This will appear in The Gazette, Farmerville, Louisiana, USA Week of 10/13/2014

There has been a lot of confusion recently as to what the American government is prepared to do to support American citizens overseas. The decision to support a specific issue is mired in various agreements between governments, American law and moral considerations that are a part of our culture.
In 1976 an American mercenary was executed in Angola for fighting for an opposition force that was attempting to overthrow the government. We discussed this in the Officer Candidate School I was attending at the time as we debated the law that Americans lose citizenship if they go to fight for a cause that America does not support. This has led to a lifetime of confusion of foreign affairs as I see American’s fighting for ISIS but yet no one talks of loss of citizenship for these fighters but instead talk of their ability to easily re-enter America. I remembered hearing how America has an embargo against Iran yet watched an American off sore drill rig drilling in Iranian waters until it blew out and then heard of American pumps being loaded on crew boats in Bahrain and sent to the rig in Iranian waters. In this case parts were not being sold to Iran but the parts supported the Iranian governments’ ability to support their oil program and thus their economy. I have watched as our government exchanges terrorist for an accused deserter while the government sat back and never sent support to a beleaguered group in Libya and then hear of Americans being beheaded yet a mother’s request to ransom her son brought the Government to her house to inform her she is breaking the law and she could possibly be prosecuted. While these messages send such a mixed bag of confusion and in some situations smack us in the face of everything we thought was pure and good about our country, this is not new. This is not a part of current affairs or current political workings. It has been with us for generations. What has changed is our ability to communicate these situations in a timely manner.
In 1932 Bolivia and Paraguay went to war over an area called the Chaco. At risk was losing what was thought to be a vast area of oil. South American countries were carved out of wars and revolutions and boundaries were continually disputed. This happened with the boundary of Bolivia and Paraguay in the Chaco region. There had been several conflicts since the 1880s but these poor countries had little access to modern weapons and thus skirmishes were small in comparison to what the European world would witness. The Chaco conflict took a change in direction when it was thought to contain vast quantities of oil. The importance of controlling the area became abundantly clear. The need for arms became more important as was the need for foreign fighters to support the small Armies.
Paraguay had two former White Russian General providing support to its’ army while Bolivia had a German WWI general at its disposal. Chili had mercenary troops and leadership in the employment of the Bolivians. Britain’s’ Vickers military equipment company could not easily deliver weapons to Bolivia and thus led Britain to encourage Argentina to provide passage for the guns and ammunition. Even with the importance of oil and possible involvement of Standard Oil, an American petroleum giant and the involvement of other countries, there is little or nothing identifying direct American involvement in the Chaco conflict. This did happen as did the unfortunate consequences of requiring assistance from the American government while abroad.
A man I knew years ago told me a story about the Chaco war and America’s involvement. He had been in the marines and was recently discharged. The Great Depression was in full bloom and he was unemployed. He heard that was an opportunity for a job in New Orleans and he pursued it. There was a group hiring men to go to Bolivia and train the Bolivian Army in its’ war with Paraguay. He went to some location in New Orleans and was interviewed. The man was questioned if he could field strip and reassemble an American machine gun. He responded with a smile that he could at which time a gun was presented. Just before he began he was informed that he would have to be blindfolded. He was blindfolded and he then performed the task. The man told his new employees that he had not eaten in two days and could he have a $5.00 advance. They produced a $50.00 bill and told him to report to the New Orleans dock at mid-night. He did and was soon in Bolivia.
The war didn’t go well and the man ended up in Mexico trying to get back to the United States. He went to the American Embassy in Mexico City and said he was an American citizen and could he get help getting back to America. “We didn’t send you down there and we don’t help getting you back” was the reply from the government official. “Please leave the Embassy”. So much for no man left behind. This would have been about 1933 to 1935. Some things don’t change.

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