Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ruminations, April 19, 2009

Torturous questions
This passed week, President Obama had documents released that identified the intense forms of interrogation that were allowed under the rules set forth by President Bush's justice department. These interrogations were conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency and were directed at enemy combatants at war with the United States. There is no question that the techniques used were at times harsh; whether or not they constituted torture is a subject of debate. Also under debate is whether or not the techniques were necessary.

On one side of the debate are those who believe that the moral authority of the United States should never be in question and that there are no circumstances under which America should ever employ techniques under which we could be accused of torture. They find the techniques used reprehensible.

On the other side of the debate are those who hold that, although distasteful, there are times in which "intense" techniques are necessary to save American lives. These people state that, in fact, the interrogation results did prevent attacks.

Who's to say which position is right? Persuasive arguments can be made for both sides.

The argument seems similar to a hypothetical situation that is often given to platoon leaders in training class. During the course of battle, they are told, you may encounter a situation that will test your ethics. You may be faced with the dilemma: do you save your principles and sacrifice your troops? Or, do you sacrifice your principles and save your troops?

What's the correct answer? There is no set correct answer. It depends on the situation, your principles and you.

Swatting the Taliban
The Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan is an area of 1,382 square miles and its geographical features made it a tourist spot and that was known as the "Switzerland of Pakistan." No more.

The Taliban operating in Swat has made it a dangerous spot not only to its citizens but to the Pakistani government. During the past month, the Taliban and the Pakistani government have agreed to a permanent cease-fire in the region; Pakistan has also agreed to allow the Taliban to impose Sharia law and, in effect, run the Swat Valley.

Since the agreement, the Taliban have been flocking to the area. This is not good news for the million or so residents of Swat, especially female residents. The West is concerned; BBC's Pakistan analyst Owen Bennett-Jones called the Pakistani-Taliban deal "a capitulation by the Pakistani state." Still others warn that this agreement may set precedent for the rest of Pakistan.

Maybe so. On the other hand, if you are fighting the Taliban, would you want them spread out across Afghanistan and Pakistan, or would you rather have them concentrated in an area 55 miles by 25 miles?

To be continued.

Dissing Vets
When an individual takes the oath of enlistment in the U.S. armed forces, he or she states:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. (So help me God.)

Implicit in the oath (and understood by all who take it) is a pledge to give one's life, if necessary, in defense of one's country. To take that oath is an awesome commitment. People who take the oath should be accorded some respect.

Respect has not always been accorded to servicemen and -women or to the veterans. A Vietnam veteran told me about marching in a New Britain, Connecticut, Memorial Day Parade shortly after he had returned from Vietnam. Demonstrators threw rocks at him and his cohorts.

Other troops returning from Vietnam were spat upon and called "baby killers."

Things have changed a lot since then. There are few stonings these days. War opponents today commonly say, "We support the troops but oppose the mission." In other words, when a troop goes out facing an enemy intent on the troop's death, these war opponents hope that the American fails in his mission.

Last week, the head of the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, was on thin ice in terms of respect for veterans. Homeland Security issued a threat assessment in which veterans were identified as a recruiting target of right-wing militias because of veterans' "combat skills and experience." Napolitano, herself a recipient of the American Legion veterans scholarship to Girls' State, then broke through the thin ice by suggesting that "the return of military veterans facing significant challenges reintegrating into their communities could lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone-wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks." If her assumptions were well-founded, one would have to consider that this country is indeed in dire straits because we have created some 42 million veterans; people like Lyndon Johnson, John Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman not to mention Colin Powell, Richard Armitage, Al Gore and John Kerry were and are, according to Napolitano's assumptions, potential terrorists.

It is true that some veterans have had trouble "reintegrating into their communities." Is it any wonder? Put yourself in the veterans place. After taking the enlistment oath and putting your life on the line for your country, you have rocks thrown at you; people who claim to be loyal Americans support your enemy's mission rather than yours; your own government, to whom you have sworn to "defend ... against all enemies, foreign and domestic," views you as a potential terrorist. People who have taken the oath of enlistment should be accorded some respect.

If a veteran has any difficulty reintegrating into the community, it is generally not due to character or military experience. It is due to people who are dismissive of them. People like, perhaps, the Secretary of Homeland Security.

Quote without comment
President Barack Obama to American troops in Iraq: "From getting rid of Saddam, to reducing violence, to stabilizing the country, to facilitating elections -- you have given Iraq the opportunity to stand on its own as a democratic country. That is an extraordinary achievement."

Robert J. Kulak
West Hartford, Connecticut

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