Friday, May 30, 2008
Thursday, May 29, 2008
My Country 'tis of..."Boom!"
Why is my country the one that always seems to favor deploying more weaponry? Why is my country parsing cluster bomb damage as only one of the many unexploded and continuing consequences of war?
If I were King, my America would be looking for ways to limit, not continue, this mayhem.
Anwaar Hussain has more at Truth Spring.
Labels: common sense
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Back to the Future
Is it just me or does John McCain look like Warren G. Harding? Except that the latter looks better for being 16 years younger in the portrait than St. John is now, sitting in that SUV with Cindy who these days is just shy of Gamaliel's age when he posed for the portrait.
Warren Harding is an ominous portent for a 71 year old man, especially since Harding was dead before he was 60. I think that to the extent that John McCain ever offered anything to this nation, it was eight years ago, before he signed on to the CheneyBush Shipwreck of State. Now he just wants to "never surrender", to "let America win it this time." And he is a handmaiden of corporate-military special interests. Nothing that's likely to be the change that America needs.
For what it's worth, I think Obama is the best of the Final Three. B He is of the coming generation who should have the opportunity to shape its future. McCain or Clinton is just passing generations hanging on to power well after it has become obvious that they have no real answers to the problems they leave behind. I would very much like to see a campaign that energizes young people. Obama has that potential. In a Democratic year, he could really blow the Republicans out of the water. Maybe even put to rest the "America won't vote for a non-white candidate". Even if he disappoints as president, just dismantling the Republican stranglehold on government would be a grand achievement.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
One Good Thing About Phoenix, Arizona
Bush and McCain can't fill a large venue to raise money and war hero John McCain is afraid of his own constituents. Instead they will attend to what Bush called "his base". He made the reference as a joke but the only joke is the rape of the American people. John McCain is a bit old but he will feed the military-corporate beast with our taxes and our sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers.
If these guys can't sell their Kool Aid in Phoenix, is it possible the nightmare will end?
The big Phoenix media website, azcentral.com, gives prominent play to the protests during the Bush-McCain fundraiser. The story link is on the front page and maybe a third of the 62 photos are of protests, all headlined "Bush in the Valley to campaign for McCain". Local activists managed to gather and protest the visit in two places, including what became a "McCain Free Zone" (the activists, not the media, called it that) after the convention center fundraiser was canceled.
Instead, the two Amigos went to a private fundraiser at a home in the Biltmore (a secure community with guards if not gates and four entrances, only one of which offers pedestrian access. I'm pretty sure some old friends were at the 24th Street entrance. But the best action was where neither of the two principals of the day's events was present. Street theater and silliness at the convention center with Code Pink, Billionaires for Bush, the Free Street Band and a dedicated band of activists whom I am proud to call friends. Way to go!
To see azcentral's photos of the protests, you must scroll through far too many pictures of the entire retinue. Many are quite unflattering of Bush who looks odious and pugnacious. Nice shot of Cindy McCain, dress plastered to her backside by wind as Bush leers into her for a faux kiss. If Obama needs pictures of Bush 1.0 and Bush 2.0, he can find some right here.
More Memorials and a Couple of Nazis
I ended up participating in my own quiet way in some local Memorial Day activity. I was out on my bicycle running an errand and decided to ride by the State Capitol to get in a few extra miles on a pleasant day. I’d read something about an event at the Washington Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Capitol grounds and figured that today would be a good day to locate that site. Capitol Way was decked with flags all the way through town. So were the entry approaches to the Capitol campus. My route took me by the World War Memorial just as two Nazis—brown shirts, red armband with a black swastika in a white circle—crossed the walk way in front of me. They had apparently just left the Vietnam Veterans Memorial just to the south. Beyond onlookers’ stares, they didn’t create much of a commotion as they passed by.
The World War (that's what the inscription reads) Memorial is a pretty classic piece of romantic imagery: a sailor, soldier, Marine and nurse, all striding beneath Winged Victory. Each man carries a rifle on his shoulder; the nurse wears starched cap, great coat and boots. I like that the memorial includes a woman. It’s all too easy to think that women serving in war are a new phenomenon. They have always served. Normally, I’m not taken with this kind of memorial but I make an exception for The Great War (now known as World War I) because the era still had some reason to believe that the world was done with war, however incorrect that conclusion was. After reading about America’s determined amnesia regarding WW I, I was sorry I did not have a flower to place there.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is located about 100 meters south, just to the east of the Capitol Building itself. On this day, most activity was centered there. The memorial is reminiscent the one in the Other Washington: names etched in black granite by year. Like the national memorial, this one is built into the ground, in this case a hillside. The top of the granite undulates with the topography and the wall gently arcs into the hillside, creating a subtle grotto in the shade of large trees that were probably standing when these soldiers went to war. Flowers, wreaths and remembrances lay at the base of the wall. I look at names for 1971 but don’t recognize any. I knew guys from Washington, none of whom died. That changes nothing for the ones who did. The last few years’ names fit on one row; 1967, 1968 and 1969 names spill across multiple panels. Groups of Vietnam veterans, South Vietnamese veterans and others mill around, many in uniform or veteran regalia. I had not thought to wear any regalia for a bike ride; I wish I had a Veterans For Peace t-shirt and Combat Infantry Badge. Instead, I just I stood, reading names. A speaker was playing recorded music. I think it was vaguely anti-war but I pretty much tuned it out along with everything and everybody else. I saluted and walked out of the memorial area.
My bike was lying on the ground beside the sidewalk. A Washington State Patrol bicycle (unlike mine, with kickstand) was parked on the walk and the trooper on foot nearby. A woman was talking to him about the Nazis. He said that the Nazis did not have a permit for any gathering but he could not stop them from being on the premises. He also told her he was the only officer on the grounds as he began walking in the direction the Nazis had taken, speaking into his radio. I asked the woman if she had seen the Nazis. She had not but heard they were there. I suggested they were simply there “to pay their respects”. (*) I’m not sure what kind of reception the Nazis received. They did not appear disheveled or molested when they crossed my path earlier.
Many of the vets wore fatigue shirts or uniforms. A few came in full dress uniform, including and elderly Marine lieutenant and a very, very high ranking Air Force NCO (lots of stripes but I never learned AF enlisted insignia). I saw some cavalry hats in the crowd. One stood next to me at the wall but all I know is he was wearing the hat. As I headed back out to the street, I spotted another cavalry hat on an older gentleman in a blue blazer and tie, wearing black and yellow insignia that turned out to be First Cavalry. I recognized his battalion crest—2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry, my own. He served in Korea. I wished him well and we continued in our different directions.
The woman I spoke with mentioned the World War II memorial on the north side of the Capitol grounds. It was on my route. Turning on to 11th Avenue, I saw a gaggle of police vehicles and the two Nazis. More police were near the WW II memorial, all the more reason to stop in and see what’s going on. Not a great deal. Most of the police--, Olympia and State Patrol—were mostly just watching. A state patrol trooper was standing with the Nazis and some plainclothes officers from an unmarked car were approaching them.
The WW II memorial is two metal sculptures set into a linear perspective that at once conveys a wide scope of the conflict and simplicity, a pretty neat trick. One sculpture is a field of “wheat”: metal stalks with grain-like blossoms, each about four feet tall, maybe 300 in all, mostly rust color. They produce sound when the wind blows not just any wind will do it; they are pretty sturdy. The field is an irregular shaped oblong, landscaped with plants and stones naming the many campaigns of the war. Opposite the field are five metal panels radiating from a central point about six feet in diameter. Each panel is maybe two (three?) inches thick and 10 to 12 feet high. Their profile is a vertical panel, rounded at the top and slightly higher on the inside. The panels are etched, creating silhouettes of soldiers, both indistinct and very real. On closer inspection, the silhouettes are the names of Washington dead. It’s a very well done piece of public art, far better in its simplicity than the one in the Other Washington, yet in no way does it miss anything about WW II.
Washington's World War I memorial is a pretty good reminder of how America did remember that war even as it disappeared from the national consciousness. Cities, towns, counties and states all erected monuments to their dead. Richmond has its Memorial Carillon in Byrd Park. Giles County, Virginia has a monument to its dead in front of the court house. Arizona has a monument to it’s most prominent WW I casualty, Bill Luke. Those are just the few I that I know personally. I can guarantee many more exist. So the nation did not forget entirely. People still remembered their friends and kin who sacrificed but they missed the lesson of modern war’s destruction and futility.
A century later, after embracing and remembering subsequent wars, we still ignore that fundamental lesson.
(*) Today's Olympian reports that members of the American Nazi Party were protesting America's support of "the Zionist occupation of Palestine". The story also refers to "a disturbance" and notes no injuries or arrests.
Monday, May 26, 2008
Memorial Day Pluggery
[This is a repost from 2006. It came to mind as I thought about Memorial Day and all that it represents: the good, the bad, the ugly--all of it, without window dressing. It's also appropriate since today's first post has a link that answers the question in the original about a World War I national monument in Washington, DC.]
Last week I visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. The visit is my fourth, the first since 1988 and earlier visits in 1986 and 1983. I visit because the memorial remembers for me the war I fought. Those names are the fate that so easily could have been mine. At the Wall I imagine my life not lived. I recall the many friends, places, joys, sorrows and adventures that would not happen. Death in war leaves gaping holes in a nation, in life itself. I go to remember that lesson.
Following the path through the memorial is a linear metaphor for the war. My friend, Pat Doyle, and I enter from the east, walking into the glare and reflection of a late afternoon sun. The wall starts out very small, ankle-high. It grows as we descend. A few names to start, more and more with each panel. Now the panels are at eye level and soon they tower over us at the wall’s apex. Names and black granite taper to the horizon in each direction. Those many, many names seem to flow to this center. Here we are deep in the war, feeling its encompassing weight. We ascend toward the west, the wall diminishing with each step. Emerging from war. I feel a sense of relief that it’s over, that the war is behind me.
At the west entrance, I look back to see a simple form that commands attention. The black granite flows and moves, carving a small space for remembrance. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial works for me because of its simplicity. Names only. No rank. No service. No heroes. Just dead soldiers, the missing pieces of so many families. The memorial is a quiet honor. A martial statement would be out of place for the Vietnam war.
Visiting the memorial is not a cathartic or highly emotional experience for me. It has meaning, though. It recalls a tragic period for my nation that affected me very personally. These honored dead are my comrades. Like them, I served but I was fortunate enough to return. I feel a bit guilty that the spirits favored me and not them. I spot Deacon’s name high on Panel 4-W. I remember the day he died on that mountain. But mostly I am saddened by the war’s losses, America’s and Vietnam’s. Other than a salute, I give little outward sign of what The Wall and the war it memorializes means to me.
The memorial is busy but not crowded. My last two visits were after dark, only a few were there. Today I am among the late August tourists, visiting in a time of war and national frustration. A young Asian couple pose for photographs at the apex. For them the memorial is just another destination. They don’t seem particularly cognizant of the dead, just getting the picture. A visitor asks about the panel numbers and I explain how the memorial is organized. A large crowd of Chinese tourists follow a guide holding aloft a folded umbrella.
Pat and I head for the Korean War Memorial. The sculpture of a poncho-clad infantry patrol is visible at a distance. Up close, the figures are white-gray, with minimal detail. The stainless steel forms lean into their steps. Heads turn, scanning for danger. Ponchos flap in an eternal breeze. Faces and rifles are smooth–just enough size, shape and detail for definition. The eyes look vacant. The scene is haunting; it feels wet, foggy and cold even on this bright summer afternoon. The haunted, cold feeling seems right, given the nature the Korean War and the 53 year stalemate that has followed it. Behind the sculpture is a black granite wall, etched with scenes from the war. At this distance the images are sharp and clear. Closer, they are more abstract, also appropriate for this inconclusive war. In front of the sculpture, to the east, is a reflecting pool, a small gentle waterfall and war statistics. The overall feeling to me is hardship and sacrifice borne by a few in an uncertain cause. As John Prine sings, “We lost Davy in the Korean War/And I still don’t know what for, don’t matter anymore.”
No uncertainty lurks at the World War II Memorial. It is brash, big and all encompassing. Much like the war it memorializes. Columns, arches, bas-reliefs, inscriptions, winged figures and laurel wreathes surround a shallow amphitheater with a reflecting pool and fountains arcing water into the pool. The entrance opens to the east, the Washington Monument and in the distance, the Capitol dome. The north side celebrates victory in the Atlantic-European theater, the south side celebrates Victory in the Pacific-Asia theater. It feels as if everything that could be incorporated into a memorial was incorporated here. The memorial is very busy–all that’s missing are a calliope and dancing bears.
I mean no disrespect when I say that but the scale and ambition of the World War II Memorial invites over-reaction. To me, at least. That may be a remnant of the hostility I felt toward veterans of this war, comfortably perched on the bar stools at VFW and American Legion posts, sending my generation to war in Vietnam. I resented them for putting me at risk for no good reason. My feelings toward these veterans only mellowed years later when I saw Edward Steichen’s photographs of naval operations in the Pacific. The photos showed these veterans to me as I was in my war–young, scared, determined. The images helped me see our common bond. Their support for the Vietnam War in the 1960's was simply part of who they were, the experiences that forged them.
Snark and memories aside, the World War II Memorial is appropriate. If Vietnam and Korea rate expression on the National Mall, then should not the incomparable effort of WWII? And I don’t think you can understate that effort. Nothing at this memorial is understated. Everything is there. My biggest objection to the memorial was that it would break up the mall, making large scale gatherings like the 1963 Civil Rights March or the 1969 Moratorium impossible. After walking the Mall and seeing the memorial, I think any mass demonstration would just engulf the memorial for the duration. It looked to me that plenty of space remains.
Returning to Vietnam Memorial, we locate the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, which is . part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and located in a nearby copse of trees. It is a sculpture of three women tending a wounded soldier. One cradles him, another kneels behind and the third looks skyward. My initial reaction is that it’s hokey, that the image is not real since it looks like a battlefield situation, hardly a common one for most women in Vietnam. But upon reflection, I think it works as a metaphor for women’s service in Vietnam: rescue, healing and comfort often under difficult and dangerous circumstances (See Linda Van Devanter’s Home Before Morning).
My biggest reservation about the Women’s Memorial is that it is needed at all. Women, like the rest of us veterans, are commemorated by the names on The Wall. But it’s easy to overlook their service–only eight women are among the names–hence the desire for a specific representation. I had the same reaction when the Three Soldiers statue was added. Suddenly the names had a specific image that was not always correct. So much better the abstraction of The Wall where all are individuals, equal in their sacrifice for the nation.
Pat and I make a final pass along The Wall, this time from the west. I look up two names from my hometown. In the process, I see a Navajo name and look up two other common Navajo names. We find all the names. Each recalls a memory.
Throughout the visit I wonder if a World War I memorial exists somewhere in Washington. Pat and I speculate on what a future Iraq-Afghanistan memorial will look like. Pat comments that the WWII Memorial is martial, in a way anticipating the “robust” militarism of the neo-conservatives. Maybe it’s an opportunity to counterbalance the quiet understatement of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
That would be a mistake. Vietnam sucked but it left this nation a legacy and a lesson. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a powerful reminder that war is death and loss only fully redeemed in the most extreme circumstances. We forget that lesson at our peril.
On Talking with Rogues
Last Saturday on About Face, our guest was Dr. Joseph Fahey, Director of the Peace Studies Program at Manhattan College. Among his many observations about relations among nations was the importance of communication. "Communication is the first stage of peace....Refusal to communicate is the first stage of war," he writes. During our conversation, he restated the importance of communication.
In our so-called national debate (sound bites, actually) about meeting with adversaries, we forget that that communication can take a variety of forms, including citizen initiatives such as athletic competitions, intellectual exchange and artistic celebrations. Of course, our government can severely limit even this discourse but citizens can always push the bounds and make as much contact with The Other as possible through journals, blogs and other means short of actual travel. These actions may not create the opportunities that could result from a change in national policy, but they are first steps.
Imagine, then, if a President of the United States were to seriously open communication with adversaries. The forum need not be some formal occasion, simply the exchange of ideas. That is the first big step. Communication with adversaries does not "reward their hostile [or irresponsible or whatever] behavior". Communication is part of learning to live in in peace.
Hell, even Richard Nixon started talking to the Chinese.
Labels: common sense