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20 Years On

At 8:46 AM, on September 11, 2001, the world changed.  By the end of the day, thousands of innocent people would be dead.  Our allies and friends around the world stood with us and pledged to protect and help the United States after the attacks.  Most of all, Americans closed ranks and became more than what we were before.

Americans of all walks of life and beliefs stood together, arm in arm, to mourn the dead and hold each other up.  We saw politicians of all stripes stand on the Capitol steps and sing “God Bless America”.  For one, brief, shining moment, we were one Nation with a common thought.

In the 20 years since that terrible day, we have lost that, squandered it.  To me, that is the true tragedy of 9/11.  We showed that we are capable of finding common cause, of being Americans.  But somehow, we lost that.  We are more divided now than we were on September 10.  Where once we tried to do as much for each other as we could, now we step over each other’s bodies in a quest to be ‘right’.

Today, I look back and I mourn.  I mourn not only the lives lost that day, but also the loss of our sense of belonging, of duty, and of love for one another.

I hope, in my lifetime, for something approaching that moment when we all stood together, to return.  I only pray that it doesn’t take another tragedy to cause it.

50 Years On – Apollo 1

On January 27, 1967, the crew of Apollo 1 strapped themselves into their spacecraft for a routine test.  Astronauts Grissom, White, and Chaffee were preparing for a launch of the first Apollo spacecraft a few weeks later.  The United States was racing to put men on the moon, and this was to be a vital test of the craft that would take them there.

After the doors were sealed, something started a fire in the oxygen-filled capsule, and the three astronauts died before they could get out or be rescued.  This was the first time that an American space crew had perished.  Unfortunately, it was not the last.

The deaths of these brave men sobered a nation which was giddy over the space program.  Few at the time realized the true risks astronauts took every time they flew, much less in the preparations for flight.  NASA, to its credit, learned from the tragedy and used its lessons to improve the equipment and procedures used in later missions.

I grew up in the immediate aftermath of the Apollo missions.  I remember, vaguely, being placed in front of my parents’ television to watch men walk on the moon.  My first science fiction books were full of hope that mankind would stretch out from our planet to explore and conquer the stars. Men like Grissom, White, and Chaffee, along with their compatriots aboard Challenger and Columbia, remind us that achieving those dreams will be dangerous and it will exact a toll in lives.

We will find our way in space, of that I have no doubt.  Our astronauts, cosmonauts, and taikonauts are the descendants of all of the men and women who stretched out across vast oceans to find the next island or the lands over the horizon.  But those journeys, as deadly as they were, were done at the bottom of an ocean of air, and a leak in the boat was not almost uniformly fatal. Our new explorers will make their journeys in an environment more deadly than any of our ancestors could imagine, but they do it with all of the knowledge and skill our species can muster.

We will lose good men and women as we stretch out from our cradle.  It could be due to bad decisions, or faulty equipment, or just bad luck, but that price must be paid if we are to not only set foot on other planets, but to seed them with our civilizations. When that happens, it is right and necessary for us to honor the lost, but it is absolutely incumbent upon us to learn from tragedy and use it to spur ourselves further toward the horizon.

Today, we remember Virgil Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee, but we honor them by never forgetting why they climbed into that capsule.  It is my fervent hope that my children and grandchildren will follow them to the stars, and it is my job as a parent to teach them about the heroes who gave of themselves to get them there.


Today in History

January 28, 1986






70 Years On – Surrender

On September 2, 1945, after the deaths of millions across the globe, the greatest conflict in human history ended.

Representatives of the Japanese government stood on the deck of the U.S.S. Missouri and signed the articles of surrender that ended World War II.  Reading the first page takes but a few moments, and the second page is just for signatures.  Japan and her government were to be subject to the Allied powers, would safeguard what remained of her industry and military, and would free all prisoners, both military and civilian.  All power was given to the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, and whatever power the Japanese could exert on their territory sprang from him and was subject to his orders.

It’s a remarkably simple document to end a war that consumed people like lumps of coal in a furnace.  The war also consumed a lot of the compunctions that governments had about war.  For most countries, before the war, the thought of causing the mass destruction of cities and the civilians that lived in them was unthinkable.  By 1945, it was accepted strategy on all sides.  The idea of a “crime against humanity” was created in reaction to the actions taken during the war, and never since have such heinous crimes on such a massive scale been committed.

Up to that point, the horror of World War I had made humanity recoil, causing the deaths of 17 million people and wounding a further 20 million.  In contrast, the China alone had 15 to 20 million deaths, civilian and military.  In total, between 70 and 85 million people around the globe died, with millions more injured, displaced, and enslaved.

The world did not know peace for long, if at all, after 1945.  China’s Communist Revolution restarted almost as soon as the ink was dry in Tokyo harbor.  The world quickly divided itself with an Iron Curtain, and wars would soon be fought in places that most of the combatants didn’t even know existed 70 years ago.  It was only by luck and the intervention of people who had lived through the worst of the war that we have not repeated or surpassed the Second World War in the intervening years.

Man will never stop killing his fellow man, so long as this world exists.  There will always be those who will destroy out of malice or avarice, and those who will stand to when called to stop them.  It is for us, the living and the descendants of the people who fought and lived through the war, to remember that and to jealously guard the world that was bought at such a high cost.

Soon, the World War II generation will be gone, as happens to all things.  We owe it to them, and to our children, to learn their history, to hear their stories.  Tonight, I raise my glass to the men and women who fed the furnace, who walked through it, and I invite all of you to join me.

40 Years On – The Last Casualties

40 years ago today, two young men died when the American embassy in Saigon was shelled.  Corporal Charles McMahon and Lance Corporal Darwin Judge were the last two American ground casualties in South Vietnam.  The final pullout from Saigon happened the next day.  These men joined the ranks of 58,303 men and women who died in the Vietnam War.

Gallons of ink and billions of electrons have been spent trying to criticize or justify the war.  To this day, those who lived through it, those who watched it from the sidelines, and those who look back at its history can debate endlessly about its causes, conduct, and consequences.

But today, we need to remember these two men, along with their brothers and sisters who died there.  Why they were sent and what they did is secondary to remembering that they lived, and died, for all of us.

If you haven’t been to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., or have not visited the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall, you should.  Recently, a friend sent me a link to the Virtual Wall. Browsing the links to the photographs and other data on these men and women, I was humbled.  They come from across the breadth of our nation.  They were the children of privilege and of poverty.  Some could claim a heritage that included pulling an oar on the Mayflower, while others were immigrants.  They came from every race, color, and creed.  They were both draftees and volunteers, recent recruits and veterans.  They were the best that America had to offer, and we honor them by remembering them.

To those of you who served in Vietnam, thank you.

Quote of the Day

Now he belongs to the ages. — Secretary of War Stanton, at the death of President Abraham Lincoln, April 15, 1865

Day of Remembrance

Now, therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, and Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of War, and the Military Commanders whom he may from time to time designate, whenever he or any designated Commander deems such action necessary or desirable, to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion. The Secretary of War is hereby authorized to provide for residents of any such area who are excluded therefrom, such transportation, food, shelter, and other accommodations as may be necessary, in the judgment of the Secretary of War or the said Military Commander, and until other arrangements are made, to accomplish the purpose of this order. The designation of military areas in any region or locality shall supersede designations of prohibited and restricted areas by the Attorney General under the Proclamations of December 7 and 8, 1941, and shall supersede the responsibility and authority of the Attorney General under the said Proclamations in respect of such prohibited and restricted areas. — Executive Order 9066, February 19, 1942.

I love my country, but every so often I come across something that I am ashamed of.  The internment of Americans who happened to be of Japanese, German, or Italian ancestry is one of those things that make me hang my head.  An American is an American, no matter where their ancestors came from or when they came here.

And remember kids, if it happened once, it can happen again.   Our liberties only survive only so long as we guard them and guarantee that they apply to all of us.

Audiobook Review – Medieval English History

I recently listened to two offerings from Audible’s Great Courses series, “The Story of Medieval England:  From King Arthur to the Tudor Conquest” and “1066:  The Year That Changed Everything“.  Both are lecture series given by Professor Jennifer Paxton, and were both entertaining and informative.

“The Story of Medieval England” is a good survey of English history from the late Roman period through the end of the late Middle Ages.  Professor Paxton spends about 3/4 of her time going over the timeline and personalities of the period, but intersperses information about society and life for both commoners and kings.  These vignettes are sometimes separate lectures, but more often are woven into a lecture about events.  If you’re looking for the roots of American history and history, you need to start here.

“1066” delves deeper into the 100 years before and the 100 years after the Norman Conquest.  Where the other series was a survey of almost 1000 years, this course goes into detail about the people, events, and cultures that molded England in the 10th and 11th centuries.

If you’re a history nerd like me, you’ll enjoy these lectures.  Professor Paxton is obviously an expert in her field, but she also has the rare ability to present her information in a way that is informative and interesting.   Between the two courses, you get about 22 hours of lecture. To be honest, I was disappointed when they were done, because I wanted to learn more.

Disclaimer:  I received nothing for doing this review, and I purchased both audiobooks myself.

Lessons from Rome

I’ve been re-listening to Mike Duncan’sThe History of Rome” podcast, and it’s interesting to see how a lot of the issues that plague modern countries and leaders happened back then, both during the Republic and the Empire. Here are a few of my thoughts:

  • Keep your friends close and your enemies in a small iron box.
  • If you’re going to be just and merciful, be just and merciful.  If you’re going to be bloodthirsty, be bloodthirsty.  Trying to be both will just get you shanked.
  • It is better to be loved than feared, but it is better to be feared than to be murdered and thrown in a river.
  • Friends and supporters that are there for you because you pay them off will make extremely difficult enemies when you can’t afford them anymore.
  • There are enough problems in the world.  Don’t go poking your neighbors in the eye out of boredom.
  • The children and grandchildren of very successful people should be watched with a jaundiced eye.
  • Giving power to someone before they’ve established a track record that says they can handle it is a very bad thing.

Thought for the Day

5 And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. 2 Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    For they shall be called sons of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

The Gospel of Saint Matthew, Chapter 5, Verses 1 through 12

Today is the anniversary of the date when NATO took over responsibility for peacekeeping in Bosnia-Herzegovina.  Almost 20 years on, I hope that the time that I and thousands of others spent there made life better for the regular folk of that region, who wanted nothing better than to live their life and raise their children in peace.

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