Conflicting Thoughts on Recent Events

Lately we all have seen the horrible carnage of terrorist attacks that have been broadcast in the media.

  • 147 killed in Kenya in a terrorist attack on a University
  • 43 killed in Lebanon by a suicide bomber. 239 injured
  • 224 killed over Egypt in a Russian aircraft that was bombed while in flight
  • Coordinated attacks in Paris. 129 killed and hundreds more injured

I have no other word than “horrible” to describe all of this. Over 400 people – innocent people in different corners of the world – killed. This is horrible enough. But there is more.

I have done a lot of thinking about not just what has been happening, but also about both the reporting by the news media and the response of our elected officials. And there are many messages being sent from all corners that have an effect the opinions of anyone who hears them. A significant number of those messages are certainly meant to influence how we view what happened and how we should respond.

Probably the first of those who are guilty of this is the news media. Whether you think of the mainstream media – ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, CNN, etc. – or the alternative media, which could be any number of outlets as there are way too many to name, everyone who reports the news has an agenda. There is no such thing as “unbiased” news reporting; it doesn’t exist. A couple of examples come to mind as cases in point.

I have been following CNN‘s reporting of the attacks in Paris. I know – a lot of people refer to CNN as the “Communist News Network”, including me, from time to time. But the reason I follow CNN is that they tend to have wider ranging coverage than the other networks. That makes them no less biased in their reporting, however, and I take a fair amount of what they say with a grain of salt. But I do the same for other outlets as well: Fox News, MSNBC, and the more independent outlets are guilty of the same sort of thing. And I am using CNN as an example because they are the most visible, and by extension, the biggest example of what I’m referring to.

Some of the stories on CNN’s home page include significant coverage of what has happened. The headline is the words “FIGHTING BACK”, just as you see it. Two opinion pieces are entitled “Don’t feed ISIS chaos” and “It’s not ‘World War III'”. The first article makes the statement, in large part, that while there were mistakes made in terms of dealing with radical Islam since before 9/11 (remember the Mujahadeen, who the US backed, when the former Soviet Union had troops in Afghanistan?), it’s not too late to do things right, ultimately leading to victory, peace, and healing. I use the word “healing” because in the beginning of the article the author points out that since 1975, when the United States walked away from Vietnam in seeming defeat, today we as a nation are the eighth largest importer of Vietnamese goods in the world, not to mention we host the largest number of Vietnamese students worldwide.

The other piece, the “World War III” article I mentioned, talks about the difference between al-Qaeda and Daesh (ISIS/ISIL – I think Daesh is totally appropriate, personally), in large part reminding the reader that while al-Qaeda is spread worldwide in terms of their operations, Daesh actually has co-opted geography in Iraq and Syria in the attempt to form a caliphate. The differences are clear: al-Qaeda wants anyone from the West to leave the Middle East. Daesh wants to bring on the Apocalypse. With that said, a number of points were addressed in the article, including the limited support Daesh has beyond its own physical boundaries and the number of nations allied against it, including the US, Britain, Russia, Iran, and France. Some of the other ideas expressed include the issues of how the US responds to refugees and the potential consequences for how people of different religious faiths are treated, how to deal with Syria (the gist is “Assad needs to go”), and the overall complexity of Islamic politics.

Both are interesting articles to read. But they are only part of the picture.

First, while I certainly think there should be response to what Daesh has done, and continues to do, is it worth it to put more troops into that part of the world? Unless there is a solid plan with quantifiable objectives, like there was during the first Gulf War in the early 1990’s, I don’t see the point in doing so. Part of my reason for saying that is because of the conditions our troops operate under today in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Rules of Engagement limit what they can and can’t do to the point of being crippling. Don’t get me wrong; there have always been Rules of Engagement. Some of them were much less crippling, others more so. An example of the latter is the Rules that Marines had to follow in Lebanon in the 1980’s before the Barracks was bombed. If you ever have the opportunity to view them, take it, and you will see what I mean. The absurdity of the Rules they operated under was written about by Eric Hammel in his book, “The Root.” As a result of the disastrous consequences of how they were implemented and enforced, a substantial number of Marines (241) and other personnel who were there died. And I think some lessons were learned over that. However, that doesn’t mean the conditions our troops work under now are hugely better. I would submit that they are not. And it all goes back to what I initially was talking about regarding objectives.

Second, why was Paris singled out, in terms of worldwide attention? Understand that I am not begrudging anyone who was a victim of the attacks their due, in terms of support, and of the city of Paris as a whole. No city or population deserved what happened. And it is the second time this year if you consider what happened in January with the attack on Charlie Hebdo. No – Paris has not deserved any of this. At the same time, however, I mentioned three other incidents that have occurred in the recent past. How is it that they – especially the incidents in Kenya and Lebanon – have not warranted the same attention? Is it because they are not European locations? Or is it because, in the case of Beirut, that “this happens all the time over there”, as it were? I have to point out that the last time there was any marked violence like this in Beirut was before the Lebanese Civil War ended a little over 20 years ago.

And what about Kenya? The attack I’m referring to happened seven months ago. This was an attack on the campus of Kenya College, located in Garissa. It occurred on April 2, and there were 147 students killed in the attack. I remember hearing about it when it happened, and I also remember thinking, “Why isn’t this being covered more thoroughly?” There was also no further mention of this attack until the story was re-told this past week after the attacks in Paris.

This, especially, is both sad and absurd at the same time. Why an attack on a school was low-balled, in terms of reporting, is beyond me.

There is the matter of refugees in all of this. I can only imagine that there are many who would say “no more, especially from Syria.” Indeed, 27 states, as of the last count, have opted to not allow more into their territory, New Hampshire being one of them. Do I agree? I won’t lie – part of me does. But a larger part of me knows that the problem is not with refugees themselves. It is with the small percentage of those who have in mind to commit acts of terror and attempt to spread chaos that are totally screwing things up for the huge majority of people who are running away from the awful circumstances that they have been forced to live under. What makes it so difficult is that there isn’t a practical way, at least that I am aware of, to separate the wheat from the chaff. And that hurts anyone and everyone who is trying to escape the terror that they have had to endure.

One last thing to consider. Two nations, France and Russia, have basically said, “enough is enough”, and have taken matters into their own hands. Is this a good or bad thing? I think it depends on your point of view. Part of me has actually rejoiced over this. Another part of me worries that there will be considerable spillover as a result, the cycle of violence will be pushed down even further, and more people who don’t deserve to die, unfortunately, will.

I guess my point is that we live in what could be euphemistically described as “interesting times.” It is bad that all of this is happening around the world. It is equally bad that our own leadership is so divided on ways to try to stop what is happening, as well as prevent it here. My personal opinion on that is it won’t be prevented in time; I am not sure that those who are in charge will figure things out quickly enough, or that political considerations will be put aside in order to do this. Ultimately, I believe that is the root of the problem; nobody wants to cooperate to figure out how to solve this problem. And, in a manner of speaking, the wolf is already at the door.

Conflicting Thoughts on Recent Events

1775-2015 – 240 Years Young



Today is the 240th birthday of the United States Marine Corps.

Some people, looking at this, will likely think, “Why is he celebrating that?” If you don’t know me, and you’re asking that question, then you deserve to know. If you do know me and you’re asking that question, then slap yourself in the head with the palm of your hand, because you should already know why I am writing about this.

For those of you who don’t know, I served in the Marine Corps from June of 1980 until June of 1984, and again as a Marine Reservist from August of 1985 to October of 1989. I was a musician, a bandsman. A trumpet player, MOS 5541. As a Reservist, I served with the Infantry as a rifleman, an Infantry platoon sergeant, and as a communications technician and team chief. It was a great time in my life for a number of reasons. Not only did I get to do something I liked quite a lot and that I recently realized how much I miss doing it, but I learned quite a bit.

I grew up. I learned how to be an adult. I developed character. And I had some great role models. People like Clyde Croswell, a retired Lieutenant Colonel who I had the privilege of serving with twice and working for when I was stationed on Okinawa. Or Elaine and Bob Gooding, both musicians that I got to know and become friends with when I was with the band at Quantico, Virginia. Another Quantico Marine musician I had a great deal of respect and regard for was James “Pete” Snyder; he was the drum major while I was there. A Marine’s Marine. Always looked out for his people. And he made sure we did our job to the best of our ability every time we went out, whether it was to do morning colors or a change of command, or to the rifle range on the outskirts of Camp Barrett to qualify. Or Master Gunnery Sergeant William Mike; he was the Bandmaster of the Second Marine Division Band at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. A man who knew how to set an incredible example. I saw a photo of him recently; he is now in his mid-70’s and he still looks like he could run the kids into the ground.

Probably one of the people I have the highest regard for is a man named Hank Donigan. He is a retired Marine Colonel that I have known for most of the past 35 years. When I first encountered him, Hank was a First Lieutenant. He was the series officer of the recruit series I was assigned to in June of 1980. I was a member of Platoon 2048, Foxtrot Company, Second Recruit Training Battalion.

It is amazing what we remember years later, isn’t it?

In any case, Hank was the first officer I encountered. He was 25 years old to my 18 – I thought he was old. But I also was impressed with the way he carried himself. He had a quality that I couldn’t describe at the time, but I know it now: he had bearing. And he had presence. Plus, he knew how to lead. That was something I discovered, sort of instinctively. Between him and the three Drill Instructors that were responsible for forming me and the 70 other young men that were in my recruit platoon – SSgt Bjelko (killed in a helicopter crash in 1984 in S. Korea – RIP), SSgt Britton (one memory I have of him is that he told my battle buddy that he should have his face dipped in batter and made into Gorilla Cookies….), and SSgt Lomax (retired as a Marine Gunner – last I knew was on the range staff at 29 Palms) – they molded us into Marines. And I think they did a decent job, if how I turned out has anything to do with that.

Years later, I am still in touch with Hank. He has children that are the same age as mine. He runs marathons. And he is still a good, cherished friend who I still look up to. He lives out on the west coast (not too far from Camp Pendleton, CA, in fact), and if I have an opportunity to go out there again any time soon, I will make it a point to contact him first so that I can buy him a beer. Should he find his way out here (originally he grew up in Bedford, MA, two towns away from where I grew up), I will do the same. It is the least I can do.

In any case, I felt it was worth sharing some of my memories of serving in our beloved Corps. It is something I keep with me every day, and from time to time it is worth letting out and putting on display.

From me to you – Happy Birthday. And Semper Fidelis.

The Life Raft

I’ve rewritten this post probably four or five times in the past week or so. Trying to express my thoughts on this one has been difficult. And what is normally relatively easy for me to do has been, for lack of a better word, elusive. Truthfully, I’m not even sure I’ll get this right. But I will do my best.

An extremely quiet child, they called you in your school report
He’s always taken interest in the subjects that he’s taught
So what was it that brought the squad car screaming up your drive
To notify your parents of the manner in which you died?

At St. Patrick’s every Sunday, Father Fletcher heard your sins
Oh, he’s unconcerned with competition he never cares to win
But blood stained a young hand that never held a gun
And his parents never thought of him as their troubled son

“Now you’ll never get to Heaven”, Mama said
Remember Mama said
Ticking, ticking, grow up straight and true blue
Run along to bed, hear it, hear it, ticking, ticking

The above lyric is from a song recorded about forty years ago. It was recorded by Elton John, and the song, entitled “Ticking”, is a disturbing and very sad story about a young man who struggled with mental illness. Indirectly, he lost his life to it. The story, as the song goes, is that this man went into a bar somewhere in the New York City borough of Queens, pulled weapons, and took hostages. He killed two. There was a stand-off with police. When he was called out, he was shot to death.

While not necessarily based on a true story, it could be. And as tough as the story told in the song is, it is also too common, especially now. If anything, circumstances are worse today than when the song was recorded. Look at the news stories that are published on a daily basis: shootings, bombings, terror attacks, the Presidential race…

Okay – the Presidential race may be a little bit of a stretch, but certainly the cast of characters in this election cycle lend themselves to unease, no matter who you like. But I think you get my drift.

Even today there are still people who marginalize mental illness. It is frustrating to see and hear it when it happens, mainly because I understand all too well what it is like to suffer. To an extent, I still do, but not nearly as much or as badly as I used to. I think mainly that is because I have a good support system and access to excellent healthcare. It doesn’t hurt that I am reasonably well-educated, either. You also have to remember that professionally I see it also; many people I deal with regularly have their own mental maladies, whether they are due to organic causes or not. What I mean by the term “organic causes” are illnesses like Schizophrenia, Bi-polar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, OCD, ADD, etc. There are others which are not necessarily organic in nature, as well. Addiction certainly comes to mind, and there are many who would say that addiction falls into the organic category. Whether or not I agree with that is up in the air. And it is best reserved as discussion for another post. But I will talk a little about it later on, just the same.

Why am I writing about this, anyway? Well, since the post I put up a few weeks ago about the anxiety attack I had, it got me to thinking. And I did a lot of thinking about it, which is why this was so difficult to write in the first place. The question I came up with was this: is it just me, or has the whole world just blown up and gone totally crazy? And is mental illness real, or is it an excuse for some people to wreak havoc on others?

To answer that question, you have to consider what has changed in the world we live in. Some would say that nothing has changed; things have always been this way but most people haven’t noticed, mainly because the way we interact with each other has changed. I would submit that this is only partially true; much of what has changed is societal, and I’ll touch on that shortly. As an example, I remember as a child growing up about 25 miles west of Boston thinking that the city was so far away. In reality, you can drive from downtown Boston to Maynard, the town I grew up in, probably in about 45 minutes by taking Route 2 out of the city. Driving through Cambridge, into Arlington then Lexington, through Lincoln, into Concord, then turn onto Route 62 and follow it through West Concord, a sliver of North Acton, and into Maynard. For my friends who are from the area, and many still live around there, not to mention family members, they can relate to what I am talking about. It is a blink of an eye, in a manner of speaking, to make that drive now.

Then there is the development of technology over the past 35 or so years. Prior to my becoming an EMS provider, I worked in the computer and telecommunications industry for a little over 17 years. I remember the first computer I ever put my hands on; it was a big system that filled a room and used 8-inch disks and tape for storage. It ran the VAX/VMS operating system. It took hours to run programs that today can run in fractions of seconds. And it was self-contained. Today, your smartphone has probably 100 times the computing power, and it can communicate with devices all over the world. That, in itself, if you think about it, is hazardous, mainly because you don’t necessarily know at the machine level who your phone is handshaking with. Not to mention those who would try to find ways to hack into your phone, or PC, or tablet, or whatever device you use, either to steal your information or just to destroy what you have stored on your computer. Simply because they can.

Because of the changes to technology that we’ve seen, so much more information is available than ever before. Bear in mind that a good portion of that information is not necessarily either accurate or wholesome, but it’s out there just the same. Then there are the human factors to consider. Much of what many of us grew up with, in terms of how we were raised, societal norms, and traditions – all gone or changed so much as to be unrecognizable. People have little or no respect for authority: look at the attacks on Police officers nationwide. Or others who work in public safety; Fire and EMS personnel are not safe, either. Then there is organized religion; Christianity, especially the Catholic Church, has taken a big hit, mainly due to its shooting itself in the foot – certainly a story in itself that has been told over and over again. Islam, in some parts of the world, has gone totally radical, and this is causing fear in places where it is not, especially in the West. Jihad is seemingly everywhere, if you subscribe to what the media says. Substance abuse is another consideration; from alcohol to marijuana to LSD to crack cocaine and crystal meth to the massive heroin problems that exist, all have contributed in one way or another to our overall mental health as a society. And it is not getting better. There is not a day that goes by, especially now, where reports of people dying from overdoses, or stories about people being chemically resuscitated with Naloxone (otherwise known as “Narcan”) are commonplace.

I’ve managed to pack a lot into about 1400 words. The obvious question that should come next is “so where do we go from here?” To be honest, I don’t know. I do know that most, if not all, of the points I’ve made should make anyone question their own sanity. I also know that there has to be a way to survive, because the world we live in is a hard place, and it’s enough to make most anyone suffer the fate of the subject of the song I referenced at the beginning of the post. At the same time, there is no shame in getting help if you feel you need it. While many wouldn’t admit to needing it, there are many resources available. But you have to start with yourself. Don’t be afraid to climb into the Life Raft.

I did.

The Life Raft