Welcome to October and, soon, the beginning of fall in the Midwest, almost always – in my farm boy opinion -- the nicest time of year (though sometimes late spring ties with it).
The small poem “The Day After Tuesday” that I mentioned in last month’s newsletter did indeed show up in the September 11 special issue of the Lincoln Journal Star newspaper. It was wedged in among far more interesting and important personal recollections and reflections of that day by people from throughout the community in all walks of life. That day will apparently be one of those – like Pearl Harbor and JFK’s assassination – that will always evoke special memories of where people were and what they were doing when they heard the news. It was nice that the paper saw fit to print the poem; it seems to get trotted out at intervals of five- or ten-years when those anniversary increments roll around.
I’ve been reading some unusual, but very interesting, books lately. One of my neighbors gave me one titled Summer of ’68: The Season that Changed Baseball, and America, Forever.
For those of us who occasionally think things could not possibly get any worse or more divisive in our country (at one time or another that has probably included most of the populace), the book is a reminder that we have in our past experienced and survived some very difficult times. Nineteen sixty-eight was an awful year in our country’s history: assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy; riots, looting, and burning in dozens of cities; the deadliest year of the Vietnam War – more than 16,000 American military personnel killed and nearly 90,000 wounded. In those days, the three major channels televised each party’s political conventions. I remember watching the Democratic convention in Chicago and hearing one of the commentators say, almost in disbelief, “this is a street in an American city,” as the mass violence played out on screen and the picture showed horrific clashes between hundreds, if not thousands, of demonstrators and police. Earlier in the year, amid looting and burning in Washington D.C., the evening news broadcast began with a picture of a machine gun nest on the steps of the Capitol Building. Bad times, which we managed to survive. Evidence, perhaps, that we can make it through the present difficulties as well.
Sports fans of a certain age may recall the baseball season that year as also being extremely unusual. Pitching absolutely dominated the game. Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals finished with an earned run average of 1.12, the lowest ever. Denny McClain (Detroit Tigers) won 31 games. There were several no-hitters, two of them on back-to-back days, and one perfect game (Jim ‘Catfish’ Hunter of the Oakland A’s). Don Drysdale (Los Angeles Dodgers) pitched 58 and 2/3rd consecutive scoreless innings. Carl Yastrezemski (Boston Red Sox) won the American League batting championship with a rather puny .301 average. Quite a year. Among other rule changes that were made as a result, the pitching mound was lowered to reduce that advantage. The book does a masterful job of putting the season in context with all the other things going on at the same time and describing how players and teams attempted to navigate through the chaos surrounding them as they moved from place to place across the country.
Back to writing news for a moment: At the request of an organization called Writer’s Branding, and with their assistance, we are installing an Author’s Page on Amazon. It is mainly intended as a vehicle to connect writers and provide information to publishers, book distributors, etc. When up and running it will display a list of book titles and contain a brief bio. It may eventually include a photo as well, although I am worried that a picture might scare away prospective buyers. I am considering photo shopping an image of George Clooney, maybe blurring it a little, and sending that to them. Perhaps no one will notice.
It turns out that the Glory in the Shadows book was not quite finished after all despite the late updates to capture the August events in Afghanistan. In what may really be the final words on paper, I included a small added portion related to the Global War on Terrorism efforts in Iraq and Syria. Hopefully, it will provide some balance to the overall outcomes in that region of the world. Afghanistan was a strategic loss. In Iraq and Syria, though, there were generally favorable outcomes, although they drew little attention and were but modestly reported in the media.
There is a Global War on Terrorism Aftermath section in the book. Possibly with a bit more fiddling a portion of the words that will be inserted in it follow below.
As the American involvement in Iraq continued into its second decade, the emergence and burgeoning strength of an ISIS offshoot known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other groups associated with it caused the conflict to spill into nearby countries. Eventually, Operation Inherent Resolve, the name given to the international campaign against ISIL forces, placed U.S. forces in action not only in Iraq but also in Syria and, in a related campaign, Libya as well.
In June 2014, ISIL declared a caliphate after having overrun large portions of Syria and perhaps as much as a quarter of Iraq. At the height of its power, the self-proclaimed caliphate controlled more than 40,000 square miles of territory in Iraq and Syria inhabited by more than seven and a half million people. The Libyan branch, headquartered in Sirte, controlled a sizable swath of that country as well.
Meanwhile, ISIS- and ISIL- sponsored attacks and violence perpetrated by groups affiliated with them permeated much of the Islamic world. Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Bangladesh, and Lebanon were among targeted nations. Concurrently, terrorist groups extended the scope of their attacks striking London, Paris, Madrid, and other locations in the west.
The United States responded to the crisis by returning 5,000 troops to help the Iraqi Army defeat insurgents who appeared to be on the verge of further advances. Beginning in mid-2015, a formidable international military force was assembled to reclaim territory controlled by large and generally well-equipped ISIL units. The U.S. Army’s III Armored Corps led the combined task force for the first three and a half years before being replaced by the XVII Airborne Corps. U.S. Special Forces and artillery units were most often employed in support of Iraqi infantry and Syrian Democratic Forces. The full panoply of American airpower – U.S. Air Force fighters, bombers, tankers, gunships, helicopters, transports, reconnaissance, ground attack, and unmanned aerial vehicles – as well as naval air units from several carrier strike forces and Army helicopters, visited destruction on ISIL formations and fortifications. It was an international endeavor: American air units were joined in the effort by air forces from twelve other nations. Interestingly, at times Russian and Syrian air assets were also employed against ISIL targets. Almost 35,000 air strikes were conducted. Defeat of ISIL in Iraq was proclaimed on December 9, 2017.
In the years 2014-2015, the war in Iraq had begun to extend beyond that nation’s boundaries. In neighboring Syria, conditions had become especially chaotic. Already rent by a civil war that began early in 2011, the new wave of violence added another dimension to the ongoing struggle between pro-regime forces and democratic groups trying to overthrow it. Both sides received significant amounts of external support. In addition to political backing, Iran, Russian and Hezbollah funneled military and economic aid to the Assad regime and the Syrian Armed Forces. The anti-Assad Free Syrian Army received sustenance from the CIA and was generally aligned with Kurdish dominated Syrian Democratic Forces. The latter group’s Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria was backed by the United States.
Complicating the situation for America and its allies was the presence in increasing strength of jihadist groups and ISIL forces who, in their quest for additional territory, also generally opposed the Assad regime. Thus, the very groups whose actions formed the motivation for America’s having launched the Global War on Terrorism were, as part of their repertoire of violence, at times engaging a foe shared in common with the United States.
Coalitions shifted as conditions on the ground changed and disputes regarding philosophy and territory caused alliances to shatter or reshape. Relationships between major jihadist leaders were also sometimes fractious, causing groups to separate or temper their support. Nonetheless, by mid-decade jihadist cadres led by ISIL controlled significant territory in both Iraq and Syria. A caliphate was declared with Raqqa as its capital. The caliphate imposed Sharia Law on the territories it controlled and regarded most non-affiliated groups as being apostate.
The major intervention launched by the United States and its international partners in response to the rising tide of ISIL conquests succeeded after a four and a half year struggle. On March 23, 2019, fifteen months after the defeat of ISIL in Iraq, the defeat of ISIL in Syria was announced. Both were considerable achievements, victories that drew surprisingly little attention in the west and at best modest coverage in western media.
For those who read those words, thank you for indulging me. After the withdrawal from Afghanistan, it often seemed as if the total picture of events in that part of the world had not been well or comprehensively reported. In the two decades of U.S. involvement, there were indeed victories and major accomplishments. They are testimony to the skill and valor of the men and women who served there. The nation should take considerable pride in the outcomes.
And now – please, no phone calls, the constant ringing disturbs the cat’s naps and makes her extremely irritable – TRULY AWFUL PUNS.
What do you call a wandering nun?
A roamin’ catholic.
Do they laugh loudly in Hawaii?
Or is it just a low ha?
I know – truly bad. Hope you are having a great day.