« Schedule | Main | The McCain/Palin Administration - Not! »

22 October 2008


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


To Tom B again,

Thank you for your considerate reply. In re-reading what I'd written I can see I didn't take enough pains to divide you from those I criticize. I respect your posts and your experience and I am thankful for a reasonable discussion.

When Bush was handed the election by a divided Supreme Court in 2000 (early 2001) I felt so threatened and helpless I posted a sign in my window:

HELP! Nationalist Thugs Have Stolen My Country!

I still feel that way. I think most political people in the world, excepting the nationalists, feel this way after the end of the Cold War. We are in a time of spectacular nationalism, when old tribal prejudices have ignited wars across the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia. Almost every country on earth has had to deal with the rise of nationalists, from soccer hooligans to paramilitary death squads. Fortunato reads their script into our record, once again making them our beloved sons instead of the most dangerous force on the planet.

This is always why nationalism is so dangerous. The nationalists in every country are the soldier heroes, the football quarterbacks, the farmer turned sniper, the monks and priests whom we most closely hold dear. How can we ever criticize them?

In Israel the nationalist heroes are the settlers, devout and lonely on the frontier. In Pakistan the nationalist heroes are teaching in the madrassas and recruiting Talib. In Germany they're denying the Holocaust and attacking Turks.

Fortunato is one of our nationalists. I hope, while he was in Afghanistan, that he learned something of them and practiced the smallest amount of pashtunwali. I hope and pray that he learned a few words of Pashtu or Urdu and treated everyone with the respect and kindness that has been so utterly lacking in our recent wars that the Army was just moved to take the extraordinary step of placing social scientists and anthropologists with troops. I fear, by the tone of his letter, that he did not. So the bloody wheel continues to turn.

It is a tremendous frustration to me that those who wrap themselves in the flag are able to hurl the most vituperative abuse at the rest of us, including death threats, all kinds of personal attacks, and the tried-and-true "you can always leave if you don't like it." But when we respond with even a small amount of the same heat we are branded as rabble-rousers and instigators in the culture wars.

This country is horribly horribly broken. This is not an armchair discussion about the abstract. Our illegal Administration has the bloods of a million people on its hands. It has broken our economy, our environment, and our democratic traditions. For me the bright line was crossed when we began to torture. These are indefensible acts. The people who did this are counting on people like Fortunato to continue what they've started.

I apologize for appearing to put you in their ranks, TomB, and I acknowledge your points about the coarseness of the debate in the culture wars, and I even recognize the importance of putting committed nationalists on the front lines of our conflicts. But those who stand as the pointy end of the spear are not our spokesmen. I am not sure I can honor the sacrifice of a man whose final actions in life keep this country from acting as a force of good in this world.

Sidney O. Smith III

Hey TomB

Your comment was full of wisdom and extraordinarily well-written, per usual. Thanks.


My heartfelt condolences to Stephen's family. As a mother of three, I cannot fathom the idea of surviving one of my children.
However, as much as I respect Stephen's opinionated view of the conflict he is (was) fighting in, I'd would like him to respect my view. Those who conducted 9/11 are bastards? yes. There are many others who would like to do this again, here in the or elsewhere in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East? yes. Should we defend ourselves against them? Absolutely and resolutely yes. Should we do it militarily in Iraq? No. Should we do it military in Afghanistan? It depends what we do. The Afghan children who died in our aerial attacks are not AQ. Nor did they have anything to do with 9/11.
Second, the last time I checked, we live in a democracy and we have the right to advocate for changing policies that we deem counter-productive.
But Stephen, just a quick reminder. Asking Americans to shut up or leave is Soviet-style politics, not American.
May you rest in peace.
We will win this fight like we have won. Thank you for your service.


I'm not sure what disturbs me more - the death of a young man of conviction and conscience, or the recognition that many his age didn't just "drink the Kool Aid"...they were christened and baptized in it.

Eric Dönges


You don't have to agree with what he said but honestly you would not have the balls to say it to his face. If you did you probably could'nt handle the punch in your face.

Only bullies and thugs react to criticism, however invalid it may be, with violence. Why do you question Spec. Fortunato's honor ? No one else here has, only his judgment.

You see we Infantry give you the freedom of speech and more than anyone we have the right to slap the taste out of your mouth if we don't agree with you.

You have as much right to slap someone you disagree with as any other person, i.e. none.

Just shut up and say thanks. That's all we really want anyway.

While I think you can demand some thanks from your fellow citizens for voluntarily putting your life at risk in their service, I don't think it is reasonable to demand that they do not discuss just what it is they would like you to do in their service, or how well you are doing it.


Stephen was laid to rest today with thousands in attendance.I'm told it was the finest service ever seen in that part of Massachusetts with John Kerry and Deval Patrick in attendance amongst others. I'm sure his family was proud but then it is their loss to bear for which I can only offer my sincerest condolances.

His words brought out thoughts from all views of life and if he was here I'm sure he would banter with all. But he knew where he stood and why which is more than most of his age. So it is time to move on but not before saluting him for serving his country something I never did.
A slide show of todays funeral is at the following site:



You see we Infantry give you the freedom of speech and more than anyone we have the right to slap the taste out of your mouth if we don't agree with you.

Congratulations on winning the award for the dumbest thing I've ever seen on this site.

What you describe is not honor, it's assault, your perpetrating it would be a crime, and at best, an affiliation with the infantry would constitute mere "extenuating circumstances", you know, the kind of thing that appeals to liberals and moral-relativism types.

As far as the infantry protecting us, that used to be true, back before George 43 decided that the appropriate use of the finest maneuver force the world has ever seen would be to invade other countries so we could act like we wanted to rebuild their sewer systems and such.

Right now, my money would be on the invaders staying away from our shores because we have wagonloads of thermonuclear weapons and the missiles to dispatch them with.

In the interest of full disclosure, I agree with you that arguing with a dead man is stupid.



Well first of all let me say I'm very appreciative of your corrected impression of me in your fine post. But of course you then go on to say that you're still not sure you can honor the sacrifice of Spec. Fortunato given it was done in the name of nationalism. So let me ask you what cause you know of—beyond all doubt and "in the bowels of Christ" so to speak—that isn't in some way terribly flawed? What cause do you know of that us humans can pledge our allegiance and loyalty to without having any doubts whatsoever about its ultimate truth and goodness?

Seems to me even on the pedestrian human level it can be argued that in the long, slow, stupid, agonizing course of homo sapien history nationalism with all its idiocies and flaws can said to be a cause at least a little less blood-stained and terrible than the others that have been tried.

We have after all tried loyalty to blood/ethnicity and race for a long long time, right? But of course that long long history in general and Mr. Hitler in particular gives one pause about that, as does the more recent consequences of same in places like Rwanda and the Sudan.

So what about loyalty to our economic or social class? Ah but the groans of the tens of millions of murdered at the hands of the Marxists give one at least a little pause at that too.

(And I'd note that contra to these two great historical alternatives to nationalism at least nationalism offers the virtue of not being immutable, right? One can after all change one's nationality if one wants, as indeed is honorably happening ever more it seems.)

So what about to our religions then, with all their fine long history of endless wars and sectarian strifes beyond stupid such as the butchery the Sunnis want to inflict on the Shia and vice-versa it appears?

Or what about even to some pan-humanistic cause? But ah again, that of course was also a huge ultimate part of Marxism, and where employed in circumstances in which economic and social class divisions really didn't even exist and damn near everyone lived just this side of starvation so leaving it to concentrate only on its pan-humanistic enthusiasms such as in China or Cambodia, look at the millions dead there courtesy of Mssr.s Mao and Pot.

And even on the non-pedestrian level if one's pan-humanism somehow strips out any Marxian-type flaws the fact is that the rise of humankind has been an absolute catastrophe for the other life on this planet on the scale of only of a few other mass extinction events in five billion years of earth history. And even maintaining humankind at any appreciable fraction of its current size would still mean nothing less than a hubristic occulusion of hundreds of thousands if not millions of other species, including many of the most magnificent ones.

So I don't know of any such causes, pedestrian or otherwise, that we can devote ourselves to knowing that they possess some ultimate truth and goodness. For what it's worth I suspect if there are any they at least start with the overarching message of Christianity to love one's neighbor and have respect for the creation we're living on. But on the other hand even more deeply I suspect that Karl Kraus may have been right in his existential lament when he said simply that "life is an effort that deserves a finer cause."

And I suspect you too don't know for certain what that ultimately true and valid cause may be.

So what's to be said of people like Fortunato?

Well, on that more pedestrian level he tried as best as he could to think out what to believe in and he obviously wasn't one willing to do evil in the service of causes he didn't. And he was willing to put his gristle on the line for that too, and I would note that he did not die fighting in Iraq but instead in Afghanistan where at least the chances are he was indeed fighting people who like the idea of flying us into buildings and cutting off the heads of idolators and stoning women to death.

So whatever else that is it's bravery, put to the service of a cause that at the very least is no more undeserving of belief than many of the other alternatives humans have embraced, and I do think that's deserving of some respect.

And on the less pedestrian, pan-humanistic level, by its very own terms we should indeed consider every man's death a diminishment as John Donne said, right? Especially in one so young. Who knows what he might have done if he had the rest of his life? Cured cancer, done missionary work amongst the desperately ill in some shithole, merely fathered some wonderful decent children.... Or maybe done none of that and as is likely and despite living in this deeply uncertain cosmos had just tried living out his life like most of the rest of us on this little mudball, at least not believing in going about inflicting misery on others for our entertainment like the Romans did. And so given the modesty we ought to have about our ability to understand the ultimate truth of things I think his early death is not something that we ought to regard as dishonorable at all.



Tom B,

It is a real pleasure to explore these concepts with you. Your deep thoughts continue to surprise me. I didn't expect a spirited defense of nationalism, of all things. I will allow, however, as Thomas and others have written, that arguing over a dead soldier's grave is not seemly, and I don't want to do any dishonor to anyone's tragic end. I look forward to continuing our discussion over posts that are not so sad.

I am very thankful for the sacrifices made by those who came before me, and by those who put their lives on the line to make the world a better place. In celebration of them, I'm off to climb a mountain for the next couple days.

Cheers to you,


Babak Makkinejad


You asked:

"What cause do you know of that us humans can pledge our allegiance and loyalty to without having any doubts whatsoever about its ultimate truth and goodness?"

The answer is: "Becoming a saint."


Thanks Col. for posting this fallen soldier's letter, and allowing this online discussion. This is the kind of discussion we need to be having in this country, free of the political rhetoric on today’s two-party campaign trail. No doubt the young Fortunato died honorably serving his country, but to what ultimate end? That is the question, just as it was in Vietnam. Indeed, discussions like this are a throwback to the era of Vietnam.

I always appreciate your intent, Col., to elucidate for Americans the current political and military strategic position of the country. Both civilian and military individuals should engage in this together, for the purpose of best serving the country's strategic position. In this case, as in Vietnam, there should be no privilege for either the military or civilian position. Unlike Vietnam, however, the shoe is on the other foot, and in the last seven years the military position has been privileged, and excessively so.

As I see it, speaking as a civilian who opposed this administration's war policies (due to long experience in MENA and the Muslim world, after pursuing research and learning the languages), civilian critics of this war are just as privileged as this young man to speak out in opposition to war. There is nothing that any young military serviceman possesses which privileges his words more than any civilian war critic. America's war policies today, as in Vietnam, are wrong. The current administration has near completely wrecked the country's strategic position. You, yourself, opposed the current administration's war policies, so why should any civilian political critic be less privileged.

After the start of this administration's war policy, I had the experience of volunteering my expertise to many government agencies, including those at the Pentagon, but those agencies shut doors in my face because I was a civilian trained in the region's politics who understood (and previously wrote about) the folly of earlier American policies in the region. I could have offered advice (as you did) to military leaders who understood little about the Muslim world, counseling them just how foolish the neocon vision was that saw al-Qaeda enemies behind every Arab and Muslim regime. But the reality in late 2001 and 2002 was that the Pentagon leadership was, like this young man Fortunato, filled with patriotic hubris, and this led them to dismiss any counsel, any advice, any expertise which did not agree with the prevailing foolhardy vision of over-extending American power.

The young Fortunato's words are understandable. Everyone in America today knows the basis of his sentiments. Quite unlike the era of Vietnam, the preponderant view in the US entertainment/opinion-making/(lastly and leastly)news-making businesses is that soldiers like Fortunato are heroes. Unlike the case in Vietnam, these businesses want this war to be won for the sake of at least two primary interests in the Middle East: first, Israel, and second, Anglo-American control over global markets. Given this fact, it is hardly necessary today to have fallen soldiers speak from the grave in order to browbeat critics of American militarism. We can honor the young man’s service, and we can understand the pride he took in his country. But, please, we don’t need to be told “love it or leave it” because allegedly our “freedom” depends on this soldier’s distant sacrifice.

For what ultimate purpose? That is the question. Is it the freedom of Wall Street execs to earn 8 and 9 figure salaries? Is it the freedom of derivative bundlers of sub-prime schemes? It certainly is not for any WIC schemes. Is it the freedom of Johnnie Mac to use the GOP’s worst race-baiting negative campaign tactics to slime his way into the White House? Is it the freedom, one or two generations from now, for yet another tortured Vet to perpetuate the same? More than 58,000 soldiers fell in that earlier war, compared to 3 million Vietnamese. Today more than 4,000 Fortunato’s have fallen, compared to one half million Iraqis? The sorry reality is that there is no ultimate purpose which can justify any of these numbers.


Col. Lang,

Re: the comments by atljoe: I think he was making a not unwarranted link between the rhetoric he read in SP4 Fortnato's letter and comments directed at welfare recipients. It is not at all uncommon to hear ideas similar to those expressed by SP4 Fortunato together with comments directed at minorities and welfare recipients. There is a worldview that expresses hatred of "Welfare Queens" and also has an "America-Love-It-Or-Leave-It" attitude.

Jon T.

"The Kingdom of God is Within you" by Leo Tolstoy is the writing that brought Mohandas Ghandhi off the barrister's chair in England and home to India to found The Satyagraha Movement (Nonviolence in thought word and deed - it brought England to its knees and independence to India). Tolstoy, in that book, addresses the myriad of complex and intertwined cultural, emotional and spiritual threads stimulated by this young man's mission statement. We all get to have one, conscious or unconscious - meaning we have free will whether we're aware of it or not.

Not having taken an oath to be willing to kill others or die myself in following an order from the President of the United States, my view of the source of freedom is not the same as a soldier's. I am fond of the sort soldier I read about in "Heart of a Soldier" about Rick Rescorla. He was a compassionate and powerful man, clear thinking and had long lost the hubris of youth, which I too had, despite not having been military. As was said earlier, I used to be sure I was right a lot. Now I know I'm not.



Just so long as it's understood that I didn't mean any full-*throated* defense of nationalism.... While as I said it at least doesn't impose any immutable characteristics on anyone— and also unlike so many 'isms even allows us to respect others' own nationalism which tolerance is the beginning of wisdom it seems to me—as you noted so well it has its stupidities. So maybe one and one-half cheers for it only....

Don't forget the tyranny of gravity when you're climbing that mountain and it's likewise been a pleasure talking with you.

Kevin Fallon:

I see what you meant now about "freedom," and especially in light of Jon T.'s beyond brilliant post touching upon same shame-facedly apologize for caricaturizing your first comment.


As the Russians say even a blind pig finds an acorn now and then but porcine as I am I'll thank you anyway.


Yeah but I heard that that sainthood business frowns on even occasional alcohol immoderation and other fun things, and the hours are long and the pay crappy....

Jon T.:

Again not just a brilliant post but an informative one too. I had no idea it was Tolstoy who lit Ghandi's fire.

Weirdly enough Douglas MacArthur of all people (at the Japanese signing of surrender I think) talked about the need for a "recrudescence of the human spirit," but one wonders if the human spirit hasn't shown itself to be so susceptible to emotion that same simply isn't possible. And we certainly haven't *thought* our way through our insanities either.

Maybe what we need is something in between pure spirit and intellect and theology and philosophy. A theosophy of modesty and humility and doubt, so to speak.

Cheers again everyone,

Michael D. Adams

I'd say your posting of the original has been completely and utterly validated.

Jon T.

Tom B., After I saw "Saving Private Ryan", I went to see my friend Manny, who had walked point in Viet Nam for a year. He has told me many things that small children should never know. I said I regretted ever having implied that I might imagine anything of what it was like to be in terror like that. He said "thank you. I appreciate that and it is ok" I told him I thought I should have gone to Viet Nam and been killed there. And he said "I am glad you are alive and here. You didn't need to go there and die. It is all right."

Often times I admit clearly that I don't know what we, nor I need, and I go and sit and pray at the Tibetan Monastery in Woodstock or the Holy Cross Monastery in West Park. The silence is comforting.

Colonel Lang's blog is nurturing and healing as so many people feel safe to kick it as they are, to put it down just they way they feel.

That is what a Constitutional Convention needs, a convening of free people willing to risk their lives.


Jon T.:

Well, like you I'd bet I was always taken by the sadness in one of the lines in one of Dag Hammarskjold's diaries who wrote "Pray that your loneliness may spur you into finding something to live for, great enough for you to die for."

But, you know, I think that anyone having come of age after some of the recent scientific insights—say, after 1920 or so—is uniquely lucky over all the other poor humans who came in the centuries before by in fact being able to die with at least some real understanding of things. So I think we're all incredibly lucky in that at least. Those ideas may not tell us what to live and die for, but at least they tell us somewhat about what here is, what and who we are and how we got here, and that's not chopped liver.



Military service is apolitical! Most civilians on this board never had nor ever will have the testicles/ovaries to raise their right hand, swear oath, and realize this, ever.


Having reviewed all the comments concerning my cousin's blog, I have but one question, what planet do you people live on?

Yes, his blog contained some bluff and bluster, what 25 year old does not have some of that. But mostly, he understood why he was there and what his mission was. Steve died in Afghanistan, not Iraq. We can debate the reasons for entering Iraq, but Afghanistan was a no brainer. Al Quaida and The Taliban were behind the 9/11 attacks. Even Obama recognizes that.

Do you know what my cousin and his unit were doing the day he was killed? They were securing polling places, so that people could safely cast a vote. Will the Army need to provide security at your polling place next Tuesday? Get a grip, people. We are at war with radical Islam and have been since at least October 1983 (look it up). Ignoring that fact will not make it go away.

Cold War Zoomie

Spc Fortunato was included in last night's Honor Roll at the end of the Lehrer News Hour.

Honor Roll

Very, very saddening. Everyone is so young.

Thanks to his "Creed" posted here, I felt like I knew him. He was more than just a face and a name.

Most of us older guys here who served many moons ago can relate to his Creed. Some things haven't changed.

RIP Spc Fortunato.

And thanks for your service.


In Australia I too saw Spc Fortunato as he flashed by on the Newshour Honor Roll and wondered how many others in Col. Lang's Academy were sharing this sombre moment for reflection on someone we KNEW, however slightly.

And on those we know nothing about and the waves and ripples spreading out from each of these "incidents".

And even, perhaps, for another moment for self-reflection as one who is still perpendicular, most of the time, and amazed at those who seem to feel no humility in the face of death.


While it is a soldier's duty to obey all lawful orders, it is every citizen's duty to wonder whether the government has the soldiers doing the equivalent of digging holes and filling them up.

The informed opinion of many, many people is that is exactly what is going on, and if someone doesn't want to defend such people, I suggest they not join the military.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

February 2021

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
Blog powered by Typepad