Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Blast from the past -- into the present

Some days are more interesting than others, and yesterday was definitely one of the more interesting ones.

I talk from time to time with Mike Burnaugh, a fraternity brother from UCLA days, and see him when we visit my brother-in-law in the Atlanta area. He called last week to double-check on my address so he could send me a CD of a chorus he's in singing the Mozart Requiem -- one of the works I have never sung but would like to, so I was mildly jealous. Anyway, we got to talking about other old friends and he mentioned that Lee Gunn was one of the few people he had known who had done just what he wanted to do. He always wanted to be a Naval officer, so he enlisted right after college and had recently retired, Mike told me, as a two-star Admiral.

My curiosity aroused, I Googled him and discovered he is still quite active, in the DC area, as a board member of several organizations (American Security Project) and as president of the Institute for Public Research at a non-profit called CNA, which mostly does work for the military. The other thing I discovered was that he is one of the retired military people actively campaigning against the use of torture.What a gratifying thing to discover! (Of course I also found a blog referring to such folks as an example of the "wussification" of the military. Hmmmpph! Meet me in a dark alley.)

So I decided to call him and yesterday we had a brief (he had a meeting, of course) but very pleasant conversation. He told me there were about 45 former generals and flag officers going around to college campuses and other places emphasizing the importance to the country and the military of abdandoning the use of torture or anything like it, under the aegis of Human Rights First, of which he spoke most highly. Those who have actually served and held military responsibility (Lee was in charge of the fleet evacuating Americans from Somalia after the Black Hawk Down incident) seem to understand this much better than the neocon sofa samurai whose idea of reality seems to be formed by "24."

Lee was in the Oval Office when Barack Obama signed the executive order de-authorizing the use of torture and setting a timetable to close Guantanamo. He said it's vital to close the prison camp there, although it will be complicated in part because opening it was improvised and most of the obvious candidates have already been released. I'll probably use him as a source on such issues.

Anyway, it's nice to know somebody you liked and admired as a rather young man turned out to have such success and to be thinking soundly now.

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