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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Lesson on Gun Control from Wounded Knee

Recently I received an e-mail from a friend reminding me that this past December 29 was the 122nd Anniversary of the murder of 297 Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee Creek on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

These people, in their winter camp, were murdered on Dec. 29, 1891 by federal agents and members of the 7th Cavalry who had come to confiscate their firearms “for their own safety and protection.”

Sound familiar? For "their own safety and protection" is the way the Obama administration is trying to frame its attack on the Second Amendment.

The kinds of weapons federal troops and other federal officers were after at Wounded Knee were the same kinds of weapons carried by our military at the time--repeating rifles, shotguns, handguns, etc.

Burying dead Lakota Sioux at Wounded Knee
The e-mail pointed out that Wounded Knee was among the first federally backed gun confiscation attempts in United States history. It ended in the senseless murder of 297 people--200 of which were innocent women and children. A majority of the Sioux already had peacefully turned in their firearms, but that didn't stop the U.S. government from gunning down the few that still held on to their weapons.

The e-mail (I don't know who wrote it) went on to say: "Before you jump on the emotionally charged bandwagon for gun-control, take a moment to reflect on the real purpose of the Second Amendment--the right of the people to keep and bear arms in defense of themselves, their families, and property in the face of invading armies or an oppressive government. The argument that the Second Amendment only applies to hunting and target shooting is asinine.

"When the United States Constitution was drafted “hunting” was an everyday chore carried out by men and women to put meat on the table each night, and “target shooting” was an unheard of concept, musket balls were a precious commodity in the wilds of early America, and were certainly not wasted “target shooting.”

The military weapon of that day was the musket or Kentucky long rifle. What several million gun owners have today is no different--with one major exception. Military issue weapons can be fully automatic, while the so-called "assault rifles" that Diane Feinstein and other gun control zealots are after are semi-automatic.

I own an M-1 Garand--the semi-automatic rifle that millions of GI's carried during WW II and the Korean War. It has an 8-round clip. That rifle is now illegal in New York, which has banned all weapons with a clip that holds more than 7 rounds. This is idiocy.

And it will not stop tragedies such as Sandy Hook, Aurora Colorado, or Virginia Tech. Deranged people who want to kill others will do so even without firearms. They can set fires, plant explosives, poison water supplies...there are multiple ways to kill people if you set your deranged mind to it.

Let's look at some facts.

The day that 20 Sandy Hook Elementary school children and 6 adults were killed some 55 million American children went to school and returned home. The fact is, the chances of a child being killed in a school shooting in the United States are remote, to say the least.

Federal statistics show that 70 mass shootings have taken place in America since 1982, leaving 543 people dead. While those crimes were horrific, during that same period 564,452 other homicides took place in the United States. That means that the mass shootings that so many gun control crusaders are concerned about represent just 0.1 percent of all murders committed in the U.S.

Yet, gun control zealots would have you believe that mass shootings are the primary cause of gun violence in America. Sorry, that is just not the case. Most gun-related homicides are committed during robberies, muggings, rapes, home invasions, car-jackings, pre-meditated murders or a so-called "crime of passion."

Almost none of the weapons used in those crimes would fall under the proposed weapons ban. More than 70 percent of gun-related homicides in America are committed with hand guns--not semi-automatic rifles.

Yet it is important to note that the Supreme Court has ruled twice (2008 and 2010) that banning handguns would be a violation of the Second Amendment and, therefore, unconstitutional.
The Bill of Rights containing the 2nd Amendment

The e-mail I received also said that is critical to remember that: "the Second Amendment was written by people who fled oppressive and tyrannical regimes in Europe, and refers to the right of American citizens to be armed for defense purposes should such tyranny rise in the United States.

Yet as time goes on the average citizen in the United States continues to lose personal freedom and liberty.

"Far too many times," the e-mail continued, "unjust bills are passed and signed into law under the guise of “for your safety” or “for your protection.” The Patriot Act signed into law by G.W. Bush, then expanded and continued by Barack Obama. It is just one of many examples of American citizens being stripped of their rights and privacy for the sake of “safety.”

If you examine recent history it doesn't take a professional historian to see that it is governments, not individual gun owners that are responsible for the greatest human tragedies on record and the largest loss of innocent human life.

Let's take a quick look at how governments have behaved once they disarmed their citizens:

·       In 1929, the Soviet Union established gun control. From 1929 to 1953, about 20 million dissidents, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.
·       In 1911, Turkey established gun control. From 1915 to 1917, 1.5 million Armenians, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.
·       Germany established gun control in 1938 and from 1939 to 1945, a total of 13 million Jews and others who were unable to defend themselves were rounded up and exterminated.
·       China established gun control in 1935. From 1948 to 1952, 20 million
political dissidents, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and
exterminated. In 1989 I covered the massacre of thousands of students at Tiananmen Square who dared oppose the Chinese government!
·       Guatemala established gun control in 1964. From 1964 to 1981, 100,000 Mayan Indians, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.
·       Uganda established gun control in 1970. From 1971 to 1979, 300,000 Christians, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.
·       Defenseless people rounded up and exterminated in the 20th Century because of gun control: 56 million. You won't see this data on the US evening news, or hear politicians discussing it.

Few Americans have ever heard of the "Battle of Athens, Tennessee, yet it is a prime example of why our founding fathers believed an armed citizenry is critical to our republic.

 In 1946 several WW II veterans fed up with crooked local officials fought back against political corruption in McMinn County, Tenn. During elections, deputies that were part of the political machine, illegally seized ballot boxes and took them to the jail so they could stuff them thus ensuring another machine victory.

Angry veterans rushed to the local armory, armed themselves with M-1s and other military weapons and opened fire on the jail. After several hours the door to the jail was dynamited and opened. The deputies surrendered and the stolen ballot boxes were recovered. After the votes were counted, opposition candidates had won and the machine was defeated.

That event and Wounded Knee are both excellent examples of why the Second Amendment exists, and why Americans shouldn’t be so eager to surrender their Right to Bear Arms.

Without the Second Amendment we are little more than latent victims--sheep to be sheared and slaughtered by those who have the weapons.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Women as Infantry Grunts. Why?

I am not sure why any woman would want to go to war with a company of infantry grunts. Yet, if we are to believe those who are determined to use the U.S. military as a vehicle for social engineering, that is exactly what most of them are clamoring for.

I don't believe it

I don't believe a woman wants to be crammed into an armored personnel carrier or an amphibious assault vehicle with 15 to 25 hot, sweaty and stinking infantry grunts as they move into harm's way pressed together like so many sardines in a can.

I don't believe a woman wants to strap on a 70 pound pack, a 9 pound rifle and several hundred rounds of ammo to slog through some jungle or across a scorching hot desert so she can be "one of the boys."

First of all, in my opinion, she won't be able to do it.

Just look at what happened last fall in the USMC infantry officer training course when the first women to attempt the course washed out.
U.S. Marines crammed into an AAV

 A female second lieutenant was dropped from the program last October after failing to complete required training due to unspecified medical reasons.  It’s unclear whether she was injured or if she became ill.

 The other volunteer, also a second lieutenant, dropped out in September after she was unable to complete the program’s introductory combat endurance test.

To be fair, nearly 30 men also washed out of the program.

That isn't surprising when you look at Department of Defense data that show 75 per cent of all American males are not fit for military service--and of the 25% who are, only about 15% will make it through basic training.

When I was in the Army, I went through basic and advanced survival-counter-intelligence training and even though back then I was in great shape, I was ready to go AWOL after all the abuse we got from sadistic drill instructors.

Granted, there are more wimps and weenies around today than there were back in the 1960s. Look at the male role models today--especially on so-called comedy series such as the highly regarded show "Modern Family." Two of the men in that show are gay and of the other two, one is a raging weenie and one is a 60-plus man in perpetual mid-life crisis with a Hispanic trophy wife 35 years younger than he is.

We had John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Lee Marvin, Gary Cooper, Marlin Brando, and Charles Bronson. Boys today have weenies and wimps.

A sad commentary on our society. But as long as boys are discouraged from being boys by schools that are more interested in social engineering than education by forcing little boys to behave like little girls we will see fewer and fewer men capable of military service.

As long as schools insist on wiping out any semblance of competition by awarding each participant in every athletic event a trophy even if they come in dead last, you are going to extinguish even the smallest competitive fires that may still be burning inside the next generation.

In schools that have no tolerance rules against any form of violence--even the traditional after school or playground scuffle that has always occurred between classic bullies and their victims--boys are punished for defending themselves. Girls, for the most part, are too intelligent to engage in such activities--at least they once were.

Maybe that is why the military brass is now so eager to bring women into the military. They need women who are more "manly" than the pathetic male specimens they are getting.

When I joined the Army in the 1960s, basic training was tough and to say that drill sergeants laid their hands on you is putting it mildly.

Recruits who couldn't do 20 push ups were kicked in the butt until they did. You couldn't get into the mess hall for meals unless you did at least five snappy pull ups on the iron bar outside the door.

I recall a couple of recruits who couldn't lift their 80-pound duffle bags filled with their army uniforms, fatigues, boots, hats, etc. As we walked down the battalion street inside Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. headed toward our assigned barracks, the two recruits lagged behind, dragging their duffle bags along the ground.

"Pick up that duffle bag, solder!" a sergeant screamed at one of the terrified recruits.

"I can't sergeant," the recruit responded. He was probably no more than 5' 3" tall and probably weighed just a little more than the duffle bag he was trying so desperately to carry.

"By God, you can and you will, you maggot, or you will sleep outside tonight!"

With that the sergeant lifted the duffle bag and threw it at the recruit, knocking him to the ground.
"Now get up and get that bag on your shoulder and move out smartly!"

The recruit was so terrified of the sergeant and the adrenalin was pumping so fast that he actually got the bag onto his shoulder and managed to somehow shuffle his way to the E-3-2 Company compound and into formation.

Basic training was one epithet-laced berating after another. And when it wasn't verbal, it was often physical. Punching, pushing, kicking, slapping.

We accepted it as part of our initiation into the U.S. Army. In fact, we came to expect it because we were convinced it was part of the toughening up process. Surviving it meant that we were becoming good soldiers.

As I understand it, that kind of abuse has been banned in the modern army.

I can't imagine any woman going through my basic training course with the hard ass sergeants I had. 

Most of them were WW II, Korean War and Vietnam vets who had seen their share of combat. When we finally saw them in their dress greens during our graduation ceremonies we noticed that almost all had won purple hearts and medals for valor in multiple theaters of war.

"This man's' Army ain't for pansies, panty-waists and wimps," I recall First Sergeant Vega yelling at us during our first day of basic training. "You will leave here ready to kill the enemy or by God you won't leave here at all. We are here to kick your asses and by God I will put this size 12 boot all the way up your ass hole until it comes out your f...k'n mouths if I have to. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes sergeant," we yelled back in unison.

"Good, and now if there are any little girls in the ranks I want you to fall out on the double," he said.
No one stepped forward.

"Good, that means every swinging d..k here is going to be a soldier or die try'n."

I wonder what kind of welcoming speech First Sergeants will be making to recruits in the new Coed infantry?

Somehow I don't think it will be the same--and neither will the Army.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Salvadoran Town Lives in Cross Fire

(Between 1980 and 1982 I spent a lot of time in Central American countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua--all of which were involved in some nasty guerilla uprisings and revolutions. From time to time I will post one of the stories I did from these places. The following story is another I wrote from San Salvador in October 1981. All photos were taken by me.)

Suchitoto, El Salvador--It is dusk and from behind the emerald slopes of Cerro de Guazapa, the volcano that towers over this village like a brooding giant, the last golden blades  of  sun are slashing into the  black jungle.

 In the small park in front of Suchitoto's bone-white church, farmers in yellow straw hats are sharing a warm bottle of beer and talking quietly about their dismal corn and sugar cane crops.

Burros: a prime mode of transportation
Burros and horses, the only form of transportation left in Suchitoto these days, stand motionless in the lengthening shadows of the fading day.

And from the dark, grimy Interior of the Cantina El Colonial on Calle Francisco, an ancient jukebox is pumping out the mournful sounds of "The Tide is High" by Blondie.

It is Saturday night in Suchitoto.  And there is peace.

 Not constant peace, of course. That would be too much to expect in a town surrounded by guerrillas and occupied by a garrison of government troops.

Like everything else In El Salvador these days, peace in Suchitoto is relative. For example, tonight there is only sporadic rifle and machine gun fire on the outskirts of town. That's peace.

A week before, a Russian-made RPG-2 rocket ripped through the red tile roof of the Tienda Santa Rosa, destroying Suchitoto's modest department store and killing three persons. And today, just outside the Cantina El Colonial, Army soldiers gunned down and killed a suspected guerilla. That's war.
Death in a Suchitoto street

Some might argue that the destruction of one building and the deaths of three villagers does not qualify as war. They might insist that in a country where an estimated 26,000 persons have died since fighting between left-wing guerrillas and the troops of the American-backed    civilian-military junta began 1-1/2 years ago, the deaths of three more is hardly significant.

 But in Suchitoto, a village of just 5,000 those three casualties were Nos. 574, 575 and 576. That means 11.5 per cent of Suchitoto's population has died in a revolution few people outside of El Salvador seem either to understand or sympathize with.

"The trouble with this war is you never know who you should talk to, what you should say, or how you should say it," said Fidel Ibarra, sitting at a table in the Cantina El Colonial.  "If the right wing doesn't like what you say they come at night with their machetes and take your head. If the left wing doesn't like it, they come and put a bullet through your head."

Ibarra, a carpenter in his early 50s, downed a shot glass of Tic-Tack, a strong corn mash whisky that is this Massachusetts-sized nation's national drink.  Then, leaning across the chipped and scarred Formica table, he nodded toward two 17-year-old soldiers at the next table who were fondling their loaded German-made G-3 semiautomatic rifles between sips of Coca-Cola.

"You see those young pups over there," he whispered. "If I were to start talking about how lousy the army is or how corrupt the government is or how great Cuba is, they would go back and tell their commander and I would have visitors at my house tonight.

"On the other hand, if I should point out how stupid the guerillas are, or how communism and socialism smell worse than my brother's eight dirty pigs, I would also have visitors," Ibarra continued. "Some bastard is always listening. That's why most people in Suchitoto keep their mouths shut."
Fidel Ibarra and Family

At another table in the crowded cantina, several teen-age girls flirted with the two soldiers who were demonstrating their combat readiness by pointing their rifles at color photos of American actors Eric Estrada and John Travolta hanging on the fading and chipped olive green walls.

"Bang, bang," said one soldier, the sights of his G-3 centered first between Estrada's and then Travolta's eyes.

"Adios, gringos," said the other soldier. The girls squealed with delight.

"Idiots," said Ibarra. "Tonight they play, tomorrow they may be dead."

The ancient jukebox sputtered for a moment as "The Tide is High" faded, then crackled with the theme from "Rocky."

Outside, Alejandro Cotto, mayor and 'patron" of this war-shattered town 50 miles north of San Salvador, stood in the ancient cobblestone street discussing the lack of food, water and fuel with villagers.
Mayor Alejandro Cotto talks to villagers

For the past 22 days, Suchitoto had been without electricity because leftist guerillas had blown up the towers carrying power lines to the town. This night, the power had come back on and the mood was almost festive.

Children played in the yellow glow of street lights; radios and record players sent a miscellany of music into the night, and a few people cooled themselves in front of long-dormant electric fans.

"The guerillas have destroyed our water supply system so water must be trucked in from 5 kilometers away," Cotto said. "We get medical supplies every 10 days along with rations of corn, beans and rice. Life is not good here, but the people stay because it is their home."

Cotto and a reporter moved down the street. Weeds were beginning to grow between the stones in the road and graffiti scribbled on the face of a building reflected the predominant emotion of this village.
"Fuera asesinos del publico de Suchitoto." ("Go away murderers of the people of Suchitoto.")

"We hate both sides here," said Cotto. The guerillas are cruel and brutal and so is the other side.

"This used to be such a happy town," Cotto continued, 'such a beautiful little place. Look at the name, Suchitoto. This is the Indian name for the Bird of Paradise, the flower that grows all over this area.

"Now the people do nothing because the war had destroyed the fields, the factories, the shops. There are no jobs. Most people earn only 2-3 Colones (80 cents to $1.20) a day doing labor. The bird of paradise has become the bird of hell."

Night came to Suchitoto abruptly as the sun disappeared behind the smooth cone of Guazapa. Overhead, stars gleamed like grains of sugar sprinkled on black velvet.
Village of Suchitoto 

In the streets, children darted between abandoned, burned-out buildings, shooting at one another with black cap pistols that looked chillingly like the 9 mm Smith & Wessons carried on the hips of the garrison's army officers.

"Look at what the war is doing to our children," Cotto said. "In America, the children play cowboys and Indians. Here they play soldier and guerillas. It is a depressing game."

Indeed. And part of the game, in addition to "shooting" the other guy, is to try and look as grotesque as possible once you have been "shot." Most of Suchitoto's children have seen the ugly grimace of death up close and they know from experience that few bodies riddled with bullets and shrapnel ever look peaceful. A child who can't look properly mutilated or disfigured in "death" gets bad reviews from his ever-critical playmates.

"We Salvadorans are stupid, you know," said Cotto, sitting on the veranda of his Spanish colonial house on the edge of town. "We are killing ourselves while the world watches. It is insane."

It is also slightly bizarre and surrealistic.

Take Alejandro Cotto's back yard, for example. The well-manicured garden stretches for several hundred yards, past lily ponds, exotic plants, statues, and fountains. A stone walkway leads one down several levels of terraces to a bluff overlooking pristine Lago Suchitlan, the 12-mile long body of water separating the provinces of Cuscatlan and Chalatenango.

That in itself doesn't make Cotto's garden a metaphor for the chimerical qualities of El Salvador's revolution. But at night, when the chatter of machine guns can be heard in the black hills nearby and Cotto turns on the yellow, green and blue Malibu lights scattered strategically around the gurgling fountain and hanging ferns, it is somehow all very hallucinogenic.

"Aren't you afraid all these lights will attract gunfire?" asked one of Cotto's guests uneasily.

Cotto smiled benignly and poured himself a glass of brandy from a bottle that had been hand carried to Suchitoto from San Salvador.

"Let's put it this way," Cotto said. "The guerillas know where I live. And so the does the Army. If either wanted to get me, do you think these lights would make any difference?"

Actually, Cotto seems to be one of the few men of means in El Salvador the left hasn't targeted as an "enemy of the people." This despite the fact that Cotto has a brother who is a high-ranking colonel in the Army.

Another respected member of Suchitoto's rapidly dwindling populace is Padre Carlos Armando Recenos, the small wizened priest who ministers to the people's spiritual needs just as Cotto provides for their bodily wants.
Padre Carlos Armando Recenos

"My church is very busy these days," said Father Recenos, brushing dust from his soiled white surplice. "More and more people are coming in to pray for an end to the killing. People are getting tired of this violence. They are tired of the funerals and the grief. They want peace."

But peace is still far away for Suchitoto and even the church is not safe from attack. The priest before Father Recenos had dared to use his pulpit to speak out against the violence, blaming both the left and the right. He was subsequently told by both sides to leave town, or else.

"Maybe if nobody helps either side then maybe the left and right will eventually kill each other off and we will have peace again through attrition," said Father Recenos, waxing more political than is prudent for a priest in El Salvador these days.