February 7th, 2007

#250: Iraq, Vietnam, and Democrats

The current mantra from the Left is "Iraq=Vietnam so let's get out."

That would be a serious mistake.

The situation in Iraq is stabilizing but it needs time and effort. Our enemies are pressing the matter hoping that we lose our nerve; leaving now would give them exactly what they want.

Leaving Iraq now would result in an actual, real civil war which would end with a totalitarian Islamic government worse than the one we went in there to depose.

The idea that Iraq is even remotely similar to Vietnam is, itself, ludicrous. The situations are not even remotely parallel; the only similarity is that the government we are trying to support now would collapse without our help, much the same way the South Vietnamese government needed our help in the 1970s.

In 1972 the South Vietnamese Army repulsed an invasion from North Vietnam--a major tanks-and-infantry type of invasion. That invasion had been repulsed with a US military loss-of-life around 300 KIA. Most of the casualties in that fight were taken by Vietnamese--North and South alike.

The dirty secret of the United States' "loss" in Vietnam is that we didn't actually lose anything. At the time of the fall of Saigon there were hardly any US troops in Vietnam at all; the Fall of Saigon in 1975 took place after--get this--

the Democrat-controlled Congress of the United States voted not to give military aid to the South Vietnamese.

You read that right. The Democrats voted against sending our nominal ally, South Vietnam, any serious aid--not even materiel such as ammunition. Without such basic necessities as bullets, the South Vietnamese Army was pretty much a pushover. The NKVD rolled over the SVA, and Americans had to flee Saigon via helicopter.

These days no one really talks about the critical role that the Democrat vote played in the resulting carnage--2,000,000 people were sent to labor camps, and 100,000 were liquidated--and Laos and Cambodia underwent Communist "revolution", leading to (among other things) the atrocities of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.

The Democrat Party of the United States voted not to support an ally; and the result was that ally's destruction.

But what does Vietnam have to do with Iraq?

First off, the Democrats themselves keep comparing Iraq to Vietnam. Part of it is that they desperately want it to be the ten years from 1965-1975 again, when they were enjoying being in charge and socking Republicans in the face. The lowering of voting age to 18, rolling in all the votes of the college kids who didn't want to be drafted and who voted with their feelings rather than their intellects--the Democrats received a serious surge in their constituency from that. Besides, around then, black voters began to drift away from voting Republican (as many had since the days of Lincoln) and began voting Democrat even though Democrats had stood in the way of the Equal Rights Act.

If Iraq=Vietnam, it means they might be able to use the same tired anti-war template to rally young people to their side. Since the commencement of hostilities in Iraq, how many times have proposals come to the floor of the Senate and House to reinstate the draft? (Look it up. And look up what party the sponsors of the bill belong to. Hint: it doesn't begin with an R.)

If Vietnam was a disaster, then it was a Democrat disaster--a Democrat got us into it; a Democrat escalated it; and Democrats finally abandoned Vietnam in its hour of need, when all it really needed was ammunition and weaponry.

When America refused to support South Vietnam, its ally, the country it had supported against North Vietnam for almost a decade, it sent a signal to the rest of the world: "If you ally with the United States, it will only support you as long as it's convenient."

Rather close on the heels of this, then, came Iran, in the Carter years.

The Carter administration refused to support the Shah of Iran. US foreign policy had, until then, supported the Shah; although there were things about the government of Iran which the US found distasteful, he kept the country stable. But under Carter, that changed; and ultimately the Shah fell and was replaced with a different government...

...a government which was basically under the sway of our good old buddy, the Ayatollah Khomeini.

The fall of the Shah of Iran reinforced the "Vietnam" template: "Ally with the US at your own peril. They'll abandon you when you need them the most." The show of weakness culminated in the "student" seizure of the US Embassy in Tehran...and a hostage "crisis" that should have resulted in a US declaration of war against Iran, but which instead led to mealy-mouthed "negotiations" and a botched rescue attempt--all of which made the US look weak and pathetic at a time when it could ill afford either.

Vietnam and Iran in the 1970s are basically at the root of the entire problem we now face with Islamic totalitarianism. Those who would rule the world with the iron fist of Sha'ria were emboldened by the abandonment of Vietnam and the emasculation of the Shah. A US that would not even declare war after an act of war had been perpetrated against it was obviously a weak US, one that deserved destruction.

And so, 9/11/01, the culmination of literal decades of low-level terrorist attacks against US interests. And before October of 2001 had ended, Leftists began to castigate America, telling it that 9/11 had been America's fault.

In a way, the Left was right...but they did not tell the whole story. It was America's fault because of the actions of the American Left.

The Left did not and does not like it when America defends itself. The Left voted against funding a South Vietnam self-defense. The Left avoided going to war against Iran. When Reagan struck at Libya in the 1980s, the Left collectively wet itself, shrieking that the attack would only invite further retaliation. (The fact that no US interests were hit for years afterwards seems to have escaped their notice.) The attack on Iraq was similarly characterized; and the mass terror attacks which have been collectively labeled "insurgency" in Iraq are claimed to be the result of the US attacks on Iraq, even though most of the "insurgents" are Syrian and Iranian imports, not native Iraqis.

The insurgency has fueled the continuous "Iraq=Vietnam=Quagmire" drone, which itself is meant to flay the American people into a mindset which will allow a Democrat "de-funding" of the War on Terror.

No one in the Democrat party dares to vote against funding the war in Iraq right now. The war is portrayed as "unpopular" now, but they know well the feelings of the American people. They will spend hours denouncing it, but when the question is called most will stammer something about "the troops" and vote for continued funding, pretending to hold their noses.

When the American people demanded action in the wake of 9/11, Democrats did not dare vote against it. The same Democrats who voted for hostilities in Iraq now wish us to walk away from it; seeing no political advantage in continued war against terrorists, now that the atrocities of 9/11/01 are a distant political memory, they wish the military to once again go back to being a distateful necessity rather than a front-and-center implement of foreign policy.

Ultimately the only way that Iraq can be like Vietnam is if the Democrats "de-fund" our efforts there, the way they de-funded Vietnam in 1975. The results would be equally horrific and just as much the fault of Democrats.

#251: Now I'm in trouble

A few months ago I took Mom to do the grocery shopping, and while we were at the store I spied a copy of "Model Railroader" on the magazine stand. After flipping through it I decided to buy it. Since then I've gotten every issue as they hit the stands.

When I was 10, 11, 12, I got into trains. My oldest sister's husband was into model railroading, and actually worked for a terminal railroad in Saint Louis (TRRA for those who know about such things). Liking trains and having a brother-in-law who knew all about them was a wonderful thing for me, and I even went so far as to ask for a big big train set--Tyco's "System 200" set, which allowed the operation of 2 trains at the same time, had more switches and accessories than any train set ought to have, and still fit on a 4x8 sheet of plywood. It had eight cars and two locomotives in it; that added to the stuff I'd already had from my previous HO train set (also Tyco) made for a nice budding model railroad.

There were two real problems. First, I was 10 and lacked the self-discipline to spend hours and hours building and detailing. I wanted to run trains! Second, I was 10 and lacked the money to buy the supplies and parts needed to build a decent model railroad.

So, the basic "flat layout on a sheet of plywood" was it. It was nice, but it was basic--no scenery, no tunnels, no grades, backdrops, or buildings. The plywood was painted green so there wasn't even grass.

Still, by 1981 I had torn up the old layout and laid down the track again, this time with a somewhat more-realistic operation in mind. But at that point, my interests were drifting away from trains, and (to be honest) the basic Tyco "Tru-Steel" rail was a pain in the ass to keep free of oxidation so that the trains would run. I don't know what the "Tru-Steel" track was made from, but in our basement there was no dearth of humidity to help oxidize it. I had to run an eraser over the rails before each operating session.

Mom and Dad remodeled the house in 1982 for my other sister's wedding; and my layout was taken from the basement and stored outside for too long. The transformers were ruined, the track disintegrated, the wiring shot; and eventually the benchwork (such as it was--4x8 3/8 inch plywood reinforced with 2x2s; it wasn't half bad) was recycled for other things.

I still have all the rolling stock, of course--all the engines, all the cars. It's safely packed away, rolled up in paper towels and padded with newspaper...somewhere. I'm not sure where; only that the box is safe and secure somewhere in either the garage or attic.

When I started reading "Model Railroader" again, it got me to thinking about building a layout. Nothing fancy; certainly nothing as large as my brother-in-law's father's layout. That had been impressive to me, the few times I saw it and got to play with it. It was nicely done. But such a massive effort is beyond my means and desire; and even if I wanted one that size, where would I put it? There's no room here for such an edifice.

But N scale, I reasoned...with N scale, I could build a rather complex layout in a very small space. Heck, I remember some guy built a nice layout in a suitcase in the 1980s. I could make a layout with some nice operating characteristics in an area about the size of a card table--heck, I could build it on a card table, making it both portable and easily stored out of the way. Also that would take care of the benchwork; and as an added bonus, the relatively spindly nature of card table legs would ensure I didn't make the layout too big or heavy.

I started looking at toy stores for N scale train sets, but--naturally!--they only had HO and O scale. O scale is too big and too expensive--Lionel trains are O scale. My employer sold a nice Lionel train set--basic oval, locomotive, cars, etc--for a mere $249.95.

I was not going to buy an HO train set, not when I've already got so much rolling stock. If I were going to build an HO layout I'd just find my rolling stock, then go buy track and a good transformer rather than buy a bunch of stuff I already had. (The transformer alone probably would run $100, though.)

And what with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's, and then my Dad's "decline and fall", I had no time to worry about it. But I kept thinking about it in spare moments.

SO, today I visited a hobby store and bought a train set.

It's a little one. REALLY little:

It's a Life-Like N scale train set, the "Yard Master" set in Chessie colors. It comes with a basic oval of track. For rolling stock it has a switch-type locomotive, two box cars, a tank car, and a caboose. It also includes a basic transformer, a packet of scenery material (signs, trees, etc) and a building kit--some kind of hotel.

Not bad for $70 retail, and about what I was expecting to pay for a basic train set.

The hobby store didn't have extra Life-Like "Power-Loc" track in stock, worse luck, so I had to order a few turnouts and extra straight track. They say it'll be in on Friday, so I'll have to wait for switching and spotting action until then.

I also bought an additional box car. (See below.)

As you can see the basic layout fits rather nicely on our living room coffee table. The set's second box car is still in its box, because when I took it out of the box I found that one of the trucks had undergone spontaneous disassembly. It's not a problem since it's just a matter of reinserting the axles, but I need good light, tweezers, and a magnifying glass to do it. This stuff is tiny compared to the HO scale stuff I had in the early 1980s.

I was impressed with the level of detail on the locomotive:

From the latches and hinges on the cowling, to the diamond-plate on the walkways, to windshield wipers--and this isn't even really all that special; the better-quality models (ie non-toy, costing hundreds of dollars each) have even better detail than this.

The locomotive seemed to run in fairly well. At first its motor seemed a bit stiff, but by the end of my first hour of operation it seemed to have "run in" fairly well. The included power pack has a bit of notchiness, which--again--is to be expected from a toy-type train set. There are many other options available for the serious modeler who wants realistic operation rather than a sudden jump to a scale speed of around 10 mph from a dead stop.

Only one of the headlights works. I don't know if this is by design or if it's a manufacturing defect, but the headlight which works only lights when the train is traveling in that direction. That's protypical--the headlight in the direction of travel should be on--which leads me to believe I've got a minor manufacturing defect here. It's a very minor detail and one which I can correct if I ever really feel the need to do so.

The locomotive struggled to pull its consist of three cars and a caboose up an unrealistic grade of about 10%-15%. (Most real railroads try to limit grades to less than 3%.) The wheels would start slipping on the rails; although the train didn't slow down I could hear the motor speed up.

When I got tired of watching the train go around the basic oval I ginned up a makeshift tunnel and realized that it really adds a lot to the operation if you can't see the train all the time.

So I think I may work a bit on building some terrain this weekend.

Finally, I will have to find a place to put my impending model railroad somewhere where the cat can't get at it:

I had hoped to get a really good picture of the cat investigating the thing, but she's camera shy and this was the best I could get. I stopped the locomotive in front of her; she sniffed it, and then held up a paw, thinking about batting at it. A stern, "No!" made her re-think that...but I know how her tiny little brain works. So, the locomotive and cars are stored in their shipping containers.

The locomotive and cars come with non-realistic couplers which are cheap to manufacture and install. These are easily replaced with the "magne-matic" type of couplers made by Kaydee and other companies, though.

So what about the extra box car?

The other day I was trying to learn a few things about the Union Pacific line which runs through Crete. The UP line used to be Missouri-Pacific, before the big mergers of the 1990s, and much of the train watching that I did in my early teens--the first time I was into trains--was on the MP because it was handy.

The MP-15 diesel switcher that I drove when I was 11 was a Mo-Pac switcher.

My initial thoughts about building a train layout centered on the Mo-Pac as it was in the 1980s. Crete Lumber had its own siding and occasionally received loads of lumber that way. The "yard limit" of the 26th Street yard actually extends to Crete, anyway. There is another siding in Steger for what used to be a pasta factory and another lumberyard, and this siding also had a freight station. (The pasta factory now is used to make wrapping paper.)

I decided that one "end" of my layout would be the 26th St. yard; and the other--well...I needed to do some research, so I fired up Nutscape and started looking at Microsoft's TerraServer site. At the same time I also did some Googling for maps of the M-P line.

What I found is that there is a small terminal railroad operating almost in my back yard!

It's called the Chicago Heights Terminal Transfer; and it's been in operation for decades. It actually makes a loop, too, or so I'm told; it's hard to see on the satellite images especially since tracks can be torn up or moved.

M-P--and now UP--owns 1/5 of the CHTT, so they can operate on the CHTT track with impunity. The CHTT track is, in fact, where I drove that MP-15 lo these many years ago. It serves the Ford Heights Ford Stamping Plant, and it looks like it also serves a railroad car manufacturing plant--among other things.

CHTT seems almost tailor-made for the kind of model railroad I want to build...so all I have to do is learn enough to build it. It has many advantages: it's close to home; the locomotives can be either M-P or UP, depending on what year I want to model, which makes for easy modeling (no special paint jobs); the line is short and compact, yet serves large industry, making for fun operation; and using N scale and selective compression I ought to be able to fit it into a space no larger than 4x8, with maybe a little stub running down to Crete and Steger with the occasional load of lumber. If I want to get really nuts there is a handy interchange with the EJ&E for even more operating possibilities.

So today I bought an N scale train set. I'm probably doomed.