Tuesday, November 11, 2008

If He'd Been This Eloquent in 2004

...John Kerry would be president. He wasn't and isn't. But in 1971, Kerry was eloquently articulated America's failure to honor the service of the soldiers it sent to Vietnam. I heard his full statement on Pacifica Radio today. It's worth hearing again. I only wish that this John Kerry had run for president.

Click on the "Listen Live" link for the audio. Kerry is on between 46:33 and 41:46. The rest of the program, including the 1967 interview with retired Marine General David Shoup is exceptional.

The program I refer to comes up at the top of the homepage. If it gets updated, scroll down.


Today in Olympia

Veterans Day in Olympia has been gray and wet. Fine rain has been sweeping across the area all day, sometimes more, sometimes less but always falling and always fine. I observed the spirit of the day by remembering all those who served. I did so on my own, not as part of any organized ceremony or parade. I simply wore my jungle shirt and laid a flower at each of the memorials at the Capitol. That way I didn’t have to hear the lies and distortions that constitute this nation’s military history yet could still honor the men and women who served before and after me.

At 11:00 am I placed a flower at the base of the Winged Victory Memorial, Washington’s World War I monument. I particularly like the fact that along with the soldier, sailor and marine is a Red Cross nurse, also striding along in heavy boots under the outstretched wings of Nike, Goddess of Victory. The memorial has been recently restored to its original bronze patina and looks quite fine. It’s a romantic image from a time when the World War was simply the Great War, it did not yet have a number. After placing the flower I stood silent and recalled the many images I have seen of that war: the blasted no man’s land, the thunder of artillery, the primitive life under fire in the trenches. The war to end all wars, indeed. I am sure must have felt that way in its enormity.

But the Great War was not the end, only the first round. That’s why my second stop was the World War II Memorial. Unlike the one in Washington, DC, this memorial is both sweeping and intimate. The former is just sweeping. This one captures the scale of the effort with monumental panels a sea of metal wheat stalks.. The panels carry the names of the state’s war dead in the silhouettes of soldiers. The shapes are not instantly recognizable; they sort of sneak up on the viewer. The panels loom large but the shapes and names give them impact. So do the wheat stalks; they conjure the image of the massed forces that confronted one of history’s most dangerous regimes. My father, three uncles and one aunt served in that war. I stand in the rain and recall the many veterans of this war I have known in my life. And even though that war t was a very large part of my history as a child, I can barely grasp its enormity; I can only comprehend it in the terms of the many individual battles that somehow all came together in a decisive victory.

Washington’s Korean War Memorial is somewhat removed from the other, across Capitol Way among the large bunker-like state office buildings. Like Winged Victory, the Korean War memorial uses figures to represent the feel of the conflict. Unlike Winged Victory, the message is not romantic hope but sheer endurance. The sculpture is rich in detail all the way to the Zippo lighter and boot tracks in the mud around the hoped for warming fire these poncho-clad figures hope for. On a wet day the raindrops dripping from their helmets and ponchos put me right with them in that difficult camp. E

Back across Capitol Way, I come to my last stop, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a very subdued monument much like the one in the other Washington. Names and black granite. The names stretch across the years from 1963 to 1975. This is my war. These are my comrades. The honor here is individual honor, not national. My war offers little to celebrate except its end. I do not feel any sense of accomplishment or achievement, only wonder at the courage and willingness of those who served and sadness at the betrayal of all that sacrifice in pursuit of a lie. I doubt if any or even most, of the men whose names are inscribed here thought their war was a lie. That is my own personal demon, the demon that is only tamed when I speak against war. I leave a flower on the ledge below the names in memory of all who served, under whatever circumstances, the ones I knew and the many others I did not.

I have one flower left and I leave it on the ledge under the panel for 1971, my year in the war, partly for my comrades but equally for all the future veterans of future wars. I give a final salute and walk away.

By this time I am pretty wet even though I am well layered for the occasion. Before leaving I walk to the Capitol Rotunda where some official observance is going on. At the door, an honor guard of is standing casually wearing black uniforms with white bootlaces. They nod in response to my “good morning”. Inside, more a small crowd is gathered as a white bearded veteran, also in the uniform of his organization, is speaking but the sound booms off all that marble to the point that it’s hard to make out what he is saying. I don’t stick around very long. I know the drill by heart and don’t need to hear it yet again.

I think my pilgrimage in the rain is more than appropriate for the occasion.

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A Positive Opening

Here's something that could restore my faith in the political process if it actually comes to pass:
According to a story by Bryan Bender in the Boston Globe, the Defense Business Board, a senior advisory group appointed by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, recommended huge cuts in the military budget, noting that the current level of spending on weapons is "unsustainable." Several private and congressional defense analysts have been making this point for a few years now; the U.S. Government Accountability Office recently calculated that the Pentagon's 95 largest weapons systems have accumulated cost overruns amounting to $300 billion (that's just the overruns, not the total cost, which amounts to many hundreds of billions more). It's also clear, from the Pentagon's own budget analyses, that well over half of the $700 billion-plus budget has little if anything to do with the threats the United States faces now or in the foreseeable future. The past seven years have been a free-for-all for the nation's military contractors and service chiefs; the number of canceled weapons projects can be counted on one hand; they've otherwise received nearly all the money for everything they've asked for. Even many of the beneficiaries realize that the binge is coming to an end; the nation simply can't afford it. Obama's fortune is that he can order the cuts, invoking not his own preferences but the sober-minded urgings of a business advisory group in the Bush administration.

The original story is less sanguine about the chances for this to actually occur. Still, the idea that large portions of the military budget can eliminated without affecting America's safety and security is not something that normally sees print in a major media outlet.

Kaplan's Slate article reminds me, too, why I think he is the best writer on national security issues. His work is based on a healthy amount of realism and a definite respect for what the actual work of "projecting power" means to the man or woman at the point of the spear. I like that he is always skeptical about the utility of using lethal force in America's relations with other nations.


11 November 2008

Today is Remembrance Day. On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in the year 1918, the guns of the Great War fell silent. And in the following years people remembered the day of the Armistice, the day that peace returned after four years of the most terrible destruction ever known. Along with that relief and celebration, came the memory of the human folly that precipitated such vast carnage. Remembrance Day was not only a day to honor the dead, it was also a day to remember the horror, savor peace and vow not to repeat the error. It hasn’t worked out that way but the ideal is no less valid.

Here in the US, today is Veterans Day, which obscures memory behind a celebration of the men and women who serve in the military. They deserve our respect and honor, but our remembrance does not extend to the often questionable uses to which their service is put. We stand silent at public memorials and remember the dead. We honor their service, grieve at their loss and regret that it all came down to fighting and killing. But as a nation we rarely ask Why? On Veterans Day we celebrate the military and the warrior culture. The only memory allowed is of the soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen.

That’s why America cannot observe today as Remembrance Day. Americans are programmed not to remember. If we were to remember, we might begin to think. If we begin to think, we may begin to question. A Veterans Day is much safer. No one will question the reasons for a veteran’s sacrifice. Absent those questions, war will surely come again as it as so often in the 90 years since the Armistice.

At least one veteran knew this at the time:
I saw the Prince of Darkness, with his Staff,
Standing bare-headed by the Cenotaph.
Unostentatious and respectful, there
He stood, and offered up the following prayer.

'Make them forget, O Lord, what this Memorial
Means; their discredited ideas revive;
Breed new belief that War is purgatorial
Proof of pride and power of being alive;

Men's biologic urge to readjust
The Map of Europe, Lord of Hosts, increase;
Lift up their hearts in large destructive lust;
And crown their heads with blind vindictive Peace.'

The Prince of Darkness to the Cenotaph
Bowed. As he walked away I heard him laugh.

--Siegfried Sassoon (1920)

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Monday, November 10, 2008

The Last Act

Yesterday, I took the Kucinich bumper sticker off my bumper. It was long past relevant (if it ever was) but neither Obama nor Clinton spoke as directly to my concerns so I continued to display my loyalty to Kucinich even as I knew I would vote for either Democrat. I have a long tradition of removing bumper stickers on the day after an election; it's a way of moving on regardless of the outcome.

My bumper looks pretty bare now, only a Veterans For Peace sticker on the driver's side. Kucinich's sticker isn't completely gone, though. His "2008" featured planet earth and a peace symbol in place of the zeros. I cut that part out and will put it in the corner of my back window. Kucinich may have been a political zero, but his ideas are worth remembering. That much of his campaign should never end.


Sunday, November 09, 2008

Velo News

The Dark and Rain Season has come upon Olympia. The occasional rain this fall was merely a prelude to the full act. Hallowe’en was the first good rain of the season, a herald. The following days were wet but not heavy rain. That came on Thursday, pouring all day rain. I traveled to Seattle on a job that day and was very pleased to be taking bus and train, not driving. Friday and Saturday were both dark and wet. Combined with the advance of the darkening hour after changing to standard time, it all seemed quite sudden.

Not sudden is the accelerating advance of autumn. The measured fall of windblown leaves that I’ve watched over the past few weeks has become a cascade, a deluge of leaves, gathering in great piles in yards, sidewalks and streets, pushed about by the rushing rainwater. The colors have gone from the bright red, orange, yellow and gold to more rust, more brown. More trees have fully shed their foliage, their bare limbs piercing the gray sky. Many other trees still hold some of their leaves, some still bright and bold in color, even some green though the remaining green looks pale.

So now comes the season that many dread. It will be my second in the northwest (third counting Fort Lewis in 1970) and I’m looking forward to it. Friday’s peace vigil was my first in the dark and rain but no less enthusiastic. Rain came heavy later that night ; Saturday was wet and dark early. By mid-morning the cloud cover broke and let in some sun. I wasted no time in getting out on my bike, figuring I’d go until I got wet or tired.

Turned out I dodged the rain entirely. The day was cloudy, variable dark or light and cool with a strong wind from the south. I followed a north-south-north route to take advantage of the wind for my return trip. I rode six miles north and east to pick up the Chehalis Western Trail, a converted railroad grade with a good paved surface. The trail is a tunnel through the woods. Most of the adjacent land is suburban residential but the trail is often screened by trees and undergrowth (probably less so in the winter). I followed it 12 miles south, adding a couple miles on the southern end I had never ridden before. On that section the trail passes through a gated community with gates on either side of the trail’s right of way.

The trail yesterday was literally a golden path of yellow leaves plastered to the wet pavement. The trees were still colorful in some places; fallen leaves illuminated the undergrowth, still green with evergreen among the deciduous growth. A body can overload just taking it all in. The trail is about as rural as I’ve found in the area and is completely free of motorized traffic. It’s a great place to ride without the full alert awareness that required around drivers in large, powerful vehicles who may or may not see me. Along the way I passed farmhouses, barns, livestock and a couple large lakes. The sun popped in and out of the clouds throughout my ride.

Riding into the headwind was not bad on pavement but tiring toward the 18 mile mark. I was happy to turn north. And I fucking flew back into town. By now the day was considerably brighter and I had the wind at my back. Sweet.

I’ve pretty much demonstrated to myself that I will be able to ride all winter. I know from last year that the sun comes out throughout the winter months, so the opportunity will be there. I am prepared for wet weather and even riding in the dark but I can’t see myself doing much in the way of joy riding in the dark here. Even running errands on a bike after dark is unlikely.

Cycling is a longstanding stress reliever and relaxing pastime for me. I rode a bike a lot as a kid but only began as an adult 20 years ago in Phoenix. I had about four major routes from my central city location, one in each direction, that offered a variety of distances. Summer riding was the best because the heat required me to be on the road before sun-up. A Sunday morning before dawn in Phoenix will always be my favorite cycling memory from those days. When I moved to Window Rock I thought I would do some bodacious rides on that infinite network of back roads but I soon learned those were not places to take a bicycle. The paved roads offered some good routes but the ever present wind almost always guaranteed a head wind on the return trip. Back in Phoenix after the travels, I rode some but even riding in off traffic times and routes I was breathing that noxious air so I always wondered about the net value of the exercise. Now that I am acclimated here, prepared for the wet and out pedaling regularly, I’m home.

Not a bad place to be at all.

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Not Really News

Prince of Peace he may be but some of Jesus' acolytes prefer less peaceful means.

Rival monks brawled at one of Christianity's holiest sites...[F]ighting erupted Sunday between Armenian and Greek Orthodox monks at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem...Six Christian sects control the ancient church. They regularly fight over turf and influence, and Israeli police must occasionally intervene.