Category Archives: Politics

Concord Bridge vs. Kabul, Afghanistan: Where’s Solomon When We Need Him?

Concord Bridge vs. Kabul, Afghanistan: Where’s Solomon When We Need Him


The 4th Grade of St. John’s Grammar School: 1946

(“X” = The Author)

          Back in the Fourth Grade, at St. John’s Grammar School in West Fitchburg, circa 1946, the nuns taught us American History. One day, someone in the class asked how the American Colonists won the Revolutionary War. We knew they were mostly farmers and merchants, and up against England, the greatest military power of that time. Sister Mary Cornelia acknowledged that was a good question, and helped us compile a list on the blackboard of all the reasons we thought that the English lost the American Revolution, and the Thirteen Colonies won and became the United States of America.

Recently,  I’ve been thinking about that list we compiled so many years ago, and comparing it to the existing situation in Afghanistan. I wondered if any of those nearly 250 year old reasons are still valid. I think enough of them are to warrant consideration today.

I’ve updated the language, but basically we Fourth Graders agreed that:

1. The English believed they were fighting for an ideal: To preserve their Empire. The Colonists believed they were fighting for their homeland.

2. The English were far from home, and it was difficult, dangerous, and expensive to resupply them.

3. The English were fighting an entirely different war than they had ever fought before. They were used to civilized gentlemen lining up on opposite sides of a field, and shooting at one another, until it was time to march forward, and close with the enemy, in formation, accompanied by bugles and drums. These American Colonists had learned to fight like the Indians, from behind trees and rocks. They were masters of camouflage and the ambush. They made no noises to alert the enemy of their arrival, and disappeared silently into the woodland when they were done.

4. The English had modern, heavy weapons, cannons and mortars and such; but they weren’t very useful against the Colonists who avoided open confrontation. The Colonists struck and fought from cover and concealment, and then faded away to fight another day.

The term “asymmetrical warfare” had not been invented yet, nor had “guerrilla warfare” or “insurgencies,” but the American Colonists understood these concepts: When the odds are lop-sided and stacked against you, make the other side fight the war the way you want to fight it: The way you think you can win.

5. The American Colonists knew the terrain. It was their land, and they could get from here to there a lot faster than organized military units could, marching down public, and dangerous, roads fraught with ambushes and traps.

6. The English couldn’t distinguish the farmers, who saluted them by day as they marched past their fields, from the armed bands that came out at night to wreak violence upon them.

7. The American Colonists could live off the land, and find support at nearly every farmhouse and village. The English got no such support unless they took it, and that just made matters worse.

8. The American Colonists were armed, experienced hunters, and comfortable in their own wild. “Marksmanship was valued,” someone once wrote, “because they had to buy their own lead and make their own bullets.”

9. The families back home in England were tired of their children being wounded and killed by this ragtag band of farmers, and at the vast amounts of money being wasted over here that could be better used at home.

10. The English Parliament, like the English citizenry, grew lukewarm to the entire action over time. They started thinking, in an expression used at the time, “The game is not worth the candle.” One historian wrote that it wasn’t so much the Colonials won the War as it was the English lost it, after becoming tired, demoralized, and worn out from fighting it.

Now, not all these points may be applicable to Afghanistan, and there are many differences between the two situations. The American Colonists, for example, did not fight for the “freedom” to go back years in time to live in comparative ignorance, with large segments of their population poor, uneducated, living in hovels, without medical care, and avoiding all kinds of central authority, except their own zealous religious governance.

The American Colonists wanted their freedom first and foremost. They wanted their own modern economy, the freedom to vote for whomever they wanted, the independence from taxes and imported laws that made little sense over here. They didn’t want religious governance, they’d govern themselves. They saw themselves competing with the English as social, economic and intellectual equals, not fighting them.

But even so, there are enough similarities, beginning with spending our blood and our treasure, and experiencing all the misery, to consider now in Afghanistan the question the English had to consider so long ago:

Is this game worth the candle? Do we belong there? Is it worth our lives, our fortune, our sacred honor? Should we force democracy upon a people who don’t understand it, don’t respect it, and don’t want it?

Can we ever succeed anyway, when we are hard pressed to even define success? Can we negotiate with corrupt religious fanatics and tribal zealots? When we leave, will the Afghans go right back to what they were before we got there – as they have always done? That’s what happened when the Russians left in 1989, and the British left in 1919, and countless others left, as far back as Alexander the Great, in 330BC.

A U.S. Marine officer who met with Afghan tribal elders recently, said he was told: “You Americans have the watches, but we Afghans have the time.”

As Sister Mary Cornelia asked that Fourth Grade class nearly seventy years ago: “Given all that, what would you do?”

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Filed under History, Philosophy, Politics

Facts, Statistics, and Other Lies for Our Time

“Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics!”  Mark Twain accused 19th century politicians of this, just as Disraeli accused 19th British parliamentarians. There is not much new under the sun. It might, however, have grown worse.

We live in an age when Trust has been threatened at almost every level of our existence. We have been lied to by our governments, churches, employers, unions, lawyers, drug companies, the military, media, family members, and the people next door. We have grown cynical; but, as Voltaire famously said: “Cynicism is betrayed Idealism.”

This is partly due to the fact that we know more about what’s going on topside, and around the world, than ever before in human history. We have a 24 hour news cycle, social media, whistle blowers galore, and the ability to fact check almost anybody and anything we take the time to Google. As new technologies bring us more information, and new techniques to check out that information, the situation will become more intense. We run the risk of sensory overload.

It is a bad time to tell each other outright lies. First, because it’s wrong. Second, because we’ll get caught. But as we have seen in the recent political debates, one does not have to tell outright lies. One can misrepresent an issue by simply massaging, or “spinning” it, to achieve the intended purpose. It can also be done by telling the truth, but only that part of the truth which supports a position. I’m reminded of the old saw: “Statistics don’t lie, but if you present them properly, it’s almost as good.”

For openers, it really helps to have a competent and devoted staff. These people can sift through hours of taped speeches, transcripts  and interviews, looking for the slip or error that can used to raise questions in the public’s mind. Everything anybody says, writes, and does is on record somewhere, waiting to be discovered.

As I watched the recent political debates, I jotted down several ways that someone can gain an edge, and how the truth can be manipulated to serve one’s purpose:

1. Quote out of context: This is the most common effort to deceive. You just take one isolated phrase or sentence, regardless of the language and intent surrounding it, and quote it to make your point. Suppose I was a candidate and I said: “There’s no reason for me to be a citizen if I can’t vote, exercise my God-given freedoms, and support the Constitution.”

You might report: “Candidate renounces America saying, ‘There’s no reason for me to be a citizen…'”

Or, you might try a teaser line: “‘There’s no reason for me to be a citizen.’ Did candidate renounce America?”

2. Pick the most favorable study: We all know that God made too many MBAs, and there’s not enough useful work for them to do. So, they find work  like annoying people at home during the dinner hour conducting public opinion polls. Suppose they asked someone: “Will you vote for Senator Blitz?” And the correspondent replied: “I’ll vote for Senator Blitz when it snows in July.” Given the anti-Blitz organization the pollster might be working for, they could record that answer as: “I’ll vote for Senator Blitz….”

You can find all sorts of such biased survey efforts on-line and on YouTube. I recently saw two well made videos which proved conclusively that a certain presidential candidate is “The Anti-Christ” (supported by Biblical prophecy no less; taken out of context naturally). There was another video on there proving, also conclusively, that this same candidate was really Osama Bin Laden, who had faked his own death and was now vying for the Oval Office). As they say: “Really?”

You just find the survey that you like on-line, the one that plays to your own fantasies, opinions and biases, and quote it loud and often.

3. Take a new view of the statistics, or rebut them with anecdotal evidence. Let’s say I’m mayor of a city of 50,000 people, and that due to my administration’s efforts, 99% of the adult citizenry is employed, housed, cared for, and well fed. I’m untouchable, right? Not at all. You just show a picture of one hard luck family and say (truthfully): “Over 500 families in our city, our friends, and neighbors, are going to bed hungry and cold tonight.” That 1% who are below the line might well do me in.

4. Make stuff up. I read somewhere that over 92% of all statistics quoted in presentations, debates, and arguments are made up on the spot. I just made that up, but the point is valid. Why would someone do that? To prove a point or win an argument, knowing that somehow their “win” tonight may be headline news tomorrow, while the later correction next week may appear on page 6.

Think the statistic through. What if I told you that 50% of all marriages end in divorce but, worse yet, the other 50% end in death?

5.There is a dark side to everything.  Find it. Emphasize the downside. When it comes to your record, Point with Pride. When it comes to your opponent’s record, View with Alarm. Remember the joke about how Jesus’ enemies reported His walking on the Sea of Galilee: “Alleged Savior Can’t Swim!”

6. Take umbrage at accusations you  cannot answer. Drawing oneself up in a dignified way and responding: “That you would say something like that about my staff and supporters, family and friends, and the American public, is offensive and  indefensible. I won’t dignify that with an answer.”

7. Create a Strawman: Exaggerate your opponent’s position on some controversial issue, and then attack your own creation. Let’s say your opponent favors a path to citizenship for undocumented aliens. One might say: “My opponent supports illegal immigration. Maybe he thinks we should just throw open the borders and let everyone come here. Maybe he thinks it’s fair to punish the legitimate immigrants who have followed our laws and tried to come here in a responsible and fair way. What happens if everybody comes here as they please? There will be no jobs, more crime, overcrowded cities, and you won’t be able to complain about it because no one speaks English!”

8. Attack the speaker: If you can’t attack the message, attack the messenger: “Isn’t that typical of a man who moved to Canada to escape serving his county? A self-proclaimed intellectual who flunked out of  college? A “family values” man, with 3 failed marriages behind him?”

9. Go for the one-liner: People love a crushing line, especially one that seems spontaneous: Lloyd Bentsen’s, “You’re no Jack Kennedy,” is a classic example. As was Ronald Reagan’s “There you go again.” Don’t overdo it. Such lines are a rich spice and cannot be overused, but having a few in reserve never hurts.

10. Finally, wrap yourself in the flag, faith and family. Back in the Fifties, they used to say: “Support Mom, Apple Pie, and the Flag. Viciously attack the Killer Shark.” Thank everybody in sight. Remember to honor “those who serve.” Toast freedom, opportunity, and remind everyone to keep God and Country first in their hearts and minds.

Smile, look confidant (as though you’ve won), and stay on for a bit to press the flesh. Then go home and get out a news release heralding your victory: After all,  you won.

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Filed under Humor, Politics

Political Advertising: Worthwhile?

Perhaps the biggest change in human discourse I have seen over the years, is the current lack of civility in the public dialogue. I sometimes feel that people aren’t working to solve  problems, they’re just trying to win.

In one of the most emotional confrontations of our time, the abortion issue, people go out of their way to demonize each other and make over-the-top claims like: “We won’t negotiate with Evil!” and “They are walking over poor and down-trodden women to fulfill their personal agendas.”

Really? That kind of talk is merely playing to the base. I doubt if such rhetoric ever changed one single mind. What if both sides sat down at a table and tried to work out a solution , even a gradual solution, that both sides could live with? Isn’t even a step or two preferable to no forward movement at all? Won’t you at least try?

In the political arena, it gets worse. I have given up on political advertising completely. They should save the millions they waste on it and give that to people that could use it. I say  this because:

1. All political advertising is negative. They don’t tell me about the strengths and advantages of their people and plans, they tell me what’s wrong with the people and plans on the other side. Look at the “big” issues they got us wound up about this year: Birth certificates? A candidate’s tax rate? Bad behavior and tempest-in-a-teapot scandals? Where are the plans to resolve the issues I worry about: The economy, jobs, war(s) and potential war(s), terrorism, a crumbling infrastructure, sub-standard schools, and a steadily dimming future for my grandchildren?

And by the way, I’d rather know what safeguards I have for survival during my senior years than who said or did something stupid in  a bar or hotel room.

Many years ago, I worked for a successful business executive who gave me four bits of communications insight:

1. “Get them all excited about the mice, and you can sneak the elephants by them.”

2. “If they don’t ask you the question you want, pretend they did, and answer it.”

3. “Every morning the Lord gives you a loaded six gun to get you through the day. If you waste your bullets plinking at rabbits, you’ll have nothing left when the bears come.”

4. All exposition is “View with Pride,” or “Point with Alarm.” When your record is on the table, “Point with Pride.” When their record is on the table, “View with Alarm.”

2. They all lie. In addition to being negative, the ads on both sides contain untruths ranging from the trivial to the extreme. They exaggerate failures, minimize accomplishments, and take things out of context.

I just read a piece about a New York theater critic who saw a show and called it a “Staggering disappointment!”  Later that week, he saw his name and review quoted in an advertisement for the show. It read simply: “Staggering…!”

What’s the answer? Once again, we go back to basics: Respect the rights of other people to feel as they do (America was built on that), be positive, have a plan and be prepared to explain it. Tell the truth.

And as for your advertising, well, until you clean up your act: Save the money.

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Filed under Politics