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January 27, 2006

Not Joel Stein's Kind Of Men

Reading Joel Stein's column in the LA Times a few days ago, it was hard to know how to react.

For someone like me who grew up in a Navy family and married a Marine, it's always tempting not to take that sort of thing seriously. To dismiss him as the kind of overprivileged, airy-fairy dilettante my father's and husband's service make possible. Annoying, but in the end insubstantial. It's tempting to think of men like Stein as the noxious by-products of freedom, like exhaust from an automobile: just hold your nose, wave your hand about rapidly, and try not to inhale until the odor dissipates.

I could see Mr. Stein was, possibly, trying to be amusing with his little japes about how it wasn't "safe" not to support the troops. You see, they might beat him up. The joke fell a bit flat with me, though, because the men he doesn't support are currently far too busy to beat up snivelling West Coast reporters who can't name a single military person of their acquaintance and admittedly know nothing about any of the wars their own country has fought. Of course, ignorance doesn't doesn't keep him from bloviating. Apparently that old maxim about writing what you know has been replaced with one more appropriate for the Me Generation: "Write about what you don't know".

Stein has, in the fullness of time, been roundly condemned for his sentiments. This is, of course, precisely what he hoped would happen. He has had his 15 minutes of fame. But amid the entirely predictable outrage, I found Grim's take thought provoking. For unlike everyone else, who focused on how wrong it was not to support our men and women in uniform, Grim turned the question on its face and asked, "Well, what kind of man would Mr. Stein support?"

And that is the right question; for more often than not Leftists of the Steinian stripe are far more interested in tearing down than in building up or offering solutions. They love to go picnicking on the do-ers in life: those who try to solve the problems others shirk. They, of course, offer no solutions. Like Mr. Stein, they have not so much as faced the horrors of jury duty, yet they feel perfectly free to criticize those who have faced down a hail of bullets. "War is never the answer", the ponderously opine. But they never explain to us exactly how to get a man who ruthlessly eliminated everyone in his way for over 30 years to voluntarily relinquish power, without the use of force. They never explain why Congress passes laws mandating regime change in Iraq because it is a threat, and then does nothing to bring that change about. The truth is that talking about things without doing anything about them never accomplishes anything either, so why do American politicians do this so much of the time? When the American Left solves that puzzle, perhaps we'll pay more attention to them.

Sight unseen, Joel Stein has decided he cannot support our military men. He admitted, in an interview with Hugh Hewitt, that he doesn't really know enough about war to comment knowledgeably on that topic. Yet that lack of knowledge does not stop him from withholding his support from those who pledge to give their all for this nation.

Since Joel Stein doesn't know anyone in the military, or presumably their families, I thought it might be instructive for him to get to know some of those people he can't find it in his heart to support. To hear what they think about this war. About killing. About dying.

Because that is as close as men like Joel Stein will ever come to the heartbreaking reality military families live with, 24/7. And yet they go on. If Mr. Stein had an ounce of journalistic curiosity in that empty place he calls his soul, he might summon up the gumption to ask himself a simple question: why?

President Bush received a letter in December:


My name is Bud Clay. My son, SSgt Daniel Clay--USMC was killed last week, 12/01/05, in Iraq. He was one of the ten Marines killed by the IED in Fallujah.

Dan was a Christian--he knew Jesus as Lord and Savior--so we know where he is. In his final letter (one left with me for the family--to be read in case of his death) he says "if you are reading this, it means my race is over." He's home now--his and our real home.

I am writing to you--to tell you how proud and thankful we (his parents and family) are of you and what you are trying to do to protect us all. This was Dan's second tour in Iraq--he knew and said that his being there was to protect us.

I want to encourage you. I hear in your speeches about "staying the course". I also know that many are against you in this "war on Terror" and that you must get weary in the fight to do what is right. We and many others are praying for you to see this through--as Lincoln said, "that these might not have died in vain".

You have a heavy load--we are praying for you.

God bless you,

Bud Clay is probably not the kind of man Joel Klein would understand. but then he raised Staff Sergeant Daniel Clay, who wrote these words to his family before he was taken from them. His father included SSgt. Clay's final letter in the envelope sent to the President:


Boy do I love each and every one of you. This letter being read means that I have been deemed worthy of being with Christ. With MaMa Jo, MaMa Clay, Jennifer .... all those we have been without for our time during the race. This is not a bad thing. It is what we hope for. The secret is out. He lives and His promises are real! It is not faith that supports this .... but fact and I now am a part of the promise. Here is notice! Wake up! All that we hope for is Real. Not a hope. But Real.

But here is something tangible. What we have done in Iraq is worth any sacrifice. Why? Because it was our duty. That sounds simple. But all of us have a duty. Duty is defined as a God given task. Without duty life is worthless. It holds no type of fulfillment. The simple fact that our bodies are built for work has to lead us to the conclusion that God (who made us) put us together to do His work. His work is different for each of us.

Mom, yours was to be the glue of our family, to be a pillar for those women (all women around you), Dad, yours was to train and build us (like a Platoon Sgt) to better serve Him. Kristie, Kim, Katy you are the five team leaders who support your Squad ldrs, Jodie, Robert and Richard. Lisa you too. You are my XO and you did a hell of a job. You all have your duties. Be thankful that God in His wisdom gives us work. Mine was to ensure that you did not have to experience what it takes to protect what we have as a family. This I am so thankful for. I know what honor is. It is not a word to be thrown around. It has been an Honor to protect and serve all of you. I faced death with the secure knowledge that you would not have to. This is as close to Christ-like I can be. That emulation is where all honor lies. I thank you for making it worthwhile.

As a Marine this is not the last Chapter. I have the privilege of being one who has finished the race. I have been in the company of heroes. I now am counted among them. Never falter! Don't hesitate to honor and support those of us who have the honor of protecting that which is worth protecting.

I suspect that Joel Klein would think SSgt. Clay a fool. During his interview with Hugh Hewitt, the topic of honor came up. It became abundantly clear that this was a term that held no value in Mr. Klein's world. As Grim noted so trenchantly, the entire interview could have been reduced to this exchange:

HH: Do you honor the service that their son did?

JS: To honor the service their son...now this is a dumb question, but what do you mean by honor? That's a word you keep using. I'm not entirely...maybe that's my problem. But I'm not entirely sure what you're...

At this point, I would have simply said: "Thanks for coming on the show, Mr. Stein."

At the end of the day, it is not we civilians, but our fighting men who pose a living retort to men like Joel Stein. For all our outrage at his callous words, they need no defense from us. Their words, far better than any poor tribute we can offer, bear eloquent witness to why America should support her fighting men and women:

Mr. Stein’s tragedy is not his clear conviction but rather that he steals freedom from his sacrificing countrymen. He sees no moral dilemma with that—which is indicative of an attitude prevalent among some self-proclaimed, high-browed, educated types that believe there is somehow a moral superiority in non-involvement. To defend his position, Mr. Stein is critical of what he calls ‘American imperialism.’ To borrow what he surely intended as a denigrating analogy, we can indeed see parallels in attitude if not government and conquest.

Rome had its internal critics. So did Greece. But when the vast majority of Romans began to view the finer points of life as morally superior to the lower points of necessity, Roman youth lost their appreciation for what held Rome together in the first place. Soon, hired or conquered levies replaced Romans in the ranks. Why should Romans fight wars that they could not see any reason for fighting? After all, what impact did they have in Rome?

Eventually, the theory of a moral superiority in non-involvement met the cold steel of non-theoretically superior sword thrusts from Vandals and Huns that replaced Romans in the Roman empire.

I take exception to Mr. Stein’s comment about soldiers ignoring their morality. And as a soldier that has served in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, none of those experiences ever made me feel ‘lucky.’ The noble ‘wars’ and ‘fights’ are seldom noble for the soldier. They involve pain and human suffering on a grand scale. Mr. Stein I am quite certain has never killed a man and is proud of that. I have had to kill several men in desperate, close combat while I watched my opponents facial expressions change as life ebbed out of them. I am quite certain that I am not proud of that.

But what separates him from me is certainly not education. Nor is it conviction of purpose. It is indeed morality. But of a nobler kind. No greater love has a man, than he lay down his life for his friends—even when they act and write unfriendly.

As an American, I no longer draw a distinction of who qualifies to be one or is best suited to appreciate democracy. After serving nine years overseas and on multiple continents, I do not see white or black or Hispanic or Indian or oriental or educated or simple-minded Americans. I only see Americans. Even the unfriendly kind. And when I am old, I will be able to look in the mirror and know that I acted on my convictions to preserve what others will not. Cannot. Do not. And what I will see is a man with a clear conscience and a moral sense of purpose.

I am thankful I do not have to look into Mr. Stein’s mirror.

LTC Steve Russell

Joel Stein would not recognize SSgt. Daniel Clay, nor Bud Clay, nor LTC Steve Russell, were he to meet them on a city street. They are not the kind of man he can support. He would not recognize this man:


But most of us do, and we are glad men like this stand between us and the kind of men who strap bombs to women and young boys, or fly planes into buildings on a sunny autumn morning. They are all that stand between us and madness.

Posted by Cassandra at January 27, 2006 07:08 AM


Ah, yes. We missed you. This type of post is why. I knew you couldn't stay away so have kept checking, then when you start back up, I'm a week late catching up. Oh, well, I was busy.

Welcome back. How's the nephew?

Posted by: Jlf [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 27, 2006 11:15 AM

He is doing well. I'm sorry - I couldn't write earlier because he had a setback and I didn't want to say anything until he was over it.

He's out of the hospital and has been staying in a hospitality house - I need to write them a very big check this week. They are run by a family foundation - apparently no one ever asks about giving them money. He is still getting platelets to supplement his own but so far so good - it seems the transplant is taking and the cancer hasn't come back, and he has hair now. We're going to have to keep the girls away with a baseball bat when he gets back to school and they see those brown eyes of his.

We are holding our breath. He got to go home for Christmas and be with his family and that was truly priceless. His Mom and Dad are stronger than I could ever be - the best people in the whole world for him. He is a fine young man. I am so proud of him. Oh crap. I still start crying every time I think about it, but now they are tears of joy.

I just cannot believe after all this time that we are almost there. Thank all of you for your prayers. I believe they have helped.

I think we are all a bit scared to get too excited, but I imagine you are familiar with that feeling. One day at a time, but we are so grateful to have today to celebrate :)

Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 27, 2006 02:09 PM

Very nice, Cass.

And glad to hear about your nephew.

Posted by: KJ [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 27, 2006 05:47 PM


Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 27, 2006 05:56 PM

THANKS THANKS THANKS for the "T" update! Very, VERY encouraging to hear. I Do understand cautious optimism & sober minded excitement!

God bless em!!...

Posted by: Rocky Mtn. Lioness [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 28, 2006 02:35 AM

A teary eyed read, Cass, both the post and the comments. Yes, SSGT Clay got it.

"For behold, this is my work and my glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man."
(Moses 1:39)

Joel Stein is to be pitied. He feels sorry for someone who thinks the only way to get our attention is to kill. They are hell bent on either purging the earth of infidels (the theme of Slytherin runs through here MOST resoundingly)
or converting people to Islam. Fear isn't what drives Christians and others...it is love. Stein doesn't know the meaning of the word. For him, love and tolerance are the same thing. They aren't.

Glad to hear the update on your nephew.

Posted by: Crckt [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 28, 2006 08:50 AM

I don't know how this is going to come out. Probably weird. I don't know.

Right before Christmas I was just so completely exhausted, physically and emotionally. I had put off shopping for the nieces and nephews. I have always gotten them boring old books in the past, but this year I just couldn't do it - too hard to remember what I've bought in the past and there are so many of them, and they're getting older.

And I was thinking, looking at some photos my sister in law sent of the girls, how sometimes it takes something awful like this to make you appreciate how miraculous the every day things in life are. I was looking at photos of my teen-aged nieces and they are starting to look like young women. My oldest two, especially, are still girls, but you can see the mystery of a woman peeking out from behind their eyes. It is scary but beautiful and magical at the same time.

And so I scrapped the book idea and went out and bought them all earrings this year. I spent WAY too much money. But it was like a rite of passage in a way. I had so much fun picking out just the right pair for each of them, for their age and skin and hair and eye color and personality. I wanted them to feel the way I remember feeling as a young girl when my Mom gave me my first pair of heels and I felt so pretty when I got to put them on, Sundays to go to church with my nylons. I felt like a princess even though the rest of the week I'd rather die than get dressed up.

We take the whole growing up thing for granted, except that not everyone gets to grow up. We should celebrate it more, the little passages from childhood to adulthood. I think we make things far too easy on our children these days. We give them far too much and ask far too little of them in the way of responsiblity. They can do much of what we end up doing for them and it's good for them to do so. It makes them stronger and happier people.

But we give them far too little in the way of time, also. And we don't take the time to celebrate the changes in them as they travel towards adulthood.

Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 28, 2006 09:19 AM

Oh I am so glad you posted that. The Princess Kitty, aka My Only Daughter, is such a girly girl.
I have a pic of her dressed as Belle for Halloween (she looks just like her)and then one of her in a baseball cap, jeans, t shirt and...hideous rhinestone earrings.

Her baptism is coming up, and I am making her a dress from a one hundred year old pattern. It will be white, with lace and tucks. The cost is...well, never mind.

But you are right...there are the rites of passage we observe spiritually, but seldom the ones that are personal. And we need to do a bit more of that to show that we not only know and love them as a person but that we know they are doing well.

Posted by: Crckt [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 28, 2006 09:32 AM

Make sure you save that dress, Cricket. Maybe some day your grand-daughter will wear it :)

Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 1, 2006 10:17 AM

I also thank the men and women that have protected America from the depravities and the disgusting violence that many other citizens from many other nations have suffered. WIthout the protectors of our nation, both past, present, and future, we would be nothing but prey to the predators. We might survive until the twilight hours, we might fight and kill many before we fall, but fall we would without the strength of that pillar which has stood by America in all our grace and fury.

Posted by: Ymarsakar [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 11, 2006 04:36 PM

These letters provide some perspective. That Americans aren't the only people that love their country, it just seems that some people cannot understand that.

Dearest Mother: I trust that you are in good health. I am a member of the Shichisei Unit of the Special Attack Corps. Half of our unit flew to Okinawa today to dive against enemy ships. The rest of us will sortie in two or three days. It may be that our attack will be made on 8 April, the birthday of Buddha. ……………….. Please do not grieve for me, mother. It will be glorious to die in action. I am grateful to be able to die in a battle to determine the destiny of our country. ……………….. On our last sortie we will be given a package of bean curd and rice [Shinto ritual for luck]. It is reassuring to depart with such good luncheon fare. I think I'll also take along the charm and the dried bonito from Mr. Tateishi. The bonito will help me rise from the ocean, mother, and swim back to you. At our next meeting we shall have many things to talk about which are difficult to discuss in writing. But then we have lived together so congenially that many things may now be left unsaid. 'I am living in a dream which will transport me from the earth tomorrow.' ……………….. We live in the spirit of Jesus Christ, and we die in that spirit. This thought stays with me. It is gratifying to live in this world, but living has a spirit of futility about it now. It is time to die. I do not seek reasons for dying. My only search is for an enemy target against which to dive. ……………….. There is nothing more for me to say, however, by way of farewell. I will precede you now, mother, in the approach to Heaven. Please pray for my admittance. I should regret being barred from the Heaven to which you will surely be admitted. Pray for me, mother. Farewell, Ichizo

You slept in my arms very well. You had the very eyes of your mother and the hair of your aunt, I remember them clearly. I picked your name in hope of you becoming a peaceful woman (the character 'Yasu' has the meaning of peace in Japanese). It will be perplexed if you don't know in your future, so I am letting you know.

The doll that you slept with, I fly with as an amulet. I die with you, so I am not afraid. You should not be either, as I will always be with you. If you wonder what I look like in your future, tell your mother so and ask to come to Yasukuni Shrine in Kudan. There, I will be. You should not be ashamed of not having a father, for I will always live in your heart. Remember that your father died in honor and for the country. You live long. Be good to your mother and aunt.
Your father, Masashi (pseudonym)

Dear Father:
As death approaches, my only regret is that I have never been able to do anything good for you in my life.

I was selected quite unexpectedly to be a special attack pilot and will be leaving for Okinawa today. Once the order was given for my one-way mission it became my sincere wish to achieve success in fulfilling this duty. Even so, I cannot help feeling a strong attachment to this beautiful land of Japan. Is that a weakness of my part? On learning that my time had come I closed my eyes and saw visions of your face, mother's grandmother's and the faces of my close friends. It was bracing and heartening to realize that each of you wants me to be brave. I will do that! I will!

My life in the service has not been filled with sweet memories. It is a life of resignation and self-denial, certainly not comfortable. As a raison d'être for service life, I can see only that it gives me a chance to die for my country. If this seems bitter it probably is because I had experienced the sweetness of life before joining the service.

The other day I received Lieutenant Otsubo's philosophy on life and death which you so kindly sent. It seems to me that while he appears to have hit on some truth, he was concerned mostly with superficial thoughts on the service. It is of no avail to express it now, but in my 23 years of life, I have worked out my own philosophy.

It leaves a bad taste in my mouth when I think of the deceits being played on innocent citizens by some of our wily politicians. But I am willing to take orders from the high command, and even from the politicians, because I believe in the polity of Japan.

The Japanese way of life is indeed beautiful, and I am proud of it, as I am of Japanese history and mythology which reflect the purity of our ancestors and their believe in the past—whether or not those beliefs are true. That way of life is the product of all the best things which our ancestors have handed down to us. And the living embodiment of all wonderful things out of our past is the Imperial Family which, too, is the crystallization of the splendour and beauty of Japan and its people. It is an honour to be able to give my life in defence [sic] of these beautiful and lofty things.

Okinawa is much a part of Japan as Goto Island. An inner voice keeps saying that I must smite the foe who violates our homeland. My grave will be the sea around Okinawa, and I will see my mother and grandmother again. I have neither regret nor fear about death. I only pray for the happiness of you and all my fellow countrymen.

My greatest regret is this life is the failure to call you 'chichiue' (revered father). I regret not having given any demonstration of the respect which I have always had for you. During my final plunge, though you will not hear it, you may be sure that I will be saying 'chichiue' to you and thinking of all you have done for me.

I have not asked you to come to see me at the base because I know that you are comfortable at Amakusa. It is a good place to live. The mountains north of the base remind me of Sugiyama and Magarisaka on Goto Island, and I have often thought of the days when you took Akira and me on picnics to Matsuyama near the powder magazine. I also recall riding with you to the crematorium at Magarisaka as a youngster, without clearly understanding then that mother had died.

I leave everything to you. Please take good care of my sisters.

One setback in its history does not mean the destruction of a nation. I pray that you will live long. I am confident that a new Japan will emerge. Our people must not be rash in their desire for death.

Fondest regards.
Just before departure,

Dear Parents: Please congratulate me. I have been given a splendid opportunity to die. This is my last day. The destiny of our homeland hinges on the decisive battle in the seas to the south where I shall fall like a blossom from a radiant cherry tree. I shall be a shield for His Majesty [the emperor] and die cleanly along with my squadron leader and other friends. I wish that I could be born seven times, each time to smite the enemy. How I appreciate this chance to die like a man! I am grateful from the depths of my heart to the parents who have reared me with their constant prayers and tender love. And I am grateful as well to my squadron leader and superior officers who have looked after me as if I were their own son and given me such careful training. Thank you, my parents, for the twenty-three years during which you have cared for me and inspired me. I hope that my present deed will in some small way repay what you have done for me. Think well of me and know that your Isao died for our country. This is my last wish, and there is nothing else that I desire. I shall return in spirit and look forward to your visit at the Yasukuni Shrine. Please take good care of yourselves. How glorious is the Special Attack Corps' Giretsu Unit [Isao Matsuo's unit] whose Suisei bombers will attack the enemy. Our goal is to dive against the aircraft carriers of the enemy. Movie cameramen have been here to take our pictures. It is possible that you may see us in newsreels at the theatre. We are sixteen warriors manning the bombers. May our death be as sudden and clean as the shattering of crystal. Written at Manila on the eve of our sortie. Isao Soaring into the sky of the southern seas, it is our glorious mission to die as the shields of His Majesty. Cherry blossoms glisten as they open and fall. (Inoguchi, Nakajima and Pineau 1959: 183-184).

For a proper understanding of the cultural context, go here, the source where I obtained these letters.


Posted by: Ymarsakar [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 20, 2006 04:27 PM

I am a very big fan of joel Stein (not klein as written many times throughout page) He was only trying to make light of a bad situation. Furthermore i am of a military family and I 100% back Mr. Steins remarks. The war is bad and it is wrong. I fully support our troops in the regards that I pray they make it home safe and sound, and pray for the souls of those who don't, but what are they really fighting for. There is a mask over the war and Bush gives us "reasons" for our troops to lose their lives, but think why they are really fighting and you will realize how right Mr. Stein is in saying the war is wrong.

Posted by: crystal at June 17, 2006 01:50 AM

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