Written by Phil Guarnieri Thursday, 23 January 2014 00:00
The capture of Saigon by the North Vietnamese Army in late April 1975 marked the end of the Vietnam War. After more than a decade of fighting that brutally snuffed out 58,000 American lives, who could forget the pathetic and pitiful scene on the morning of
April 30. As the NVA ominously and murderously approached the capital of South Vietnam, the last U.S. Marines were evacuated from the U.S. Embassy by helicopter. As the helicopters whirled off into the great blue yonder, panicked Vietnamese poured into the grounds around the Embassy. Many of them had been employed by the Americans but were now left to their bitter fate.
It was not America’s finest hour. The war had been lost not by the military, which certainly made their share of blunders, but by Congress who felt beleaguered by the war’s political unpopularity at home. Depressed and devastated by our sojourn into Southeast Asia, many Americans had resolved never to enter a war they were not prepared or willing to win. War is a much too costly and tragic affair to take half-measures with.
In one sense, this is the context that Robert Gates, former Secretary of Defense under President Bush and President Obama, writes about in his recently released memoirs about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The book is called Duty and many of the points he makes are informative, thought provoking and poignant. Despite my criticism of the Obama Administration’s war policies, I had reservations about the book’s release while Obama was in office. Certainly facts are important, so is history. We have an obligation to absorb, profitably I pray, the lessons of these two traumatic wars.
But then the idea of loyalty is also critical and one which I highly value. There is a time and place to tell one’s story. When one serves the Commander in Chief, etiquette and good manners would demand, at least to me, that one reserves comments until the president is out of office. I say this even while acknowledging that there is no gainsaying Robert Gates’ service to his country. A recipient of the “Presidential Medal of Freedom,” he was instrumental in turning around two wars that the U.S. was losing. After serving under
George Bush he agreed to serve another year under President Obama. As it turned out, he spent 29 months fulfilling his role as Secretary of Defense.
In Duty, we learn some things. Congress over-politicizing the war, President Obama having little or no faith in the Afghan strategy even though he sent 30,000 troops, Vice President Joe Biden’s appalling foreign policy positions and Hillary Clinton’s admission of opposing the Iraqi surge in 2007, even though she actually agreed with it for purely political reasons. She was running for president and had to appeal to the left wing of her party. On his book tour, however, Gates makes it a point, perhaps justifiably, from making partisans run too freely with some of these judgments.
While it’s true that on a visceral level, Gates informs us, President Bush wanted to win the war and President Obama wanted to find the nearest exit, Obama showed courage in resisting pressure from his own party, especially Vice President Biden’s staff who were zealously trying to convince the president the war was lost. While Obama didn’t send as many troops as Gates recommended, they both agreed to try to get more allied troops into the theatre of war, which they did successfully to supplement American forces. Gates also has positive things to say about Hillary Clinton despite his dismay over her political considerations during a presidential primary.
The release of Gates’ book is undoubtedly connected to the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and Iraq after so much blood and treasure has been lost. It’s almost impossible for those not directly involved in the decision making process how emotionally and mentally draining it is to fight a war. In Michael Shaara’s classic work of historical fiction, Killer Angels, Robert E. Lee tells his top General James Longstreet that “to be a good soldier you must love the army. But to be a good officer you must be willing to order the death of the thing you love. No other profession requires this.”
Administrative policies from civil authorities and orders from generals are not merely words and directives. They often mean death sentences for young soldiers and terrible grief for their loved ones. That’s a difficult reality to live with and Gates has lived it very personally and directly. Writing letters to all the families of the loved and lost, visiting those terrible burn units and reading up on the personal lives of all those who made the supreme sacrifice. He detested his job but nonetheless served out of a sense of duty. He does not want those losses and sacrifices to be in vain; but that for the dead and maimed of these wars to have made a difference.
So Gates’ memoir serves a higher cause than a tell-all account. This cannot be any more doubted than Gates’ wish that he be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Last Updated (Monday, 29 November 1999 19:00) Wednesday, 12 March 2014 00:00
The Sewanhaka Central High School District’s ad hoc committee is still reviewing options for a second bond referendum, to be put up for a vote either in May during budget and school board elections or a special election in the fall. The district proposed a $99.5 million bond for various repairs to its five high schools in December, which failed by 293 votes.
Five options are before the ad hoc committee. The first is a vote on the original bond for a second time, with elimination of electronic signs and some capital work. The second and third options would decrease the bond issue, to $84,606,691 in one case or $87,029,591 in another. The fourth option would total $89,577,091. The fifth option is split into two: $73,567,876 in infrastructure repairs, improvements; and a separate $16,009,215 in athletic renovations and upgrades. The School Board will review the options in preparation for a special meeting on Tuesday, March 18.
Last Updated (Monday, 29 November 1999 19:00) Saturday, 08 March 2014 00:00
It’s a family affair for the Winters of Port Washington when they make pilgrimages to Bobb Howard’s General Store in New Hyde Park. “There’s something in that store for everyone,” says Tracy Winters, who has been a customer of this retro candy and toy store for eight years. Tracy goes for the Astro Pops, husband Michael gets Marshmallow Twists and Tracy’s mother, Phyllis Heller of Bellmore, can’t resist the Goldenberg Peanut Chews. Jake, Tracy’s older son, isn’t a candy lover so he gravitates to the old-time toys and nostalgia posters.
Jamie Waller of Queens says it made him feel like a kid again when he saw the wall of candy with treats from the 1990s and 1950s sitting next to each other. “Anything you can possibly want is there,” he says. For Jamie, a big treat is Circus Peanuts, peanut-shaped marshmallows. “My dad used to love them when he was a kid,” he says.
Thursday, 06 March 2014 00:00
New Hyde Park Michael Castelli recently participated in the 32nd Black Belt Graduation at Charles Water Karate & Fitness, located at 122 Hillside Ave. in Williston Park. He graduated to first-degree black belt.
“Our studio teaches students how to defend themselves responsibly while instilling self-confidence, self-discipline and respect for others,” says Grandmaster Charles Water, owner and director of the school.
Students tested in October, successfully passed their exam recently and received their black belt certificates. “Who says that the youth of America are not committed? A healthy life style at the karate studio, mentally and physically is alive, well and working,” said Water.
Thursday, 06 March 2014 00:00
After missing the playoffs two straight years, the Sewanhaka Indians Boys lacrosse team will face tougher odds if it hopes to advance to postseason play in 2014.
The Indians, who start their season March 24 at Oyster Bay, will be playing out of Section 8, Nassau Conference II (Class B) this year; a bump up from their usual spot in Nassau Conference III (Class C). Typically, the schools are divided by enrollment.
“There are no gimmies in this league,” said nine-year coach Peter Burgess. “We were the last team to make this league in terms of population. They kind of drew the line below us. So we’re the smallest school in the league.”
Burgess said another obstacle for the Indians will be facing teams that they have no experience playing before.