War Monument Worth Saving, Let’s All Chip In

You may have read in Tuesday’s Journal-Standard about a new effort by Ron Werntz to raise funds for the restoration of the Soldiers’ Monument at the courthouse. I’d like to ask you to support Ron, because his vision may just bring us the breakthrough we need.

In a sense, the monument is our face to the world. Postcards have featured it for decades, it has appeared on promotional publications of every type; it’s even the featured photo on the Wikipedia page for Freeport. I find this to be quite appropriate. It embodies what I once described as the “humble greatness” of our city and county.

It’s built of local limestone, not marble or polished granite, and yet it soars. The statues of fighting men arrayed around it represent the four divisions of combat arms of their day: artillery, cavalry, infantry and Navy. Designed to represent typical veterans from our area, you might say they represent the “grunts” of the time. Yet the men they represent made great sacrifices, braved great dangers, traveled great distances and accomplished great things, and proudly stand seven feet tall as a result. Their features were intentionally designed to be Germanic, to represent the many humble immigrants who came from that part of Europe to the shores of the Pecatonica with little or nothing…and proceeded to build everything.

Most importantly, it holds 3,156 humble names. Names like Adams, Brewer, Haas and Putnam. Not princely names, just the names of guys who knew their country needed servants and said, “Here am I, send me.”

A humble handful of local citizens have been doing great work against daunting odds to raise money for the restoration and raise the profile of the monument. They need our help to get over the hump and pay proper honor to those names. The estimated cost of restoring the monument and once again placing a statue of Victory at its peak is about $150,000.

I think we can hit that goal by crowdfunding it.

Crowdfunding seems like a new Internet buzzword, but it’s just a new form of the individual investing used to fund large projects for centuries. English expeditions to the New World were often funded by individual investors; we crowdfunded polio out of existence by asking each child to donate a dime to the effort. Eighty-five million Americans crowdfunded 16 million servicemen and women in WWII with war bonds. Today, sites like Kickstarter have allowed people from across the planet to pool their funds toward creative or charity projects, sometimes with astonishing results. When cartoonist Rich Burlew started a Kickstarter page to put one of his “Order of the Stick” books back into print he ended up with over $1.2 million in pledges. Most of the pledges were in the $10-25 range. Game designer Monte Cook set out to raise $20,000 to publish a new game and is at $500,000 and counting.

There are over 47,700 people in our county. If we each donated $5, that would fund the monument with $88,000 left over. We have approximately 1,100 employers and over 2,500 “non-employer establishments.” What if each of those nearly 4,000 businesses donated just $50? What if each non-profit in the county held an additional chili supper or silent auction? What if every classroom in the county adopted this cause? The County can also add to these monies from its budget.

Together, with minimal sacrifice, we can honor the greatest sacrifices of all. Come to the Freeport Public Library on Monday at 6pm and let’s get started!

You’re the boss, it’s your MONUMENT. Learn it, live it and support it!

Good News from Iraq

Has America lost her perspective on what is going on in Iraq? Americans have rightly been revolted at the images of prisoner abuse in the Abu Ghraib prison, but it seems as if the real stories of Iraq, stories of brave troops and a liberated people, are being drowned out, if they were being told at all.

Here is just a small sample of the good your loved ones and their colleagues are doing in Iraq. The information was compiled from various sources, including the White House, the American Forces Information Service, Forbes magazine, a special report by “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace, SFC Ray Reynolds (234th Signal Battalion, Iowa National Guard), SPC Tim Wenzel (333rd MP Co.) and Mike Brinkmeier of Operation Homefront.

On May 11th, Iraqis took back their Ministry of Water Resources, which oversees irrigation and hydroelectric dams. The Ministry had already accomplished the restoration of wetlands Saddam had drained and the cleanup of 10,000 miles of clogged irrigation canals that had been neglected under the old regime. By the June 30th sovereignty deadline, the Ministry intends to be generating 6,000 megawatts of power from its hydroelectric dams. That’s more than has ever been generated in Iraq.

The Iraqi Army is well-trained enough and large enough to supply a brigade to secure the roads around Fallujah, freeing up U.S. Marines for combat action there.

Coalition troops and American contractors have renovated 2,500 schools, and another 800 are in progress. Nine million new math and science textbooks have been distributed to replace books that were mostly Ba’ath Party propaganda. Teachers now earn 12 to 25 times what they did before the war. All 22 universities have been re-opened.

The Iraqi health care system once had a budget of $16 million. Now it’s $1 billion. All of Iraq’s 240 hospitals and 1,200 clinics are now open, and they are seeing 30% more patients than before the war. Children have been given 22 million vaccine doses. Ouch!

A court system with 600 judges is now in place. Under the new rules, defendants have the same rights (Miranda, defense lawyers, etc.) as in our system.

More than 120 newspapers operate with full freedom of the press. Two have been shut down, but only after they tried to incite violence against Coalition troops.

Fifteen million people now have access to clean water. In Mosul, one neighborhood had been flooded with raw sewage for 17 years. Local workers were able to fix the problem for only $40,000.

Last December former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger wrote in Forbes, “A new currency has been issued and the independent central bank opened two months after the war ended. It took three years for post-WWII occupied Germany to do this.”

During Specialist Wenzel’s leave in November, he and Mike Brinkmeier compared notes on places that both had passed through in Iraq. Typical of these was the southern town of Safwa. When Brinkmeier passed through there was no water or electricity. When Wenzel arrived there was water and power, and the U.S. Army was repairing the local roads.

Baghdad has a newly elected mayor, and he will be working with an elected city council.

The Iraqi Olympic team is preparing for the Athens games in August. For the first time in more than a decade, Iraqi athletes won’t have to worry about being tortured if they lose a match. Some of them train in T-shirts that read, “Iraq is Back!”

Perhaps the greatest accomplishment is that Iraqis no longer have to fear their own government. Reacting to the political brouhaha surrounding the Abu Ghraib photos, Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe said, “I would guess that these prisoners wake up every morning thanking Allah that Saddam Hussein is not in charge of these prisons. When he was in charge, they would take electric drills and drill holes through hands, they would cut their tongues out, they would cut their ears off. We’ve seen accounts of lowering their bodies into vats of acid. All these things were taking place. This was the type of treatment that they had.” And certainly it wasn’t just criminals that had to worry, but today the rape rooms, torture chambers and child prisons are closed. Commenting this month on the liberation of 50 million Afghanis and Iraqis, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said, “We’ve been privileged to take part in a great stride forward for human freedom in places where it has been scarce. And that is worth celebrating.”

A Christmas Gift for Freeport

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Christopher Clukey

As we broke through the overcast, I saw the water. It was gray-green, with a foamy chop, and it looked every bit as frigid as you’d expect the Gulf of Maine to be in December.

And the first thought that came to me was, “Home.”

I pointed out the sights to my son: A tanker headed in to Portland, some lighthouses, some boats that seemed too miniscule to be challenging the vast ocean. He was seeing the ocean for the first time, while I was realizing how achingly I had missed it.

You’re probably wondering why I’m telling you about last year’s Christmas vacation in a space normally devoted to current events commentary. Don’t worry; I have a point in here somewhere, and a secret or two to share with you.

The first secret? Whoever said “You can’t go home again” was wrong. I was gone for five years, and when I came home, one of our number was gone (my maternal grandmother died less than 24 hours after I arrived) and another was soon to pass on. Yet in many ways it was just as if I’d never left. We still joked about the same things, my uncle was still horrified that I’m a Packer fan, and so on. Even the streets of Portland had a familiarity that no other town has, the way my wife’s hand on my shoulder logically shouldn’t feel any different than my Mom’s or my cousin’s, but it does anyway. It turns out that you can take the boy out of Down East, but you can’t take the Down East out of the boy.

But here’s the second secret I found: You can take the boy out of Freeport, but you can’t take Freeport out of the boy. No matter how much I love where I came from, I have no thought of leaving where I am.

It’s hard for Freeporters to stay positive. We all validate each other’s negativity to a certain extent. When you read the editorial page and see some angry letter about how bad Freeport is (or how stupid some official is, etc.) you are either depressed because you agree or depressed because you realize that the angry letter speaks for a whole bunch of angry people who think we’re going nowhere fast, folks who in some cases couldn’t be dragged anywhere. And how often is the local economic news good?

Let me tell you what I see. I see a community that is going through some painful changes, but we are going through. A community that has a thousand things going for it and thousands of people willing to work to change what isn’t going for it. A place with enormous potential, and much potential already realized. A place where people care about each other, and care about what’s right. A place where you can stand where Lincoln stood, and still look out into the 21st Century and all the adventurous history to come.

Remember that line in “The Cider House Rules,” where Michael Caine addresses a room full of orphans? “Goodnight, you princes of Maine, you kings of New England.” I’m a Mainer born and bred. Yet here I am, busy raising princes and princesses of the Pecatonica, kings and queens of Tutty Baker’s city of humble greatness. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Here I’ve found love and friendship every bit as warm and strong as the love and friendship on the shores of Casco Bay.

This is my Christmas gift to you, Freeport, this column, this perspective, this love letter. You deserve to be loved, Pretzel City, and you deserve to be optimistic about your future. In this season where new light dawns on those in the valley of the shadow of death, don’t miss a chance to look at yourself in a new light.

We returned to Freeport, and finally, I made it to the top of the stairway with the last load of luggage, wondering who had broken in and added steps to it while we were gone. I stopped to gaze out a rear window. Far off, the Pecatonica was blindingly bright as the sun hit it at just the right angle. But closer, through trees stripped bare by winter, I could trace the river’s course with my eyes as its waters tumbled toward a far-away sea.

And the first thought that came to me was, “Home.”

Bin Laden’s Weak and Winded Horse

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Christopher Clukey

This week, Osama bin Laden again found his way out of his cave to a microphone, in order to make new pronouncements for his twisted god.

You’d expect that a guy cutting himself down to about one message per year would make sure he packed a lot of good stuff into it. Alas, for the most part it was the usual delusional rhetoric. And when I say delusional rhetoric, I’m not talking about the “kill the infidel” boilerplate, I’m talking about things like his assertion that the American media is painting a rosy picture of the war in Iraq, that our troops are all on suicide watch (and that they are raping and kidnapping Iraqi women), and that public opinion polls prove that the Americans want an immediate pullout.

This brings us to two conclusions. First, for a supposed diversion from the War on Terror, Iraq sure occupies a lot of space in Osama’s thoughts. Second, we know he isn’t getting CNN on his satellite dish.

But he did include a real gem: He offered us a truce.

Strangely, he did this after beginning his rant with boasts about his superior tactical position. “Only metal breaks metal, and our situation, thank God, is only getting better and better, while your situation is the opposite of that.” Really, Osama assures us, he is just looking for a partner for peace. “We don’t mind offering you a long-term truce on fair conditions that we adhere to. We are a nation that God has forbidden to lie and cheat. So both sides can enjoy security and stability under this truce so we can build Iraq and Afghanistan, which have been destroyed in this war.”

Forgive us, Caliph bin Laden, if we don’t run to the negotiation table, especially when you say, near the close of your rant, “Failing to carry out jihad, which is called for in our religion, is a sin.”

A number of analysts have noted that Islamic warriors have a tradition of warning the enemy and offering a truce before they bring the hammer down. They conclude the offer is just a piece of rhetoric and not a sign Al Qaeda is on the ropes. That’s an opinion based in fact and good insight, but fortunately it is wrong.

Prior to the 9/11 attacks, Osama was focused on killing infidels to drive us out of the Middle East. In 2002 he wrote a letter to the American people in which he offered a simple way to end terrorism: Everybody converts to Islam (his version, not that “religion of peace” stuff) and we’ll all be happy together. Now he’s gone from pounding his shoe and yelling “We will bury you” to singing “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” Why?

Quite simply, Osama is losing the battle for hearts and minds. For example, a poll of 2,069 Afghani adults conducted late last year showed that 90% of them had an unfavorable view of Osama, with 75% choosing “very unfavorable.” American troops have a favorability rating of 83%, and 82% of Afghanis think overthrowing the Taliban was a good thing for Afghanis. Osama can talk about fictional U.S. polls all he wants, but among people who have lived under his idea of government he has a soaring 5% approval rating.

Things aren’t going any better in Iraq. Al Qaeda murderers have spilled blood, but they have not stopped the Iraqi Army from training, the Iraqi police from recruiting or Iraqi elections from occurring. Their few attempts to openly hold ground near the Syrian border have ended with them being reduced to sandwich bag-sized pieces by our Air Force. Meanwhile, the land area they’ve been able to render dangerous for the citizens of Iraq gets smaller every day, and the land watched over by Iraq’s army keeps growing larger.

Finally, he can’t even kill very well. In over four years, the number of Americans Al Qaeda has killed is still about a third the number Britain lost on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The number of soldiers they have killed in Iraq is still less than the number who died in one day at Antietam during the Civil War.

Don’t get me wrong. Al Qaeda is still the greatest threat we’ve ever faced. We could lose a city tomorrow if they get a nuclear weapon. But barring such a holocaust, Osama’s pretension that he is in the driver’s seat is only bluster. He once famously said that Al Qaeda would win because when people see a strong horse and a weak horse, they will naturally back the strong horse. The truce offer is strong evidence that Osama’s horse is weak and winded, and it is only a matter of time until it’s a dead horse.

Dear Abby–The Suffering of Others for Liberty

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Christopher Clukey

Keeping things timely while writing for a weekly paper isn’t the challenge you’d expect. You can even shoot yourself in the foot by getting ahead of things, as I did last year when I sent in a column predicting John Kerry’s long court battle to become President, and he conceded two hours later. So maybe I’ll seem off-base reacting to our mayoral election a week after everyone else in town, but I have to do it this way.

You see, Abigail Adams won’t let go of me.

Married to our second President, Abigail is a perfect illustration of the proverb, “Behind every great man stands a great woman.” Her husband’s political career began when he became a representative from Boston in 1770, and he remarked to her, “I have accepted a seat in the House of Representatives, and thereby have consented to my own ruin, to your ruin and the ruin of our children.” She replied, “Well, I am willing in this cause to run all risks with you, and be ruined with you, if you are ruined.”

The ruin never came, but she was sorely tried. Ten years of their marriage were spent apart as he served his country, and she spent much of it on their farm with their four children, living “in continual Expectation of Hostilities” as British soldiers roamed the Massachusetts countryside. The Battle of Bunker Hill occurred only eight miles away, and she watched with their son Johnny, who we know as John Quincy Adams, sixth President of the United States. In 1778 John and Johnny went to France on a secret diplomatic mission. Their ship was chased by British frigates, her mainmast was blasted by lightning and they capped off the voyage by capturing a British merchant ship. I wonder if John wrote home about those dangerous moments, or just skipped to “France is lovely, wish you were here.”

In 1782, while he was negotiating the peace with the British, she wrote him a letter about patriotism on the part of women. “Patriotism in the female Sex,” she wrote, “is the most disinterested of all virtues,” with no hope for gain. Men could achieve power and fame by serving their country, but not so for women. Even their own property fell under the “sovereign Authority” the law had given to their husbands. Most tragic of all, “…when you [men] offer your Blood to the State, it is ours. In giving it our Sons and Husbands we give more than ourselves. You can only die on the field of Battle, but we have the misfortune to survive those whom we love the most.”

That kind of sacrifice was on my mind last Tuesday. Before I went out to vote, I read a letter from Lieutenant Governor Quinn about Nathaniel Moore, a Marine who died in a helicopter crash in January while providing security for the Iraqi elections. Quinn reports that Moore’s mother Amber said “one of the best ways to remember [Nathaniel] would be to vote in this Tuesday’s elections.”

So when I voted, I was thinking of Nathaniel Moore and so many others like him, people who have made the ultimate sacrifice and millions more who have raised their right hand and been willing to do so if necessary. And I thought about how all the patriots are selfless, and are virtuous in their disinterest. So many people do things for us that no fame, money or power could compensate them for. Why? Because they really believe what John Kennedy said, that we should “pay any price and bear any burden to ensure the success of liberty.” You know where I last saw that quote? It was in the funeral program of a young Marine from Lena, Neil Petsche. You can bet that his family believes it, and that they know what Abigail Adams was talking about.

Is it worth it? Look around…
…at the purple fingers in Iraq.
…at the schoolgirls giggling in Afghanistan.
…at Lebanon showing Syria the door.
…as the Vatican lays a man to rest who helped free hundreds of millions.
…as we choose a mayor. We chose a really good one in George Gaulrapp, I think, but the great part is that we have a choice at all. Other nations have a choice because, as Colin Powell said, America gave up lives and “asked for nothing except enough ground to bury them in.”

At the close of her letter, Adams said that her country would be “more than probable unmindfull of the hand that blessed them.” Oh, let’s not be. Paint your finger purple if you need a reminder.