Archive for the ‘Heroes’ Category.
Rhymes with Right has a moving piece honoring the passing of Senator Daniel Inouye. Inouye was a member of the Greatest Generation, but fought for a nation that didn’t trust him simply because of his ethnic heritage, becoming a hero in more ways than one. Just because a man has a “D” behind his name doesn’t make him less a man; in fact in Inouye’s case I think he had more guts and sense than any of those he most recently served with having “R”s behind theirs.
Aloha, Senator, and Requiesce in Pace after a life lived with honor.
Marines are simply a different breed. Always have been. Always will be.
In the moments Ben was debating whether he could hop or maybe crawl the rest of the mile, a man named Matthew Morgan, a Marine who had volunteered to help at the youth event, stepped in.
“(Morgan said) ‘You need help?’ and I said, ‘Sure,’ and he picked me up and carried me,” Ben said.
For the next half mile, Ben held onto Pfc. Morgan with one arm and his prosthetic leg with the other.
Ben said he and Morgan didn’t really speak after their first exchange, but more Marines gathered around and sang a cadence.
As they reached the end and the crowd started roaring, Ben said he felt grateful for the help, but a little frustrated and embarrassed that he couldn’t complete the course on his own.
Young Ben will someday understand that receiving help from a Marine is not a sign of weakness. A Marine helping is a sign of strength.
It isn’t easy being an American these days. It seems that everybody either wants to kill us, rule over us or sell us something overpriced so that they can use that money to kill us or rule over us. On top of that we have a ruling progressive class that is naive about the world, alarmist about the environment, bigoted against religious people, intolerant of any opinion that disagrees with their own and deprecating of America and its values. After years of this I’ve found myself losing my faith in this country, my belief in a better future for my family, seeing only darkness in our nation’s future.
Today I listened to a man from India who has lived for 12 years in the United States tell me how wonderful America is. The conversation had begun when I told him that the Wife and I were musing about a trip to India, especially since the Kashmir is open again and she had fallen in love with the place on a visit there a long time ago. But as we talked he hijacked the conversation, telling me how different India was from the United States. For the next 30 minutes he spoke about things both real “To get my birth certificate in India I have to go to one office to get a form, then another office to get a stamp, then to another to get a signature – and I have to bribe each person to do their job. Here I can order a copy of my son’s birth certificate online for a few dollars,” – and what strikes me as idealistic, “In India if you pay a teacher a 1000 rupees, he will teach you a 1000 rupees worth of knowledge. If you pay him 10,000 he will teach you 10,000 rupees worth. Here in America my son’s teachers love to teach. They send progress reports home all the time for each student, I can’t believe it.”
Thirty minutes. I found myself humbled by this man who endures a painful separation from his parents and brothers in southern India, only visiting them every 2 years because the trip is terribly expensive for him to take his family back home, “But I want them to know their grandparents and their uncles, aunts and cousins – and still enjoy life in America.” He is an extremely intelligent man who knows more computer languages than I can name let alone program in, and though his accent is heavy, his words were light and uplifting.
His words reminded me why my Irish ancestors arrived on these shores half starved after the Potato Famine. His words showed me why my Bohemian great-grandparents paid their last ducat in emigration tax to the Austro-Hungarian empire 40 years later to journey to a land where central Europeans were viewed as simple peasants.
His words gave me hope that no matter how screwed up America gets, no matter how far we’ve traveled down the wrong path, there are men and women like him, born on foreign shores who come here ready to move us forward, and put us on the path we belong.
Neil Armstrong was my kind of hero. Daring yet humble, a quite man who let his actions speak for themselves. After the limelight of making history, he never sought it again.
Upon his death I have nothing to say except to pass along the words of a 19 year old hero, a man whose words echo whenever the Angels’ Trumpets sound.
“High Flight” by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air….
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space, – Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
Administration officials told the Journal that Walesa is too “political.” A man who was arrested by Soviet officials for dissenting against the government for being “political” is being shunned by the United States of America for the same reason 30 years later.
Meanwhile, one of the recipients of the Medal was Dolores Huerta, the honorary chair of the Democratic Socialists of America. So socialist politics are acceptable, but not the politics of a man who stood up and fought socialism.
On this Memorial Day I think it’s worth remembering one of our fallen, Major Douglas E. Sloan, whose headstone appeared on today’s Drudge Report. Major Sloan is interred in Arlington Cemetery.
According to ArlingtonCemetery.net, Major Sloan was killed on October 31, 2006 near Wygal Valley Afghanistan when the convoy he was riding in was hit by an IED. Sloan was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, New York. Sloan, a father of four, was survived by his parents Wendy and Emory Sloan, a retired VA administrator.
His 8 year old son Dylan said of his father, “”He always had a smile on his face. He liked playing with me.”
Major Douglas E. Sloan. Son. Father. Hero.
Mark Steyn had a good piece about Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician that is living under threat of death by various peace loving Muslims. Steyn pointed out something that I’ve often noticed with anyone who dares to question Leftist orthodoxy, the usage of adjectives such as “far” and “extreme” to describe them by reporters. Steyn noted, “the determination to place him beyond the pale is unceasing: “The far-right anti-immigration party of Geert Wilders” (The Financial Times) . . . “Far-right leader Geert Wilders” (The Guardian) . . . “Extreme right anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders” (Agence France-Presse) is “at the fringes of mainstream politics” (Time) . . . Mr. Wilders is so far out on the far-right extreme fringe that his party is the third biggest in parliament. Indeed, the present Dutch government governs only through the support of Wilders’ Party for Freedom. So he’s “extreme” and “far-right” and out on the “fringe,” but the seven parties that got far fewer votes than him are “mainstream”? That right there is a lot of what’s wrong with European political discourse and its media coverage: Maybe he only seems so “extreme” and “far-right” because they’re the ones out on the fringe.”
I’m a fan of Geert Wilders, as I was of another noted Dutch politician, Pym Fortuyn. Like Wilders Fortuyn was tarred with the extremist label, probably the first and only openly gay man ever slandered by the Left as a far right anything. Fortuyn didn’t see himself that way, likening himself to center-left politicians of the day, and was an ardent admirer of American President John F. Kennedy. Like Kennedy Fortuyn paid the ultimate price for his views, gunned down in broad daylight by Volkert van der Graaf, a self-described environmental and animal rights activist who acted in defense of Muslims and “weak members of society.” Wilders has yet to pay this price, but has to move discreetly between safe houses to avoid it.
As Steyn notes, Europe’s multiculturalism that has allowed Islam to thrive without any push back has resulted in a society where gays are hunted without fear of persecution, women and children are raped, and Jewish children are legitimate targets living on borrowed time. Muslims are free to exercise their intolerant views on everyone as they see fit, and those who dare fight back are labeled as Islamophobes and far-right extremists by the very people under greatest threat. When the editor of DC’s gay newspaper the Washington Blade and his boyfriend get beaten up in Amsterdam by 7 Moroccans, and Muslim apologists explain away the attacks as kids unsure of their own sexuality, you know something has gone terribly wrong in Holland.
Islamophobia is an irrational dislike of Islam. There is nothing irrational about refusing to tolerate a religion that views women as less than property, all other religions and political institutions as invalid and heretic, and homosexuality as an abomination punishable by death. There is also nothing irrational about despising a religion whose adherents have called for your death. Yet this is exactly what has happened with Fortuyn and now Wilders.
Throughout world history Europe has been a place where ideas, ideologies and civilizations mix and occasionally clash. Like all complex problems, there is more going on in Europe than just the spread of Islam.
Europe had a long history of Jewish pogroms and persecution long before Adolf Hitler came to power and instituted the Final Solution. Deportations and massacres of Jews were common on the continent well before then, so in a sense Europe’s default state is anti-Semitism. The aftermath of World War 2 changed that briefly as local Europeans were paraded through the concentration camps to see what their hatred wrought, and the guilt caused by the Holocaust swung the elites behind the Jews and the nascent Jewish state of Israel. For decades after it’s founding Israel’s primary supporter was not the United States, it was France, and the ties went beyond the love of socialism that Jews share with Europeans, there was guilt as well. It wasn’t until de Gaulle himself switched sides and backed Israel’s Arab enemies starting in 1967, setting a policy that has continued since. The return to its innate anti-Semitism was complete when French ambassador Daniel Bernard stooped to scapegoating the Jews for all evil in the world, saying in 2001 “All the current troubles in the world are because of that shitty little country Israel.” The problem with guilt is that it’s not static. It gets old and begins to change and when it does it easily changes into hatred. One can only feel guilty for so long before the pain of guilt turns to jealousy towards those in whom the guilt is directed at. It’s a short step from that emotion to hatred, and it’s a step that Europeans all over the continent have taken.
James Oberg, a NASA scientist and engineer once quipped, “You must keep an open mind, but not so open your brains fall out.” The origins of multi-culturalism lies in cultural relativism, the belief that all cultures are equal. In order to achieve that equality multi-culturalists downplay the success and achievements of the dominant culture, criticizing its success as originating from the exploitation and domination of weaker cultures while exaggerating the latter’s achievements. Multi-culturalism became possible after the one culture took a dominant position in the world, and after World War 2 that culture was Western civilization based on Greco-Roman democratic ideals with Judeo-Christian morality supported by Anglo-American capitalism. Multi-culturalism attacked all three of these aspects of western culture in the post-war world. Having become entrenched in academia and to a lesser but substantial degree in non-elected governmental bureaucracies, multi-culturalists pushed for an end to the assimilation of immigrants into a country, viewing it as state enforced cultural genocide. As the western economies in Europe grew, they drew in millions of immigrants from around the Mediterranean, North Africa, and the Middle East. Because these immigrants were not forced let alone encouraged to assimilate, they found themselves at the fringes of their host societies, unable to speak the host nation’s language or participate in its civil life. Multi-culturalists quickly blamed the racism for this failure, unable to understand that contrary to their philosophy there are significant differences between western and Islamic culture, and that saying the two are alike shows an ignorance of both in the same way that Emerson took issue with the fallacy that all men were the same: “The wise man shows his wisdom in separation, in gradation, and his scale of creatures and of merits is as wide as nature. The foolish have no range in their scale, but suppose every man is as every other man.” Multi-culturalists now find themselves trapped by their ideology, defending the gender inequality and intolerance of Islam while unleashing its fury on any one who challenges it. They continually side with and condone the actions of wife beaters and gay bashers and murderers, the very people they are supposed to represent and in many cases are. In short their brains have fallen out.
These two changes in Europe, the return to its default anti-Semitism and the development of multi-culturalism that prevented assimilation of Muslim immigrants, would not have together ended the liberal freedoms that come with Western culture. The dollars spent by Western nations on cheap oil from the Middle East was recycled by the Saudis and other adherents of Wahhabi Islam around the Persian Gulf and used to fund mosques throughout Europe and North America. These mosques spread Wahhabi Islam, one of the strictest and least tolerant forms of Islam, across the West and throughout the Islamic world, replacing moderate and liberal forms that had arisen in the centuries after Mohammad’s conquering of the Arabian peninsula and nearby Levant. This “replacement” was often violent in places (e.g. in Pakistan, Thailand, Egypt) where internecine strife broke out between Wahhabi Sunni’s and followers of other Sunni sects or Shi’a, but happened quietly in the West, as other forms of Islam simply couldn’t compete with Saudi money to gain converts.
It is this toxic combination that Geert Wilders and his supporters recognize as a threat to their freedom, and by choosing to make a stand against it Wilders and those like him have found themselves condemned by the Left and hunted by Islamists. Their voices are few, but sound an alarm that warns the return to Europe of another of its default states: war.
I am fascinated by disasters, whether it’s the Hindenburg, a $15 million failed software implementation that I helped clean up, or the possible nomination of Newt Gingrich to be the Republican Party candidate for the presidency in 2012. Disasters never result from a single failure. Instead they come about through a chain of failures that all lead up to the undesired outcome. Another useful analogy is that of a combination lock. The rarer the disaster, the more cylinders the lock has and all must be lined up perfectly for the disaster to occur. The two analogies have limitations. The chain implies inevitability, and the combination lock implies control. Both are extremes that fail to account for the role chance plays. Chance is an injection of randomness into the disaster scenario that can either stop a disaster in its tracks or push it along to success. It is a completely independent variable that can be diminished but never completely eliminated.
In 1912 the Titanic sailed into infamy, and although it isn’t the greatest shipwreck disaster in terms of loss of life (the MV Dona Paz, a ferry in the Philippines that sank in 1987 ranks as the worst maritime disaster with the loss of 4,375 lives – 3 1/2 times the loss of the Titanic) it has been thoroughly studied and remains a template for maritime disasters even a century later with the wreck of the cruise ship Costa Concordia.
In both cases there were heroes and villains. On the Titanic Second Officer Charles Lightoller took charge of the evacuation and stayed with the stricken vessel until it went down. After surviving the sinking, he found an overturned lifeboat with 30 survivors clinging to it. Swimming to it in ice cold water, he took charge of the craft and kept it from throwing off the survivors by distributing their weight and ordering them to move in rhythm with the ocean swells to keep them from all tumbling into the frigid sea.
While the story of the Costa Concordia is still taking shape, we are beginning to hear similar stories of heroism. British teen James Thomas used his 6’3” body as a ladder to allow passengers to scramble over him between decks to the lifeboats. There are also reports of bravery and acts of heroism by the Costa Concordia crew including Filipino waiters and cooks who stepped in to lead passengers to safety after the captain left the doomed ship.
Which brings us to the villains. In the Titanic disaster no one is more infamous than J. Bruce Ismay, head of the White Star Line who was on-board the ship and encouraged the captain to maintain speed even after receiving warning of icebergs on the route. Ismay survived the disaster by taking to a lifeboat early, earning him the sobriquet “Coward of the Titanic” in newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic. Today the same words are being used by in both the Italian and English press to describe Costa Concordia captain Francesco Schettino for abandoning the ship 4 hours before the last passengers had been rescued.
Even the companies that owned both ships are vilified. The White Star Line was criticized for failure to provide enough lifeboats in order to cut ship’s costs and expand the number of cabins. After the disaster White Star refused to pay the full wages of the surviving crew, prorating their pay according to the moment the ship sank below the waves. While it remains to be seen how Carnival, owner of the Costa lines, treats its crew, it has shown incredible stupidity by offering survivors 30% discounts on their next Carnival cruise. The Titanic didn’t destroy White Star Lines, but it did wound it. By 1934 it was forced to merge with its rival Cunard, and in one of History’s delicious ironies, Cunard was taken over in 2005 by Carnival. So in a sense the corporate villain of the Titanic is the same entity behind the Costa Concordia disaster.
While the broad themes of heroes and villains appeal to us, by focusing solely on them we lose sight of the elements that lead to the disaster. With the Titanic it turns out that the riveted joints of the steel and the quality of the steel itself, particularly its brittleness when exposed to extremely cold salt water, were the cylinders that turned and unlocked the disaster. Had the seams been welded (though in fairness welding was still in its infancy) they would have resisted the collision. Had the steel been of different alloy, it could have kept the ice from penetrating into the ship. The watertight compartments weren’t truly watertight, a decision made by engineers under the authority of White Star management to maximize paying space on the ship. These are the engineering failures that lead up to the Titanic disaster. It remains to be seen whether this type of failure contributed to the sinking of the Costa Concordia.
Then there were the human mistakes. The captain of the Titanic Edward John Smith was an extremely experienced sailor, yet he made several mistakes that doomed the ship. He ignored the iceberg warnings and kept the ship on its original northerly course instead of taking a safer, southerly route that would have cost time. Whether against his better judgement or not he kept the Titanic sailing at speed into danger in order to achieve the record-setting transatlantic crossing Ismay expected [see JJ comment below]. Other human mistakes creep in. The Californian was in sight of the distress signals from the Titanic as it sank, yet ignored them. It also missed the distress calls from the Titanic because the radio operator had turned off his set and went to bed. Had either of these two human errors not happened it is possible that the Californian would have saved many of the lives lost that night.
Similarly the Costa Concordia had a plethora of similar errors, the most obvious being the captain’s movement of the vessel too close to the island of Giglio. After running the ship aground, the captain disappeared as did most of the officers of the crew leaving the passengers and low-ranking crew members to their own devices. No one knew what to do, and language barriers hampered evacuation efforts. In the chaos passengers were given bad information (“it’s a problem with the generator”) and told to return to their cabins. Even the black boxes which would have detailed events leading up to the crash turn out to have failed two weeks before the disaster and weren’t repaired. These errors will be detailed in the inquests into the disaster sure to come.
In terms of the scale of loss of life the disasters are quite different, but the mechanics are eerily similar especially considering that both disasters are separated by 100 years. In the dark of night two ships experience a series of engineering failures and human errors that result in a disaster.
Contrast this with air travel. A century ago planes were notoriously dangerous and unreliable. Today flying is the safest form of transportation in the world. It has only become so through the study of each air crash. The factors that lead up to each disaster are determined and guidelines and changes to procedures or mechanical elements are made to prevent the accident from occurring again. Over time this has stopped air safety from being the oxymoron it had once been. It is important to understand how this process has occurred. Luck hasn’t made air travel safe – only the careful application of the tools of investigation and science has.
The similarities between the Titanic and the Costa Concordia prove that progress in maritime safety has a long way to go to match that of aviation safety. The true tragedy of the Costa Concordia is the loss of life without doubt, but also, that after a hundred years of technological progress, better steel, GPS systems, and engineering advancements an inattentive and risk-taking captain can still sink his ship.
The first post of a New Year, and I thought I’d take a moment to link to a post by the Economist about Vaclav Havel, a man who didn’t live to see the it. Havel has been one of my heroes since before he helped overthrow communism in Czechoslovakia, later becoming the first president of a free Czech Republic. When you hear Communist slogans, think of Havel’s green grocer in his play “The Power of the Powerless”:
“...one day something in our greengrocer snaps and he stops putting up the slogans merely to ingratiate himself. He stops voting in elections he knows are a farce. He begins to say what he really thinks at political meetings. And he even finds the strength in himself to express solidarity with those whom his conscience commands him to support. In this revolt the greengrocer steps out of living within the lie. He rejects the ritual and breaks the rules of the game. He discovers once more his suppressed identity and dignity. He gives his freedom a concrete significance. His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth …”
It’s difficult to explain what life was like before 1989 for those who are too young to remember it. The Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact were facts of life as seemingly eternal as the changing seasons and as indestructible as the Ural Mountains. Men like Havel and Lech Walesa in Poland, as well as Soviet Premier Gorbachev proved that wrong. Within months the Soviet Empire collapsed upon itself like a papier-mâché covered balloon. Without question 1989 was a year unlike any other – perhaps one of the greatest in modern history. Vaclev Havel, a quiet man of immense intellect, fortitude and humility, helped change history and free not just his own people, but millions behind the Iron Curtain.
I doubt that Havel himself ever truly appreciated the role he played in overthrowing the murderous regime of the Soviets, nor would his humility allow him to accept his important place in the history books. But millions, including this half-Bohemian writer, owe him a debt of gratitude for freeing us from the lies of oppression, and helping us accept the truth of freedom.
After helping to free Czechoslovakia, people took to the streets demanding Havel be made the country’s first free president with cries of Havel na Hrad! – “Havel to the Castle!” referring to Prague Castle, the seat of Czechoslovakia’s government. Reluctantly he listened to the people and became the country’s president. It is a shout of freedom for a deserving people and praise for a truly great man.
Christopher Hitchens is dead.
I first learned about the death of Capt. Mark Garner on the sign of a local restaurant in Elkin North Carolina as I drove past last night. The flags at the hotel and all the other businesses fly at half-mast. At one of the local banks the officers spoke about how Capt. Garner’s mother teaches in the Elkin school district, and how Capt. Garner’s dream was to serve in the military. The West Point graduate achieved his dream – a dream cut short when his vehicle was hit by an IED in Afghanistan.
There is a heavy feeling in the air that as an outsider I sense yet cannot explain. It’s a feeling of sacrifice and faith that the sacrifice was worth it. One bank officer seemed mystified. “Why don’t we leave and let them get back to killing each other,” she said, expressing a sentiment that has been all too common since 9-11. How could I respond to the death of the boy that their children played with or who they cheered on at sporting events an all-too short time ago? How can an abstraction like the global war on terror compete with a flag-covered coffin returning home?
9-11 has become an abstraction in itself as it fades in time. And that’s the problem – because the death of Capt. Garner is directly tied to the deaths of 4,000 on that holy day. Were it not for men like Capt. Garner, that event would not be an abstraction – it would be a reality.
But such statements mean nothing at a time like this. The town of Elkin North Carolina mourns one of its own, and deserves my respect and yes, my silence.
I’ve written extensively about the military and the Stepson in The Corps. But true heroism comes in all shapes and sizes and isn’t limited to police officers and firemen. In November 2007 Readers Digest captured a few stories of heroism that, not being a RD reader myself, I missed.
Take for example the story of Moezeldin Elmostafa, a cab driver in Durham North Carolina who immigrated to the US from Sudan in 1999. Shortly after midnight on March 14, 2006 Elmostafa picked up two college boys, took them to an ATM and a drive thru, then delivered them both to Duke University’s West campus. After a decent tip from the boys, he thought nothing more of the ride until a month later when he was contacted by one of the boy’s lawyer. Reade Seligmann and two other Duke students had been accused of raping a dancer at a party. At the time of the alleged crime Seligmann had claimed that he was in Elmostafa’s taxi.
Even though he didn’t want to get involved, and feared that his involvement in a criminal case would jeopardize his chances for citizenship, Elmostafa imagined how he would have felt had his son been falsely accused. “I will testify,” he said. “I will stand up and tell the whole truth.” Elmostafa swore out an affidavit testifying to Seligmann’s whereabouts that night, showed his phone bill with a call from Seligmann’s phone to back up Seligmann’s story and was interviewed by the case detectives.
His reward? Elmostafa was jailed two weeks later on a two year old misdemeanor charge of larceny for driving a woman to a store, waiting for her while she shopped and driving her home. It turns out that she wasn’t shopping: she was shoplifting. The case had been settled soon after the charges were drawn up, but that didn’t stop Durham DA Mike Nifong from resurrecting the charge to pressure Elmostafa to change his story about the boys. Elmostafa didn’t roll over: he hired his own attorney and faced down the charges three months later in court, where he was acquitted.
But Elmostafa stuck by his story and testified for the defense. The boys were acquitted of all charges as the case fell apart, and Durham’s District Attorney was disbarred in June 2007.
Elmostafa could have taken the easy route for himself and simply not gotten involved. Had he not done so nothing bad would have happened to him, although the chances are good that three innocent young men would be behind bars today. Even though he was scared – and his fear was based on reality judging by the actions of Mike Nifong – Elmostafa showed true bravery, proving Rickenbacker’s adage that “It ain’t courage if you ain’t scared.”
Elmostafa is the kind of immigrant that makes America great, and the sooner he gets his citizenship, the better. He was voted “2008 Hero of the Year” by an online Reader’s Digest poll and it’s clear to me that he deserves the honor.