American Pride

Soon the season of patriotism will be upon us. Memorial Day will be followed shortly by Flag Day and the Fourth of July. Songs of civic glory will cause chests to swell. My children will cringe as always when I burst spontaneously into “America the Beautiful”.

However, you may cringe when I say I am not proud to be American. No, not the liberal “I’m ashamed of all the bad things my country has done” hogwash. But honestly, how can I take pride in an accident (or Providence) of birth? For the record, I’m not proud to be British either. There is no great accomplishment in living in a place long enough to be allowed to pay the government a substantial amount of money for the right to live there whenever I choose and vote.

Most national pride is an attempt to take some measure of credit for someone else’s meritorious actions. I recently heard an American mention to a Brit, “If it wasn’t for us, you’d be speaking German.” It was as if he had led a platoon onto the beaches of Normandy. We all want to be along for the ride. That would be the ride in the ticket-tape parade, not the the ride in amphibious landing craft or the armored personnel carrier.

There is a big difference between pride we assume for ourselves and the pride we have in others. The biblical example of the latter is voice of the Father at the baptism of Jesus saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The biblical examples of, and admonitions against, the former are manifold. It was, after all, the first sin.

I am not proud to be an American, but I’m  proud of lot of Americans. I’m thankful for my ancestors who fought  in various conflicts to defend their country. Some fought to stop unjust taxation without representation by Parliament and helped to form this nation. Some had to fight their own countrymen who misunderstood the voluntary compact of the US Constitution by the several sovereign states. They fought for a freedom still misunderstood and mischaracterised.

I’m not proud “we” beat the forces of Nazi Germany. I was not there. I am proud of my uncles and others who did, and I’m not ashamed to shed tears standing amongst the graves at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer. Lately I’ve been watching The Pacific mini-series and I’m proud of a lot of men who went through a lot of hardship and experienced dreadful things for a just cause.

I’m proud of men today like Capt. Jared Carter. I’ve known him since he was born and pray for him every day.  He and the soldiers for whom he is responsbile do their duty and serve their country wherever they are sent into harm’s way. My pride in them is not diminished by whether I agree with the policy decisions made by the administration of a Commander-in-Chief who often does not seem to look out for the best interests of the nation and of whom I am frequently less than proud.

During patriotism season we often focus on those in uniform, but I’m proud of a lot of other Americans who may not have assisted others in defending freedom, but have contributed in so many ways to make the United States a better place to live. They are farmers and factory workers, entrepreneurs and executives, and others in doubtless countless aliterative couplets of vocations who have made America great. There have even been  those who arrived from elsewhere and were unwelcomed by those already here because they were from Ireland or Italy,  Manchuria or some other place.

Because I have not achieved being an American though any heroics of my own, I am loathe to put stumbling blocks in front of those who have suffered hardship to also enjoy the American way of life. I am proud of those who have taken risks to bring their families to a place where there is greater opportunity for prosperity, even when the risk is being imprisoned and sent away by those who received those opportunities by accident or Providence. (I’m not sure if the greater shame is on those who believe in random chance or those who don’t.)

On the other hand, I’m not proud of those who have passed legislation to place greater (and often insurmountable) demands on those who would share in a prosperity and freedom not of the legislators’ own making. Yet their legislation is backed by the righteous indignation and incredulity of those who can’t understand why some people would rather live in the shadows and margins of America than in the place where, again by chance or Providence, they were born.

While I will try hard not to be proud, I am very thankful that I was born an American. I have been blessed to live most of my life in a place and under a government, that while far from perfect, is pretty good compared to the regimes under which most of the world’s population live. I’m very thankful to have been born American because otherwise it is more than likely I wouldn’t have the opportunity to be one.

Almost Everybody Wants Justice for the Gurkhas

It was the first time a Government has lost an Opposition Day Debate since James Callaghan was Prime Minister in January 1978. It was the first time the Liberal Democrats had won one since their formation. The Opposition get twenty legislative days scattered though each parliamentary session (each year) during which they can discuss topics they choose. The topic today was the treatment of the Gurkhas.

Some non-British readers may be unfamiliar with the Gurkhas. They are Nepalese recruits to the British army, a tradition that goes back to the 19th century.  Until 1947, their officers were always subordinate to British officers. Until 1997, they received a smaller pension than other members of the British army. Actually, unless they joined up after July 1997, they still receive a smaller pension.

The worst bit is that even after fighting for the British, they have had no right to settle in the United Kingdom. This has caused great consternation not only for the Gurkhas, but also for fair-minded British people across the political spectrum. The Government decided that Gurkhas retiring after 1997 would have the right of residency, but it has been happy to deport those who fought in the Second World War or the Falklands War. The High Court ruled last September that Gurkhas that left the army before 1997 had a right to residency as well, but the Home Office did not feel particularly compelled to obey the court’s ruling and said it would review its policy.

A couple of days ago, the Home Secretary said that she would now allow a few more Gukhas to settle – those that had won one of the top four bravery medals or had health problems as a direct consequence of their service or had served at least 20 years. That meant less than 100 would be eligible, since Gurkhas are not allowed to serve more than 15 years unless they are officers. Everyone except the Government was outraged. After all, those in the armed forces from any other Commonwealth country are eligible to live in the UK after four years service.

That’s why the debate was about the Government’s treatment of the Gurkhas, and that’s why the Government lost. Of course the vote is not binding on the Government. That’s why it is commonly said that we have an elected dictatorship. But the Immigration Minister did read an emergency statement to the House of Commons tonight that this would be reviewed again before Parliament breaks up for the summer. It’s a step in the right direction.

If all the Gurkhas and their families that want to settle in the UK did so (estimates are about 6000) it could cost the Government as much as £230 million. That sounds like a lot of money the Home Office wants to save the taxpayer. It does until you put it into perspective. The Home Office spent £150 million last year just on outside consultants. Another £540 million was lost last year when it was wrongly paid to Income Support and Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants. Then there are the billions and billions spent bailing out the banks and paying bankers’ bonuses.

So let’s see. Should we spend the money on consultants? Dole overpayments? Bankers? Or should we spend it on veterans of the British Army? It’s a no-brainer for most people. Except those in the Government of course.

No News is Old News

I suppose with the economy so bad, everyone too poor to make any real news. That must be the reason why Prince Harry has been at top of the news here.

I have to admit that I have been kind of amused at it all. The News of the World (Britain’s most salacious Sunday tabloid) broke the store, complete with accompanying video coverage, that Prince Harry used the word “Paki”. This is the British equivalent of the “N word”. BBC News picked it up and ran story after story, while at the same time running it blow by blow, over and over, on the tickertape at the botttom of the TV screen.

You would have thought he had been caught making a verbal racist attack. Actually, he used it to refer to a military cadet colleague, calling him “our little Paki friend” in his presence.  It was captured on a home video that someone decided to sell to the paper. You would have thought this was hot off the press – Saturday night’s party turned Sunday’s news. It happened three years ago.

That’s right. Nonetheless, Harry had to issue a very prompt and grovelling apology.  As we know, there are sins, and then there are some things almost unforgiveable, like unintentionally given offense to unrelated third parties by using a remark that someone (who really had no business seeing someone’s home video) three years later could interpret as racist.

Harry’s commanding officer is to give him a formal dressing down and the Prime Minister has had go on national TV and say he believes the Prince’s apology. Of course it isn’t good enough for some people. Muhammad Yaqoob Khan Abbasi, the father of Harry’s friend said, “Prince Harry should apologise to the Pakistani Army and to the Pakistani government for this. I cannot accept his apology unless they first accept his apology.” That’s right. If you insult any Pakistani anywhere in the world (even if they aren’t actually insulted) you need to apologise to the Pakistani government.

Coroners Must Not Explain Avoidable Deaths

The audacity of the British Government never ceases to amaze. Just when you think they couldn’t do anything more outrageous against truth and justice, they prove you wrong. It’s like, “You think that was bad? Watch this!”

When British soldiers are killed overseas, their bodies are flown into RAF Brize Norton. The problem is that Brize Norton is in Oxfordshire. That means that as soon as the corpse touches British soil, it is under the jurisdiction of the Oxfordshire coroner’s office. Deaths outside of Britain are subject to a coroner’s inquest to determine the cause and responsibility for the death.

If the responsibility for the deaths were entirely with the enemy,  there would be no problem. Unfortunately for the Ministry of Defence, Oxfordshire assistant deputy coroner Andrew Walker just digs a little too deep. He notices that but for a few simple things like lack basic equipment and flawed procedures, men would be alive. It’s not easy digging, because the MoD is intentionally obstructive in the collection of evidence.
Now Defence Secretary Des Browne is trying to gag coroners from criticising the Government or the military. He wants the High Court to order coroners to censor their findings. He wants them to be prevented from using language that makes him look bad.

Since a Coroner is no Civil Serf, the Government can’t use it’s usual strong arm tactics to shut them up.  As for people who ask too many questions who work for the MoD, they have Dr David Kelly to look to as an example.

What They’re Fighting For

I’ve been thinking about writing about something since I commented on Matt’s blog. Now having come across something else on Steve’s blog, especially as I am not a regular reader of The Independent, I am compelled to spout off.

I have much more of a problem with the war in Afghanistan than I do with the war in Iraq. Or perhaps I should phrase it more accurately: I have a bigger problem with propping up an Islamofascist regime where Christianity is illegal and evangelism or conversion (along with many other things) is punishable by death, than I do with propping up a regime that still has the potential for being an almost secular Muslim state where Christianity can still be practiced. As hope fades for the latter, my supports fades as well.

In the wake of 9/11 we (America and all our sympathetically outraged friends) needed some place to attack. You just can’t let something like that go unpunished. Even if you can’t find the actual culprits – or they deprived you of the right to string them up by killing themselves – somebody has to pay. The Taliban government of Afghanistan never attacked the US. It did allow the mostly Saudi-funded mostly Saudi terrorists a place to train, or at best didn’t actively get rid of them. However, it wasn’t a strategic ally of the US like other places they trained, such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. And never mind that the US Government funded the Taliban to push out the Soviets in the first place. No, Afghanistan drew the short straw.

And how dare the Taliban not give up power and walk away when they were told to do so by the US Government. Don’t they know that all countries are ultimately subject to the sovereignty of the United States, as there is no corner of the global that is outside “American interests”. Not that the US really wanted them to walk away. They needed to do some killing. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life, and all that.

Even though the US wouldn’t have taken on the 6th most populous country in the world – and a nookular power to boot – the military dictator of Pakistan quickly made sure he was on the right side of the Administration. The Wahabist absolutist monarchy of Saudi Arabia, with criminal law and social policies virtually the same as Afghanistan under the Taliban, knew that oil is a much more important export than heroin so they were safe. No matter that they actually provided the funding for extreme Islam around the world. Yep, Afghanistan definitely drew the short straw.

It seems to me that the case of Sayed Pervez Kambaksh is being a bit misrepresented in the headlines. He hasn’t been sentenced to death for just downloading and reading an article on women’s rights. No, he actually gave copies of it to other people. Islam respects the freedom of conscience. Kambaksh is allow to think whatever he likes. His truly fatal error was in telling someone else what he thought. That cannot be tolerated in liberated Afghanistan.

And that’s what US, British, and a handful of other forces are fighting to preserve. Not the democratic freedoms of the US or Britain or anywhere else. Not your freedom of speech. Not your freedom of the press. Not your freedom of religion. And certainly not anyone else’s. Aren’t you proud?

Nasty

I don’t care what you think about the conflict in Iraq and the part played by US or British forces, some things are just beyond the pale of acceptable behaviour. In the US there are people like Fred Phelps and their protests at funerals. But at least they have a cause, however repulsive and misguided.

In the UK, who needs a cause? It is just enough to be nasty.

From the Daily Telegraph:

Injured soldiers who lost their limbs fighting for their country have been driven from a swimming pool training session by jeering members of the public.