David E. Steiner
Retired USAF, Teacher, Dad, Grandfather, Curmudgeon
I have a lot going on. Well, enough to give me the illusion I'm busy
On February 3rd, 1883 there was an auction of art works and writing to support the building of a pedestal on Liberty Island. Among the donations was a manuscript of a Petrarchan 14 line sonnet, The New Colossus, by a thirty-four year old Jewish writer, poet and translator, Emma Lazarus. In the first seven lines she named the statue “The Mother of Exiles.” After the statue was in place the poem was published in Pulitzer’s New York World and The New York Times, resulting in the plaque on the interior wall of the pedestal.
In 1884 my grandfather, Edward Alfred Steiner, a Jewish activist in his home town who was critical of the local government, decided to emigrate to the United States. He came in steerage. He knew nothing about the country, save for what he had read. He had no money. He had a facility with language, however, knew Russian and German and went to work in New York sweatshops while he learned English. He worked in a coal mine in Pennsylvania and worked his way west to Chicago on farms along with other immigrants, twice briefly jailed, dependent on the kindness of strangers, he made many friends along the way whom he did not forget. Along the way he converted to Christianity and by 1901 he was a Congregational minister in Sandusky, Ohio. Fluent in English, he had begun to write about his immigration experience and by 1900 he was earning a good living writing about immigration for magazines. Seventeen years later he would be well known as the author of more than a dozen books about immigration, two of which are still in print, and he was the Rand Professor of Applied Christianity at Grinnell College, lecturing in the summers at Chautauqua assemblies across America and making graduation speeches. In 1917 he purchased 160 acres in our mountains. When he retired in 1940 he had given most of his money away and he lived quietly in a retirement community in California until his death in 1955. For many years strangers came to Big Owl Road in search of Dr. Steiner, former students who wanted to say thank you.
It’s important to understand that this was a man who came to this country with little more than the clothes on his back. You could say he was a person of no merit. But within a few years he had married a Russian Jewess and had three children. His son Richard, my father, became a well-known Unitarian minister in Portland, Oregon. His contribution to understanding the politics of immigration lives after him. He was one of millions of immigrants who had nothing when they came here and made this the most welcoming and strongest country in the history of the world. They were not told, because they didn’t speak English or were brown skinned, “We don’t want you.” They were told, “Come and join the millions of immigrants building a democracy that will be a lasting monument to freedom and the value and rewards of hard work, where the perfectibility of mankind is still a possibility even though that goal remains in the mists of a distant future. Join us and help make it happen.”
This is still a great country. By any measure it’s the greatest democracy the world has ever known. But today “Make America Great Again” has become “Make America White Again.” Don’t come here unless you have “merit.” What does that mean? Is there merit in simply being Caucasian? What kind of merit did the Pilgrims have? What kind of merit did my grandfather and millions of others who arrived with nothing and dedicated their lives, and millions who gave their lives, to insure that their children would prosper and live in freedom? These people were of every color, race and nationality, and still are.
The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
A while back I wrote that John McCain is not a war hero. I still believe that’s correct. A war hero risks his or her life protecting the life of another. John McCain never did that. His class ranking at Annapolis was 894 out of 899. Still, he was admitted to flight training because his father and grandfather were both four star admirals. It took him two and a half years to earn his wings, a process that usually takes less than a year and half.
With regard to his military experience qualifying him for Commander in Chief, he had, at most, 50 hours of combat flight time before he was shot down. Prior to Vietnam he had crashed two airplanes and run into power lines in a third. Another was destroyed on the deck of a carrier in a fire. Many Vietnam fliers logged more than 500 hours of combat flight time. His fellow Navy fliers derisively called him “Ace McCain” because he destroyed four airplanes, but they were all ours. He was awarded a Silver Star, just one step down from a Medal of Honor, a Bronze Star, a Distinguished Flying Cross and a Purple Heart. The admiral who approved those medals was his father, then the Commander in Chief, Pacific.
Unlike WW II, in Vietnam to get shot down you had to be very unlucky or do something really dumb. It doesn’t take a lot of talent to get shot down. The idea is not to be a prisoner and war hero but to complete your tour and keep you and your ship alive to continue the fight. The only real heroes in that war are those who risked or gave their lives trying to save others when they did not have to do so. I have more than 700 hours of combat flight time, 11 Air Medals and the Distinguished Flying Cross, and I’m not a war hero. I was just doing the job I was hired to do, the best way I knew how.
McCain did his job flying and as a prisoner. Today, however, he is a hero, risking his life, probably shortening his life, as a check on Donald Trump and living what life he had left being a voice of reason in the United States Senate. He could have resigned and sought remission for the cancer that would eventually kill him. He chose to die still serving his country and all of its citizens when he didn’t have to. That’s heroic and he’s a hero.
“Land of the free and home of the brave.” It’s sung at every tub-thumping patriotic athletic contest, often very badly. But we’re more interested in shouting “Play ball!” than thinking about what that phrase means. It came to mind recently when I was in the TSA line at Denver International Airport. I had a (clean) handkerchief in my pocket. Everything else was scanned, but when I stood in the scanner with my arms up in the surrender position and I stepped out, I was confronted by a middle aged TSA man (as of September 2014 the starting salary for a TSO is $25,773 to $38,660) who proceeded to lecture me for several minutes about what he meant by “everything.”
I still had a belt on and shoes because I’m nearly 80, but he wouldn’t stop explaining what the word “everything” means and how dangerous it was for me to have a handkerchief in my pocket. I showed him my ID that identifies me as a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel. I showed him my passport and my Global Entry card that requires a background check and lets me whip through customs without filling out a customs form. There aren’t many of those I found when I first used it. No line at all. I showed him the three fingers of my left hand I left in Southeast Asia. He was not impressed. I asked him if he knew what the little enamel bar on my lapel stood for, (it’s the Distinguished Flying Cross) and he said, “Oh, I know you’re an officer.” Then he leaned toward me and, six inches away, said “You can buy one of those on eBay for twelve cents!” By this time there were several people from the TSA who heard this exchange. “I was in Vietnam,” he said, I had no idea why he said it until I remembered how he had said “officer.” is a menace. I would have told a supervisor, but I couldn't miss the plane so I had to leave it there, but am I a menace? The TSA is a menace.
Abuse of power has been around for a very long time. Ever since our ancestors walked out of Africa leaders have used better technology and weapons to enslave others or limit their freedom of belief, choice or action. Our system has three such leaders, the Courts, the Congress and President. At the moment, the courts have turned the election process over to those with the most money. The congress can’t pass a budget, but moves from one fiscal crisis to another.
The President is caught between the two and unless he can get a bill passed is reduced to making changes by executive orders. It’s an almost unlimited power. Abraham Lincoln used an executive order in order to fight the Civil War, Woodrow Wilson issued one in order to arm the United States just before it entered World War I and Franklin Roosevelt approved Japanese internment camps during World War II with an executive order. He’s the all-time leader, with 3,721 in 12 years in office. Many other executive orders are on file and could be enacted at any time. Reagan is the recent leader with 381, George Bush had 166, Clinton 364, George W. Bush 291 and Obama 219 so far. All told, there have been 13,707. George Washington started it all with 8.
This is not how a republic should work, with laws created by one person. But all too often a President has no choice if the Congress won’t act. We fought the revolution because King George taxed us without representation and we called that tyranny. All three branches got together in November of 2001. The TSA was created as part of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, sponsored by Don Young in the United States House of Representatives and Ernest Hollings in the Senate, passed by the 107th U.S. Congress, and signed into law by President George W. Bush on November 19, 2001. Enacted in haste and apparently not regretted by the government.
Originally part of the United States Department of Transportation, the TSA was moved to the Department of Homeland Security on March 9, 2003. The TSA’s budget is $7.39 billion (2014). But it’s now part of DHS. “The President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 Budget Request for $38.2 billion for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reflects our continued commitment to the security of our homeland and the American public,” according to the DHS. But just what has all that $45.59 billion every year done for our freedom? Part of the money, $200 million a year, goes to SPOT (Screening of Passengers by Observational Techniques). In May 2010, the Government Accountability Office released a report saying that SPOT's annual cost is more than $200 million and that as of March 2010 some 3,000 behavior detection officers were deployed at 161 airports but had not apprehended a single terrorist. Nor have they since. So since 2002, we’ve probably spent more than half a trillion dollars on this snipe hunt and still we just shuffle along in lines, accepting abuse from people in uniform and exposing ourselves to radiation of various sorts in the name of Safety. It should be reformed, if only to reduce the cost by eliminating the searches on as many qualified people as possible.
The result currently can be seen looking down at “Security” at DIA as a quarter mile of sheep are herded toward people in police-like uniforms like the man I encountered who will ask for their papers and turn them away of they don’t have the right ones. Given the stamp of approval they are then allowed into a large pen where their belongings and bodies are searched with X-rays and back-scatters that can indeed show a clean handkerchief in a pair of pants. They can also show a picture of the body and most people don’t know that the machine can save those pictures. Everyone who flies is familiar with it. Unless. Unless you’re a member of one of the elite groups who subject us to it. If we made every member of the Supreme Court and every member of Congress and the President go through “Security,” things might change in a hurry. Why? Because the process means we aren’t free and we aren’t brave. If we were, we would accept at least some of the risks that come with travel because “Security” is only expensive theatre.
It looks great. All those badges on the uniforms, which cops think they aren’t entitled to wear, and all those expensive machines. It must work. One guy tried to blow up his shoes and now millions of citizens have to take off their shoes every day to have them x-rayed in an expensive machine. It must work; we haven’t had a shoe bomber since. But in fact the TSA has never caught a terrorist and it routinely fails test efforts to thwart all those people and all those machines. Does anyone really think that a determined terrorist could not evade the TSA? In 2005 my wife, in a wheelchair at the age of 67, a retired Air Force Registered Nurse unable to walk and in a wheel chair after a stroke, had her shoes inspected, a wand scan and was lifted out of the chair to make sure she wasn’t sitting on a bomb although the chair went into the hold. It’s a complete waste of time and money every day, but it’s powerfully reassuring theatre.
Will the citizens ever have the bravery to stop and say “This is not what the USA is about. It’s expensive and it doesn’t work. It just allows men in uniform to bully citizens.” I can’t speak for anyone but myself. I’m not a sheep. I’m a citizen and I, and every citizen should be treated not as just a number, but as a unique person, with respect, by the country and by its leaders who impose restrictions on all other citizens but not upon themselves. It’s just plain wrong. I spent 25 years of my life defending freedom in war. I had a Top Secret Special Category clearance. I had more than 700 hours of combat flight time. We killed 56,000 of our men and women in Southeast Asia and lost. We have five million veterans who served in our wars and hundreds of thousands of them carry wounds and diseases as a result. They aren’t even allowed to use TSA PreCheck, nor are retired military, unless they go through the application process that is lengthy, requires an interview, costs $85 and is good for only five years. Bypassing the application is only for Active Duty. That veterans should be herded into a pen and asked for their papers and told their medals can be purchased for twelve cents on eBay and their service to their country has no meaning is just plain wrong. We need a new Executive Order. The TSA today is worthless harassment.
Benjamin Franklin in 1755 wrote: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” I’m not going to give up essential Liberty any more. The next time I’m bullied by my country it’s going to be a different story. If I can find that guy I’m going to leave a handkerchief in my pocket. But it may be another bully. I may not make the flight and I may go to court and I may lose, but I’m going to be brave, because that’s the only way I can be free.
Donald Trump is a pompous ass who, like Dick Cheney, did everything he could to avoid serving in Vietnam. Still, I have to agree with him on one narrow point: John McCain is not a war hero. His class ranking at Annapolis was 894 out of 899. Still, he was admitted to flight training because his father and grandfather were both four star admirals. It took him two and a half years to earn his wings, a process that usually takes less than a year and half.
With regard to his military experience qualifying him for Commander in Chief, he had, at most, 50 hours of combat time before he was shot down. Prior to Vietnam he had crashed two airplanes and run into power lines in a third. A fourth was destroyed in a fire on a carrier. Many Vietnam fliers logged more than 500 hours of combat flight time. He was awarded a Silver Star, just one step down from a Medal of Honor, a Bronze Star, a Distinguished Flying Cross and a Purple Heart. The admiral who approved those medals was his father, then the Commander in Chief, Pacific.
Unlike WW II, in Vietnam to get shot down you had to be very unlucky or do something really dumb. It doesn’t take a lot of talent to get shot down. The idea is not to be a prisoner and war hero but to complete your tour and keep you and your ship alive to continue the fight.
The only real heroes in that war or any war are those who give their lives when they don't have to. A flier risking his life to save a buddy is a hero. A private falling on a grenade is a hero. A naval officer pulling an enlisted man from an engine room fire is a hero. An audience member in a movie theater putting his body between the shooter and his friend is a hero. I have more than 700 hours of combat flight time, 11 Air Medals and the Distinguished Flying Cross, and I’m not a hero. I was just doing the job I was hired to do, the best way I knew how.
When he was released from prison his Navy jobs did not even include being captain of a Navy ship. He retired as a Captain (the equivalent of full colonel in other Services) with just 22 years of service, mostly as a result of automatic promotions from Lt. Commander (Captain) to Captain (Colonel) while he was a prisoner. Refusing early repatriation because his father was CINCPAC does not make you a war hero. Accepting it would have ended his military career and would have made a political career impossible. Mr. McCain is many things, some of them admirable, like the rest of us. But he’s not a hero, in war or any other way. He has supported sending more of our young men and women to be killed or maimed in two more useless wars and seems eager to send more of them to fight in a third in Iran while he remains in Congress, far from the risks of war, apparently having forgotten how cruel war can be. That's not heroic.
I went to the funeral of a Vietnam veteran who died too soon. After the service at Ft. Logan, one of the other members of Chapter 1071 of the Vietnam Veterans of America observed, “We’re dyin’ like flies.” We buried another of our nearly 100 members member a few weeks ago. Most of our members have chronic conditions and diseases. At the monthly meetings we have men in wheelchairs and on oxygen. Most of the members have had or now have cancers of many kinds, some caused by Agent Orange. Stories about premature deaths of Vietnam veterans abound on the Internet, some saying that only 800,000 out of 2.6 million are still alive. The available statistics, however, show that only 300,000 in-country veterans died before 2000 and a slightly larger number since, leaving at least 2 million still alive. It has been 40 years since the war ended, so the youngest veteran is now about 60. There are now at least 1.5 million geriatric Vietnam veterans. Many were drafted and served a single one-year tour in-country.
Without the draft, 2.5 million volunteers have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. 400,000 served three or more tours. 37,000 served five tours. 10,000 were members of guard and reserve units. Disability claims from those veterans are higher than those of previous wars. As of last year, 1.6 million of those men and women are now veterans eligible for treatment at VA medical centers. About 670,000 of those have been awarded disability status. Nearly all of the awards are service connected, and a little less than 100,000 have claims pending. Service connected disability is far more costly for the VA because there are no co-pays for those with 50% or more disability. Many veterans of these wars suffer from PTSD and require on-going psychiatric care. As a result, the male veteran suicide rate in the VA medical system is lower than the civilian rate.
More than 860,000 have entered the VA medical system. 150,000 have been awarded benefits ranging from $129 to $2,816 per month. One study by Linda Bilmes, a Harvard professor who writes about the long-term costs of wars suggests that the cost for these veterans, as they age and their disabilities require more care, will be at least $1 trillion. That’s a figure that makes $1.73 billion for a VA hospital seem like not very much.
On May 9th at 1:45 there will be a Veterans Town Hall Meeting at the American Legion Post 161, 6230 W. 60th Ave, Arvada. The discussion will be moderated by Vietnam War veteran and retired judge, Steve Munsinger. A panel of experts will answer questions and discuss the effects of Agent Orange, PTSD. They will also discuss VA benefits. The meeting is sponsored by the City of Arvada, the Jefferson Center for Mental Health, the American Legion Post 161 and Vietnam Veterans of America Posts 1071 and 1106.
The Vietnam vets will be with us for another 40 years and the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan another 80 years. Medical technology will continue to improve. It will cost more, but care was promised and the country must find a way to pay for it if the promises made to veterans are to be kept. The Department of Defense and the VA are basing their budget estimations on forecasting that the number of veterans in the next 20 years will drop by 20 to 25 percent. That estimate, like so many before it, is based on the idea that we won’t have another war.
I just returned from three weeks visiting an old friend I’ve known for 62 years in southern Texas. We were in college together, commissioned together, teachers of aerial navigation at Harlingen AFB together, together at Grinnell reunions, visited each other’s homes. He had a stroke in 2011 and is severely disabled. He was among the one or two smartest people I’ve ever known. The stroke caused short-term loss that limits his retention of today to just a few minutes. Still, he seems happy to see me, knows who I am although he sometimes has trouble coming up with my name. I have the same problem these days and I have no excuse. I enjoyed the visit, the warmth, both personal and weather, and the seafood.
In 2001 a great many people thought we should do everything we could to get information from suspected terrorists. The end, we thought, justified the means. We lost 3,000 people and in the ensuing 13 years, 6,802 Americans died in Iraq and Afghanistan in wars that searched for weapons of mass destruction and Osama bin Laden.
There were no WMDs and bin Laden went to Pakistan. Later figures aren't available. The value of what was obtained is questionable.
We captured suspected terrorists and used enhanced interrogation techniques, a euphemism for torture, and not just simulated drowning, but many other techniques equally inhumane. Torture is a cowardly admission that a combatant isn't able to get information by any other means. The recent report of the CIA's methods comes as a shock to many but there are also many who continue to believe that torture works even though more than 100 prisoners died in our custody by 2005. More recent figures aren't available.
Every branch of American military service tries to prepare troops for the possibility that they may be lost at sea or captured. Our survival schools train troops to escape and evade and survive in many places and climes. In 1972, I went through the Air Force's basic survival training at Spokane, Wash. The training included escape and evasion techniques, solitary confinement and confinement in a box so small that movement was impossible.
We also learned about interrogation techniques currently in use based on prior wars. I then went through sea survival training in Florida and jungle survival training in the Philippines. All of my training was based on recent past wars. Waterboard training probably is currently in the curriculum. It would be foolish not to include it simply because our enemies know that we used it.
It's now part of what any prisoner can expect and will surely be used against us at the earliest opportunity.
I spent a year in Southeast Asia flying unarmed 1930s-designed aircraft at 10,000 feet over Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The squadron lost some aircraft and there were no survivors. Other mission survivors were tortured and some died, but the North Vietnamese knew their prisoners were too valuable to kill outright. It was in their interests to keep the men alive. They could bargain using live prisoners. They were right.
How did this happen? Why did we ignore the lessons of the past and in the process pave the way for torture of Americans in future wars? We sent 2.6 million troops to these two wars. As of the end of last year, more than 900,000 service men and women had been treated at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics since returning Iraq and Afghanistan.
Going to war is as easy as saying that a government we don't like has weapons of mass destruction. This from a government with more WMDs than any other. It's as easy as invading a country for 13 years based on looking for one man who wasn't there. He escaped to Pakistan, living next to the Pakistan Military Academy. He's dead and our troops still face the possibility of capture or death in the war zones.
Edwin Starr's song "War" (What is it good for? Absolutely nothin') became popular as the Vietnam War was being exposed as unwinnable in 1970. But the song is wrong. War makes many people rich. Profits go to a broad spectrum of Americans: politicians, weapons-makers, oil companies, any company involved in the support of war. The end of these wars is one of the reasons gasoline costs us less at the pump today. It's expected to low for awhile, unless we get into another war.
We hear "This isn't what we are," but to the rest of the world, this is exactly what we are: the most powerful and arrogant country on the planet. We can blame lots of people in Washington, the CIA, the NSA and Congress, but all of us are responsible.