The Russians Are Coming

By David Adamson

My wife and I felt it was the right thing to do to expose our children to other cultures early in their lives, in the spirit of Thomas Paine’s humanist declaration: “My country is the world, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.”

David Adamson is a writer living in Fort Collins, Colo. Learn more about him…

Along with traditional American collections of cute animal stories like Mother Goose with happy endings, we included a few translations from other countries which were more realistic. One was a book of old Russian folk tales that was so brutally realistic we donated it to a book sale. But I always remembered the story about a devious fox and a dim-witted wolf in which the former tells the latter he can catch fish by sticking his tail though a hole in the ice on a frozen lake.

To Americans coming of age in the Cold War (1945—1991), Russia has always been coming. We were conditioned in schools and churches to loathe communism. One of the first TV shows we watched was “I Led Three Lives,” about an advertising executive who’s really an FBI agent spying on the Russian-controlled U.S. Communist Party. The commies were evil, denying the existence of God and teaching subversives how to convert vacuum cleaners to bomb launchers.

My family moved to Mannheim, Germany, in the mid-50s as part of a huge post-war U.S. military presence. Purportedly an army of occupation to snuff any resurgence of Nazism, actually we were there to stop any further Russian expansion into Europe. A few times a year we’d be awakened by alert sirens; then my father would don his fatigues and .45 automatic and disappear. We’d watch the long procession of tanks from the 510th Heavy Tank Command roar away, ripping up the cobblestones, to the anticipated battle front along the borders of East Germany or Czechoslovakia.

Nuclear war and kids hiding under tables

Back stateside in the early 60s, the Russians were still coming. Stationed at the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) in Colorado, my father worked on an anti-missile missile project to intercept Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles. In high school, during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, we practiced crowding into the crypt-like basement of a Catholic church. The room was lined with containers of water and C-rations where we’d wait out the nuclear exchange in case those antimissiles failed.

I was reminded again the Russians were still coming in the 80s as I stood in a cavernous building at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory that housed the Nova Laser. It was built during President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative to provide a shield against incoming Russian “independently targetable reentry vehicles” (MIRVs) with multiple warheads.

By then I knew a little more about Russia and the Union of Socialist Soviet Russian Republics (USSR). In college, I learned to admire the great Russian writers from Tolstoy to Solzhenitsyn, who could only be understood by studying the historic conditions during which they wrote.

Russia’s history like bloody folktales

Russia’s history was as brutal and bloody as their folktales: close to a million killed by Ghengis Khan, millions by Napoleon, millions by Stalin, millions by Hitler. For centuries, Russian was invaded from every direction. As a result, Russia grew hostile to outsiders and systematically and forcibly annexed bordering countries to deter invaders. Inadvertently, they also created a vast expanse of ungovernable expanse of diverse cultures, speaking over 100 languages, which could only be controlled by force. Their isolationist stance spawned a national character that was not really European, but not really Asian either.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991 and the collapse of the USSR, there was absolute glee among the Western democratic super-powers, especially the U.S. We signed some limited nuclear disarmament treaties. We invited the Russians to join the elite G-7 in 1997, to create a G-8, with the expectations that Russia would enthusiastically embrace all things Western—shopping malls, free elections, gay rights, individualism, and rock and roll.

It didn’t work out that way. In 2014, Russia was kicked out, and the club of elites shrunk back to the G-7. Now Russia and the West are back to the future. What happened?

In short: Vladimir Putin, the reincarnation of the Russia’s past, ready to avenge.

Unlike Western Europe, Russia did not participate in the two critical passages that gave rise to democracy and capitalism. Russia skipped both the Renaissance and Protestant Reformation, watershed events in which the ideas of individual rights and liberty took root in Europe.

During the Renaissance, the barbarian tribes, which later merged to become modern Russia, were busy fighting the Mongols, and they never had any exposure to the democratic principles that Europe adopted from ancient Greece. As to the Reformation, it didn’t gain traction because the powerful Russian Orthodox Church was not rotten to the core like the Roman Catholic Church, guilty of selling indulgences and other shortcuts to heaven.

(Russia did embrace the scientific method from the Enlightenment. This enabled them to put the first satellite and human in space, and develop atomic weapons, using little more than slide rules.)

Putin: Make Russia Great Again

Russia has always been hostile to the ruthless destruction of traditions, order, and community bonds that accompany multiculturalism, capitalism, and globalization. They flat don’t buy our way of life. They never did. Russians are not Europeans.

Upon the collapse of the USSR, the first elected president was Boris Yeltsin, a drunk and loud-mouthed buffoon whose “anti-establishment” rise to power was similar in many ways to that of Donald Trump. The privatization of the Russian economy engineered by Yeltsin, and encouraged by the West, was a disaster. There was chaos, near total economic collapse, and the open plunder of the country’s wealth by oligarchs.

As if part of a sinister master plan, Putin, a career KGB officer, learned about geopolitics while a spy in Germany. He showed up on the political stage and became Yeltsin’s understudy. While a witness to the embarrassing debacle, he mastered the ins and outs of Russian politics, including killing opposition. When Yeltsin was forced from office, he appointed Putin president.

A fervid Russian nationalist, Putin despises the West. He was insulted by the USA’s and Europe’s triumphalism during the Reagan years and after. Once in power, he immediately embarked on a project to restore Russian greatness. To aid him in this cause, he formed a surprisingly strong bond with the Russian Orthodox Church, with whom he shares a hatred for homosexuality, to communicate and affirm his message—Make Russia Great Again.

The Russians are coming because the Cold War never ended, as should be obvious to Americans, especially those transfixed by minor threats like ISIS and terrorism, and under the leadership of a president who is a clueless imbecile when it comes to history and geopolitics.

How the folktale ends

Just look at what Russia is up to:

Naive Americans may believe the pop culture images of us trumping the backward Russians at every turn. Think of all those jingoistic Tom Clancy novels, or Clint Eastwood cleverly stealing a top secret Russian jet in “Firefox,” or a bunch of American high school kids repelling a Russian invasion in “Red Dawn.” Were geopolitics like the movies! Especially those happy endings where we always win.

Based on history, sometimes it’s more like a Russian folktale.

In case you wonder how the fox and the wolf story ended, the fox’s advice was a devious trick to punish the wolf for ruining the fox’s life. The wolf’s tail froze in the ice, trapping him.  The fox told the town peasants, and they attacked with their farm implements and killed him.

Trump versus Putin. Guess who’s the fox?

Writer with Tender Story Fears Return to Back-alley Abortions

By Mary Roberts

Dr. Voss rolls his chair away from the examining table. “Yes, you’re pregnant.”

It is 1971. I am 20.

Before the 2016 presidential election, Mary Roberts wrote about real estate, her Irish Catholic childhood in Boston and the 13 dogs that have defined the chapters of her life. Now, she writes to say, “Wake up, people!” Learn more about Mary…

When the doctor examines me, he says it felt like the IUD had turned upside down, rendering it almost impossible to do its job—preventing a pregnancy. Even if motherhood were a consideration, the fetus had little chance of surviving. I had a high probability of an ectopic pregnancy but would most likely miscarry.

Dr. Voss’ assistant, Julia, sits to my right and holds my hand while he probes. He is gentle but I am terrified and humiliated, uncomfortable with my body and sex or anything mildly erotic, having spent my childhood in the unforgiving and punishing bosom of the Catholic Church.

He said that he was unable to perform an abortion, or in my case, a D & C., explaining that he was being watched and didn’t want me involved.

“Besides, you’ll abort on your own. I’m sorry, that’s all I can do. Call me when you start bleeding.”  Julie, who I learned was his daughter, gave me a piece of paper with his home phone number on it “in case it happens after hours.” The doctor hoped that manipulating the IUD would encourage the device to perform its job—if belatedly.

Ten days later, I was back with a report of minor spotting and extreme stress. Once again, I lay there. Once again, his daughter held my hand. I noticed there was no one else in the waiting room and no phones were ringing. His daughter spoke quietly, telling me that they expected an arrest warrant to be served any day now and they didn’t want anyone in the office when the police finally came for him.

“But don’t worry, we have the names of other docs who can help.”

What? Who came for him? I still hadn’t understood that this doctor in Colorado, this kind and solicitous man who warmed his hands with a heating pad before touching his patients and treated me with respect and concern, would soon be taken away in handcuffs, have his mugshot taken and be put in a holding cell for taking care of women like me.

I spent those two weeks before the D & C, terrified I was going to hemorrhage in Reporting 101 or in line at the student center bookstore. Or late at night, asleep, waking with stabbing pain and a bloody mattress. Only my boyfriend knew. I told no one else.

The bleeding started on a late Friday afternoon, after hours. I dialed the doctor’s home number and we met at dusk in his office, his daughter handing him the instruments for the D & C while still reassuring me that everything was going well. I would feel a sharp pain and it would be over soon. I did and it was.

A few days later Dr. Voss was arrested. His case led to a change in Colorado abortion laws although the state had legalized it (with daunting restrictions) in 1967. To me, Dr. Voss was a savior—compassionate and without judgment. There have been few people in my life that I can recall with such gratitude. (“Voss,” by the way, is not the doctor’s real name. I changed it out of respect for this kind-hearted doctor and the possibility that he may not want to revisit the past.)

Was he arrested because of women like me, who believed they have a right to maintain control over their bodies?  I technically didn’t even have an abortion, yet I couldn’t help but worry that cases similar to mine led to his arrest.

In 1971, limited access to abortion was available in Colorado with three physicians approving it for the “right” reason. Was not wanting to be a mother a good reason? No. Was mental health a reason? Only if a psychiatrist would state that the woman was emotionally unstable and under a doctor’s care. How about rape and incest? Yes, but not if there was evidence of ‘inappropriate’ sexual conduct on the woman’s part.

Forty-six years later and I believe that this can happen again. I fear that women’s choices about their bodies will be, once again, determined by ignorant men.

I fear that low-cost access to birth control and sex education will be denied and we will, once again, whisper amongst ourselves, sharing the names and numbers of doctors who are sympathetic.

I fear that “back-alley” abortions or recipes for DIY “miscarriages” will appear on the Internet and more women will die. I fear that children will be born to households unable to care for another child. I fear that what we do with our bodies will be determined by old, white men, eager to get back their longed-for authority over women who have had generations of freedom to cast their own destiny and that of our country’s.

I was outraged 46 years ago when what happened inside my womb was someone else’s business. I am outraged now that the progeny of those men and women who struggled to wrest responsibility for my body away from me are back at it again.

It’s time they feared us because we are coming for them. Because now, we have generations of men and women who, like Dr. Voss, understand that an administration that imprisons a man (or woman) for helping the vulnerable is an administration that is destined to fall.

 

For more information

The issue of a woman’s right to govern who her own body has been a complex controversy since the Supreme Court recognized abortion as a constitutional right four decades ago. The constitutional right has never been under attack as it is now in the Trump administration and the Republican congress. This is evidenced through such actions as Trump’s assault on Planned Parenthood and his appointment of Neil Gorsuch as a Supreme Court judge. Learn more by clicking on the green links. For historical background, click here.

Escaping the Trump Tower Prison

By Bear Jack Gebhardt

Isn’t it funny how often we dream in metaphors? And, when we pay attention, our dreams can help us to better understand and more artfully deal with the challenges of our waking life.

For example, I recently had a dream in which I was arrested for murder, and held in prison in the Trump Tower. The charge against me was so serious that I knew I would never be released from the Trump Tower jail.

Bear Jack Gebhardt has written for many national magazines and published books on various topics. Learn more about him…

The dream went deeper:

Donald Trump himself singled me out personally for perverse psychological experiments. He would have me removed from the cell, take me into the glitzy lobby of the Tower, and tell me falsehoods to see if I would believe them. He obviously didn’t care whether I believed him or not. He even let me walk around the block, there in New York City, as if I were a free man, enjoying the sunshine and the ordinary movement of daily life, all the while knowing I was still his prisoner, with no chance of escape unless I wanted to live a life on the run.

Curiously, waking from this dream, I found I could breathe easier, psychologically and emotionally speaking—easier than I had in months. Through my dream, I had been presented with an accurate scenario—outplaying—of my inner life. With such a glimpse, I felt more empowered to deal with real-life outer circumstances.

“Hope is a mark of spiritual wholeness.”

The contemporary Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast, observed, “Hope is a mark of spiritual wholeness.” My dream pointed out how I had inadvertently fallen into a mood–an attitude, a worldview–of hopelessness, which, in Brother David’s view, would be a condition of spiritual fragmentation.  (If you are arrested and charged with murder, there’s little hope for escape.)

The reasons behind my mood, this attitude, were likewise plainly presented in my dream. Our current political upheaval had obviously captured my mood and emotions in a way that feels life-threatening, without hope. In my dream, many others were likewise held in the Trump Tower prison, though for some reason—probably just because it was my dream—I had been personally selected for Donald’s psychological experiments.

Don’t forget to take a short survey about your dream world at the end of this article.

My daughter, Annalee Moyers, is a lucid dreamer, and over many decades we have learned together to work with our dreams—play with our dreams—in a way that most often makes our day-life flow more smoothly. One of our dream practices is to go back, after waking, and “fix” our troubling dreams, sometimes on paper, sometimes by talking them out together. Playing with the exact images our subconscious has offered up allows our mental and emotional and sometimes even physical infrastructure to be repaired.

So, for example, I can go back into my dream, here as I write this essay, and have a fair-minded judge deliver papers to the Tower prison ordering the charges against me be dropped, because they were all based on insufficient and possibly even fraudulently fabricated evidence. While I’m at it,  I’ll have further papers delivered charging the Trump organization with false arrest, false imprisonment, not only for my case (my dream) but for all those who have been likewise imprisoned in the Trump Tower’s jail.

Since it’s our dream, and we can do what we want, we may as well send in blue-helmeted United Nations’ soldiers to open all the prison cell doors, release all of the prisoners, and haul all the Trump guards and prison administrators into waiting paddy wagons.

There. Doesn’t that feel better?

We do need to guard against being imprisoned in the Trump Tower. More specifically, and more importantly, we need to guard against the rising sense of hopelessness, this tweet-induced mental and emotional fragmentation.

Here in our day life, we are whole beings—beings who are nourished by the arts, all of them, and Meals on Wheels, and offering a helping hand to the poor; our compassion as non-fragmented beings leads us to help the refugees, and all those who have been made homeless by our own military and economic actions.

Let us not lose hope. We can wake from this nightmare. We all must work to stay healthy, mentally, emotionally and physically, in both waking and sleeping, in order to artfully meet the challenges we now face. Sharing our dreams, both daytime and nighttime, is an essential part of our healthy healing process.

Click here to take a short survey about your dream world

Don’t miss out. Receive posts by Writers With No Borders directly in your email inbox. Click on the “Follow” icon at the top of the right column.

Why Trump’s Bait-and-Switch Tweets Confuse Americans

By Gary Kimsey

In his use of Twitter, is President Trump performing a classic bait-and-switch scam to confuse Americans?

Well, yes, of course.

Gary Kimsey is a writer and retired marketing specialist. Learn more about him…

“Bait and switch” is a dishonest marketing tactic where consumers (we Americans in this case) are encouraged to believe something about a product (here, the product is Trump). The terrible truth is that the product is vastly different and of significantly less quality than what was promised. It’s often easy to identify a bait-and-switch maneuver. Thus, be wary when someone says, “Believe me”—a favored Trump expression.

I couldn’t help but think about bait-and-switch while watching the March 20 congressional hearing by the House Intelligence Committee. The hearing focused on hacking, Putin, cabinet members’ ties to Russia, and, of course, Trump’s crazy Twitter tweets claiming President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. (I took the liberty of adding the word “crazy,” by the way, for his accusatory tweets were just that.

I found it interesting that Trump conducted a tweet storm as the hearing was underway. He used the official Twitter account of the President of the United States. More than 1.6 million Americans received the tweets.

These tweets contained partial truths, at best, as well as grossly misinterpreted accounts of what was said in the hearings. Predictably, this was the same fantasy pattern that many of his tweets have followed since the inauguration.

Click here for a fact-check on Trump’s tweets during the congressional hearing.

As a person who spent the last half of his 50-year professional career in marketing, I am well-aware that Trump—the quintessential marketer—fully operates on a certain assumption. Americans, especially those who voted for him, will unquestioningly believe information from such a traditionally respected source as a U.S. president.

Think back to your history and civics classes. Many of us were indoctrinated in high school and college classes to believe certain positions in America are above lying. The presidency is supposedly one of the sacred positions. For my generation of Baby Boomers, this myth of total truthfulness was shattered by Nixon.

Don’t forget to take the short survey at the end of this article.

The problem now is that many Americans don’t peer beyond tweets and eye-catching headlines. As a society, we are victims of 140 characters and information overload. Fake News is a stake aimed at our intellectual heart. We fear Fake News so much that many of us will believe, without questioning, a president who tweets “Fake News” whenever someone disagrees with him, whether it’s individuals, the media or intelligence agencies.

Trump knows our fears and plays upon them by telling us in his tweets—without presenting any evidence—that information from such reliable sources as the FBI is wrong. He also keeps the tweets coming as a way to divert the thoughts of Americans away from other issues—his denial of global warming, defunding Meals on Wheels and Planned Parenthood, appointing to his cabinet inept and incapable billionaire friends rather than experts, and the likely loss of health care for 24 million Americans, to name just a few issues. Rather than draining the swamp, Trump is filling it with moccasins and alligators.

The impacts of bait-and-switch in tweets? Many Americans have learned they are unable to trust the person sitting in the Oval Office. Strife is perpetuated in society and politics, continuing to divide the nation. The Office of the President of the United States—the world’s most powerful position—is belittled in the eyes of Americans, as well as people and governments around the world. Important issues are overshadowed. Democracy is undermined. Confusion reigns.

How do we avoid the bait-and-switch of Trump’s tweets? We must cast our vision beyond what we read in his tweets. Seek out at reliable sources. Fact-check information.

Here are reliable fact-checking sites:

Also look at The 10 Best Fact-checking Sites.

Click on the “Follow” button at the top of the right column to have Writers With No Borders posts delivered to your email in-box.

Click here to take the survey…

Bye, Bye, Democrats: Yadda-yadda, Not a Joiner

By Alan Vitello

Whelp…I recently switched my party affiliation from Democrat back to Unaffiliated.

That’s not because I no longer believe in most of the basic, and theoretical, tenets of the Democratic Party. It’s because I have become profoundly disappointed with the party and the way it is run.

Alan Vitello is a writer and an award-winning cartoonist who lives in Colorado. Learn more about Alan…

That, and because of a recent experience I just had. Let me explain:

Several weeks ago, I received an email from OFA, also known as Organizing for Action, formerly known as Organizing for America, which formerly was Obama for America. The email advised that—should I choose to apply—they were looking for “OFA Fellows” (read: “community organizers/activists”).

I applied. Passed. Had the phone interview. Passed. Spent four hours on a recent Saturday at an OFA orientation. I left a bit perplexed at the lack of specificity given to what, exactly, I and 40 other selected people would be doing.

Then, I sat through a two-hour webinar on March 8, followed on March 13 by an hour-and-a-half conference call with my “local group.”

It reminded me an awful lot of the disastrous and distasteful semester I spent on the student council during my senior year in high school: “Hey! Let’s pick the colors for homecoming, then we’ll put on a musical in Old Man Murphy’s barn to save the steel mill!”

What the…?

Don’t believe me? Well, read on: An OFA group in Boulder wanted to have a “Teach In.” What the…is a teach in? This is 2017, not 1969! Our local OFA manager LOVED the idea.

An observation about myself surfaced in my thoughts, something I’ve pondered other times in my life: I am not a rah-rah, praise Jesus, Can-I-Have-an-Amen! kind of person. In fact, I kind of hate when I have been in situations where I am expected to behave like a rah-rah, praise Jesus, Can-I-Have-an-Amen! kind of person.

The times I have been in such situations (and you’d think I’d have learned my lesson by now), all (ALL!) ended up with a bad taste in my mouth: teaching religious ed (and being a “proclaimer”) at our (former) Catholic church; being a Cub Scout leader; and my time as a union steward…all of these episodes asked me to open my skull, remove my brain and simply parrot the party line.

Nope. No can do.

It also became clear to me during the March 13 conference call that I was probably the only participant (of a dozen or so) who did not think Barack Obama was the single best president these ol’ United States of America has ever had. I don’t think that, at all.

It also became clear that—under the guise of the usual, liberal, let’s all respect-each-others’ opinions, yadda-yadda-yadda pablum—that the fix was in.

We were supposed to conference to offer our suggestions on what our first OFA-group community outreach capstone project was to be. Each of us was to offer an idea; then we would vote. But it didn’t go that way. Our appointed OFA manager first asked a person she knew from before what HIS idea was. Then she decided his was A GREAT idea. And that was that. Everybody else was just along for the ride.

Harrrummpphhh!

I’m not a guy who will allow his opinion to be subsumed into group think just because I am told to. Nope. It’s the editorialist/journalist and Mary and Joseph Vitello (my sensible parents) in me.

One of the many reasons I loved coaching soccer (and stuck with it fall, winter, spring,  and summer for eight years)—besides great kids and their great families—is that Arvada Edge (the soccer league in Arvada, Colo.) left me alone to run the team as I saw fit. They offered advice when I asked. They offered a few coaching seminars. More than anything, they let me coach. They let me figure it out. I never had to stand up for a praise Jesus (or Pele) even once.

Let’s face it, there’s a lesson for Democrats to learn here.

And a good lesson for me: I am just NOT a joiner. Nor a lover of yadda-yadda-yadda pablum. I still have a brain in my skull, so I’ve still got that goin’ for me.

How a young lady celebrated International Women’s Day

By Lucy Bowman

My birthday, March 8, falls on a special day—International Women’s Day. This year I celebrated my 14th birthday with family members by visiting the Colorado State Capitol Building in downtown Denver.

This article’s author, Lucy Bowman, an 8th-grade student in the Denver area, pauses during her visit to the Colorado Capitol. As with most marchers on International Women’s Day, she wore a knitted hat, which has become the symbol of protest around the world.

In the Senate, we were guests of Sen. John Kefalas of Fort Collins. He was very helpful in explaining to me everything that was happening on the floor of the Senate.

One bill discussed was a re-definition of an aspect of marijuana laws. I had expected something like this to be voted down by one side or the other, but there seemed to be bipartisan support for this industry-friendly bill.

The broad support for this bill became shocking to me when I learned that 11 senators, all men, later voted against a measure in support of more women appearing on corporate boards. This was announced around noon, and soundly booed, as we and a few hundred other people were preparing to march around the Capitol building in support of International Women’s Day.

After leaving the Senate floor, I went to the House of Representatives as a guest of Rep. Joann Ginal, also of Fort Collins. The discussions were all interesting and I liked seeing the democratic process in action. It was really inspiring to see Rep. Ginal and so many other women in jobs which play such a huge part in how our government is run.

Lucy with her mother, Shawn Bowman (left), and Rep. Ginal at the Colorado Capitol.

When the female representatives left the room, as a form of protest, they were greeted back by their male counterparts, saying that this job couldn’t be done without them.

Another highlight of the day was when my own House Representative, Jessie Danielson of Golden, stood at the microphone on the House floor. She told the group about me, mentioning that it was my birthday and how I was celebrating International Women’s Day by missing school for the day and wearing red to support the protest.

The International Women’s Day protest marches that took place around the world focused on the theme of Be Bold for Change. Learn more…

I think it’s important to protest because it shows that you really think about an issue, so to finish the day I joined the march around the Capitol.

A family event: Lucy, her grandfather John Gascoyne and aunt Marti Foxhoven participated in the International Women’s Day march in Denver.

The march was the perfect end to a great birthday and it was nice to spend this day with my Grandpa, his friend Mary, my aunt Marti, and my mom, Shawn, all of whom had joined the protest march with me.

 

Photos by Mary Ray, Fort Collins, Colo., and a thank you to her.

Receive posts of Writers With No Borders in your email box by clicking on the Follow button at the top of the right column.

The Lost SEAL

By David Adamson

Expect no Hollywood reprise of Zero Dark Thirty following the death of Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens, a 36-year-old Navy SEAL killed in action in Yemen on Jan. 29, 2017. President Trump’s explanation for what happened: “They lost Ryan.” The raid on a terrorist compound did not go according to plan. There were civilian casualties, some children, and the target escaped.

Days afterward, President Trump experienced the awful symbolic duty of being Commander-in-Chief as he stood with gravitas on the tarmac at Dover Air Force Base, watching a military detail remove Ryan’s flag-draped coffin from the cavernous fuselage of a C-17 transport. No doubt this was on his mind when he recently spoke to a joint session of Congress and promised, “We will never forget Ryan!” and everyone present rose from their seats in bipartisan cheering.

For once, Trump spoke at least a half truth. He may never forget Ryan, as he should not because he approved the raid. But sadly, except for his family, old high school buddies, community members, and fellow SEALs, the vast majority of around 319 million Americans will forget Ryan.

SEAL William “Ryan” Owens was the recipient of two Bronze Star Medals, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and nine other distinguished medals. He was killed January 29 during a raid in Yemen, the first American combatant to die during the term of the current president.

Since the Vietnam era, the military has become hermetically sealed. Dinnertime frontline war footage of our wounded and dead, served up by the three major networks, eroded popular support for the war. Ever since, our military has restricted access to combat by selectively “embedding” journalists and exerting tight controls on what can be filmed, photographed, or reported.

Today less than one percent of Americans serve in our all-volunteer force. Many Americans don’t know any Middle East veterans, much less about their lives as soldiers overseas. Consequently, they also don’t understand why this military generation has the highest rates of suicide, divorce, drug abuse, spousal abuse, unemployment, and homelessness of any in our long history of wars.

To minimize U.S. casualties many combat actions are undertaken by elite, small special operations units like Navy SEALs. The demanding and dangerous nature of their work depends on secrecy and the element of surprise. Few journalists could physically endure SEAL missions as it’s not unusual to be dropped by helicopter miles from a target, trek to it carrying 100 pounds of arms and equipment, engage in combat, then trek back for extraction, sometimes hauling the dead and wounded.

After the bin Laden mission, SEALs were as revered as Jedi

A couple years ago, I had the opportunity to spend time with some retired SEALs whose careers spanned Vietnam to the War on Terror. After the SEALs’ successful mission to eliminate Osama bin Laden, they were revered as Jedi’s. I was curious to find out what these elite soldiers are actually like.

The one I was most curious about was the youngest of them, a retired commander in his early forties. He had just been out of the service for a few weeks when I met him, ending 20 years of service, most of the last 10 in the Middle East. Call him Jim, not his real name (SEALs have a tradition of keeping a low profile; American Sniper-type tell-alls are rare).

Jim was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy with an advanced degree in international affairs. He was quiet, modest, of average height, wore a trimmed beard, and was fit looking. You would never pick him out if he were standing in a line to purchase movie tickets with his lovely wife and kids.

Jim wasn’t much for small talk, but we were able to connect when he heard I had moved from Colorado. He said that early in his career he had trained for a mission in Bosnia up in the Collegiate Range west of Buena Vista, Colo. He smiled remembering when the chopper dropped him and a group of other San Diego-based SEALS into waist-deep powdered snow on an unknown ridge.

Most civilians are clueless

Over the few months I spent weekly time with him, I always had questions. He would answer patiently, but I sensed Jim thought most civilians, including me, were clueless and lacked interest in or knowledge of the Middle East or the lives of soldiers serving there.

The older SEALs were curious, too. Sometimes I’d hear scraps of cryptic conversation as he and his shipmates (that’s what they called each other) talked about missions, those that went “kinetic” (their word for violent) like one where they breached a door and were met by an armed “bad guy,” so for some reason the lead SEAL rammed the barrel of his rifle into the man’s eye socket, instead of shooting him. Or the time an Army medic accompanying the SEALs got caught out in the open when an RPG exploded and Jim had to pull him behind a wall, the look on the medic’s face when he regained consciousness, bleeding from his ears and nose, and realized he was alive, but deaf. These snippets were always short, matter of fact, with no trace of braggadocio.

I asked Jim how he learned to function amidst the violence and chaos. He said you don’t ever get used to it, but suggested I read Lt. Col. Grossman’s On Combat and On Killing, as he did during his training.

I asked if he believed the U.S. still needs to be there—the public is tiring of wars. His answer was terse: if we don’t get them there, they’ll come after us here as they did on 9/11. I expected a more elaborate geopolitical analysis, but that was the gist of it.

How does this end?

I asked how does this end? He said you will never understand the greater Middle East until you know the difference between a Shia and a Sunni and the nations dominated by each. The violence will not end any time soon, and will get worse and spread. Turns out, he was prophetic.

How is your knowledge about Islam? Take the quiz at the end of this article.

What do you think—can members of Congress, who vote on the defense budget, identify the location of the countries in the Middle East? For that matter, can you? Click here to test your knowledge.

Jim was looking for work. Fishing or paddle boarding, even going to the local shooting range, didn’t offer much of a thrill to a frogman. He had applied for various corporate jobs, but got no interviews. He tried with the state police, but was turned down. One of the older SEALs asked him why.  Jim surmised that during the interview they asked about any problem areas he perceived with the police and public. He said police departments had become too militarized, especially the tactical squads with armored personnel carriers and carrying very-high-powered assault weapons.

I suggested with his degree and experience he should teach at the local community college. But he said no chance, I’m not politically correct—I don’t like Muslims. He said he’s a Christian, but that’s how he felt after what he witnessed.

I never saw him again after that summer ended. I heard from one of his shipmates that eventually he got a job with the local police department. However, that didn’t last long. Something was missing just handing out tickets and arresting drunks.

Jim ended up going to work for a private contractor providing security to state department facilities in the Middle East. He’s overseas half the year. The work is dangerous (remember Benghazi), but the pay is much better than being a cop (or, for that matter, a SEAL).

Now whenever I hear of attacks on U.S. facilities in Iraq, I pause and think of Jim.

Results disastrous in terms of lives and money

I also thought of Jim when President Trump proposed a $50-billion increase in defense spending. We already spend more on defense than all the other great military powers in the world combined. We’ve always had a militaristic and interventionist streak, but it went ballistic after 9/11. The result has been disastrous in terms of lives (our soldiers, bad guys, and orders of magnitude more innocent civilians) and money.

If you really appreciate the courage, dedication, and sacrifice of our soldiers—as I do—you also need to be very skeptical of anyone who advocates solving international problems with force.

The writer of this article, David Adamson, has worked in high technology and health care. He’s the author of Walking the High Tech High Wire and The Wellness Club. He’s written hundreds of blogs on politics and fitness.

We need to confront the reality that Americans live now in a perpetual fog of war created by their political leaders, the chickenhawks in both parties, striking macho poses in front of the TV cameras. They are actually consumed with fear, and thus vulnerable to the relentless pressure of military-industrial complex lobbyists, apocalyptic religious zealots, and fair knee-jerk patriots.

To do so doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate our soldiers, simply we demand to know the why, what, when, how and where of our defense policies before deploying them to godawful places where Americans are hated.

Ryan Owens joined more than 6,000 other U.S. soldiers killed in the Middle East since 9/11. Due to insidious mission creep, our fatality reports now include losses in Yemen and Syria. I’d wager the majority of people in Congress—who vote on the defense budget—would not be able to identify either country on a map of the Middle East if the countries were not labeled. Neither could their constituents, I suspect.

The financial support for our growing defense misadventures resides with Congress, the very people who rose to cheer Ryan’s shaken widow, a mother of four children. Appropriately, the cheering lasted over two minutes, a record for such tributes. However, there was something hollow and superficial about it, like it was a convenient, carefully staged photo-op.

Prior to voting on more defense spending, a more fitting tribute, and reality check, would be for every member of Congress to drive from the Capitol Building over the Potomac to Arlington National Cemetery. It’s only about 15 minutes away.

Amidst the endless rows of white marble tombstones, they’ll arrive at Grave 11483 in Section 60. There they’ll find Ryan.

 

Test your knowledge: