You Defend ALL Rights for ALL People, Not Some of Them or Some People

Many moons ago, I defended this country as a United States Marine. It is, other than my wife and my son, one of the things that I’m most proud of and, surprisingly, I did it right. After a four-year stint with Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children, I’ve got the official documentation and diploma that says I was honorably discharged for my service to the country.

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Thus, this last weekend – hell, the last 25 years or so, but that’s a discussion for another time – was quite angering for a military veteran. The actions by the SCROTUS, Orange Foolius, and his ill-advised and quite ignorant commentary on the National Football League and, in particular, players who protest the indignities foisted on minorities by law enforcement personnel, last Thursday night lit a firestorm with people. In those comments in front of a group of knuckle-dragging Neanderthals in Alabama, the buffoon in chief whined about how football wasn’t a “real game” anymore because of the concern over head injuries that the players might suffer (let’s just forget the factor of the debilitating effects of CTE). Then he launched off into a topic that, until he brought it back, had pretty much died out.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners,” Orange Foolius blubbered to the slobbering masses, “when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch (and it wouldn’t surprise me if he wanted to go off on the tangent the Pennsylvania fire chief went on in describing Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin) off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’”

Of course, the diatribe was in response to quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s 2016 season-long protest of police brutality and minority oppression by kneeling on the sidelines during the National Anthem. Don’t let the mere fact get in the way that it has since cost Kaepernick his position with the San Francisco 49ers, his team at the time, or the blackballing that has resulted from the other GMs in the league from his peaceful protest. In fact, other than a handful of players in the NFL (Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett most notably, who had a run-in with Las Vegas police that ended in a rather acrimonious situation), Kaepernick’s attempts to bring attention to the continued travesty that occurs far too often had pretty much been brushed under the rug.

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That was until the Tangerine Fool’s hacking of red meat to feed to a bunch of rubes.

After Herr Twitler finished his hissy fit, the entirety of the NFL spoke up as one voice. Instead of a couple of players, more than 250 took a knee. Roger Goodell, the Commissioner of the NFL, issued a blistering renouncement of Orange Foolius’ statements and entire teams, who would rather piss on the ground that Goodell stands on than join with him, linked together in a show of solidarity against the stupidity of the jackass in chief and him slobbering minions. This included the Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft (both donated to the presidential cause of the SCROTUS…wonder if they’re regretting that now).

These protests will continue probably for the remainder of the season, especially since this imbecile and his lobotomy-ravaged sycophants have tried to steal the concept of the protest, trying to make it about the “flag” and “the Anthem” and “the troops” instead of what it was about…the injustices facing minorities in this country, especially at the hands of law enforcement personnel. Be on the lookout for similar protests to begin in the National Basketball Association also.

Kaepernick’s protest was never about the military, nor the flag, nor even the Anthem. So why did he choose his moment last year to make his stand? Because every other means of protest had been taken from the people. Remember those idiots who said they would drive their vehicles into marchers in the street (they thought it was a great idea until a Nazi decided to do it and GOP legislators STILL want to reduce liability for drivers)? So, people don’t like marchers. Well, what about occupying an area and sitting or kneeling? Nope, that offends people too, unless you’re white, armed to the teeth and screaming about how “the gubment” is stealing your land…then you get acquitted. Kaepernick chose the least offensive way to go about making his protest (and, for those of you who say, ‘Why don’t he use his money to make his voice heard’…he has, to the tune of $1 million at the minimum) and it is one that the military men and women of this country should support wholeheartedly.

The military – the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and National Guard – is 37% minority. That the dotard in the White House chose to go after minority football and basketball players (yes, we didn’t even touch on the Steph Curry and Golden State Warriors “visit” to the White House, but I’ve got to leave you some legwork to learning) is a damning sign when he doesn’t call out white supremacists, racists, or religious zealots (his very own “spiritual advisor,” the “Reverend” Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, suggested that football players should be thankful that nobody has “shot them in the head”) for their bullshit.

Beyond the racial factor, the military and its fighting men and women do not defend a flag. Those airmen and women, soldiers, sailors, and Marines do not defend a ditty written by a racist as he stood passively by in a boat, scribbling his screed, while watching those said defenders of the country die at the hands of British ships bombing the hell out of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. The men and women of the Armed Forces – be they active duty or reservist – defend the people of a country, ALL people, whether they are white, black, brown, red or polka-dotted.

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They defend the Constitution, the law of the land, and ALL that the document entails. They defend the Bill of Rights and the 27 Amendments that have been made to the Constitution over the past 240 years. That means, when it comes to the question of the “methods of protest” employed by one group or another, they stand for it, even if they don’t agree with it. As a Marine veteran, I support the right of protest. It is one of the many rights that citizens are granted and that I defended for them and for this country. Freedom of speech is arguably (I personally think there’s not an argument) one of the greatest rights we have, the ability to speak out against the government, its politicians, and its institutions. And yes, sometimes that freedom of speech can be used in areas that make you uncomfortable or you dislike. Allowing such speech is the true test of the freedom.

I recall when I was growing up in Illinois there was a small town near Chicago called Skokie, a predominantly Jewish and Polish enclave. There was a band of Illinois Nazis (you wonder where that line “I hate Illinois Nazis” in The Blues Brothers comes from?) that petitioned for the right to march through the villa. After several legal attempts to stop the march were denied – on the RIGHT OF FREEDOM OF SPEECH – the Illinois Nazis marched and people peacefully protested it. Such raconteurs as Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos also have that same right to be heard; so does comedian Bill Maher, who sometimes takes angles on freedom that people don’t agree with.

Freedom of speech is exactly that…you have the freedom to express your ideas. Now, there is also that right to PEACEFULLY protest on the other side and there are also the consequences of the freedom of speech. If you are willing to accept the consequences of what your freedom of speech might entail – as Colin Kaepernick has been – then your freedom to do it is guaranteed.

The National Anthem is just a song. No military person is defending a song. Likewise, the same could be said about the flag. It is presented as a symbol of the country, not something to be worshipped on the altar of a god. If you are disturbed by someone who is making a peaceful protest by simply kneeling on the ground but you accept something like this…

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Then you are the one with a problem. And if you accept that – or accept a supposed leader in the SCROTUS who thinks that white Nazis are “good people” while calling minority athletes “sons of bitches” – then we can see where the problems in this country lie. And it goes beyond someone kneeling in silence to protest.

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What Rights Do You Have in The Military?

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One of the most overlooked professions in this country is that of being a member of the Armed Forces. Whether you’re Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard or a Reservist (yes, the way they are used today, they deserve to be noted also), the work that these men and women do goes literally above and beyond the call of duty. Not only do they perform these jobs – often without much recognition – but they will also give up a tremendous amount to be able to wear the uniform of a United States military member.

A couple of stories recently in the news encapsulates these points very well. While it is not officially recognized as a part of the military, The Citadel has the highest percentage of any U. S. college student body that has gone on to serve in the military; to be exact, all but 46 of their living graduates have been or are members of the Armed Forces (perhaps because every student is a member of ROTC, which eases the transition into the military’s officer programs). Thus, their rules are pretty much in line with that of the Armed Forces itself in the conduct and dress of cadets.

According to recent reports, a prospective student recently accepted to The Citadel has challenged the college, requesting to wear a hijab – the traditional headscarf that Muslim women are required to wear – and to have thorough coverage of her arms and legs per the religious dictates of Islam. The Citadel, however, denied that request, citing that the dress code that is dictated to the cadets emphasize the uniformity of a military organization. “The Citadel has relied upon a highly effective educational model requiring all cadets to adopt a common uniform. Uniformity is the cornerstone of this four-year leader development model,” the Commandant of The Citadel, Lt. General John W. Rosa, said in a statement that was released by USA Today. “This process reflects an initial relinquishing of self during which cadets learn the value of teamwork to function as a single unit.”

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Now it has to be noted that The Citadel does have three Muslim members in attendance at the university, so it isn’t like they haven’t dealt with this situation previously. In addition, The Citadel – as do all of the military academic academies – do make accommodations for particular religious diets and services. As of now, the student has decided not to enroll at The Citadel, but her family is considering legal action against the public institution.

On another military-related front, a group of black female cadets from West Point, the Army’s academy, will not be reprimanded for posing for a photograph on the West Point grounds. While wearing their cadet dress uniforms, the women posed on the stairs of their barracks with their fists in the air – the “Black Power” salute – which drew the outrage of some when it somehow found its way into the media. After an investigation, the U. S. Department of Defense decided that the cadets didn’t break any rules with their actions and, as such, no reprimands or punishments would be issued.

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For those that aren’t a part of the military (or have never been), there are several huge differences between military life and civilian life. To be honest, there are some that function better under the guidance of the military lifestyle than they would in the civilian world. But there is one thing that is undoubtedly true…when you’re in the military, you do not have the rights that you would have in the civilian world.

As a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, I saw on a regular basis how rights that you have come to expect – nay, are granted – in the civilian life DO NOT EXIST once you don the uniform to defend your country.

Freedom of speech? As a member of the military, you do not have the ability to discuss any situation, whether in support or opposition to the President of the United States or the government, otherwise you can face a court martial for violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice. This is something that was seen a few years ago in something that, personally for me, was quite annoying.

Over Facebook a few years ago, there was a rash of supposed “military members” (I say supposed because there were several of these photos that looked photoshopped) who would post pictures of themselves with quotations about their opposition to service in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or potentially being sent to another conflict in the Middle East. These quotations, normally written on a piece of paper, were then held strategically to block the “military member’s” face so that they would not face punishment for what they were doing (if you had any cojones, you’d stand behind your words, show your face and give your name). The movement died off fairly quickly, however, for reasons unknown.

Political freedom? While in uniform, a military member cannot support any political activity, much in line with being unable to have freedom of speech. In 2012, an Army Reservist was reprimanded by his superiors for speaking at a Ron Paul for President rally, then going on to do a live interview with CNN regarding his position on the wars in the Middle East.

When it comes to religious freedoms, the military begrudgingly breaks on that front. They will allow for special meals, even for Shabbos (the Jewish Sabbath, which usually entails that the practitioner abstain from working, electronic activities and other non-restful activities) or, in extreme cases, some clothing (The Citadel does note a cadet was allowed to wear long pants during physical training “about eight years ago” in a break with their normal attire). They also will provide adequately trained religious leaders – priests, rabbis, etc. – to conduct services for their servicemen and women.

Double jeopardy? In the civilian world, that exists. In the military, you can be punished on many occasions for the same offense. I saw many a fellow Marine who, after committing some offense out in the town, be subjected to the military’s form of justice under the UCMJ. Even if the civilian case was eventually dismissed for one reason or another, the military was never wrong and their punishment always stood.

Basically, if you enter the military, you are owned by the federal government. They have the right to tell you where to go, when to do it, how to do it and what will happen to you if you don’t do it that particular way. They also can tell you what to do in your daily life, whether you are on the base or living off base…their rules are final and unyielding.

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In the case of The Citadel, they did the right thing. While making accommodations for religious reasons isn’t out of the question, there is an importance to having all members conform to the same regulations and be judged by the same rules. If someone is allowed a different form of clothing – regardless if it for a religious reason or not – then they are not being held to the same standards as another cadet. As such, I believe The Citadel is right.

I do believe that the commanders at West Point got it wrong, though. Although one of the superintendents at the Army’s academy stated the cadets would “receive some instruction,” part of the reason they are at West Point is to learn how to conduct themselves as an officer in the United States Army. Doing things such as the “Black Power” salute – which is perfectly allowable if you’re a civilian – while wearing your cadet uniform IS a violation of the UCMJ. A reprimand was completely in line…expulsion, as some suggested? No, nowhere close to being an offense worthy of being tossed from school.

We hear a great deal of talk about freedoms in the United States and it is important to think about them carefully. Those that defend those freedoms – the men and women of the United States Armed Forces – don’t have the same voice that we civilians do. You learn to appreciate that when you’ve been in the military previously.

What’s My Problem? It Should Be Everyone’s Problem…

After one of my essays the other day, someone had the audacity to ask me what was my problem with the Republican Party. “Why don’t you go after the Democratic Party the way you go after the Republicans?” the person asked. I offered a quick, Facebook-friendly reply – which wasn’t enough for that person (it seldom is – Facebook is not an essay-friendly arena) – so I thought that I would take the time to fully enunciate what “my problem” is with the Republican Party, at least the way that it is constituted today. When I reach the end, I think that most people might recognize that it should be everyone’s problem.

I came of age in the 1970s, in the post-Watergate/post-Vietnam Era when we questioned everything that made up the government (in fact, it is why I still question it today). Whether it was the federal, state or local offices, none of them were given a break over the conditions in the United States. Republicans back then were not identified by their blind addiction to denial of social norms – abortion was an issue that was just beginning to bubble – but were more likely to be viewed on their business acumen, foreign policy expertise and respect for the military, things that everyone could get behind including their counterparts. Democrats at that time were looked at as the voice of the “people,” the party who would actually stand with those who needed the help the most when the times were the toughest, and protected them sometimes against those businesses that threatened them.

As the 1980s rolled around – and especially after the mixed results that were the presidencies of Richard Nixon (and, after his resignation, Gerald Ford) and Jimmy Carter – the two parties were still somewhat malleable in that they stood for different things but worked together for the improvement of the United States. The election of Ronald Reagan was something the country needed – a new rebirth, if you will – and it did serve to recharge the nation. I served in the United States Marine Corps during Reagan’s presidency and, while seeing him build the world’s greatest military, I also saw the Republican Party’s treatment of its fighting force in decrepit barracks and base housing, inadequate equipment, improper usage in military actions and other various areas of governance, including the denial of the AIDS epidemic and other societal ills.

Because of the success of Reagan, President George Bush – Bush I, as I like to call him – was a natural choice to continue. But Bush was different:  he was practical, he knew that you couldn’t just force the military anywhere for any reason (perhaps because of his days at the helm of the Central Intelligence Agency, he had a bit more “intelligence,” no pun intended) and he also knew you had to pay for the military. Thus, when he paid for the First Gulf War (or military action as “war” was never declared per se) by raising taxes, he was doomed as the 1990s began.

The true segmentation of the Republican and Democratic parties (and there is a segmentation, they are not “the same”) – and the reason for my look at one over the other – came about in the 1990s. When Bill Clinton became President in 1992, the nation took off, arguably because he worked with a Republican-led House of Representatives and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich in 1994 and they maximized the “tech surge” of the mid-1990s. It was the second term of Clinton, however, that put the nail in the coffin for me.

Instead of being pleased with making the country work, the rising “neo-con” movement in the Republican Party – not happy to have a military that was sitting on the sidelines, wanting a bolder and more aggressive foreign policy and willing to do whatever it took to regain not only the power in Congress but also in the White House – seized on Clinton receiving a hummer from intern Monica Lewinsky and turned that into an impeachable offense (ever the opportunist Gingrich, rather than trying to staunch this wave, grabbed a surfboard and rode along with it). Fortunately, a more-rational Senate was able to stave off the slathering idiots that were the neo-con Republicans screaming for Clinton’s removal, but it would only be a momentary pause before the truly shitty schism would develop between the two.

The Republican neo-cons weren’t happy with skewering Democrats, they also ravaged their own. First they took down John McCain in 2000 with a bogus “black child” scam, getting their hand-picked puppet, George Bush (or Bush II), into the nomination, then they would turn the targeting on Al Gore as the election hinged on the state of Florida (the “swift-boating” of John Kerry four years later was just icing on the cake). Having seated 10 of the last 12 Supreme Court Justices, the Republicans were able to use the U. S. Supreme Court to shut down any further review of Florida’s recount in 2000, with 538 voters being the determining factor in Bush’s 2000 Electoral College win (Gore won the popular vote) over Gore.

Once back in power – and with the attacks of 9/11 – the Republican neo-con movement was given the proverbial golden chalice of opportunity to sweepingly affect the United States and they took full advantage of it. They enacted the Patriot Act of 2001 – with a reluctant Democratic Senate coming along (only Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, a Democrat, voted against it) – arguably the worst piece of legislation in the history of the country. They started first an air campaign against the alleged (true) mastermind behind 9/11, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, in Afghanistan, but then for some inexplicable reason transferred most of their attention to an air and ground invasion of Iraq and its dictator Saddam Hussein, in essence starting a two-front war.

While making these mistakes, they also spent money like drunken sailors on shore leave. Instead of maintaining steady tax rates, the neo-cons lowered taxes – apparently thinking that there would be a magical money tree that would just drop $100 bills from the sky – while pushing an extreme anti-everything social policy that impeded on the rights on every person that isn’t a white male in the U. S. If that wasn’t enough, then the fiscal collapse of 2008 occurred – and the resulting “bank bailout” that was started by President Bush – before President Barack Obama came to office.

Now, in my entire existence, the Congress may not have agreed with the President, but they at the minimum did their job and attempted to work with the President. They passed bills, put them to the President and it was up to him as to whether he wanted to enact them. They WORKED with the President and/or his personnel. From the start of the Obama Presidency, however – and epitomized by now-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s infamous “our job” speech (“Our job is to ensure that the man in the White House is a one-term President”) – the Republicans have done exactly NOTHING to further the cause of the United States (and please don’t try to say the 60 or so votes to end the Affordable Care Act constitutes “action”).

Where I come from – my core beliefs – is that government works the best when it does keep its nose out of the lives of its citizens. There come moments in a nation’s history, however, when it does require the “voice of reason” to step in and make a determination. Slavery, the right of women to vote, civil rights, abortion, equal protection for women and LGBT persons…these are all moments when the federal government has to step in and say, as a whole for the nation, that there is one rule for one nation. Through this method, one area of the nation cannot inflict its ignorance, giving the country a black eye over something that should be settled (as Alabama recently did over the gay marriage issue).

With these issues, the Republican Party seldom seems to be on the right side (slavery seems to be one of those rare occasions). Rather than embracing the rights of people, the GOP seems to kowtow to a small sect (and I use that term in its perfect religious intentions) of people who consistently chop off their leaders’ arms for not trying to be more accepting of people DIFFERENT THAN THEM.

I don’t want to see leaders blaming people for being disadvantaged or poor, I want to see those leaders attempt to help those people (a great program in North Carolina, started by a Republican, encouraged people on public assistance into a two-year program that eventually saw those people get off the dole). I want to see schools given every tool available for the children rather than hear politicians cry about the tax expenditure (education is the only way to ensure that we improve as a country) of simply providing textbooks. I want to see leaders who try to improve life for everyone rather than improve it for a few. I want to see intelligence praised instead of derided, as many in the GOP do when it comes to science.

As to the military (and as a veteran), I would like to see our troops used less rather than more. I’d prefer to see them used only as a TRUE last resort instead of as a “peacekeeping” force (as they have been since World War II). And, if you’re going to use the military, supply them with the equipment they need, pay them well, take care of their families and, when they come home, take care of the veterans and their medical conditions. The Republicans who say that they cannot take care of veterans – calling it an “entitlement” – shouldn’t ever darken the door of Congress again.

This means you have to have money for everything. Paying for a strong military, infrastructure, improvements overall for people’s daily lives, business and education improvements…it all takes money. While it can be streamlined, it also needs funding to function. Taxation for government is a necessary evil and denying that increase in revenue is a death sentence to being a third world country.

This isn’t to say all Republicans are evil, just as it isn’t to say that all Democrats are saints. But, when the scales are weighed, I see one side doing more for people and the military overall and it certainly isn’t the one that is represented by the heavier animal. I’m always open for presentation of evidence to the contrary but, for the Republican Party, that evidence is rather sparse.

Is that answer good enough?

What if the Answer to Terrorism is That There Isn’t One?

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Much like the rest of the world, I’ve been riveted to the coverage and aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris. The news agencies, in their haste to “be first” with the story, refused to simply say that “the situation is flexible” and that they weren’t fully aware of the ramifications of the attacks at any point. As such, the world saw the death toll mount from a dozen…then 30…then 60…until, on Saturday, the most up to date death toll of 129 was released, along with 352 injured in one manner or another. (There are unconfirmed reports that it has risen to 132 people as of Monday morning.)

The tragedy of such a violent attack on one of the world’s most beautiful cities is at once angering and saddening. That a multicultural center of the world such as Paris could be the focal point of such a racist and theistic attack – if we are to believe that it is the work of ISIS, as reports throughout the weekend suggest – leaves a person to wonder just what may come next. With 9/11, we kind of knew that the perpetrator of that attack, the Osama bin Laden-led Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, had shot everything the organization had into that travesty; with this attack in Paris, however, it was a meticulously run military-style operation that was well-planned and could be transplanted to any major city on the planet. Moscow? London? Tokyo? Rio de Janeiro? Mexico City? Los Angeles? New York again? It would not take much to have a similar style Paris-type attack occur at these or any one of hundreds of major locales in the world.

As the weekend continued, the dichotomy between the thoughts of people was vastly different. My Facebook and Twitter accounts hummed with the drumbeats of war, with the sentiment of “bomb them back to the Stone Age,” while a smaller faction of voices advocated for a peaceful remedy to the situation. This same point/counterpoint was seen on Sunday morning when some of the opinion show’s hosts (such as Fareed Zakaria’s GPS on CNN) suggested not taking any action against ISIS (with the opinion being that, by the world not showing any aftereffect from the terrorist attack, it would force the group from their terroristic actions) while their guests, mostly members of the United States government and former military commanders, sounded the clarion call for the troops to come to the battlefield for another Middle East conflict.

Being the Marine at heart that I once was on active duty, you never want to see war. I don’t know of any military person – from the seaman on a nuclear sub in the Navy to a grunt in the Army trenches to a flyboy in the Air Force dropping his bombs from afar – who actually cheers when his brethren are sent off to a conflict. The U.S. military, if we are to be honest, has been wrongly used arguably since the end of World War II, put in situations where it is supposed to fight but not win and defend without going on offense.

The unfortunate thing is war is probably where we are headed again. France has “declared war” (according to its leaders) against ISIS and enacted bombing runs (approximately 20 over the past few days) against ISIS strongholds in the Middle East. Beyond that, the U. S. and Russia continue to battle “terrorist elements” (the problem being is that the U. S. and Russia don’t exactly view the same people as terrorists) that may include ISIS in Syria and the Iraq government, known for its ability to tuck tail and run in the face of the black flag of ISIS, continues to “fight” the group inside its borders.

Diplomacy is always the correct route to take first but, in the situation with ISIS, what do you diplomatically do? It isn’t as if there is a way to put sanctions on the money that ISIS has and, if there is, no one has done it as of yet. You cannot restrict the travel of the group’s “leaders” (because that is a constantly changing cast of characters) or appeal to a segment of the ISIS community that they should “rise up” and overthrow those in control of the organization. Hell, there isn’t even representation in the United Nations nor an elected figure whom you could have logical negotiations with.

By all estimations, ISIS is one of the biggest terrorist groups in the world but probably one of the smallest military groups. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimates the size of ISIS inside Syria and Iraq to be somewhere between 20,000-31,000 people, with other organizations stating it is more along the lines of 100K-200K. Outside of Syria and Iraq, in such areas as Africa and Asia, the count is between 32,600-57,900 jihadists that are considered the “Military of ISIS.” If those numbers were totaled up, ISIS followers and military totals somewhere between 52,600 and 257,900, depending on who you believe. That is slightly more (if we take the high end) than what the country of Saudi Arabia has (249,000) but less than that of Japan (317,913).

Spread out as the organization is, one nation cannot take on the entire responsibility of battling ISIS. It has to be a worldwide coalition of countries using every bit of their resources, including putting men and women at risk of losing their lives or being maimed, on the battlefield (remember, I personally dislike the term “boots on the ground” because it removes the human factor that people might actually die from your actions), through the skies and by locking down the borders where ISIS is supposedly in power. It would take Europe, Russia, the U. S. and the Middle East – countries like Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran, who haven’t exactly been stepping up to the plate in this fight – putting aside their personal distrusts if (and that is a mighty big IF) they are to destroy the group.

But here’s a thought… what if the answer, the response to “terrorism,” was to do nothing at all?

By its inherent definition, “terrorism” is the usage of “terror” or frightening people to achieve a political goal. Whether the terrorism is an attack on a military ship (the USS Stark in 1987 and the USS Cole in 2000), on an iconic building, monument or area (9/11, the Paris attacks) or on people who supposedly follow the same faith (ISIS claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Beirut on November 12 that killed 43 people, mostly Muslims; it was overshadowed by the Paris attack the next day), the goal is to force changes in lifestyle, actions or political philosophies. There are some differences with ISIS, though, that make it a bit different.

In the past, terrorist organizations would make political or financial demands, such as when the Irish Republican Army or Red Army Faction in Germany would request the release of key leaders of their organizations during the 1970s or a ransom for hostages they held. While ISIS does this too (especially if it is a Western hostage), they are more interested in building a nation of their own, taken from other Muslim countries in the Middle East. Would their power – and their uncanny ability to draw in followers from around the world – be dismantled by simply ignoring their actions?

Israel is an example of what might be done regarding terrorism. While they are one of the most aggressive countries when it comes to protecting their own people (as any nation should be), they don’t dwell on the subject when an attack occurs. The knifing attacks over the past few months, while they did draw attention, quickly went away as Israelis cleaned up from the attacks and continued about their lives as if nothing happened. They have gotten used to the air-raid sirens that will pierce the night or shatter a day’s tranquility. They choose not to let terrorism dictate what they will do with their lives.

I know many would say, “Well, I don’t want to live like that.” Unfortunately, we don’t have a choice anymore. This isn’t the 1970s, where it took days to traverse between continents. Today, a person in Nebraska can be in Baghdad within 24 hours if they so desire. That same holds true for potential terrorists, provided they can penetrate the extreme amount of security that is in place around the world.

Second, there is a fallacy that we can be “perfectly safe.” No matter what restrictions are put on, no matter how many security devices are used, there is nothing that can be made “perfectly safe.” All you can do is make it as safe as humanly possible and, if there is a failure, you reinforce the safeguards and continue on with life’s activities.

Finally, let’s look at the actual opponent. Despite the boogeyman persona that has been laid upon ISIS, nearly the entire world will never cross paths with a member of the group. To battle ISIS, we have to ignore what they do while simultaneously thwart their attempts through diligent security measures that will on occasion fail. By giving them the credence that they are at the proverbial “barbarians at the gates” puts unnecessary fear into the weak and wastes the efforts for those that are vigilant.

Terrorism isn’t a “war” that can be won. In war, you battle over territory until one or the other side is defeated. With terrorism, there is a nine-headed Hydra that can never be extinguished. The best that can be hoped with terrorism is that it is castrated to the point where its actions are miniscule and its impact on people nearly non-existent. If we are able to reach that point with ISIS, then the battle will have been won.

Spending a Week in the “House of Mouse” Part Three: The Debriefing

WDW

After every major operation in the United States Marine Corps, the troops go through what is called a “debriefing.” The purpose of the exercise is to pass along as much information about what occurred during the operation in question to be able to make a future operation run smoother than the one just concluded. Although you may not think so, taking on the challenge of Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL, is very much like a military maneuver in that it takes an extreme amount of planning to have the best time possible.

What we’re going to cover in this last part of my family vacation to the “House of Mouse” (hereafter referred to as “WDW”) are various miscellaneous things that you might not have picked up in the first two parts. Trust me, I could probably go on for a few more installments about WDW to help your trip, but I have to leave something for you to have an adventure yourself!

Dining

Arguably the best thing about the WDW resort – if you’re not into the rides, the Disney characters or other items around the amusement parks – is the choices for dining on the properties. Each of the amusement parks are replete with dining options and some of them are quite outstanding. But you have to be able to schedule these well in advance – our family did it three MONTHS in advance of our trip – otherwise you might be sitting in line waiting for a meal that will never come.

The dining options can be as simple as cafeteria style dining at some of the Disney hotels on the property to buffet style options that feature Disney characters (Chef Mickey’s is a very popular option in this category) to scrumptious meals featuring cuisine from several foreign lands (perhaps the best example our family found of this was Sanaa at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, excellent Indian and African fare). You have to be careful, however, as the meals with the Disney characters can be quite pricey; for the buffet you’re having, you might be better off waiting until you’re inside one of the parks where you can meet the Disney characters and choose a less pricey option.

There is also the issue of traveling to some of restaurants at other Disney hotels or even in the theme parks themselves. Sometimes you can do as instructed by the Disney staff – take a Disney Transport to one of the parks and catch another bus to the resort you have reservations at – and it will take you at least an hour to travel to and from a meal alone. This is one instance where a rental car comes in handy – especially if you have reservations at something like Olivia’s Café or the Grand Floridian Café – as you can drive directly to the resort, have your meal, and drive back to your hotel without the hassle of having to take the Disney Transport.

If you are going to a theme park restaurant (usually you would do this for dinner) you have to be careful not to languish too long over those after-dinner drinks. Disney Transport runs from the theme parks up to an hour after they close (around 8PM this time of year). If you have a late dinner reservation and repose in satisfaction following the meal, you might find yourself having to take a cab because Disney Transport has shut down for the evening.

There is another thing that you won’t see much of at WDW. Alcohol wasn’t served at the Magic Kingdom and the other two parks (Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios) until 2012 and even then it was on a very limited basis (such as restaurants). EPCOT is the only theme park where there are several varieties of alcohol sold around the park, including craft beers, wines from different countries and other spirits. So if you want to get your drink on, EPCOT is the place to be.

Miscellaneous

If you’re going to WDW, do not expect the trip to be an easy one, especially on your feet. You are going to be walking anywhere between five and ten miles a day (depending on how long you spend at the theme parks), so comfortable, well broken in shoes are a necessity. If you are planning on wearing a new pair of sneakers or breaking in those darling ankle boots you just got at Macy’s, you are only setting yourself up for a world of hurt and blistered feet. Don’t forget about comfortable socks, either; thin socks will be chewed up by the end of the day at WDW.

If you have young kids with you, it is quite advisable to pack a bag, like a beach bag, with some snacks and water for them to partake of during the day’s adventure. WDW personnel (they like to call them “cast members” whether they are performing in the shows or letting people through the gates) are pretty good about not hassling people over bringing in food and water into the theme park. These items will come in handy for the kids to rejuvenate themselves and even the adults might like a bottle of water to stem their thirst.

Of course, do not bring weapons into WDW and its theme parks. Even though Florida is a concealed carry state where people can normally carry a concealed weapon such as a handgun, the grounds of WDW are strictly a no-concealed carry area. There are plenty of stories online about people who challenged this law – stating that the WDW ban doesn’t have “force of law” (validity) – but have ended up being banned from the park because they didn’t want to give up their weapon. In fact, if a guest is to bring one to a WDW resort or hotel, the resort requires that the weapon be locked up at the front desk in a safe deposit box. According to WDW representatives, only on-duty law enforcement officers who have jurisdiction at WDW may carry weapons around the property.

There was something else that was a bit of a surprise that cannot be brought into the WDW properties. Selfie sticks – those devices used by many to get a “hands free” look to their cellphone photographs – are also banned by WDW. I didn’t get the opportunity to ask why this was the case (I am figuring two reasons – they can be quite obnoxious if someone is trying to walk around you and you whip this out in their path and, hey, they can be used as a weapon), but my wife and I found out first-hand what happens when you try to get one through the entrance. If you want to retrieve your property, you have to take it to Guest Relations, where it is appropriately tagged and you are given a receipt to be able to retrieve it. You can also voluntarily give it up, but I didn’t notice anyone doing that.

A Final Remembrance

There are a litany of things that I would like to do in my meager existence on this mortal coil – run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain and experience New Year’s Eve in New York City’s Times Square are two such examples – but with my age, those things have long since passed me by. Going to one of the Walt Disney theme parks – be it Disney Land, WDW or one of the parks in Paris or Japan – may not seem like much, but it is a pretty special experience, especially when you share it through the eyes of a son and share it with your wife and mother-in-law. It was a special time and, even though there were some things that were on the schedule that had to be bypassed, it was still a great time.

If I were to rank the four theme parks in order, it would go something like this:

EPCOT
Magic Kingdom
Animal Kingdom
Hollywood Studios

While they were all outstanding attractions, I was particularly drawn to EPCOT and would have loved to have had a chance to take a more in-depth look at some of the non-ride attractions around the park. The Magic Kingdom is what you would expect – a non-stop day of rides for all ages – and the Animal Kingdom was enjoyable for the most part. The only thing that seemed out of place in the mix was Hollywood Studios (and I thought I would really like it, to be honest); it seemed there was a purpose for all the other theme parks but Hollywood Studios seemed to be forced just a bit. Still, given a day to thoroughly look over Hollywood Studios, that opinion may have been changed.

If you’re planning on going to WDW anytime soon, you are in for the trip of a lifetime. If you haven’t been for several years, it might be time to take another look. As for me and my family, it could be something we plan on doing more frequently before our son gets to be “too cool” (read:  too old) to go to a “kiddie park.” Then again, the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, FL is, as its creator wanted, a place where kids and adults can equally have fun.

Spending a Week in the “House of Mouse” Part Two: Taking the High Ground

EPCOT

While having been in the United States Marine Corps isn’t a prerequisite for taking on the challenge of Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL, it is an advisable course of action. Without the intricate planning and the physical training of military maneuvers, many will end up as one of the pretty landscaping efforts around the “House of Mouse.” If you remember Part One and have put its exercises into use, you’re off to a good start. If you can make it to the end of this training course, you’ll be able to take the high ground in any of the resorts’ (hereafter referred to as “WDW”) and make an enjoyable effort out of the battle.

Day Three

After a great breakfast to prime ourselves for the day, Disney’s Animal Kingdom was on the agenda for our family. Animal Kingdom is actually the newest of the four theme parks that make up the WDW entourage, opened in 1998, and is the second largest theme park in the world behind only Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, NJ. What sets apart this particular theme park – according to what is told to the visitors – is that the main reason for this park is to promote animal conservation.

This is where I have a bit of a problem with Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I am not one of those “animal rights” activists that foam at the mouth if someone ruins the habitat of the Galapagos Island tree frog (hell, if there is such an animal, let me know). I also, however, am not for their abuse in circuses, zoos, rodeos or water parks, either; just try to tell me about how much a polar bear likes walking around on concrete in the middle of a Southern summer. My son, however, is quite interested in animals and, as he has not yet had the opportunity to form an opinion on this subject, I have decided to allow for his youthful curiosity with the creatures that join human beings on this planet.

From the appearances of the park, there is a premium placed on the animals and their well-being, maintaining as natural a habitat as possible for them and allowing them the freedom of movement that would come in their surroundings (the “Tree of Life” that dominates the center of the park is something to see). That was somewhat reassuring and, once we went on the special “Kilimanjaro Safari” that is one of the major attractions of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, we could see that the animals seemed to think that they were in their natural habitats. You could literally almost touch the animals as you drove past – they are free range in that they can go wherever they wanted to go – but you were discouraged from doing so. Of particular fun was one giraffe who thought it would be a hoot to block the road; our driver waited – and the drivers of another half dozen or so safari trucks behind us waited – until the giraffe had been adequately amused and moved off the road.

It was when we traveled between the different animal compounds on the safari trail that you could see some issues, however. I was quick to notice that the entrances/exits from one compound to another had electronic gratings on the ground across the roads and there were the traditional fencing in the woods or brush that you would see in a normal zoo. Were these in place to discourage the animals from mingling among each other as they would naturally do in the wild? I would have liked to have asked someone on the safari (especially about the grates on the ground) but not wanting to look like a killjoy to a couple of dozen people, I decided to keep my trap shut for a change.

Other than the zoo atmosphere that permeated my mindset, Disney’s Animal Kingdom was quite lovely. Lush trees and bamboo stalks provided shade for a particularly hot day in October and there were plenty of areas to take a load off and rest. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to do much else outside of the Kilimanjaro Safari (the family took a ride on the Kali River Rapids, which sounds just like its name indicates and was quite enjoyable) as our son was getting tired, but that proved to be a good thing as it was the one day we had some afternoon rain that would have put a damper on things (this is also something to remember about Florida…at any moment, despite what the weather forecast was the night before, “pop-up” showers or thunderstorms can and often do occur throughout the day).

Overall, if you’re visiting Disney’s Animal Kingdom, there is plenty to see there that would take a good day to get through, if not more. It also is quite beautiful, if you can get by the fact that it is still a zoo.

Day Four

By this point in the trip, we were getting to be old hats at the “wake up early, get a good breakfast” routine. We also were struck with one of the maladies that pops up when you are on a vacation – illness. Perhaps because he wanted to touch everything that was around him – as children are wont to do – our son started to come down with the “sniffles.” It seemed like nothing – just a little bit of a runny nose – that turned into a full blown cold within about twelve hours of the first appearance of the “snots.” This would have an impact on the remainder of the trip and may have been the cause of one of the stranger cases of the trip.

After breakfast, the plan was to attack Disney’s Hollywood Studios and its myriad of attractions. Opened in 1989, it was originally known as Disney-MGM Studios but, after years of infighting between Disney and MGM Studios over its operational aspects (MGM objected to a full studio and film lab being on the property, Disney objected to the MGM Grand in Las Vegas opening a theme park of their own on The Strip), the name was changed to Hollywood Studios and more of an emphasis on the “early days” of the movie and entertainment industries were emphasized.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios are probably the most difficult of the four theme parks to get around simply because there is so much built in and upon itself. There are six different “performance areas,” including Hollywood Boulevard, Pixar Place and Streets of America, that morph into each other so seamlessly that you can easily get lost. This is problematic if you are trying to find your way out of the park and you are on one of the more “remote” areas of Hollywood Studios (this is something that isn’t going to get easier, either; a Star Wars themed area and something called Toy Story Land are supposed to be constructed on the grounds with an unspecified completion date).

In a change from the previous two parks we had visited, virtually all of the amusement rides at Disney’s Hollywood Studios were indoor affairs instead of outside. This became a problem for our son, surprisingly, as he hadn’t ever shown any problem with being “in the dark” or being scared of, well, anything (he had recently ridden a “spooky” funhouse ride at a county fair with another little friend; the little friend came out of the ride crying uncontrollably while our son was cool, calm and collected). Even something as simple as “The Great Movie Ride,” which captured the iconic history of movies on an indoor ride with sets, live actors and movie clips, caused him to become almost uncontrollable because of the darkness at some moments of the ride.

With this situation presenting itself, we decided to cut the trip short to Hollywood Studios. While it was something that looked interesting (especially the Tower of Terror that we were supposed to ride), it wasn’t worth permanently scarring a young lad on his first major theme park adventure. From what we did do, however, it more than has enough entertainment to cover a day’s activities.

Day Five

Coming into the final full day of action was at once a thrill (as we were heading to an area that I had wanted to see) and a bit sad (leaving the next day). After some medication, our son was a bit better (but still not interested in even taking a look at any ride that was even inside), so we headed off to EPCOT.

If you recall from Part One of our story, EPCOT was what Walt Disney originally envisioned the Florida property would become…an experimental community where innovation and technological feats were to be tested out. Following Disney’s death in 1966, that was scrapped and the Magic Kingdom was instead built in 1971. EPCOT, after it was built and opened in 1982, became more of an amusement park – Disney officials thought of it as more of a “permanent World’s Fair” – but still had some elements of technological wonder and scientific appeal. It is now the third most visited theme park in the United States and sixth most visited in the world.

Unlike Disney’s Hollywood Studio’s, EPCOT was very neatly laid out and has a wide array of attractions that would capture pretty much anyone’s attention. If you’re interested in space, there were attractions for that (Spaceship:  Earth and Mission:  Space). Technology was covered in the Innovations arenas on each side of the park (East and West) and, if you’re wondering what Disney did with the late Michael Jackson’s 3D film Captain EO, it can be found on the EPCOT property.

Unfortunately, our son’s sudden apprehension at indoor rides nearly kept us from what would be one of the better rides of the trip. After we took him home for a nap, my lovely wife and I returned to EPCOT to take on Soarin’, a ride that took you through the skies like a bird as you flew over California (with actor Patrick Warburton appearing as your head flight attendant). Staring at a concave screen as you dangled in a seat watching the terrain race by underneath you, you almost felt as if you could fly; I commented to my wife afterwards that, while flying over ocean surf, about the only thing that would make it better was if there had been a way to have a “sea spray” hit you in the face. It also almost felt as if my toes were touching the treetops as we whizzed past.

While the ride was a great one, I’ve recently learned that it will be replaced soon. Instead of the version that was shown while I was there at EPCOT, a new version called Soarin’ Around the World will take over the screens come 2016. This, as you might expect, will do just what Soarin’ did but amp it up to a world stage instead of just California. When that comes around, that will be worth seeing as even the abbreviated trip was a blast.

With that, our trip through the theme parks was complete. We haven’t finished our review of WDW yet, however. In PART THREE, I’ll offer some tips that you might overlook in planning a trip to WDW and ask a few questions, including one that might anger some people.

Spending a Week in the “House of Mouse” Part One: Surviving the Incursion

WaltDisneyWorld

Yes, I haven’t been around in about a week. The mission I undertook was one that tested every bit of training that I received in the United States Marine Corps. It pushed every fiber of my being to get through it and…oh, the hell with it. The last week was family time as we took a vacation to Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL.

Reportedly – with the reporter being my mother – I had already been to a Disney property, the California location known as Disneyland. Since I was nine months old when I allegedly did this, however, I can pretty confidently say that it wasn’t a part of my decade’s long consciousness. As such, it was safe to say that this would be my first visit to a Disney property, as it was for my son, and the first time my wife had visited the park since she became of drinking age.

You’ve got to hand it to the namesake of the property, he was a visionary. Walt Disney – yes, the man who created Mickey Mouse and his cohorts – wasn’t simply satisfied with dominating the world of cartoons and children’s films. After visiting amusement parks with his daughters in the 30s and 40s, Disney decided that he could do better and set about showing he could.

He would build Disneyland in just over a year, opening the gates to the premises in 1955 on another innovative venue – television – but it reportedly wasn’t well received. Perhaps because of the rush of getting the park opened, several bugs were apparent at the grand premiere, including asphalt that hadn’t sealed yet (and allowed women’s high heels to sink into in the 100 degree heat), non-operating water fountains (given the option of water fountains or operating toilets, I think Disney made the right choice) and traffic delays around the park.

Still, the new attraction in California would become a landmark in the United States. Reportedly Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev wanted to visit the park when he came to the United States in 1959; he was denied due to security concerns. As of today, it has welcomed over 650 million visitors, young and old, fulfilling Walt Disney’s dream of a place where children and adults could equally have the time of their lives.

While many may think the original in the Golden State is the main attraction for the Disney organization, it is actually the Walt Disney World Resort – also called Walt Disney World or simply Disney World – that is the “flagship” of the Disney Empire. Opened in 1971, it is reportedly the most visited vacation resort in the world, with total attendance over 52 million people per year. Originally, however, it wasn’t supposed to be a huge resort and amusement park like its predecessor.

Disney’s original thoughts for the Florida property was one of discovery and experimentation. It was to include a planned community called the “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow” (remember this, there will be a test later) where new creations and innovations in city living might be tested. Alas, after Disney passed away in 1966, the organization instead moved towards creating an East Coast version of what already existed on the West Coast.

And here I had been able to avoid it for most of my life…

When you have children, you sometimes make those sacrifices. Who hasn’t let their kid occasionally beat them at something, just once, so they don’t get discouraged? Who hasn’t done something that they really didn’t want to do just to make their tot happy? Hey, let’s be honest, if going to Walt Disney World is the toughest thing I have to do to make my little son happy, then I’ll do it every day and twice on Sunday. What you don’t realize is just how difficult it is to make the trek around the grounds of the “House of Mouse” (hereafter referred to as “WDW”) and emerge on the other side unscathed.

Day One

After landing at the Orlando International Airport – one of the nicer airports I’ve been in, honestly – you think you’re on your way to WDW. There are several ways to get there, however, and it is dependent on how you’ve created your trip to how you get out of the airport itself. There are taxis and hotel shuttles for those “off property” hotels around WDW and you can go through the burdensome task of the rental car, but most who have booked their trips through WDW will be dependent on the “Disney’s Magical Express” for their transportation to WDW.

“Disney’s Magical Express” is NOT operated by WDW, however. This is an outside contractor, Mears Transportation, who also seems to have a pretty good lock on the taxi market for the entirety of the WDW complex. The reason I bring this up is that, while efficient, they aren’t exactly looking out for the customers that are traveling via their buses. Personally, my wife and I left our son’s stroller on the bus once we arrived at our hotel; while we didn’t have it for the entirety of our trip, it “magically” appeared in the hotel’s lost and found the day we were to leave WDW. If you get on one of these buses, make DAMN sure that you grab everything upon debarking, otherwise you might not see your property again.

It isn’t a short trip from the airport to WDW, either. Be prepared, depending on which hotel you are staying in on the WDW Resort compound, for up to a 45 minute trip. For example, our bus had to make stops at four different properties on the WDW grounds. As the second stop, we took approximately 30 minutes until we were situated in our hotel room, ready to begin the grand adventure.

But what do you do when it is late in the afternoon? The best bet for Day One was to head to Disney Springs, or “Downtown Disney,” where many restaurants and shops are located. If there is anything that you want to buy, you can probably find it here. There was the Ghirardelli chocolate shops located right next to the Starbucks located right next to a jewelry store located right next to the Disney Store. After a very good dinner at the Rainforest Grill at Disney Springs our family, which had now been joined by my son’s maternal grandmother (or “Noona”), decided to get some rest before the real fun began.

Day Two

First off, write this in your memory bank:  there is NO WAY you will be able to visit the four different parks that make up the WDW compound in one day (the total size of the WDW property is 43 square miles, about the same area as San Francisco). Besides the original Magic Kingdom built in 1971, there are Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and EPCOT (remember the original plan of Walt Disney?). None of these properties are particularly close together and you must depend on Disney Transport, the in-house bus system for the sprawling park, to get around. About the closest thing that Disney Transport has to a schedule is that “a bus will be around about every 20 minutes” so you never know when you’ll be picked up unless you happen to luck into catching one when it is in the depot.

From a planning aspect, my lovely wife did an outstanding job. I don’t think General George Patton could have put together a better plan of attack for his Sherman tank divisions than what she scheduled for our family. If you don’t think this type of preparation is necessary, it is, otherwise you won’t be able to enjoy each park AND be able to squeeze moments of sustenance around the fun.

For the first day, we attacked the Magic Kingdom as my wife admitted it was her favorite from her visits as a child. And it is easy to see why this, even after more than 40 years, is still the star attraction for WDW. The outdoor rides are pretty much all located at this park, including the popular Space Mountain and other attractions, and there are five different segments of the park that we could probably have a day spent in them alone.

For those that claim that cities such as New York, London, Paris or Munich are the “Crossroads of the World,” these people have obviously never been to WDW and, in particular, the Magic Kingdom. Languages from around the world – Portuguese, Korean, Japanese, Spanish, French, German…you get the idea – fluttered in the air of the Magic Kingdom and mingled like an exquisite jambalaya. There is a bonhomie amongst the visitors to the Magic Kingdom (and across WDW) that transcends simple nationalities, making everyone a true member of the world community, at least for their stay at WDW. It was a bit refreshing in this day and age of hyper-nationalism and the xenophobia we sometimes see in the world.

As to the rides, there is something for everyone. With a young boy who is a burgeoning daredevil, the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was the first stop and it was a blast (he thought so too). Next on the agenda was Splash Mountain, a water flume ride that was adequate (a bit slow for my tastes and our son “got his butt wet” as he laughed) and a few other rides that were all outdoors. This is important, as you’ll learn later in our program.

If you have a young child and don’t have a stroller, you’re going to have to cut your visits short for each day you are at WDW. Our son required a nap each afternoon from the excitement and the walking (up to eight miles per day, in some cases) and it wasn’t a bad idea for the parents either. We normally were out of the park by 2PM (the hottest part of the day and a good time to take that break) and back at the hotel within a short time.

With two days down and three to go, everyone was in bed by 10PM the second night. You definitely had to be rested up for the daily workout and, as was to be expected, the excitement that would come in the future.

IN PART TWO:  Why outdoor rides are important, dining around WDW and some questions need to be asked.