. I admittedly get annoyed by what I view as an overlook by our society as a whole in the true meaning of the day. I feel as though society should at least take a few hours and spend it at one of the countless ceremonies nationwide to honor those who died for our freedom.

But I had a fellow veteran tell me something that lessened my angst. He said,

“Look, those that died would want people to enjoy the freedom they have. They would want people to be with family, celebrate however they see fit. Let them enjoy the day. Remind them what it is for but don’t look down on them because of how they choose to celebrate.”

That’s a good perspective. Isn’t that what those who signed up to fight for the nation ultimately fought for? For society to live in freedom and enjoy life? Yes. That’s the point of it all.

All I ask is that if you can, go to the ceremonies and see it for yourself. If it doesn’t move you to see the aging veterans still marching, still firing their rifles in salute, still doing what they can to honor the memories of our nation’s heroes, well you don’t appreciate the blanket of freedom laid upon you. It is a three day weekend, and you can still have the camping trek, or cook out or open your pool for the season. But I bet if you look hard enough in your area, there is some sort of ceremony taking place on Monday. Take some time and go, pay your respects, give a little back for an hour or so.

Thank You for Your Service

I have always felt a bit uncomfortable when someone says “Thank you for your service.” It’s not that I am unappreciative for it, it’s just that I’m not one to feel the need to be thanked. However on Memorial Day I especially have a hard time with it, because the day is for those we have lost. It is a day to honor those who paid the price for freedom; it’s not a day for thanking those who serve or served. I try to be respectful and correct people when they say it, but it will always happen because people want to do something to show their gratitude. Some of it is due to the fact people don’t understand what the day means. It is our job as those who know to respectfully tell them. As veterans, we should accept the thanks but offer to explain the significance of the day so they have an understanding. It will help spread the knowledge.

Emblem of the American Legion.

The emblem of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

The Decline of Veterans Organizations

Reading the title of this section you might be asking, what does that have to do with Memorial Day? Well a majority of the activities that take place on Memorial Day are done by organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion. They are the ones that decorate the graves, march in the parades and conduct the ceremonies at the local cemeteries.

The bulk of the members are aging. When I was a kid, the World War Two veterans where the ones who slowly were disappearing. Now as an adult, Korean War veterans are hard to come by, and it is now the Vietnam era veterans who are aging. Many of the local chapters of the VFW and American Legion are shadows of their former glory days. Speaking for my Legion Post, they lost their Legion Hall and now hold meetings at the local park district building. This is due in large part to dwindling membership numbers, making it hard to meet the cost of their own building.

I urge my fellow veterans to join one of their local chapters. Due to the nature of my job, there is very little I can do schedule wise, but I do what I can when I can. If this current trend continues, many of these local organizations will cease to exist. Their membership is dwindling, as my generation of veterans seem to not take an interest in them. Even if you can’t take too active of a role, the least you can do is get a membership, which helps the local chapter.

Enjoy but Remember

I’ll close this long blog out by saying I hope everyone safely enjoys the coming weekend. I will also ask that if you can on Monday, check out one of the Memorial Day services taking place across this great nation. If that isn’t possible, take a moment and raise a glass, offer a toast in remembrance of those who died so you can enjoy your three day weekend. It’s a small token of appreciation for such a sacrifice.

The 2nd Amendment

‘They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. Benjamin Franklin.

Probably the most controversial amendment in our Bill of Rights, the second amendment has garnered both a vocal opposition and a passionate group of supporters.

We as Americans value our freedom to a point that borders on being a religious view. If you were to ask average Americans what they love about living here, it will usually have the word freedom in it; freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of unwarranted searches. These freedoms, and others that most people couldn’t name without the aid of Google, are enshrined in our Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments of the US Constitution.

The Bill of Rights, as I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, are not rights granted to us by the government; rather they are natural rights of our existence, protected from infringement by the government. If people read through them and apply them to their modern lives, they can appreciate their significance. In fact, a general consensus can be formed as to their importance. Well, for nine out of the ten anyway. One amendment is constantly questioned as to it’s role in modern times. No other amendment is continually debated and at some points infringed upon so regularly as the second amendment.

The often asked, fiercely debated question surrounding the purpose of the second amendment is one that pro-gun and anti-gun forces attack with equal passion. What does the amendment mean? What is it’s purpose? Well, all we have to do is look at the events that caused the American Revolution, and use that historical context to understand why the second amendment exists.

The opening fight in the American Revolution came as a result of a tyrannical government attempting to disarm the populace.

Our Founders decided that they had had enough overstepping in their lives by the British Empire. Years of warfare had accumulated a massive debt on the British Empire, as they fought to expand and control their colonies. In their American Colonies, it was decided to levy heavier and heavier taxes on the population to recover some of this debt. This was met with resistance, as the colonies felt that they were not properly represented given how much they were paying in taxes. The British countered this resistance by replacing those taxes with other duties and taxes, and in some instances sending troops. The rise in tyranny by the British is what led to a call for separation from England.

The American Revolution came about due in large part to a governmental system that held too much power over it’s populace. The Americans who helped form the nation remembered this after the Revolution when they began to flesh out a system of government. They were so fearful of a centralized government that they created the system we know today, which has three branches. One branch does not hold most of the power, it is (supposed to be) spread among the three branches of government. Each branch has the ability to challenge the other if they deem it necessary. This system is called checks and balances, and it allows for power to not be centralized.

Now I’m sure you are asking, ok why the history lesson? Well for one I’m a history buff so it is easy for me to ramble on and on. But in order to understand why changing our amendments is a delicate decision, you have to understand why the founders documented them in the first place. The Bill of Rights is the limits on government power, a list of what they can’t do. However, limiting government power in writing is one thing. If a government truly chooses the path of tyranny, no amount of writing on paper will truly protect someone’s rights.

That’s where the 2nd Amendment comes in.

It is the final check on governmental power, that when all other means of protecting liberty have been violated, an armed populace has the ability to protect itself from tyranny. The Founders had tried to petition the British government to stop infringing on their lives, and in response the British sought to disarm the populace as the tension escalated. They fully well knew what an armed populace meant to short stopping tyranny. An overbearing government would be less likely to step on their own people if those people were armed.

Now, whenever this argument comes up in the gun debate, those against guns say,

“What, do you think you with your guns can stand up to the most powerful military in the world?”

Uh yeah. Great Britain was the most powerful military in the world at the time of our Revolution. We fought them to a point where it was too costly for them to continue the fight.

In modern times, you have to look no further than our war in Afghanistan. Currently our government is negotiating a peace deal with the Taliban, the same people who we have been fighting for the last 18 years. We have the most powerful military in the world, and have been fighting guys armed with AK’s, RPG’s and IED’s, who we are now negotiating a peace deal with.

Third world religious zealots have fought the most powerful military in the world to the negotiating table after 18 years of combat, using some low tech but innovative ways to wage war.

If the government became tyrannical, how long do you honestly think they would wage a war against the populace? They would have to also use a force that wasn’t part of the American populace. I have a hard time believing that American forces could be convinced to wage a war against it’s own population. So yes, I believe an armed population could and would be able to defend itself against a tyrannical government. I also believe it is essential to liberty for that same reason.

In modern times, guns have become one of the most divisive and controversial topics. This is due in no small part to a variety of highly publicized mass shootings in the nation. No doubt tragic, these shootings strike at the heart of American society, as they generally take place in areas society considers “safe havens”; schools, religious buildings, malls etc. The American media, no longer a source of information, salivate at these types of horrible crimes as opportunities to push their narrative, be it from an anti-gun or pro-gun side. Images of crying scared children strike at the hearts of all Americans, no matter what side of the political or ideological fence one resides.

Anti-gun politicians do not hesitate to jump on any and all tragedies if they relate to guns. It is predictable that if any news headlines come from a shooting, the politicians that are anti-gun will be the loudest voices calling for gun control of all colors and sizes. It has become so predictable that their “concern for public safety” has lost it’s veneer. They are pushing their agenda, which is that law abiding citizens should not have access to firearms. They have reached a point where they no longer wait for the facts of the issue to come out before they begin their highly predictable preaching on the major news networks.

One narrative that they push is a call for “common sense gun laws”. This blanket statement can be and is used to push whatever gun control those wielding it choose. Common sense is a subjective term, and it’s meaning varies from person to person. What is considered common sense to one person may not be to another. So then, who decides what is truly “common sense”? Who are we willing to allow to determine the degree we can pursue a right? Those in office, who are protected 24/7 by armed men with guns? See what kind of lunacy that is? See how that flies in the face of what the founders intended when they developed the Bill of Rights? Allowing those in power, who are so out of touch with what it is like to live as an average American, to dictate and infringe on our rights is an outrage and an affront to the sacrifices made by our founders to prevent that EXACT thing from happening!

Another disingenuous tactic used by anti-gun politicians is the citing of the “startling” statistics of gun violence in America. They cite that there is an epidemic of mass shootings in America, that our lax gun laws (ask anyone who has tried to legally obtain a firearm how lax gun laws are) is causing this crisis of an increase in mass shootings to happen.

According to the Centers For Disease Control (CDC), in 2016 there were 33,594 total deaths by firearms in the United States. A shocking number when viewed on the surface. But if one takes the time to break those numbers down, (which anti-gun politicians and their media mouthpieces refuse to do) the reality actually shines through. Going beyond the shocking number that the media touts, of that 33,594 deaths by firearms, 22,938 were firearm deaths by suicide. While still tragic, it can be argued that no matter what, those people intended to kill themselves. Are any gun laws going to prevent someone intending to end their own life? Maybe by using a gun yes, but they have other ways to do it.

14,415 out of the 33,594 deaths by firearms were homicides. While that in of itself is truly tragic, the CDC further states that 80% of those were gang related. So following the gang lead as that is the major cause of homicides with firearms, according to a poll taken by the FBI in 2016 of inmates who had committed a crime with a firearm, 43% of those guns used came from “off the street”. That means that they were not purchased by conventional means, for example from a store, gun show etc. Meaning they were obtained illegally, which is breaking the law at the outset.

Lastly, in 2016 71 people were killed in the epidemic mass shooting touted by the media. Keep in mind that the threshold for a mass shooting classification is four or more people. While tragic, this number, when compared to the 22,938 self inflicted gun deaths, does not speak to a national crisis. Especially not to one requiring arbitrary “common sense gun laws”.

Which one of the two weapons shown above is a military style rifle? If you said both, you’d be right.

Then there comes the “military style” weapons argument. Once again, anti-gun politicians like to use subjective terms because they are able to apply them to whatever they want. Military style can mean any number of attributes that fit a narrative or even look like something people saw in an action flick. If it makes the populace imagine that only cold blooded killers use these weapons, then they can get buyin for banning them.

Well, when does the use of the term stop? Once all semiautomatic weapons are banned? What about bolt action “sniper style” rifles? What about “pump action” assault shotguns? What about the rapid fire lever action rifles that John Wayne terrorized his adversaries with?

Does this all seem a bit ridiculous? Can you see where this is going? Every firearm since the creation of gunpowder has been a military style weapon. From the matchlocks to the flintlocks, to the invention of the self contained cartridge, from breach loading to lever action, semiautomatic to full automatic, every weapon has had it’s formation as a weapon of war. So, to answer the anti-gun politicians’ rhetoric of “do weapons of war belong on our streets”? Well, every firearm at one point in it’s history WAS A WEAPON OF WAR. It’s a dangerous precedent to set to allow such a subjective term be used in limiting a right intended to keep the government in check.

I’ve heard the remark “The founders never would have envisioned the weapons we have today when they wrote the second amendment.”

The founders most certainly did not believe that the weapons they had at the time were as far advanced technologically speaking as weapons would ever get. They did not believe that what they had was the best that would ever be created in the history of mankind. We certainly do not believe that the technology we have today is the end of the line, that nothing else will ever be created again. Why would they feel that way either?

Two firearms of the day were the most technologically advanced and were exactly what the founders meant when they wrote the amendment. The Brown Bess musket was the mainstay infantry firearm of the day. Used by both the British and the Colonials, it was the premier firearm in military usage. Also, the long rifle, which was technologically speaking more advanced than the Brown Bess, as it had rifling in the barrel, as opposed to the smooth bore barrel of the Bess. This rifling placed a spin on the musket ball, adding a further shooting distance over the Brown Bess. It took longer to load, which is why at the time the long rifle was used mostly by hunters who didn’t need to reload as quickly as an infantryman in a fight. However, American Riflemen brought their long rifles into the fight for Independence, especially in the southern theater, which gave them an edge over their British opponents. This was exactly the idea the founders had when they wrote the second amendment.

American Rifleman of the Revolution. Painting done by the great Don Troiani.

Once touted as a place for free speech, Facebook has declared itself a moderator of content on it’s site. It seems though their algorithms bias a bit one way over the other.

Social media has become how a majority of Americans get their information. Like it or not (trust me I do not) that is a fact that is trending. The really scary part of that is that Facebook is a private enterprise. We all sign up and agree to their terms of use (which we never read) and as long as we follow their rules, we can post and share and like whatever our heart desires.

Except when the rules change. Except when the powers that be in Facebook or other social media sites decide they do not like a certain subject, or viewpoint, and decide that they will ban not only those subjects, but those who violate the rules regarding those subjects.

Case in point; guns. It used to be there were pages for buying, selling and trading guns, as long as it was withing the bounds of the law. Gun rights and pro gun pages were free to express themselves in any way they saw fit. Then came the political movements of the Moms Demand Action (or as I have heard them called Mom’s Demand Attention) putting pressure on Facebook and other social media companies to crack down on gun content. Overnight the gun selling pages were gone, the gun rights and pro-gun pages were getting shut down over violations of the new “rules”, and even pro-gun individuals were getting their accounts banned for liking too many pro-gun candidates or pages. I experienced it myself first hand when I couldn’t like, share or comment anything from my page. It was locked up.

Now, Facebook is a private company and we agreed to the rules to play by in participating. That being said, they and other social media outlets have become the place where a vast majority of Americans get their information, yet they are heavy handed with a certain portion of American society. If they were to crack down on LGBT, or vegans, or any other facet of society, how would that be received?

This leads me to the end of this long blog post. If you have made it this far, you have a clear idea of my opinion on this matter. I challenge anyone reading this who is either indifferent to or doesn’t like guns to do the following. Pick one of the other 10 amendments, and think about to what degree you would be willing to allow the government to restrict that right. Would you allow the government ot restrict how much you write or speak against it? Would you allow them to force you to pay a fee to have a social media page, that you had to pay every five or ten years following a back ground check? Would you be willing to allow the government to enter your home without a warrant because you are deemed dangerous? Or allow them hold you in prison indefinitely for public safety?

No other amendment in the Bill of Rights has been so willingly sacrificed and infringed upon as has the second. When the founders wrote it, they weren’t safeguarding guns for hunting purposes. That would be like saying they put in an amendment to ensure you could get groceries. They weren’t concerned with hunting, it was part of how people sustained themselves. Nor were they safeguarding your right to self defense. Self defense is a small part of our rights. They created this amendment to ensure we the people had the means to keep our government in line when all else fails. An armed populace safeguards it’s liberty by existing as such. Look no further than the injustice that has befallen Venezuela currently. The government there a few short years ago banned private ownership of firearms. Now the government is firing on protesters and running civilians over with armored vehicles, on top of other travesties.

We must be careful how we proceed. If we allow our rights that were hard fought to gain in the first place to be stripped away so easily now, we may never get them back. What we do now sets a precedent for future generations. Allowing the government to restrict rights in the name of “common sense” or “safety” is a dangerous path for us to go down. There may come a time that we need the second amendment as it was intended, and what we do now may shape how we are able to defend our liberty in the future. I for one, value our liberty above all else.

Constitutional Republic

“The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.” Alexis de Tocqueville.

Our founding document is something every American has benefited from, yet few have read and even fewer understand it’s true importance. Now there is a movement to change our form of government, with those calling for it not realizing the long lasting implications of such changes.

Social media is a great form of communication, where you can communicate with anyone about anything at any time. Everyone has a voice, whether you want to see it or not (blog posts are the same, trust me I understand the irony). Memes, GIFS, and other media have taken over the way in which we communicate. Instead of using critical thinking and research, our instant gratification society uses pictures with words on them to “get a point across”. Living in what is called the information age, people are actually less informed when it comes to important issues, including our how government works and the importance of our constitution.

This painting I feel captures the disappointment the founders would express now when viewing how we as a nation so willingly sacrifice the gift of liberty they bestowed upon us. Most of the time, a majority of our society ignores issues because researching facts can be “inconvienient“.

Our founding fathers created a form of government that held at it’s center the liberty and rights of every American. Following victory in the American Revolution, the founding fathers had to build a nation where there had not been one. There was a wide breadth of issues that had to be solved in creating a new nation, but at their forefront was how to limit the power of the government in the lives of the citizenry.

After much deliberation, the founders decided on establishing a document which listed not what the government could do, but rather what it was limited in doing. The first ten amendments in the American constitution would be called the Bill of Rights, which didn’t guarantee or permit these rights to the citizenry, rather they proteced these rights from the government.

The founders realized that elected representatives could just as easily become as tyrannical as any King or Parliament. If one takes the time to read and research this period in American history, the common theme is one of a distrust of centralized government. Hell, during the revolution, as America struggled to fight against the British Army, the various colonies refused to create a colonial army, fearful of what such an army could be used for. Even during the creation of the nation, the government limited the size of the army, and instead relied on the militia system for national defense.

The founders were extremely calculated in just what form of government they created. They created a Constitutional Republic, in which the people elected their representatives to be their voice in major decision making. They decided on using an electoral college system for elections, because they knew also that a purely democratic system could become a tool of tyrannical overreach. A pure democracy would result in 51 percent of the nation ruling over the 49 percent, no matter the issue. Our constitution and our electoral college system both guarantee that everyone is represented.

If we go to a purely popular vote style election as some states have begun to, the major population centers of states would hold the power at the expense of the “rest” of the state. Want an example of this? Look at the great state of Illinois. A majority of policies created within the state come from one place and only make sense to those whole live there; Chicago.

Illinois election map from the 2016 presidential election. Not only does this apply to the presidential election but if one is to look at voting in the state, it follows the same pattern represented here. One city politically controls the rest of the state.

Even though the city of Chicago and it’s outlying suburbs are highly populated, culturally Chicago and the rest of the state are vastly different. The values, beliefs and politics are vastly different, so how can it be justified to allow a purely popular vote, won by population numbers, be allowed to speak for the rest of the state? How is that a fair representation for the “others” in the state?

If we as a nation go to a purely popular vote and do away with the electoral college, we are doing the exact opposite of what the founders intended in regards to representation. No longer will the rural areas have a fair shake in elections. It will all be controlled by the high population centers of the major cities, which will always win in those types of elections just based on numbers alone. People running for office can negate the less populated areas and instead focus on issues that only benefit the major urban areas. How is that a fair representation for all Americans?

Those elected officials who are calling for a change in our government system were pretty silent about it prior to 2016. Now all of a sudden there is a major need to change the way we do things because they didn’t get the result they wanted from the system that has worked since our nation’s inception. Instead of advocating for a change to our system of government, which is designed to protect the rights of the people, maybe more people should read the documents from the founders to actually understand why it is designed the way it is. Instead of taking it at face value from social media memes and posts, people should stop being lazy and do their own research.

It is a dangerous precedent to set to make constitutional changes. It may not have dire affects in the short term, but you are setting future generations up for failure in the long term.

In my blog A Republic if You Can Keep It I harped on active participation by we the people. The rights outlined in the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments of the Constitution are NOT rights granted to us by the government. They are natural rights endowed by our Creator, or evolution or however you view how we came to be, that are safeguarded from the government. Allowing the government to alter those rights, infringe on those rights without a serious challenge is a serious error on our part. Once it is done it is hard for it to be undone. Once we the people grant the power for elected officials to change our rights, we have set that dangerous precedent.

Instead of changing the Constitution because you are unhappy with how things turned out, try reading the Federalist Papers, and other documents from our founders to gain an understanding of the why. Educate yourself first and then ask; do I really want to allow political careerists to make major changes to our rights? Understand the implications for allowing this, and ask how is it setting up the country in the long term. That is active participation.

We the people control the government, but that responsibility requires work on our part. In order to do right by the founders and the lives that have been sacrificed for our rights, we the people need to educate ourselves and take an interest in where we allow our nation to go. If we continue down the path we are on, slowly our rights will diminish to the point we are subjects instead of citizens. That should scare everyone who values their liberty.

Brotherhood

“Humans beings need three basic things in order to be content: They need to feel competent at what they do; they need to feel authentic in their lives; and they need to feel connected to others. These values are considered ‘intrinsic’ to human happiness and far outweigh ‘extrinsic’ values such as beauty, money and status.” Sebastian Junger, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging.

3rd Squad, 3rd Platoon Echo Company (or 4th Platoon, Fox Company depending on how you look at it) in al-Khalidiya Iraq during our 2008 deployment. Yes those are cowboy hats. Any question why our self-proclaimed moniker was “Squad Sex Machine”?

The bond that develops between men and their brothers in arms is something that few in our modern society can understand, unless of course you are among those who have lived that life. Law enforcement officers come close, but they generally are not living together for months at a time, sharing in the separation from home and family. I am by no means degrading or knocking the law enforcement lifestyle, rather, I’m just stating that the bond is different.

I have heard sports teams use the term “band of brothers” to describe their bond that develops during their experiences. To me, this is just another example of people overusing a term, much like hero, without really understanding what that term means.

Since I was a kid, I had always wanted to serve in the military. While most kids idolized sports stars or actors, my heroes could be found at the local VFW or American Legion. They were the stone faced old men with the veteran’s hats, the guys that handed out poppies around Memorial Day, or marched in parades. I wanted to be one of them, more than anything in the world. I joined the military as many young men do, idealistic as to what my life would be in the service of my country.

My reserve unit was activated in September of 2007 to support Operation Iraqi Freedom, which by this time had been going on for almost five years. Many of the senior leadership in my platoon had deployed with the battalion during their 2004-2005 deployment and they had gained combat experience. I looked up to many of these guys, given what they had been through together and noticed the bond they had amongst themselves. It was something that seemed almost tangible; you could feel it when they interacted with each other. There was us new guys and then there was the vets. They had spent a year together, watching each other’s backs in seemingly constant combat in one of the worst parts of Iraq. As a junior Marine, I looked up to these guys and absorbed all that they had to teach us. I wanted what they had.

During our 2008 deployment, we lived in close quarters and daily conducted patrols in our Area of Operations (AO). Our deployment was marked not by combat, but by endless miles on patrol, talking to locals, collecting intelligence, keeping weapons and vehicles ready for combat if it was to ever come (it didn’t).

Countless miles spent patroling various types of terrain, from joint urban patrols with Iraqi police like this picture, to nighttime rural patrols in the farm fields and along roadways watching for bad guys burying IEDS.

My view on patrols; as a patrol leader it was my job to direct the route of the patrol and make sure everyone was accounted for and safe. Days like this we ate dust during a sandstorm.

We patrolled everywhere in our AO, mostly on foot but sometimes from a vehicle. We lived in a compound in town, adjacent to the Iraqi Police Station. We were twelve dudes living first in a tent that doubled as a classroom during the day for the Iraqi Police. We would leave the FOB (Forward Operating Base) on a Monday and foot patrol to the police station. Our week was spent sleeping in the tent/classroom, running two to three patrols a day, living as a rifle squad should. We would come back to the FOB on a Sunday, spend the day relaxing and refitting, then it was back to work Monday.

Patrol base life. Good buddy Humpich living life in an Iraq police station, sharing his lunch with some friends.

We had to be self sufficient to a certain degree; we were separated from our platoon, given a mission, and had to execute it. We had a great squad leader who treated us as MEN. We each had a specific job within that mission, and were expected to do that job and help with the other tasks if needed. The expectation was to hold up your end or face the consequences.

My favorite point man on patrol, Stumpy.

Having served during the 2004 deployment, Izzy was one of the seniors I looked up to.

It was in this environment, the constant working together, suffering together, living together, that created that bond. Another squad was moved out to the compound with us and we made it our home. All 24 of us shared that experience for the duration of the deployment, and the brotherhood expanded. However, to say they were family doesn’t do it justice either. It’s a bond that is it’s own entity. Guys that to this day I would fight for. Even given the distance of time and location, they are still my brothers.

Our company suffered two good men killed when their vehicle drove over an antitank mine. It was a loss as surprising as it was heart wrenching. Corporal Richard Nelson and Lance Corporal Dean Opicka will always have a special place in the hearts of everyone who served in Fox 2/24.

Corporal Richard Nelson.

Lance Corporal Dean Opicka.

That’s the brotherhood. The loss felt that day is something everyone who served there during that time shares. Two of the greatest, kindest and best Marines one could know, that were popular with everyone they came in contact with, were lost. No one wants to speak ill of the dead, but I don’t think there is a bad thing that could be said about them. My sons will know their names and their sacrifice.

Our platoon was called the “Battalion Bastards”, because while we were Echo Company 3rd platoon, we were stationed out of Chicago instead of Iowa with the rest of Echo Company. We had our own RUC (Reporting Unit Code) number, which was one of a kind for an infantry platoon. During my 2008 deployment we were attached to Fox Company as their 4th Platoon, but at heart we were truly still the Battalion Bastards. That term was coined by those that established the platoon in 1997. It is a sense of honor to be called a Bastard, ironic for those who don’t understand why.

Following our 2008 deployment we would have annual Christmas parties, where we could gather and enjoy each other’s company. It seemed like it was a way for us to hold onto that bond despite no longer being deployed.

One of our Christmas Parties of the past. Genuine smiles of guys who share a bond few will understand.

There are get-togethers here and there that take place, some of which I miss out on due to work. When I do get a chance to go, it is like old times. Some of the spouses were girlfriends or new brides during our deployment, so they share a common history in that regard. We all share stories, catch up on life, and generally enjoy each other’s company.

The platoon was disbanded following the reorganizing of the military in 2016. One of my greatest regrets as a veteran is that I didn’t go to the ceremony, to be a part of it and shake hands and hang out with Bastards from all points of the platoon’s history. Shirts were made with the slogan “You can’t disband a brotherhood.”

As we returned to our normal civilian lives, our careers took us all in different directions. Many of the guys I deployed with became members of law enforcement and it is in this regard that our shared experiences have changed. They have continued to live a life of service, and have varied experiences from it that define them today. My time of service ended, and with it the one thing that had defined our bond dissolved.

They and other guys I served with live near or in Chicago, whereas I reside a few hours from there. While it is close in relative terms, it takes a good amount of effort for everyone involved to meet up. That, coupled with life having taken us in different directions, work and family obligations pulling us one way or another, guys I had lived a year plus with, who I had grown close to and learned from, are now not a major part of my life as they once were.

And that bothers me.

I have struggled in my post military career to have something similar to what I had with those Bastards. It is something that comes and goes, but as I’ve gotten older and further and further removed, the longing for that sense of belonging has grown. I’ve tried to find it elsewhere but the truth is, it doesn’t exist anywhere else and it is something you can’t create, it just happens.

As time has passed, the meet ups have become less frequent. If it wasn’t for Facebook, I wouldn’t know the lives they live now. This bothers me but, such is life. It’s what happens, it’s what time and distance truly do to bonds that are unbreakable. Time has showed me that I will never be as cool as I was when I was in their company.

But no matter, they are Brothers; and if I was to see any of them today, it would be like we never parted. When I left the platoon in 2010, I had to give a speech, and I ended it with a hard truth. I said that while I have friends I have made at home, friends I have made at work, none of them compare to the brothers I made in the platoon. That is as true now as it was nine years ago at my parting. Semper Fidelis Bastards.