Tortured Or Obedient?

My father, a veteran of the Second World War, spoke very infrequently about his experiences in the war. The engine room of a ship in combat was simply a place I don’t believe he much wanted to revisit. Memories of one of his stories, however, still gives me chills.

His ship was assigned to pick up surviving Marines after the horrific battle for the South Pacific island of Peleliu. My dad described the Marines as, in his own words, living ghosts: withdrawn and disconnected, starving and thirsty, filthy, wandering aimlessly about the ship, unable to speak, shaking, staring blankly into the air.

It didn’t help that Peleliu was a complete disaster: a ‘victory’ that came with a very high cost in lives and, as it happens, no real military value.

I’m reminded of my dad’s story whenever I think about our nation’s recent military actions in Afghanistan, a mission that is literally bleeding away our nation’s resources, cannot hope to succeed (whatever that would even mean in this context) and is of dubious military value in any event.

It doesn’t help, of course, that Afghanistan has been repelling and outlasting invaders for millennia. Most recently before our arrival, Afghans bled the army of the Soviet Union to near-death during its 10-year occupation. Today, Afghans are already preparing for the day American forces depart by arming themselves and their militias to the teeth and setting up militia-led and, in some cases, Taliban-led de facto local and regional governments. In many cases, according to recent reports, these governments are more accepted and more efficient at providing services than the elected Afghan national government.

Over the long term then, what, exactly, have we accomplished through our sacrifice of blood?

Understand, I’m not in any way criticizing the men and women of America’s armed forces. The problem lies considerably higher in the chain of command. Our soldiers, sailors and Marines were put into an untenable and dangerous situation because our leaders lacked firm goals and adequate knowledge and understandings of the context. Further, they continue to be sacrificed because our leaders are more concerned with their own egos than the lives of our service men and women.

Those in our armed forces pay the price, sometimes the ultimate price, for the stupidity, fecklessness and ego of their masters.

As he contemplated the cost of war, author and scientist Jacob Bronowski mused:

‘There are two parts to the human dilemma. One is the belief that the end justifies the means. That push-button philosophy, that deliberate deafness to suffering, has become the monster in the war machine. The other is the betrayal of the human spirit: the assertion of dogma that closes the mind, and turns a nation, a civilization, into a regiment of ghosts – obedient ghosts, or tortured ghosts.’

Just like their predecessors on Peleliu, the men and women in our armed forces are being turned into ghosts, whether obedient or tortured, for nothing of real value.

Our leaders should be ashamed.

Nukes for Iran

[Please also see my subsequent posting:]


The atomic bomb was conceived and created 60-something years ago in the minds of men and the high desert of New Mexico.

Almost immediately, the very men who made it had second thoughts. Some tried to talk the president, first Roosevelt, then Truman, out of its deployment, or even disclosure.  It was reported that as nuclear physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer watched the detonation of the first atomic bomb during a test, he recalled words from the Bhagavad Gita: ‘Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’

The bomb was, of course, deployed to devastating and horrific result. And, in the contrary nature of humankind, people were both repulsed and irresistibly attracted by the blinding light. The United States had it and everyone else wanted it. We tried our best to hold the secrets safe but, in the end, it was a fool’s errand.

The Soviet Union got it. Others got it too. Science works that way.

The sad truth is, any country on earth able and willing to devote adequate resources can have a nuclear weapon. No president, no political party, no economic sanctions, no alliance of nations, no army can prevent it. That is a stone-cold fact. Pretending otherwise is either (1) whistling past the graveyard or (2) ugly pandering for votes.

We have let the nuclear genie out of the bottle and, armies and sanctions be damned, he will not be returned. The prescient writings have been fulfilled, Dr. Oppenheimer.

‘Now, I am become Death, destroyer of worlds.’

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