Monday, November 30, 2009

Mr. President, It's Time to Stop Meddling in the Middle East


Dear Mr. President:

First, a truism: You can end this unpopular, undeclared war, but you cannot win it. Unfortunately, it's another in the long succession of wars that we have waged since 1941 in contravention of the Constitution, which gives Congress the sole power to wage war.

Don’t let anyone kid you. This war is about oil. And every other clash in the Middle East has been about oil. The current scramble to scoop up leases for exploratory drilling in Iraq confirms this. But whether a nation has oil or not, oil has been at the root of the trouble. Afghanistan is one of the "have-not" nations. It is rich in minerals such as copper, iron, coal, molybdenum and gold, but produces no oil or natural gas.

Afghanistan has something even more valuable than oil or minerals: A strategic position between the rich oil and gas fields of Central Asia and a warm-water port in the sliver of Pakistan on the Arabian Sea. In 1995, Unocal (Union Oil Company of California) began negotiations for a pipeline across Afghanistan, but was deterred by the continuing civil war in Afghanistan.

Ask the average American to point out Afghanistan on an outline map of the world. Ask them to recite one significant fact from Afghanistan’s history. Ask them to tell you how large is Afghanistan or its population. Ask what languages are spoken there. Ask them to define the difference between the Taliban and al-Qaida. In every case, total ignorance will be evident. Yet we have been fighting a bloody was in that benighted country for the past eight years with little or nothing to show for it other than a rapidly growing casualty list and increasing discontent back home.

There are many reasons to extricate ourselves from the quagmire of Afghanistan. The fact that we have no national interest at stake is perhaps the single most important reason. It has prompted Americans of every political stripe to wonder about the sincerity of your pre-election comments about Iraq and Afghanistan and to begin asking questions. Here are seven questions crucial to any decision making:

1. Exactly what do you hope to achieve by sending more troops to Afghanistan? Speaking before the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention on August 17, you defended U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, saying, "This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al-Qaida would plot to kill more Americans." Yet your own national security adviser estimates the number of al-Qaida members now in Afghanistan as about 100. Attempting to destroy al-Qaida and its adherents by evicting them from Afghanistan is a futile goal. They are now active in a more than a dozen other countries from which they pose an even greater threat.

2. Does it make any sense for us to be spending more dollars each year on Afghanistan than its gross national product? Mr. President, in March you ordered in 21,000 troops, doubling the overall American deployment in Afghanistan. It costs a million dollars to send a soldier to Afghanistan. Talk has it that 10,000, 20,000 or 40,000 troops may be sent there next. At those prices, I would remind you that every thousand soldiers, sailors or marines (or combination thereof) equates to another billion dollars of debt that future generations will have to shoulder. We are talking about adding ten, twenty or forty billion dollars to an already monstrous bill for the war in Iraq and the mounting bill for the war in Afghanistan.

3. Are you aware of the enormity of the problems in Afghanistan? Iraq was a tough nut to crack, and we are far from being able to declare a victory in that misguided misadventure and bring our troops home. Let me cite a few statistics comparing Afghanistan and Iraq: Both have populations of about 28 million. Afghanistan, slightly smaller than Texas, is half again as large as Iraq, and is mainly mountainous as compared with Iraq’s relative flatness. Gen. Shinseki’s estimate that it would take several hundred thousand troops to occupy and pacify Iraq will have to be made larger in Afghanistan because of its inhospitable mountainous landscape, poor communications and inherent hostility. Both countries are predominantly Muslim. Iraq has twice as many Shia as Sunni, and we supported the majority Shia. Afghanistan has four times as many Sunni as Shia. The Taliban we are fighting in Afghanistan are Sunni. Why do we insist on getting involved in Islam’s factional religious frictions?

The Taliban developed in madrasas, religious schools in Pakistan teaching Islamic theology and religious law. (Talib is the Arabic/Persian/Pashtun word for "student.") In these schools, students were mostly young, poorly educated Pashtuns, many of whom had lost their fathers and uncles in the struggle against the Soviets. The Taliban fought off rival mujaheddin and other warlords, and went on to take the city of Kandahar, beginning a successful campaign that ended with their capture of Kabul in September of 1996. Their success was largely due to their ability to restore civil order that the central government was not providing after the chaos of the preceding war years. They did this by imposing extreme interpretations of Islamic law, with severe restrictions on the activities of women. Measures were enforced with public floggings and stoning, practices condoned by the Christian Bible.

Counterinsurgency doctrine calls for some 560,000 troops to control a population the size of Afghanistan’s--28 million. As for increasing the number of troops on the ground, the more ambitious the operations we have to undertake, the more sure you can be that our enemy is winning--a lesson one would have thought we had learned in Vietnam. The one mistake of Vietnam you must not repeat is to succumb to the military’s continuing requests for "more troops." President Johnson fell under the spell of that mantra. Before he knew it, there were more than 500,000 Americans fighting in Vietnam. A black granite wall in Washington with more than 58,000 names on it reveals the awful toll that senseless war levied.

General Stanley McChrystal has asked for 40,000 more American troops to undertake the ambitious decades-long nation-building program outlined in his leaked memorandum. That would bring the number of American stationed there to 108,000. Are you aware that the total number of Soviet troops in Afghanistan at the height of the Russian invasion was 120,000—and they had to withdraw and concede defeat?

If 120,000 Russians could not prevail, how can we possibly believe that 108,000 American troops make a difference or achieve success? Is this tiny number expected to usher this giant corrupt nation out of its eighth-century feudal tribal culture and its violent warlords into a modernity more substantial than the ubiquitous AK-47s and Toyota pickup trucks? If every future military adventure is to include pinning our fortunes on pulling backward nations out of the mire of ignorance, in Afghanistan we are setting ourselves up for colossal national failure.

Your military advisers will tell you that counterinsurgencies have traditionally been defeated and cite historical successes in Greece, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Bolivia and Peru. This is true. These defeats have occurred in countries with comparatively stable national governments--and Afghanistan’s government is a joke. But in wars of national liberation (and the war in Afghanistan is such a war) in which guerrilla forces clash with occupying forces, the guerrillas always win. Britain left Malaya, Kenya, Palestine, Cyprus and Aden. Portugal left Angola and Mozambique, France left Vietnam, the Soviets left Afghanistan and the Russians left Chechnya, and Israel left Lebanon.

4. What do you know about Afghanistan’s history? Everyone familiar with the long history of Afghanistan knows that Afghans have traditionally fought to expel invaders since the beginning of time. That fact alone should make it evident that any war in Afghanistan will be unendurably long and unwinnable.

The tenacity of the ancestors of these people caused Alexander the Great’s army to refuse to continue the march eastward and to return home. Afghans fought the British to a standstill in three Anglo-Afghan wars--1838-1842, 1878-1880 and 1919. They repelled the Soviet occupation between 1980 and 1989.

The Pashtuns are the key to understanding Afghanistan. They make up almost half of its population and are the ethnic majority. For them, warfare is a way of life. There are 12.5 million Pashtuns in Afghanistan, but an even greater number, 27 million, in Pakistan. The boundaries of Afghanistan bear no relationship to natural features, but were set by other nations to suit their own interests. The Pashtuns pay little attention to borders and move with impunity between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

When historians caution against optimism in battle against the Afghans, it is the Pashtuns they have in mind. The "Afghans" that the British futilely battled in the 19th century were the Pashtuns. The majority of the mujaheddin ("warriors in a holy war") who ultimately drove the Soviets out of Afghanistan were Pashtuns.

Pashtuns are fierce fighters and are known for their marksmanship, as American troops are discovering in Afghanistan right now. They are accustomed to hardship and poverty, are undeterred by an imbalance in the size of opposing forces, and can prevail in conditions that would easily defeat others. Following the Russian Revolution, Afghanistan became the first nation to recognize the Soviet Union with ratification of a. Soviet-Afghan treaty in 1928. This was ironic, for Pashtuns would later unite and drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan in the 1980-1989 Soviet-Afghan war.

Hospitality is extremely important to the Pashtuns. The sanctity of protecting a guest is crucial to the honor of a Pashtun. This principle was behind the Taliban’s refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden to the United States after the attacks of 9/11. In 1996, the Taliban granted safe haven in Afghanistan to Osama bin Laden, who had returned to Saudi Arabia to work in the family construction business after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan. Bin Laden then called for a jihad against the United States.

Al-Qaida, the terrorist organization formed and headed by bin Laden, was identified as the organization behind terrorist acts against the United States, the most destructive being the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington. The United States demanded the surrender of bin Laden for his part in 9/11, but the Taliban refused to give him up, claiming that Pashtunwali (specifically, their concept of hospitality and the responsibility of a host to protect a guest) did not allow them to do so.

Pashtuns can reconcile themselves to poverty, but cannot tolerate foreign rule. The Greeks, Persians, Arabs, British, and Russians have learned the historical truth the hard way. When a foreign invader invades Afghanistan all tribal feuds are temporarily suspended. A ceremony may even mark the armistice; however, once the invader has been driven from Afghanistan feuds may resume where they left off.

Mr. President, you could mobilize every unit in the National Guard and Reserve components and move them to Afghanistan with every available member of the armed forces. You would bankrupt the country to do it, but you still could not win this unwinnable undeclared war.

5. Are you aware that our war-fighting tactics have been wrong? We have been fighting a Fourth Generation War with Second Generation tactics. For much of the past eight years, we have depended on air power in the form of piloted bombing planes and pilotless drone aircraft to wage war against the Taliban. But air power is counterproductive, killing people who were not our enemies, inciting their relatives, friends, and fellow tribesmen to acts of violence in blood feuds as newly made foes. In this kind of war, bombing planes make as much sense as long-range field artillery.

The Taliban are light infantry, carrying food and water and little in the way of heavy equipment. The American soldier may be burdened with as much as one hundred pounds of body armor and special devices. The Taliban are not interested in capturing and holding terrritory, but in striking the enemy hard and pulling back quickly. Combining the Second Generation warfare’s traditional massive thrusts, heavy with men and machines, with lots of softening-up bombing in Pashtun-controlled Afghanistan means we wind up fighting most, if not all of the Pashtuns. For every Pahtun killed, purposely or accidentally, we make enemies of their cousins, their uncles and their aunts, not to mention their other tribal members. In Afghan wars, the Pashtuns have always won in the end by sheer perseverance and unwillingness to quit.

Our repeated big, noisy offensives, launched with boastful advance publicity have achieved nothing. The enemy merely buries their guns, ammunition and explosives and allows our troops pass through an area. They will resurface and still be there after we are gone. Body counts so beloved by generals are embarrassing, for they always include substantial numbers of innocents and noncombatants.

The present state of our futile war in Afghanistan is best summed up in a little joke making its way around in military circles: American soldier to Afghan farmer: "Seen any enemy around here?" Afghan farmer: "Yes, you."

6. Does it make sense for us to support an American puppet government headed by President Hamid Karzai? Elected fraudulently, he heads a government rife with graft and corruption from top to bottom, including officials at every level and the police. Put into office in a glaringly embarrassing stolen election, Karzai controls Kabul and little else, Like all Quisling governments, this one is bound to fail because it can never achieve legitimacy.

Afghanistan supplies more than 90 percent of the world’s opium. Its economy is totally dominated by opium farming that feeds the world’s appetite for heroin. As one of the planet’s largest consumers of heroin, the United States could help by curbing its own use of this product. Last year Afghanistan’s government revenue was $715 million. Illicit poppy production yielded $4 billion. Imagine an entire country run by the Mafia, and you have Afghanistan.

7. How will we know when we have achieved victory in Afghanistan? No one has ever been able to define what we mean when we speak of victory in Afghanistan. To win this war, we must achieve something that we can call "victory," but our guerrilla enemies do not. They not only can fight on until the end of time, they intend to do just that--if not against us, then against anyone and everyone else foolish to try to remake Afghanistan into a modern state.

Common sense should tell us that we have neither the national interest, the financial means, the domestic support, the NATO partners, nor an Afghan government worth saving to warrant expending another American life. Instead of nation-building in a land whose people do not want us there, let us rebuild our collapsing infrastructure at home. As a friend with whom I served in the Army during World War Two wrote to me recently, "Why the hell are we filling pot holes in roads in Afghanistan and neglecting to fill them here at home?"

Our history of meddling in the Middle East cannot be a source of national pride. In 1951, the Iranian parliament nationalized Iran's oil industry and elected Mohammed Mossadegh to be prime minister. Since 1913, the oil industry in Iran had been controlled exclusively by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, controlled by the British government.. In 1951 the British tried to retaliate by planning a coup, but American President Harry S. Truman wisely refused to participate. His successor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, however, was not as astute and allowed the CIA to undertake its first covert operation by overthrowing the government of Iran.

The 1953 coup d'état engineered by the CIA deposed the democratically elected Mossadegh government and allowed an heir to the ancient Iranian throne to become an authoritarian monarch who would rule for 26 years. US support and funding continued with the CIA training the SAVAK, the Shah's feared secret police. The coup significantly contributed to the Iranian Revolution of 1979, which deposed the Shah, seized our embassy and replaced the pro-western monarchy with the theocratic Islamic Republic of Iran in power today. It should come as no surprise that U.S. companies were granted the majority of the oil concessions from the Shah's government after the coup.

Similarly, in 1979, President Jimmy Carter signed a secret directive calling for the CIA to aid opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. This action caused the Soviet Union to invade Afghanistan. Desiring to increase US regional influence, the CIA worked with wealthy Saudi contractor Osama bin Laden to recruit and train Saudis, Egyptians and other nationalities and send them to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets. Osama bin Laden's group, known as al-Qaida ("the base") successfully caused the Soviet invaders to withdraw in 1989.

After throwing away an opportunity to capture Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, in Afghanistan by letting him slip away in Tora Bora in 2001, two years later our nation was conned into invading Iraq with deception and falsehoods about weapons of mass destruction. Once again we have reached a crucial moment of decision. Instead of recognizing the realities of Afghanistan and the bitter lessons of its long history, we are on the brink of expanding our foolish attempt to do the impossible. If ever there was a cause and a country not worth asking a single American to die for, that cause is nation-building and that country is Afghanistan.

In the meantime, we face mounting costs of conducting a full-scale war in an inhospitable country against a people who have never been defeated and who do not want us there. At the same time, money is running out. Back home, people are getting edgy about the vast sums of printing-press money being churned out. And China, India and al-Qaida are all smiling at our debilitating preoccupation with expending blood and treasure uselessly in the Middle East. Uncle Sam has truly become Uncle Sap, seemingly bent on proving the wisdom of the adage that Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires. We need nation-building here at home. Our infrastructure and economy are in tatters. We've got our work cut out for us. Let’s make America strong again.

Robert Scott
Editor of Postscripts


AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The First Unknown Soldier: Symbol of Another Great Generation


This year the holiday known as Veterans Day, formerly called Armistice Day, will be observed on Wednesday, November 11, 2009. Although the date is widely observed, many are unfamiliar with its origins. It commemorates the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front on November 11, 1918. Marking the end of World War One, the armistice between the Allies and Germany was signed in a railway car at Rethondes, France, and took effect at the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month."

Declared a national holiday in many allied nations to remember those members of the armed forces who were killed during war, an exception is Italy, where the end of the war is commemorated on November 4 as the Armistice of Villa Giusti. After World War Two, the name of the holiday was changed to Veterans Day in the United States and to Remembrance Day in countries of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Armistice Day (Jour de l'Armistice) remains an official holiday in France. It is also an official holiday in Belgium, where it is also known as the Day of Peace. In many parts of the world people observe a two-minute moment of silence at 11:00 a.m. as a sign of respect for the approximately 20 milliom who died in the war.

Praise has been heaped deservedly on the generation of Americans that endured the trials and hardships of the Second World War. To single it out and call it "The Greatest Generation," however, does a disservice to other great generations and their sacrifices. The contributions of this newest "greatest generation," of which this writer is a member, have been closely examined in countless books and articles. But we should not overlook how much was sacrificed when an earlier "great generation" fought and died in the blood bath of the First World War. The account that follows is a tribute to the now-dwindling great generation I was brought up to honor and to remember.

The American Expeditionary Force that sailed for Europe and a war to end all war suffered grievous losses in the short space of time the United States participated--19 months: 53,513 battle deaths, 63,195 other deaths and 204,002 wounded. Even so, it did not take very long for the old men who create the wars that young men must fight to stir up another one. In fact, the peace bought by the generation that fought and died in the First World War lasted only from 1918 to 1939--a mere twenty-one years. Twenty years is about what demographers regard as the interval between generations, and another generation had come along ready for the slaughter.

On April 6, 1917, when the U.S. declared war against Germany, its regular army was on a par with that of Chile, Denmark and the Netherlands. All four countries shared 17th place among nations in tables of army size. By the standards of the armies fighting in Europe, the U.S. Army was unimpressive both in size and training. It was led by elderly officers who had achieved fame as Indian fighters and were close to retirement. Few of the 5,000 officers and 120,000 enlisted men had ever fired a shot in anger. The country also had a National Guard consisting of some 80,000 ill-trained and poorly equipped officers and enlisted men, many of whom regarded it as a social organization.

By the time of the Armistice, the United States had mobilized 58 divisions, of which 43 had been shipped overseas. Twelve were not active as combat units but were used to provide replacements in France. American divisions had some 27,000 combat troops, and were twice the nominal size of British, French or German divisions--mainly because of a lack of trained junior officers.

Two out of every three American soldiers who reached France took part in action of some kind. In addition to the threat of being smashed and ripped apart by shrapnel from an incoming shell or cut down by merciless machine-gun fire, the average "doughboy" was perpetually at the mercy of the elements, the mud and the degradation of living in rat-infested tunnels and trenches into which poison gas could seep; his diet was unhealthy and his body was unwashed--grime and filth were everywhere, along with the stench of rotting dead bodies and the ubiquitous "cootie," or body louse, that infested his clothing.

Nevertheless, high-spirited American troops provided the fresh enthusiasm and surge of power needed by the battle-weary French and British soldiers to break the German Hindenburg Line. The process of turning America's paltry regular army into the strongest army on the European continent had been remarkable. Through careful planning, sheer determination and hard work, its small combat force grew tremendously. By the Armistice, a total of 1,962,767 American troops were in France, including 1,253,330 combatants. In a brief time, the United States had gone from a nation whose tiny army was not ready for battle to a world power.

In the 200 days between April 25, 1918--when the 1st Division entered the front line in Picardy--until the Armistice on November 11th, American forces participated in 13 battles as part of six major campaigns, and 136,516 Americans died. This number includes 4,452 who were counted as missing in action and whose remains were never found or could be identified. One of that number rests beneath a white marble tomb in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

The conclusion of the First World War gave birth to the holiday originally known as Armistice Day, now called Veterans Day. The celebration of that holiday had its origin in ceremonies that took place in Washington on November 11, 1921.

Choosing the First Unknown Soldier
The idea of honoring the unknown dead of the First World War originated in Europe. In 1921, America had still not formally honored its war dead. The year before, the British had already interred an unknown "Tommy" in Westminster Abbey to represent the hundreds of thousands that had perished in that conflict. Similarly, the French had honored an unknown "poilu" at the Arc de Triomphe.

When Brig. Gen. William D. Connor, commanding general of American forces in Europe, first learned of the French plans, he proposed a similar project to the U.S. Army's chief of staff, Gen. Peyton C. March. General March was not enthusiastic about the proposal, thinking it premature. Although the French and British had a great many unknown dead, he felt that the American Army's Graves Registration Service would eventually identify all American unknowns. He had been told by the Quartermaster General that only 1,271 American dead were still unidentified, and these were still being studied. General March's concern was that haste could result in the selection of a body that might later be identified.

On December 21, 1920, Congressman Hamilton Fish, Jr., of Putnam County, New York, had introduced a resolution in Congress calling for the return of the body of an unknown American soldier from France for burial with appropriate ceremonies in a tomb to be constructed at the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery. The measure was approved on March 4, 1921. Congressman Fish wanted ceremonies to be held on Memorial Day of 1921, but Secretary of War Newton D. Baker thought the date too early. The Congressman tried again through the new Secretary of War, John W. Weeks, who replaced Baker on March 4, 1921, when President Warren G. Harding took office.

Four coffins were exhumed, one from each of four American military cemeteries, Aisne-Marne, Meuse-Argonne, Somme and St. Mihiel, and were taken by truck to the city hall at Chalons-sur-Marne. A large group awaited them, including officers of the French Army, officials of Chalons-sur-Marne, the U.S. Army's Quartermaster General, and the chief of the Graves Registration Services in Europe. Major Robert P. Harbold was the officer in charge of the ceremony. Chalons-sur-Marne officials had prepared the city hall for the ceremony. The outside of the building had been draped with French and American flags. Inside, the halls and corridors were ornamented with potted palms and more flags. A catafalque--the stand on which a casket is placed--had been set up in the main hall. Another room was decorated to hold the caskets of the four unknown soldiers, and a third room was prepared in which the chosen Unknown Soldier would be transferred to a bronze casket shipped from the United States.

French troops carried the four shipping cases from the trucks to the city hall. The four caskets were then removed, set on top of the shipping cases and draped with American flags. Six American soldiers arrived from American headquarters in Coblenz, Germany. Early on the morning of October 24, Major Harbold, aided by French and American soldiers, rearranged the caskets so each rested on a shipping case other than the one in which it had arrived. Now there was little chance that anyone would know the cemetery from which the unidentified remains came.

Originally, a commissioned officer was to make the selection. The plan was changed when the Americans learned that the French had selected an enlisted man to choose their Unknown Soldier. Major Harbold selected Sergeant Younger, one of the men who had arrived from Coblenz, to perform that duty. Sgt. Younger had enlisted in the U.S. Army in February of 1917, two months before America entered the war. He had taken part in several engagements, including Chateau Thierry, the Somme, St. Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne offensive, and had received the Distinguished Service Cross and the Purple Heart. At the end of the war, he reenlisted. After Sergeant Younger was mustered out of the Army in 1922, he often spoke before veterans groups about what happened in Chalons-sur-Marne. Returning to the Chicago area, he lived there until he died of a heart attack in 1942.

This is Sgt. Younger's story: "At first we (the six soldiers) had the idea that we were to be just pall bearers," Sgt. Younger said. "But when we lined up in the little makeshift chapel, Major Harbold, the officer in charge of graves registration, told us, 'One of you men is to be given the honor of selecting the body of the Unknown Soldier.' He had a large bouquet of pink and white roses in his arms. He finally handed the roses to me." The bouquet had been presented by a Frenchman who had lost two sons in the war. Younger was left alone in the quiet of the chapel with the four identical and unmarked coffins that fateful day, the 24th of October. "The one I placed the roses on was the one brought home and placed in the national shrine. I walked around the coffins three times, then suddenly I stopped. What caused me to stop, I don't know. It was as if something had pulled me. I placed the roses on the coffin in front of me." He concluded, "I can still remember the awed feeling I had, standing there alone." The caskets of the three unchosen unknowns were placed in shipping cases and taken by truck to the Meuse-Argonne American Military Cemetery for immediate reburial.

Coming home
The body Sgt. Younger had chosen as the Unknown Soldier lay in state for several hours, watched over by the small contingent of American and French soldiers. After brief tributes by the mayor of Chalons-sur-Marne and other officials, the casket was placed on a flag-draped gun carriage and escorted by French and American troops along the Rue de Marne to the railroad station. Unmounted French cavalry lined the route to the station. Still bearing the spray of roses, it was lifted aboard a special train for the journey to the port of Le Havre, by way of Paris. The train left Chalons-sur-Marne at 4:10 p.m. and arrived in Paris about three hours later. After ceremonies in Paris the next morning, the special train left Paris in midmorning and arrived at Le Havre about 1:00 p.m.

A procession took the body from the station to the Quai d'Escale, where the American cruiser Olympia was waiting. Launched in 1895, the Olympia, Admiral Dewey's flagship at the Battle of Manila Bay in the Spanish-American War, was capable of doing only 20 knots. Reverently, the casket was placed on the flower-bedecked stern of the Olympia for the voyage back to America. Escorted by the American destroyer Reuben James, which would later become the first American warship to be sunk in the Second World War, and eight French naval vessels, the Olympia put to sea. She received a 17-gun salute as she cleared the harbor and another as the French ships dropped astern outside French waters.

After a voyage of 15 days, on a rainy November 9th, the Olympia steamed up the Potomac and reached the Washington Navy Yard at four p.m. As the casket was carried down the gangplank, the ship's band played Chopin's "Funeral March." From the Navy Yard, the casket was placed on a horse-drawn caisson and escorted to the Capitol, with the band of the 3rd Cavalry playing "Onward Christian Soldiers." and placed in the rotunda on the catafalque that had held the remains of assassinated Presidents Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley. The body lay in state under a guard of honor composed of selected enlisted men of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps. Throughout the next day, November 10th, thousands passed before the casket to honor the Unknown Soldier. For them, many of whom had lost someone in the war, he symbolized the thousands of unidentified dead and the missing in action in the war that had ended three years before.

To Arlington Cemetery
At 8:30 on the morning of November 11th, the casket was taken from the Capitol and placed on a gun carriage for the journey through the streets of Washington to the Memorial Amphitheater in Arlington National Cemetery. Following the caisson bearing the flag-draped coffin were the President, Warren G. Harding, the Vice-President, Calvin Coolidge, William Howard Taft, the ex-President and newly appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the associate justices, members of the diplomatic corps, Medal of Honor wearers, members of Congress, and various generals and admirals.

A field artillery battery near the Washington Monument began firing "minute guns" at one-minute intervals. Their salvos reverberated throughout Washington until the conclusion of the funeral ceremony at Arlington. At the White House, the President, Vice President, Chief Justice and members of the Senate and House left the procession and traveled by automobile to Arlington National Cemetery. At the Amphitheater, the casket was again placed on the catafalque. The President and Mrs. Harding arrived at 11:55 a.m., and the ceremonies began. The Marine Band played the National Anthem. The audience sang "America," after which President Harding delivered an address paying tribute to the Unknown Soldier and pleading for an end to war.

The President then conferred upon the Unknown Soldier the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross. Representatives of foreign governments in turn conferred upon the Unknown Soldier the highest military decorations of their nations. These included Belgium, Britain, France, Italy, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Romania. Congressman Fish, who had introduced the legislation to memorialize the unknown American dead, laid a wreath at the tomb. Among others who paid tribute was Chief Plenty Coups, representing Native Americans, who placed his war bonnet and coup stick at the tomb.

As the casket was lowered into the crypt, the bottom of which had been covered with a layer of French soil, the saluting battery of guns fired three salvos. A bugler then sounded taps, and the battery fired 21 guns to salute the Unknown Soldier of the First World War.

America's Belated Recognition of Armistice Day
The awful carnage of World War I ended with an armistice at eleven o'clock on the morning on November 11, 1918. Yet Congress did not get around to recognizing that event as Armistice Day until June 4, 1926, when it passed a resolution asking the President to issue a formal proclamation calling upon people to display the flag and observe November 11th with appropriate ceremonies.

By then 27 states were already observing the date as a legal holiday. Congress was also slow in making it a federal legal holiday. That did not happen until May 13, 1938. The holiday was intended to honor veterans of the First World War, but it was not until June 4, 1954--after the Second World War and the Korean War--that Congress amended the 1938 legislation, substituting the words Veterans Day for Armistice Day.

In 1968, a Uniform Holiday bill was signed on June 28, giving federal employees a three-day weekend by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington's Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Columbus Day. The idea was that extended weekends would encourage travel, and recreational activities. The hope also was that it would stimulate greater industrial and commercial activity. It achieved none of these goals, and only diverted attention from the significance of the holiday. Many states refused to accept this unwelcome change and continued to celebrate the four holidays on their original dates.

The first Veterans Day under the new law was observed on October 25, 1971, with much confusion and dissatisfaction. Many patriotic and veterans organizations were unhappy with the change. However, it would take five years before their discontent had an effect. On September 20, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed a new law returning Veterans Day to November 11th--to become effective the following year. Veterans Day has been celebrated on November 11th ever since.

Later History of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
During the tomb's early years after 1921, only a civilian watchman protected the site. In 1926, a formal military guard was established--but only during daylight hours when the cemetery was open to the public. The original intention was for the simple white marble sarcophagus should be the base for an appropriate monument. It was not until July 3, 1926, that Congress authorized the completion of the tomb.

A competition was held among architects. Seventy-four designs were submitted anonymously, with the names of each architect in a sealed envelope. Five were chosen as finalists, from which group one was selected. The successful design turned out to be that of architect Lorimer Rich. It called for a tomb measuring 11 feet in height, 8 feet in width and almost 14 feet in length.

The tomb. of glaring white marble, weighs 79 tons. It is sometimes describes as being made of Vermont marble. The stone was actually quarried in Yule, Colorado. The error arises because the quarry was owned by the Vermont Marble Company. The severity of the design was relieved by Doric pilasters in low relief at the corners and carved motifs along the sides. Sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones carved the designs and figures on the tomb, completing his work on December 31, 1931. On the front are three figures representing Peace, Valor and Victory. Six inverted mourning wreaths on the sides mark the six major campaigns of the war in which American troops participated. The simple sentiment, "HERE RESTS IN HONORED GLORY AN AMERICAN SOLDIER KNOWN BUT TO GOD" also appears. (This replicates the sentiment carved on the gravestones of all unknown dead in American military cemeteries in Europe.) The first 24-hour military guard began in 1937 and continues to this day. The "spit-and-polish" 3rd U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard) assumed responsibility for guarding the tomb in 1948.

After the Second World War, planning began for the interment of a second Unknown. This tomb, an identical copy of the original was to be located on the mall area of the cemetery in 1951. Unfortunately, the Korean War interfered with these plans and selection of an unknown serviceman from World War II was deferred. Following the cease fire in Korea in 1953, Congress authorized the honoring of two unknown dead--one from World War II and one from the Korean War. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the enabling legislation on August 3, 1956.

The remains of 8,526 World War II dead and 848 Korean War dead had been unidentifiable and buried as unknowns. Following the precedent established after the First World War, one body was selected from 13 unidentified bodies exhumed from military cemeteries in the European Theater of World War II and one body from six bodies from cemeteries in the Pacific Theater. From these, the bodies of two and then one unknown World War II serviceman were selected. Almost simultaneously, an unknown from the Korean War was selected from among four exhumed from the unidentified dead of that war interred in military cemeteries. Ceremonies were held on May 30, 1958, and the two unknowns were interred in crypts near the original 1921 interment.

After the end of the Vietnam War in 1973, Congress authorized the interment of an unknown serviceman from that conflict. A new crypt was ordered to be constructed between the graves of the World War II and Korean War Unknowns. Plans for a burial were suspended, however, because sophisticated identification techniques had resulted in the identification of almost all remains returned from Vietnam. It was not until 1984 that one body was certified as unidentifiable. These remains arrived in Washington on May 25 and lay in state in the Capitol for three days. On May 28, 1984, the remains were borne by horse-drawn caisson to Arlington National Cemetery. President Ronald Reagan presented the Medal of Honor to the unknown Vietnam War serviceman.

Paradoxically, advances in DNA testing led to the disinterment of the Vietnam War Unknown four years later in a solemn ceremony May 14, 1988. Forensic tests confirmed the remains to be those of Air Force 1st Lieutenant Michael Joseph Blassie, an Air Force Academy graduate, shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. At the request of his family, Lt. Blassie's remains were transferred to the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in Missouri. It was decided that the crypt of the Vietnam Unknown would remain empty as a reminder of the many servicemen who were missing in action or whose bodies were never recovered.

The cover on the Vietnam crypt was rededicated September 17, 1999. The first female sentinel appeared at the tomb on March 25, 1996.

Since the end of the Second World War, we have endured a number of undeclared wars with unclear aims. Most notable among these is the Vietnam War. A black granite wall bears in its smooth surface the names of 58,195 who sacrificed their lives. It includes the names of 2,504 missing in action whose bodies have never been recovered.

We again find ourselves engaged in another war, this time against a shadowy, tenacious enemy. Other than "ridding the world of terrorism," our aims are unclear, This generation has already suffered thousands of innocents killed or missing in New York and Washington; 40,000 more service members have been killed and wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. Who is there among us who will deny that this generation has already shown itself to be another great generation? Now, and in our continuing time of trial, we can all resolve that these sacrifices shall not have been in vain, recalling the fourth verse of "For the Fallen," a poem by British poet Lawrence Binyon. When the war the British still denominate as "the Great War" began in 1914, Binyon was working in the British Museum. He later served as a Red Cross orderly on the Western Front. His words are timeless.

They shall not grow old,
As we who are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them,
Nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun
And in the morning
We will remember them.

Appendix: The Human Cost of America's Participation in World War One

The following table shows the numbers of dead buried in the eight World War One American Military Cemeteries in Europe. Each cemetery has a chapel on whose walls are inscribed the names of those who were missing in action or whose remains could not be identified. As the numbers of living World War One veterans and their next-of-kin dwindle, these cemeteries attract fewer visitors each year. The graves, marked by white marble crosses and Stars of David, are carefully tended.

Among the 136,516 Americans who died in the 19 months that America participated in the First World War, 4,452 were declared missing in action; their remans could not be identified or were never found. The next-of-kin of 101,143 dead servicemen chose to have their remains returned to the United States for burial. The next-of-kin of 30,921 war dead elected to have their remains buried in Europe.

A Directory of First World War American Cemeteries in Europe

The following information is from the American Battle Monuments Commission:

Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery
Romagne-sous-Montfaucon (Meuse), about 160 miles from Paris
14,246 graves; 954 MIA

Oise-Aisne American Cemetery
Fere-en-Tardenois (Aisne), about 60 miles from Paris
6,012 graves; 241 MIA

St. Mihiel American Cemetery
Thiaucourt (Meurthe-et-Moselle), about 20 miles from Metz
4,153 graves; 284 MIA

Aisne-Marne American Cemetery
Belleau (Aisne), about 60 miles from Paris
2,289 graves, 1,060 MIA

Somme American Cemetery
Bony (Aisne), about 100 miles from Paris
1,844 graves; 333 MIA

Suresnes American Cemetery
Suresnes (Seine), 5 miles west of Paris
1,541 graves, 974 MIA, or lost or buried at sea

Flanders Field American Cemetery
Waregem, Belgium, 46 miles west of Brussels
368 graves; 43 MIA

Brookwood American Cemetery
Brookwood, England, about 28 miles from London
468 graves; 563 MIA, or lost or buried at sea

Labels: , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?