Wednesday, June 23, 2010

History Lesson: 'Old Soldiers' Need to be Fired

The recent Rolling Stone article that has exposed a less than favorable view of President Obama, held by General McChrystal is not the first time that a president and a general have not agreed about how to best proceed with a war effort.

In 1951 America was locked into very similar situation, in the oft mentioned, never truly understood Korean War. A year earlier, President Harry S. Truman ordered General Douglas MacArthur to send arms and troops into South Korea, believing that Chinese leader, Mao Zedong might attempt to take Formosa (modern day Taiwan).  Once the United Nations Security Council signed on to the American strategy, by helping South Korea during conflict, it also named Gen. MacArthur as commander of United Nations forces in Korea (90 percent of them American...sound familiar?).

The infamous 38th parallel was the point of no return in this war. Truman wanted to unify the peninsula by force and supported UN forces to crossing the 38th parallel. During the war, American forces also attacked targets on the Yalu River, which was an important transportation link with China. Mao issued warnings publicly that his nation would not permit the continued bombing in that area, nor would they accept annihilation of North Korea. Officials in Washington and MacArthur ignored Mao's words. The wine jug of hubris was poured and poured heavily in the cups of diplomatic igorance.

In November of 1950, Chinese forces surprised MacArthur and his troops driving them back southward. MacArthur wanted to retaliate with a massive air attack on China.  Truman, soberly reflecting on the rising costs of the war rejected the general's suggestion.

By early 1951, forces were stabilized around the 38th parallel. There were negotiations with Washington and Moscow, but MacArthur still wanted to proceed with his air attack. The general made suggestions that Truman was practicing appeasement. By April, Truman had enough and back by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, fired the famous general. Truman took a hit in his popularity for the decision, some even call for impeachment. We know how history was likely one of the best moves of his administration.

Today President Obama is faced with a similar decision. I hope he listens to the voices of history and acts in a way that is both decisive and strong to match the poor judgment of General McChrystal.  Counterinsurgency strategy sounds a lot like the lofty notion of attacking China in 1950-51.

During his "farewell address" Gen. MacArthur said, "Old soldiers never die they just fade away."

I would add to this that old soldiers who display insubordination and poor judgment need to be fired.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sunday Mornings: Reflections on the Sacredness of Fatherhood

Sunday mornings growing up were some great days for me, primarily because I used to love the preparation for church. It was truly a ritual. For example, I remember vividly watching my father in the mirror shaving and eagerly awaiting my own portion of shaving cream that he would place on my small face. He also handed me my own razor (that still had the cap on it). Once I was ready, we began to shave. I mimicked his every razor stroke and face contortion.

Of course, I did not have anything to shave off (and wouldn't until I was almost thirty), but it was simply the fact that my father was doing it that made it something that I needed to do as well. After shaving, it was time to go check out our suits and then pick out ties...he tied a windsor knot and I had my clip-on ready. For years I wondered why my father didn't just get a clip-on like was so much easier I thought, but again, there was something magical about watching him tie his knot. The final preparation was putting on our shoes (that we shined to perfection Saturday night before bed). After we were dressed there was that last look in the mirror and the big smile on my fathers face, then his usual "Okay let's go!"

I am thankful to have such memories and the importance of them is not lost on me at all. As I get older those memories mean more and more. I cherish them. Living in a society that seems to want to daily reaffirm the notion that African American fatherlessness is some deep seated socio-cultural pathology, I recall Sunday mornings.

Someone asked me this weekend, "Vernon what are you going to get your father for Father's Day?" My response was "Nothing." They looked shocked and dismayed, so I qualified my statement by saying that "everyday is 'Father's Day' for me." I know that did not choose my father and ever since his illness almost claimed his life in 2005, our bond has been stronger. Each moment is a gift, and I am blessed.

The relationship between my father and I is likely the single most important human interaction in my short life. That is no disrespect to the influence of my dear mother, for she has also played an integral part in my maturation, but the father/son dynamic is just a different exchange.

Growing up in the church as I did, the scripture found in Proverbs 22:6 was something that was heard frequently, "train a child up the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it,"(NKJV). That scripture was not simply an indoctrination of parents, but also children. Well, it was more akin to a contract in my view, it was certainly no brain washing. We were ever cognizant of the symbiotic relationship within our families. Children were a direct reflection of parents and vice versa. So, there was always this sense of accountability that permeated the relationship with my father.

He has never asked anything of his family that he would not ask of himself. One of my lasting memories is of an exchange between my father and a friend of his. I grew up on a ranch of sorts and my father worked the hell out of me (the funny thing is that now I love working outside with him). I was outside cleaning the stables one day, moving one wheel barrel of horse manure after another, sweating in the summer heat and humidity of St. Louis, Missouri. I overheard the friend tell my father, "Vernon that boy of yours is doing a good job. He's still in school. He ain't never been locked up--and no babies running around. You did good by him." I thought about what he said and I agreed in a more self actualizing way akin more to arrogance, and thought to myself, "Yeah, I am a good son!"

My father's words took all the self-congratulatory wind out of my sails. "I've done okay by my son," he dryly responded, "but I won't know how I did by him until I see his children. If his children do well, then so did I." Hearing this, I was floored. In that one moment, the gravity of what fatherhood really was weighed on me like I was mythical Atlas. More than ever, I knew just how my future was tied to my father's. Being a father was a lot more serious than I had envisioned. It was not simply playing catch, nor helping with homework, learning how to ride a bike, or giving advice about relationships with women, or dealing with the politics of school/work/society, it was in fact all those things and much more.

Today, when I go home I see my father care for my paternal grandfather, Pastor John Mitchell, Sr., (who I call "Papa"), who is suffering from dementia. The three of us sit and talk, or try to. My grandfather is slowly starting to forget certain things, but I sit and marvel at the fact that we can sit--three generations of men in my family. I think about my friends who do not have the familial situation I have, and again I'm thankful. This is none of my doing, and I've done nothing to deserve the love I have been given.

During visits with my grandfather, my father cuts Papa's hair.  When I see my father cutting my grandfather's hair I remember my grandfather saying to me once, "Son, always remember, 'once a man twice a child, time brings about a change,'" explaining how we as human beings go through life strong once and in the winter of our years we are more dependent on others, just as a child is.

I recall Sunday mornings. I remember the ritual.

I can only hope and pray that when the time comes, I can be at least half the father my father is to me.
Creative Commons License
Negrointellectual by Vernon C. Mitchell, Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at