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Archive for the ‘War’ Category

We Americans have always chastised China for Tiananmen Square.

We Americans have ridden into Syria and bashed Assad for using chemical weapons on his own people.

These are pictures of Americans attacked by their own government in July 2020.

Their crimes: protesting against police brutality.

The American government is shooting its own people.

Let us never again have the audacity and accuse other countries for human rights violations. We lost the right to lecture anyone. We have no moral foundation. We’re turning against our own people!

150,000 Americans are dead from an infectious disease, and 1,000 more are dying every day.

Black Americans are getting killed by our own police in broad daylight on camera.

Young Americans are getting shot in their own streets for protesting situations that they can’t stand anymore.

Is this our Great Again America?

Is all that winning worth it?

 

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Five decades after the Vietnam war we still have riveting movies about that war, or that conflict, as it was called back then. Spike Lee tells the story of Da 5 Bloods, the nickname for a group of all black Vietnam veterans, Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), who go back to find and exhume their fallen leader, Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman), and bring him home, and to find the massive cache of gold bars they buried there in 1971. To help them, Paul has brought along his adult son, David (Jonathan Majors).

They find Norman, and they find the gold. The problem is, you can’t just carry out that much gold in backpacks without attracting the wrong kind of attention, and the ensuing conflicts during the retreat brings out the worst in each of them, all deeply damaged from post-traumatic stress and ruined lives. Today’s Vietnam is not the Vietnam of the 1960s, but it’s also not Kansas. There are still plenty of landmines that can kill, and demons that can drive you insane.

In today’s age, where black Americans are once again the targets of hate, injustice and suppression fueled by nascent resurgence of racism let loose in our society, a movie about the fates of black soldiers in a war that wasn’t theirs hits the mark. Beware that this movie has some very horrid imagery that once seen, will stay with you for a long time. Some pictures cannot be unseen. I have warned you.

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I have mentioned the movie Rambo: First Blood many times in this blog over the years. Just search for the keyword and you can find the various posts. The first time was all the way back in 2008, when I listed it as one of Three Timeless Movies. But I never gave it the honor of a review in all that time.

Rambo came out in 1982. It was based on the 1972 novel First Blood by David Morrell. John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is a returned Vietnam veteran who is drifting in the Pacific Northwest while looking for a buddy from he war. When he finally finds his home he learns that he had died of cancer a year before. Rambo learns he is the last survivor of his group of Green Berets, and he is devastated. He walks into the nearest town when the local Sheriff picks him up and immediately starts pushing him around. He eventually gets wrongfully arrested and abused by the small-town police force. Triggered by flashbacks of torture, his instincts take over, he overwhelms the untrained cops, and escapes the jail with nothing but the clothes on his back and a knife. As they chase him into the woods they quickly realize that they are not hunting him, he is hunting them.

Consistent with the cliché of what we’re expecting Rambo to be, we find a one-man army with nothing but a knife facing hundreds of local cops, state police, national guard and military all trying to contain him. One of the famous quotes of the movie is “Don’t push it or I’ll give you a war you won’t believe.” And exactly that he does.

There is a lot of shooting and brutal attacks in the story, but despite his notorious reputation, Rambo doesn’t actually kill anyone in First Blood. He just severely wounds and disables many people trying to hunt him down.

After Rambo: First Blood in 1982, there were many sequels. Rambo does a lot of killing in those. The franchise went on with Rambo: First Blook Part II, which Reagan saw and was famously recorded saying “Boy, after seeing ‘Rambo’ last night, I know what to do the next time this happens,” which was picked up by microphones placed in his office for a television and radio speech in 1985 but not carried in the broadcast.

Rambo: First Blood, in my opionion, is a surprisingly good movie. It’s a good innocent hero versus very bad cops story, where the hero kicks ass, gets justice, but eventually goes out with a whimper and the audience gets to feel good.

All other Rambo movies that followed it are no comparison at all, not even in the same league.

I watched Rambo: Last Blood a couple of days ago, and that prompted me watch Rambo: First Blood again and finally write the review it deserves, 38 years after it first came out.

 

 

Here is a good summary and review on Reddit with some excellent comments.

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Just a couple of days ago was the 75th anniversary of VE Day in Europe, the day the Nazis surrendered about a week after Hitler killed himself. What most people do not realize is how short the tenure of power of the Nazis actually was. Hitler didn’t come to power until March 1933 and his Third Reich (which he called the 1000-year-empire) lasted only 12 years.

Today, May 11, 2020 is the 100th anniversary of a milestone speech Hitler gave at the Hofbräuhaus in Munich at 7:30pm, titled “Was wir wollen?” (what we want?). Below is a poster proclaiming the event. This was the time when the fledging Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiter Partei (the Nazi party) recognized Hitler’s oratory and propaganda skills and he started to rise within the party. He proclaimed he fought for the worker class, he called the people Genossen (comrade) and his mantra was to Make Germany Great Again after its humiliation by the allied powers after “the World War” which we now know as World War I.

Germany didn’t know it at the time, but the dark period started that day. The name of Hitler on the poster was still in very small font.

[May 11th, 1920] First NSDAP advertising posters in Munich. Call for the public party rally on May 11, 1920. Speaker: Adolf Hitler from 100yearsago

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World War I was one of the deadliest conflict in human history. Almost 40 million people died in that war. We generally think of WW I as the war of trench warfare. Soldiers lived in trenches on both sides of the front.

In April of 1917, two young British soldiers, Shofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), are sent on an impossible mission: cross into German-held territory in northern France and warn the commander of a British unit of about 1,600 soldiers about a deadly trap they don’t know about. Without any means of communications, the two soldiers are hand-carrying a letter. Blake was picked because his brother is a lieutenant in the endangered unit and the commanding general assumes that will give Blake the necessary motivation.

They only have one day and one night for the mission, since the unit is scheduled to attack in the morning and run into the ambush.

The movie follows the two hapless soldiers on their journey. The entire picture is filmed in one continuous shot, not in individual scenes. This gives the action some urgency and fluency. As they progress through the war-torn wasteland, they come across an endless stream of corpses in trenches, ditches, bunkers, on fields and in streams. The brutality and horror of war comes to life in 1917, and the senselessness of it all is ever present.

Some people just want to fight.

And therefore, many others have to die.

As I watched 1917, I realized that Adolph Hitler was a common German soldier in that war, and the experience of the conflict, and the aftermath and subsequent humiliation of the German people, was one of the driving forces that shaped his world-view and fueled his eventual rise to power – just to repeat the whole atrocity again.

Everyone should watch 1917 for the political and humanitarian message it sends, not just because it’s going to win many awards.

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Threatening Iran

Many Americans don’t realize how big Iran is. Iran is about four times as large as California or just about the size of Alaska. Geographically, it is the 17th largest country in the world. With 82 million people, it’s the 18th largest country by population and about the size of Germany, the largest country by population in Europe.

Here is a map showing Iran. It’s almost as large as Saudi Arabia, and it dominates the Middle East. It is a neighbor to almost all Middle Eastern countries.

It’s funny to see the country as it is surrounded by United States military bases. When you look at that map, it makes you wonder who is threatening whom?

What would we Americans think if there were Iranian military bases by the dozens all along the border in Canada and Mexico, as well as in Cuba, all over the Pacific, and in Greenland and Iceland? Would we feel threatened?

I am not a friend of the Iranian regime. It’s a terrible, oppressive, murderous country. But I know Iranian people, and I have a lot of respect for them.

Looking at this map makes me think:

What the hell are we doing messing with a country of this size, so far away, with no chance of making any difference, other than spending a lot of money and risking a lot of American lives (again)?

Can we please leave Iran alone?

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…or is it?

Recently I had a layover at Washington, DC’s Ronald Reagan Airport (DCA). Remember, this is the airport of our nation’s capital city. When you land at DCA, try to sit in a window seat on the left side of the plane. Almost all the time, the landing approach is to the south, and you get a wonderful glimpse of the Mall, the Capitol building at the end, the Washington Monument in the front, and the White House to the left, all in plain view, seemingly close enough to reach out and touch. Capital glory at its best.

…until you get off the plane and enter the DCA airport terminal. Quite often, if you land in a small commuter plane, you don’t even get a jet bridge. You walk on rickety metal stairs and ramps, outside, then enter a bus, wait until the entire plane is empty and all the people are in the bus, all the while breathing fumes of jet engines and bus exhaust all around.

The terminals are dilapidated, musty and crowded. The facilities are in want. It feels like you are in a third world county airport. It does not seem like you are in our proud nation’s capital. It is embarrassing.

Take, for example, a modern Asian airport, like Singapore Changi Airport, which has received the title of “World’s Best Airport” for seven years in a row.

This is an example of an airport of a thriving country which does not spend trillions of dollars on overseas wars in all corners of the world. It’s a country that invests in its infrastructure.

Jimmy Carter recently took a call from Donald Trump to talk about China. Carter’s main point reportedly was that China hasn’t spent a single dollar on war in many years. It has built an infrastructure of roads, it has more than half of the entire world’s high-speed train tracks, it has some of the world’s greatest and most modern airports, and it loans the United States money.

We need to rebuild our country’s roads – all of them. We need to fix our crumbling bridges. We need to improve our airport infrastructure.

When I watched the video above about Changi, I could not help but think of the book King Rat by James Clavell. The prison camp the entire story plays in is located near the premises of the Changi airport. Read King Rat, a 4-star book (in my rating) and marvel about the difference 75 years can make, from the bed-bug infested prison camp to the Jewel at Changi airport.

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You can judge the character of a person by what the person spends his or her money on.

You can judge the character of a nation the same way.

Our military budget is larger than that of the next 10 nations COMBINED.

The U.S. military is planning on buying a total 2,443 F-35 jets. Since the pricing of each jet is not clear, because they are sold in “batches” where the costs of development are sometimes wrapped into the planes, I find it difficult to figure out how much individual planes actually cost. I have come up with up to $200 million each, but on the low end around $100 million each (source).

Let’s say we’re on the low end at $100 million for each plane.

Trump and DeVos just suggested we cut the entire budget of the Special Olympics – about $17 million a year. We know Trump caved after the public outrage that announcement created. Two billionaires, two kleptocrats, trying to take the Special Olympics out of the government’s budget – in our name!

Let me suggest the following:

I don’t think we need 2,443 F-35 jets. I think 2,442 will do just fine. And we’ll take the $100 million we saved and fund the Special Olympics for about six years straight.

We can live with one less F-35, right?

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In 2003, L.T. (Tommy Lee Jones) is cozy in his retirement in his cabin in the woods in Oregon. He used to be in the special forces, where his assignment was to train soldiers to kill in hand-to-hand combat. When someone brutally slaughters four deer hunters, the FBI calls on L.T. to help them find and apprehend a murderer. They suspect a rogue special forces soldier.

Sure enough, Aaron (Benicio Del Toro) is one of L.T.’s trainees, one of the best there is, and mentally damaged beyond hope by terrible trauma he was exposed to during the conflict in Kosovo.

When L.T. comes after Aaron, he is unarmed, and it is not clear what he was thinking. Two trained killers are at each other’s throats for the duration of the movie.

This is Rambo, First Blood, part two, only much less refined. Two men, trainee and mentor, fight to the death with — it had to be that way — knives they made from scratch in the woods. L.T. fashions a knife from rock splinters. Aaron forges a knife from scrap steel he finds at a ruined embankment. As the two go at each other, we are subjected to completely unrealistic blood scenes. The human body only has about six quarts of blood. It seems like both fighters spill more than that in each of their fights, and they somehow keep walking away without bandages each time.

The Hunted has been around. It was released in 2003, and you have probably seen it flipping through the channels more than once over the years.

If you want to watch a movie about a damaged special forces soldier going berserk, watch Rambo, First Blood instead. It’s a much better movie.

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Did you know that the United States has 883 military bases in 183 counties?

Check this out:

The US military has a staggering 883 military bases in 183 countries. In contrast, Russia has 10 such bases – eight of them in the former USSR. China has one overseas military base. There is no country with a military footprint that replicates that of the United States. The bases in Japan are only a small part of the massive infrastructure that allows the US military to be hours away from armed action against any part of the planet.

There is no proposal to downsize the US military footprint. In fact, there are only plans to increase it. The United States has long sought to build a base in Poland, whose government now courts the White House with the proposal that it be named “Fort Trump.”

Currently, there are US-NATO military bases in Germany, Hungary and Bulgaria, with US-NATO troops deployments in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The United States has increased its military presence in the Black Sea and in the Baltic Sea.

Attempts to deny Russia access to its only two warm-water ports in Sevastopol, Crimea, and Latakia, Syria, pushed Moscow to defend them with military interventions. A US base in Poland, on the doorstep of Belarus, would rattle the Russians as much as they were rattled by Ukraine’s pledge to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and by the war in Syria.

These US-NATO bases provide instability and insecurity rather than peace. Tensions abound around them. Threats emanate from their presence.

— AsiaTimes

No wonder we spend more on the military than the next 10 countries combined! No wonder Trump complains that other countries are using us “for their protection” without paying us back for that.

I hate to do this, but I actually agree with Trump. Our country is insane with its military. Do we really need 883 military bases all over the world?

Could we maybe make do with 100 or so?

Or 101 – I think Trump will want his “Fort Trump,” won’t he?

Oh, my tax dollars at work!

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I am currently reading Fear: Trump in the White House, by Bob Woodward, and much to my surprise, I have come across quite a few passages where I find myself agreeing with Trump.

For instance, he was a staunch adversary of our “endless” war in Afghanistan. As far back as in March 2012, he tweeted: Afghanistan is a total disaster. We don’t know what we are doing. They are, in addition to everything else, robbing us blind.” Then in 2013: “Let’s get out of Afghanistan. Our troops are being killed by the Afghanis we train and we waste billions there. Nonsense! Rebuild the USA.”

When he was president, Trump was tired of his generals and their “plans.” He wanted to hear from soldiers on the ground. He called several soldiers, non-officers, to the White House and asked them what was going on in Afghanistan. Here is what he came away with:

“Unanimous. We’ve got to figure out how to get the fuck out of there. Totally corrupt. The people are not worth fighting for… NATO does nothing. They’re a hindrance. Don’t let anybody tell you how great they are. It’s all bullshit.”

— Fear: by Bob Woodward, page 123-124

I agree with every word above. If I were in the White House, I would also force my team to come up with a way to get the fuck out, and fast. It pains me to see American cash, our taxes, to be passed around by the handfuls to Afghan warlords who are taking our money and think we are idiots. I cringe when I think about American soldiers getting killed there — not for our freedom, not to defend our country, but for the bullshit we have allowed ourselves to get sucked into. This is very wrong and it needs to change.

We are idiots.

Now there is some Trump news we don’t get on the Rachel Maddow show. Thanks, Bob Woodward!

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In the video above (at location 2:40) Tara Dowdell quotes Trump as stating the U.S. contributes 90% to NATO, and the actual number is only 22%. There are some misleading statistics at work here that need more analysis.

[chart credit: NATO]

There are direct and indirect contributions to NATO. Direct contributions are made to finance requirements of the Alliance that serve the interests of all 29 members. They are not the responsibility of any single member. Costs are borne collectively, often using the principle of common funding.

The chart on the left shows direct contributions by NATO country. So here is Dowdell’s 22% figure. Germany, with 14%, carries the second largest burden.

But that does not represent the correct picture, and I believe that Trump didn’t refer to direct contributions. Trump often speaks inaccurately or imprecisely, to say the least, but I am sure that when he said that the United States contributes 90% of the cost of NATO, he meant the sum of the military spending goals of each country. So let’s analyze those separately.

I have been on record many times in this blog with posts about military spending of the United States. In this post of 2016 I show that the United States spends more on defense than the next nine countries combined. Trump’s increase of military spending this year of more than $70 billion alone is more than the entire military budget of Russia.

For NATO, the member countries agreed to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense. So the chart below is another matter entirely, and it shows the defense expenditures by NATO country as a share of the GDP in percent.

[chart credit: NATO]

This chart is pulled from the NATO website where there is a wealth of information and many charts.

Here you can see that the United States is the only country that far exceeds the 2% mark. Only four countries are above this guideline. Besides the United States, those are Greece (surprisingly), the United Kingdom, and Estonia. Everyone else is below or way below 2%. Note that some countries, like Romania, Latvia, Lithuania and Canada has significant increases since 2014. Trump tried to take credit for those increases recently, even though he had nothing to do with them. They were prompted by Obama pressure, and mostly by voluntary military buildup in the Baltic nations, which are close to Russia and feared Russian aggression after watching the Ukraine debacle.

Those are just percentages. When looking at the real numbers per country, the United States military spending in 2017 was $685 billion. The military spending of all other NATO countries combined was $271 billion. This means that the United States spent 71.7% of all military dollars of NATO. Not quite the 90% of Trump’s exaggeration, but a quite staggering amount.

Trump has said that “Germany owes the United States a trillion dollars for its defense.” This statement is obviously ludicrous. Nobody put a gun to the head of the United States and made it spend more on military than all other NATO countries combined. This has been going on for more than 70 years now. We all know about the $600 hammers and $10,000 toilet seats. I have been vocal in this blog about our defense budget and the price of a single F-35 fighter. Here is an interesting example about a $1200 coffee cup. The United States just loves its military and loves spending vast amounts of money on that military. Others simply can’t keep up, or don’t want to keep up.

NATO was created to form an alliance where all other members stand up for each other when one of them is attacked. After the end of World War II, that was critically important for the safety of Europe. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, I am sure it irked Russia that many of its satellites quickly switched sides and joined NATO, including Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic and Hungary. It didn’t look good for the Soviet ideology, and it does not look good for Russia today.

But in all those years the spirit of NATO was invoked only one time, and it was surprisingly in the defense of the United States after the attacks of September 11, 2001 and what transpired after that.

The United States started what many consider an illegal war in Iraq, and many of the NATO allies came to support America. NATO members spent massive amounts of money and many of their soldiers died in Afghanistan and Iraq in alliance with the United States.

So who owes whom money?

The United States spends massive amounts of money on its military presence in Europe and Europe has started taking it for granted. I remember growing up as a boy in Germany in the 1960s. I lived in a city with a large American military presence. As post-war children, we never really understood why the Americans were there. To us, it had always been that way. Today, almost half of all Germans want the American army to leave. They don’t see the point anymore. I suspect the same is true in many other European countries.

Trump says that the current arrangement “is unfair to the American taxpayer.” Well, it may be unfair, but it’s not Germany sticking it to the American taxpayer, it’s the American Congress and the administration, and the past administrations, all spending way too much money on military – and thus taking value and prosperity away from the taxpayer. But then, of course, there is the military industrial complex, which feeds a large sector of our economy. Maybe war is good after all?

With our current commander-in-chief, I wonder if the United States would honor its NATO obligations if Russia were to suddenly invade the Baltic states, or Poland? Talk about a world crisis!

In the end, perhaps NATO has run its course. Trump may be on to something. Maybe it’s time to let it fizzle out.

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Pino Lella is a 17-year-old Italian boy living with his family in Milan in 1943 as World War II comes into its final chapter. To escape the draft of Italian boys into the Nazi’s war and face even odds of getting killed on the Russian front within months of deployments, Pino reluctantly volunteers and is assigned as a driver to a Nazi general. In this position he happens to be in a front-row seat to observe the war and the machinations of the Nazis behind the scenes. But along with the doubtful privilege of serving one of the top commanders comes the branding of being a traitor in the view of his Italian countrymen, friends and even family.

Beneath a Scarlett Sky is a novel, but it is dramatized around the true story of the real person Pino Lella and his actual experiences during the war.

Early on, Benito Mussolini and Adolph Hitler hit it off as two open fascists. When Hitler decided to wage war, he started an alliance with Mussolini and the Italy German pact was a powerful force early in the war. But Italy fell earlier, and Mussolini was captured, and then freed. He served as a puppet leader under the Germans in the latter years of the war. The Italian people were brutalized both by the Italian Fascists loyal to Mussolini, and the German occupation force that was in Italy presumably to “protect” the nation from the Allied Forces. In reality, the Germans looted Italy, both of its young men for the war effort, and later of its goods, food, manufacturing, and industrial output. As it was custom for the Nazis, Jews were rounded up and shipped to concentration camps or into forced labor. Any non-cooperating Italians were forced to perform slave labor duties until they died. The Germans called it Vernichtung durch Arbeit (destruction through labor).

Atrocities by the Germans abounded. Here is a passage describing how General Leyer, one of the central protagonists, separates a child from her mother – while he knew it was forever:

A few moments later, a woman pushed through the crowd, helping a pale, sweating little girl about nine years old.

“Tell her that I am going to save her daughter,” General Leyers said.

Pino balked a moment before translating.

The woman began to sob. “Thank you. Thank you.” “Tell her I will get the girl medical help and make sure she never comes to Platform Twenty-One again,” the general said. “But the girl must come alone.”

“What?” Pino said.

“Tell her,” Leyers said. “And there is no argument. Either her daughter is saved, or she is not, and I’ll find someone more agreeable.”

Pino didn’t know what to think, but told her.

The woman swallowed but said nothing.

The women around her said, “Save her. Do it!”

At last, the sick girl’s mother nodded, and Leyers said to the SS guards, “Take her to my car, and wait with her there.” The Nazis hesitated until Colonel Rauff shouted at them to comply. The girl, though weak and feverish, went hysterical when they took her from her mother’s arms. Her shrieks and cries could be heard throughout the station while Leyers ordered the rest of the people out of the boxcar. He walked in front of them, looking at each in turn before stopping in front of a girl in her late teens.

— Sullivan, Mark. Beneath a Scarlet Sky: A Novel (pp. 347-348). Lake Union Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Reading Beneath a Scarlet Sky helped me understand the nature of the war in Italy so much better than I ever knew. That is actually surprising, because I could have had much more insightful knowledge of what actually happened had I just sat down with my paternal grandfather when he was still alive. He died in 1985 at the age of 80. We don’t know much about his role in the war, but he was off with the Bundeswehr all through the war, and in the final years he was stationed in Italy. He never talked about his experiences with me, or with anyone as far as I know.

But he was there, he was one of the Nazis described in Beneath a Scarlet Sky.

Maybe that’s why he never talked about it.

 

 

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So the White Trash in the White House stated today that Iran’s Military Budget is up more than 40%.

I would get it if he made things up that we can’t disprove, but about 5 seconds of googling and there is the truth and the lie exposed. Does he not know we can read?

The fact is, Iran’s military budget has gone from $12B in 2016 to $14B in 2017 (source). So Trita Parsi’s chart above is also somewhat misleading, but it does compare Iran to Saudi Arabia, for contrast.

Did you know that in 2014 (the last data I could find), the Iranian cabinet had more members with Ph.D. degrees from U.S. universities than Barack Obama’s cabinet? In fact, Iran had more holders of American Ph.D.s in its presidential cabinet than France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and Spain—combined.

Here is more information and links.

Should this make us think again about Iran?

But more importantly, it should make us think about Trump – who seems to just make stuff up.

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