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Trump’s failure to honour fallen Americans at the Aisne-Marne Cemetery in 2018 speaks volumes.

Trump’s failure to honour fallen Americans at the Aisne-Marne Cemetery in 2018 speaks volumes.

Given his general vileness, it is easy for those of us who loathe and despise Donald Trump to readily believe the allegation that he uttered deeply disparaging remarks about World War I American dead whom he was scheduled to honour at a centennial ceremony on 10 November 2018 at the Aisne-Marne Cemetery and Memorial. Trump, and his flunkies have mounted a furious campaign of denial that he said what has been reported, first by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic and then confirmed by other media. But rather than argue over what he said, which is a matter of dispute, the focus should surely be on what he did, which is not.

First, some background. More than 2,000 Americans fell at the battle of Belleau Wood in June 1918 and are buried in the cemetery. They were part of a force composed of the 2nd and 3rd United States Infantry Divisions rushed to reinforce French troops on the Marne River front who were fighting desperately to stem a final German offensive to end the war. Belleau Wood became the focus of the German thrust in this sector but they ran smack into the US 4th Marine Brigade, comprised of the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments, part of the 2nd Division. The Marines had arrived just in time to see French troops retreating. When urged by the French to do the same the legendary reply came back from US Marine Captain Lloyd Williams: “Retreat? Hell we just got here!” The Marines dug in and repulsed the German attack. 

From the 3-26 June the ferocious battle raged back and forth until the Germans were finally ejected from the wood. In that time the Marines endured thunderous artillery, devastating machine gun fire as they advanced through open wheat fields, hand-to-hand fighting using bayonets, knives, rifle butts and fists and, perhaps most frightening of all, poison gas. During one gas attack, Gunnery Sergeant Fred W. Stockham gave his gas mask to a wounded Marine whose own had been shot off. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Some 10,000 Americans were casualties of whom over 1,800 Marines were killed. In their honour the French renamed Belleau Wood “Bois de la Brigade de Marine” or Wood of the Marine Brigade and awarded them the Crois de Guerre.

Against this backdrop and some 100 years later Donald Trump, when confronted with the prospect of a two-hour road trip and a rainy, possibly windy day that would play havoc with his hair, declined to attend the ceremony honouring the American fallen of Belleau Wood. To his chagrin, travel by helicopter had been nixed owing to inclement weather and rather than sucking it up as any other president would have done Trump, true to form, cancelled his appearance and hid behind the fiction that the logistics of moving his motorcade to the cemetery was beyond the organizational ability of his entourage; this despite the fact that several world leaders attended centennial events in the rain that day. There was strong criticism at the time, none more eloquent than this piece from Eliot A. Cohen in The Atlantic.

Not that the day was wasted. Trump apparently shopped for art at the residence of the US Ambassador to Paris and had several works of art shipped back to the White House.

So Trump skipped an event to honour our heroic soldiers and Marines who had given everything they had to give in service to their country to avoid a bad hair day or maybe simply because he couldn’t be bothered. Trump doesn’t need words to show his contempt for those who have served and sacrificed for their country. His actions speak far more loudly than his words. 

In his Atlantic piece, Cohen includes a poem from Alan Seeger as a sort of rebuke to Trump from beyond the grave. Seeger was an American who volunteered with the French Foreign Legion prior to the entry of the US into the Great War. He died of his wounds sustained during the Battle of the Somme on the 4th of July 1916 at the age of 28. I can think of nothing more appropriate:

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air—
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It maybe that he will take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath—
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows ’twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where Love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear …
But I’ve a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

Hunter S. Thompson Explains Oliver North’s Role in the Iran-Contra Affair

Hunter S. Thompson Explains Oliver North’s Role in the Iran-Contra Affair

Hunter S. Thompson 1987
Hunter S. Thompson 1987

U.S. Marine Corp Lt. Col. Oliver North was indicted on sixteen felony accounts stemming from his involvement in the Iran-Contra Affair.  In his testimony before a joint Congressional Committee, he admitted to lying and to shredding government documents, and he said he joined the covert Iran-Contra operation because he thought it was a neat idea.

Hunter S. Thompson followed the hearings closely and published many columns about the whole sordid affair and those involved in it.  I am posting his work now because Oliver North, who should be rotting in prison, has the gall to criticize President Obama for not obtaining approval from Congress to go into Libya.

This is from Thompson’s June 16, 1987 column published in his collected works titled Generation of Swine:

USMC Lt. Col. Oliver North will probably get 300 years – even if Ed Wilson is right – but he is too guilty and too obvious and too easy, in fact, to get off with anything less than 25 or 30 concurrent, which means he will do about three – unless he can come up with a better idea, like turning in somebody bigger.

From the moment North took the oath before congress, the American public was infatuated by the man in uniform with perfect posture and a respectful demeanor.  Hunter Thompson wrote about it in his column dated July 13, 1987:

One public opinion poll on Friday had North with a truly awesome “approval rating” of 96 to 4 percent, much higher than Ronald Reagan, Jesus or even pure cocaine.  The Iran-contra scandal that once looked deeper and dirtier than Watergate was suddenly transformed by North’s performance on network TV into something on the scale of American heroism like Valley Forge or MacArthur’s return to the Philippines…. The shameful saga of Oliver North was so heavy and strong that it caused rich men on Wall Street to weep openly and small children in Hollywood to dance and jabber with joy.

It even brought tears to the eyes of Crazy Bob. “This guy is the real thing,” he said when North went off the air on Thursday. “I want to send him a check.”

I stared at him for a long moment, then I whacked him on the side of his head. “You fool!” I said. “I’m tired of your lame Nazi gibberish.” He leaped off his stool and went into a fighting stance, but I quickly jumped back and hissed at him: “Semper Fi! Semper Fi! 269 dead boys at Beirut Airport! Two hundred and sixty-nine dead U.S. Marines, Bobby!

He stiffened, then dropped his hands.

“Yes!” I shouted. “And we know who did it, don’t we?”

“Iranians,” he muttered. “That stinking Ayatollah.”

I knew he had been in the Navy – nine or ten years in one of the super-elite SEAL units… the Marines get a lot of publicity and they look good on TV commercials, but even drill sergeants at Parris Island will admit that 99 out of 100 Marine recruits would be routinely rejected if they ever tried to qualify for the SEALS. A pencil-necked weekend warrior like Oliver North couldn’t get hired as a male nurse in a SEAL unit.

I put my arm around Crazy Bob’s shoulders and sat him back down on his stool. “And who was it, Bobby, that sold all those bombs and missiles and rockets to the Iranians?”

“Jesus Christ,” he said. “It was Oliver North, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah, Charlie,” I said. “It was him – and he was well paid for it, too. Ronald Reagan called him a great American hero, and George Shultz put his arm around him and thanked him for doing good work.”

So much for Ollie mania.

Why does anyone give credence to Oliver North’s opinions today?  He belongs in prison.  Only Fox News would hire a swine like Oliver North and let him rant about what he perceives are President Obama’s abuses of presidential powers.

Who will Fox hire next?  Perhaps they can get Kerry Killinger to offer his opinions about how regulating banks is totally unnecessary.  Or maybe they could get Gary Ridgway to do a special dispatch from prison on how to pick up girls.

Our Troops in Afghanistan Need Mountain Warfare Training

Our Troops in Afghanistan Need Mountain Warfare Training

President Obama has made our commitment to Afghanistan a central plank of his foreign policy.  Everyone agrees that the reinvigorated Taliban, helped by al-Qaida in  Pakistan, represent a formidable foe in their mountainous home.  And whilst it is widely recognized that building a stable Afghanistan will require much more than the application of military force, it is equally clear that we cannot make substantive progress whilst the Taliban controls large swaths of the countryside.  

Yet there is not a single brigade-sized or larger unit in either the United States Army or Marine Corps that is specifically trained for the sort of mountain warfare that would help prepare them for combat in rugged Afghanistan. The Army’s 10th  Mountain Division, unlike its illustrious World War II predecessor, is a mountain division in name only.  It lacks any particular training or expertise in mountain warfare.

To be sure both services have mountain warfare schools but these primarily are for individual rather than unit training. No major US ground force unit is based at or regularly trains at a high elevation camp or post. This in contrast to the WWII era 10th Mountain Division which was based and trained at Camps Carson and Hale in the Colorado Rockies. 

Specialized unit training of troops for mountain warfare is both expensive and resource intensive.  It requires them to be able to become acclimated to high elevation movement and maneuver; to be equipped for the bitter cold and very possibly with new weapons, such as artillery, that are specially designed for being packed in to otherwise inaccessible terrain. Yet the rewards of training our conventional troops well enough  to go toe-to-toe with the fleet-footed Taliban warriors even in their most inaccessible redoubts and sanctuaries could be enormous.

It’s no secret that the Marines are keen to be redeployed from Iraq to the campaign in Afghanistan, where they believe their talents will better utilized..  To date, Secretary of Defence Gates has resisted the idea of having the Marines take the lead force there although a small number has already been deployed.  In fact having the Marines as the principal conventional force in Afghanistan is an excellent idea.  To win their point the Marines should immediately expand the USMC Mountain Warfare Training Center in California and ensure that every battalion slated for deployment in Afghanistan is given lengthy and sustained mountain warfare training and altitude acclimation before shipping out. 

If the Army continues to have the principal role in Afghanistan, why not make the 10th Mountain Division a mountain warfare specialist in more than just name?

We are likely to be battling the Taliban for years to come in the mountains they know so well. It is long past time we treated the challenge with the seriousness it deserves by adequately preparing our troops for what will be a long and arduous struggle.