The Greatest Generation Holds Its Place In Front Of Us All

Not too long ago I took in the Clint Eastwood film “Letters from Iwo Jima” at a local theater. Although it had only been out for a short while I was surprised to see the tiny theater in which it had been relegated. This film, about some of the most courageous souls on Earth, clawing their way through the Pacific towards Japan, had competed with a number of pop culture movies out at the same time. No problem though, whether large or small, this theater on that evening afforded me with a closeness to undoubtedly one of our nation’s most coveted gifts, a member of the greatest generation.

We have all heard the numbers regarding the passing of some of the greatest generation. Each day, over 1000 WWII veterans die. A number that used to total 16 million vets is now estimated at 2.5 million according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Well, to a student of history and to one who reveres the selfless sacrifice of these great men and women as our most coveted gift of the 20th century, I am saddened by their passing. With each loss, we lose the opportunity to extract just what it was that made them so brave and so successful in America and thereby our hopes and aspirations of replicating them are severely dampened.

Their humility and unselfishness surely rank among their greatest qualities. These after all, seem to bind that generation together more than anything else. The movie was a stirring account of the adversity these men faced in the Pacific. This was but a microcosm of the peril our entire nation and way of life faced during the imperialism and totalitarianism of the 1940’s, however, they all rose to the occasion, without question.

I didn’t need a movie that night to appreciate the efforts of our brave men and women. On that evening, after our United States Marines raised the flag atop Mount Suribachi, and as the credits rolled down the small screen, I saw him. Across the aisle was an elderly gentleman staring intently at the screen. I instantly saw the message that was presented to me. While everyone else quickly piled out of the theater’s exits, this man was honoring the men and women of his own generation.

I stared at him with immense pride. What was he thinking about as the names of our heroes filled the screen in front of us? Had he fought in WWII? Was he searching for the names of his fallen brothers? How many names would he recognize on that screen? Or, perhaps his eyes were closed as he relived the precious moments he shared on Earth with the heroes of that time.

I was also embarrassed as my generation saw fit to scramble for the exits instead of reading the human scroll of sacrifice before us. To most of my generation, it may have just been another war movie. After all, it were these fallen heroes of WWII that enabled us to enjoy things as American as apple pie and going to movies in the first place. None the less, I could only take responsibility for myself, so I sat there beaming with pride and hoping that the gentleman would catch a glimpse of me with my reverence towards him. Thank you for your service, I thought to myself.

This man reminded me of my late Uncle as well. Sgt Thomas Mallon served in the Big Red One outfit in the European theater of WWII. He was shot twice, each time being afforded not only the opportunity to heal those wounds but to get right back into our fight for freedom. What’s odd is that with my quest for knowledge about all things war, and his late death, I know absolutely nothing else about his service in WWII. I had to read the history books and watch film to learn about the story of the Big Red One and their heroic efforts. This spoke to the embodiment of that generation’s humility and their humility is surely what lends to their greatness.

So on that night, I was reminded of just how powerful a generation’s call to duty can be. I am also cognizant of the fact that the greatest generation is quietly calling on my generation to lift the mantle of freedom above our shoulders and further its place in this world. On that night, one man represented millions and held his rightful place, in front of us all.

Korean Airlines Flight 007

On September 1st, 1983, a Korean Airlines Boeing 747 was shot out of the skies over the Soviet Union’s Eastern port area of Vladivostok near the Kamchatka Peninsula. The airliner purportedly drifted west of their intended flight path from Anchorage to Seoul, South Korea and violated the airspace of the Soviet Union. This event occurred during the height of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Cold War had many isolated casualties, but this indiscriminate killing of 269 people fueled the tensions even greater.

In the early 1980’s while the world’s militaries spent enormous amount of money on weapons systems and technologies such as Global Positioning Systems or GPS, civilian aviation still relied on relatively archaic methods of air navigation. Inertial Reference Systems and ground based radio beacons served the needs for decades, but not on that evening. The inattentiveness of KAL 007’s crew and the imprecision of their Boeing 747’s on board navigation systems contributed to their demise, but the 2 missiles fired from a Soviet Su 15 fighter jet did them in.

The Soviet Union naturally denied any knowledge or responsibility for the lost airliner but subsequent American and Korean investigations soon revealed otherwise. It wasn’t until the early 1990’s that the Russian Federation eventually released evidence to support what the world already knew for nearly a decade.

One of Ronald Reagan’s responses to the tragedy was to avail the highly accurate global positioning system to the public at large. The satellite based navigation system was so accurate it could be used to pinpoint a spot on the earth and then subsequently demolish it with any number of weapons systems. This of course was why until the unforeseen tragedy of KAL 007, GPS was kept in our military repertoire only.

26 years later, civilian aviation navigates so precisely over the airways in the sky that we now have a collision hazard. As aircraft span the globe, they are often on organized route systems or flight paths defined by these highly accurate GPS signals from space. We now see civilian aircraft riding the wake turbulence from the aircraft in front of them due to their precision in flying the centerline of these airways. This was likely a contributing factor to a recent accident of the Amazon Jungle in Brazil. A GOL Airliner and an Embraer Legacy corporate jet collided. All aboard the airliner perished while the Legacy jet hobbled their aircraft in for an emergency landing.

Aviation authorities have actually instituted a degree of non-precision back into our repertoire. Aptly named, SLOP for strategic lateral offset procedure, it authorizes pilots to fly the centerline of their airway or deviate 1 or 2 nautical miles to the right of that centerline. This allows pilots to steer their aircraft away from areas of wake turbulence they may be experiencing as well as provides for a greater separation between other aircraft that may have deviated from their flight path in error. How ironic it is that we have gone back to some of the imprecision which in a different way and for different reasons brought down KAL 007.

I recently had the opportunity to pilot my aircraft on a similar route that the KAL flight had taken. On that night, I found myself peering out my cockpit windows watching for those same Su interceptors. What was even more ironic is that one of our emergency alternate airfields, Petropavlovsk, was the actual site where those Su 15s launched from in 1983. Yes, our world’s come a long way in 26 years.

As a side note, but not without its due reverence, one of the passengers of KAL Flight 007 was a sitting Congressman, Lawrence Patton McDonald from Georgia. He is recorded as the only sitting member of Congress killed during our 45 year Cold War.

A Nation Divided Through its Diversity

On November 4th, 2008, my political party may not have won, but more importantly, our nation did. To date, we took the largest leap forward on race relations while simultaneously distancing ourselves from an embarrassing and despicable time in our nation’s history.

The election of Barack Obama to the Office of the President of the United States made a clear statement to the world that we still intend to lead with a keen awareness of our gift of diversity. We once again present to the world’s stage our motto, from many – come one, or e pluribus unum.

The importance of our early diversity as well as present cannot be underscored. It’s easy to reach agreement among a bunch of likeminded folks, but to get a diverse population of 305 million individuals to come together is an impressive feat in itself. By the time our nation’s face hits the world’s stage, we’ve already explored an issue 50 ways to Sunday.

This unified message to the world is critical if we are to continue to attract those yearning for what we have been blessed with. To attract the attention of some of the worlds most oppressed and misfortunate alike, we must shine our beacon of freedom as bright as possible. We can only accomplish that by employing the energies and vitality of every one of our citizens.

Let us use our own political processes and forums for debate, when we venture out into the world; it’s time to speak as one. We spoke as one on November 4th, 2008, however, the debate rightly continues within our borders. We are better today for the advancement of our ideas, namely that which believes any one from any group of our citizenry is deserving of the position that which he or she attains. Congratulations to our 44th President of the United States. It should mean as much to us as it does to him.

Protectionism Versus Globalism

At a time of great concern over individual economic vitality and our nation’s economic health we hear arguments for protectionist policies. Protectionism is basically a retreat from global markets and a ramping up of rhetoric like “Buy American”. This is too simple and too emotional of a response to what amounts to far greater economic problems. In short, the “Buy American” answer lacks any serious imagination and logical thought. I was very disappointed recently to see this type of language in our trillion dollar spending/stimulus plan. If this is what we are to pin our hopes, dreams, and aspirations on, we would all do well to stop imagining now.

Certain provisions in this recent 72 hour spend-a-thon demand that various infrastructure projects be built entirely of American made resources like steel and iron. Well, I don’t know if you too have noticed, but, we don’t produce much of that anymore for a reason. So how much will we overpay to repair our infrastructure? What’s the right price to pay for components and resources that were previously deemed less viable by our own free market system? So our precious and sparing tax dollars will buy less “stimulus” because the needs of a few will trump the many. That’s no American ideal I’m familiar with.

You see, the greatest benefit of free market capitalism is the unbiased and seemingly sound decision making of its participants. When governments see fit to leave well enough alone and when governments avoid over-regulation, the price of a good or service is relative to the cost of said goods and services. The more regulation, the more tax, and the more convoluted the price points become. Eventually the price of goods and services become indiscernible or worse yet, simply not viable to manufacture, produce, or offer at home.

So how then do so many of our brightest political and economic minds and policy makers come to the conclusion that protectionist policies are what we need now? I can come up with just a few possible reasons.

  • 1. They have come so far from a notion of personal responsibility and accountability that they do not even realize its likely success as a way out of our most difficult problems, or,
  • 2. They are beholden to the interest groups and/or unions that enabled them to take their offices and policy making platforms, or,
  • 3. They don’t agree but they lack the political power and consequently the leadership required to persuade the opposition to the contrary.

All three of these possibilities seem particularly disturbing to me. In the case of the first, we have simply accepted that our predicaments must be someone else’s fault and of someone or something else’s volition. In essence, one is claiming they didn’t do it and they can’t present us with a clear plan on how to fix it so they hunker down and look outwards for a solution that will only come from within. It seems a far cry from the great thinking and ingenuity of our forefathers.

In the case of the second possible reason for our emotional ride towards protectionism, one needs only to review the enormous campaign and political party contributions to explain the positions of so many of our elected officials. These contributions don’t come without implicit strings attached. Nothing of the monetary sort comes for free in this country. The overwhelming amount of money that follows our congressmen and congresswomen continue to erode one of the pillars of the most successful government ever bestowed upon the Earth.

Finally, our third group of individuals may lay claim to the most despicable reason for our drive towards protectionism. In my humble opinion, these men and women are making a conscience choice not to succeed by their failure to stand up and take a stand. The United States has never before in history failed to meet its responsibilities at home and abroad. Well, one reason we have not failed before is due to the overwhelming amount of leaders our nation’s ideals and moral fabric have produced. That is what is most upsetting to me; our social systems are failing to create the American spirit necessary to perpetuate our greatness. And therein lies the problem, and worse yet, it creates a vicious cycle leading us right back to a nation of excuse makers.

So how bad is protectionism? As long as it is used as an excuse for our greed and as long as it masks our own acceptance of what we got ourselves into, it certainly won’t take us away from our problems. Worse yet, these ideas of protectionism were tried before at a time of tremendous suffering in the United States. During the height of the Great Depression we adopted several policies of the sort that are thought to have actually lengthened our financial hardships. In fact, after all of the New Deal measures were put in place by FDR, not one can be attributed with getting us out of our depression. It was only another brand of suffering that lifted us from the depths of our financial turmoil, WWII.

The minute our dire economic consequences were framed by our nation’s leaders and further propagated by a media full of sensationalists, all we heard was a plethora of excuses as to why we are in the mess to begin with. There will be plenty of time for these later. The excuses merely served as distractions to what we all know the problem to be anyway. Spend less and begin taking the personal responsibility for a nation addicted to credit and financial speculation. To derive these answers one need only look within what made us great in the first place. Our diversity of population with its penchant for assimilation along with our government’s ability to keep a hands off approach to our free spirits and lofty ambitions will surely right our ship.

You see, it’s precisely our unique background of diversity which has us poised for success on the international stage. We should revel at the chance to share our greatest export to the economies of the world, our unbridled and limitless enthusiasm and ingenuity. Simply put, we must be out there, because of who we are. There is no greater combination of talent and imagination worthy of bringing the world’s economies together and allowing them to work for all. Globalism if how we can best affect what happens to us and that in itself is taking personal responsibility for we the people of the United States of America.