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September 29, 2012

McNamara, 'Rummy,' And Misery Revisited

McNamara, 'Rummy,' And The Misery Revisited

by Jim Richmond


The old man next to me at the dinner table in New York City was still recognizable. But barely.

 

Gone was the black hair; replaced by a few white strands combed to hide his scalp.

 

Brown, age and liver spots dotted his now sunken cheeks and pencil-thin face.

 

Only the eyeglasses were familar from TV news clips in the mid 1960s.

 

It was Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense under LBJ, who with his “Whiz Kids” from the auto industry, carried out LBJ’s dictums in Vietnam; while trying to apply business medium_RobertMcNamara55.jpgmanagement systems to the Defense Department.

 

McNamara served longer than anyone else in American history as DOD Secretary. 

 

But when he retired, many believed McNamara had failed in Vietnam.  And had setbacks in modernizing the U.S. military.

 

So, here it was, in the early 1990s, as I sat next to him at this  black tie, charitable fundraising dinner in New York

 

I was nearly tongued-tied. Not that I didn't know what to say to or ask McNamara.  As a Vietman vet, I had questions.

 

But the evening, the timing seemed inappropriate, wrong.   My questions would be too pointed, I convinced myself. 

 

So I let the chance go by. Confined  comments to small talk about economics and the World Bank, which McNamara headed after leaving government service.

 

Vietnam still seemed like the big, silent elephant at our table.

 

I recalled this unsatisying experience the other evening  as I viewed, again,   the 6-hour Frontline  series "Bush's War," telecast on PBS, and watched another Secretary of Defense, who, next to McNamara, served the longest  tenure in American history as DOD Secretary: Donald Rumsfeld.

 

The PBS-TV series depicts  Rumsfield as a no-holds-barred White House infighter, who took on the State Department and the generals, to advocate,  with Dick Chaney, for  a quick, decisive  invasion of Iraq after 9/11.

 

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Like McNamara, Rumsfield is proven myopic in his global and battlefield perspective of a geographic region and a very different type of military conflict.

 

And, also like McNamara, Rumsfield experiences  setbacks in efforts to reinvent, streamline  and downsize the Defense Department -- some reflecting a new reality after 9/11. (He gets a large measure of the blame/credit  for the latest BRAC efforts to close the Battle Creek Federal Center and other military installations  over the past 25 years or so.)

 

New York Times stories (and Bob Woodward's books and articles) have profiled McNamara and Rumsfield:  Their  micromanaging, impatience,  arrogance. (Rumsfield was a member of the Kellogg Company Board of Directors for a time.  There are less than flattering local  stories in that venue.)

 

Since his DOD departure, the 80-so-old Rumsfield has been out of public view....probably savoring his later years in St. Michaels, Maryland, on the former slave plantation he owns  and calls "Mount Misery,"  infamous as site for  captivity of Frederick Douglass at hands of  "slave breaker" Edward Covey.

 

Rumsfield is reportedly a multimillionare from his business turnaround years as head of G.D. Searle and other multinational corporations.

 

We probably won't know -- for sure -- the outcome of the Iraq War for decades -- just as we are only now rewriting outcomes of the Vietnam Conflict, in light of the 'new' Vietnam's pell mell rush toward capitalism. (The Domino Theory turned out to be about capitalism, not communism.)

 

McNamara died in 2009 at age 92.  Wish I could have collected on a rain check from that dinner chat of long ago.

 

Ask those questions about Vietnam.

 

Hope "Rummy" is happy on  Mount Misery.

 

August 30, 2009

'First Wes' Sunday Service a Pleasant Surprise

Author’s Note: This is second is a series of “Church Visit” profiles to appear here.

For last week’s visit to, and profile of, Dexter Lake Church go to: http://ragstorichmond.blogspirit.com/archive/2009/08/23/c...

Next Sunday: First Christian Church.  On 8.13.09: Ft. Custer Chapel  (former military base chapel, now operated as a nondenominational church.).  8.20.09: Southwind Community Church (Lakeview). 8:30.09: Salvation Army (Battle Creek).  For later fall: Battle Creek's high roller, downtown churches.

 

‘First Wes’ Sunday Service a Pleasant Surprise

 

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I was prepared to not particularly like First Wes Church today. Albeit a good friend is a Church member. My prior impressions of First Wes were as this huge, quasi mega, impersonal church (for Battle Creek’s size) more about growth than agape.

Turned out I was wrong.  On several  scores.

The Church's Senior Pastor spoke on “The Real Thing,” agape love vs. Eros or physical love.  I’d give him a grade of B+ on the sermon.  Sort of a laid back style, combining bits of Deback Chopra, Wayne Dyer and Tony Campolo. His sermon was reasoned; perhaps a bit too secular in tone and delivery:  “Real love is a choice, not a feeling. If we have real faith in the Lord, that faith leads to real love.  Real love is choosing to love those you’d rather not love.  Real love pulls us out of fear of life and others.”

He used PowerPoint slides, a giant screen with an amusing video with skits about how wearing your Christianity on your sleeve, chest or car bumper doesn’t mean you’re A Good Christian, or a very loving person.

Along with than the sermon, I was impressed with the music and the musicians:  five or six musicians that sounded like 12.  Three great lead singers, solid instrumental accompaniment.  The contemporary religious songs were well chosen (love themes, like the sermon).  It would be hard for Pontius Pilate to sit at First Wes and not stand up, and get caught up in the Christian music.  And the music left me with a spiritual connectedness that lasted through the day.

One of the male vocalists is evidently head of Church music.  Good voice.  But, I kept hoping the female vocalist would sing solo again – a white Mavis Staples.  “Wow, is she good,” I leaned over and said to my friend and Church host.  “Yes, sings a lot of jazz, too” my friend commented.

At the end of his sermon, The Pastor, in what seemed like a somewhat awkward, halting statement about recent  Church growth and adding another pastor (they have 3 or 4 for various functions ... big church) showed a video of the new assistant minister – growing up in Battle Creek, swimming in a Lakeview H.S. meet, later with his motorcycle, and a solitary baby picture of his wife (I think.  Or was it his child?  Hard to tell from the video's audio track). 

The congregation didn’t seem to know whether to shout out  welcome and amen, or laugh, uncomfortably, at what they thought -- but were not sure -- was self depreciating humor in the video.  I hoped the New Guy would come up next to the Senior Pastor on stage.  He didn't.

I stopped at the Information Desk before the service and got a purple plastic bag with First Wes welcome items.  “You want a First Wes coffee mug or water bottle?” the friendly Welcome Desk volunteer asked me.  (I took the purple water bottle.)  Lots of good printed Church material in the bag. Turned out the volunteer was the sister of a mutual friend, I’d worked with, long ago in Battle Creek.

Resting for a minute in the atrium’s “First Wes” Café after the service, with lines of folks getting cappuccino, coffee and sweets, I glanced through the Sunday’s bulletin:  1,924 attended last week’s three services and donated $28,772.  Pretty impressive when there was no offertory or basket passing at the service, just the opportunity to leave an offering or tithe envelope at the door.

“We exist to reach the lost and broken in the region and to bring them into a fully devoted relationship with Christ,” is the proclaimed, printed mission of First Wes Church.  (Some may be lost and broken, but the Sunday congregation looked pretty put together and middle class to me.)

First Wes makes up for its size, by having active church missions and programs for youth, adults, men, women, singles, and almost any other small group interest possible within its congregation.

Overall, a nice, low key and inspirational  Sunday morning of reflection.  

I like First Wes and will go back.  If they let me in the parking lot and the door. 

But then that's what agape is all about.

 

For more information on the Church and its many programs and services, go to: firstwes.org.