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It’s a sad fact that most of the people protesting in the streets in Portland, Seattle, Kenosha, and Chicago have never been outside the United States. They have never seen the difference between the appearance of liberty, and the true embodiment of it. Even though many in the Democrat party have been outside the country, they do not appear to have learned the lessons from travel that I did.
In 1970 my stepfather was assigned to Clark Air Base in the Republic of the Philippines. I went to high school there, graduating in 1973. Clark sits in a large flat area cleared from the jungle and at the time served as a base of operations for aircraft flying sorties in the Vietnam war. I remember vividly that Mrs. Mattingly, one of our teachers at Wagner High School, wore her husband’s POW bracelet. In that bamboo steamer of a country, I came to appreciate the differences in outlook between a country built on the rule of law, and a country built on the rule of one man.
The Philippines had the trappings of a republic without the blessings of liberty. It had a senate. It had a lower chamber. It had a president. But the true reins of power were held, not by three co-equal branches of government, but by a dictator that looted his country’s treasury while his citizens lived in squalor. While common folk struggled to maintain food on their table, the Marcos family ate lavish meals in palatial splendor. Even in high school, I knew that was wrong.
The highways and roads were functional, if not up to American standards, but outside Manila there was a five-mile stretch of superhighway – paid for with US funds – that was supposed to connect the capital to Clark. The Philippines ran out of money after five miles. It’s almost like they learned from their American friends that the easiest way to get more money was to spend it like drunken sailors.
While there were “slicky boys” around Clark, and all manner of petty crime, the Filipinos who worked on the base were calm, competent, hard-working people who I respected and admired. After working all day in air-conditioned comfort they would walk outside into 90-degree heat and 100-percent humidity, get on a non-air-conditioned bus, and ride to the main gate. There they would exit and head off to their homes, which were often no more than shacks constructed out of native materials. But every last one of them held their heads up high. They had the dignity of work.
But I learned the most valuable lesson I could about due process not in law school, but at that main gate of Clark Air Base a few months before I returned home in 1972. As I waited for a friend to come on base to go to a movie, I saw Air Force Security Police chasing a Filipino who was leaving them in the dust. As their Sam Browne belts clanked and jingled as they ran after him, he dashed through the gate while they were yelling “stop!”
The Security Police did not pull their weapons. I learned saw he had stolen a wallet on the bus. He was no master criminal, just an opportunist. But as the Philippine Constabulary (or was we called them, the PC) on the other side of that gate heard the Security Police yelling “stop” he drew a revolver, pointed it in the air and fired off two shots. The running Filipino turned to look and saw the constable drawing a bead on him. He hit the dirt and threw his hands over his head. The PC kicked him in the ribs, stomach, and head and would have beaten him in the head with the pistol had not the gasping Security Police shown up. The PC slapped the cuffs on the man, removed the stolen wallet from his pants, flipped it to the Security Police, and then used his baton leveraged inside the cuffs to force the thief forward to the jail.
The Philippine people were good people. They were hard-working people. They have a beautiful country. They have a very aggressive police force and they also have corruption, sadly, at all levels of their government.
We have some bad police officers in this country too. My wife met one a few years back when she got a speeding ticket and he got right in her face and told her that if she didn’t pay it before the court date they would issue a warrant for her arrest. It upset my wife terribly, and there was no call for it. He just needed to bully someone. But he couldn’t hit her. He couldn’t beat her. He couldn’t treat her less than human without significant problems coming his way. There are bad police shootings. I know because I’ve handled some of those lawsuits. I’ve seen cities pay for their officer’s misdeeds. Money is a very poor remedy when someone dies, but it’s the only way we have for accountability. But it is a remedy. That Filipino had no remedy. He also probably didn’t have working ribs. Sometimes suing is the right thing to do.
Sometimes it isn’t. And jumping to conclusions about who is in the right and who is in the wrong while the smoke is still clearing is not the way to improve policing either. Accountability demands evidence and analysis, not emotion and indifference to fact.
In 1978 I went to the Republic of Korea to serve in the Second Infantry Division. The Second Infantry Division had a large contingent of Korean Army soldiers called KATUSAs. It stood for Korean Augmentation To the United States Army. When I was in basic training I had a drill sergeant that would have made King Kong scamper up the Empire State Building with no more than a stare and a cross word. But the KATUSA Sergeant Major instilled such fear in those young men that I never saw one out of uniform. I’m pretty sure he would have scared my drill sergeant. Everywhere KATUSAs went, they went in a uniform with enough starch in it that it could probably have stood up by itself.
In visiting with one of the KATUSAs assigned to our company I learned that he had a cousin in prison and that he sent some of his meager pay to his aunt every month to help her feed him. He told me that prisoners get some rations, like a nasty dish called Kongbap, but that family members visit frequently and bring more food to ensure their loved ones stay healthy. He described Korean prison life in terms that made it seem unlikely that a life sentence lasted longer than a few years.
Yes, we have problems in our prisons, and we have problems with our police, but we have a justice system that sometimes seems to give more aid and comfort to the victimizers than the victims. Sometimes it seems wrong to do that, but then I remember what my KATUSA friend told me.
Don’t misunderstand. I never saw anyone in Korea treated the way I saw the PC treat that thief. The Koreans I met were proud of their country and believed fervently in the values of work and freedom. But they had an unforgiving penal system. Maybe, thinking about what happened in Kenosha the past few days, in some ways, we could learn something from them.
Last night the RNC put on a convention presentation that established a few things. Republicans love America. They think our best days are ahead. They recognize we have a long way to go to create a more perfect union. The star of the night, from my viewpoint, was Maximo Alvarez. I teared up listening to his story. He spoke a brutal truth, and his sincerity and emotion were honest tributes to this country just as they were stinging indictments of socialism.
I look forward to tonight’s convention speeches. I love my country, and I love to hear people who love my country speak about it.
As everyone who spoke last night said, may God bless America.Published in