Tag Archives: Korean War

Vets are bound together by common experience

I heard an interesting analysis on National Public Radio about the dysfunction that has troubled the U.S. Congress in recent years.

It is that so few members of Congress — House members and senators — are veterans. The analyst noted that today, about 20 percent of congressmen and women are veterans; that total used to be around 70 percent.

Do you see where this is going?

We’re about to celebrate Veterans Day and I thought that observation was worth noting as a way to suggest that military service has contributed to a better-functioning Congress than what we have today.

I think of the World War II veterans who came home from completing their mission to save the world from tyranny. They went about rebuilding their lives. Some of them chose careers in public service. The ran for the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate. They won and were thrown together on Capitol Hill.

They forged partnerships and friendships. They had a common bond. Their friendship crossed the partisan divide. Democrats and Republicans all had been to battle. They all had fought a common enemy.

Congressional lore is full of legendary friendships that bridged that partisan divide: Republican Bob Dole and Democrat Daniel Inouye; Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat John F. Kennedy; Republican Barry Goldwater and Democrat George McGovern. These men were political opponents, but they each respected each other. They had earned their mutual respect because of their service in defense of the nation they all loved.

The Vietnam War produced a similar bond among brothers. Republican John McCain and Democrat John Kerry became good friends during their time in the U.S. Senate. They worked together to craft a normalization of relations between the United States and Vietnam. Republican Chuck Hagel returned from ‘Nam to serve in the Senate, along with Democrat Bob Kerrey.

The Vietnam War generation, along with the World War II and the Korean War generation, contributed mightily to a government that actually worked.

That kind of camaraderie appears to be missing today. Yes, Congress is sprinkled with vets coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. They, too, belong to both major political parties. I don’t sense that they have yet made their mark on the larger governing body. Perhaps it will come in due course.

The veterans who have served first in the military and then in both chambers of Congress have done demonstrated the value of common experience. It translates into political comity and collegiality … a lot more of which we can use today.

Vietnam vets still tend to talk about ‘their’ war

One of the traits one often hears about World War II veterans is that they don’t talk much about their combat experience.

They answered the call after Pearl Harbor; they shipped out to the Pacific Theater or to Europe and went about joining other Allied forces in defeating the forces of tyranny.

They came home after that great conflict, shed their uniforms and cobbled their lives together. They moved on.

The Korean War came a few years later. That one didn’t end with an all-out victory and unconditional surrender of our enemy. Indeed, Korea is still in a “state of war”; they only signed a cease-fire. Korean War veterans became part of what’s been called “the forgotten war.” They aren’t known either to talk much about their years in hell.

Then came Vietnam. The Vietnam War ended in a stinging political “defeat” for the United States. It still hurts. Those who feel the pain the most likely are those who served there. Roughly 3 million Americans suited up for that war. I was among them. I’ll get back to that in a moment.

Vietnam veterans are more likely to talk about their experiences than those who remain from World War II or Korea. It must be a generational thing. It also must be a bit of a hangover of sorts from the crappy treatment many of those young Americans got when they returned home.

Thankfully, that treatment is receding farther into our national memory. Americans woke up to the reality that the young men who participated in that war did so solely out of duty. They were ordered to go. They went. They did their job. They came back.

Perhaps their willingness to talk about it is a function of their search for affirmation that they weren’t the villains that many of their countrymen and women perceived them to be in real time as they were coming home.

I have no particular need to discuss my service during the Vietnam War. My contribution to that effort was so insignificant, I don’t have the need that many Vietnam vets have — even as we all have advanced into “senior citizenhood.”

In one week, PBS is going to premiere the broadcast of a truly landmark television event. “The Vietnam War” will run over 10 days, covering 18 hours of what I am certain will be a riveting documentary on the nation’s most divisive and emotionally crippling conflict.

One of the outcomes of this documentary, assembled by the great documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, should be to spark more national conversation about Vietnam, the war, its aftermath and how we have made the journey from back then to the present day.

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The first five episodes will air nightly on Panhandle PBS from Sunday, Sept. 17, through Thursday, Sept. 21, and the final five episodes will air nightly from Sunday, Sept. 24, through Thursday, Sept. 28. Each episode will premiere at 7 p.m. with a repeat broadcast immediately following the premiere.

Trump’s now going after South Koreans? What … ?

I must have missed something.

South Korea has been arguably our staunchest ally in East Asia since, oh, the Korean War of 1950-53. We fought side by side with the South Koreans against North Korea and later, the People’s Republic of China.

Now the North has nuclear bombs. It is threatening to use them against South Korea. The United States is supposed to stand ready to defend the South against the North.

So, why is Donald J. Trump browbeating South Korea into doing more to deter North Korea from threatening to toss the rest of the world into a nuclear war?

South Korean leaders say they want to “talk” with their neighbors in the North. The U.S. president is having none of it. He has taken to Twitter to suggest that South Korea is run by a government of “appeasers.”

Appeasers? Are you kidding me?

No country on Earth is feeling more nervous about North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s crazy threats than South Korea. That’s not good enough for Trump, who’s also now threatening to terminate a U.S.-South Korea trade agreement.

Uh, Mr. President, these guys are on our side. They’ve got more to lose in a military confrontation with North Korea than anyone.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in got elected this year promising to “talk” to North Korea. He fired back at Trump, saying that South Korea “cannot tolerate another catastrophic war on this peninsula.”

Do you think?

Why in the world cannot the president of the United States treat the South Koreans like the valuable ally they’ve been — and need to continue to be as we try to work our way through this crisis with the North?

Talk of “appeasers” and threats to cut off trade won’t do the job.

What does Kim Jong Un want? Part 3

Kim Jong Un has a list of demands he is laying at the feet of the U.S. president.

Most of them seem to present intractable circumstances for Donald J. Trump to ponder.

Such as this one: Removal of all U.S. troops from South Korea.

It’s not going to happen, Mr. North Korean Dictator. It won’t happen at least until North and South Korea sign a peace treaty that comes with ironclad assurances that North Korea won’t ever — ever! — attack South Korea. The agreement also needs to include a denuclearization component, meaning that Kim needs to dismantle and abandon his ambitions to become a nuclear power.

Our troops commitment to South Korea was purchased with lots of blood. The Korean War’s hostilities ended in 1953 after more than 50,000 American personnel were killed in action. We came to South Korea’s defense after North Korea invaded its neighbors three years earlier. Indeed, Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, sent the troops south. So, that means the current North Korean dictator bears a bit of personal responsibility for what transpired, given that he is kin to the man who launched the aggression in the first place.

The ceasefire that both sides signed in 1953 included a commitment from the United States to defend South Korea against the North, given that the two Koreas are technically still in a state of war; no peace treaty means they cannot put their guards down.

There are roughly 28,000 U.S. troops in South Korea. That’s just part of the defense network. We have heavily armed naval vessels throughout the region and immense air power assets in places such as Guam and Japan — not to mention in South Korea.

Should we give all that up without a serious commitment to peace from North Korea?

The boy with the bad haircut — that would be Kim — surely knows we cannot do anything of the sort.

What does Kim Jong Un want?

USA Today has peeled away five key demands that North Korean dictator/goofball Kim Jong Un is making on the United States and the rest of the world.

I want to examine them briefly over the course of the next couple of days. I’ll do so one at a time in this blog.

Here is one demand: A peace treaty that ends the Korean War.

The carnage ended in 1953 after three bloody years on the Korean Peninsula. Kim Il Sung, the current dictator’s grandfather, decided to “unify” the peninsula by invading South Korea in 1950. The United Nations responded with a substantial military force dominated by — who else? — American troops.

The U.N. force pushed the North Koreans back across the 38th Parallel and got to China’s doorstep in the north. That’s when the People’s Republic of China intervened. The PRC deployed hundreds of thousands of troops against the U.N.

All told, nearly  50,000 Americans died in that struggle.

They signed a ceasefire. But no peace treaty. As a result, South and North Korea remain to this very day technically “at war.”

What does a peace treaty mean? Does it mean a unified Korea? Or might it put in place a permanent divide between the sovereign nations?

The PRC won’t tolerate a unified Korea under the guidance of a democratic Republic of (South) Korea. The Chinese will insist on having a fellow communist state along its border. And you can bet that there’s no way in the world that the United Nations, let alone the United States, is going to agree to a communist dictatorship governing the entire peninsula.

Remember, the North Koreans started the fight in 1950. Does anyone believe the U.N. is going to allow them to be rewarded by giving them the entire land mass?

I suppose the only solution is to keep the two Koreas separate, with the commies running the northern portion and the democrats running the southern area.

But who in the world can trust the North Koreans to remain faithful to a peace treaty after we take down the massive armaments on both sides of the so-called “demilitarized zone”?

A peace treaty, thus, remains a major impediment to resolving this serious crisis.

‘Locked and loaded’ to release ‘fire and fury’

The alliteration might sound good as it rolls off the tongue or typed into a tweet.

“Fire and fury” has given way to “locked and loaded.” Is it realistic? Or logical? Does it further the cause of peace?

I want to consider for a brief moment something about this confrontation between the United States and North Korea. It is the rhetoric that flies out of the pie hole of Kim Jong Un, the boy with the bad haircut who runs North Korea.

Kim sounds like the two previous Kims who ruled the nation before he inherited the regime. His father and grandfather both said much the same thing about how they would destroy South Korea, Japan, the United States or any nation that “interfered” with the “internal” politics of the Korean Peninsula.

One key difference, though, is that the current Kim reportedly can deliver a nuclear weapon aboard a missile to faraway targets.

But has he acted on his threats? Daddy Kim blustered and bellowed until his death. Grandpa Kim did invade South Korea in 1950, precipitating the Korean War; the shooting lasted until 1953 with the signing of a ceasefire, but there has not yet been a peace treaty signed that officially ends the state of war between South and North Korea.

The more serious change in the rhetorical barrage, of course, comes from our side. The U.S. president has decided to fire back with tweets and assorted public pronouncements about how he intends to release “fire and fury” on Pyongyang if that government keeps threatening the United States. Donald Trump now has said that the U.S. military is “locked and loaded” in the event the commies do anything foolish.

The president’s bellicosity does not make me feel safer. It gives me little comfort. It doesn’t provide any assurance that the current Kim is going to work overtime to find restraint in his own bizarre impulses.

Diplomatic decorum would dictate that the president — the commander in chief of the world’s mightiest military — remain calm, reasoned and rational. Kim knows the United States can obliterate his country. Is he going to doom his people — and himself — to certain death now that he allegedly has the capability to launch a nuclear weapon at the United States of America?

I don’t know. I do know that he hasn’t delivered on any of the threats he has made already. As for the man he is staring in the face, Donald Trump, he doesn’t need to boast in front of the whole world about being “locked and loaded.”

We get the point, Mr. President. We’re the biggest, baddest dudes on the block. I’m quite sure Kim Jong Un knows it, too.

Memorial recalls memory of favorite veteran

WASHINGTON — The atmosphere in the nation’s capital has become overheated, overblown and overstated. It’s not a happy place if you are a politician who wants to do the right thing, but you get caught up in the daily — if not hourly — struggles between the two major political parties.

They all ought to come to this place perhaps once a week. They should cast their eyes on the World War II Memorial, which reminds us of just how titanic our struggles can get.

I came here with my wife, our niece and her husband. It was hot that day. During our entire walk along The Mall, I managed to put contemporary politics aside. I thought instead of my favorite veteran. I’ve written before about my father, the late Pete Kanelis. He served during this struggle, the one that enveloped the globe from 1939 until 1945.

The picture above honors those who served in the European Theater of World War II, as Dad did. He saw combat as a sailor in the Med.

Yes, I have heard about critics of this particular memorial, one of the newer exhibits along The Mall. It’s too gaudy, too grand, too big, they say. It really isn’t, at least in my view. It honors a massive military engagement. By the end of the global war, more than 16 million Americans suited up to enter the fight; whether it was at home or abroad, they answered the call and performed magnificently.

They were, as the author/journalist Tom Brokaw has written, The Greatest Generation.

At the other end of the WWII Memorial pool is a section devoted to the Pacific Theater of Operations.

There, too, Americans and their allies fought across the vast ocean to take back land conquered by Japan. They endured sacrifice most of only can imagine. My favorite veteran happened to be in The Philippines when President Truman ordered the dropping of the atomic bombs in August 1945. The enemy surrendered. Thus, I remain convinced that the president likely saved Dad’s life. I am eternally grateful for the president.

We walked along the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. They all reminded us of the nation’s greatness and they allowed me to set aside the ongoing anger and anxiety I am feeling about the present day.

Later in the day, we saw Marine One fly overhead on its way back to the White House, carrying the president of the United States back from wherever he had spent the weekend.

I had been filled with awe at what we had seen. In that context, seeing the presidential aircraft made me appreciate the struggles that accompanied the building and the development of the world’s greatest nation.

Dad would have been proud, too.

Nation’s capital still stirs the emotions

WASHINGTON — This is the most political city in America, if not the world and politics being what it has become in recent decades, this city is full of a lot of hard feelings and recrimination.

You know my own feelings about the current president of the United States. But this blog post isn’t about that — and it damn sure isn’t about him. It’s about the myriad monuments, memorials and assorted structures throughout the city that pay testament to the nation’s greatness.

We came to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It’s like an outdoor church. Visitors lower their voices. They speak in solemn tones. They look at the 58,000-plus names etched into the stone, seeking to recall memories of the individuals who gave their last full measure.

I found a name I had spotted the first time my family and I came here in 1990. He was a young man with whom I served briefly in Vietnam. He was set to go home in a few days, but fate intervened at a landing zone where he and his Huey helicopter unit was ambushed in June 1969 by enemy fighters.

We toured much of the Washington Mall, walked through the World War II, read the inscriptions from the likes of Chester Nimitz, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, George C. Marshall that paid tribute to the brave Americans who — along with soldiers from many other nations — saved the world from tyranny. My all-time favorite veteran, my father, was one of the 16 million Americans who answered the call to duty. I thought of Dad while marveling at the grandeur of the WWII memorial.

Not far from that is the Korean War Memorial, which pays tribute to the “forgotten war.” It, too, cost tens of thousands of American lives. I prayed for the souls of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

We cast our eyes on the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial and toured the FDR Memorial.

For several precious hours while taking all that in, I was able to set aside the events of the moment. I didn’t think a single time about the confusion, controversy and contentiousness of the present day. I thought instead of the great Americans who built the country and created a nation that remains — despite rhetoric to the contrary — the greatest nation in human history.

We had to see these things to remind us of who we are.

Don’t meet with the dictator, Mr. President

Donald J. Trump seems to have a fascination with ham-fisted dictators. He relishes praise that comes from the likes of Russia’s Vladimir Putin and says he’d be “honored” to meet with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un “under the right circumstances.”

Let’s set aside the Putin “bromance.” Kim Jong Un doesn’t deserve the attention of the president of the United States.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has counseled the president to avoid any temptation to sit across a negotiating table with Kim Jong Un. I believe Albright is correct.

North Koreans are starving while Kim Jong Un is squandering resources to build his military machine. Albright said it is wrong in the extreme for the U.S. president to talk to this guy, who’s also threatening potential nuclear attacks on South Korea and possibly Japan.

Trump already has referred to Kim as a “smart cookie,” which isn’t exactly the kind of description a president would apply to the leader of a nation that is still technically at war with his neighbor to the south; North and South Korea, you see, never agreed to a peace treaty when the shooting stopped during the Korean War, a conflict that cost more than 40,000 U.S. lives.

“Smart cookie,” my backside.

As for the “honor” the president would feel if he could meet with Kim under the correct circumstance … don’t go there, Mr. President.

Trump has boasted about his ability to make “great deals” as he seeks to meld his business acumen with his conduct of foreign and domestic public policy. Thus, Trump reckons that he can talk Kim Jong Un into a more reasonable posture in East Asia.

The president’s record of non-achievement — just a little more than 100 days into his presidency — suggests to me that he needs to rethink that particular talking point.

The buck still stops in the Oval Office … doesn’t it?

There once was a time when presidents of the United States took the heat when things went badly.

President Harry Truman had that sign on his Oval Office desk that declared “The Buck Stops Here.” He knew, for example, that his firing of Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur from his command post in Korea would be political dynamite at home. But he did so anyway as a statement of support of civilian authority over the military.

President John F. Kennedy fell on his grenade in 1961 when the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba — which sought to overthrow Fidel Castro  — went badly. He told us that “Victory has a thousand fathers while defeat is an orphan.” He took responsibility for the failure of the mission.

Other presidents have assumed responsibility for missteps, mishaps and outright tragedy.

The current president is not wired that way. Donald John Trump’s first and last instinct is to blame others.

The commando raid in Yemen in which a brave Navy SEAL died was the fault of the “generals” who put the mission together, Trump said.

Then came the failed effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Trump is not taking a lick of responsibility for the failure to cobble together a political alliance that would institute something called the American Health Care Act.

Oh, no! He said first it was the fault of Democrats who didn’t sign on at all with the AHCA. Then it became the fault of the conservative Freedom Caucus of the House GOP. After that, the president tossed a barb at Republican moderates who hated the AHCA as well.

Where, oh where is the president’s responsibility?

Leaders step up when matters go awry, just as they bask in the reflected glory when matters go well. They take the bad along with the good.

If only the current president could actually lead. He simply cannot fulfill a basic tenet of the office he occupies.

Presidents Truman and Kennedy are spinning in their graves.