The Boys’ Latin School of Maryland is building a museum called the Center for Military History on its Lake Avenue campus.
Next month, President Barack Obama will award the National Medal of Honor to former Army captain Florent A. Groberg. That will make this University of Maryland graduate only the tenth living person to receive the country’s highest military honor for service in Afghanistan or Iraq.
Got questions about life? Love? Parenting? Work? Write to Whit’s End, a new advice column by local husband, father, teacher, coach, former executive and former Marine Corps officer Al Whitaker. Each week Al will address readers’ questions about anything ranging from school issues, coaching problems, relationship quandaries and more! His experience is vast, and he holds a degree in psychology, too. To submit a question, email [email protected].
In your bio, you are described as a former Marine Corps officer. With that background, how to you feel about the U.S. taking military action in Syria?
For me as a former Marine Corps officer who has commanded young men and women, any military action we take risks lives like theirs, and, therefore, any troops that we commit to battle have a vivid, human face. And because I believe that risking the lives of other people’s loved ones should be a last resort and undertaken only if it protects American lives and has a high probability of success, I am against an attack upon Syria by the United States.
In this particular case, I do not believe that the invasion or “missile strike” that has been proposed by the administration and others has a high probability of success; in fact, I think that it has a low probability of success. By success, I believe that proponents mean punishing Assad for using chemical weapons on his citizens and preventing him from doing it again in such a way that allows our quick withdrawal.
This strategy has a low probability of success for several reasons: first, punitive measures against a tyrant have rarely stopped him or driven him from power; second, a strike of this nature cannot be reliably circumscribed and can cause unintended “collateral damage”; third, the reaction of other terrorist groups and supporters of Syria (e.g., Russia) cannot be predicted; fourth, despite myriad assurances from administrations going back to Vietnam, we have never been able to quickly get in and get out; and finally, and most important, even if Assad is deposed, we don’t know who or what will replace him.
By learning from our mistakes, we can create a new mind-set or paradigm shift, as some policy makers like to say. To make this shift, consider the countries that have the most to gain from stability in Syria: Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon, all of which are absorbing hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria. If we support these countries and other countries in the region in their efforts to remove Assad and create stability, we would have a much higher probability of success, with the added benefit of not antagonizing those countries that already view us as an interventionist bully.
Maybe it’s time to stop leading the charge into the abyss of wasted resources and lost lives and get behind those who better know the lay of the land. And maybe they can help insure a higher probability of our success in both remembering the human face of war and avoiding the traps and pitfalls that have made us stumble and fall so many times before.
Join author David R. Gillham as he discusses his novel of a woman struggling through the chaos of Berlin in World War II tonight at the Ivy Bookshop at 7 p.m. The event is part of the Baltimore Fishbowl and Ivy Bookshop series, The Front Table, which features well-regarded authors and books found on the “front table” of the shop.
On February 27, during General Stanley McChrystal’s lecture at Johns Hopkins, the exterior of the building was illuminated with large-scale projections. But instead of advertising the lecture inside — the first in this year’s student-organized Foreign Affairs Symposium — the projections showed injured children and images of warfare. “JHU Research at Work: Reckless, Wrong, Illegal,” read the words projected on the building’s facade.
“But all my friends are playing them,” said my son.
Then he went on to explain, in actual tears, that he was being left behind and left out. In so many words, we, his parents, were depriving him of critical adolescent alliances in this tender developmental age when being part of the herd is much, much more important than, say, orthodontic hygiene or hanging up a towel after a shower. We were ruining his friendships and, therefore, his life.
The object of his desire? First-person-shooter games. For the uninitiated, first-person-shooter, or FPS, games are video games that allow the player — my 12-year-old son — to engage in close-range combat through the eyes of a buff protagonist, usually an American military squad leader. These games have names like “Call of Duty” (think there are any jokes about that one?) and “Gears of War,” and they feature firefights, sniper weapons, melee weapons, garroting, blood, and sometimes logic puzzles. The graphics can be stunning.
He begged for permission to play them.
And for the usual kumbaya reasons, we weren’t keen on this. We had notions: (1) The military industrial complex uses FPS games to train its soldiers. (2) FPS games minimize the lives lost in combat in real life (IRL). (3) FPS games will desensitize my son to violence IRL. (4) FPS games are a recruiting tool for the military. (5) Our son’s friends’ parents will hate us if we allow him to play FPS games — we’ll be ruining it for everybody.
But we entered into negotiations. Due diligence compelled us to canvass the parents of these friends, all boys, who played garden-variety video games and who, according to my son, were allowed to play FPS games, too. The parents’ comments were nearly unanimous: (1) The boy becomes a bona fide dope when he’s on the screen, regardless of whether that screen is a computer, a television, a handheld device, or something else. (2) The boy is bothering us about playing FPS games, too, and we don’t like them. (3) We want to pile up all the screens in the house and smash them with a sledgehammer. (4) We should take him camping more often. One of them said, “I feel like showing him the WikiLeaks video of the guy in the helicopter slaying innocent Iraqi citizens.” More on that later.