Four Mothers

 

Here’s to all the mothers in my life:

  • To Ruth, without whom I would have no life, nor love of words and books, I suspect.
  • To Dorothy, who gave me opportunities and aggravation, though not in equal measure.
  • To Nancy, for all you did, all you gave, and all you put up with; and also for bringing forth three baby women into the world.
  • To Kate, who has always brought sunlight into my life, and who brought Max into all our lives, and who will soon bring forth a new, wee companion for Max.

I love you all, ladies, both the quick and the dead.  My life is better for having you in it.

Besos y abrazos …

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Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation

A lot of abuse is being heaped upon the heads of Baby Boomers these days.  If most of the abuse-heapers were Republicans, then perhaps I could write it off as coming from people who will need a new reason for the supposed bedevilment and ruination of America, since Obama will be leaving office in about eight months.  Such does not, however, seem to be the case.

I notice this abuse because, having been born in late 1947, I am at the leading edge of that segment of American society.  Leading edge, but not a leader; much less a formulator of Boomer philosophy or lifestyle (whatever that actually means).

As it happens, yesterday, 4 May, was the forty-sixth anniversary of the killing of students at Kent State University by nervous National Guard troops (so much for a well-regulated militia).  Forty or fifty anti-war protesters had gathered on the campus, as had a couple of hundred student on-lookers.  Things got out of control, or a kid in a uniform with a loaded rifle got scared, and people died.

I didn’t hear about this right away, because in May 1970 I was a twenty-two-year-old kid in a uniform with a loaded weapon, trudging to and fro across the rice paddy and tree line landscape of Quảng Ngãi province, Việt Nam.  The same thing that happened in Ohio could’ve happened to me, though.  Actually, it did happen, two years earlier and some ten miles away, at a place called Sơn Mỹ by the Vietnamese, and known to us as Mỹ Lai.

I wasn’t involved in either tragedy: the Kent State student killings or the Mỹ Lai massacre.  Nonetheless, I and others of my generation were touched and influenced by what happened at those two places, two years and ten thousand miles apart.

Unlike almost all of the men in my infantry company in Việt Nam, I had dropped out of college in 1968 and volunteered for the Army.  I’ve written a lot, here and elsewhere, about why I did that, but for now let me just say that I was idealistic and patriotic.  I saw the war in Việt Nam as my generation’s war, and I felt compelled to help fight it.  I felt an obligation, in fact, and nothing in my white, male, middle class, suburban Texas upbringing did anything to dissuade me from that.

I suspect that the anti-war protesters at Kent State that spring were also idealistic and patriotic (like young Bernie Sanders supporters are now).  They loved their country, and were trying to do something to halt a great injustice.

The fact that, nine months into my year in Việt Nam, I decided to oppose the war by refusing to go to the field, and the fact that innocent people were killed at Kent State, does nothing to tarnish the idealism and patriotism of either me or the anti-war protesters of forty-six years ago, or the generation that we share.

While I do not fit the rapacious, self-indulgent profile of a bad Boomer, clearly there are others, many others, who do.  A great many of them are investment bankers or lawyers or, worse yet, politicians.  Well, a lot of families have children who do not grow up as you wish they had, so I can offer no apology to America for the errant behavior of such people.

Neither am I seeking a pat on the back, nor a gold star by my name, for not having gone to work for Goldman Sachs or seeking public office.  While I understand that we live in a distinctly un-nuanced age, I seek only a bit of nuance in how we look at things such as the impact a particular generation has had, and is still having, on the quality and fabric of life in America.

The record is pretty clear that my generation was scathingly critical of the generation that preceded ours:  the (annoyingly-named) Greatest Generation.  They mucked up a lot of things too, and not just the misadventure in Việt Nam.  Nevertheless, Joe McCarthy, George Wallace and Robert McNamara share that generation with John Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy, and Fr. Daniel Berrigan, among many others.

Oh, I could get all old-and-wise here, and say something like, “Well, young fella, you’ll be old someday too.”  Yeah.  Not going there.  Rather, I will leave you with the words of a song that came out in 1965, the year I graduated high school.

 

People try to put us down
Just because we get around
Things they do look awful cold

I hope I die before I get old

This is my generation
This is my generation, baby

Why don’t you all fade away
And don’t try to dig what we all say
I’m not trying to cause a big sensation
I’m just talkin’ ’bout my generation

This is my generation
This is my generation, baby

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Hooked

The war will never leave me.  I suppose I should’ve realized this sooner, but the burden of war has a cumulative effect.  It slowly reasserts itself as the years go by, when it becomes safer to think about it. Or so you think.

It never becomes safer to think about, though.  The reality of war, the reality of having gone to it, having survived it, having known people who did not survive it (or did not survive the peace, because of the damage inflicted during the war) – all those things never fade.  Never.  They will always be there.  They will always be with me and all the other men who went to that war, and everyone who has been to every war since.  Men and women who slogged around in the countryside, and became brutalized and traumatized and deeply wounded in ways no one else but us can see.

I’d like to think I could pick out a combat veteran in a crowd, especially an Iraq or Afghanistan vet, because with them, the raw pain is still very close to the surface.  Maybe not even beneath the surface.  On the other hand, I might mistake a heroin junkie for a vet, because the dark hollowness around the eyes, the lingering, aching emptiness within, all look and feel much the same from the outside.

I got my fix in Viet Nam, every time some son of a bitch took a shot at us, or someone hit a booby trap, or we walked into an ambush.  Not many months in, and I was hooked.  The ecstasy of a firefight cannot be understood by someone who has not experienced the fire and lead orgasm of screaming pain and anger that just pours out of you through the barrel of your weapon, blasting fear, blasting tiredness and loneliness, giving you a sense of joy and power and fucking white hot revenge for every ill ever done you.

I don’t know.  Maybe my analogy is all off.  I’ve never done heroin, I’ve just done war.  And the war did me.  Yes it did.  It did me real well.   But it didn’t throw me aside afterwards, the way heroin does with some people.  No, it had burrowed so deeply within me, that for many long years I didn’t even realize it was still there.  But it is.  It’s been there since that day in November 1969 when an AK-47 round flew my way for the first of many times.  The war is still there, and it will never end, and it will never let me go.  No matter how many words I write, no matter how many ill-fated loves I fall into in hopes of finding joy and ecstasy again, no matter how many days accumulate between then and now, I will never be free of it.

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Try and Catch the Wind

 

Trying to connect with her was like trying to lasso the wind, and like the wind, she was there, but not there.  Sometimes what we felt with and for each other was gale force.  Other times, there was barely a breeze to relieve an oppressively hot day.

But she wasn’t a weather system, or a high pressure zone, or a tropical depression – she was a woman, and her abrupt and inexplicable withdrawal left a hole in the middle of my life, and in my heart.  The hole is larger than I thought, especially relative to the duration of our relationship.  Only half a year.  And it was only the first 4/6ths of it that were really, really good.  Then the long, slow downward slide began.

Was it the anti-depressants she was taking?  Or was it the depression itself?  Or, was it fear on her part?  A fear of reality, perhaps, and connection, and love, with everything that four-letter word means, both actually and potentially.

When she said to me, early on, that she’s a serial monogamist, I thought the emphasis was on the second word of that phrase.  Instead, the emphasis was on the first word.  Maybe she had an exit plan all along, and regardless of how intensely she felt love for me, regardless of how open and real and genuine it all was, we ran up against her self-imposed deadline, and that was it – party over.

The party’s been over for two and a half months now, and I can see how it’s going to be for me: every other woman, every other twinge of love, every other night spent entwined beneath the sheets, will be compared to her, to the twinges of love I felt for her, and to those entwined hours she and I shared.  It will fade eventually, that  seemingly unrequitable longing, and I suppose that will be a good thing for me, to say nothing of whomever else I am trying to forge a relationship with.  It will fade, and that will be good, but there is a hole deep within me that may never completely close up, nor heal.  I won’t treasure that unhealed piece of me, I won’t cling to it like a pathetic emotional raft, but I will remember.  I will always remember.

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National We Got the Hell Out Day

 

Yesterday, 29 March, was National Viet Nam Veterans’ Day.  I had no idea such a thing existed.  You may wonder, as I did, why it’s on 29 March.

29 March 1973 is the day that the last American combat troops were pulled out of Viet Nam.  The last prisoners of war held in North Viet Nam arrived on American soil on that same day.  It’s also the date President Nixon chose for the first Vietnam Veterans Day in 1974 (more about Nixon presently).

I suppose that, for those of us who are veterans of the Viet Nam War, 29 March is our equivalent of World War Two’s VE Day or VJ Day, except VVN Day doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue quite as easily as the other two acronyms.

More important than the sound of it is the meaning of it.  The first V is supposed to stand for Victory, but there was no victory in Viet Nam for the United States.  There wasn’t even a stalemate, as in Korea.  (In case you’re wondering, 27 July is National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day.)

What were we doing in Viet Nam anyway, from 8 March 1965 to 29 March 1973 (the period of our direct, large-unit combat involvement)?  I don’t mean what were we doing.  From my year as an infantryman in Viet Nam I can attest rather well to that.  No, I mean, what were we doing there?  What larger purpose did we serve?  What did eight years and over 58,000 American deaths (and many more Vietnamese, Lao and Khmer deaths) purchase for America, or for the noble cause of democracy?

Well, the war propped up a notoriously corrupt South Vietnamese government.  Then, sixteen months before the Marines landed at Da Nang in 1965, we – the American government, in the form of the CIA – colluded with military officers in South Vietnam to overthrow and murder the president of that country, Ngô Đình Diệm, and his younger brother, Ngô Đình Nhu.

What else?  We dropped more explosives on South-East Asia than was done to Europe during all of World War Two.  We indiscriminately sprayed an awful herbicide on thousands of acres of Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia, denuding forests, polluting streams and rivers, and engendering all manner of illnesses in locals and Americans alike.

The war, the protests against the war, and the disarray of the Democratic Party, ensured the election of Richard M. Nixon in 1968.  I do not count this as a positive thing, and not just because of Nixon’s paranoid delusions and illegal activities.  America has survived all that.  Cambodia, on the other hand, is still suffering and trying to recover from Nixon’s decision to send B-52’s and American ground troops into that country in 1970, a decision that threw Cambodia into chaos and laid the groundwork for the Khmer Rouge to take over in 1975.  The Khmer Rouge’s legacy, and by extension Richard Nixon’s legacy, and by further extension America’s legacy, is one of mass dislocations (the entire population of Phnom Penh was forced into the countryside), millions murdered, a beautiful and peaceful people brutalized and ground down by their fellow countrymen.  Some legacy, that.

We did not make the world safe for democracy.  No dominos fell.  No, we went, we destroyed, and we left.  Based upon that, I think a better name for this day (which is, after all, not a holiday like Armistice Day or Memorial Day) is We Got the Hell Out Day.

Doesn’t that seem more accurate?  I think so.  We saw no parades yesterday, no fly-overs, no paeans to the men and women who served and who died.  Oh, the Secretaries of Defense and Veteran Affairs went to the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, D.C., and laid a wreath in honor of Vietnam veterans and Vietnam Veterans Memorial Day.  There was a nice ribbon across the wreath that read “A Grateful Nation Remembers.”  (Does the nation remember?  Is the nation grateful?  If so, for what exactly is it grateful?)  After the wreath was placed in front of the wall, the Secretaries put Vietnam Veteran Lapel Pins (officially released by the government in July 2015) on the lapels of a few gathered veterans.  Haven’t heard about the lapel pins either?  Neither had I.

It’s probably just as well there were no parades or fly-overs.  If one more person thanks me for my service in Viet Nam, I will either throw up or scream.  Maybe both.   “Thank you for your service” is a bumper sticker platitude uttered by people who mean well – I honestly believe they do – but who, luckily for them, have no real idea what combat veterans endured in Viet Nam, or Iraq, or Afghanistan, and even less of an idea as to why we were there and why it didn’t work.

I’d like to suggest a substitute phrase for those who feel compelled to say something upon meeting someone who has been in a war.  Here it is:  “I’m so sorry you endured such traumatic experiences.”  If you’re feeling motivated to say more, you could add, “I cannot possibly understand what that was like for you, but if you ever want to talk about it, I will listen.”

It won’t fit on a bumper sticker (like the vacuous “Support the Troops”), but it’s much more real and honest.  Think about that on the next National We Got the Hell Out Day.

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Rioting Around the Tree of Liberty

Scottie Nell Hughes thinks that riots “aren’t necessarily a bad thing.”

Besides being a rabid Tea Partier, and a darling of right-wingnut television and talk radio, her credentials for making this pronouncement also include, according to her, being the granddaughter of one of the men who organized the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.  You know – the one where the whole world was watching.  Also according to her, if her granddad were still with us, he’d be proud of the fact that she’s supporting Donald Trump.

Maybe he would, and maybe he wouldn’t.  We’ll have to take Scottie Nell Hughes’ word for it, since granddad isn’t around to verify or dispute her contention.  If true, then when it comes to apples not falling far from their trees, I guess she’s the exception that proves the rule.

The interview took place on CNN yesterday (Wednesday, 16 March 2016), while Ms. Hughes was being interviewed by Wolf Blitzer.  When Mr. Blitzer expressed surprise at her comment, she elaborated (all quotes below are from articles on CNN.com and TheBlaze.com; the italics are mine):

“ ‘It’s not riots as in a negative thing,’ Hughes said.  ‘What we’ve seen — it’s the fact that you have a large amount of people that will be very unhappy.  I don’t sit there and think they’d resort to — in fact, I know they would not resort to violence.  I know they would not do it.  However, they would make sure their voices are heard.  That they can’t be ignored.’”

Mr. Blitzer asked her if she really wants riots to emerge from the Republican convention in Cleveland.

“‘I don’t consider riots to be a violent thing,’ Hughes said. ‘I consider it to be something where you have the majority of the people will be engaged and will be paying attention to what is going on.’ ”

I for one am deeply reassured that she is certain no violence would take place during these non-negative riots.  And it’s certainly true that, in a riot, the people are engaged – in throwing rocks, looting, setting fires, et cetera.  Whether they’re paying attention to what’s going on is another matter.

Be honest with me (and yourself):  Have you ever seen a positive riot?  What would that look like?  Girl Scouts fending off out-of-control cookie buyers by swatting them with their little green sashes?  Hare Krishnas driving the Tea Party Republicans from the land, à la St. Patrick and the snakes, with their cymbals and their incense and their flowers?  Because I have to say, there was nothing positive about the confrontations at the cancelled Trump rally in Chicago the other day.  Or the African-American man who got punched in the stomach by a Trump supporter at another rally.

The CNN interview and Ms. Hughes’ comments came in the aftermath of some things The Donald had said earlier in the day.  He was speaking about the possibility of a brokered (read, contested) Republican National Convention.  He said that by the time the convention was convened, if he had more delegates than the other remaining candidates, and if he did not then get the nomination, “‘I think you’d have riots.  I think you’d have riots,’ Trump said Wednesday on CNN’s ‘New Day.’  ‘I’m representing a tremendous many, many millions of people.’”

Yes he is:  millions and millions of angry, fearful, aging white people.

Oh sure, there are others who support The Donald.  A group of Muslims have put up a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/Muslims-for-Trump-1676586042564566/).  They’re using a hashtag of  #‎makeamericagreatagaininshallah.  Seriously.  You cannot make up things like this.

Muslims for Trump (MfT) makes about as much sense as (and perhaps even less sense than) the Log Cabin Republicans.  Come on … the Republicans don’t love you, LGBTQIA people!  They don’t love Muslims, either.

Actually, there is an exception to that.  They love Muslims, LGBTQIAs, Latinos, African-Americans, and Socialists every four years, on the first Tuesday in November – but only if you vote for the Republican candidates.

One comment on the MfT Facebook page, from a woman of distinctly white European descent (I have omitted her photograph and name in the interest of protecting the stupid), reads, “I just want to say thank you to whoever started this page. Trump is the only candidate for 9-11 truth. Thousands of Muslims who were not responsible for 9-11 have been killed as a byproduct of this false war started by the globalist new world order.”

While the first part of her last sentence is true (“Thousands of Muslims …”), the latter part (“… globalist new world order.”) is not.  I think this sort of comment is attributable to one of three things:

  1. Efforts by the American education system to teach critical thinking are an abject failure.
  2. The Texas State Board of Education has too much influence over which text books American schools use (see #1 above).
  3. It’s because of the fluoride in the drinking water!  (Fringe conservatives have been trying to warn us about this for decades, but did we listen?)

I am reminded now of a fake Time Magazine cover that came out just after George W. Bush was “elected” in November 2000 (yes, the quotes are on purpose, and if you were paying attention that year, you know why).  Here’s the cover:

 W fukked

Were The Donald to actually get elected to the presidency later this year (May Allāh Protect Us!), you could substitute his face for W’s and this would still be relevant.

Thomas Jefferson wrote that “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”  Perhaps so, but he left us with no clear guidance as to how to tell the difference between the patriots and the tyrants.

 

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The Duce of New York City

“… and for the life of me I could not quite comprehend what hidden springs he undoubtedly unloosed in the hysterical mob which was greeting him so wildly.”

— William L. Shirer, Berlin Diary

 

You may be tired of hearing the analogies being made between Donald Trump and Adolph Hitler (though the strutting and the uplifted chin and the theatrics remind me more of Mussolini than Hitler).  You may wish the whole circus would fold up and slink away in the night (and who can blame you?).  You may be a supporter of The Donald, and you’re really, really angry about the condition of the country and the condition of your paycheck.  You may even consider yourself a member of the Silent Majority (a term I thought we buried along with the Nixon presidency).  I’ve seen those signs lately, in videos of Trump rallies:  “The Silent Majority Stands With Trump.”  They’re all professionally printed, by the way, not hand made.

A great many of us used to think Trump was merely a buffoon, incapable of being a serious politician.  Some of us still think so.  It’s instructive to recall that a lot of people, powerful politicians and businessmen, thought Hitler was a buffoon in the 1920’s, and that if he ever came to power, they could control him.  The great fear now raging through the supposedly establishment component of the Republican Party is that they have realized they can control neither Mr. Trump nor the people voting for him.

Trump’s willful ignorance or rearranging of facts; his inflammatory statements about Muslims, Mexicans, and Meghyn Kelly; and his increasingly authoritarian rhetoric, are all bad enough.  The scenes from Chicago last evening at a subsequently-cancelled Trump rally are another matter, as was Trump’s response to it.

When I saw video of what arguably was an incipient riot, I thought first of another riot in Chicago; the one that took place during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.  Large numbers of mostly young people had come to the city to protest against the war in Viet Nam, and LBJ’s unrelenting prosecution of it.  On the night of 28 August, thousands of protesters who had peacefully gathered in Grant Park were brutally attacked by several thousand Chicago policemen.  It was later said that, watching footage of the riot on their televisions that night and the next day, is when many people decided to vote for Richard Nixon in the up-coming election, an election Nixon won in a landslide.

In 1968, people saw the violence, and the obvious disarray in the Democratic Party, as a reason to vote Republican.  In 2016, the violence on display yesterday (in both St. Louis and Chicago), and the disarray in the Republican Party, will be interpreted by many as proof of everything that Donald Trump is saying and insinuating, thus increasing their determination to vote for him in the coming primaries, hoping thereby to increase their chances of being able to vote for him in November.

In 1968, protesters were attacked by cops.  In 2016, they’re attacked by Trump supporters.  In 1968, Mayor Richard Daly unapologetically supported the actions of his police department.  In 2016, Trump apologized without actually doing so, claimed he was rescheduling the rally to avoid violence and injuries, and then cast himself as a victim.  “You can’t even have a rally in this country anymore,” he said.  This, from the man who not long ago said he’d like to punch a protester in the face.  This from the man who quite recently defended one of his supporters who did in fact punch a protester.

I have written elsewhere that in 1968, the year I dropped out of college and volunteered for the Army, it looked like America was coming apart at the seams.  Forty-eight years later, it looks that way again.

Ron Paul liked to talk about a revolution, and Bernie Sanders is actively talking about a political revolution in America.  Meanwhile, Donald Trump is creating a revolution, by harnessing the anger of millions of mostly white working and middle class people who have felt left out and left behind for a very long time.  It is only now, however, that they have found someone who is willing to articulate that anger and turn it into a political weapon.  All of this makes me wonder:  How far are we now, from our own Kristallnacht?

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