Friday, August 1, 2014

Civilian Deaths, the First Amendment and the VA's Problems

Civilian Deaths in Wartime

If the Israelis are to be criticized for the civilian deaths caused in their bombardment of Gaza, the United States should then should be similarly criticized for killing 105,000 Japanese civilians when we dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as being held responsible along with the British for killing 25,000 German civilians when the RAF and the USAF completely demolished the city of Dresden over a 48 hour period in February of 1945.  

These attacks were directed at a military objective, that of hastening the end of a long and bloody war, just as Israel's bombing of Gaza is directed at the military objectives of eliminating both Hamas' rocket launching capability and its military cadre which is dedicated to Israel's destruction.  In war, achieving military objectives trumps concern for civilian casualties, although we know the United States tried to warn Hiroshima and Nagasaki residents by dropping cautionary leaflets hinting at what was about to occur, just as Israel warns Palestinians in Gaza of impending bombings.

 Gaza - 2014
 Hiroshima - 1945

Dresden - 1945

Military actions draw military responses. Hamas obviously feels that the civilian deaths caused by the Israeli response to their rocket attacks will impact negatively on the world's image of the State of Israel.  Hence, they continue with actions which will bring about further Israeli responses and more civilian deaths in Gaza.  They feel that even if they lose on the battlefield, even after the tunnels used to attack Israel are all located and destroyed and after their rocket supply is exhausted, the deaths of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza will result in some sort of a victory for them from a political and public relations standpoint.  They are mistaken.

They fail to recognize, unfortunately, that the bombings of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Dresden, as unfortunate as the civilian deaths they caused were, did not deter the Allied powers from achieving their objective of hastening the ending of the Second World War, just as civilian deaths in Gaza, as unfortunate at they are, will not deter Israel from ultimately achieving its military objectives in a war they did not start.
Jack Lippman


Comments on the First Amendment's Religious Guarantees

  The United States Constitution’s First Amendment, which also guarantees freedom of speech, of the press, the right to assemble peacefully and the right to request of the government redress from grievances, starts off with these words:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  These prohibitions were stated first because in the eyes of the drafters of the Bill of Rights, they were the most important guarantees the Constitution could provide.

Many nations throughout history had governments which were tied to an established religion.  Today, even the United Kingdom is such a nation where the Monarch carries the title of “Defender of the Faith,” that faith being the Anglican Church of England.  Sometimes such ties are innocuous, as in the UK. The arrangements in other “faith-connected” nations are not always so benign. 
Queen Elizabeth, Defender of the Faith

But establishing a state religion in the United States is specifically unconstitutional, even one as disconnected as is the UK’s. The founding fathers had seen the bloodshed and turmoil state religions had caused in Europe; it was the reason some of them and their forebearers had crossed the Atlantic.  Our First Amendment goes even further and specifies that there can be no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion either, any religion.  Bottom line:  There can be no official nor established religious in the United States and the free exercise of any and all religions is guaranteed.  Religion-wise, we live in the best of all possible worlds.
Iran's Ayatollah is also their head of State

This is why America has a problem with Islam.  In many nations with Muslim majorities, Islam is the state religion.  Nations carry names like “the Islamic Republic of Iran.”  Religious belief and the state are inseparable in such nations.   Bloodshed occurs when states attempt to strictly enforce a state religion’s exclusivity. History marks such events in otherwise civilized nations such as England and France.  Even within Islam, the Sunni-Shia schism has existed for almost 1400 years, often with great loss of life.

Some states with established official religions tolerate the presence of other religions, but make it clear that they are second class faiths.  Even today, for example, there are many Jews in the Kingdom of Morocco and in past centuries, Jews have had less than full rights of citizens in European countries.  It gets messy, however, when a “faith-connected” government will not tolerate the presence of other faiths as is the case with the newly emerging Islamic Republic of Syria and Iraq which openly persecutes Christians, and insists that they follow strict Muslim social codes.  Further conflict arises when a nation’s legal system is beholden to the state’s official religion’s doctrines.

Theologically, some religions feel that the entire world should be enfolded in their faith.  The Roman Catholic Church is a world-wide institution, and was closely tied to whomever was ruling Europe during the Middle Ages through the Holy Roman Empire.  Then, that was the extent of the known world and, in their eyes, there was no other “church.”  Saying otherwise was heresy, and heretics were not treated gently in those days.

Similarly, some Muslims feel that all believers in Islam should be unified geographically into one Islamic-connected state extending throughout all Islamic regions, and spiritually to those not geographically close by.  This is the concept of the Caliphate, around since the death of Mohammed, and relatively harmless unless and until those who believe in it are willing to fight to extend its realm throughout the world, conquering and converting infidels. Such an agenda is known as “jihad” and it cannot be ignored today. 

It is in this context that all Americans should be grateful for the existence of the First Amendment to our Constitution, and have patience with our government which must deal each day with nations where such Constitutional guarantees are not present, nations where the religious freedoms we enjoy are often, in the eyes of their citizens,  tantamount to heresy and sacrilege.  

Some feel that all of the world's religions are based on superstition and lack of knowledge of an ultimate explanation for the existence of life and of the universe. If we ever get to understand the scientific basis for everything, would there still be a need for belief systems or religions to explain the unknown, when there wouldn't be anything that is "unknown" any longer?  Someday, when we know "everything,"  religion may be relegated to a comforting and social role for mankind, but it will no longer be one that people are willing to kill for.

Comments on Veterans' Benefits

Part of the problem with the Veterans Administration is that its medical services are being made available to many veterans who do not have any service-connected health problems.  True, applicants at that level are pretty low in terms of the priority the VA gives them, but they are still the recipients of benefits provided by taxpayer dollars. 

I am a veteran.  I served two years in the United States Army, and the only real danger I was exposed to was that I was stationed for about a year about five minutes from thousands of Soviet troops on the other side of what we then called the Iron Curtain, and which I recognized as the German-Czech border. If the Cold War had become hot, I would have been very much involved very quickly.

But I was discharged with no service-connected health problems whatsoever, let alone being considered to be disabled.  Did you know that right now, about 50% of veterans of the war in Afghanistan are applying for disability benefits?  I am sure many are entitled to them, but I am sure many are not.  Could it be like the New York City Police and Fire Departments, where any heart attack experienced by a policeman or fireman is automatically considered to be job-related because of the stress involved in their duties?  Should that also be the assumption for veterans who served in combat, but who did not experience bodily or mental injury in the line of duty?  Is the VA funded to provide benefits for that many veterans?

People ask me all the time why I don’t get my prescriptions or my hearing aids from the VA.  I know many veterans who have managed to qualify to do so, and who can well afford to pay for them out of their pockets, and who have no service-connected health problems whatsoever.  They see their own doctors for their regular health care, but depend on the VA for their drugs and hearing aids. It’s there for them, it’s free or at minimal cost, so why not take advantage of it?  That’s their attitude.  The VA was never intended to be a socialized medicine program for veterans, but many treat it that way.  Service-connected health problems justify this, but for otherwise healthy veterans without such health concerns, it’s just a boondoggle.  And that is one of the reasons why the Department of Veterans’ Affairs is in financial trouble. VA facilities should primarily serve

      Those who served their country

We should be providing, at no cost to them, the very best comprehensive and complete lifetime medical care for those who served our country during time of war as well as those who stood ready to do so in time of peace, provided that they have a service-connected injury or disability, be it physical or emotional, which originated during their service in the armed forces. That is what the Veterans’ Administration should be doing and not be spending its money on prescriptions or hearing aids for veterans whose health problems had nothing whatsoever to do with their military service, but who in some manner managed to qualify for such benefits.


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