The Sailor and the Survivor Go to Washington

Jan 8th, 2010

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If you are on anyone’s mass e-mail list, by now you’ve probably heard of Harold B. Estes. For those of you who delete anything not work-related before reading, Estes is a very sharp-witted, conservative WWII vet in his mid-90′s who wrote a strong letter of criticism to President Obama, virally distributed by e-mail in November.

His opening shot: “…I am amazed, angry, and determined not to see my country die before I do, but you seem hell bent not to grant me that wish. I can’t figure out what country you are the president of. You fly around the world telling our friends and enemies despicable lies…”

The full text of the letter is here.

When I read it, the letter reminded me very much of my Grandmother. She, too, is in her 90′s. She, too, is a WWII “vet” – having survived Auschwitz in her 20′s. (See more on my amazing Grandma here.)

And she, too, is an avid news junkie who can still debate the issues with the best of them… and is generally bound to tell you exactly what she thinks. Why waste time with political correctness when you’re 91? (Or 36. But that’s for another post.)

Grandma Esther is also not a great Obama fan. She feels sold out, as a rather conservative American and as a Zionist, and recently told me that she feels the world’s atmosphere towards outwardly proud Jews has returned to something akin to what it was in the early 30′s: “I had to live through it once, OK. But to live through it again? I can’t believe it.” What she does believe is that Obama’s apologetic attitude towards nations classically hostile to both America and Israel has made matters far worse, and not better, for the democratic, free world.

She is of course far from alone in this opinion. Harold B. Estes, for one, strongly agrees with her. And the fact that they are both rare living witnesses who were both THERE – that one fought for America’s freedom while the other waited for Allied forced to liberate her from the evil many across the world denied existed – gives them something so strong in common… that I got the crazy idea that they should meet.

So…I contacted Fore n’ Aft magazine, a Honolulu-based Navy vet publication, and the source quoted as verifying the Estes story as real, rather than one of those widely circulated urban legends. Within a day, I heard back from the magazine’s editor, a very open and kind person of the sort you don’t find too many of anymore, who was thrilled to help me arrange a call between Harold and Grandma Esther. (Also instrumental in making the call possible was Harold’s lawyer and confidant, a very friendly member of the tribe who was only too happy to help.)

And so…one Tuesday afternoon about a month ago, Harold and his buddies called my grandma in New York. They talked a bit about Harold’s letter to Obama (my grandma voiced her approval) and about the weather (she wished she were the one in Hawaii) and then about her experiences in the War. I think it was amazing for her to be validated by a contemporary, and I hope Harold had the same feeling.

All in all, perhaps only because of their advanced years, they did not manage to solve the world’s problems, or even just America’s. But I think these two heroes and survivors and opinion-makers got to briefly say: I was there, too, and I can’t believe what I’m seeing now, either…and I get it. I get you.

That’s the kind of empathy I wish for everyone to receive at least once in a lifetime, and for every world leader to possess and express – to his own nation – so that his or her people never feel unheard, invisible, disenfranchised, or unsafe.

It is perhaps a misplacement of empathy, spent on those who would never return it, that is Obama’s problem in the first place.

Here’s to a new decade of understanding and humanity… born of wisdom and courage and endless good energy, things we should not have to apologize for. Harold and Esther would be the first ones to tell you that it would be about time.

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  1. 9 Responses to “The Sailor and the Survivor Go to Washington”

  2. Mr. Estes is a republican right wing fanatic. He can speak his mind all he wants… SLANDER EDITED OUT BY SITE OWNER….NO AD HOMINEM ATTACKS ALLOWED HERE

    Perhaps he should look at GW Bush’s military service record as well as the Dick Cheney’s.

    By Pamela on Jan 11, 2010

  3. I respect Harold B. Estes for his military service and his right to an opinion. As an American citizen and veteran, I also have a right to mine, which I’d like to put forward quickly with only two points out of the many other points I disagreed with Estes’ letter to Obama.

    1. “We’re no longer a Christian nation”
    America was never a “Christian” nation. There is no mention of Jesus Christ in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution or other founding documents. Just because about 80 per cent of Americans allude to God in some generic sense, does not mean we are “Christian” nation. The idea of “freedom of religion” expressed in the Bill of Rights was a recognition that there were already many different forms of religion already being practiced in America. So it was necessary to treat them all equally in order to avoid the religious intolerance and outright persecution that plagued many European nations.

    2. “America is arrogant”
    America is arrogant. America has over 716 military garrisons planted all over the planet. The belief that they are stationed there to spread democracy or save it inhabitants from evil would be naïve. They now have plans to occupy a UN heritage site in Vicenza, Italy with more soldiers and weapons storage areas they have no concern what this will do to the local inhabitants. America threats and interests, real or perceived, continue to be the major reason this country has been militarily engaged in more wars than any other nation. It’s what America has done for generations at the expense of other nations, not for reasons of saving them. Vietnam only became prosperous again because US troops left and stopped bombing and spraying toxic chemicals on the Vietnamese.

    President Obama is not the reason for the failures we see in America today, although the right-wing conservatives like to think so. Obama is not the reason Estes thinks “America hasn’t lived up to her ideals”. Like many left-wingers these days he seems to have forgotten recent history, how the Bush administration left America in smoke and ruins. What I have to say in response to Estes could fill 800 pages but I don’t have the time.

    By Michael Carax on Jan 11, 2010

  4. Michael Carax,

    Thanks for a well-written response.
    I am an immigrant to the US from India and have been living here in sunny California for over 25 years.

    My admiration for this great nation came about from what I had gleaned from selective information that was available at the USIS and from news media and magazines.

    While I believe that there was a sense of patriotism from army personnel who fought in the two world wars, what has devolved from US foreign policy has been nothing short of extremism. From Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan, I hear the justifiable cry of Kissinger who said, ‘we reserve the right to invade any country if it serves our national policy objectives’.

    Yes, I have great respect for our troops and the job they do, but when they get exploited by our political leaders and when most of them have their lives and minds changed from the killing fields US policy creates, I take exception to what Mr. Estes says.

    ‘My country right or wrong’ is no longer acceptable because we know that being wrong and doing it anyway is the hypocritical standard we have come to abide by and some of us have even come to accept. Corporations now rule our policy agendas and the general public is rather naive about their influence.

    In light of the context of this article, I will not comment on how Israeli interests influence US foreign policy in the Middle East, and where US actions have been overwhelmingly wrong and extreme.

    By Pacifist on Feb 21, 2010

  5. I am happy too see people begin to stand up too this president, who is no doubt on the wrong side of the constitution!! He has back stabbed many of us who lost loved ones in Europe at the hand of unspeakable crimes. This prez. is determined to see the end of the US and probably will drag down israel with him as he goes, just so he can have chapped lips from all the kissing up he has done. At what point will he pay attention too the US, it’s REALY friends and citizens.. YOU GO HAROLD.. WE ARE BEHIND YOU ALL THE WAY!!!!

    By Gina on Feb 25, 2010

  6. You’ve lived long enough so that you should remember that we have made a lot of mistakes. Mr. Bush with his WMD which were not there; Mr. Reagan with Mr. North and his Iran purchases; Mr. Nixon and his lying and cheating just to get elected. The Tuskogee fiasco; the segregation of blacks in the services, relegating them to lower jobs because “they weren’t smart enough to do regular jobs.” Our ideals weren’t lived up to in Guantanamo when we tortured soldiers and lowered ourselves by treating them the way we don’t want our soldiers to be treated. You should be angry, not with President Obama, who was office only ten months when you castigated him, but with the politicians and Bush and Cheney who allowed the lies to proliferate which sent us to another war. President Obama is not the enemy; what did you do to stop the lynching of blacks in the south, the separate but equal schools, the segregation in the service, the lack of health ins. for poor people. Shame on you for your letter.

    By J Bease on Mar 27, 2010

  7. I am amazed how various people can have such different opinions. Estes certainly can say what he wants. What was he when he joined the Navy in 1934 and the rank he reached was due to length of service.Does this make a better patriot then me? NO! I am a Holocaust survivor and also served in the Korean War and I would never DARE to put my country down (Estes should remember that our President is Commander in chief and represents the USA. Of course whatever he spouted was devoured by the Tea Party people who also show no respect. I believe that the old timer being a veterans assumes that he is in the same league with those veterans who actually experienced WAR. So “pipe” down.

    By Paul Tenenbaum on Apr 6, 2010

  8. A question to all the contributors: Where do you get your information? It appears that many of your views are slanted, with people and groups being condemned ‘en masse’. I humbly offer an early proverb from the Latin: The drop of water hollows the stone not by force but by repitition. Please try not to jump on a train (or thread) that simply reinforces your notions. May God bless you.

    By Brother Francis on Jun 5, 2010

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  2. Jan 11, 2010: Persevere » Blog Archive » The Sailor and the Survivor Go to Washington
  3. Jan 13, 2010: Letter to OBAMA from Harold Estes a Holocaust (WWII) Survivor and Esther Klein’s story « Politics, Religion, and Family

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