- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

May 24

The Times, Gainesville, Georgia, on fallen service members:

America’s lengthy roster of war dead began with 25,000 lost establishing our nation in the Revolutionary War, the first believed to be Crispus Attucks in the Boston Massacre of 1770. That was followed by 20,000 in the War of 1812 and 13,000 in the Mexican War in the 19th century.

Another 600,000-plus fell on both sides in the Civil War, the nation’s bloodiest conflict by far, followed by 2,000 in the Spanish-American War to close the century.

Then in a 20th century of war with little pause, 116,000 Americans died in the trenches of World War I, the war that did not end all wars, followed by another 400,000 in Europe and the Pacific in World War II. In Asia, Korea claimed 36,000 lives and Vietnam took 58,000. Then it was off to the Middle East, where nearly 7,000 fell in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan over two decades.

Thankfully, the carnage has slowed as combat operations have mostly ended, for now. But based on history and an increasingly unstable world, it’s not likely that the last American has fallen in warfare, even if we wish it so.

That leaves some 1.3 million Americans, mostly young men and some women, whose lives were cut short as they defended the nation’s interests and the cause of freedom. They left behind grieving parents and siblings, widows and widowers, and children whose recollections often were limited to hazy memories and photographs. Some might have accomplished amazing things in their civilian lives, but that’s a mark no one will ever see.

We honor them each Memorial Day, not just for what they did, which was remarkable, but for who they were and what they might have been. No sacrifice is greater than surrendering one’s future so others may have one.

They all had something else in common we should remember: None of them chose to be a fallen hero. Given their druthers, each would have dodged that fatal bullet, bomb, bayonet or other deadly blow and lived to tell the tale. Many in the chaos of combat bravely gave themselves to save others, knowing they wouldn’t make it out alive, yet surely they would have chosen a safer strategy if one were available. Each would have preferred to finish their task and return home in one piece, as so many of their fellow soldiers did, to resume their lives.

They were not martyrs choosing to die for a cause, however noble. As eloquently stated by Gen. George Patton, “No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”

These were regular folks, average Americans like the rest of us who just happened to be caught up in a certain place and time. Most were no more or less exceptional than anyone else, their courage spiked only by circumstances and necessity, and perhaps a convenient rush of adrenalin.

Many were not killed while engaged in full combat or Sgt. York-like daring deeds amid a hail of fire but as mere by-standers, taken by a stray shot or piece of shrapnel. Some fell in battle before they could get off a shot. And most likely would admit they were scared out of their minds. It’s a reminder that true courage isn’t the absence of fear but the ability to conquer fear and rise above it.

Yet it doesn’t matter at all how they died, but that they did. Those who wore the uniform, entered the arena and made the effort all earned the right to be honored each Memorial Day and for all time. They all made the same sacrifice and served the greater good. Those who didn’t come home and those who did marched side by side, no different in any way but their fates.

We celebrate them all as heroes. The flag we place on gravesites, wave at parades and salute with moist eyes at every opportunity bears their blood and sacrifice, all 1.3 million lost and then some, those they left behind and who mourn them still.

From its beginning, this nation has taken pride in the dignity and character of the common citizen, unlike societies built around royalty and noblemen. Our heroes don’t have to be shining knights in armor riding a golden steed into battle, a fanciful image more of Hollywood than true warfare. America’s real heroes have always been the regular troops, the Willies and Joes, the GI Janes, the grunts, foot soldiers, sailors, pilots and Marines, grousing about lousy chow, digging trenches in the rain, swabbing the decks, toting homemade hooch in their canteens and thumbing their nose at regulations and stuffy officers.

They didn’t seek glory, just a chance to win the war and save their hides. They weren’t supermen but regular men put into horrific situations and asked to do the impossible. So they strapped on their helmets, shouldered their rifles, slogged into battle and did their duty as best as they could, ordinary people making extraordinary sacrifices.

This is why they all deserve our respect, on the last Monday in May, the 11th of every November, the Fourth of July and every day in-between. We salute their service and can never thank them enough.




May 26

Morning News, Savannah, Georgia, on the economic power of historic preservation:

Donovan Rypkema lives and works, mostly, in Washington, D.C. He’s the principal of PlaceEconomics, a real estate and economic development consulting firm that specializes in services to public and nonprofit-sector clients who are dealing with downtown and neighborhood commercial district revitalization and the reuse of historic structures.

Rypkema is recognized as an industry leader in the economics of preserving historic structures.

Since 1983 he has provided ongoing consulting services to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and its National Main Street Center and has undertaken assignments in 49 states and the District of Columbia.

In 2012, the National Trust for Historic Preservation awarded him the Louise du Pont Crowninshield Award, the organization’s highest honor, for his work in the preservation field.

Now Rypkema has brought his expertise to Savannah. The Historic Savannah Foundation hired him to study the role historic neighborhoods play in Chatham County’s economy and residents’ lives.

His recently finished report could be summarized in one word: Substantial.

He found that historic preservation has significant impact economically on the city of Savannah and Chatham County that has little if anything to do with tourism.

He found that the measurements of what makes a city a good place to live - walkability, character, proximity of home and work and others - while true of the city as a whole, are even more true in the historic districts.

In his report, Rypkema pointed to investments made by the Savannah College of Art and Design and the Historic Savannah Foundation as elements that have first stabilized and then enhanced the neighborhoods they were made in.

The arts, cultural, culinary and knowledge industries in Savannah are intimately linked with the historic resources, he wrote, and said, “The 18th century Oglethorpe Plan has not only stood the test of time but provides 21st century qualities to an evolving, growing, dynamic city.”

Did anything in the results surprise Rypkema?

The answer was yes. He found that what he called “the extraordinary attractiveness of the historic districts to both small businesses and start-up businesses was at a magnitude that was quite surprising.”

One element of the attractiveness of the city’s historic district, he said, is that they’re not museums frozen in time but, rather, are dynamic neighborhoods.

Evidence of that, he said, is the fact that over the last 15 years more money has been invested in new construction in the neighborhoods than in rehabilitation.

One question asked of Rypkema was what can the city and the state of Georgia do to encourage more investment in historical preservation?

His answer:

“Both the state tax credits and the local property tax incentives clearly encourage private investment in historic resources. Maintaining both should be a high priority. Then there are areas in Savannah that have the characteristics of a historic district but aren’t designated either as local districts or National Register districts.

“At least discussions should be held to see if other neighborhoods should be added to one, the other, or both.”

As for any conflict between preservation and local business development in a downtown neighborhood, Rypkema said his findings should put that argument aside.

Savannah, he said, is an international example of local business development through preservation rather than instead of preservation.

It’s time, Rypkema said, to permanently eliminate the false choice of we have to choose either to have economic development or historic preservation.

“In Savannah, you’re doing the former by using the latter,” Rypkema said.

Rypkema’s findings are hardly surprising to anyone who’s been paying attention for the last few decades, but they serve as useful reminders that ideas and approaches long advocated by a variety of organizations within the community are on track.

To borrow a phrase from the baseball movie “Field of Dreams:”

Preserve it, and they will come.




May 26

The Augusta (Georgia) Chronicle on Black Bike Week:

The recent deadly clash among biker gangs in Texas left South Carolinians even more nervous about the Atlantic Beach Bikefest near Myrtle Beach.

The Memorial Day-weekend event, also known as “Black Bike Week,” last year saw eight shootings, including a triple homicide.

This year, authorities said Monday, only one man was hurt, in a shooting at a hotel.

Credit more police vigilance and more responsible sport riders for reducing violence.

But the recent melee at a Texas restaurant that resulted in nine deaths, 18 injuries and more than 170 arrests is a potent reminder that thuggish motorcycle gangs are still very real - and very dangerous.

The Bandidos, one of the gangs in the Waco incident, is known for trafficking weapons and illegal drugs such as methamphetamine. It’s on the federal government’s list of known criminal organizations, alongside the Mafia and the Japanese Yakuza.

The Texas-based gang and other outlaw motorcycle organizations, such as the Hells Angels, the Mongols and the Outlaws, proudly wear the “1 percent” patch - a boast of criminality that can be traced to the American Motorcycle Association’s now infamous and decades-old assertion that “99 percent” of bikers are law-abiding citizens.

After reaching the peak of their romanticized notoriety during the 1960s and 1970s, outlaw motorcycle groups were eclipsed by violent street gangs such as the Bloods, the Crips and MS-13.

Unfortunately, as law enforcement officials know all too well, the two-wheeled criminals never rode off into the sunset.

They only seemed to gain in popularity, even as affluent Baby Boomers began to embrace motorcycle culture in the 1980s and 1990s. These days, as one saying goes, a Harley-Davidson rider is more likely someone who cleans teeth instead of knocks them out.

But that belies the criminality in a retrograde subculture that drives grown men to engage in a gun battle in the parking lot of a chain restaurant in an upscale shopping center.

These bikers aren’t weekend warriors on pleasure cruises through the countryside. They ham-handedly claim to be “clubs” of motorcycle enthusiasts that exist solely for “brotherhood” and “fellowship.” Nobody should be fooled by their PR stunts, such as participation in charity events.

“They want to compare themselves to Shriners or some frat group,” Steve Cook, a Kansas City, Mo., police detective and motorcycle gang expert told The Waco Tribune. “Shriners don’t sit around and ingest meth and get in shootouts in public venues. These guys are gangsters, and if they say they aren’t, they’re lying.”

The franchisor of the Twin Peaks restaurant brand rightfully revoked the franchise in Waco, where management ignored repeated warnings from the corporate office and local police about catering to biker gangs.

Of course, not every member of an outlaw biker gang is a bona-fide criminal. Many gangs are said to be recruiting members who specifically don’t have criminal records. But we can’t vigorously defend anyone who would self-identify as an “Outlaw” or a “Pagan” as an upstanding and virtuous member of society, and that goes for the 62-year-old retired police detective and Bandido affiliate who was one of the 170 arrested in the Waco incident.

But not all two-wheeled troublemakers belong to outlaw gangs, whose ranks are typically filled with mostly older men on “cruiser”-style bikes and choppers.

It’s unfortunate that hooliganism reinforces the stereotype of bikers as violent goons. Most motorcyclists do not belong to clubs, and the few who do mostly belong to loosely organized groups formed around a particular brand, such as BMW or Norton, or a shared identity, such as being Christians or military veterans. They’re socially responsible and civically active. Police officers and firefighters worldwide belong to respected clubs that include several Georgia and South Carolina chapters.

The best thing the law-abiding public can do - bikers and non-bikers alike - is to stop romanticizing the worst aspects of biker-gang culture, and repudiate those gangs’ criminal behaviors whenever and wherever they manifest.



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