3 Views From Fonzi’s Foxhole

They Fought for This?

In 1986 I visited an uncle on the East Coast who was a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division in WWII. He was one of a rare breed of men, one of the first of America’s paratroopers, the ones that learned to pack the parachutes with which they would later jump into combat. You had to learn your trade well; if you made a mistake you paid the price with your life, not somebody else. He learned quite well and made four combat jumps, his third being into St. Mere Eglise at Normandy on “D-Day,” June 6, 1944.

Oddly, his family seemed to have little interest in his military past. I was serving in 10th Special Forces at the time and carried on the legacy of jumping out of perfectly good airplanes in flight. At the foot of my uncle’s bed was a trunk full of mementos from WWII. He told me he hadn’t opened it in 40 years. Within were a number of items from his airborne days, a fighting knife which he carried into France and a book written by the Mayor of St. Mere Eglise, given to my uncle by His Honor the Mayor at the 82nd Airborne 25th reunion at Normandy in 1969. At the end of our visit, my uncle gave me his mementos which are a cherished part of our family’s military service.

It’s been 71 years as of last weekend since my uncle and his fellow “Band of Brothers” made their midnight jump into St. Mere Eglise as part of the spearhead to liberate Europe from the Nazis. Six hours later the infantry landed at Omaha Beach, Normandy, charging into withering fire from Nazi gun emplacements. “A” Company, 116th Regiment, 29th Infantry Division, a composite National Guard Division from Virginia and surrounding states led the first wave onto the “Dog-Green Beach” sector of Omaha Beach where German fire was heaviest and where the D-Day invasion suffered its worst casualties. A small town in Bedford, Virginia sent 30 of its sons with Company A; nineteen of them died within the first 15 minutes of the assault at Omaha Beach. Within the next several days, three more Bedford Boys paid the ultimate sacrifice at Normandy.

As American soldiers parachuted into the night skies of Normandy and as young men charged the beaches of Normandy, President Roosevelt called the nation to national prayer. It went like this, abbreviated and edited :

“Almighty God: our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion and our civilization and to set free a suffering humanity….Many people have urged that I call the Nation into a single day of special prayer; because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer…and O Lord, give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons, faith in each other and faith in our united crusade… With Thy blessings, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy…Thy will be done, Almighty God, Amen.”

People knelt by their cars and prayed, traffic stopped, the nation joined the last President to ever call this nation into prayer during a national crisis.

What a difference a few generations can make. In 1947, the Supreme Court issued its first of many rulings beginning the process of secularizing the public square. Within 20 years the nation had officially banned Scripture from classrooms and most public venues. Today, one would never know that the Judeo-Christian faith ever had any place in American life.

In the last seven years, the Armed Forces has become increasingly hostile towards the Christian faith. General Boykins, highly decorated former commander of American Special Operations Command was fired and forced to retire early for expressing his Christian faith in church as have numerous other service-members who openly express their faith. President Obama surrounds himself with persons hostile to Christians, such as Mikey Weinstein, his senior advisor on religious affairs in the Pentagon, who once described devout Christians as “terrorists.” Obama’s VA attempted to ban religious services at the funerals of veterans (a policy overturned by a federal judge); an Air Force chaplain was fired for quoting a speech by President Eisenhower in a Base newsletter referencing the importance of faith to service-members. The examples are numerous.

At the acceptance of our constitution in 1789, Ben Franklin stated that America’s government is designed for a “religious and moral people.” Seventy-one years ago, at a time of great national peril, Americans had no qualms about calling upon an Almighty and Sovereign God’s mercy; today we scorn Him. I find it hard to believe this is the America that so many paid such a high price to preserve.

It’s Closer to Midnight Than You Think

A hallmark of the Cold War was the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists “Atomic Clock” which purported to show how many minutes humanity was from destroying itself in a nuclear war. The closer to midnight on the clock, the closer we were to imminent destruction. It usually hovered around five to seven minutes to midnight with it being much closer during periods of dramatically increased tension between the superpowers.

The clock went into obscurity after the demise of the former Soviet Union but if revived would likely be a few minutes to midnight today. I say that not out of imagined alarmism but from a lifetime of observation of world events and the “see-saw” scale of American military readiness vis-à-vis potential threats to the nation. At this point, I’m deeply concerned, as much so as my father was during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. We lived on top of a SAC Base (Strategic Air Command) with a Wing of nuclear-armed B-52 Bombers less than a mile from our house. Bombers took off constantly and we literally lived on “ground zero” in the event of a Soviet nuclear strike against the base.

If one pays attention to other than reality TV and listen to the words of former high-ranking officials of the Obama and Bush administrations, your hairline would likely be receding faster than mine. In the last several months, more and more former officials are sounding alarms over the state of American military preparedness, which most kindly can be described as being in freefall.

During my military career, not once did I observe the combat readiness of active component units drop to less than 90%. Today, nearly two-thirds of our armed forces are routinely reporting combat readiness rates of less than 70%, some considerably less than that. Not since the years of the Carter presidency have such deep cuts occurred in the military to the point when ships couldn’t sail and aircraft couldn’t fly. Troop levels for conventional war is on a path to drop to the lowest levels since pre-WWI; that’s right, I said World War I and 1916 not World War II, which was a little higher. As of a few months ago, commanding generals reported U.S. ground force levels to be down to only 33 battalions of operational combat troops, nearly two-thirds fewer than we had at the beginning of the first Gulf War in 1990-91.

Our strategic deterrent forces, the intercontinental ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads, are being systematically drawn down to fit the requirements of the New START Treaty pushed by the Obama administration and his State Department. The drawdown will reduce nuclear targeting of America’s arsenal from over 400 targets to about six land-based targets. These deep cuts are being made even as Russia has engaged in a massive modernization and build-up of its strategic missile systems. Furthermore, the State Department insists that American adhere to the new treaty despite the Russian modernization and flatly refuses to support American modernization of its nuclear arsenal. This is occurring regardless of incontrovertible evidence that the new Russian programs pose an “existential threat” to the survival of the United States if not countered or unchecked. China is also modernizing and deliberately engaging in nuclear proliferation to hostile states, (such as exist in the Middle East) and is not subject to any of the arms control agreements we have with Russia. According to most military analysts, even liberal ones, the Chinese military build-up will allow China to challenge and defeat the United States in a regional conflict by the year 2020, if not sooner.

In the South China Sea, China has engaged in a rapid military build-up and modernization of its submarine forces, ballistic missiles, modern stealth aircraft and power-projection capabilities.  They’ve also heavily invested in base infrastructure, creating artificial islands in territory contested and claimed by multiple nations, some of which are American allies. Last week, reconnaissance flights confirmed that the Chinese are militarizing some of these miniature islands by deploying long-range artillery and developing airbases for military aircraft. The last Asian power to so challenge America was Imperial Japan when they fortified Pacific Island bases, building airfields that would allow them to dominate major regions of the Pacific. The Battle of Guadalcanal was one such battle in 1942, that had we lost, the Japanese would have had air superiority over the sea lines of communication that defended Australia. The Chinese have embarked upon a program equally as ambitious and are not making any apologies. They have staked territorial claims over virtually the entire South China Sea, an area vital for U.S. maritime trade routes and openly boast of their intent to extend their sovereignty and influence even East of Japan, the Philippines and U.S. territories, such as Guam.

On the European front, the Russians have made more aerial intrusions into NATO-country airspace and belligerent troop movements towards the Baltic and East European states than they did at the height of the Cold War. They’ve also conducted multiple and massive, no-notice military exercises involving nuclear rocket forces, hundreds of thousands of troops and hundreds of aircraft and ships over the last 18 months. Each exercise, called a “snap-check drill” by Soviet President Putin, has become larger and more belligerent than those that preceded it.

While America is struggling with massive debt and devalued currency, we have little left for military readiness. Americans are going to have to soon make hard choices between re-building and maintaining a strong national defense infrastructure or be reconciled to being a third-rate power with the most tyrannical regimes on the planet maintaining overwhelming nuclear and conventional superiority for the indefinite future. Generations of Americans fought and died to preserve the Republic, which may not survive continued neglect of our National Defenses.

Once Upon a Time in America

Once upon a time we celebrated the entrepreneur, the men and women who were willing to risk all they owned and their reputations to build something, in this case, a nation. We even made movies about them, identifying with the hardship they suffered and celebrating with them when their work produced hard-won success.

One such movie made in 1953 was “Thunder Bay” with Jimmy Stewart in the lead as a petroleum engineer convinced that he could find a way to make offshore oil drilling pay. He and his partners risked everything to bring in the first offshore well while extolling the virtues of oil and how it was essential to building a great nation and providing the life-blood that ran the engines of our economy. His protagonist was Gilbert Roland, playing the part of a Louisiana shrimp fisherman angry over the intrusion of a bunch of “roughneck” oil men into his fishing grounds, convinced they would destroy the shrimp beds and likely run off with his girl, (which they did in the latter case.) I won’t tell you the end but was typical of the movies of the era when we celebrated those who risked a lot to build a lot.

There’s a propaganda war going on in America today and the movies being made today vilify modern industry. When was the last time you saw any movie in which the entrepreneur was portrayed in a positive light, especially if it involved anything to do with developing raw materials into a natural resource, or worse, making a profit?

Fossil fuels, especially oil, are particularly hated with lots of fear feeding the flames of discontent. It’s ironic that the protesters don’t fail to take advantage of living in an industrial society, where oil is the lifeblood of our economy. Every single product on every shelf is there today because of oil, used in its transportation to market or in its manufacture, even as a component in virtually everything we wear. Without oil, the food we take for granted to be in a grocery store would likely not be grown or available, with all of us living a life of virtual subsistence. Women’s liberation would be a memory as a six day work week and 12 to 16 hour day would be the norm, hard manual labor replacing that of labor-saving machines. The term “washday” was a reality for our great-grandmothers with laundry taking an entire day or more per week as it was done by hand. Food would be expensive for most, especially high-protein diets; in Britain in 1890, many rural residents subsisted on cabbage and onions with little variety. Oil-based fertilizers and mechanization dramatically improved the quantity of food produced and lowered its price; people began to live longer and healthier lives.

We’ve come a long way and are somewhat spoiled, expecting gas at the pump and the lights to turn on with a flip of a switch. Our water is purified by machines run by oil-produced energy. Third world countries depending upon wind and solar energy envy the reliability of our abundant, reliable and cheap energy. Reliability of lighting is essential during surgery, yet many countries are forced to rely upon generators for back-up power when their unreliable “alternative energy sources” fail, as they frequently do.

A recent letter-writer asserted that the oil rail spur in Nipomo would increase pollution by the use of diesel locomotives pulling oil “bomb trains.” In fact, the locomotives are diesel-electric and use an electric tractor motor as the primary driver of the train; the diesel engine powers the electric generator on board that actually moves the train. If trains are not used, the oil will be transported by truck, approximately 10 tractor-trailers per rail tank car. You do the math and figure out how much more pollution that will generate.

No technology is 100% safe and accidents can occur but a spill of oil is far less hazardous than many of the products already routinely transported through our county via rail and truck. Firefighters are intimately aware of hazards transiting our county and oil is not one that would keep them awake nights. Spectacular incidents like the derailment in Lac-Megantic, Canada in 2013 (47 dead) was an outlier incident in which human stupidity overcame every engineering safeguard. The critic asserted that derailments are increasing but actually have steadily decreased over the last decade. Derailments are expensive and bad for business; dumping a product on the ground isn’t improving a “bottom-line.”

No doubt any defense of oil will raise protest but the use of fossil fuels, especially oil, is a moral choice and imperative to sustaining our economy and quality of life. I’ve more to say in making the case for fossil fuels, but that’s for next time.

Written by Al Fonzi
5th District Chairman, Republican Party, SLO County
Past President, SLO County Lincoln Club

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