Get ready for a major history lesson on Vietnam

Oh, how I love public television.

Americans are going to receive, via what looks like a spectacular PBS documentary series, a history lesson for the ages.

The subject: The Vietnam War.

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns has assembled yet another masterpiece that airs¬†beginning on Sept. 17¬†on Panhandle PBS. I just watched a 30-minute preview of the multi-part series. I have a few thoughts to share about it … and about the series that I want to urge all Americans to watch.

Burns calls the Vietnam War the nation’s “second civil war,” in that it tore this country apart to a degree not seen since the actual Civil War that was fought from 1861 until 1865. Perhaps just like the Civil War, this nation hasn’t yet come to grips fully with what happened here while young Americans were dying in a foreign land.

My interest in the series, of course, is quite personal. I was one of about 3 million Americans who went to Vietnam. My tiny contribution to that effort as an Army soldier is not worth detailing here. I went there, came home — and was privileged to return to Vietnam two decades later on assignment with a group of journalists.

My major takeaway from the return to Vietnam in 1989 was that I shed some emotional baggage that I never even realized I was lugging around. Perhaps this PBS series will allow other Americans to do the same thing.

Burns and his crew interviewed American veterans, South Vietnamese veterans, Viet Cong fighters, North Vietnamese veterans. One former VC soldier¬†tells how he witnessed American soldiers weeping over their dead comrades. He said he realized then that “those Americans are just like Vietnamese,” in that both sides had a shared sense of humanity.

One of Burns’s producers talked about the music of that era, calling it “the best music in American history.” Yeah! Do you think?

The Kent State riots in Ohio in 1970, according to one of the historians interviewed, symbolized the fracture among Americans. “They were kids on both sides; National Guardsmen and student protesters,” he said.

And, oh yes, how did some of those who protested the war treat those who returned from that battlefield? Not well. One of them expresses profound sadness over calling these warriors “baby killers and worse.” That has changed as Americans today profess profound gratitude for the young men and women we send abroad in defense of our nation.

This Vietnam veteran is filled with gratitude for that change.

Burns believes that PBS is the only network in the nation that could present a series such as the Vietnam special that will air in a few weeks.

Thus, I¬†am grateful beyond measure as well for public television’s willingness to teach us what we need to learn about this important chapter in our nation’s ongoing story.

It’s called ‘disrespect,’ Mr. President

The Hill and other media are reporting a strange incident that occurred at the G-7 summit in Sicily.

It involves Donald J. Trump’s tardiness in showing up for a group photo with the leaders of the other nations attending the conference.

Rather than walk 700 yards to the photo location, the president waited for a golf cart to haul him there.

Here’s how The Hill reported it: “President Trump chose to ride in a golf cart while his foreign counterparts took a walk through Taormina, Sicily, on Saturday during the Group of Seven summit.

“The Times of London reported the six other world leaders¬†‚ÄĒ from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan ‚ÄĒ walked 700 yards to take a group photo at a piazza in a hilltop town. The U.S. leader decided to wait until he could get a golf cart.

“Trump was late for the photo, but joined the other world leaders during the walk down from the piazza.”

Hey, I know it’s not a h-u-u-u-g-e deal. But really. The president couldn’t have strolled to the photo site, engaging in a little small talk with his colleagues? Maybe he could have cut a deal or two along the way.

Instead, he chose to disrespect them in that inimitable fashion that has become one of the hallmarks of Trump’s time as president.

Just think: There likely will be plenty more of these opportunities along the way.

Trump needs to deal with hard truth about leaks

Donald Trump says the leaks that have sprung throughout the White House are the product of “fake news” and conspiracy mongers intent on destroying his presidency.

I’ll offer another take on it. The leaks just might be the product of individuals within the White House who are concerned about the direction the country is heading under the 45th president’s leadership.

Someone or several individuals are blabbing to the “enemy of the American people” media representatives who are reporting this leaked information to the public. Instead of dealing openly and publicly about the crux of the issues being reported, the president is lashing out. He is attacking the media. He is alienating himself and his inner circle even more from the media representatives assigned to report on their activities.

How can this possibly be constructive? How can it possibly end well for the president?

Trump tweeted upon his return from Europe and the Middle East that “fake news is the enemy.” His outright dismissal of mainstream news outlets, such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, suggests that these organizations are fabricating these reports. He accuses them of violating every known principle of sound journalism. By doing so, the president demonstrates time and again that he doesn’t understand the role the media play (a) in informing the public and (b) holding public officials accountable for their words and deeds.

The president returned from his overseas trip and did not conduct a press briefing. He stiffed the media seeking to ask him questions about his meetings with international leaders and, yes, about the ongoing “Russia thing” controversy with which he must deal.

No, this kind of spiteful relationship with the media cannot end well for the president.

If he keeps it up, I am prepared to predict that it will not end well. Not at all.

German leader doesn’t share Trump ‘home run’ view

This is a hunch on my part, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel doesn’t believe, as Donald J. Trump does, that the U.S. president hit a “home run” on his first overseas trip as head of state.

Merkel, arguably Europe’s most popular and potent leader, said at the end of the G-7 summit in Sicily that Germany no longer can “depend” on the United States as a reliable ally; she said the same thing about Great Britain, which is in the midst of pulling out of the European Union.

“The times in which we could completely depend on others are on the way out,” she said at a campaign rally in Munich. “I’ve experienced that in the last few days.”

Is that how one would describe a “home run” in the U.S. president’s view?

The United States’ alliance with NATO has come under intense scrutiny. Donald Trump himself scolded NATO leaders publicly for not paying enough to defend themselves against external threats. The public dressing down didn’t go over well. But, hey, the president hit a home run!

The G-7, which comprises most of the world’s wealthiest nations, also is supposed to showcase U.S. solidarity with these important allies. Reports from the summit suggest, as Merkel has indicated, that European reliance on the United States is fading into oblivion.
So, we’re left with an “every country for itself” mind set, led by the man who wants to “put America first.”

Home run, Mr. President? Nope. You seem to have whiffed.

Jared Kushner is no RFK

I keep hearing chatter that compares Jared Kushner’s lack of experience to Robert F. Kennedy.

I must now take up the cudgel for my first political hero … and it’s not Jared Kushner.

Kushner is under investigation by the FBI and Congress for something related to his father-in-law’s 2016 presidential campaign. He allegedly had some contact with Russian government officials that might be improper, it not illegal.

One of the arguments being offered is that Kushner doesn’t have any experience with government or public policy. They note that his father-in-law, the president, got around federal anti-nepotism laws when he appointed Kushner to be a senior policy adviser in the West Wing of the White House.

It’s the RFK thing all over again, some of them insist.

Hold the phone!

President-elect John F. Kennedy picked his brother to be attorney general shortly after winning the 1960 election. JFK joked at the time that a government job would give his brother some valuable experience when he decided to go into law.

I want to make a couple of points about Robert Kennedy.

One is that he had government experience. He had served as legal counsel to a Senate committee chaired by the infamous Sen. Joe McCarthy. He also served as a legal staffer working with his brother, Sen. JFK, on  a Senate committee that looked deeply into organized crime within the labor movement.

After that, Bobby Kennedy then managed his brother’s presidential campaign. Sen. Kennedy won the presidency by a narrow popular vote and Electoral College margin over Vice President Richard Nixon.

Compared to the absence of any government exposure as it regards Kushner, RFK brought much more experience to his job as U.S. attorney general.

And, indeed, he used his Justice Department office as a bully pulpit against organized crime and in the fight to enact civil rights legislation. Oh, and he also played a significant role in heading off nuclear war with the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

With that, I shall now cease listening to any further comparison between Jared Kushner and Robert F. Kennedy.

There is no comparison to be made, except to point out how utterly unfit Kushner is to perform the duties to which he’s been assigned.

More ‘so-called judges’ deal blow to travel ban

Donald J. Trump stepped into a serious political minefield when he labeled a federal jurist who disagreed with his ban on Muslims entering this country a “so-called judge.”

Mr. President, here’s a flash. More of those “so-called” judges have joined in rejecting your revised travel ban.

The latest rejection comes from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Virginia. The court ruled that the president’s second travel ban is as discriminatory against a certain religion as the first ban. The judges scolded him, too, for seeking to pursue a policy they deem to be unconstitutional.

It doesn’t look good for Trump’s effort to ban entry into this country to those who practice a certain religious faith. The 9th Court of Appeals is set to hear another case that was struck down by a federal judge in Hawaii; the 9th Court had rejected the first ban initially.

The case is likely to end up in the U.S. Supreme Court’s lap. Indeed, the nine men and women on the nation’s highest court well might decide against even hearing the case, which would let the lower-court rulings stand.

We are witnessing from the front row an exercise in the checks-and-balances that the nation’s founders intended in the 18th century when they drafted the U.S. Constitution.

They did well. Don’t you think?

Another prime al-Qaeda target emerges

Welcome to the world of most wanted public enemies, young man.

I refer to the son of Osama bin Laden, a fellow named Hamza bin Laden, a 28-year-old terrorist with visions of walking along his late father’s blood-soaked trail.

The young bin Laden has declared that he wants to rekindle al-Qaeda as a terrorist force, a force for evil.

OK, then. Here’s a thought for Donald Trump’s national security team.

You’ve got a professed killer on the loose with the stated aim of juicing up a bloodthirsty terrorist organization. That means he has declared himself to be an enemy of the United States of America.
What does this mean? It means the young man is fair game. He’s a target for our special ops forces, our CIA spooks and those who might be close to him who could help guide our personnel toward a hit in the manner of the mission that took out Osama bin Laden in May 2011.

The president has a first-rate national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, on the job. His homeland security secretary, John Kelly, also is a competent former Marine general. They have the best military apparatus ever assembled at their disposal; indeed, former Marine Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis has emerged as a serious-minded secretary of defense. They also have the best intelligence-gatherers available to them as well — no matter what the president might think of them.

Let’s get busy and find this guy.

I think they ought to commence — if they haven’t already — a “search and destroy” mission to rid the world of Osama bin Laden’s son.

Good hunting. We’ll await your report.

Welcome home, Mr. President; about those changes

Donald Trump and his presidential entourage have returned home from a nine-day journey abroad. It won’t be the warmest welcome he’s ever had.

The president reportedly is pondering some big White House staff changes.

I believe I’ll take the liberty — as a taxpaying, red-blooded American patriot — to offer one suggestion for the president to ponder.

Tell your son-in-law to clear out his West Wing office and stay away while he’s under investigation by the FBI.

Jared Kushner has emerged as a principal subject as the FBI and the special counsel, Robert Mueller, pursue the “Russia thing.” The young man hasn’t been accused officially of doing anything wrong. I get that. I also get that as a “person of interest,” he is being examined likely for what he knows about alleged Russian involvement in U.S. governmental matters. He’s also entitled to the presumption of innocence.

But the young man has zero government experience. He has zero public service experience. He married well, though. His wife’s father is a zillionaire real estate mogul who now happens to be the president of the United States.

Until we get to the bottom of what Kushner knows, when he knew it, what he allegedly did and whether the reporting from the Washington Post, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, NBC and CNN is bogus or if it’s for real, then he ought to step away from his myriad responsibilities.

The media have reported some extremely troublesome matters regarding Kushner. The most troubling appears to be reports that he sought to set up back-channel communications between the Russian embassy in the United States and the Kremlin, using Russian communications equipment to boot!

Holy mackerel, man!

Kushner has this strange portfolio of duties: Middle East negotiator, troubleshooter, political adviser to the president. He has no experience at any of it. I truly question what value he actually brings to the White House inner circle.

So, Mr. President, start there. Jared Kushner can find something to do that has nothing to do with running the country. That’s a job better left to those who know what they’re doing.

Russians able to declare victory?

If you assume — as I do — that Russian spooks intended to disrupt the American political system by their hacking and disseminating “fake news,” then isn’t it fair to presume that they can declare victory?

Or, to put it another way: Mission accomplished.

I mean, think of it.

The Russians interfered in our electoral system. U.S. intelligence agencies have determined that to be a fact. All of them concur that Russia sought to disrupt our electoral process.

It’s not yet clear just how they intended to swing the election to Donald J. Trump’s favor. Trump won. He hasn’t spoken angrily about Russia. Or about Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Meanwhile, congressional investigators are turning themselves inside out trying to find out about the “Russia thing.” The Department of Justice has appointed special counsel Robert Mueller to lead the FBI investigation. Our attorney general has had to recuse himself from anything to do with Russia.

Congressional Democrats are talking now openly about impeaching the president. The FBI is looking at whether the Trump campaign “colluded” with Russian government operatives.

And the president’s legislative agenda — health care overhaul, tax reform, building that damn wall — is stalled completely. None of it is likely to get advanced.

Do you get my drift? The Russians have succeeded, actually, in accomplishing what they intended when they got involved in our electoral process in the first place.

Now, let’s all wait for the president to possibly, potentially lessen those sanctions we leveled against the Russians for their aggression in Ukraine.

Is that a crazy notion? Not even …

Praying for the souls we have lost

My wife and I are going to spend part of Memorial Day doing what all Americans ought to do.

I don’t mean to hold us up as paragons of patriotism, but our plans for the day include a visit to the Texas Panhandle War Memorial, next to the Randall County Courthouse Annex at Georgia Street and Interstate 27 in Amarillo. Yes, we’re going to grill some burgers later in the day … but first things first.

There will be a ceremony at 11 a.m. honoring those who have fallen in defense of the nation we all love so dearly.

I’ve been blessed in countless ways, all beyond measure. One of those blessings includes a sparse number of friends, acquaintances¬†and loved ones who have perished while serving in time of war. I haven’t lost any of my buddies from my childhood who went to war in Vietnam.

But I’ll remember a particular fellow¬†I did lose one day in June 1969. I’ve introduced you to him already on his blog. His name was Jose De La Torre. He was from Fullerton, Calif. We served in the same U.S. Army aviation battalion in Da Nang. I was¬†assigned to¬†a fixed-wing unit. De La Torre served on a Huey helicopter crew and manned an M-60 machine gun when the ship flew.

He took off one day on a “routine” troop lift.¬†However, the landing zone was hot, full of enemy forces who opened fire on the ships delivering troops to the battlefield.

De La Torre was one of those killed in action.

I’ll remember him and will pay tribute and honor to all who have died in service to our country.

The Panhandle War Memorial pays tremendous honor to those Panhandle residents who gave their last full measure of devotion. I was honored to have had a hand in producing the exhibit. I was awarded the task of writing narratives about many of the conflicts that are profiled there, dating back to the Spanish-American War of 1898.

This blog post, however,¬†is about the individuals whose names are inscribed on the stone tablets. They answered their nation’s call.

There’s an inscription at the memorial that tells us that “All gave some, some gave all.” These proud Americans gave all they had.

They are heroes — every one of them — in the truest sense of that overused word.

May they all rest in peace.