Our Soldiers, Our Thanks
Here's to the men who risk their lives to keep us free.
BY KARL ZINSMEISTER
Wednesday, November 26, 2003 12:01 a.m.
With Thanksgiving here, and the first American troops to deploy for the Iraq
War nearing their one-year anniversary overseas, it's a good time to
remember some families in this country to whom the rest of us owe a great
deal. Take the family of Sean Shields, a young American I encountered while
embedded with the 82nd Airborne Division. Lt. Shields, currently stationed
near Baghdad, is the third generation of his clan to serve in the U.S. Army
Sean's grandfather was one of the men who first created the stellar
reputation of the 82nd Airborne--parachuting into the critical battles of
Normandy and Nijmegen during World War II. Sean's father served in Gulf War
I, eventually retiring as a colonel. Now Sean is an Army Ranger doing his
share of the heavy lifting in Iraq. He has shaken off two roadside bombings
of his Humvee within a month, and soldiers on without complaint. There are
many such families in this country with a multigenerational tradition of
There are also many families who seem oblivious to this tradition. In his
recent book, "Keeping Faith," Frank Schaefer describes how, after he'd sent
other children to New York University and Georgetown, his affluent Boston
neighbors expressed disappointment at his son's decision to become a Marine.
"He's so bright and talented and could do anything!" blurted one man. "What
a waste!" A similar view is betrayed by New York Times reporter Chris Hedges
when he describes today's soldiers as "poor kids from Mississippi or Alabama
or Texas who could not get a decent job or health insurance and joined the
Army because it was all we offered them."
Are such impressions accurate? From my experiences observing American
soldiers--most recently as an embedded reporter in Iraq--my answer is an
emphatic "no." A much wider range of talented people serve in our military
than many realize. There are suburbanites, hillbillies, kids from concrete
canyons and farm boys in our fighting forces. I met graduates of tony
schools like Wesleyan and Cornell in Iraq, not only in the officer corps,
but in the ranks. I met disciplined immigrants from Colombia, Russia, Panama
and other places. Our battlefield computers, helicopters and radars are kept
humming by flocks of mechanical whizzes and high-tech aces.
I know of a man who was most of the way through a Ph.D. at Fordham
University when, looking for a more active and patriotic career, he decided
he'd like to start jumping out of airplanes with the 82nd Airborne. He came
in not as an officer but as a private. Four years later, he is a highly
competent sergeant. I learned about the son of an engineer and a nursing
supervisor who had glided through his school's gifted-student program before
landing a job as an open-heart-surgery technician. Then the Sept. 11 attacks
convinced him that his country needed him for more important work. He is now
a medic in the 82nd Airborne, hoping for an eventual career as an Army
A few years ago, I interviewed Gen. John Abizaid, now America's top military
officer in the Middle East. He had entered West Point in 1969, and noted
that at that time the academy had to accept every minimally qualified
applicant just to fill his class. Today, entry into our military academies
is prized as much as admission to an Ivy League school. That's a clear
indicator of how support for the military has rebounded in this country
since our Vietnam-era lows--and it hints at the quality of the individuals
who flow into our armed forces at all levels.
Our soldiers aren't all saints and scholars, but the base of our military
pyramid is full of impressive individuals. There are also many unusually
talented men and women at the middle and top of the command structure. The
commanders of our troops in Iraq today are instructive examples. Brig. Gen.
Martin Dempsey, who leads the First Armored Division in Baghdad, has earned,
in addition to his military achievements, three separate master's degrees.
Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, whose leadership of the 101st Airborne has
temporarily made him the prince of northern Iraq, is well equipped for that
task thanks to, among other credentials, a Ph.D. in international relations
from Princeton (which he earned two years faster than most doctoral
candidates). The commander of our third full division in Iraq, Maj. Gen.
Raymond Odierno of the Fourth Infantry Division, has a master's in nuclear
Independent thinking by line soldiers is not only tolerated in our armed
forces, it is required by the new freelancing style of warfare. Outsiders
who envision our fighting forces as authoritarian institutions would be
surprised to observe the meritocratic nature of our military in action.
Obstacles are generally surmounted after open, democratic-style contention
among competing views. I witnessed many spirited debates--among officers in
the command tents as well as between privates and sergeants--over the best
ways to achieve important objectives. The general modus operandi is
competition: "May the smartest idea, and biggest bicep, win."
America's soldiers have the skills to fly missiles into designated windows
and squeeze off one-mile sniper shots. They have the openness and democratic
habits to serve as good representatives of our liberal society. And they are
also admirable on a third front: for their moral idealism.
Hollywood war stories like "Saving Private Ryan" and "Black Hawk Down"
promulgate the notion that contemporary soldiers fight not for cause and
country but simply for the survival of themselves and their buddies. But
most American soldiers are quite conscious of the titanic clash of moral
universes that lies behind today's U.S. venture into the Middle East. They
are not only aware of the historical importance of this fight, but proud of
their role in it, and broadly motivated by high principles extending far
beyond self preservation.
Gregory Kolodciejczky was a New York City fireman. When the Twin Towers went
down, 14 men from his stationhouse were killed, and he decided to help make
sure the events of that day would never be replayed in his country. At age
32 he chucked everything and started a new career as a paratrooper. He
believes that by fighting in Iraq he is honoring the memory of his dead
friends, and helping protect Americans from future acts of terror. I know
numerous soldiers who put aside well-paying jobs, family life, graduate
school and comfortable careers after concluding, in the wake of Sept. 11,
that their country needed their military service.
Families of some of the soldiers I've reported on have shared their letters
home with me, and many of these reflect the rectitude of those men and
women. Lt. John Gibson of the 82nd's 325th Regiment wrote his parents on his
birthday this summer that "we are homesick and want to see our families and
loved ones, but not at the expense of an incomplete mission. I know that a
completely free and democratic Iraq may not be in place by the time that I
leave, but it will be significantly under way before I am redeployed. I see
things here, on a daily basis, that hurt the human heart. I see poverty,
crime, terrorism, murder, and stupidity. However, I see hope in the eyes of
many Iraqis, hope for a chance to govern themselves. I think they are on the
cusp of a new adventure, a chance for an entire country to start over
Pvt. Melville Johnson of the 82nd Airborne reflected on his time in combat
this way: "I feel Iraq has real potential for the future--with the help of
the U.S. military, humanitarian agencies, and the installation of a just,
fair, and compassionate government. I feel tremendously for the American
families that lost a loved one. I also feel for the families of the enemy.
At night, before I rest, I think of the enemy we killed. I remember the way
their bodies lay in unnatural states, positions God never intended them to
take. I hope these images will soon fade. But would I willingly, happily,
and completely fight this war again? Yes, I would do it all over again with
just as much, or more, determination."
The patriot Thomas Paine once said, "If there must be trouble, let it be in
my day, so that my children may have peace." This is a creed many soldiers
adhere to quite literally. To a man, the deployed GIs I know tell me they
don't want any waffling or hesitation about finishing the job in Iraq. They
say it is much less important that the Iraqi war be over soon than that it
be successful, and they know that will take time.
Amid the sour soap opera of Jessica Lynch, Americans should remember that
there are many U.S. soldiers who displayed real self-sacrificial heroism in
the Iraq War. Just among the 82nd Airborne there are men like Medic Alan
Babin, who left a covered position and exposed himself on the battlefield to
come to the aid of another soldier. He was shot in the abdomen and is now
fighting his way back from the loss of numerous organs, several full-body
arrests and 20 operations.
When you talk to our wounded soldiers they say, astonishingly, that they
don't regret the fight. Almost universally, they say they are anxious to
return to their units as soon as possible. Most American warriors subscribe
to the words of John Stuart Mill: "War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest
of things. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight,
nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable
creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the
exertions of better men than himself."
It's easy for critics on both the left and right to convince themselves that
the U.S. is a decadent society, that our young people have gone soft, that
we will never have another generation like the men who climbed the cliffs at
Normandy. That judgment, I'm here to report, is utterly wrong. We've got
soldiers in uniform today whom Americans can trust with any responsibility,
any difficulty, any mortal challenge.
At the end of this strenuous year, we give thanks for them.
Mr. Zinsmeister, editor in chief of The American Enterprise, is author of
"Boots on the Ground: A Month With the 82nd Airborne in the Battle for
Iraq," just published by Truman Talley
(Cortrsía de Alberto Luzárraga)
Post by Jaltevapark
Avances educacionales de Cuba también benefician a otros países
Buenos Aires, 28 de noviembre.- El ministro cubano de educación superior,
Fernando Vecino Alegret, aseguró aquí que los avances de Cuba en materia
educacional y científica también benefician a otros países.
Al hablar anoche en la Universidad Popular de Madres de Plaza de Mayo en esta
capital, el titular explicó el desarrollo de la educación en la Isla desde la
campaña de alfabetización realizada en 1961 hasta el presente.
Asimismo, destacó el papel de esa esfera en la formación de las nuevas
generaciones y subrayó que un sistema educacional tiene que ser capaz de evitar
que la juventud llegue a delinquir.
Vecino Alegret se refirió al reconocimiento internacional recibido por Cuba
como el país latinoamericano más avanzado en materia educacional, pero subrayó
que "todavía seguimos buscando deficiencias para perfeccionar el sistema".
El ministro dijo que uno de los principales empeños de la Revolución cubana ha
sido la creación de un verdadero capital humano, como lo demuestra la
existencia de 700 mil graduados universitarios, y resaltó la importancia del
movimiento estudiantil en ese sentido.
También recordó las luchas de los estudiantes en la historia cubana, a figuras
como Julio Antonio Mella, asesinado en México, y diversas referencias del
guerrillero argentino-cubano, Ernesto Che Guevara, al papel de la educación en
el progreso social.
En esa misma línea histórica, Vecino Alegret rindió tributo a los ocho
estudiantes de medicina asesinados por el colonialismo español el 27 de
noviembre de 1871 y consideró que "estar aquí hoy en la Universidad de las
Madres de Plaza de Mayo es un homenaje" a esos jóvenes.
Más adelante, el ministro dio detalles sobre los más recientes avances de la
educación en Cuba, la reducción a 20 del número de estudiantes por aula en la
enseñanza primaria y la formación de contingentes de maestros, así como de
trabajadores sociales para luchar contra los problemas más agudos.
Para tener una educación superior de gran calidad hay que tener buena enseñanza
primaria, secundaria y preuniversitaria, apuntó.
De la misma manera destacó la creación de la Universidad Popular en beneficio
de la tercera edad, el desarrollo de la investigación científica y el creciente
peso de los universitarios en la economía.
Vecino Alegret informó que en la actualidad más de 15 mil alumnos extranjeros
estudian gratuitamente en instituciones cubanas de educación superior.
El ministro cubano llegó ayer a Buenos Aires para entrevistarse con el titular
argentino de educación, Daniel Filmus.
Antes participó en Brasil en el seminario internacional Universidad XXI,
dedicado a analizar las perspectivas y desafíos de esos centros de estudio en
el presente siglo. (PL)
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