Sunday, May 29, 2016

Who Hates Amish and Mennonites? World War II Veterans and their Families

When I moved to Lancaster County in 1980 to go to college, I was surprised to find people who hated the Amish and Mennonites.  Who could hate people who drive buggies and farm with mules?

World War II veterans.

From 1981 to 1985 I worked on the dock at the Yellow Freight break-bulk terminal in East Petersburg, just north of the city of Lancaster.  As I got to know my co-workers, they mostly fit in three groups:

  1. Former athletes, either amateur or college, with a career-ending injury, but who could still load trucks.
  2. Vietnam War veterans and other former service members.
  3. Farmers who needed the extra money a Teamsters job provided.  We made $12/hour.
It was the third group who first told me about how their father or their uncle or their neighbor served in World War II and how the family ended up selling the farm while the soldier was away at the war.  The buyer of the farm was often an Amish or Mennonite farmer who did not have to serve in the military and made a lot of money growing food for the war effort.  

Nearly forty years later, those resentments were as acute as at the end of the war.  "My father did his duty.  They stayed home and made money."  Most of the men I spoke with had some variation of this statement, usually laced with swearing.  

Envy destroys communities.  When one guy gets something and the other guy doesn't, hatred follows. Whether pacifists are sincere or not, they start life well ahead of the soldier who goes to war.  In yesterday's post I quote C.S. Lewis on why he is not a pacifist. You can follow the link or read it here:

Lewis describes the life of a soldier on active duty in a war:
All that we fear from all the kinds of adversity, severally, is collected together in the life of a soldier on active service. 

Like sickness, it threatens pain and death. 

Like poverty, it threatens ill lodging, cold, heat, thirst, and hunger. 

Like slavery, it threatens toil, humiliation, injustice, and arbitrary rule. 

Like exile, it separates you from all you love. 

Like the gallies, it imprisons you at close quarters with uncongenial companions. 

It threatens every temporal evil—every evil except dishonour and final perdition, and those who bear it like it no better than you would like it. 

Then he describes the life of those who avoid service, whether by pacifism or other means:

Though it may not be your fault, it is certainly a fact that Pacifism threatens you with almost nothing. 

Some public opprobrium, yes, from people whose opinion you discount and whose society you do not frequent, soon recompensed by the warm mutual approval which exists, inevitably, in any minority group. 

For the rest it offers you a continuance of the life you know and love, among the people and in the surroundings you know and love.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

For Most Countries, At Most Times, People Looked at Military Service with Dread

C.S. Lewis, best known for The Chronicles of Narnia served in World War I in the British Army.  He was a citizen of Northern Ireland and was not subject to the draft, but volunteered to serve. He was badly wounded twice and between battles lived in cold, muddy trenches.  During the first year of World War II, Lewis spoke to a pacifist society at Oxford with the title "Why I Am Not a Pacifist."  Most of the speech is technical, but he gave a haunting summary.  

He describes the life of a soldier on active duty in a war:

All that we fear from all the kinds of adversity, severally, is collected together in the life of a soldier on active service. 

Like sickness, it threatens pain and death. 

Like poverty, it threatens ill lodging, cold, heat, thirst, and hunger. 

Like slavery, it threatens toil, humiliation, injustice, and arbitrary rule. 

Like exile, it separates you from all you love. 

Like the gallies, it imprisons you at close quarters with uncongenial companions. 

It threatens every temporal evil—every evil except dishonour and final perdition, and those who bear it like it no better than you would like it. 

Then he describes the life of those who avoid service, whether by pacifism or other means:

Though it may not be your fault, it is certainly a fact that Pacifism threatens you with almost nothing. 

Some public opprobrium, yes, from people whose opinion you discount and whose society you do not frequent, soon recompensed by the warm mutual approval which exists, inevitably, in any minority group. 

For the rest it offers you a continuance of the life you know and love, among the people and in the surroundings you know and love.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Army, Adoption, Racing and Faith: Don’t Start Unless You Are Ready to Suffer

Beginning in 1971, Army recruiters advertised “Be All You Can Be” to pitch enlisting in the Army.  They used just five words with thirteen letters to suggest that you can fulfill your dreams, learn a career and otherwise let that wonderful person inside you bloom and grow in the fertile soil the Army would provide. 

They did not say you could also be maimed or killed.  Every soldier is a rifleman and the Army teaches you first to be a rifleman before they teach you turbojet engine maintenance or auto repair. 

I quite obviously love the Army.  I love bicycle racing.  And I love my adopted children.  But I am also the sort of person who thinks a good life is impossible without risk and suffering.  So when people ask me if they should enlist, race or adopt, I tell them, “Yes!”  But if they ask, as has happened many times with racing, “Is there a way I can race without crashing?” I suggest they take up knitting. 

I give the same advice when someone asks about joining the Army. “Yes, enlist!”  But I suggest enlisting for combat jobs, because Army skills really don’t transfer that well to civilian jobs unless you work for a government contractor or the government itself.  In the Army, the infantry, armor, artillery and aviation do the really fun stuff.  I am also very clear there is no safe way to be a soldier.

Recently a woman I have worked with for several years asked me about adopting.  She and her husband have a six-year-old son.  Her husband wants to adopt.  She is less sure. 

We talked about the various kinds of adoption.  Her husband would like to adopt a kid that needs a home.  My wife and I adopted three children and tried to adopt three more with that same goal foremost.  It is a lovely and lofty goal, but the underlying fact is that someone who needs a home has lost a home.  More importantly, something bad happened to the home they had.

So I gave the adoption version of the warning I give to prospective soldiers and bike racers:  If you race, enlist or adopt, you will suffer.  If you really commit to any or all of these, your life will change or you will lose your life, either practically or actually.

In my years of military service, I have been blinded by shrapnel, had surgery to reattach my fingers, been thrown in a ditch by my hair by a sergeant saving me from a missile blast, held another soldier’s hand with his thigh bone sticking through his uniform, heard and saw a soldier’s pelvis break when he was caught between a tank and a truck, had so many fly bites that my eyes swelled shut, stood guard in a sideways snowstorm thinking I would be found dead frozen in a drift, and suffered many other minor discomforts over the years, like wearing a 45-pound armored vest in 130-degree heat in Iraq.

But bicycle racing really tops my injury list, a spreadsheet I keep of broken bones, surgeries and hospital stays.  Bicycling accounts for half of the 33 broken bones and 19 surgeries I have had in my long life. When I really go all out racing or training, my throat aches, my body aches and for a couple of days after I suffer intestinal distress.   Becoming merely a mediocre racer meant a commitment to training that blocked so much of the rest of my life.  I worked as a consultant 15 years ago when I got serious about racing. I limited my work hours, and my income, so I could train more.  When I took a full-time job, the big negotiation was a schedule that would allow me to ride.

But, of course, the thrill of victory (occasionally) in bike racing and the intense pride of wearing our nation’s uniform to a war compensated for some of the suffering of being a soldier and racing. 

With adoption, the feeling of giving a family to a kid who needs a family is among the greatest joys of this life.  But then there are the persistent sorrows.  Adopting a kid with in utero drug exposure means the child will always have difficulty reading and have many limitations in school and in life.  Children who grow up in a family other than their birth family are going to wonder why they are not with their birth families.  And kids who are torn from their birth parents and put into foster care will spend the rest of their lives with an enflamed survival instinct.  When our adopted kids do things that leave me wondering what they were thinking, I try to remember they were not thinking they were surviving. 

Part of the reason my wife and I adopted is because the most clear command in Scripture after loving God is to care for widows and orphans.  Paired with that clear command is the equally clear promise that suffering is the mark of a Believer.  When I get an email telling me I need to come to school right away and talk about my son’s behavior, or I open the on-line grading report and find a series of assignments never started let alone completed and D is the highest grade, I am suffering.  I try to remember this is a mark of True Faith. 

I am in counseling.  I started last fall after one of the inexplicable episodes adoptive parenthood put in the center of my life. 

So I told my friend if you adopt, you will suffer.  But I working with the counselor helped me to realize if I had a chance to do this all over again, I would.  

Recently, my son with the most troubled past has become a boxer.  He lost his second match earlier this month and decided to really train, including running the two miles each way each day to the boxing gym.  He is rapidly becoming a tough, determined young man. 

As with Faith and the Army and Racing, Adoption has made my life richer and more vivid than it ever could have been on safe path.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Machiavelli on Leadership: Book 13 of 2016, The Prince

Politicians are leaders.  The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli has much to say about leadershipas he talks about politics.  Rather than try to review this gold mine of leadership in one post, I am going to spread this review over several posts talking about Machiavelli's many maxims on how leadership works.

Early in the book, Machiavelli tells the reader that those who want to understand a valley climb a mountain and those who want to understand mountains look up from the valley.  With this he says leaders understand the people and the people understand leaders.  

My view of leadership, like Machiavelli's, is from the valley looking up.  I was never higher than a staff sergeant in the Army and turned down any job above manager as a civilian.  

But looking up, I could see things differently than the person in charge.  Machiavelli says that a leader must be sure that the staff directly reporting to her be completely loyal to her, or she should dismiss them.  Machiavelli says the character of her staff defines the leader herself.  

In my experience both in and out of the Army, one sure sign of a weak and indecisive leader is a staff that is fighting among themselves for power rather than working together for the interest of the leader.  My last civilian job was at a museum and library founded by a man who raised more than $100 million for the place he founded and was viewed as an autocrat by his staff.  But during the five years I worked for him, his senior staff made sure their part of the organization pulled together when the President gave them a job to do.  The founder left at 25 years with an amazing run of success.

After he left, the next president and one one that followed were the kind of leaders who wanted concensus and cooperation.  Very rapidly, the senior staff became a group of separate businesses who happened to occupy the same building.  At this time the museum and library is searching for the next president.  Machiavelli says if they don't find a strong leader, the infighting will only get worse.

On the other side, I was part of Brigade '76, a Mechanized Brigade sent to Wiesbaden, West Germany, in 1976, to add more troops to defend against the Soviet Union.  Our alert area was Fulda on the east-west border.  Within 48 hours of landing in Germany, the tank battalion I was in, two mechanized infantry battalions, artillery and support units were fully combat loaded and patrolling the border fence.  

Col. Riscassi took that mission and made sure every member of his staff was executing their part.  Or they were gone.  I worked in his headquarters the following year and saw his leadership up close.  He was very formal, took advice when he asked for it, but not otherwise (another maxim of Machiavelli) and was always in charge.  

Machiavelli says if you want to see how good a leader is, look at the staff.  If the people who are closest to him respect the leader and carry out commands with energy, that is a good leader.  When the staff shows infighting and turmoil, the leader is weak and irresolute.  

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Packing Up My Army Uniforms, and Giving Them to My Kids

Kelsey and Nigel in my old uniforms.  
Kelsey is wearing a dress green jacket from the 70s, Nigel is recent camouflage.

Today was the first drill weekend I missed since September of 2007.  This is my discharge month and I am officially a civilian.  So I packed the uniforms, hats, gloves, medals and other gear I still have into a footlocker.

In addition, my son Nigel and our Host-Daughter Kelsey thought they would love to have some of the clothes for parties, etc.  So the footlocker that went to the basement isn't even full.  I still have the new Army fitness uniform in my closet and the shirt we wore with body armor.

My sons are also claiming boots for fashionable teenage wear.  Some days it is hard to believe I am out of the Army.  Some days I can't believe I was in so recently.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

General Problem: When the Division Commander Wants Branding

During Annual Training 2014, I had the delightful experience of using my civilian public relations skills as a soldier. The fuelers of the my unit set up a refueling site at the Pottsville Airport.  I called the Pottsville Republican Herald and talked to a reporter who was interested in the military.  I gave him dates and times that he could get pictures and videos of Chinook and Blackhawk helicopters refueling at the airport.

He showed up with a photographer and video cameras.  The commander of the refueling unit showed him all around the site.  The result was a the front-page, above-the-fold story and photos you see above.  I was elated.  I bought a half dozen copies.  The reporter had also posted videos on the newspaper's web site.


The day after the story was published I was in the State Public Affairs Office on Fort Indiantown Gap when Major General John Gronski walked in with a copy of the newspaper in his hand.  I could see he was upset.  The two majors in the office jumped from their chairs to talk to the General who wanted to know how this story was placed.  He was upset that the headline said "National guard trains at airport."

He wanted the headline to say "28th Infantry Division trains at airport." He wanted "branding" for his unit.

The public affairs officers tried to explain that this was a very positive story on the front page and that we cannot control what a newspaper says in headlines.


The General left a few minutes later because there was nothing that could be done with a newspaper that was already printed.

Some leaders have a good sense of how communications works.  Some don't.  I have worked for civilian and military leaders who knew how public relations works, and for leaders who don't.  Most military leaders I have known are suspicious of the media at best, so the General's reaction was not surprising.

Ten years ago on the best day of my working life I coordinated a story that was most of the front page and half of an inside page of the New York Times "Science Times" section.  It was a literal million-dollar public relations score for the company I worked for.  The story was completely positive.  It was a great story by the leading science historian at the Times.  Most of the staff was elated.

In  the midst of the congratulations and high fives, the grumpy Quaker CFO of the company said, "They don't mention our name until the sixth paragraph."
With both the general and the grumpy Quaker, I knew there was nothing more to say.


Shortly after I retired from my civilian job, I took a course in fiction writing at Franklin and Marshall College.  I wanted to learn the mechanics of writing fiction but I also took the course as a kind of mental mouthwash to clean public relations out of my mind and tell the whole truth when I write, at least from my perspective.  Public relations, like lawyering, strongly relies on telling exactly the truth you want an audience or a jury to hear--not the whole truth.

I got paid to do that for 30 years.  Now I can tell the truth as I see, and not get paid.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Book 11 of 2016: "Underground Man" by Fyodor Dostoevsky, a chilling portrait of cowardice.

When I first believed in Christianity, I was in the Army in Germany in the 70s.  The only Church was the Army Chapel system.  So I read widely and listened to sermons to figure out what exactly being a Christian meant.  Among the many cassettes I listened to were sermons by southern revival preachers.  After hearing dozens of these sermons I began sense the rhythms and themes that these stirring speeches shared. 

The best sermons began in sin, descended almost to Hell, then rose up on the wings of God’s Grace.  After a while, it became clear that, although every preacher was a terrible sinner, they only committed sins that a conservative southern audience considered manly.  All were fornicators, but they were fornicators with lovely, willing women.  Many told stories of drug use, but more told stories of being drug dealers.  If they drank, they could hold their liquor.  If they fought, they won or were beaten to the point of death by several attackers.  If they stole, they robbed banks and stores and drug dealers.  In other words, they sinned boldly, bravely and in ways that their audiences could admire.  They could repent proudly after a sin well done.

But all real thieves begin their crime careers by stealing from their mother or their sisters and brothers.  Many boys dream of having a half-dozen beautiful devoted lovers, but their reality is looking at lewd pictures in their bed or the bathroom.  None of these confessions included rape, gay sex, theft from loved ones, drunkenly wetting the bed, or getting bitch slapped by a bully. 

In The Screwtape Letters C.S. Lewis says “Cowardice, alone of all the vices, is purely painful—
·      horrible to anticipate,
·      horrible to feel,
·      horrible to remember.” 
Lewis said we can be made to feel proud of most vices, but not of cowardice. 

So the Texas preachers avoided any whiff of cowardice in their confessions.  But in the book Notes from Underground  by Fyodor Dostoevsky the main character is in a downward spiral of cowardice that ends with him tormenting a prostitute he has just had sex with. 

Unlike the Revival Preachers, Fyodor Dostoevsky, shows his readers sin in the full flower of corruption.  The Underground Man boils with rage, but shrinks back from direct confrontation.  He imagines slights where there are none, and simmers with resentment.  He betrays every kindness and finally locks himself in a basement, unable to work or talk to anyone except himself. 

The Underground Man is shabby and filthy, yet vain about his appearance.  He thinks endlessly about how to repay perceived slights, and cannot respond to any kindness except with spite and rejection. 

In every coward who is bullied there is a bully inside him ready to turn mercilessly against someone weaker than himself.  The Underground Man bullies the prostitute because he can.   

My first Russian Literature professor said “Tolstoy shows us God the Father; Dostoevsky shows us Christ loving the least of us.”  The Underground man is weak, a coward and a wretched bully: an actual picture of sin, not the shiny, glossy ready-for-Prime-Time picture of sin I was hearing from the preachers. 

For sin as it really is, Underground Man is painfully good as are Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, and all of the wrenching stories and novels of Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Swiftboat Veterans for Truth and Viagra: Hard Messages to Soft Audiences

Many pundits are calling the current Presidential election with too much confidence.  Politics in America is war limited to words, but it is war. And the outcome of war often turns on surprise: hitting the enemy hard from a place no one saw coming.  From the arrows at Agincourt defeating the French knights to the Scipio beating Hannibal and the Carthaginians at Zama, surprise wins.  And this fall, a surprise no one sees coming may make one of the candidates a winner.  In my view, a surprise attack on John Kerry led to his defeat in 2004.  

More than a decade ago, I was watching a TV and a commercial for Viagra came on the screen.  I was not paying attention until the warning about side effects came on.  Then I could not stop laughing.  I called a couple of friends who were in advertising and we laughed more. 

Until that moment, every drug commercial used an auctioneer for the mandatory health warning at the end of the ad.  In this commercial, the side effects in the middle of the commercial in a deep, slow voice. 

“For an erection lasting more than four hours, seek medical help.  Prolonged use may cause blindness.


Tell a guy who can’t get hard that he may have an erection lasting four hours!  At four hours and one minute that guy will walk into the Emergency Room and let the whole world know he has had a woody for 241 minutes—and counting.

Most Viagra customers are older.  They are old enough to remember being warned as I was in the 1950s that masturbating will make you go blind.  Here is a drug that will make a limp guy hard for four hours AND make you blind.  It must be great stuff. In reality, going blind or a 4-hour erection are much less likely than winning the lottery, but they remind Viagra customers of the days when they were young and the problem they had was being hard all the time!

The commercial won a national Addy Award, the advertising equivalent of the Oscars, as it should! 

What does Viagra have to do with Swift Boat Veterans forTruth—the ad campaign that torpedoed a Vietnam War veteran and let two guys who ducked Vietnam War service win the election?  Those ads told a public that was mostly ignorant of military life that John Kerry was a terrible candidate because he lied about his war record.  In 2001, American soldiers went from Zeroes during the Vietnam War and to Heroes that were defending us from terrorism. By 2004 soldiers were the most trusted people in America. 

This Swift Boat ad campaign would have been met with derision in the decades right after World War 2, when every American family had a soldier in it and everybody knew many soldiers.  Fifteen million soldiers served in World War 2.  And some of them told lies so fantastic they would make Mark Twain blush.  I went to Basic during the Vietnam War and heard some of the most incredible lies I have ever heard from my fellow basic trainees. 

What the Kerry haters really wanted to say was way too complicated and controversial for 30-second TV ad.  They wanted to say Kerry turned on his fellow soldiers when he returned from Viet Nam.  With Jane Fonda in Paris he came way too close to consorting with our enemies.  I have hated John Kerry since he testified before Congress in 1970 and I think of him as an unconvicted traitor. 

Attacking Kerry for his real crime would have failed. Jane Fonda is an icon of film.  And for many people, Jane Fonda did nothing wrong.  So the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attacked Kerry first as a liar.  The attack worked.  From the first moment I heard that campaign, I knew they were attacking Kerry in a way that most of the public would understand rather than attack him for what most veterans were really angry about. 

Both ads worked because they took amplified minor facts to achieve a major goal:  selling blue pills and defeating John Kerry.  The number of Viagra users who have actually had an erection lasting four hours would fit in a Boston Subway car.  The ones who have actually gone blind could fit in an old-fashioned phone booth. 

As to liars in uniform, the majority of the military consists of men under the age of 24, far from home, insecure and trying to blend with an intensely macho group.  Some of the more incredible lies I have ever heard, I heard in a barracks. 

So both campaigns used facts that would reach their audience to get attention.  Once they had that attention, then they could add in all the other information they really wanted to convey. 

Viagra marketers told their attentive customers how to get the drug through their doctors.  The doctors warned the patients of side effects that actually might happen.  Swift Boat Veterans for Truth amplified every misdeed of John Kerry through and after his service in the Vietnam War.  By the time of the election two guys who stayed home from the war were Heroes and the actual combat veteran was a Zero.

In mass communication, starting with the most important message is often the worst strategy for getting your message to your audience.

Viagra made the rare side effects the center of their message when some bright ad writer realized the warning was just what the audience wanted to hear.

Like the smart guys who sent the murderer Al Capone to prison for tax evasion, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth hit Kerry from an angle he never expected to deny him the biggest job in the world.   

Mission Accomplished.

The Philosopher of War and Terror and Politics: Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt 1906-1975 Today a friend asked and I were talking about politics and how refugee problems have led to wars in the p...