Posts tagged with: war

Jay Richards and I have an Ignatius Press book on Tolkien’s commitment to freedom coming out soon, so we’ve been following developments in the Hobbit film trilogy more closely than we might otherwise. A recent development is director Peter Jackson announcing a subtitle change to the third film—from There and Back Again, to Battle of the Five Armies.

That’s maybe a bit narrow for a novel that’s also about food, fellowship and song, but I think it’d be going too far to say it’s somehow out of step with Tolkien. The book, a prelude to The Lord of the Rings, features the now titular battle of five armies, a narrowly avoided battle of three armies and, leading up to this, skirmishes with everything from clever spiders to dimwitted trolls.

The Lord of the Rings, though more sophisticated in its themes, is similarly chock-full of clashing swords and the like. In one battle, two of the nobler characters even compete to see who can kill the most orcs. Interestingly, the peace-loving hippies of the ’60s were among the first to embrace the battle-soaked novel in large numbers. What are we to make of this curious alliance?

(more…)

Eric Prince, founder and former CEO of Blackwater Inc., speaks at the Acton Institute

Eric Prince, founder and former CEO of Blackwater Inc., speaks at the Acton Institute

On Tuesday night, the Acton Institute welcomed Erik Prince to the Mark Murray Auditorium in the Acton Building in Grand Rapids, Michgan. Prince, a west Michigan native, is the founder and former CEO of Blackwater, Inc., the private security firm that became the subject of a great deal of controversy during the Iraq War, and remains so to this day.

Prince’s address shared the title of his book: Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror. He related the story of why he founded Blackwater Inc., how the company grew in response to various national and world events, the role the company played in Iraq and Afghanistan in the post-9/11 conflicts, and the public excoriation that both he and his company were subject to at the hands of a hostile press and Congressional investigators after the public soured on the Iraq war effort.

A small group of protestors greeted Prince's arrival at Acton.

A small group of protestors greeted Prince’s arrival at Acton.

Naturally, Prince’s presence at Acton sparked outrage in the local leftist community, as Prince is widely assumed to be a “war criminal” throughout the leftist blogosphere. This led to calls for protest, which were answered by around ten to twelve individuals who stood at the corner of Fulton Street and Sheldon Avenue, peacefully holding their signs. By my observation, it appeared that about 60 percent of the signs were intended to either denounce Prince as a “war criminal” or Acton for even allowing him to speak, with the other 40 percent calling for various leftist economic reforms. Here’s a rather amusing account of the event from a leftist perspective, which notes that at some point the protestors hauled out a bullhorn, but were asked discontinue use of it by the Grand Rapids Police. A more balanced account of the event appears in the Grand Rapids Press.

In the end, this type of protest is the reason why Prince wrote his book, and the reason why he is now speaking out about his experiences. He has largely been tried and convicted in the international court of the leftist blogosphere and punditocracy, and has had relatively little opportunity to share his side of the story. Even then-Senator Barack Obama acknowledged that “Blackwater is getting a bad rap” during a 2008 campaign related trip to Afghanistan, a trip on which his personal security was provided by – you guessed it – Blackwater.

With all this in mind, your best bet is to hear the man out for yourself. The video of Prince’s address and the Q and A that followed is posted below. For a more in-depth examination of the situation, you’d do well to read his book.

‘Unbroken’ is a must read book about the survival, suffering, and redemption of World War II veteran Louis Zamperini. Zamperini, a former Olympic runner, served as a bombardier in the Pacific Theatre of the war. During a search and rescue mission, his B-24 crashed in the Pacific. Zamperini, battling starvation, sharks, and Japanese Zeroes, drifted in a life raft with two others for thousands of miles. But that was just the beginning of his epic battle for survival. He was picked up by the Japanese and made a prisoner of war. After his liberation from the camp at the end of the war, Zamperini’s life spiraled out of control from alcoholism, his only coping mechanism for his horrific wartime experience and the torture he suffered.

While I was reading this book by Laura Hillenbrand, it became clear to me that Christ was the only thing that could redeem Zamperini’s life. A few years after the war, Zamperini was transformed by the power of the Gospel at a Billy Graham Crusade in Southern California. Zamperini not only forgave his Japanese tormentors but worked a lifetime in ministry mentoring the young. Zamperini, born in 1917, currently lives in Hollywood, Calif.

One of the problems in evangelicalism today is the lack of leadership. There is a lack of uncompromising voices like a Billy Graham who is pointing the country to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It’s folly to believe this country can be salvaged or reformed without a strong vibrant faith in the people. For the Christian, the remedy for sin is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not all of the substitutes for the Gospel that has flooded our culture. Even big government now promises to treat so many of the symptoms of sin by trying and failing to build a heaven on earth.

Below is a short profile of Louis Zamperini introduced by Brett Baier at Fox News. His story represents so well the courage of many of our veterans and also points to the transformation of so many lives through the crusades of Billy Graham.

One_Square_Mile_of_Hell_The_Battle_for_Tarawa-119196847028350While enjoying time off this weekend, why not take some time to learn more about America’s military sacrifice in defense of liberty? Many of the best books I’ve ever read have been about American military history. When I worked for former Congressman Gene Taylor in Gulfport, Miss. one of my favorite parts of my job while working constituent services for veterans was listening to stories about battles from places like Okinawa, Khe Sanh, and Hue City. I’ve read all of the books compiled below and all of them tell magnificent stories of virtue, honor, sacrifice, and leadership. Obviously this is not a comprehensive list but I worked at including different conflicts and service branches. While I could expand it, I’m asking readers to add your own recommendations in the comment section.

1) The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: This is easily one of the greatest books on Naval Warfare ever written. The author, James D. Hornfischer, weaves together a dramatic David and Goliath battle in the Pacific, where a force of U.S. destroyers and cruisers took on a Japanese fleet over ten times its size. It was perhaps the U.S. Navy’s finest hour during WWII, but it came with a monumental price. The sacrifice of these sailors deserve to be honored and forever remembered.

2) Joker One: A Marine Platoon’s Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood: A Great account by Donovan Campbell about his Marine platoon in Ramadi, Iraq in 2004. This is an excellent book that offers Christian themes rooted in love, servant leadership, and sacrifice. I reviewed Joker One for the PowerBlog in 2009.

3) Bury Us Upside Down: The Misty Pilots and the Secret Battle for the Ho Chi Minh Trail: A thorough and riveting look at the air war over Vietnam along the Ho Chi Minh Trail that uncovers lots of new information about the conflict in Southeast Asia. I particularly appreciate the exhaustive research the authors did about the families of these heroic pilots who sacrificed their lives in Vietnam.

4) One Square Mile of Hell: I don’t understand how this narrative about the Battle of Tarawa by John Wukovits has never been made into a movie. The account is vivid and suspenseful with its description of the short lives for many Marines who landed on the Tarawa Atoll in 1943. This book too does a tremendous job of telling the stories of a few of the families who sacrificed their lives. It was also the first WWII battle that showed the bodies of dead Americans in newsreels to the public back home. Special permission had to be granted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to show the dramatic loss of life on film from this battle.

5) We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young: A great chronicle of the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley in 1965 and the courageous men who served in the 1st Battalion of the 7th Cavalry. Written by retired Lt. General Harold Moore and war correspondent Joe Galloway, this book tells the stories of numerous heroic men like John Goeghegan and Willie Godbolt who paid the ultimate price in Vietnam. A popular movie based on the book was released in 2002.

6) With the Old Breed: Eugene B. Sledge was a superb writer and this is some of the best war literature you will ever find. Few accounts capture the human emotion of combat like With the Old Breed. I reviewed the book for Veterans Day in 2010.

7) House to House: This is simply a riveting account on the intense urban combat that wracked Fallujah, Iraq in November 2004. The battle is often referred to the Second Battle of Fallujah. I debated including this work over some other books because of some excessive cussing, but in the end I couldn’t keep it off the list. It’s an emotional and intense read and captures well the courage and sacrifice of so many who fought and died in Iraq during the bloodiest years of the war. SSG Bellavia paid tremendous tribute to the men that fought by his side.

In an interview in Our Sunday Visitor, an official with the Catholic Near East Welfare Association said refugees from Syria into Lebanon are increasing “tremendously” because of the military conflict. Issam Bishara, vice president of the Pontifical Mission and regional director for Lebanon and Syria, told OSV about the “perilous situation in Syria and how the local and global Catholic Church is responding.”

OSV: What has life been like for local Christians in Syria?

Bishara: Christians or non-Christians, they are fleeing the shelling. The Christians would have an additional worry — they are not sure of the future. The experience of Christians in Iraq was horrible. If something similar happens to the Christians in Syria then they would be in a very difficult situation. Most of the Christians who fled Iraq went to Syria and Lebanon. The question is, what if the Christians in Syria were displaced? What we hear from them is that they worried about their future, about the form of the new regime and the new government — would there be a democratic regime, a fanatic Muslim regime? They’re not sure.

OSV: What is CNEWA doing to assist the refugees?

Bishara: We are assisting 2,000 families in the regions of Homs, the Christian Valley, Tartus and Damascus. We work through the infrastructure of the local church — the Greek Orthodox Church, which is the largest Christian community in Syria, and the Greek Catholics, the Melkites, and through the different sisters and the Jesuit fathers as well.

OSV: How has the Church responded?

Bishara: The Church has responded in a very good way. We are trying to utilize their social workers and priests and the sisters and try to raise funds and pass it through them. They are purchasing all of the commodities that we agree on and putting it in boxes and taking care of distribution. They are extremely accountable and very strict in terms of who gets what. We’re very happy with the way they are presenting their reports. We are in almost daily contact with them.

In an Aug. 2 report, the director of programs for International Orthodox Christian Charities affirmed this dire picture. “There is a palpable sense of urgency and people are worried about the growing violence throughout the country,” said Mark Ohanian. IOCC is working closely with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and all The East and Syrian relief partner, Al Nada Association, in an effort to reach as many people as it can and to determine what the most immediate needs are for the growing number of displaced and vulnerable families. (more…)

One of the powerful things about Memorial Day is that we live in a community and an America that is worthy of sacrifice. Many feel, for good reason, the foundational ideals of our Republic are in peril. The proclamation of the first Memorial Day by General John A. Logan in 1868 stated the importance of guarding the graves of those slain in battle with “sacred vigilance.” It is a calling bestowed upon all of us to toil for improvement of the common good and a better nation. We should constantly ask ourselves how do we sustain freedom and what can we do to spread liberty across our land? The Liberty Bell in Philadelphia bears an inscription that comes from Leviticus 25:10: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”

The men and women of the Armed Forces often remind us of the best aspects of our nation. It is beneficial and a blessing to educate ourselves on the military history of this country. Lexington and Concord, Antietam, Belleau Wood, Tarawa, Khe Sanh, and Ramadi, Iraq are just a few of the places covered by American blood. In Europe, one can easily be overwhelmed by row after row and cemetery after cemetery of American dead from the great wars of the 20th century.

In so many ways America stands at a precipice. Our debt is crippling the nation, we have a bloated moral deficit, and we no longer share a common purpose. These are all serious and seemingly overwhelming obstacles. But America has faced overwhelming odds before.

One of the most moving books I ever read was The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy’s Finest Hour by James D. Hornfischer. Hornfischer, a naval historian, called it the greatest upset in the entire history of naval warfare. But of course victory came at a tremendous price. Known as the Battle off Samar (island), it is an epic David vs. Goliath story. Take time to learn the sacrifice of those sailors and what they endured for our country. The book of Deuteronomy declares, “Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past.”

Take time this weekend to remember and give thanks for the sacrifice of our Armed Forces, especially those who paid with their life in defense of this land and its ideals. Remember to pray for peace and for the families who recently lost loved ones in defense of this country. Below is an exceptional and haunting video with still photos from Arlington National Cemetery:

This country suffers no shortage of heroic tales. For the Union soldier who served under Ulysses S. Grant, there certainly was no greater leader. Often referred to by detractors as “a butcher” for the wake of Union dead left after his victories, he took the fight to the Confederacy. After the Wilderness campaign in 1864, where 17,000 Union soldiers died in just a few days, Grant unlike all the Union generals before him refused to lick the Federal wounds and retreat across the Rapidan River to resupply and reorganize. Instead Grant famously turned his massive columns not North, but South towards the heart of the Confederacy. Towards Richmond. Those that have studied the Civil War are familiar with the iconic story, as war whoops, hat waving, and wild cheering echoed across the forest. There was no doubt that The Army of the Potomac, which had suffered a barrage of whippings by General Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy, was under new leadership.

It was moments like this, and not Grant’s largely unspectacular two terms as president, where one can understand why his funeral procession was seven miles long. Grant’s Final Victory by Charles Bracelin Flood is not a book about his time as commander of the Union or president, but the fascinating and heroic tale of his race against time to publish his memoirs and save his family from financial ruin.

In 1884, Grant was embroiled in one of the first famous Ponzi schemes on Wall Street, and his son’s partner at Grant & Ward, an investing firm, bankrupted the company and fled. Grant and his entire family was wiped out. Grant wrote his niece, “Financially the Grant family is ruined for the present, and by the most stupendous frauds ever perpetrated.” He was personally embarrassed having lent his name and prestige to the company. Doubtless many assumed it was on firm footing with the hero of the Union watching over it. In reality, Grant had little knowledge of the day to day operations of the firm.

Soon after the scandal, Grant was diagnosed with terminal mouth and throat cancer. He was said to partake in an average of 20 – 25 cigars a day. He rushed to write his personal memoirs of the Civil War. Before his financial destruction, he was on record as having little desire to write his own account of the war. Grant eventually settled on an agreement with his friend Mark Twain that would give his widow Julia 75 percent of the profit of the book sales.

As he toiled away with his pen, sometimes writing as many as 25 – 50 pages a day, The New York Times and publications across the country offered daily updates on Grant’s condition. His suffering was immense. His throat had to be constantly swabbed with cocaine to relieve the pain. As the illness progressed, it literally began to suffocate him and he would often wake at night in a panic, trying to gasp for air. Just swallowing was especially agonizing.

Grant received an abundance of personal letters and well wishes from North and South. He felt his illness was helping to further heal the sectional divide and noted as much. The author notes Grant was especially touched by a letter by A.M. Arnold from Rockbridge Baths, Virginia. Arnold wrote:

I hope that you will allow one, who, when but a boy, laid down his arms at Appomattox and gave his allegiance to the Union, to express his warmest sympathy for you in your hour of affliction. Dear General, I have watched your movements from the hour you gave me my horse and sword and told me to go home and “assist in making a crop” – I have been proud to see the nation do you honor . . .

May the God who overlooked you in battle and who has brought you this far give you grace to meet whatever He has in store for you. And may He restore you to health & friends is the fervent prayer of one who at 15 years of age entered the lists against you and accepted the magnanimous terms you accorded us at Appomattox.

Grant had his share of well wishers in the South because of the respect he showed for General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox and the brave men of the Army of Northern Virginia. Grant also later intervened on Lee’s behalf when President Andrew Johnson and others in the federal government wanted to arrest Lee and have him tried and hung for treason.

Grant, a lifelong Methodist, was not particularly known for devoutness. Nearing death he spent more time with his Methodist pastor and was baptized for the first time in his life. Flood suggests that Grant may have at times kept his pastor at arms distance because he thought he might have been being used by the clergyman so the minister could cement his own notoriety as Grant’s pastor. Grant refused public communion near his death, writing his pastor:

I would only be too happy to do so if I felt myself fully worthy. I have a feeling in regard to taking the sacriment [sic] that no worse sin can be committed than to take it unworthily. I would prefer therefore not to take it, but to have the funeral services performed when I am gone.

As Grant declined he was moved to a cabin in upstate New York where the climate better suited his illness and suffering throat. He sat on the porch working feverishly to complete his memoirs. Former generals and military men paid their last respects, and Grant mostly communicated through notes by now. Well wishers often walked by his cabin and if they were fortunate Grant would tip his cap to them or raise a hand. One minister upon seeing Grant writing on his porch while suffering in such agony expressed that the image was “the finest sermon at which he had ever been present.”

Grant died three days after completing his memoirs in 1885. He dedicated the publication to the “American soldier and sailor.” When it was suggested that maybe he should change the dedication so that it read “the Union soldier and sailor,” he declined. The healing of the nation was always on Grant’s mind and at the conclusion his optimism shined as he stated his belief that the healing would continue. As Grant peacefully departed this life, his son stopped the clock at 8:08. The hand of the clock still remains fixed on that time in the cottage where Grant passed away. The cottage is Wilton, NY is heavily visited today and is an enduring symbol of Grant’s courageous life and death.

The well wishes poured in for one of the most beloved leaders in American history. Church bells across the country chimed 63 times, one for each year of Grant’s life. The former Confederate General James P. Longstreet called him “the soul of honor,” adding that Grant “was the highest type of manhood America has produced.”

While his funeral was epic affair of state, it clashed with the humility that Grant would cast in his memoirs. Often memoirs of great generals or statesmen are puffed up affairs, but Grant’s work would be forever known as a chronicle that praised the men around him, with the attention focused not on himself but the battles and conflict. The chronicles avoided flowery speech and was straightforward and honest, much like many of the fellow Midwesterners Grant led. Flood has written a powerful story and helps the reader to see why Grant was so loved even through faults and poor choices. It could be easily said that no American in the 19th Century was more admired than Grant and did more to save the country.

Blog author: rnothstine
Friday, September 9, 2011
By

Justin Constantine has written an excellent piece on the high cost of war in the Atlantic titled “Wounded in Iraq: A Marine’s Story.”

Constantine, who was shot in the head in Iraq, notes in his essay,

Blood and treasure are the costs of war. However, many news articles today only address the treasure — the ballooning defense budget and high-priced weapons systems. The blood is simply an afterthought. Forgotten is the price paid by our wounded warriors. Forgotten are the families torn apart by lengthy and multiple deployments. Forgotten are the relatives of those who make the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country. As we look back on 9/11, we should also remember all those who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Fewer than 1 percent of Americans have fought in these wars, and it is important for the public to understand their effects on our fighters and those close to them.

Constantine also touches on his own frustration with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in the piece. I wrote a commentary in 2009 on the need for the federal government to fulfill its obligations to our veterans before expanding its scope and reach on health care. The fact that Congress rushed through a comprehensive health care law in 2010 without major reform of care for veterans speaks to the failure of the political leadership in this nation.

We should remember the high cost of war this weekend and every day. Constantine evokes the 44,000 wounded warriors from Afghanistan and Iraq and the more than 6,000 families who have had to bury a loved one. Last Memorial Day, I wrote a post on a few of the men whose names adorn the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. One of the names is Roy Mitchell Wheat, a Medal of Honor recepient from Moselle, Miss. Trying to hold back tears, his brother recently offered these haunting but wise words about the cost of war,

When you see a man there that’s 19 years old, and you can look in the casket and his shoes are at the end of it. And his pants legs is neatly rolled up. It’s, that’s when you realize what war is.

Blog author: rnothstine
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
By

Today is the 235th birthday of the United States Marine Corps. The PowerBlog has some excellent tributes to the Marines in the archives. They are certainly appropriate to highlight today:

Here is an excerpt from my post “The Few, The Proud, The Marines:”

When I worked for U.S. Congressman Gene Taylor in Mississippi, one of the rewards of the job was helping veterans with military casework. I was also able to meet many of the Marine veterans from battles such as Iwo Jima, Tarawa, Okinawa, the “frozen” Chosin Reservoir, and Khe Sahn. They are the men who helped spread the light and flame of freedom across the world. Today, this elite class of warriors remain dedicated to the courage and principles that made our country free. All the Marines I know are familiar with Ronald Reagan’s words, “Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But, the Marines don’t have that problem.”

And below is The 2010 United States Marine Corps Birthday Message, from the Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen James F. Amos, marking the 235th birthday:

Check back in with the PowerBlog tomorrow for Veterans Day because there will be a special tribute to E.B. Sledge, a Marine who fought in the Pacific in World War II and authored With The Old Breed.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, December 21, 2009
By

I saw the latest blockbuster Avatar last night, and the early plaudits are true: this is a visually stunning masterpiece of “hybrid” cinematography, a “full live-action shoot in combination with computer-generated characters and live environments.”

But there are other, less compelling ways, in which Avatar is a hybrid of sorts. There are literal hybrids in the Avatars themselves, the genetically-altered bodies combining both elements of Na’vi and human genes to act as bodies for the Avatar “sleep walkers.” Other commentators have noted the lack of originality in the plot. Indeed, Avatar’s narrative seems to be a combination of other films and stories, and Avatar‘s only original contribution is the setting on the planet Pandora. In one sense, you could think of Avatar as The Mission set on an alien planet and with scientists instead of Jesuits.

Another film worthy of comparison to Avatar is last year’s CGI masterpiece, WALL-E, as both tread some of the same territory, so to speak. In both films humans have laid waste to the Earth, which is no longer capable of supporting a viable ecosystem. WALL-E spends a great deal of time set on the damaged planet, but Avatar only makes vague references to the “dead” planet where there is no green, and that the humans, the sky people, have killed their mother (Mother Earth).

It’s here that Avatar‘s message stumbles the most. Whereas in WALL-E responsible stewardship of the world was set within a compelling criticism of consumerism and waste, it is emotionally powerful without being sentimental, preachy, or clichéd. Avatar misses this kind of nuance. It plays on the worst stereotypes Westerners have about native and indigenous peoples to present a naive portrayal of the Na’vi, the alien inhabitants of Pandora.

In WALL-E, when humans use up the Earth, they essentially gorge and pleasure themselves in space, passively waiting to return to home one day. In Avatar, humans maraud other innocent worlds, looking for other ecosystems to kill. Now as Bill Easterly points out, this alone shouldn’t be enough to raise the ire of conservative critics against Avatar.

There is much that rings true in the film’s depiction of human greed and disregard for those considered to be “other.” As Easterly writes in another context, “those of us of Euro-American heritage would be a lot more convincing on Individual Rights by acknowledging that we have had as much trouble applying them as anybody else. We were pioneers in applying them to our own ethnic group, but we kept handing out free passes to kill other people’s rights.” This is one of the core messages of Avatar that is right on, and pundits and commentators on all sides of the political debate should be able to see this.

So it isn’t in its critique of genodice or murder that Avatar fails, but rather in its tone, its caricature rather than prophetic depiction of the human condition (war-mongering Marines come off especially flat and unconvincing). As an indictment of a kind of space colonialism, Avatar functions well, sometimes reaching a meaningful level of authentic rebuke. As a screed against the favorite peeves of the radical environmentalists and a paean to the neo-pagan deity, however, Avatar falls flat.