Monday, August 22, 2016


            Since military history is a frequently-visited genre in my own arena of study and research as well as one which has touched my own life in a personal and indelible way, it may not be surprising that I have long had an interest in what – for want of a better label – I call the ethics of warfare. It may seem like an oxymoron, but in virtually every conflict in our nation’s history one can find both obvious and not so clearly-defined examples of decisions, policies and protocols in which a course of action reflects a point of morality inconsistent with ordinary military objectives. A WWII example was the USAAF commitment to “daylight precision bombing” of industrial/military targets as opposed to the RAF preference for nighttime “carpet bombing” of civilian population centers; a decision which cost the U.S. mightily in lives and aircraft lost. The ultimate decision to use the atomic bomb to shorten (and save lives) in bringing Japan to a surrender was perhaps the greatest moral decision of all time and one still being argued today.
            A recent motion picture titled “EYE IN THE SKY” calls to mind some of the realities facing the use of military “Drone” aircraft today, both from the viewpoint of target selection, and the effect on flight crew members. The story revolves around a British mission against an Al-Shabaab target in Nairobi, Kenya and an operational crew made up of US Air Force personnel in Nevada. Target selection and mission operational control are in the hands of  British Colonel Katherine Powell, played beautifully by Helen Mirren who appears against the backdrop of a British Lt. General and a high-ranking Foreign Secretary among others meeting in Sussex on the other side of the Atlantic.
            Meanwhile the movie-goer is watching through the eyes of a drone aircraft circling “invisibly” at 25,000 feet what’s going on in the village square at the center of which militants are assembling suicide-bomb vests for immediate dispersal in the room of a ruined building. It seems as though the moment is right and conditions perfect for the armed drone to deliver its two Hellfire missiles. Then we see an adorable little local girl setting up a table to sell her mother’s bread within the “kill zone”.
            At Creech AFB in the Nevada dessert, an American pilot and the female enlisted Airman operating aiming and firing controls sit at a space-age module in a windowless room awaiting orders to execute, while nearby senior Air Force officers are shaking their heads at British “dithering”, intimating to movie-goers that were this a U.S. operation such a collateral complication would not be such a big deal. (The film is after all a British production.) As the charming girl leaves her table, but then returns with a new basket of bread, the decision-makers begin an endless process of “referring up”; that is going up their chain of command all the way through a line of “waffling” politicians to the U.S. Secretary of State who is attending a ping pong tournament in China played by the late Alan Rrickman, to whom by the way, the film is dedicated.
            At virtually the last minute before the suicide vests are sent on their way the missile strike takes out the target and cameras focus on the dying girl and the resulting sadness on the faces of participants in Africa, Britain and Nevada.
            What theatre audiences will not know is the toll taken on the Air Force crews serving at the Creech facility just one hour away from the bright lights and fun palaces of Las Vegas, who have the unheralded but high-pressure job of “flying” drones and firing missiles half-a-world away for 18-hour- long days with little rest, where they need a thousand more pilots and airmen than they can recruit for a duty with little glory and the prospect of life-long memories of collateral consequences.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


            As the sun rose over the peaks of Zion last Wednesday – July 27th 2016 – I stepped back several paces from my tall flag pole, turned and rendered a smart slow hand salute to the two flags waving in the morning breeze. At the top the 48-star American banner under which I proudly served in uniform, and beneath whose stars and stripes I lived the first 27 years of my life. Just beneath it flew the national flag of the Republic of Korea, the two connected by the sinews of mutual courage, struggle, the shedding of blood, and a historic experience which stands as a truly unique American moment. Unique meaning “only once” 

            Three days later, I was privileged to be able to tell this story in my own words to Jeon Jun Yeong, of Cheongju, Jung Yeo Jin of Jeonju and Kim Yeon Jae from Seoul, Korea, all three exchange students spending summer in Cedar City while attending Southern Utah University; three lovely, healthy vibrant and confident young women who are in their own way as much products of American generosity and love of liberty as the local citizens who welcome them into our homes. To sit with them in my office surrounded by mementos of my connection with their land and the life which that association has largely
inspired was profoundly meaningful. I fear I wasn’t entirely successful in hiding the tears which were never far away as I was so spiritually moved by this living testimony to the correctness of U.S. intervention in a far-away conflict so long ago. (And yet so recent!)
            Following the end of WWII, world-wide communism went on a march inflicting itself upon country after country, filling the political and social void left in the wake of six years of upheaval, dislocation and the unwise cave-in by the Allies to partitions and realignments demanded by the Soviets.
 . (Editorially, I must observe that the U.S. State Department in 1945-46 does not seem to have been exactly overburdened with people who knew and understood world history or possessed an abundance of wisdom!)
            Korea’s turn came in June of 1950 as swarms of Soviet-trained and supplied North Korean troops and tanks crossed the artificial border created by one of those unfortunate pacts. The capital city of Seoul  fell quickly and the entire peninsula lay open to occupation. The U.S. took the lead in hustling peacetime troops (mostly untrained) from Japan while pushing the still-young United Nations to mount a war declaration and an international defense force. Because the Soviet Union was temporarily absent and unable to veto Security Council action, 21 nations eventually came to South Korea’s aid.
            From the beginning the U.S. provided both the bulk of the fighting force and equipment for a war effort which saw China enter the fray with a major ground offensive pushing the defenders almost into the sea. In the three years of brutal warfare, America suffered more than 34,000 battle deaths and more than 110,000 wounded; the highest level of casualties in such a short period of time of any U.S. military encounter in history. More than 8,000 are still missing in action six decades later. I explained to my three Korean visitors that “these American boys are still in your country, their remains mixed with the soil of your land. They will not be coming home. But they were long ago welcomed ‘home’ by their Heavenly Father, to whom each is known and numbered.”
            Those of us who were lucky enough to return to our native land, received little in the way of recognition and thanks from a population long ago weary of war and attuned to a world which had moved on without us. Yet – in the eyes of history – what we accomplished is indeed unique. We helped to purchase for a country with a thousand years of proud history, a new birth of freedom which has given rise to one of the modern world’s most vibrant and successful democracies, and generations of children who have grown up bright-eyed and free. This is something we have not accomplished so successfully in our long history of fighting on foreign soil. This has in fact only happened this once. What a national oversight we display when we accept the notion that Korea is anything other than our greatest FORGOTTEN VICTORY.

Saturday, August 13, 2016


            Our home place, perched on a ridge overlooking the Virgin River and adjacent to Zion Park boundaries, is sufficiently remote that unexpected human visitors are rare. One of its most endearing qualities is that the opposite is true of our friends from the animal kingdom who have enjoyed the right of passage over its 20 extraordinary acres for untold centuries of earth time and – so far – have shown a generous willingness to share it with us. Virtually every day we are witnesses to the co-habitational character of this plot of land we might think of as “ours”.
            Early on we were startled to hear someone “knocking” on the glass door opening onto our south-facing rear deck. Knock, knock KNOCK! Taking the required moments to get there, lift the sliding sun-shade and peer out, we would find no-one there. The experience would repeat itself with confusing frequency. It still happens, but now we smile knowingly before confronting our “guest”, a roving road runner who enjoys watching and challenging his reflection in the double-layer glass. Others of his kind – probably siblings or aunts uncles and cousins – keep an almost-predictable schedule as they come and go on their tail-flicking journeys, sometimes stopping to measure the leaping distance separating them from a humming bird leaving our feeder.
            Two days ago a glance out of our living room window caught the stealthy glimpse of a beautiful gray fox ghosting across our back yard in a way no other animal quite duplicates. It brought to mind the mental image of a 70-year-old memory: It was the summer of my first year living in Vermont. I was approaching a clearing in the deep forest above our farm where a long-abandoned hilltop farm had been left behind when main roads moved to the valley floor in the wake of rural-electric power lines. My silent footsteps revealed an antlered white tail buck and an adult red fox playing their own version of tag, taking turns chasing each other in circles; obviously for the sheer fun of it and with no thought to the normal enmity of their kind.
                                             The ten acres of irrigated pasture we look down upon each day is a natural “highway” and gathering place for deer, wild turkeys, Canadian geese, coyotes and the occasional mountain lion. Black vultures, bald eagles and a host of hawks and falcons regularly patrol its margins, while seven families of great blue herons nest high in the nearby cottonwoods, returning each year to raise their broods in large stick-built nests they are constantly repairing. I was most impressed several years ago by a visitor whose story I will always remember as that of the three-legged coyote. The lower field is pockmarked by tunnel-entries of dozens – perhaps even hundreds – of gophers. This particular hunter was handicapped by a missing front leg, probably the legacy of an encounter with a steel trap. (Coyotes are not beloved of Utah farmers, ranchers and teen-agers with a new shiny Ruger 10/22.) This coyote however had a partner to help with the digging, a mate with four perfectly good legs. (Their relative size suggested that this companion was the male.) When an inhabited den was detected by the nose of either, the big male would start digging with his mate waiting for the right moments to take over, nosing her way through the tunnel and then pulling the unearthed prey to the surface where they would share the bounty before moving on. On several occasions I observed the pair at work, sharing a perfect division of duties and exhibiting a binocular view of  the wild kingdom’ s lesson on just how a good marriage should work.
           When we first “zero-scaped” our front yard we capped off the colored gravel with several large boulders native to our area, the largest of which looks down on everything around it. Its dominance does not go unnoticed and at this moment a large green lizard is claiming ownership. A “squadron” of Gambel’s quail frequently (and noisily) transits our property across this route – east to west or return, - their black top-knots waving proudly. Always, one of the two dozen-or-so will advance ahead of the others to take up sentry duty atop our boulder, from which prominence it watches for trouble; TO OUR NEVER-ENDING HUMAN DELIGHT.

                   Caught sampling shrubbery, two well-fed “visitors” pause 20 feet from our front door.