Gen. Burwell "B.B." Bell and his wife, Katie, retired to our community 11 years ago. He was commander of U.S. forces in Korea, and the couple could have moved anywhere in the world. After 39 years of service to their country, however, they were ready to come home.
Gen. Bell grew up in Oak Ridge, where his father was an engineer on the Manhattan Project. He was accepted to larger universities, but he visited the University of Chattanooga and fell in love — first with the university and then with Kathleen (Katie) Fields. "When she walked into the student center, I thought she was the prettiest girl I had ever seen," he shared, "and she still is."
The spark between them grew, but Katie's father turned down his request to marry his daughter. He had a four-year commitment as an Army officer upon graduation, and her father didn't want his daughter thousands of miles away. The future general explained he had no intention of becoming a career military officer and assured him they would return to Chattanooga in four years. God had different plans. He did well as a junior officer, and Katie enjoyed life as an Army wife, so it was Katie who called after four years to tell her parents, "Not yet!"
It is easy to see why he excelled: He has a presence that demands attention and he is an exceptionally clear thinker. He focuses laser-like on the question: What is good for the United States?
He is a lifetime member of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, an assembly of leaders from industry, academia, the military and government which studies major issues that impact our country and suggests strategies to our leaders. Given his experience with that group, plus 39 years at the highest levels of military leadership, his insight into national affairs is surpassed by few.
Gen. Bell perceives our major threat, not in military terms, but in economic terms. After World War II, we were the economic engine that attempted to rebuild the world. We succeeded. The problem today is those nations we graciously helped through trade deals and defense protection are now threatening our own nation and future Americans.
How? Gen. Bell answers using his "seven-dollar toaster" analogy. We buy seven-dollar toasters made in sweat shops in China. In our country, we cannot produce seven-dollar toasters, so our toaster manufacturing jobs went to those countries with whom we established trade deals. Over time, this led to huge trade imbalances as our manufacturing base and our dollars flowed out of the U.S.
Consider this: The Chinese government covers its entire military budget with money from the trade deficit with the United States. We spend 4% of our GDP for defense, while it essentially spends 0%. Our desire for seven-dollar toasters and other cheap goods versus our own manufactured goods is funding the entire Chinese military build-up. Thus, he solidly supports President Trump's policies to correct trade imbalances.
The second serious problem we face is the dissolution of the family unit in America. The family is where children learn basic values, respect and responsibility; it is the core of a free society. Those values were once bolstered by the Bible and codified in the Ten Commandments and Jesus' teachings. No longer. Until our nation embraces the principles of the Christian faith that our Founding Fathers held dear, the family as a core element of our society will continue to dissolve, and our social fabric will suffer accordingly.
Those are serious problems, but Gen. Bell believes Americans will rise to the occasion. We've faced difficult challenges and succeeded before, and we will again. We can all use a dose of such sound patriotism.
Roger Smith, a local author, is a frequent contributor to the Times Free Press.