Thursday, June 30, 2011

As Pertinent Today As 1979

They tell us we must learn to live with less, and teach our children that their lives will be less full and prosperous than ours have been; that the America of the coming years will be a place where—because of our past excesses—it will be impossible to dream and make those dreams come true.

I don't believe that. And, I don't believe you do, either. That is why I am seeking the presidency.

I cannot and will not stand by and see this great country destroy itself.

Our leaders attempt to blame their failures on circumstances beyond their control, on false estimates by unknown, unidentifiable experts who rewrite modern history in an attempt to convince us our high standard of living, the result of thrift and hard work, is somehow selfish extravagance which we must renounce as we join in sharing scarcity. I don't agree that our nation must resign itself to inevitable decline, yielding its proud position to other hands. I am totally unwilling to see this country fail in its obligation to itself and to the other free peoples of the world.

Ronald Reagan, announcing his candidacy for the Presidency on November 13, 1979

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Ypres 1919

Ypres, Belgium, in 1919, one year after the war, when the ruined city had become a tourist destination, overrun with visitors curious to see for themselves the extent of the destruction.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ypres 1916

Ypres, Belgium, in 1916, "after two years of war" in the words inscribed on this British photograph commissioned by The Royal Artillery.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Ypres 1915

Ypres, Belgium, in 1915, shortly after the First Battle Of Ypres, which occurred in 1914.

There were to be four more Battles Of Ypres before war's end.

Bad as Ypres had been damaged by early 1915, there were no visible city remnants at all by November 1918. Literally everything in Ypres had been obliterated. The city had been shelled into the stone age.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

It Needed To Be Said

BRUSSELS (AP)—America's military alliance with Europe—the cornerstone of U.S. security policy for six decades—faces a "dim, if not dismal" future, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday in a blunt valedictory address.

In his final policy speech as Pentagon chief, Gates questioned the viability of NATO, saying its members' penny-pinching and lack of political will could hasten the end of U.S. support. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed in 1949 as a U.S.-led bulwark against Soviet aggression, but in the post-Cold War era it has struggled to find a purpose.

"Future U.S. political leaders—those for whom the Cold War was not the formative experience that it was for me—may not consider the return on America's investment in NATO worth the cost," he told a European think tank on the final day of an 11-day overseas journey.

Gates has made no secret of his frustration with NATO bureaucracy and the huge restrictions many European governments placed on their military participation in the Afghanistan war. He ruffled NATO feathers early in his tenure with a direct challenge to contribute more front-line troops that yielded few contributions.

Even so, Gates' assessment Friday that NATO is falling down on its obligations and foisting too much of the hard work on the U.S. was unusually harsh and unvarnished. He said both of NATO's main military operations now—Afghanistan and Libya—point up weaknesses and failures within the alliance.

"The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress—and in the American body politic writ large—to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense," he said.

Without naming names, he blasted allies who are "willing and eager for American taxpayers to assume the growing security burden left by reductions in European defense budgets."

The U.S. has tens of thousands of troops based in Europe, not to stand guard against invasion but to train with European forces and promote what for decades has been lacking: the ability of the Europeans to go to war alongside the U.S. in a coherent way.

The war in Afghanistan, which is being conducted under NATO auspices, is a prime example of U.S. frustration at European inability to provide the required resources.

"Despite more than 2 million troops in uniform, not counting the U.S. military, NATO has struggled, at times desperately, to sustain a deployment of 25,000 to 45,000 troops, not just in boots on the ground, but in crucial support assets such as helicopters, transport aircraft, maintenance, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and much more," Gates said.

Gates, a career CIA officer who rose to become the spy agency's director from 1991 to 1993, is retiring on June 30 after 4 1/2 years as Pentagon chief. His designated successor, Leon Panetta, is expected to take over July 1.

For many Americans, NATO is a vague concept tied to a bygone era, a time when the world feared a Soviet land invasion of Europe that could have escalated to nuclear war. But with the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, NATO's reason for being came into question. It has remained intact—and even expanded from 16 members at the conclusion of the Cold War to 28 today.

But reluctance of some European nations to expand defense budgets and take on direct combat has created what amounts to a two-tier alliance: the U.S. military at one level and the rest of NATO on a lower, almost irrelevant plane.

Gates said this could spell the demise of NATO.

"What I've sketched out is the real possibility for a dim, if not dismal future for the trans-Atlantic alliance," he said. "Such a future is possible, but not inevitable. The good news is that the members of NATO—individually and collectively—have it well within their means to halt and reverse these trends and instead produce a very different future."

Gates has said he believes NATO will endure despite its flaws and failings. But his remarks Friday point to a degree of American impatience with traditional and newer European allies that in coming years could lead to a reordering of U.S. defense priorities in favor of Asia and the Pacific, where the rise of China is becoming a predominant concern.

To illustrate his concerns about Europe's lack of appetite for defense, Gates noted the difficulty NATO has encountered in carrying out an air campaign in Libya.

"The mightiest military alliance in history is only 11 weeks into an operation against a poorly armed regime in a sparsely populated country, yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the U.S., once more, to make up the difference," he said.

His comment reflected U.S. frustration with the allies' limited defense budgets.

"To avoid the very real possibility of collective military irrelevance, member nations must examine new approaches to boosting combat capabilities," he said.

He applauded Norway and Denmark for providing a disproportionate share of the combat power in the Libya operation, given the size of their militaries. And he credited Belgium and Canada for making "major contributions" to the effort to degrade the military strength of Libya's Moammar Gadhafi.

"These countries have, with their constrained resources, found ways to do the training, buy the equipment and field the platforms necessary to make a credible military contribution," he said.

But they are exceptions, in Gates' view.

A NATO air operations center designed to handle more than 300 flights a day is struggling to launch about 150 a day against Libya, Gates said.

On a political level, the problem of alliance purpose in Libya is even more troubling, he said.

"While every alliance member voted for the Libya mission, less than half have participated, and fewer than a third have been willing to participate in the strike mission," he said. "Frankly, many of those allies sitting on the sidelines do so not because they do not want to participate, but simply because they can't. The military capabilities simply aren't there."

Afghanistan is another example of NATO falling short despite a determined effort, Gates said.

He recalled the history of NATO's involvement in the Afghan war—and the mistaken impression some allied governments held of what it would require of them.

"I suspect many allies assumed that the mission would be primarily peacekeeping, reconstruction and development assistance—more akin to the Balkans," he said, referring to NATO peacekeeping efforts there since the late 1990s. "Instead, NATO found itself in a tough fight against a determined and resurgent Taliban returning in force from its sanctuaries in Pakistan."

He also offered praise and sympathy, noting that more than 850 troops from non-U.S. NATO members have died in Afghanistan. For many allied nations these were their first military casualties since World War II.

He seemed to rehearse his position in the coming debate within the Obama administration on how many troops to withdraw from Afghanistan this year.

"Far too much has been accomplished, at far too great a cost, to let the momentum slip away just as the enemy is on his back foot," he said.

He said the "vast majority" of the 30,000 extra troops Obama sent to Afghanistan last year will remain through the summer fighting season. He was not more specific.

In a question-and-answer session with his audience after the speech, Gates, 67, said his generation's "emotional and historical attachment" to NATO is "aging out."

He said he is not sure what this means in practical terms. But if Europeans want to keep a security link to the U.S. in the future, he said, "the drift of the past 20 years can't continue."

Friday, June 10, 2011

Overwhelming Realization Of Utter Defeat

On April 18, 1945, as American troops entered the outskirts of the city of Leipzig, the Deputy Mayor of Leipzig, Ernst Kurt Lisso, and his wife, Renate, and his daughter, Regina, committed joint suicide in the New Town Hall (“Neues Rathaus”). The suicides were accomplished by cyanide capsules.

Regina Lisso, as may be seen from her hat and armband, was a worker for the German Red Cross at the time of her death.

The Mayor of Leipzig, Alfred Freyberg, and Freyberg’s wife and daughter also committed suicide in the New Town Hall on April 18, as did numerous members of the local Volksturm.

The remains of the Lisso family remained untouched for at least two days.

This photograph, by Margaret Bourke-White, then working for the U.S. Army Signal Corps, was taken on April 20.

This photograph appeared in Life magazine in 1945 as part of a lengthy series of photographs documenting the mass suicides that occurred in Germany as the war drew to its conclusion. Neither Burke-White nor Life ever enjoyed copyright protection over Burke-White’s wartime work—undertaken on behalf of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, Burke-White’s wartime photographs were the exclusive property of the United States Government and, as a result, have always been in the public domain.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

In Which They Served

The destroyer USS Luce in 1944.

The USS Luce was launched in March 1943 and sent to the Pacific theater, where the ship participated in several important naval engagements against the Japanese fleet.

The Luce was sunk by Japanese kamikaze planes on May 4, 1945. The Luce slipped beneath the surface only thirty minutes after one of the planes involved in the kamikaze attack struck the ship’s magazine.

Of the 312 men of the Luce crew, 126 went down with the ship. Of that number, most died instantly upon the explosion of the magazine—but a few were attacked by sharks only minutes after jumping in the water.

By the late stages of the war in the Pacific, sharks had acquired a taste for human flesh and routinely followed ship movements, having learned that a meal might be within easy reach.

My mother has a distant relative who served on the Luce. He was one of the survivors, although he lost an eye as a result of the explosion of the ship’s magazine.

He still lives.

He soon will be 95 years old.

He still drives, and he and his wife still fare for themselves (his wife, for decades, worked for various intelligence agencies, and knew—on a first name basis—many legendary intelligence figures from the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s).

The elderly couple goes out for a few hours almost every day. The two remain active in their church, and enjoy visiting their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. (One of the granddaughters, like her grandmother, works in intelligence.) They also enjoy dining out at restaurants, which they do several times a week. On occasion, they will dine out more than once a day.

For decades, the U.S. Navy sponsored annual reunions for survivors of the Luce. The reunions were first-class affairs, a fitting tribute by the current armed forces to the bravery and dedication of the fine sailors of the 1940s.

A few years ago, Luce reunions were discontinued. Too few Luce survivors remained living to warrant continuing the annual tributes—and, of those still alive, only a handful enjoyed sufficient health to be able to travel to the reunions.

My mother’s distant relative is now one of only six or seven living survivors of the Luce—and one of only two not living in some type of care facility.

Andrew’s father has a distant relative—also still living—who served in the Merchant Marine during the war. He was assigned to several ships, three of which were sunk in the Atlantic by German U-Boats.

Of the three ships that were lost, most sailors survived one sinking, about half of the crew survived the second—and only three merchant seamen lived to tell about the sinking of the third.

Andrew’s father’s relative is now 89 years old. Although still living at his home, he has suffered from sharply failing health the last two years. He had to stop driving, he is losing his hearing, his kidneys are beginning to malfunction and his mind is weakening. He soon will have to be placed in a care facility.

Neither my mother’s relative nor Andrew’s father’s relative has ever talked about their horrific wartime experiences, not even to their wives.