Worse than 9/11

Benghazi’s place in American history is now well established.  Last week’s climax, the questioning of Hillary Clinton, only hammered home the importance of the 2012 Benghazi incident that left four diplomatic service members dead in an attack in war-torn Libya.

Some statistics found on the Internet:

Congressional Investigations, Hearings (deaths in parenthesis)

Benghazi — 8 investigations, 32 hearings (4)

9/11 — 2 investigations, 22 hearings (2,753)

Khobar Towers — 2 investigations, 14 hearings (20)

U.S.S. Cole — 2 investigations, 8 hearings (17)

Boston Marathon — 1 investigation, 5 hearings  (4)

Oklahoma City Bombing — 0 investigations, 9 hearings (168)

Embassy Bombings, Kenya and Tanzania — 0 investigations, 12 hearings (224)

WMD in Iraq — 0 investigations, 0 hearings (4,468 U.S. soldiers and up to a million Iraqi citizens).

Conclusion:  Benghazi by far is the most tragic, threatening event since World War II.  But draw your own conclusions.

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‘Fair and balanced’

Fox and other news organizations remind us daily they do “fair and balanced” reporting.  They tout it as the epitome of journalism.  While “fair and balanced” may sound good, it is a deplorable quality of news reporting.  It detracts from what was once the lofty goal of journalism — the search for truth.

Take a preposterous argument.  Political party “A” says Earth is round.  Party “B” says it is flat.  Party “A” displays photos of Earth from outer space, showing a blue cloud-laced planet and, above all, a round one.  Party “B” says the NASA photos are not of earth but have been cooked up by Photoshop as a liberal conspiracy.

The “fair and balanced” media will give both sides equal time.  In the end, there is no conclusion.  And the question remains:  Round or flat?  The reader or viewer is now confused and left to discern the truth on his own based on the only arguments presented.

What would a search for truth reveal?  It would reveal Party “A” is closest to the truth since Earth is ovate.  It would find Party “B” is decidely wrong and is obscuring reality for political purposes.

But too bad.  The media these days are so timid.  They fear offending segments of society and therefore losing advertising revenue.  This is particularly true with newspapers who are trying to survive the digital revolution.  They lose daily to less reliable Internet news organizations.  And cable news hungers for more viewers so they can keep raising advertising rates.

CNN is particularly bad.  Its anchors ask all the right questions but come up in the end with nothing close to truth.  Life is a mystery to CNN.

Fox on the other hand is totally lost in its right-wing bilge of lies and distortions.  And it has the gall to even call itself “fair and balanced.”  At least CNN is that.  The New York Times and a few other national papers like the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times can with some veracity say they “search for truth.”

Truth is a hard commodity to come by these days when Americans binge on receiving a large part of their news from social media.  One can only hope the “selfie generation” dies a quick death and a more truth-demanding group of Americans come to the fore.

At Omaha Beach

A now-serene Omaha Beach.
A now-serene Omaha Beach.

As a child living in a small Kansas town, my attachment to World II was strong and, I admit, romantic.

I drew war cartoons in pencil on cheap white paper.  Most of them were about air battles.  Hitler being shot dead.  Japanese “zeros” in flames, the slanty-eyed pilots writhing in pain.  U.S. soldiers always won of course.  They never bled.  I delivered the cartoons to neighbors while standing on the back of a tricycle pedaled by a friend.  I folded them up like a newspaper and threw them into the yards.

On summer evenings after supper, my parents would often go out into the front yard of our cottage and listen to war reports on the radio, which was set up in a bedroom window.  I don’t remember anything at all about the reports.  But I do remember the excitement I felt.  And I was content, if nothing else because we were a family, all together and safe, and I was rolling around on a green lawn.

One of a crew clipping grass around graves.
One of a crew clipping grass around graves.

Perhaps we were out in the yard on June 6, 1944, listening to Ed Murrow describe D-Day on the Normandy beaches in France.  Hemingway observed from a ship in the English Channel.  Maybe Murrow was there too.  Perhaps the reporting covered some of the blood-letting on Omaha Beach.

Jump ahead 71 years.  It is September 2015, and I am shuffling through the gray sand and rock of Omaha Beach.  Nebra is walking with me but I am enveloped in my own world.  I  wonder if I am stepping on a spot where someone died or was wounded.  I wonder if his spirit lingers around this spot.  I can’t say what Nebra is thinking.  Maybe she is thinking the very same things and of her Nebraska hometown of Omaha.

American Cemetery flag at half-mast for 9/11.
American Cemetery flag at half-mast for 9/11.

Omaha was one of five D-Day landing beaches.  It along with Utah Beach is where U.S. troops landed.  You hardly ever hear of Utah Beach.  “It was a cakewalk,” Gen. Omar Bradley was quoted as saying of Utah.  On the other hand, Bradley said, Omaha Beach was “a nightmare.”  Many U.S. casualties, many deaths.

From the beach, we walk uphill in green grass growing in sand toward high forests where German soldiers fired down on the beach.  Hedge rows abound.  They carry red fruit, like cherries.  It is idyllic.  We pass the Visitors Center and finally arrive at the American Cemetery, the one with all the white crosses overlooking the now tranquil blue sea.  The cemetery you likely see in magazines.

The crosses are perfectly aligned.  Even diagonally.  The lawn is immaculate.  It has been freshly mowed and a crew of men use mechanical blowers to disperse the clippings.  Another crew using stand-up tools snip blades of grass around the crosses where mowers can’t reach.  Crowds of visitors ease along paved pathways.  They seem solemn, reverent.  It is no place for joy.

Some venture out into the field of crosses to look more closely at the names, the dates of death, the home states.  I search for crosses from my native state of Kansas, and find a couple.  I locate the grave of Teddy Roosevelt’s son, Teddy Jr.  He was 57 with a heart problem and insisted on being there on D-Day.  He died on July 12 of ’44.

A Kansan buried here, either S/Sgt Bert E Hymer or Capt. James S. Hartzell. My notes are unclear which.
A Kansan buried here, either S/Sgt Bert E Hymer or Capt. James S. Hartzell. My notes are unclear which.

We tread along the paved path away from the sea.  An American flag is ahead.  I am startled to see it flying at half-mast atop a tall pole.  Nebra reminds me of the date.  September 11.  The 14th anniversary of 9/11.  Another layer of emotion sweeps over us.  We stop to take photos.

That night we come back to our comfortable room with neatly-trimmed lawns and orchards in back, and we stream the film, “Saving Private Ryan,” the one with Tom Hanks playing Capt. Miller.  It is sad and glorious at the same time.  Men on a mission, trying to do something humane in a crazy world of bombs and gunfire, blood and gory deaths.

I guess I will always hold fond those memories of long ago.  Out there on the green Bermuda grass of a safe summer, with my parents, listening to accounts of war amid the static of poor radio reception.

But now, having seen Omaha Beach, and truly understanding the dreadful price paid there, all the young men who may have changed the world but died there, that has left those childhood memories with a far less sentimental view of those years.

I wonder, knowing what I now know, what changes I would have made to those cartoons.

Trump and me

I’ve never met Donald Trump.  Seen him once like 32 years ago in Florida.  It was enough.

It was on Amelia Island, near Jacksonville.  Ritzy resort on the Atlantic, The Plantation.  They gave you a card key and you stumbled around the island with a map in search of your room.  I found mine.  Figure there’s still some guys out there in the trees by the cliffs looking for theirs.  I was there as a reporter to cover an important meeting of the United States Football League.  Surely you remember the USFL.  No?

The year escapes me.  Probably 1984, in the autumn when the weather was nice and the sea wind was kicking up whitecaps.

The league was abuzz about Trump’s joining them.  If nothing else he is exciting.  I remember waiting outside the room where the owners were meeting, and suddenly Trump comes out to make a call.  Yeah, no cellphones in those days.  Nice looking guy, lots a hair.   I couldn’t hear what was said, but Trump was animated.  Probably chatting about one of his real estate deals on another island, Manhattan.

The USFL fathers were innovators.  They created a professional football league that played in the spring, not like normal teams do in the fall.  I’m trying to remember where all the teams were.  Phoenix for sure.  Birmingham, Philadelphia, Oakland, Denver, Los Angeles, Tampa.  Even Portland and San Antonio belonged.  The idea was to compete with the established NFL, but no head to head.  At first.

That’s when Trump came along and destroyed it all.  He wanted to go mano a mano with the NFL.  Play in the fall, he said, and even owners followed the piper.  A 1986 fall season was “planned” to throw god-awful fear into the NFL.  Trump had acquired the New Jersey Generals, signed the Heisman Trophy winner, Herschel Walker, from Georgia.  Most of the owners didn’t have the dough to compete with him.  Or at least didn’t want to throw their fortunes away.

Toward the end of its fragile history, the USFL and Trump decided to bring an anti-trust suit against the NFL.  The game plan was not to keep playing in their own league.  They wanted money, compensation for discriminatory TV scheduling.  Trump thought he could leverage the NFL, get his own franchise among the big boys.  The case went to court in 1986.

I have a book, “The $1 League,” by Jim Byrne, a former PR guy for the USFL.  It tells it all.  A jury sided with the USFL and awarded the owners $1, which for legal reasons was tripled to $3.  The league folded on the spot.  Everyone lost money, including the Donald.  The irony is that Byrne’s hard-to-find book is worth about 75 times more than the entire disastrous league.

For all his self-described wealth, for all his charisma, Trump turned out to be a fool on that deal.  Thank’s for the memories, Donald.  My vote for President?  I don’t think so, even if Republicans are stupid enough to give you the nomination.  And they’re probably capable of doing that.

Happy October One

So happy to see we open another month with a mass killing.  This one in Oregon again, in a little place called Roseburg.  You have to admire America.  It sticks by its guns come hell or high water.

Fox “News” is at it again, defending guns and wanting even less laws.  CNN is again deploring the deaths of 13 students (or is it 10? no one seems to know), wringing hands, serious faces, so sorry for your loss, ma’am.  Ditto CNN.  Obama, same words this time as all the other mass murders, only with a little more edge.

Nothing changes.  Just waiting here in the desert for the next one.