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December 13, 2005
Big NumbersBy Greyhawk
Anyone remember the incident resulting in the largest loss of life suffered by the US military over the past two decades?
Today is the 20th anniversary of the plane crash in Gander, Newfoundland, that claimed the lives of 248 soldiers -- all members of the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division heading home to Fort Campbell, Ky. -- along with eight crew members. The soldiers had just completed peacekeeping duties as part of a multinational force assigned to patrol the Sinai Peninsula. They arrived in Gander on an Arrow Air charter DC-8.That was yesterday's Washington Times. I'd have noted this yesterday, but time flies...
I was on active duty back then, too, and I remember the event. They were returning from a peace keeping mission in the Middle East. An odd thing that, from a day when our real foe was Communism. There were still plenty of people in the military who had fought Communism in Vietnam.
I remembered it too when less then two years later I went on a mission to Egypt, and stopped at Gander. Then spent some time in the desert, on a base that featured notable landmarks such as the burned out shell of a Russian aircraft to break the otherwise unremarkable plains of sand. We were exercising with the Egyptians, but the Russians had their ties with them too. We had to be closer, to stem the tide of Communism.
Here's the latest on Communism:
"How do you tell a Communist? Well, it's someone who reads Marx and Lenin," said Ronald Reagan. "And how do you tell an anti-Communist? It's someone who understands Marx and Lenin."That's a conservative estimate. According to some sources (see also definition here) the number could be as high as 260,000,000. For simplicity we could just round to a quarter billion.
From 1945 to 1987 the communists in Vietnam killed between 720 thousand and 3.6 million citizens - most in the purges following the overthrow of the South. They were pikers compared to the Soviet Union, whose estimated death toll is somewhere between 28 and 128 million - about half of those deaths occurred in "camps".
Reagan called them an "Evil Empire", and many sneered.
By 1990 I was fighting Communism more directly - in Korea, one of the last places we could really toe the line after the Soviets imploded. While there I saw the Berlin Wall come down - on TV - and the world rejoiced. But the North Korean propaganda we picked up assured us such would never be the case there.
The estimated number of deaths in Korea due to the communist regime between 1948 and 1987 were between 710 thousand and 3.5 million - since you asked.
But in the summer of 1990 I wasn't actually in Korea. I was sent away for Professional Military Education. For those unaware, those of us in uniform, regardless of branch, are periodically sent for training to prepare us for the next level of leadership we're expected to achieve. And that's where I was when Saddam invaded Kuwait.
"The greatest single threat we face in the world today," I distinctly recall an instructor telling the class, "is Communism."
The Soviet Union had fallen, freedom was breaking out all over Europe, and Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait. I recognized that it takes a while to update the approved syllabus for these types of courses, so being young and foolish I spoke up.
"I'm sure that's the answer, if we see that in the form of a written question somewhere," I noted, "but don't you think there might be other, greater threats now?"
"The greatest single threat we face in the world today," I distinctly recall the instructor repeating to the class, "is Communism."
And that's all he had to say about that. He was wrong, but it's hard to get past those big numbers.
By the way, it wasn't on the test.
In my two years in Korea I was never once personally thanked by a citizen of that land for helping prevent the southward spread of Communism. But that's okay.
The fact that they can do this without fear of death in a gulag is thanks enough:
About 4,500 demonstrators, according to police estimates, rallied outside the Pyeongtaek train station to protest the American plan to move forces to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek. A group called The Pan-Korean National Task Force Against Expansion of U.S. Bases in Pyeongtaek organized the protest.But wait, there's more:
In a show of support for the U.S. military Sunday, the Korean Veterans Association and Songtan Chamber of Commerce held a rally that drew a crowd police estimated at about 4,000 outside the main gate of Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek’s Songtan section.
On my way back from school to Korea in 1990 I spent some time at the airport in Tokyo. I was flying commercial because all the military transport aircraft were busy flying GIs to Saudi.
Between 3 and 10.5 million, if you were wondering the death toll caused by Japan between 1937 and 1945 - that excludes military deaths during combat. (see also here) My father and uncles helped bring an end to that (and also this) back in their day, and a few were still serving in Vietnam.
In WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, approximately 500,000 Americans died fighting totalitarian regimes.
In the 3+ years I've been in Germany, I've never once been personally thanked by a local for protecting them from Communism.
And that's okay.
Some fine day I may return to Iraq. A peaceful and prosperous Iraq. Few will thank me - and that's okay too.
But that's for the future. This is now
A number of scholars and former government officials take strong issue with the administration's warning about a new caliphate, and compare it to the fear of communism spread during the Cold War.Good - we plan on keeping it that way. And now back to Communism:
"How do you tell a Communist? Well, it's someone who reads Marx and Lenin," said Ronald Reagan. "And how do you tell an anti-Communist? It's someone who understands Marx and Lenin."
Coincidently, I almost forgot to mention the shape of the memorial to the hundreds of thousands of dead caused by these people:
The current plan calls for a 10-foot-tall bronze statue based on the "Goddess of Liberty" figure erected by the martyred Chinese students of Tiananmen Square.
Today, near the crash site, a memorial plaque lists the names of those killed. A monument of three figures has been erected there, too. It sends a clear message. A lone soldier holds hands with two children. One child's hand extends an olive branch.
Blessed are the peacemakers - we've always got an olive branch in one hand.
Posted by Greyhawk / December 13, 2005 7:33 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
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