Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Battlefield Interpretation

Several years ago, when I retired, my wife and I moved to Adams County, Pennsylvania.  The area is mostly rural and agricultural in nature.  The battlefield was the biggest lure because our shared love of the sacred ground.

We are both interested in military history and she actually had an ancestor in the 5th New Hampshire Infantry.  He had survived the nearby Battle of Antietam, in 1862 and fought and survived in the Wheatfield at Gettysburg, in 1863.

I am on the battlefield several times a week exploring certain pieces of the terrain, taking a guided tour or just walking with Max, my German Shepherd.

To really appreciate the battle on any field you must walk the terrain.  It gives you a better perspective on the movements of troops during the fight.  One big mistake most battlefield visitors make is to believe the topography at both Gettysburg and Antietam is flat.  They may get that impression if they only drive the paved roads that the park service maintains for visitors.  If they get out of the car and walk off the pavement, they will immediately see that the land is anything but flat.

Much of the land undulates creating a series of small ridges and valleys.  Streams that meander through create valleys thereby adding to the topographic variation.  There are even high points such as Culp' Hill, Little Round Top and Nicodemus Heights.  Even small changes like an  eroded farm path can create a Bloody Lane.

When taking battlefield tours, it's easy to spot the novice tourist when they ware dress shoes and heels.  They soon find out their mistake when they find it  difficult  to  negotiate the sodden fields or pathways covered with stones.  Then if they failed to bring any repellent they may discover they are covered with ticks upon returning to their cars.

One day I was strolling down the roadway on Stony Hill on the Gettysburg field.  As I descended the sloping ground, I was horrified to a car heading directly toward the Irish Brigade monument.  To my relief, the vehicle came within in three feet of it and finally stopped.  The monument remained unscathed.  The driver was a portly women who found it was easier to take a picture with the camera from her car, rather than stepping out of the vehicle to do so.  I shudder to think what would have happened if she wanted some shots of the rear of the cross!

I also often see, at both battlefields, people touring the land with motorcycles.  Many never stop to view signs or read what is inscribed on the monuments.  It seems to me that visitors could make their visit more meaningful it they left their vehicles for at least a short period of time.  I don't think all visitors have to hike over the terrain with knapsacks on , but stopping the car or bike to read the passages on the waysides,  do offer a better appreciation of the battle.  The writings of the battle participants adds greatly to its understanding.   I hardly think whizzing through the parks, without stopping offers a noteworthy experience for the visitor.  Alas, people may do what they wish.  I just find such behavior is somewhat odd and meaningless.

I have one suggestion for people who travel around the battlefields on motorcycles that have loud exhausts or for those who operate vehicles with diesel engines, and that is to not hover around groups of people who are trying to listen to a tour guide.  In such circumstances, the participants of the tours cannot hear the guide who is speaking.  It would be more courteous to move along or stop and turn the engine off.

The battlefields that have been protected and maintained serve as vast classrooms for history.  They tell true tales of heroism, bravery, cowardice, humanity and inhumanity and all of it allows us to understand the past and where we all came from.  If studied properly and the lessons learned are followed, they may just help us to avoid the suffering our ancestors had endured.

If you are planning a trip or vacation that may include a visit to a battlefield park, try to make it as memorable and meaningful as possible.  It would be helpful to read up on the battle before you go.  This may help you  plot a more meaningful course.

When you are there, consider hiring a battlefield guide or take a tour offered by the rangers.  The guides and rangers are extremely knowledgeable about the battle and the Civil War in general.  They have plenty of experience in answering questions that visitors have posed over the years.

While on the battlefield, please step out of the car at several  points,  so as to read the words of those who fought the battle.  The park services maintain very educational and informative wayside markers.  The monuments that may be present, usually contain the words of the veterans of the battles.  Lastly, when operating loud noisy motor vehicles, please be courteous and think of the other visitors.

It's just something to think about.

15th Massachusetts Infantry monument at Antietam

32nd Pennsylvania Infantry monument at Antietam

142nd Pennsylvania Infantry monument at Gettysburg 

Irish Brigade monument at Gettysburg


Friday, February 17, 2012

Respect the Service


It is natural for people not to pay attention to things that don't affect them. It is also true that if you pay attention to all the forms of news media available on a constant basis, you will be concerned about the topics and views that are being touted.

For several years after the Global War on Terror began, the headlines were filled with deaths of U. S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.  After the Surge was successful the news of Iraq dwindled.   The news from Afghanistan increased up to 2011 and has now declined greatly following the trend of declining combat.  Since the pull out in Iraq, news broadcasts of late have been devoid of any casualty reports.
There are still deaths of U. S. personnel in Afghanistan but the numbers aren't very high so you don't hear about them.  You may hear of it if someone from your town or neighborhood was killed.  You would surely be aware of it if it was a friend or relative.

Today, most Americans go on about their lives almost oblivious to the fact that military personnel are dying overseas.  And by the same token, most Americans go on about their lives oblivious to the fact that on average, several serving men and women die in this country every week.  Those are the men and women who serve as police officers.

All deaths are tragic and one type of death is not better than another.  Friends and family are left behind to deal with the anguish of the loss as they struggle to survive the future without that certain someone.

The highest category of death of a police officer is usually a traffic death, relating to an accident they have been involved in with their patrol vehicle or if they were struck by a car in or near a roadway.  The other major categories of fatalities are homicide, manslaughter, medical emergency or other types of accidental death.  The main point is, dead is dead.

In the military, combat deaths predominate in the years in which the conflicts are occurring.  Since military operations are inherently dangerous, accidental deaths occur in peace or war as do deaths from medical ailments.


Reader please take note.  The purpose of this exercise is focused on the death rates of soldiers and police officers. The purpose is not to compare the duties, responsibilities or function of each profession.  The purpose of my discussion of my understanding about the military is to convey to the reader the base line of understanding that I possess. 

Below is a table and two charts which I compiled comparing the deaths of police officers that occurred in the United States and the death of military personnel in the Afghan Theater of the Global War on Terror.  It represents a ten year period from 2001 to 2010.  The figures for police officers was taken from the Federal Bureau of Investigation's annual reports on police officer deaths in the United States.  The numbers for the military come from the official casualty lists published by the Department of Defense.  The base year of 2001 was selected since that was when the Global War on Terror began. 

The most obvious trend is that as the war in Afghanistan increased there was a correspondent increase in deaths in the military.  What is interesting to note is that the military deaths did not surpass police deaths here until 2008.

It is also important to note that in 2009 and 2010, when the war was at its height, the military casualties were many fold that of the police numbers.  This represents the difference between a active war zone and a civilized society.

It should be also noted that the police deaths for 2001 include the 72 officers who perished on September 11, 2001.  This skews the total for police fatalities because it was such a  large and unusual event.

The average mortality is interesting and it was rounded off in both instances per mathematical convention.  The military number is skewed because of the last two reporting years. What is interesting is that the ten year average for police in the United States was 133 and only once, in 2009, did the actual count fall below 100.


How much death on the battlefield is acceptable?  How much death on the home front is acceptable? 

These are rhetorical questions, but they are questions we as individuals and as a society may grapple with.  They only ones who don't share this dilemma, are the family and friends of the ones who are lost.

As I previously stated, one occupational mortality is no more nobler than the other.  Death is the common dominator.  My point is that the police officer death toll is constant over time.  On the average it happens several times of week, war or no war.  The news reports of the police officer deaths resemble a little trickle that no one notices or hears. 

The horrors and suffering of the battlefields are only truly known by those who are there.  Most of us are protected from the carnage and misery of the holocaust by being at home enjoying the freedom that the soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coastguardsmen provide.

I am not a military veteran but I do appreciate those who have served.  They are a special class of people that this country is highly indebted to.  I am proud of the fact that my father and his brothers all served in World War II.  It was  the story of an immigrant from eastern Europe paying his dues of citizenship by sending his five sons to fight a war in behalf of his new country.  In addition, I have also had other family members and friends serve in the military.

I served as a police officer for a period of twenty-seven years.  My duties and responsibilities often placed me in dangerous and difficult situations.   Those  perilous and risky circumstances were all survived due to training, alertness, common sense, luck and the blessing of God.  Other officers that served have not been so lucky.


The tremendous public support for the police and the military after September 11, 2001, was gratifying to those in uniform at the time, and it was truly appreciated.  Some of this support and enthusiasm  has naturally,  and understandably waned.  Please be cognizant  of the fact that good service is being done in this country right now by thousands of professional police officers.   A few of those officers will never return from their tour of duty.  On a yearly basis, a few quickly adds up to one hundred.

This type of information rarely  makes the top story on the television news or the headline in the paper, and even if it does, it usually doesn't last long.

Police officers perform their duties in the communities in which they serve,  twenty four, seven.

As of this writing (February 17, 2012), we have already lost nineteen officers in the line of duty this year, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers  Memorial Fund.  The NLEOMF also stated that 173 police officers were killed in 2011, apparently a particularly  brutal year.

It's just something to think about.