Wednesday, December 30, 2009

"Flatbush," a song of Brooklyn

Stones of Dutch soldiers, Flatbush
photo by mike marcellino copyright 2009

by mike marcellino

Flew into New York
on the wings of Peter Pan.
Flew into New York
on the wings of Babylon.
A perfect trip, eleven minutes late.
Coastal Jersey the same,
belching chemicals and oil,
industrial desolation
in the boot deep down.

Flew into New York
on the wings of Peter Pan.
Flew into New York
on the wings of Babylon.
On the heels of Jupiter,
not a bad act to follow
on the right a Santa Anna’s
lighter green an' red, white
blazoned to the fire escape
of a third floor, dirty red brick
a place of West Indians,
a perfect spot for Jimmy Cliff.
Mariachi band fills the air

Flew into New York
on the wings of Peter Pan.
Flew into New York
on the wings of Babylon.
Soft good mornings in English,
more likely Patois
from darkened skins
standin' outside temples
ol' ladies an' gentlemen
takin’ numbers outside
for dinner
in a church
a redemption,
a revolution
a resurrection.
Flew into New York
on the wings of Peter Pan.
Flew into New York
on the wings of Babylon.
Walkin' on grave stones
a 17th Century soldiers'
worn blank
in this once 
'Vlacke bos'
Dutch land plain.

Flew into New York
on the wings of Peter Pan.
Flew into New York
on the wings of Babylon.
Jupiter on the right now,
not as bright
on this clear
and quiet night.

Flatbush,copyright by mike marcellino 2009
You may listen to the recording of "Flatbush" by folk band Mike Marcellino on our ReverbNation music site or on the music box at the top of this blog.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

"been down ta Las Cruces" by Mike Marcellino

Organ Mountains, Las Cruces, New Mexico

been down ta Las Cruces
by Mike Marcellino

A soldier's reflection:  From the Cold War to Vietnam and Afghanistan 

Written in 2007 by Mike Marcellino, the poetry song was originally recorded and performed by Mike's first band, Split Peace in Cleveland and again recorded by his new band, the Mike Marcellino Band, accompanied by musician Tomas Texino, composer and producer.

In the piece, Mike recalls living in Las Cruces, New Mexico, a few months after returning from the Vietnam War where he served in the U.S. Army as a combat correspondent and photojournalist.  He sent the winter a tiny trailer outside a small horse ranch in the desert hills near the Mexican border.  His most enjoyable time were walking through the desert hills and escaping to Juarez, Mexico, now one of the most violent places on earth.

You're invited to listen on the music player on Mike's Networked Blog, or visit our band website and be a fan of our new folk band.


Las Cruces is near the White Sands Missile Range and not far from McGregor Range, near El Paso, Texas.  It was on this range in 1967 that Mike, using a Pentax with a 300 mm lens, photographed in color and black and white the test firing of  Army Hawk missiles. The photos were picked up on the Associated Press wire and transmitted around the world.

For his first person story and photographs, published in "Army Times" and other newspapers, Mike accompanied a Hawk missile battery, part of the 32nd Army Air Defense Command stationed throughout in West Germany to defend against a possible attack by Soviet army during the Cold War.  This was before "the fall of the Berlin Wall" and the Soviet Union, reunifying East and West Germany.

Today, in part, the Army uses McGregor Range to practice urban warfare in a desert setting.  They call it "urban ops pursuit."  These soldiers and others like them are certainly tuning up for fighting in the Afghanistan War.  Some will die or be wounded in service to their country.

US Army National Guardsmen from C Company, 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry Regiment, dash out of a building in pursuit (US Army photo)

Meanwhile, here are the lyrics of a song written by a soldier just back the the Vietnam War, the nation's longest war, taking the lives of more than 58,000 American troops.

been down ta Las Cruces
by Mike Marcellino

been down ta Las Cruces
by Mike Marcellino

been down ta Las Cruces
one time,
down ta
sundown wine
color slide pictures
of mists rising from
the dusty brown
tumbleweed town.

been down ta Las Cruces
down ta the circle
of six can't stand up inside
beside the coral
sleeping in the afternoon.

been down ta Las Cruces
down ta walking
desert brush hills
with mountain lions
and pretty fast rabbits.

been down ta Las Cruces
waiting for spring
down ta
Sunland Park
quarter horses
getting lost in
lost in Juarez.

been down ta Las Cruces
down ta
my worn,
second field forces
sittin' in
the backyard
sun beatin' down
makin' me feel
warm again.
been down ta Las Cruces
one time.

Copyright Mike Marcellino, 2007

Friday, December 25, 2009

The fog of Afghanistan

War's outcome rests with people's will
By Mike Marcellino

Part 3 of a 3 part series on America’s course in the Afghanistan War

Today I was asked what at first seemed to be a simple question about a recent column I had written about America’s course in Afghanistan and the escalation of the war. The column was called, “Afghanistan: Different viewpoints, same ol’ same ol.’ The column cited a BBC of an interview with a senior American diplomat and Marine captain in Iraq and a Stars and Stripes story about what U. S. troops are encountering fighting and community building on the ground in Zabul Province, a Taliban stronghold.

“You have to ask yourself, ‘what are the major powers doing in a backwater such as Afghanistan??’” a reader asked. He used two question marks and I would see why trying to answer his question.

What we are doing in Afghanistan? Like some people say on Facebook about their relationships –“It’s complicated.”

One answer could be that the United States leaders fear facing hostel governments in the Middle East and South Asia threatening our oil supply (Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan).

A number of major powers have interests at stake, including the United States, Russia and China. In addition the struggle to control oil supplies, Russia and China have large Muslin minorities.

The answer may be the old Cold War “domino effect” is back in vogue in Washington. Politicians and military leaders had believed that if one country would fall to Communism then others would follow. This was the rationale for the Vietnam War, along with control of natural resources of Southeast Asia.

The United States feared the spread of Communism and yet, even though we lost the Vietnam War to the communists, other nations didn’t fall and the Soviet Union collapsed.

The decade long war in Southeast Asian cost 6 million lives, including 58,000 American troops. Some argue that just fighting against communism in the Vietnam War led to its collapse in the Soviet Union. Interestingly, Vietnam is now rather prosperous with many resorts on the South China Sea beaches and increasing tourism.

Since the beginning of the Middle East wars in the early 1990s, 
U. S. policy makers have put communism on the back burner and Islamic fundamentalist insurgents and terrorists on the forefront. Radical Islam is the “evil” we must confront with force, not communism, at least for the time being.

Afghanistan has been embroiled in political turmoil and war for 35 years with leftists, monarchists and Islamic fundamentalist and minorities battling for power. In the late 1970s the Soviet Union set up a communist government in Afghanistan. In a 9-year war, Afghan Islamic fighters, the mujahedeen, defeated the Soviet army. The country was devastated, as one million Afghans died and millions more fled the country as refugees.

Everyone agrees the present Afghan government is corrupt and lacks wide popular support. The country is rather lawless. Most of the people are poor and illiterate. The poppy crop supplies much of the heroin for the world’s illicit drug trade and funds the Taliban and other insurgents.

The answer may be that we’re convinced that in Afghanistan we’re in a holy war, with good fighting evil. Many fundamentalist Christians in the U. S. armed forces, including senior military leaders, believe they are engaged in a holy war.

Radical Islamic fundamentalist, principally al Qaeda and its supporters believe they are waging a holy war against the “infidels,” or non-Muslims.

One answer may be a resurrection of the Crusades of the 11th Century. Each side of course believes the other to be “infidels.”

Both “holy wars,” some historians and observers believe are rooted in the timeless desire for power and control, whether it be a cave, a country or the world.

Whatever the reason for the U. S. involvement in Afghanistan, we’ve decided that force and violence are the only solution. The 
U. S. won’t talk to the Taliban until they surrender and the Taliban won’t talk until the U. S. forces leave the country. There seems to be little attempt to break the deadlock.

Regardless of the answer to the question, ultimately the outcome of the war and the nature of Afghanistan will be determined by the Afghans.

The present U. S. strategy in Afghanistan seems to be predicated on the belief that we are engaged in a worldwide war against extremists, including the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

A few political leaders, even Vice President Joe Biden to an extent, along with senior diplomats, military and intelligence officers believe in a narrow focused strategy to defeat al Qaeda.

President Obama, Secretary Clinton and our military leaders have rejected that strategy, believing that Afghanistan is the den of al Qaeda.

As a result 30,000 more U. S. troops are going to Afghanistan bringing the total of 10,000. Next spring the U. S. plans to attack Taliban strongholds in rural and urban areas, beginning a new "ground up" strategy of rebuilding Afghanistan in the towns and villages.

We plan to step up the training of Afghan troops, start turning security over to them and in the middle of 2011 start withdrawing U. S. troop “if conditions on the ground permit.”

That’s the strategy the U. S. used in losing the Vietnam War. President Nixon called it “Vietnamization.”

South Vietnam had an army of two million, one of the largest in the world at the time of its defeat by North Vietnam, two years after U. S. troops withdrew.

The likelihood of the Afghan army being able to secure the country is questionable. Factionalism and lack of confidence in and corruption of the present government must be overcome. Afghanistan isn’t much of a nation for nation building.

“What are the major powers doing in the backwater of Afghanistan?”

“It’s complicated.

The outcome of the war is simpler.  It lies with the will of the Afghan people.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Afghanistan, Vietnam: "same ol', same ol'"

Troops war view differs from Washington 

by Mike Marcellino

Part 2 of a 3 part series on America's course in Afghanistan

The more leaders tell you things are "different" the more they seem the "same."

In a nutshell, that's what I'm piecing together in another installment of my series - "America's Course in Afghanistan."

In Vietnam, where I served in the U.S. Army as a combat correspondent at the height of the war in 1968, they told us the body counts, how we were killing them 10-1 or more.  The told us how most of the country was now "pacified." (Sometimes pacification took B-52 bombs, endless jet strikes, ship salvos, artillery fire and agent orange.)  They told us we're winning "the hearts and minds."

The more reading, the more recalling , the more researching, the more America's involvement and increasing escalation in the civil wars in Afghanistan and Vietnam fit a saying learned on the streets of Cleveland  - "same ol', same ol'. 

In today's interview with the BBC, Matthew Hol, an ex-Marine captain in Iraq who resigned as the senior civilian in Zabul Province, says only political action, not the troop surge, will settle the 35-year civil war in Afghanistan.  He also estimates 500,000 troops would be needed to subjugate the countryside. 

(See the BBC story)

More than 500,000 U.S. troops were in South Vietnam at the height of the war in 1968.  That effort allowed U.S. and South Vietnamese forces to control the major cities, but not the rural areas in a country of 65,000 square miles and 16 million people.  Afghanistan has nearly twice the land area (119,000 square miles) and population (30 million) and a terrain even more difficult, if that's possible.

President Obama and U.S. military leaders say the Afghanistan war isn't another Vietnam

(In the Vietnam War, U.S. troops pulled out in 1973 after a decade long war.  Three years later, the corrupt and controversial government and army of South Vietnam collapsed weeks after the North Vietnamese army invaded.)

A report November 12 "Stars and Stripes" from Zabul Province, a Taliban stronghold and route from Pakistan, American soldiers tell a view of the war much different from our leaders in Washington. It reminds me of that similar difference between the capital view and the reality on the ground in the war 40 years ago in South Vietnam.  

Drew Brown's interviews with soldiers from the U.S. Army's 5th Stryker Brigade from Ft. Lewis, WA, are telling in this excerpt -

“During the three-day mission in the Chinehs, a number of soldiers said that even though the area had been identified as a suspected Taliban stronghold, the villagers were the friendliest of any they had encountered in Zabul. But when officers asked about the Taliban, they were usually met with blank stares or polite, noncommittal responses. Most villagers denied knowing anything about the Taliban. Some made slashing motions across their throats. ‘You stay here for one and a half hours in our village, and when you leave, the Taliban will come in our homes and beat us or worse,’ said one man. Replied 2nd Lt. James Johnson, 23, of State College, Pa.: ‘Well, there’s nothing I can do to help you, if you don’t help yourselves.’”

(See "Stars and Stripes" story)

Sounds awfully familiar to me as I covered the Vietnam War as a US Army combat correspondent and my stories and photographs were often published in "Stars and Stripes."

It also seems, even with the surge of 30,000 more U. S. troops to total of 100,000 won't be enough.  As many as 500,000 (including Afghanistan government forces) may be needed to get the job done. The job being either defeating or at least beating the Taliban and other insurgent forces back enough to allow the Afghanistan army and police to keep the peace.

Though U. S. troops have been in Afghanistan for nine years, the effectiveness of Afghan security forces remains uncertain.  What's odd about that is Afghanistan's insurgent forces, the Islamic mujahedeen, defeated the Soviet Union in a nine year war ending in 1989.

In 1996, the Taliban, a radical Islamic group, came into power in Afghanistan, but, by 2001, with help from the United States, the Northern Alliance, a group of minorities, overthrew the Taliban.

While all this is pretty factual summary, if you stop to think about it, it sounds bizarre. It reminds me of the Abbott and Costello comedic question, "Who's on first?  Afghanistan also has the same chaotic ring of the Mexican revolution in the early 1920s,

The Afghanistan and Vietnam wars are also reminiscent of a scene in "Lawrence of Arabia." After the Arab army, led by British Maj. T. E. Lawrence, had defeated the Ottoman Empire, German ally in World War I, they couldn't get along well enough to keep the power on and water running in Damascus.

The winner in Afghanistan may be who is willing and able to fight and die and not give up.  One thing seems certain; people don't like to be occupied by foreign armies.  History tells us the people in far flung countries didn't like the oppressive rule of the emperors of Rome, and the Roman Empire collapsed.

In a recent commentary in "Dandelion Salad," an Internet blog highly critical of America's military involvement in the Afghanistan, Rick Rozoff indicates that documents show that Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal estimates a combined army of 500,000 U. S., Afghan and NATO forces will be needed to win the war.   

 A foreign soldier on the ground in a civil war quickly understands that the will of the people who live there decides the outcome.

In the Stars and Stripes story, an Afghan villager tells a US Army officer what it will take to end the war -

"We asked what can be done to improve your situation here," (1st Lt. Christopher) Franco said. "They said, ‘Our problems will be resolved when you guys leave and we can sit down and talk to the Taliban leaders.’ At least they were honest."

Mike Marcellino, a national award winning civilian journalist, served in the U. S. Army as a combat correspondent and photographer in the Vietnam War

Sunday, December 20, 2009

only tombs of unknown solidiers, a poem

A prose piece written by Gary Willmore, "Belfast 1972" and memories of 1968 and a night in a bunker on the Cambodian border in the Vietnam War led to writing this poem, naturally very late at night

Only tombs of unknown soldiers
by mike marcellino

Words spoken
thoughts bleed
broken men
survivors of patrol.

Words unspoken
thoughts bleed
cracked open
in the pitch
ambush of questions.

Words written
thoughts bleed
the conscience of war
only tombs of unknown soldiers.

only tombs of unknown soldiers copyright 2009 Mike Marcellino

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Year in Review: Mike Marcellino debuts with "Amelia Earhart, soft silver wings;" rises to #49 among Top Folk Artists in New York City

Love song to aviator Amelia Earhart, lost over the Pacific in 1937

Amelia Earhart, soft silver wings

Listeners comments:

Just listened to Amelia Earhart, Soft Silver Wings.....I love it. It's funny what you said about not having to do anything but listen. The music was so atmospheric; all I COULD do was listen....Beautiful - Julia Chapman, Bristol UK

Mike, if she were here your tribute would be painted on her left wing; her right wing would have inscribed the names of Nobel peace prize winners - Clarice, Grand Rapids, MI

Since releasing their first song in September 2009, Mike Marcellino with Ensor has risen to #49 of Top Folk Artists in New York City and in the top 6% on Global and National charts of ReverbNation.

Mike Marcellino, words, vocal
Tomas Texino - mandolin, composition and production
Recorded in St. Augustine Florida
Other songs of Mike Marcellino with Ensor -
Las Cruces
The walls of fire
Bondi beach

The lyrics - 
Amelia Earhart, soft silver wings
by mike marcellino

Amelia Earhart,
Love your picture
in flight.
Love your goggles,
love your lips.
Love how you circled the world,
single handed.

Like that leather
air cap.
You’re a goddess, a woman,
soft white,
ahead of your time,
such afterglow
in shinning armor.

Meet me on a northern coast,
not far from the equator,
above the island
where they made King Kong.

Your Atlantis, risen
in my South China Sea.

Oh, your last flight.
Oh your last flight.
What a night.
Looking at your picture
in my book,
soft silver
soft silver

Your lips, painted colors
light, pretty pink.
Those eyes,
Your nails, natural,
Taking you with me.
Soft silver
soft silver

Courage is the price that Life extracts for granting peace.
The soul that knows it not, knows no release.
From little things.
Knows not the livid loneliness of fear.
Not mountain heights where bitter joy can hear
The sound of wings.
How can life grant us boon of living, compensate
For dull grey ugliness and pregnant hate
Unless we dare
The soul’s dominion? Each time we make a choice, we pay
With courage to behold the restless day,
And count it fair. 
- Amelia Earhart, 1927

You made the crossing
not alone.
Meet you over the Atlantic.
Soft silver,
soft silver,
copyright Mike Marcellino amelia earhart, soft silver wings 2009

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Nobel Peace Prizes: 2009 and 1929

Hope for peace, 
the pact outlawing war  

by Mike Marcellino

In his speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize yesterday in OsloNorway, President Barack Obama reminded us that, at times, war is morally justified, to defeat evil in the world.  

Newspaper headlines reported that the President refused to renounce war.  Journalist wrote of the "irony" of the President receiving a prize for his efforts to bring peace days after ordering 30,000 more troops to the war in Afghanistan.  

Commentators said Obama had moved to the political center.  Critical reviews of his speech range from recalling President Kennedy to pronouncing it as "incoherent."  Some called it a d move to the political center in American politics.  Republican leaders cheered him.  Anti-war activists reeled in disbelief.

"Make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaida's leaders to lay down their arms," he said.  

To sort out something so perplexing, look to history.  

What is renouncing war?  What are the concepts of good and evil, peace and war all about in the context of American politics? 

Trying to understand the nature of these questions and possible answers may stem from another Nobel Peace Prize awarded 80 years ago and to times of torment our nation's history, as far back as the Civil War.

On December 10, 1929, Frank  Kellogg, all but forgotten, accepted the Nobel Peace Prize.  He stands in the shadow of a president who inspired millions of American voters in an election less than a year ago with his promise of change. 

Frank Billings Kellogg, former U. S. Secretary of State and  senator, accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to create a treaty, signed by 65 nations, renouncing war.  They include the United States and countries such as China, the Soviet Union and Afghanistan.  In part, the pact states a purpose of - "uniting the civilized nations of the world in a common renunciation of war as an instrument of their national policy" and condemning “recourse to war for the solution of international controversies. Nations agree to use pacific means to solve their differences.

Kellogg received the Peace Prize for being co-creator of the Briand-Kellogg Pact, also known as the Pact of Paris for his partner in peace was French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand.  

Kellogg was born in 1856 in PotsdamNew York into a nation divided over state's rights and slavery on the eve of the Civil War.  

Our terrible ordeal of brother fighting against brother, literally, cost the lives of 618,222 Americans -  Union and Confederate.  A single battle, Gettysburg, cost 40,350 lives in the Allegheny foothills of Pennsylvania, only a two-day march south to our nation's capital.  One civilian was killed, a woman, Mary Virginia Wade. Nine women disguised as men, died in battle.  

Frank grew up on a wheat farm in ElginMinnesota where he went to a country school until he was 14.  He entered a law office, studied using borrowed books and became a lawyer.

A Republican, he earned a reputation as "trust buster." On a mission from President Theodore Roosevelt he successfully prosecuted for restrain of trade the General Paper Company and later Union Pacific Oil and the Standard Oil Company.  He was appointed secretary of state by President Calvin Coolidge.  

Kellogg received the peace prize a decade after "The Great War."   To drum up support for American's entry into World War I, President Woodrow Wilson called it "the war to end all wars."  It took the lives of 17 million people, nearly 7 million civilians.  

The Great War, as if anything could be "great" about war, was triggered by the assassination of an archduke of Austria by a Serbian nationalist; the world was pretty much lined up.  On our side it was the Allies - the British Empire, Russia, France and Italy and the other side, the Central Powers - the remains of the Austria-Hungary, German and Ottoman Empires.

Some historians say the Great War was bred by imperialist foreign policy.  Perhaps it was caused by a militaristic mindset to settle disputes among people and nations.  

Kellogg's Nobel Prize for crafting a peace pact to outlaw war came at a time of turbulence in America.  Weeks earlier the stock market crashed on October 24th and 29th, "Black Tuesday" and "Black Thursday.  Recently, economic analysts contend the collapse of our wealth and financial system and the Great Depression came, not from economic weakness, but fear and panic.

In another decade, America would be embroiled in World War II - a struggle to defeat "evil" in the form of  mass murder, oppression and torture committed by Hitler and the Nazis, along with his fellow dictators and tyrants in the Axis.  

As many as 72 million people, military and civilian, were killed in World War II, making it the most deadly war in world history.  This includes the Nazi mass murder of 21 million people, including 6 million Jews. In addition, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, killed 21 million of his own people. 

Makes a person wonder if the world is headed in the right direction.  

Many social thinkers and politicians would dismiss Kellogg's efforts to convince nations to settle their differences peacefully as a fantasy and unrealistic.   

Kellogg did admit that the pact doesn't provide provisions to punish violators. 

Still, this little known secretary of state and Nobel Peace Prize recipient offers a mindset for peace.

In his Nobel Prize acceptance, he envisions how the treaty would be enforced by the will of the people -

" the end the abolition of war, the maintenance of world peace, the adjustment of international questions by pacific means will come through the force of public opinion, which controls nations and peoples - that public opinion which shapes our destinies and guides the progress of human affairs."

And, Kellogg described a mindset for peace -

"There will always be disputes between nations which, at times, will inflame the public and threaten conflicts, but the main thing is to educate the people of the world to be ever mindful that there are better means of settling such disputes than by war. It is by such means as the prize offered by your Committee that the attention of the world will be focused and that men and women will be inspired to greater efforts in the interest of peace. The churches, the peace societies, the schools and colleges should add their educational influence to this great movement."

Today, the 1928 Kellogg–Briand Pact remains a binding treaty under international law.  In the United States, it remains in force as federal law.

It remains a different mindset.

Copyright by Mike Marcellino 2009

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pearl Harbor: December 7, 1941

USS Cod 

A memoir: War and remembrance

by Mike Marcellino

I remember December 7, 1941, the day of the Japanese fleet's surprise attack on the U. S. base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in several personal ways, each one I treasure.

I remember friends who served in World War II, some living, most dead... attending Pear Harbor Day ceremonies at the U. S. Naval Reserve Center in Cleveland, representing the city of Cleveland and Congress as Liaison for Veteran and Military Affairs.

Each ceremony was a unique moment in time of war and remembrance.  I remember each occasion over 13 years, sometimes in sunshine, sometimes in snow, looking down from the deck of the USS Cod, the last intact submarine from World War II at wreaths of flowers floating on Lake Erie.

At times, the sunlight would flicker on the waters as the flowers were carried out to sea, a beautiful tribute to those lost at Pearl Harbor.

USS Cod today in Cleveland harbor.

America's war in Afghanistan: "Nothing is written"

Peace route in South Asia through India and Pakistan 

by Mike Marcellino 

Part 1 of a 3 part series on America's course in Afghanistan

Why can't the United States resolve human rights problems peacefully, without the use of force, any longer? 

Secretary Clinton says the U.S. won't talk unless the Taliban throws down their weapons (surrender). 

Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, says they won't talk until the U. S. and NATO forces leave Afghanistan (surrender). Oddly, Omar was America's friend when he lost an eye fighting against and Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s. 

And, the war and violence in Afghanistan and across the border in Pakistan escalates and widens. 

According to an article written by Raja Karthikeya in Asia Times Online Nov. 25, 2009, the way to peace in Afghanistan is through India and Pakistan.  Interestingly, the author never mentions the United States or NATO once in his article.

One wonders if American and European diplomats and political leaders are listening to the voices of reason, peace, history and politics of South Asia.  Afghanistan, Pakistan and India share that region, its history and current entanglements.  Granted Afghanistan has ties to the Middle East.  And as Karthikeya points out, the Taliban doesn't seem to fit anywhere, and appears to be more an ideology than a political movement. 

I highly recommend reading the article by Karthikeya, a researcher for the Center for Strategic Studies in Washington D.C.

Here's the link to the article -
A route for South Asian peace through Afghanistan

The historical problem with the view of United States' diplomats and political leaders is the function, for the most part with blinders on - seeing the word in America's view without really looking at nations through their eyes of their own people.

America hasn't always had her provincial blinders on.  Two cases in point that I can testify to from my experience in our national government as an aide to one of the most respected congressman and champions of human rights in our country's history.

In the past, the United States has ended oppression in the world without the use of military force. America brought freedom to Jews in the Soviet Union and ended the longest period of marshal law in world history, bringing freedom to the Taiwanese. 

I can vouch for the fact that oppression can be ended and peace achieved without a shot being fired.  

From 1983 to 1987, I served as an as an aide to former U. S. Congressman Louis Stokes of Ohio and worked successfully with many people in the United States and the world to resolve, without military force, critical human rights problems that at the time seemed insurmountable in the Soviet Union and Taiwan.  Both human rights matters existed within the backdrop of tensions over the Cold War and the threat of war between China and Taiwan. 

As an Englishman, "Lawrence of Arabia," (or, at least, actor Peter O'Toole in the Academy Award winning film), once said:  

"Nothing is written.

In my book, "Nothing is insurmountable."  

Copyright Mike Marcellino 2009

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Amanda Knox trial

"Facing-saving" Italian style?

by Mike Marcellino

Until now, I haven't followed the case of Amanda Knox, American exchange student found guilty of the murder of her roommate in an Italian "court."
A journalist friend from Cleveland caught my attention with this opinion piece in the New York Times by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Timothy Eagan, just before the verdict. It's an eye opener.  -

There are enough questions in the case to drive a more than a few trucks through. Until the Italian judicial system or government conducts a fair investigation of the murder and trial, I'm brewing drinking French roast, not Italian. 

As a newspaper reporter, I've covered just about every crime, including a double murder of a couple in Mentor, Ohio. Their son, H. Thomas Hoffman III, shot his parents as the slept in their bed, set fire to them and their house. He's still in prison I believe. The bizarre case, filled with kinky sex and such, was handled well by police, defense and prosecuting attorneys and the courts. 

In contrast, the case against Amanda was a travesty of justice, for - its lack of evidence; the soap opera Italian system of justice; the prosecutor's conduct better fitting a Godfather movie, complete with his contrived sexual demonic motive; the court's intimidation of the Knox family for an interview with a British newspaper; and letting a drifter off the hook though there was physical evidence linking him to the crime. The drifter fled to Germany where he was convicted of sexual assault and conspiracy in the throat slashing murder of Amanda's British roommate, Meredith Kercher. 

The loss of a young woman and the imprisonment of another, should be more than an Italian drama.

If “face saving,” as Eagan contends, is really more important in Italy than life and justice, for the record, my father is Sicilian, not Italian.  

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The surge in the Afghanistan War: And what then?

The war in Afghanistan:  a commentary 

by Mike Marcellino

A child is crying outside as I write this.
Don't know what to make of it, except I thought that a lot of children and other folks in the world are crying today.

How are you today?

I’m rather overwhelmed by thoughts of war, and have tomorrow night's radio show staring in the face.

Personally, I am rather ticked, thinking of reality of pouring 30,000 more US troops, plus 10,000 from other NATO countries into Afghanistan.
As I journalist I'm working on the story. I've found some very interesting facts and aspects that I think's been overlooked.

So here's my commentary prospect, off the cuff, riddled with past and recently acquired information stuffed into my Swiss cheese brain.

One simple question -

When, and it's only a question of when, U.S. and NATO forces pack their bags and leave Afghanistan?
And, what then?

Seems to boil down to what level of death and destruction the American people are willing to tolerate.

When the people, you know the “people,” the ones that actually fight America's wars. Call them “Joe six pack” if you like, reach their breaking point, they'll end the war, just like what they did with Vietnam. They'll end if and any politician who resists that tide will follow along or be swept away, out of office.

Like the TET offensive in Vietnam, all it will take to have a million people in DC is some terrible scenes on TV, like the ones on our screens during the 10 years of the nation's first television war and our longest war. Scenes like a dozen Viet Cong taking over the US Embassy in Saigon for a few minutes till they were wasted by U. S. troops, or and Afghan general on CNN shooting some Taliban guy point blank in the head with a 45, just like what happened in TET.

Remember there's nothing like the smell of napalm in the morning. It, it smells, “like victory” as that cool actor who's name always is missing, oh, Robert Du val. Now I know I'm on top of my game today. Anyway, the wars in Afghanistan and Vietnam reminds of instant replay, like on football.

How many people know, or even remember, that the Viet Cong, insurgents, our primary enemy in the Vietnam War, were wiped off the face of the earth during the TET offensive - a surprise attack by the combined forces of the VC and NVA (North Vietnamese Army), tens of thousands all across the country on the day of the cease fire for the Vietnamese New Year. Most all of the soldiers of the of South Vietnam (ARVN), the country we propped up for two decades or more, were at home bringing in the New Year. Can't image there was much to celebrate.

I wasn't on R & R surfing Bondi Beach that TET, I can tell you that. I was in a bunker at night out on the perimeter of a base camp at the tip of the Iron Triangle, a VC stronghold we never took, in charge of myself and two or three other GIs, because I had three stripes. Technically one stripe as I was a “specialist five” not a buck sergeant. I served in the United States Army as a combat correspondent and photojournalist for a year minus a seven day drop.

For the only time in a year, a call came in on the radio, soldiers affectionately called “a prick 29.” A voice I didn't know, someone in charge I guess, told me that 5,000 NVA regulars were headed for our base and I was on the perimeter. He said nothing more and I began to wonder if I could find the two wires and set the claymores off around the bunker. And wondered how well I could fire the l60 caliber light machine gun I'd never used.

Pounded by U. S. air strikes and artillery and the Big Red One, the First Infantry Division, the one Clint Eastwood was in, the North Vietnamese force overran the provincial capital instead. A lot of folks were killed, most of the civilians and I gave blood the next day in a hospital where an awfully pretty Philippine nurse I knew was a nurse.

America infantrymen, called “grunts,” artillerymen and jet fighter pilots kick the enemy's. And, all over South Vietnam our troops won every battle, decimating the entire Diet Cong, tens of thousands of “insurgents.” Funny, we never called them “insurgents” in Vietnam, that civil war.

We lost, though we won, perhaps one of America's most unequivocal military victories. And yet, we lost. The American people decided they had enough, enough of horror on their televisions, enough of death and destruction, enough of their sons and loved ones coming home in body bags.

Trouble is how many Americans actually know now what happened forty years ago in the rice paddies, mountains and jungles of South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos? How many really knew what happened then? I know there's some today with short memories, or prefer to short memories. Reality may not fit into their political agenda or scheme to win riches like rice and oil, power and control.

Well, at least we don't have to deal with the “domino theory” where if South Vietnam would fall to the communists other countries in Southeast Asia and other sort of free countries all over the world would follow.

No, now we have a 21st Century version of the Crusades and of course, a lot of oil in South Asia and not to mention Iran and Israel and nukes. Is our thinking really that clouded?

Tonight President Obama appears to be following the course of LBJ, President Johnson, for those who may not recognize LBJ. Sadly, look what happened to that strong-willed Texan. He died a broken man, agonizing over the Vietnam War, what might have been, or was it the more than 58,000 dead Americans, hundreds of thousands with lifelong wounds with hundreds of thousands more wandering the streets of America, many eaten away with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Well, I have my own theory without dominoes.

What would happen if we rounded up all the Taliban leaders, and as many fighters as we could and kind of throw a big and talk, play some music? You laugh? That I know of as far back as the Civil War, and in the world wars enemies shared coffee over a fire, even sang Christmas carols together, at night too dark to fight. I'm not aware of U. S. troops in Vietnam getting together with the VC or NVA, however. A sign of the changing times. You'd have to ask our troops in Afghanistan about that, though we trained and supplied many of the insurgents, like the leader of the Taliban, to fight the Russians back in the 1980s. 

My plan would be to keep the dinner going until we found a way to stop the war dead, or agree to stop fighting, at least until we got together for dinner again.

Does that sound impossible? No more so than the likelihood of victory on our present course. And, I thought the American people had elected a new president because he had some new ideas, maybe some peaceful ones, of ways to end wars and stop staring them.

Does anyone really think the Afghan army and police will hold on to their country once we leave? Do you really think the army and police of a country where three quarters of the people, most living in villages can win the hearts and minds?

Do you really think we can succeed when the Russians failed? Mikhail Gorbachev, Soviet leader at the time of their war in Afghanistan, does think so and he was quoted as such a few days ago.

After the last of U. S. combat troops left South Vietnam in 1973, did the South Vietnamese government survive? No. In 1975, the South Vietnamese Army folded their tents in face of an offensive by the North Vietnamese Army. Soldiers and politicians were the first to run and most of the only ones to get aboard the last U. S. helicopter out. I can still picture the television footage of that last chopper with people clinging to the skids.

Even one of our friends in Afghanistan, a warlord general turned politician, recently said flatly that the presence of US and NATO forces actually diminishes the will of Afghans to fight against the Taliban.

Afghans think it is now the war of the United States and NATO. Well, it is, isn't it? The real point is it's no the Afghans' war any more. So, it's not really about the Afghan people then, is it?

Making matters worse, the Taliban and other insurgency forces are killing Afghan civilians as a terror tactic to defeat the U. S. and NATO. And, their strategy is working. People believe, and it's hard to argue the point, that the insurgents will stop killing them, or at least not as much, when U. S. and NATO leave.

Now there's a military matter I must include. To an extent our soldiers don't have to aggressively fight the insurgents. We need to bring security to the cities and villages. Now this isn't easy mind you, especially in house to house fighting. Remember, the scenes on television from battles in Baghdad and Fallujah in the Iraq War? That kind of fighting is bloody awful.

And then there is the main Taliban, insurgent strategy – bombs, roadside, everywhere. Enough said. Then, war is hell.

If their present, illegally elected democratic government falls, will the Afghan people live in some degree of oppression? Yes. But ask yourself, how are they living now?

We'd be better off sending in 40,000 plows, rather than troops.

What would the Taliban do if we just started rebuilding, doing good things? At least other than defending ourselves. We'd be the “good guys” wouldn't we. Or at least we'd look more them.

What would the Taliban do if we started to relate to them as human beings, though one's we don't like and disagree with, rather than monsters?

Remember the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s? Many of the same insurgents, including the current leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, who defeated the Soviet Union were our friends against the Russians. Sounds rather twisted, doesn't it? Omar, a really tough guy, lost an eye defeating the Soviet Army. Just for the record, he's already quoted as saying we can't win.

How would the Afghan people react to a different course, activating my theory, of course?

How would the world react to a peace offensive, something never done before?

How would the world react if we started marching to the drumbeats of Gandhi and King, the spirits of Jesus, Buddha and Muhammed?

Maybe then, we'd have God on our side.

What would the Taliban do then?

Would it be better or worse?

It looks like we'll never find out.

Copyright by Mike Marcellino 2009