Hi everyone. Sorry I've been gone so long. Let me attempt to bring you up to speed.
First, where am I right at this moment? I'm sitting on the steps of The Wallace Library in lovely downtown Fredericksburg, Virginia. The time on deck is 2115. Why here? Simple, it's close to my home and provides free wireless internet access. This is a wonderful library. My daughter and I have done many a homework project from here. Years ago it was an elementary school. Warren Buffett, the richest man in the known universe, went to school here. His older sister, Doris, just renovated a house down the street to be her primary residence. Something special must have happened for them here way back when. She's donated a couple million to start a Boys and Girls Club in town. The headquarters for one of Warren's flagship companies, Geico Insurance, is up the road in Stafford County.
Directly in front of me runs Caroline Street, and on the opposite side, although very much in the dark, is the site of the first home of Fielding Lewis. Lewis was married to Washington's only sister, Betty. Rumor has it that she bore an uncanny resemblence to her brother.
The original home on the property burned to the ground during Fredericksburg's Great Fire of 1807. In fact the blaze started in the house, which by then belonged to another family. A funeral wake was being held in the home, but mourners were called away to the local race track. The burning candles around the casket had the final say that day. What remains on the property from then (there is a home built in 1811) is a step garden and the oldest retail building in America, the Lewis Store. http://220.127.116.11/Subpage.asp?pageid=7&subpageid=17
Tonight is a lovely Virginia evening. From about seven blocks to left down Caroline at this very moment streams the rythmic clamping of a train accompanied by its mournful trombone like whistle. I love listening to that sound late on hot summer nights. The traffic on Caroline is light and there's a soft cool breeze drifting over the rising and falling swosh of passing cars..... there goes Phoenix, my neighbor's Black Lab, he's barking at something. Excuse me while I bark back, it usually quiets him. Ole Phoenix is a bravo male. I'm an alpha. I babysit him frequently....there he's stopped.
Other common sounds tonight are sirens (we've got a large regional hospital) and the sound of helicopters. HMX-1, the President's squadron is just north of here and does training flights in these skies. I was once a crewchief with them and the pilots always liked to fly over the town and neighboring counties of Stafford and Spotsylvania to point out newly purchased homes.
A few people, mostly couples with dogs, are strolling by. I must look ghostly with the blue laptop screen illuminating my face. They say Fredericksburg is the most haunted town in North America. Tens of thousands of soldiers died in these streets and homes over the course of our Civil War. Nearly every home in the Old Town districts boasts a resident spirit. The History Department students of The University of Mary Washington conduct, for a small fee, a very entertaining "Ghostwalk" every Halloween season. A local Episcopal church did an exorcism about a decade ago to liberate a home from the supposed spirit of a Confederate. My ghost only turns up the old style thermostat on very cold nights. He must long to be warm again. Check out this site on Civil War battlefield ghosts.
Living in this town is a constant reminder of the long and hard journey democracy has had even in this country. Each Memorial Day weekend the Boy and Girls Scouts sponsor a moving "Luminaria" display at the National Cemetary bordering the Fredericksburg Battlefield. The over 16,000 civil war graves are individually graced with a small votive candle set in a cushion of sand at the bottom of a plain brown paper bag. These simple luminarias create a scene that leaves only the soulless dry eyed. Taps, which was written and first heard here, is played every half-hour by two live musicians echoing each other. The scouts patrol the grounds keeping the candles lit and replaced when necessary.
So what's new? I've been busy writing for the New York Times Frontlines site. That's brought other attention. For instance, last week I did radio interviews with Minnesota Public Radio
http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2006/04/04/midmorning2/ , and two BBC talk shows; Radio Five Live and World Have Your Say. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/s. My good friend Pat Dollard was wounded a couple times in Ramadi. You can read about his adventures at Hollywood, Interrupted http://www.hollywoodinterrupted.com/. Scroll down and you'll find a couple articles with pictures he's sent from the front lines of gonzo documentary film making. I tell you again, Pat is the real thing. He's lost some weight. I told him the picture on the Hollywood, Interrupted site is his Zoolander "Blue Steel" look. Go see. I'll wait......Hopefully his show, Young Americans, will get finished before Pat is vaporized and achieves martyrdom.
Last week I attended a Marine Corps conference for the combat camera community in New Orleans. This was the first time ever for me in the Big Easy. What a fabulous town! On the last day, Friday, I was able to spend a whole afternoon in The French Quarter. Wow. I'm smitten. I had a nice talk with a gallery owner and she echoed sentiments close to those we troops have made about MSM reporting. She lamented, especially as a business owner, how CNN has mischaracterized the condition of New Orleans. Yes, there are still widespread and unmistakable evidence of Katrina's rath, but the Quarter is open for business while the rest of the town is being radically resurrected. My day included a monster plate of steaming Jambalaya nuking the inside of my mouth, and a visit to a used bookstore where I found a book by my favorite author, Richard Brautigan, Revenge of the Lawn. Despite everything you may have heard, seen or read, the mystique of this gem at the mouth of the Mississippi is intact and palatable. Reports of the Big Easy's death, like that of Mark Twain, has been greatly exaggerated.
A theme I've found myself turning again and again to is the "I support the troops but not the war" mentality. I'm fed up hearing it. Here's my feelings and reflections on the subject. The troops are not impressed with what we see as an elitist self-serving feel good attitude. This is a statement of pity and nothing more. It's pathetic and pandering. Male intuition may be a contradiction in terms, but most GIs have highly evolved BS meters, and it pegs in the red zone on this one. It reeks of political correctness. Marines returning from Vietnam were often greeted with outright animosity. Perhaps some of those now voicing this sentiment were guilty of this 40 years ago and are now trying to placate their own guilt. Inherent in this statement is a subtext that says we, the troops, are victims and they, the anti-war folks, are going to rescue us. It also suggests that they know better than us, that our visceral field experience has little or no value. We're either just a gaggle of country bumpkins hoodwinked into serving by socio-economic pressures, or knuckledragging cretin warmongers. The actual truth is something you'll never get from a Hollywood movie. The overwhelming majority of those serving are high school graduates, of high moral character and, based on the standardized military entrance exam, fall in the upper 50 per cent percentile group intellectually. We're educated, highly trained worldly men and women from all walks of life who've chosen freely our own path into the military. In short, don't cry for me Argentina. Usually wedded to this "we're so sorry you got tricked into fighting" gestalt is an underlying belief that Iraqis, and by extension all Muslim cultures are incapable of democracy. I want to suggest that there could be a little touch of racism at work here. And all the Bush mislead us crap. Get over it. We are here. Leaving is not an option. We got this girl pregnant and we need to do the right thing, which is not an abortion. Victimization. Stereotype. Racism. I'd rather step off the plane to someone spitting at me...that, at least, takes some courage. Los Angeles Times op-ed writer Joel Stein had the hutzpah in his article "Warriors and Wusses" to not make this distinction. He doesn't support the troops and he doesn't support the war. This is a guy I can respect. But big sad puppy dog eyes I don't need. The conditionality of "I support the troops, but not the war" posits a distinction we Marines don't make. We are the war. We're not interested in the kind of self-serving intellectualizing that argues about the definition of the word "is" and butt covering legal rationalizations about what does and doesn't constitute actual sex. We live and work in a concrete world and find abstractions, the obsession with splitting hairs symptomatic of a defeatist mentality. We're in the mission accomplishment mode and by extension only interested in what supports the mission. The cry of "havoc" has been shouted and the dogs of war let loose. Talk is at an end and the doing, the mission is afoot. We don't engage in the luxury of second guessing, or the liberty of political debate. One great strength of our Republic is the freedom from fear of military coups. (For those of you who at this very moment are taking a big over-educated breath and preparing to interject into your thought process "well not yet" I caution you to examine your stereotypes-Full Metal Jacket and A Few Good Men are entertainment and not documentaries.) Our necessary philosophy in the field is real simple and can be summed up in our oft said phrase "Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way". We're only interested in one statement, "WE BACK THE TROOPS". Highly footnoted, carefully nuanced and qualified statements like "we support the troops and not the war" doesn't support us, it trivalizes us at best and at worst re-enforces the will and agenda of the enemy. We don't want to cut and run. Take that as gospel. Victory is our only option, and not some hybridized academic version of victory that everyone is comfortable with. I'm talking about the species of victory that only comes from doing very bad things to very bad people until either they're dead, or demoralized into abject unconditional psyche changing surrender. We taking Unfolding of History 410 are tired of listening to the sophmoric rants of Self-fullfilling Prophesy 101 coming from down the hall. The war on terrorism is a war being fought tactically in Iraq, but strategically in the hearts and minds of America. "I support the troops, but not the war" is a little white flag being waved in another American head. The main weapons in the arsenal of the terrorists are uncertainty and fear. You might as well be loading another AK round into an insurgent's magazine. Saying "I back the troops" is the equivalent of saying you support us tactically and at the same time strategically. Anything less is self-annihilating blither which says we support you tactically, but will fight against you strategically. Or, as the great philosopher from the 1960's, Pogo, put it, "We have met the enemy and he is us." If at the end of the day this becomes the stance of the majority of fellow citizens, then we are to be pitied. Pity takes our sacrifice, freely given, and gives it back into the hands of our enemies. So next time you see a GI tell him what he needs to hear, "Kick Ass and Take Names." Or, just be honest with yourself and glare.
Want to show your gratitude, your support? Pay it forward. Go to New Orleans this year. Vacation. Volunteer. Whatever. Everything we fight for is there. Good food. Resiliency. Pretty women. Dedication to excellence. Fun. Freedom of expression. Music. The face of America shines in the streets of the Big Easy. If we weren't over in Iraq name tak'n and heart break'n that's were we'd love to be. So go! Send us a postcard.
Oh, one final thing, I'll be a panelist at the first ever milblogger conference that's going to held in DC April 22nd. This link has all the details. http://www.militarywebcom.org/MilBlogConference/11/Conference%20Panelists.html
If you come please say hi.