Stewardship And The Law A sermon that Washington needs to take to heart
In this next phase of my life, I have lots more time to travel America and speak with great people. I began that trek this past weekend in Atlanta, where I addressed Dr. Michael Youssef’s 25th anniversary luncheon for his “Leading the Way” ministry.As always it was very special to be home. I even had the chance to drop by my ole stomping grounds, Henry Grady High School, and visit with the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadet battalion staff. What a treasure it was to sit and gaze into the eyes of those who continue a legacy I was part of back from 1976 to 1979. Our Allen West Foundation has established a scholarship fund for the cadet corps.After speaking in Atlanta and watching a classic SEC football game between Georgia and Louisiana State University, I flew to Lafayette, La., on Sunday.Now, being a good Southern fella, I attended church services Sunday morning at the First Baptist Church of Lafayette. Before the service, I met with Pastor Steve, who told me the sermon topic of stewardship would not be that exciting. Boy was he wrong.The service was lovely, the hymns were very uplifting, and then Pastor Steve took the stage for the morning sermon. The topic was “Five Principles of Christian Stewardship,” and the accompanying biblical reference was Acts 4:32-5:11. He succinctly articulated these principles: unity, generosity, necessity, personal integrity, and accountability.
A capital sorely lacking in unity and integrity
I sat there thinking this was a message that every single person on Capitol Hill and the occupant of the White House should hear as a Sunday sermon. We elect individuals to represent us at every level of government. We also trust them to be solid stewards of the vital resources we entrust to them, our taxpayer dollars. But some of the men and women currently holding office are not being good stewards.As I write this missive, we are involved in a partial government shutdown. The last time this occurred, I was a young Army major assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division at Camp Casey, South Korea. I remember having to hold meetings to ensure our younger soldiers they would be paid. Good stewards would not have put me in that position back then, yet here we are again 17 years later.Stewardship requires unity, not between the members of Congress but between the represented and those representing. Thomas Jefferson referred to this as the “consent of the governed,” and I long to have those in government who would make decisions about my tax dollars with the understanding that the money belongs to me, not them.I am willing to be generous with my giving and meeting my tax obligations, as all Americans are, but we need to know that our resources support items of necessity, not ideological wanting.Furthermore, Americans would appreciate more personal integrity from members of Congress and the president. Who would have ever believed that the president of the United States would receive “four Pinocchios” from The Washington Post, but he recently did for lying about the debt ceiling and the federal budget? And we all know that telling falsehoods has become a regular occurrence, especially in Washington, D.C.
That means we need more accountability, not to special or self-interests but to God and the American interest.
Pastor Steve did not realize it, but he delivered a most timely sermon that all Americans should have heard. See, I believe that oft times God places us right where we need to be, and I certainly needed to be right there at First Baptist Church of Lafayette.
How a bill is supposed to be enforced as law
When I think of personal integrity and accountability, I consider the recent political machinations in Washington.When I took civics, and watched ABC’s “Schoolhouse Rock” segments, I learned what happens when a bill becomes law. The House and Senate debate and pass bills, and the president signs into law those measures that he supports and that both chambers of Congress pass. In a constitutional republic, those laws apply to everyone they are written to cover – well, unless the president is Barack Obama.The “big effing deal” called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka, “Obamacare”) does not apply to all Americans. The law has been altered some 19 times, more than 1,200 waivers and exemptions have been granted, to include members of Congress and their staffers, and the executive branch has delayed implementation for several segments of America, example, employer mandate.So how could a bill, as then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in 2010, be “deemed” to be passed for the president’s signature if it was not going to be applied to all?House Republicans posed that question to Democrats over the weekend. They asked why the individual American citizen could not get a healthcare waiver, exemption or delay. They proposed legislation to keep the U.S. government operating but sought to level the playing field and ensure that the law be applied at the same time to everyone it covers.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and President Obama answered “no.” The House GOP also asked to repeal the job-killing 2.3 percent tax on medical devices. Again, Reid and Obama said “no,” so the government shut down its “non-essential” services.
Stewards, not charlatans, for the next generation
The lack of stewardship, especially personal integrity and accountability, evidenced by Reid and Obama is most disturbing. Even more disgusting are the complicity of the media and the horrific names – extortionists, terrorists, hostage-takers, arsonists – levied against people who just sought to uphold Pastor Steve’s principles of stewardship and uphold their oaths to the law of the land, the U.S. Constitution.If there is to be an America, if there is to be a next generation, we all need to have a Pastor Steve instruct us in the principles of stewardship. Then we all need to elect stewards, not charlatans, not impostors, and certainly not those who play political games with the rule of law of this republic.
The Irony Of Post-9/11 Security – The more the government adds, the less secure our military is
Last Saturday I was the keynote speaker at the Midwest Republican Leadership Conference in Kansas City, Mo. It was a nice gathering, and the best part was that my young nephew, Capt. Herman Bernard West II, and his family, wife Serena and children Jordan Rose and Ethan Bernard, attended.Bernie, as we affectionately call him, recently changed stations from Germany to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., to join next year’s class of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC). After the event, I headed back to Leavenworth with Bernie and family to reminisce about the days when I attended school there.My first school assignment to Fort Leavenworth was after Operation Desert Shield/Storm when I attended the Combined Arms Services Staff School (CAS3), which is no more. The six-week course prepared qualified captains for advanced staff officer positions. I spent last Saturday night at Hoge Barracks, the former CAS3 captain’s quarters but now the post’s Army Hotel – and much nicer.I returned to Fort Leavenworth in 1996 to attend CGSC and earned my diploma and second master’s degree. The new CGSC facility is impeccable and worthy for training the next generation of American military, and international, officers. My last time at Fort Leavenworth in uniform was for the pre-Battalion Command course that lasted for two-and-a-half weeks.Upon returning last week, I arose on Sunday morning and had a nice six-mile run down memory lane. I saw the Buffalo Soldier Monument and remembered being there for the dedication. I ran past what once was the U.S. Military Disciplinary Barracks. (The prison is now part of the federal penitentiary.)
The biggest change was that Fort Leavenworth was an open Army post in the “old days.” As we entered the post this time, we had to show identification at an entrance with several security lanes. Despite those measures, Bernie and I mused about the lax nature of the security, and we chatted about the Fort Hood, Texas, mass shooting incident in 2009, where Maj. Nidal Hasan entered the post basically because of his vehicle decal and ID card, no further checks.
Little did we know that less than 24 hours later, another shooter would repeat the horror of Fort Hood at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C.
The way it was – and is now
A military installation is supposed to be one of the safest places in the country. I remember being stationed at Fort Hood and how our daughters, Aubrey and Austen, would just ride their bikes with their friends for hours. They often rode over to the post movie theater for a Saturday matinee or to the swimming pool. We never felt nervous about them being out and about.It is incredible how the security situation has changed in this post-9/11 world, but we seemingly have taken only cursory measures for our military installations.Four years ago we were shocked by the news of the carnage wrought upon our last duty posting. Our family knew what it meant to be on “lockdown” and could not fathom that happening at Fort Hood. Thousands of military and civilian personnel operated on the largest U.S. military installation in the world and never thought they would be attacked. (Yes, it was a terrorist attack.)New security protocols seem to be in place now, but as we know, security has to be perfect every time. An attacker just needs to be perfect one time.And so it happened again Monday. Military and civilian personnel at the Navy Yard believed they worked at a place that was the safest among the safe. My own dear friend, retired Marine Lt. Col. Neal Puckett, works there. How was it that a heavily armed individual penetrated the security perimeter and engaged unarmed personnel?
Back after the Fort Hood shooting, Michael Savage asked me on his radio show how soldiers could be defenseless and shot on a military installation. We learned then that an executive order from the early 1990s did something inconceivable – turned our military installations into gun-free kill zones. Under that executive order, only select individuals can be armed on a military installation, military police and civilian contract police.
Unarmed forts are unacceptable policy
It is unconscionable that our uniformed servicemen and civilians are defenseless and unarmed at places called “forts.” If an attacker breaches the perimeter security of a base, he is then in a free-fire area. At both Fort Hood and the Navy Yard, civilian police were the ones who took down the assailant.And consider this, it took 10 minutes and 7 minutes respectively for armed response at those facilities. Just imagine what an armed assailant with multiple weapons and unlimited ammunition could do to unarmed military personnel and Defense Department civilians in that span of time.The breaching of perimeter security on military installations is not just happening here in the continental United States. It also has occurred in a combat zone, namely Afghanistan. The attack at the Navy Yard came one year and one day after an attack at Camp Bastion in Helmand Province.Some 15 Taliban attackers got past Tongan guards, not U.S. military, and attacked the AV-8B Harrier II aircraft of the U.S. Marine VMA-211 squadron. The ensuing four-hour firefight resulted in the deaths of two Marines, squadron commander Lt. Col. Christopher Raible and Sgt. Bradley Atwell. Nine Marines were injured, and six Harrier fighter jets and one C-130 aircraft were destroyed.The attack marked the largest single loss of U.S. fighter aircraft since Vietnam – and to this day no one has explained why Tongans were on the perimeter.
Whether we are bolstering defenses against the likes of Aaron Alexis at the Navy Yard, the Taliban in Afghanistan or Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood, we must ensure for this generation and the next that our military installations are highly secure. Our gaps are being exploited, and in this post-9/11 world, the enemy is watching.
Another Fine Obama Mess The president’s bumbling Syrian policy keeps getting worse.
I have listened to countless experts, pundits and self-acclaimed strategists give their insights into the current Syrian episode, and some of these folks could not find their way out of an open-end paper bag. Unfortunately, many of them are part of the Obama administration.President Obama addressed the nation on Tuesday evening to make his case for the United States to embark upon military action in Syria. However, Obama ended the speech calling for a “pause,” especially because he had just been outmaneuvered by Russian President Vladimir Putin and lacked congressional votes for an attack.The speech ended up being totally confusing, and if I were his adviser – nah, hell has not frozen over – I would have told him not to give that pointless speech.
The realities of Syrian war
First of all, if America is concerned about the use of chemical weapons, we need to understand their delivery method. Chemical weapons are delivered via surface-to-surface systems, normally artillery shells, or even rocket and missiles. These mobile platforms are easily hidden. In Gaza Strip, Hamas Islamic terrorists have converted garbage trucks into multiple rocket-launcher platforms.You also cannot attack a chemical weapons stockpile without creating a larger and more deadly event because high levels of heat are need to destroy the weapons. In other words, we cannot bomb Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s delivery means or his chemical stockpile.Furthermore, the “rebel” forces in Syria may have used chemical weapons. They simply could convert chemical weapons shells into improvised explosive devices and detonate them in target areas based upon prevailing winds for maximum effect.
So when Obama says he intends to degrade Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons, he cannot do that without “boots on the ground.” The best way to deliver precision-guided munitions against mobile targets is to have someone on the ground “lasing” the target and communicating with the aerial delivery platform.
Standoff weapons such as Tomahawk cruise missiles also are only effective against stationary targets, and you can bet by now that Syria’s mobile systems have been repositioned into areas that would yield high levels of collateral damage.
And let us not forget that Syria has one of the most sophisticated and intricate surface-to-air missile systems in the world thanks to our Russian friends. Any U.S. air campaign would not be a walk in the park. Only the boldness of the Israeli Air Force enabled that country’s airmen to enter Syrian airspace and attack targets.
Also remember that air power does not win a ground engagement, as we learned from the folly of Bill Clinton against the Serbs in the Balkans. I still remember the pictures of Serbian forces giving us their version of the “finger” as they conducted their retrograde operation. Their systems were intact.
There are no good guys
Some people believe that bombing Assad’s airfields and air force would be just punishment for using chemical weapons. Well, do that and you may tip the balance of the civil war to the rebels – and we may not want to do that.They are no different from the rebels we assisted in Libya. The Free Syrian Army, led by Col. Riad al-Asaad, initially defected from the Syrian Army and Assad regime. The problem is that the FSA has been sorely neglected in armament, capability and logistical support. If the United States were to somehow find a precision means to support the FSA, we would have to fight Assad’s forces and the Islamists under command of Brigadier Gen. Salim Idriss and the Supreme Military Council.Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood (i.e., al Qaeda) support the SMC. The two most prominent of the Islamist forces are the Jubhat-al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. These are not organizations we want to tip the balance toward, as we did in Libya.
And no better, Iran and Hezbollah are aligned with Assad. This is really a schism between Sunni and Shiite Islamists. The window of opportunity for our intervention closed some two years ago.
Is the use of chemical weapons against civilians horrific? Yes. But the level of brutality and beheadings that occur in most of the Islamic world are just as horrifying. One can read daily about atrocities being committed from Nigeria to Egypt, to the Gaza Strip, to Iraq and to Pakistan.
We cannot embark upon a venture under the guise of having a responsibility to protect unless we want to be all over the world – and the Obama administration has severely decimated our military capability.
We also cannot talk about Syria without examining the unintended consequences of Obama’s ill-conceived operation in Libya. Motivated by far fewer casualties than in Syria, Obama, without congressional approval, provided air and naval power to Islamists. They later showed their gratitude by attacking our consulate and murdering Ambassador Chris Stevens, information management officer Sean Smith, and former U.S. Navy SEALS Ty Woods and Glenn Doherty.
The Islamic terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, was a true national security interest, yet Obama showed no indignation, save against a crude video that his team said inspired the attack. He ordered no response or military action, and now he wants America to forget Benghazi even as he insists that we must act in Syria.
Obama actually referred to Benghazi and his abandoning of Americans under attack and dying as a “phony scandal.”
We’re playing chess, not checkers
I will not be guilt-tripped into believing we must act in Syria because President Obama went off teleprompter. World War I began based upon miscalculations and a series of uncontrollable events that were set in motion.Syria is not our problem; it is the problem of President Vladimir Putin and Russia. If they want to maintain a warm weather port in the Mediterranean Sea, let Putin decide whether he wants Syria to fall into the hands of Islamists.Putin has shown himself the master strategist and outmaneuvered Obama this week, even writing an op-ed in The New York Times. The Obama spin masters cannot twist this into a favorable position for their confused community organizer.
Strategically, if Obama wanted to have an influence, he would have maintained a residual force in Iraq, but campaign promises override strategic vision. Obama plays foreign policy checkers, not chess. He said his foreign policy involved “pivoting away from the Middle East,” and he has abdicated American influence in the region, to the detriment of Israel, by doing just that.
The real fight in the Middle East for America is against the Muslim Brotherhood and their spawn, and against Iran. They must be defeated.
You want to do something related to Syria? Provide logistical support to Jordan and the Syrian refugee camps. Start supporting the Egyptian Army in crushing the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist forces in the Sinai Peninsula. And at some time we will have to conduct a strategic strike against Iran, but let’s not tell them we are coming and what the targets are!
We must develop better alliances with the minority ethnic groups friendly to America – Assyrians, Copts, Kurds and others. Yes, I support an independent Kurdistan, which would be a great friend to America.
We also need to promote American energy security. That means developing our own resources and telling OPEC and the Organization of Islamic Countries to take a hike. Lastly, let’s reaffirm our commitment to our best ally in the Middle East, Israel.
America needs strategists and leaders who know how to play chess, not checkers.
The Troubled American Ship Of State – The captain and crew have navigated us into a nightmare
It is great to be back, as I was away for 10 days as an invited guest speaker on the National Review summer cruise. We embarked from Amsterdam and headed into the North Sea toward the epic scenery of Norway. The discussions were informative, and the speakers were truly exceptional.We had an enjoyable family vacation aboard Holland America Line’s MS Eurodam, returning late last Thursday. My daughters Aubrey and Austen wanted to have family movie night Saturday. They requested the 1958 classic “The Vikings,” with Kirk Douglass, Tony Curtis, Ernest Borgnine and Janet Leigh.They especially wanted to see the scenes of the Viking ships sailing the fjords to compare them with what they had just witnessed. They also wanted to look at the Viking culture and weapons in the movie to compare with the Norwegian history center exhibit on the Vikings at Avaldsnes that we had seen near Haugesund.
However, as I watched the movie – yes, for the millionth time – I pondered how the Vikings were afraid of the fog in the North Sea. They were great shipbuilders, but their navigational skills were confined to hugging along the coastline. Navigating the open seas was a perilous challenge.
Thanks to modern technology, as we were on the MS Eurodam, I was able to tune into a station on the TV set in our stateroom to see the exact location and heading of our vessel and to see the fore and aft camera views. But in an interesting paradox, it was much easier to dock a Viking ship centuries ago than it is a large cruise ship today – and those waterways are still the same.
I began to think about the impeccable responsibility of the ship’s captain, now and then. The incredible art of seamanship to maneuver and navigate a ship on the open seas still is based upon fundamentals.
The fog of economic ruin
I am now back in Washington, and as I did my early morning runs this week, I asked myself, “Who is piloting the American ship of state?”On a ship, someone is always on watch, 24/7. Well, who is on watch for America? Who is on the bridge manning the helm, and who is the captain ready to take responsibility and be held accountable for the movements of the ship?Last week I watched President Obama give his first solo press conference since April. Needless to say, as the ship he is piloting drifts closer to the rocks, he was not reassuring to the crew or passengers.
We have a healthcare law that is about to impart serious economic ruin on an American economy struggling with a mere 1 percent increase in quarterly gross domestic product. The president himself has ordered several parts of the law’s implementation to be delayed – an action that is beyond his constitutional ability.
The law is as unpopular as ever and for the ship’s passengers (the American people) to know that certain members of the crew (Congress and its staff) have certain exemptions and will receive subsidies is beyond comprehension.
‘Phony scandals’ that are sinking America
Last September, our ship of state received a distress call – “man overboard,” if you will. As an American ambassador was attacked and the call went to the ship’s captain, it seems he was too busy to be bothered – ya know, formal night dinner – and instructed other senior crew members to respond.Against orders, some of the deck crew went overboard to save the one individual, but the ship never stopped, never turned about, never launched a rescue vessel. And the ship’s captain announced to the crew and passengers that the incident was a “phony scandal.”Think about the old days of the Vikings raiding along the English coast. What if England’s feudal kings had told their subjects, “The Vikings have been decimated and are on the run, no longer a threat.” However, when further Viking raids occurred, they told the serfs and simple farmers those were different Vikings. So it is with al Qaeda, according to our American ship’s captain.
And based upon recent developments emanating from Syria, al Qaeda is stronger than ever and establishing a new base. The Muslim Brotherhood, the granddaddy of Islamism, also is not backing down in Egypt.
So we shut our embassies and consulates in what can be only interpreted in the Islamic world as fear and cowardice. See, an embassy is a sovereign piece of American territory, but we basically abandoned ship.
Skipper Obama and Gilligan Reid
But have no fear, the good Skipper Obama has a dedicated and loyal Gilligan in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who in his babbling sense hinted that non-support for Obama’s failing policies is rooted in racism.I, for one, do not want to be on a fateful trip through the fog of failed economic and national security policies, nanny-state growth, and a culture of incompetence, corruption and intimidation through which our current ship of state is sailing. I and many other Americans do not want to end up on a deserted island devoid of the promise of the American dream for our next generation.That desire has nothing to do with the president’s racial complexion; it has everything to do with competence and character.
The next generation deserves a captain who takes responsibility and who is willing to man the bridge and give the right course headings to the helmsman. From the days of the Vikings, who sailed the open seas to find Iceland, Greenland and even America, until today, great ships have had great captains.
Our American ship of state does not resemble the MS Eurodam, which I disembarked from safely. It more closely resembles the Costa Concordia, which still lies half-sunk in the Tyrrhenian Sea because a captain ran it upon Italy’s rocks.
If Washington is the bridge of our ship, no one is on duty and we are dangerously close to the rocks.
What Norway Teaches Us About America – Allen West reflects on our principles and past while abroad
Col. Allen West is still traveling this week as part of National Review’s annual cruise, but to keep his readers in the loop, he has been sending observations from his stops along the North Sea. Here are two dispatches from Norway:
Bergen (Aug. 3) – Bergen is a lovely city, the second largest in Norway behind the capital of Oslo. Bergen was once the capital of the country.
It is also the home of famous classical composer Edvard Grieg, known for his Peer Gynt suite. We visited the Kode Art Gallery and saw the works of Edvard Munch, who is known for the “Scream” series.
It rains an average 219 days a year in Bergen, and boy howdy were we caught in a deluge. But later in the afternoon, the clouds blew over and a beautiful day shone down on the City of the Seven Mountains.
I learned that Norway has a state-sponsored religion, Evangelical Lutheran, and that the head of the state is also head of the church as part of its constitution. However, Norwegians still have freedom of religion.
Our founding fathers did not want America to have a head of state who also leads a religion. This is what “separation of church and state” means.
Stavenger (Aug. 6) – What a beautiful, breathtaking scene this city offers. The port is right in the city center below the old city.
We took a nice cruise through Lysefjord, and the pristine simplicity was spellbinding. We went by a small island where, in 998 AD, King Olaf held a meeting to unify the separate kingdoms into the Norway we know today.
The greatness of America is that those who left Norway came to our shores and found a place to be free, share their culture and be part of the immense opportunities our republic offers, allowing their entrepreneurship and ethic to strengthen our country.
America is exceptional because as a young, inner-city black kid from Atlanta, I got to experience Norway and its history with my wife and our daughters, the next generation.
Steadfast and Loyal,
Libertarian Voices Of The House GOP
The libertarian wing of the Republican Party has spent a long time in the political wilderness but is now the future of the GOP, Rep. Mick Mulvaney said at a panel discussion with three of his fellow libertarian-leaning House colleagues.
“You are the swing voters, and you are the folks that move easily back and forth between the parties and have no natural party lines,” the South Carolina Republican said. He added that libertarianism is the growth area of the party, as it was when Ronald Reagan ran against “country club Republicans.”
Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., said the ascendancy of libertarian Republicans is evident in the reaction of House GOP leaders to young lawmakers like him. Their commitment to limited government and individual liberty frustrates the establishment’s desire to compromise, he said.
“The party is changing right in front of them,” Amash said, “and I think that’s why you get a lot of backlash from some of the more senior members who are set in their ways about what the Republican Party should stand for.”
That’s true in the Senate as well, he added, where Republicans like Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky take principled stands against the party’s leaders when necessary.
Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, criticized Republicans like Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Sen. John McCain of Arizona for their willingness to align themselves with Democrats. “What you’re looking at is people that are only interested in themselves and not interested in actually promoting the cause,” Labrador said.
Texas will need a big bankroll to fight the Obama administration’s push to reinstate strict federal scrutiny of the state’s voting laws but has a strong case, according to election law expert Hans von Spakovsky.
“They’re going to put up a pretty fierce battle to try to stop this,” he said of Texas officials, noting that South Carolina spent $3.5 million to win a similar battle against U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
Holder targeted Texas after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which requires Southern states to get federal approval before changing their voting laws, is no longer constitutional.
“The Supreme Court threw it out because the coverage formula … was based on 40-year-old data,” von Spakovsky said. “It had never been updated by Congress, and the conditions are a lot different today.”
But Holder refused to admit defeat. He sued the state under another section of the Voting Rights Act to try to reinstate federal pre-clearance of voting laws in Texas for another decade. The Justice Department is upset that Texas enacted a law requiring voters to present photo identification, von Spakovsky said.
He critiqued the federal government’s rationale for the lawsuit, including allegations of long voting lines for blacks and Hispanics in Texas. But he said Holder won’t stop fighting even if he loses in Texas.
A Father’s Day To Remember At Antietam The battle that opened the door to my Army career
This past Sunday was Father’s Day, and I pray all you Dads had a wonderful day being honored and cherished by your children and grandchildren.
My daughters Aubrey and Austen are finishing a three-week trip to Beijing after returning with our Chinese exchange student Lin. They are having the time of their lives and getting an experience that will last a lifetime – and yes, they did email and text dear ole Dad.
My wife Angela went to her homeland of Jamaica to visit extended family and relatives in Montego Bay. So I was here alone in Washington on Father’s Day.
My morning started with a nice run from my Batcave to the Marine Barracks at 8th and I streets, past the Navy Yard, historic barracks row, past the Washington Nationals stadium to 4th Street, back to the National Mall, up Capitol Hill’s Senate side and through the local neighborhood, and then back to my humble abode. It was a great start to the day.
However, the real treat was yet to come. My motorcycle is at the Alexandria condo of my close friend, retired Marine Lt. Col. Neal Puckett. Neal and I met 10 years ago in Iraq when he arrived as my defense attorney. A father as well, he decided that Father’s Day this year was a great day for a motorcycle ride – to a Civil War battlefield.
See, growing up down south in Georgia, I visited many Civil War battlefield sites and remember the time my Dad took me to Andersonville, home of the brutal, Confederate prisoner-of-war camp. I will never forget that surreal experience. However, I had not visited a battlefield in quite a few years. Heck, my daughters and Angela have been to Manassas Battlefield – or Bull Run, depending upon which side of the war people fought.
Our journey into Civil War history
What battlefield did Neal and I choose? Antietam. So we mounted our iron horses Sunday morning around 11 a.m. and took off to see a memorable place in American history.
It was a perfect day for a motorcycle ride – not too hot and with a nice breeze blowing. The Maryland countryside was breathtaking, and finally we exited I-70 and began the ascent up and over South Mountain.
We went through the Middletown and Boonsboro, and I loved the sense of being in the “real” America, with flags on homes. The freshness of the air was intoxicating – and even the occasional smell of cow barns put a smile on my face. Finally, we saw Little Antietam Creek and then crossed Antietam Creek.
We saw the site markers designating unit positions, passed Antietam National Cemetery and entered the historic town of Sharpsburg. We then turned right, heading north on state Route 65 and, like a scene from a movie, saw Antietam Battlefield to the east on our right.
We parked and headed into the national park building. Both Neal and I know the Battle of Antietam well, but we were just in time for the 1 p.m. battle brief by the park ranger. She did a phenomenal job. Descendants of one of the families with a farm at the center of the battlefield were at the briefing.
During the Civil War, Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army decided to cross the Potomac River and attack north into Maryland. He reasoned that their continued success would bring support from England and France.
The Union forces were somewhat demoralized until they found out Gen. George McClellanhad been placed in charge of the force. A Union garrison was 17 miles away at Harpers Ferry, and Lee decided to split his force to capture it. At Antietam, Lee was outnumbered, and as fate would have hit, two Union privates found a copy of his battle plan wrapped around two cigars.
The battle began early Sept. 17, 1862, with the Union attack in the north cornfield and toward the Dunker Church. The engagement went back and forth, and finally the Confederates drove the Union forces back. Next came the engagement at the Sunken Road, where the Confederates initially held the Union forces until a flanking maneuver turned the site into a horrific killing zone – “Bloody Lane.”
A shift in forces enabled the Confederates to hold on as Lee recognized his center had been broken and he committed a reserve force.
The third engagement at Antietam occurred at a singular stone bridge over Antietam Creek, the Burnside Bridge. Although they possessed a numerical superiority, the Union split its force into the fight against a Confederate front that dominated the high ground overlooking the bridge. Despite being devoid of senior leadership, the Union forces finally broke across the bridge and drove the Confederates back.
It all looked desperate for Lee until the Confederates saw the colors of Gen. A.P. Hill arriving from Harpers Ferry.
A deadly yet momentous battle
In the end, the Battle of Antietam was a standstill but a costly one – 23,100 dead, wounded or missing. Antietam remains the deadliest day in U.S. military history.
Lee could not press the advance into the North and retreated across the Potomac River. The support from England and France never came. Lee again crossed into the North the following year, coming to battle at Gettysburg, Pa.
Seeing Antietam as a victory, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and a decree accepting black soldiers into the Union Army. Robert Gould Shaw, a young Union officer wounded at Antietam, later commanded the first black regiment, the 54th Massachusetts. He led his troops into battle at Fort Wagner in South Carolina the following year and was buried there in a mass grave with his Colored Soldiers.
Bloody Antietam ended up being the catalyst that made the Civil War a moral struggle against slavery. It also enabled me some 120 years later to be commissioned into the U.S. Army.
Parents and grandparents, take the next generation of Americans to one of our many historic battlefields so they can learn how we came to be this great nation. The next generation must learn who we are, from whence we came, so we all can stand up for what we shall be in the future.
Steadfast and Loyal,
Allen B. West
A Call For Accountability For Snowden, IRS
Former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden and Internal Revenue Service officials involved in the grilling of conservative nonprofits have one thing in common in the eyes of Rep. Aaron Schock. They all broke the law and need to be held accountable for it.
The Illinois Republican told Michelle Fields of NextGeneration.TV that Snowden broke a promise to keep secrets about American data gathering secure and the IRS engaged in egregious political tactics that no one thought possible in America.
The controversy surrounding Snowden is different from the IRS scandal in one sense. “We’re rightfully upset that he broke the law, and I think he needs to be held accountable for that,” Schock said. “At the same time, what he exposed is an administration and an agency [that’s] going further than what they had told Congress they were going to do.”
Whistleblowers need to know they will be protected when they report government officials or programs run amok, Schock said. But they can’t be allowed to do it in ways that undermine national security.
Schock condemned IRS officials of multiple abuses. Their transgressions included asking religious groups to reveal the content of their prayers, pressuring conservative nonprofits to keep their members from running for office and demanding that pro-life groups not protest at Planned Parenthood facilities.
But he voiced even more displeasure with the Obama administration for its subdued response to the IRS scandal. The president must do more than push the head of the IRS out of his job to “root out the cancer that has infected the agency,” Schock said.
“There were people all over the agency doing this,” he said. “Somebody was clearly directing them from Washington, D.C. The president has shown no interest in getting to the bottom of that.”