The Broad is Back!

May 30, 2016

Memorial Day Tears

One of the guys I went to HS with, Anthony Tormey, who, after a career in the military went on to found and currently is CEO of the Leader Development Institute, did a post on facebook of the young men from our hometown who died in Vietnam.

One of those young men, who died in 1968, is buried right next to my dad, who died four years later.

As an 11 year old girl, who was pretty much traumatized by war reports and body counts on the nightly news, seeing that white military headstone, alone on a gentle hill, made me sad. I realized he was only 19. That was “grown up” to me, but still I knew it was too young to be dead.

And so every time I’d go to the cemetery to see Dad, I’d say hello. He was PFC Kenneth R. Totten. And every Memorial Day I pray for him, this unknown young man.

I soon grew older than he ever did. Now my own son is older than he ever was, but still I pray, and still I say hello when I am back in my hometown and go visit Dad’s grave.

Today Anthony said he googled about the local men killed in action, and only found a picture of one, Capt. Edward Starr, a handsome young man, also too young to die, not yet 30.

Then I googled, too, and found a memory page to young Kenneth Totten. His friends and relatives had posted–they called him Kenny. Makes sense for such a young guy.

But then I saw a picture, and all of a sudden, this young man who had been a part of my life for 44 years, sprang into focus. I burst into tears. Now he is a real person to me.

He’s so handsome in his Marine blues. So damn young.

Kenny, your sacrifice is remembered and praised and mourned.  When I pray for your eternal rest, I add my prayers may no more babies have to die in war. A futile prayer as long as humanity stays the way it is, I know, but I am the eternal optimist.

Rest in peace, sweet boy. And thank you for your sacrifice.

The picture is from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund

 

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September 11, 2013

Remembering Once Again

The title of my blog, The Broad is Back, comes from the fact that once upon a time, when I lived overseas, I wrote a weekly essay called A Broad Abroad.  A large part of the impetus for that blog was the 9/11 attacks. I’d been living abroad for six years at that point, and no other thing in that time made me feel more alien or more homesick than the attack on New York (and Washington and the plane that went down in Pennsylvania, but I’m a New Yorker. My dad was a construction worker on the Twin Towers. I’m partial, I must say,)  The first Broad essay went out on September 11, 2002.

So because of this, I really wanted to post today.  Last night the president addressed the nation about the situation in Syria. As one tweeter mentioned, he was addressing a “war weary nation.” so he’s garnering less support than he’d like for a military option.  I’ve written about my ideas on Syria earlier in the month.

Last night, in response to a tweet of mine about how bombing wasn’t going to help the situation, a friend whose opinions and mind I respect, asked “but are we supposed to ignore it?”

My facebook wall answer was “We ignore plenty that goes on in the Middle East. Atrocities happen all the time. Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds living in Iraq in 1989 and we ignored it just fine because he was our ally then. We cherry pick what we (as a nation) react to instead of giving a concerted unified reaction of “this is not acceptable behavior”. Up to last summer Assad was being treated as a friendly ally by the West, even invited to Buckingham Palace to celebrate the Queen’s Golden. Some people complained, but most people ignored it. And I do believe if we’re gonna have a UN, we need to let the UN work. The problem is, the UN has no authority, so it’s basically failing its mission. Great IDEAL, lousy reality. The Syrian people, who are the ones being attacked by Assad, don’t want an American military strike. I do think what they want should count if we’re ostensibly helping them.”

To another friend I responded, “Not saying they aren’t worth the uproar. It [the gassing] is wrong. But why start publicizing dead children NOW? They have been being killed for a while. And why is it America’s problem? Why not defer to the UN? Oh, yeah, because the UN has no authority, legal or moral. Why all of a sudden is this a US security problem?  Every Syrian I speak to, who all have or had families on the ground in Damascus, does not want military intervention in terms of bombing. They are terrified that it will make things worse. And since they are on the front lines, in their own country, don’t they get a say? Or is the US so paternalistic that we know what’s best for everyone? Assad feels confident because he’s gotten away with it for so long.”

So basically, that’s my take on the situation. I find I’m much less censored on facebook than I am here. But I’m feeling tired and disgusted with the government’s hypocrisy. It ignores bad things until it is expedient to address them. Realpolitik, but wrong.

But how does this all tie in with 9/11? Well, it’s all inextricably linked, of course.  The idea of a military strike right now is abhorrent to me. But I’m one person, but I’m one person with a pen, metaphorically speaking, and I’m gaining the confidence I need to share ideas.

But what I really want to talk about today is not the future, but healing the past. In fact, what follows is mostly what I wrote on my “crunchy granola” blog. I try to keep that apolitical, but I am who I am. Opinionated and trying to pay attention.  BUt for me, the healing is more important.

“It’s when we start working together that the real healing takes place… it’s when we start spilling our sweat, and not our blood.” ~David Hume

From the building I teach in, I can see the construction of the new Freedom Tower in New York City. I walk through a construction zone in the bottom of the old World Trade Center to reach my train.

Sweat is spilled every day. Downtown New York is being rebuilt from the ground up, even more shiny and bold than before. This is what’s bringing healing to many. Not the talk, not the debates. The reconstruction.

People like me can not not remember. Even though I lived abroad 12 years ago, I am still a New Yorker. It was all too close to home.

I had a friend, someone I baby sat when he was a boy, who worked in the Pentagon. At the American Church in Geneva, which I attended. our priest’s brother was missing.  All too close to home.

I had students from America and some from Saudi Arabia in the same class. They were all terrified. The memories of the next day are actually more poignant to me than the first day. First we had shock, but then we had aftermath, even in Geneva. Students far from families needed mothering more than teaching.

What I remember best are the hugs. There were so many hugs. Barriers were broken because hugs were needed. Faculty hugged students, co-workers hugged one another, friends clung a little tighter.  I remember the shock and fear, but I remember the love best of all.  For me, that was the overwhelming reaction.

Oh, there were a few ugly incidents, but they were overshadowed by the positive.  Love started the healing process, and it continues.  There is still a nasty, nasty scar, but the healing is in process.

Someday people will forget. Impossible, people tell me. But I teach. I ask my students every December 7th, “what’s today”? Most have no idea.  I mention Pearl Harbor and they say, “oh, yeah, I learned that in school.” So they remember, eventually, but the healing is pretty much complete.  The youngest of those who were alive and old enough to remember are close to 80 now. Within two decades, there will be no living memory of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Because I teach so close to Ground Zero, on the day itself I used to have students write a narrative of their memories.  At first students loved this. They were a little edgy being there, and many said they found it cathartic.  But  I stopped two years ago because the essays I got were mostly variations of, “I don’t remember much, but I was in my second grade class.”  For my current students, it’s just something the grownups talked about.

So today in America we remember. But we are healing, which is the most hopeful thing of all.

August 30, 2013

And So We Sit and Wait

“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” ~George Orwell, 1984

The events in this prescient novel written in 1949 were to have happened almost 30 years ago.  While the dystopia of the novel is not yet fully blown, I read these words, and I want to weep. In my country, ignorance has become strength and war may as well be peace for so many people appear unperturbed that we’ve been in a constant state of war since 2001.

I remember exactly where I was when news of the first airstrikes against Afghanistan broke. I was in a church. It was in Switzerland, and I was with a room of mostly women from many different countries, predominantly American and British, but from all over the world.  “Viet Nam” was muttered by more than one person, and I thought, “No, not again. It couldn’t.”

Just a month earlier we’d faced 9/11. Many of my students were seriously frightened that they had just seen the start of WWIII. But when the Afghanistan War started, they were no longer afraid. They were angry.

Just two years later, I was in a different country, Sweden, when the Iraq War started. Let’s just say that reaction in Sweden was far from positive. I don’t have pleasant memories of that time. Sometimes when tempers flared, people would forget that I am not the US government, nor am I even a representative of the government. Water under the bridge.

But again, WWIII was mentioned in passing.

And now we wait and watch what will happen in Syria. More than one person has mentioned WWIII, as if another World War is inevitable. As if “the war to end all wars” never happened. Oh wait. Never mind. Not counting the Cold War, the US was embroiled in another war five short years after WWII ended.

My tone is may sound bitter today, but I’m actually not feeling bitter. I’m feeling sad. I’m an unrepentant child of the 60s and early 70s. I do believe all that peacenik stuff people called “Commie”.  It’s out of fashion now, but as John Lennon, a powerful voice in the peace movement, said, “If someone thinks that love and peace is a cliche that must have been left behind in the Sixties, that’s his problem. Love and peace are eternal.”  But we seem to have lost our way, John.

These days, I teach many vets and even active service people. I have nothing but the utmost respect for them.  They don’t start the wars. They just fight them. As Gen. Doulgas MacArthur said, “The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”  I mostly agree with him, of course. My soldiers write things to me that break my heart. They tell me what they’ve seen, what they’ve done, what they’ve experienced. I can not even imagine, but I am privileged to carry their stories. If I can relieve their burden one iota, I will do it gladly.  One student wrote to me: “I like reading poetry in your class because it’s the only time the guns in my head stop.”  I would read poetry with him for hours if I could.

But of course, it’s the civilians I worry about. War is cruel. A student this morning told me of a bombing near a Syrian school.  Children.  But children have always had the worst of war.  Still, things have been insane and dangerous in Syria for too long now, and something has to change.

So this compounds my sadness. The peacenik, the mostly pacifist, can’t see a way to calm things. Do I think attacking Syria will help? No.  But this is too big for me. I can’t think.  But I can pray, which is what I seem to do best these days.

The UK House of Commons voted to not support a military intervention in Syria, and I’m wondering whether the US Congress will have the same opportunity.  According to an article on CNN, “More than 160 members of Congress, including 63 Democrats, have now signed letters calling for either a vote or at least a ‘full debate’ before any U.S. action.”  But Congress is in recess until September 9th. Yes, I can see the White House waiting till they are all back. Yes. Sure.

This situation is changing rapidly.  So we sit and wait and see. And nothing is worse than waiting.

May 27, 2013

We Must Remember

Filed under: heroes,military,New Broads,soldiers,war — by maggiec @ 10:20 am
Tags: , , , , ,

It’s Memorial Day in America, a day to honor those who fell fighting for America. When I was growing up this was a solemn occasion, and most of the time I was marching in a parade with the Girl Scouts, laying a wreath at one of the many memorial sites dotted through my town.

My family was full of veterans, but we were a lucky family. The last one to die was my grandmother’s fiance, killed in France in 1918. The man she ultimately married was torpedoed more than once during WWII but lived to tell the tale, as did all the uncles, aunts and cousins who have served all the way through Afghanistan and Iraq.

But all those who had served had lost someone, and as children we were not allowed to forget that. Yes, there would be a barbecue later in the day, but not until the solemn rites were fulfilled.

I don’t march anymore, but I do remember every year.  These days, our society has a troubled relationship with our armed forces and war in general. There are good reasons for questioning some of America’s latest wars, but never have I doubted the sacrifice of those who did go, who heeded the call and paid the ultimate price.

But as long as there are wars and our men and women are dying, I can not forget. I hope that in the future, generations will forget the horror of war and the war dead will be nothing but lines in a history book like the dead Peloponnesians are to us today.

But until then, I believe deeply that we must remember. It is only by remembering the sacrifice and the dead that people will remember the reality that is war. It’s not just like the videos. There are humans involved in the battles, not just avatars.

The day will come, someday in the far distant future, perhaps, when humans will stop fighting and realize that war is not the answer.  I tell myself this, and sometimes I actually believe it.

But as long as days like Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day are seen only as times for fun or shopping, this will never happen. The dead mean nothing to too many. And that is one of the most important reasons we must remember. So that those who died will not have died in vain.  So that there will finally, ultimately be a “war to end all wars” that doesn’t mean we destroy each other in a nuclear or biological disaster.

A time when we realize that peaceful engagement can and does work.

***

The first half of this essay is self-plagiarized from my other blog, Patchouli Haze, but I wanted to expand the themes here.

April 10, 2012

In Memoriam: The Bataan Death March at 70

My father’s uncle, Thomas O’Connor, or the Chief, as he was known to the family, lied about his age to get into the US Navy just before the outbreak of WWII. At 17, he was shipped overseas. Shortly afterwards, he was captured by the Japanese and became part of the infamous Bataan Death March, which started 70 years ago today.

The following account was written by my father’s cousin, Al O’Connor, who was a boy of eight when the war broke out. He and my dad lived with their Grandmother O’Connor, Thomas’s mother, so Al was on the scene for much of what happened, but of course, his memories are those of a child.

With his permission, I have pasted together two emails he sent to younger members of the family, but when I read them, I realized that even though this is the oral history of a family, this is something that needs to be kept alive and shared with interested people.

I haven’t edited his language, so some might find his term “Japs” offensive. I left it in because on some levels, he went back to that young wartime boy as he wrote this. The Japanese were America’s enemies, they had his uncle, and hatred simmered.

According to Al, the Chief had such hateful memories of all things Japanese that he wouldn’t even eat rice pudding for the rest of his life.

My memories of the Chief are all good—a tall fair man who smoked turkeys in a converted oil barrel. Quiet, red-faced, nice to me, but probably not one to cross. He died in 1990 when I was pregnant with my son, so I missed his funeral. He would have been in his mid-60s. So young, but since he survived Bataan and lived another 48 years, that was a ripe old age.

And now, my cousin, Al O’Connor

***

The Chief was a crew member aboard a submarine tender, the U.S.S.Canopus. Imagine being aboard a submarine tender in the middle of Manila Bay when some bad guys started a war! You are aboard a ship that is not only a floating arsenal with torpedoes and ammo for deck guns but also a floating supermarket! A ship made to resupply submarines at sea, loaded with clothing, munitions and food! This vessel had cargo of frozen meat, vegetables and dairy products. The Canopus was a floating super market! The wise Captain of this vessel, after a few air attacks, wisely chose to play dead. He flooded a few compartment to give the ship a list, then he arranged to burn rubber to make black smoke. The result was to appear as a derelict in the harbor, bent over and smoking. The result was no more air attacks!
Now imagine how Tom felt when ordered to go ashore and act as infantry. Tom told me how when the Japs attacked his position he tossed a hand grenade which was tossed back at him (he did not hold it long enough before tossing). It exploded and he wound up with shrapnel in his rear end, which was removed when the war ended.
Information [about the Chief’s time as a POW] is sketchy. Grandma O’Connor [his mother] did receive a telegram advising her that Tom was a prisoner of the Japanese. During the war, she received at least three post cards from Tom via the International Red Cross. These cards were a multiple choice type card. Check the box and sign it. I am well, Not well, I am hospitalized, that type of stuff, can’t recall it all. It was very vague but there was a space where the prisoner could write a sentence. Tom wrote, “I am well, and in as good shape as Arthur Barret.” Grandma took that to mean he was on the thin side. Also during the war there was a time when Grandma got a phone call from somewhere from a HAM Radio guy telling her he had intercepted a radio broadcast from the Japanese who had allowed some prisoners to speak on the radio. One of them was Tom and his message was a sort of Hello Mom, I’M ok.
Tom was moved from the Philippines to Osaka, Japan. Prisoners were stuffed into the holds of three ships with little food or water; it was like an oven. Two of the ships were sunk by our forces as they were not marked as POW ships. The Japs did not open the hatches so the prisoners went down with the ships; a few that did get out were gunned down in the water by the Japs.

Once in Japan, Tom was put to work as a lumberjack. He told me about a day when a young Jap boy on a bicycle rode by where the prisoners were doing some work on a bridge. The boy was so intent on looking at the prisoners that he misjudged where he was headed and wound up in the drink. Tom dove in the river and saved the buy. After that, the Japs gave Tom a Red Cross Parcel of which they had a warehouse full.
As the war was ending, B-29 bombers after their runs would sometimes fly low over the POW camps and drop canned fruit on the prison along with vitamin pills. The understanding was that if the cans fell inside the wire it was for the POWs, outside the wire it was for the Japs. Tom told me he saw Japs lying on their bellies lapping at a can of peaches that had burst open when it hit the ground.

Back in the Philippines, Tom had escaped once with another fellow. They floated on a log to another Island on a foggy night but were picked up by a Jap patrol boat and returned to camp. The POWs were doing well on the vitamins dropped to them by the B-29s. The Japs who were always hungry and malnutritioned noticed this and demanded their share of vitamins. So a prison Industry was born. The prisoners made vitamin pills out of plaster from the walls of their huts and sold them to the guards for food.

When the day of liberation arrived, the Jap Commander called an assembly of all the Prisoners and announced, “The war has ended and Gentlemen you are free”. American Paratroopers descended on the camp to maintain order. Tom was amazed at them, big, healthy guys in uniforms he did not recognize. Nothing like the skeletal POWs! On the way home on a Hospital ship, they were fattened up, had medical and dental attention. When Tom came home he was in a Marine uniform instead of a Navy uniform. I never knew why. After the war Tom spent some time at a Naval Hospital. Eventually he returned to active duty in the Navy as a Chief.

***

So, that is a slice of the story of my great uncle, Thomas “The Chief” O’Connor, former POW and survivor of the infamous Bataan Death March.  There are no details of the actual march as that was something that I was told he never spoke of.  In fact, I’m surprised and pleased that my cousin Al has so much detail.  My father would have known these things as well because he was there on the scene with Al, but my father died when I was a child, when he was 39, so almost all of his memories are lost to us. And my younger aunts and uncles were either infants during the war or were post war babies. As with many families, bad times were not really spoken of once they were past, so thanks to Al, we have these stories, but he was just a boy, and there aren’t many older than him who are left. It might be a cultural stereotype, but I do know that the Irish are very good at burying the bad.  This might work well for family sanity, but it’s a great loss to history.

There are very few of the survivors left now, as so few survived, and of those who did, many faced health problems in connection with their imprisonment, and even the youngest would be in their 80s now anyway. But the world needs to remember. And I offer my thanks to the sacrifice of those who died and those who lived, which by all accounts, was the much harder path.  Theirs was a blood sacrifice that must never be forgotten.

I’m proud of my great uncle, both for having the tenacity to survive, but also for being human enough to save a child, even the child of his enemy. To me, that speaks to his character more than survival.

Because of Uncle Tom, I’ve grown up knowing a little about Bataan, but I fear it’s being forgotten.  World War II, something very real to me growing up in the 60s as I was surrounded by a family of veterans, to my students is nothing more than a war from the middle of the last century, no more real to them than the Civil War was to me.  This is the nature of history. For my Virginian grandfather the War of Northern Aggression, or the Civil War to history books, was a real thing to him, though born 25 years after its end, as he was surrounded by those who had lived through it.

To learn more about Bataan, PBS provides some details and memories in the show The American Experience and there are a number of US history sites on line with information.  A news story from a memorial yesterday gives words of a few survivors who gathered in Sante Fe.

November 10, 2011

For Veteran’s Day

I haven’t been around in a long time for a myriad of reasons, but I wanted to share an old blog post from the original The Broad Abroad in honor of our veterans and our current service men and women.

Since I’ve been back teaching in NYC, I’ve taught more veterans than I want to think about, young men and women who have served in battle and are now back getting a degree. I read their essays about living in a war zone; I hear their stories of lost friends, broken bodies, alcoholism, and it breaks my heart every time.  I am also teaching some active soldiers, one of whom recently got wounded so badly that he ended up in Germany for surgery. he still managed to be only four days late with his paper.  And he apologized for inconveniencing me.  I don’t mention names, but I tell his story to every student I have now.  He’s my personal hero.

So the thoughts I had in Sweden 10 years ago have only grown deeper.  Thank you all from the bottom of my heart, and not just the recent veterans, but those of you who served in all of America’s wars.  You truly aren’t forgotten. Or unappreciated.

A Shout Out to the Boys

Originally published August 12, 2004

A lot of times in this column, I talk about encountering anti-Americanism. OK, talk is a euphemism. I complain.
And I’ve mentioned how I don’t wear things obviously labeling me as an American because I worry about attracting unwanted attention. It’s the same theory as not wearing my jewelry in the New York City subway–why tempt Fate?

I’m not alone in this approach, of course. Just the other day I was reading that one of the American TV networks has
warned its staff going over to cover the Olympic Games not to wear American flags or even the network insignia when they are out in public in order to avoid being the target of a terrorist attack.

But then I got to thinking about some people who can’t avoid being seen as American: the members of the US Armed
Forces fighting or guarding in different areas. And I really wanted to say something about them, but I was trying to think of a way to avoid all the political implications. It’s not easy. No, I take that back. It’s impossible. Oh, I can write without mentioning politics at all, but I can hear people out there shouting at me because I’m choosing to ignore the political.

But that’s just what those soldiers have to do. They have to ignore the shouting and the politics and just do their
job, and frankly, it’s a pretty crummy job. And for all my sitting in nice, safe Sweden and writing about the image of America abroad, I *am* safe. So I wanted to take a week and give a shout out to the “boys and girls” in the service and say thank you. Thank you for being braver than I could ever be, and thank you for putting your life on the line. Although there has been much made in the press of the bad apples, the good apples get basically ignored, so this is for them.

Just the other day I heard about two Iraqi brothers who have been living in Sweden for 25 years. They just sold
their shops and they are going home for the first time since they left their country. They couldn’t go back because of Saddam Hussein. I might not agree with how it was done, but what’s done is done, and good riddance to him. Saddam, that is. Those two brothers were quite pleased that the US finally got rid of him so that they can go spend their final years at home. And let me tell you, they say thanks to the boys, too.

A kid I used to baby sit is with the Marines in Afghanistan [note from 11/11–he recently got home from another tour over in the Middle East, so some things don’t change much] , and more than one friend has a son in Iraq. Through them, I’ve heard things that give me pause. I complain because I can’t get my favorite cleaning products in the places I’ve lived. These guys can’t get the sand out of their underwear. You know how horrible it is when you’ve got sand in your bathing suit? Well, from what I hear, this is a permanent problem over there. They feel like their underwear and socks are made of sandpaper. Sand gets into everything. One day my friend got frustrated and washed his clothes in a bucket of water. When he hung them out to dry, a sandstorm blew up and sanded themworse than before. I’m told one of the best things they can get in a care
package is a pair of tightey-whiteys (the regulation underwear) as it means no sitting on sandpaper for a day or two.

Sand is a hardship, of course, but then there’s the getting shot at. Of course, that’s an occupational hazard in their
chosen career, but still, I can’t think it can be much fun. How’s that for understatement?

I sometimes get e-mails from the mothers, written late at night when the fears can set in. Those moms are heroes to me. (Dads, too, I guess, but as a mom, I empathize with them more.) I have a hard time sending my son to school where I know there are bullies marking him out. I literally cannot imagine waving my son off, knowing he’s going into battle. Mothers have been doing it for millennia, of course, but hearing my friends voice their fears makes me wonder how they can possibly do it. I know I am no Volumnia, mother to the great Roman soldier Caius Martius, later known as Coriolanus. Thanks to Shakespeare’s version of the story, she’s famous for training her son to be a fierce soldier. In fact, in the play, based on Plutarch’s Lives, Volumnia says that she was happier when her son was first wounded in battle than she was the day
he was born and she was told he was a “man-child”.

Some ancient cultures recognized how difficult it was for women to send their children into battle. So according to
their beliefs, men could attain paradise by dying in battle, but women could attain paradise by giving birth to warriors. I can understand where that belief came from, believe me. Faith got those mothers through. Today, all of my
friends get by on Faith, as well. I’ve heard it said that there are no atheists in foxholes. Well, there don’t seem to be any among soldiers’ moms, either.

And they get by on the kindness of strangers. Time after time I hear stories of regular people doing things for
the soldiers overseas through their churches, work place or social groups. As I mentioned to one of my soldier-mom friends, one good thing about this awful war is that it has shown us that Americans really do unite and help one another
when they need to.

As I was preparing to write this essay, I found an interesting piece in the New York Times. It was David Brooks’s “Snapping to Attention,” and in it he says that civilians in America have a strange reaction to our military: “Our
attitudes seem bipolar: we’re either at the military’s throat or we’re at its feet.”

“Sometimes,” he says, “the military is regarded as a bizarre, primeval institution dangerously at odds with enlightened
American culture.” But then, “at the flick of a cultural switch, the same people who were watching “Dr. Strangelove,” “M*A*S*H” and “Platoon” are lining up to see “Top Gun,” “Saving Private Ryan” and “We Were Soldiers.” Suddenly the
military is a bastion of the higher virtues – selflessness, duty and honor.”

Burke has a few reasons for this“bipolar disorder”: “I get the feeling these bipolar attitudes arise from a cocktail of ignorance, guilt and envy. First, there are large demographic chunks of the nation in which almost nobody serves….At the same time, they know there’s something unjust in the fact that they get to enjoy America while others sacrifice for it, and sense deep down that there’s something ennobling in military service.”

I think he’s on to something there, but I also think that in its ideal form the military is a “bastion of the higher virtues,” but these virtues he mentions, selflessness, duty and honor, are losing their grip in our society. And not just American society, all of Western society. (I can’t speak for other societies here, because I’m a product of Western liberal humanism, so I’m limiting myself to that.) Honor seems to be a forgotten word in our life, and duty? Well, that just seems laughable to most
people. Think of all the people you know in your own life who shirk duties–work responsibilities, parental responsibilities, marriage responsibilities–because they are too much, too hard.

When we see young people, some just barely 18, fulfilling their very dangerous duties in a highly unpopular war,
how can we not be made aware of our own failings? And it’s easy to take our frustrations about the war out on the young people who are fighting it. Many of them joined the military for a shot at a better life. And they’ll have one if a) they can stay alive, and b) they can resist the temptation to hate. It’s difficult, but hate is what turns them sour inside and makes them into the people who get the negative headlines.

So when I pray for them all over there, and I do, every day, I pray for physical, emotional and spiritual safety. And this is my shout out to you all–thank you from the bottom of my heart.

 

March 19, 2008

Time flies when you’re having fun–five years in

Filed under: heros,military,New Broads,protest,soldiers — by maggiec @ 2:09 pm

Those of you who read the original Broads know that I’ve been against the war since before it started.  And today marks the fifth anniversary of the invasion into Iraq.  The grey freezing rain outside is Nature’s fitting commentary on the state of my country.

This morning I was at the gym when President Bush gave his “important” speech on the war.  It was being carried live by CNN.  My blood was boiling, and not because of the elliptical machine.  I try very hard to respect the office of the presidency even if I don’t agree with the man in the office.  But I wanted to smack that smug grin off his face.  Even before the speech started, there he was, grinning like a monkey.  I wanted to vomit.  I just went looking for a picture to share with you, but I couldn’t find one.   Guess only the lucky people who watched live got to see the grinning.  In all of the news reports there’s one or two different shots, but the president is trying to look serious.

So, what has this war accomplished?  Saddam Hussein is no longer in Iraq.  That’s good.  But do the ends justify the means?  The war broke international law and the president lied to Congress to get the war pushed through.  Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.  That was Al-Qaeda.  But in today’s speech, Bush said, “The answers are clear to me: Removing Saddam Hussein from power was the right decision, and this is a fight America can and must win.”  I thought the war was about Osama bin-Laden and his terror organization.  Who changed the objective without telling me?

But I will admit, getting rid of Saddam wasn’t a bad thing.  And if you believe that the ends justify the means, then the war has been a success.  I also believe that democracy can not be thrust on a people.  They have to grasp for it.  Change must come from within.  Americans rebelled against the British.  The French helped, but they didn’t say, OK, we’ve decided the time is ripe for your democracy.  The Indians kicked out the British when they’d had enough.  The Irish kicked out the British when the people were tired of the oppression.  Well, they tried to kick out the British, and they did from a good part of the country.  You get my point.

What about those means?  According to Reuter’s report on today’s speech, there are currently about 160,000 American troops in Iraq.   Nearly 4000 American soldiers have died.  During WW II, approximately 408,500 soldiers were killed.  That’s a huge difference, of course, but WWII was a bigger war. During the nine years we were in Vietnam, approximately 58,000 were killed.  So really, comparatively speaking, the cost in lives is low.  (I found a great website about the cost of US wars in lives and dollars.)  Britain has lost 175 soldiers and other countries in the alliance have lost 134 soldiers. 

Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed.  No one seems to worry too much about them.  Who decided Arabs don’t count?  No one asked for my vote on that one. 

For some, these may be acceptable numbers, but for whom?  Certainly not to me.  Comparatively speaking these are even low numbers for a war, but how can we speak in terms of comparison when we’re speaking of lives?  And who is the enemy?  What are we fighting for?  WWII–that’s an easy one.  The Nazis were the best bad-guys ever.  Can’t get much more evil and nasty than the Nazis, right?  Then Vietnam–the Communists.  OK, sounds funny today, but looking at it in the context of the times and the Cold War, I can even see wanting to fight the Communists even if the execution of that war was poorly done.  Vietnam became the battlefield for a much larger philosophical battle.  So what’s the point in Iraq?  Hussein was a tyrant and a despot, yes, but he’s not the only one around.  Why’d we pick him out?  There was 9/11, but that was Osama, not Saddam.  They don’t even sound the same.  Or are all Arab names interchangeable?

The war has cost about $500 billion.   That’s billion with a “b”.  We have mortgaged the futures of our grand-children if not our great-great grandchildren.  Our once great military, the envy of the world, has been stretched to the breaking point and demoralized, given substandard equipment to fight a battle many of them don’t even understand.  And I know young men who have been over there.  They come back bitter, let me tell you.  I try to support them–I write, I send gifts, I pray for them–but supporting the troops does not mean I support the war.

Our international reputation has plummeted.  Between the questions about the legality of the war, the torture issue, the mess in Afghanistan and Bush’s unilateral attitude on foreign policy my beloved country is a laughing stock.

Our economy is a mess.  That’s a technical term for disaster.  The poor are getting poorer, but an awful lot of people have become rich thanks to the war.  Funny how none of those people are people I know.  They all seem to be friends of the Bush and Cheney families–the Haliburton crew.  Maybe instead of working for the state college system at a salary below market rate, I should see if Haliburton is hiring.

The Patriot Act is a travesty.  We cannot safeguard democracy by eroding people’s rights.  That’s Orwellian newspeak and doublethink. 

I’ve been back in the States for about nine months now, and the longer I stay, the more upset I get.  My country has been kidnapped, co-opted, perverted, bankrupt.  Dark days for the once bright beacon of hope, the “shining city on the hill” the US had hoped to be.

I’d like to end with a quote from one of the most hated men in the 20th century, and no, not President George W. Bush:

“Naturally the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”–Hermann Goering

March 9, 2008

Torture is OK? Not in my book!

Filed under: American culture,military,New Broads,politics,soldiers,torture — by maggiec @ 9:15 pm

Read yesterday’s news that Bush vetoed the bill to ban waterboarding.  What has happened to my country?  America used to have moral authority in this world.  Maybe we didn’t deserve it, but we had it.  But we’ve been slowly but surely abdicating it under the current president’s administration.

First we illegally invaded a country. 

Then we condone torture at our POW camps.

Then there’s that whole Guantanamo thing I don’t even want to get into.  It makes me sick.

And now this.

Can’t say I’m surprised.  A lot of people I talk to don’t give a rat’s patoot about terrorists, alleged or real.  Torture is too good for them.  OK, I give you that’s human nature.  But the purpose of government, in my view, is to help humans transcend that nature and be something better.

I’m gonna wax a little philosophical here, so bear with me.

I know it’s not PC to see humans as a corrupt animal, to see us as having fallen natures for lack of a better way of putting it–all that wonderful stuff from Locke, Rousseau, and all of their current progeny.  But I’ve always been a lot more of a Hobbesean kind of gal when it comes to human nature.  Nothing I’ve seen of human nature has convinced me otherwise.  Oh, I have hope, and I live in that hope, and I’m a dyed in the wool optimist, but things like yesterday’s veto sorely try my optimism.

Of course, Hobbes himself would support Bush’s making himself a supreme power.  Hobbes was against separation of powers and advocated for a strong sovereign who totally controlled the government.  That’s why it’s John Locke who is paraphrased in the Declaration of Independence, not Hobbes.  And in most ways I admire Locke much more than I admire Hobbes, but I don’t think he would condone torture, either.

For me, it’s more than a moral dilemma.  I hate that my country, my wonderful, idealistic country no longer exists.  I am realist enough to know that it probably never really existed, but no matter what, the United States of America should not condone torture.  Morality aside (a strange comment in any context), the president’s veto scares me in terms of constitutional integrity.

As anyone who ever saw Schoolhouse Rock! knows, our government is a three-ringed circus, and, in the words of Schoolhouse Rock,

“No one part can be
more powerful than any other is.
Each controls the other you see,
and that’s what we call checks and balances.

Well, everybody’s act is part of the show.
And no one’s job is more important.
The audience is kinda like the country you know,
Keeping and eye on their performance.”

Schoolhouse Rock!

 But this administration is trying to make the presidency more important than it should be.  In the past seven years, Americans’ rights have slowly but surely eroded.  And so have the rights of people who come in contact with us.

The Boston Globe had a good article on the veto.  Take a look for yourself.

October 4, 2007

A message via the Broad

Filed under: heros,military,New Broads,protest — by maggiec @ 6:18 pm

I haven’t got time to write, but I still have time to pass on important information.  So here you go.

 All Bloggers and Webmasters: Place a “Free Burma Banner” in place of your daily blog Oct 4th:
http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=6760367115
==========================

INTERNATIONAL DAY OF ACTION
_________________________________

A Day of International Action for a Free Burma

 

Free Aung San Suu Kyi & Support the Monks in Burma

Saturday 6TH OCTOBER 2007

Time: 12 NOON in every major city across the world

We are marching in solidarity with the monks and ordinary people of Burma who are risking their lives for freedom and democracy.

We appeal to all religious and secular communities across the world not to look the other way while the people of Burma cry out for international support.

Now listed as en EVENT “A Day of International Action for a Free Burma (Oct. 6th) Worldwide” all cities and locations will be posted there shortly.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?
10 THINGS YOU CAN DO TO HELP THE PROTESTERS

1 – PROTEST- Look below in “Recent news” for details of worldwide protests.

2 – SPREAD THE WORD- Invite your friends to this group, email all your family and friends, write to local newspapers

3 – CONTACT YOUR ELECTED OFFICIAL- they will respond if enough people contact them.

4 – EMAIL COMPANIES STILL IN BURMA their email addresses are listed here http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=24957770200&topic=3071

5 – SIGN A PETITION there are lots listed here
http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=24957770200&topic=3175

6 – KEEP UP TO DATE -READ SOME BLOGS/WEBSITES We’ve compiled some great resources http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=24957770200&topic=3231

7. EMAIL YOUR NATION’S EMBASSY IN BURMA, asking them to open up their WiFi networks for our contacts to utilize. We’ve had reports that the internet is down to keep reports and pictures IN Burma, we need to do everything we can to make sure they get OUT. Your embassy’s contact info will be on your country’s ministry/department of foreign affairs webpage. http://www.alloexpat.com/myanmar_expat_forum/foreign-embassy-in-myanmar-directory-t5.html

8 – CONTACT EXTERNAL MEDIA. If you have any updates pass them to the press via details listed here http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=24957770200&topic=3232

9 – BOYCOTT CHINA – Think about boycotting Chinese goods. http://leedsac.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=24957770200&topic=3223

10 – BROWSE THIS SITE At the bottom of the page is the constantly updating wall with up to the minute news on protests and what is happening in Burma.

_________________________
OTHER THINGS YOU CAN DO

DONATE money to the Democratic Voice of Burma:
“”The Democratic Voice of Burma was established in Oslo, Norway in 1992 and is broadcasting radio and TV to Burma. Due to current events, transmissions have increased to 24/7, which is very costly. To donate visit their website at http://english.dvb.no/

CONTINUE EMAILING those associated with the Beijing Olympics
http://ubc.facebook.com/event.php?eid=6524045893
http://ubc.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=24957770200&topic=3351

LOBBY your education institution’s Student Council or Student Union to pass a resolution in support of the Burmese Peoples’ Protests and in condemnation of the Military Junta’s actions. While a symbolic gesture, it gives hope and keeps the issue at the forefront of people’s minds.
http://studentsforburma.tiddlyspot.com/#Welcome

SUPPORT The Australian Coalition for Democracy in Burma. This is a group that has been working together with activists inside Burma for many years, and the Australian side is headed by a high-profile local council official. They are currently trying to get equipment INSIDE Burma to get news OUT – which ties in with what we’re doing, as we’re trying to SPREAD the news Far and Wide and KEEP it in people’s minds. Information about their activities can be found at http://qutedu.facebook.com/event.php?eid=5100614153
and http://www.burmasolidarity.org
__________________________

***EMERGENCY NUMBER ISSUED BY UN IN BURMA***
Please be informed that the UN Designated Official in Rangoon has established a 24 hour hotline in case of emergency, especially during curfew hours. The numbers to call are: 01 554 597 or 01 554 625. Please pass this to all people inside Burma. This is a Rangoon hotline that should be reached immediately.
__________________________

BURMA OR MYANMAR?
If you are confused why some people call it Burma and some Mynamar please read this article http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7013943.stm

In brief – It’s known as Myanmar in many countries and at the UN. But the UK&USA don’t recognise the legitimacy of the regime that changed the name therefore still use the pre-military dictatorship name (Burma).

HOWEVER, that being said, it’s important also to recognise that some people choose to call it Myanmar as Burma was the name given to the country during British colonization.
————————–————————–——–
“The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear.” – Daw Aung San Suu Kyi

April 28, 2007

A Shout Out to the Boys and Girls

Filed under: heros,military,Old Broads,soldiers — by maggiec @ 7:59 pm

Originally published August 12, 2004  Note: I don’t want to exclude females, but at the time I wrote it, I was thinking of young men I knew. I have since come to know many brave women who are serving just as selflessly. They face the same privations and dangers.  And sadly, often sexism to boot.

A lot of times in this column, I talk about encountering
anti-Americanism. OK, talk is a euphemism. I complain. And I’ve
mentioned how I don’t wear things obviously labeling me as an American because I worry about attracting unwanted attention. It’s the same theory as not wearing my jewelry in the New York City subway–why tempt Fate?

I’m not alone in this approach, of course. Just the other day I was
reading that one of the American TV networks has warned its staff going over to cover the Olympic Games not to wear American flags or even the network insignia when they are out in public in order to avoid being the target of a terrorist attack.

But then I got to thinking about some people who can’t avoid being seen as American: the members of the US Armed Forces fighting or guarding in different areas. And I really wanted to say something about them, but I was trying to think of a way to avoid all the political implications. It’s not easy. No, I take that back. It’s impossible. Oh, I can write without mentioning politics at all, but I can hear people out there shouting at me because I’m choosing to ignore the political.

But that’s just what those soldiers have to do. They have to ignore the shouting and the politics and just do their job, and frankly, it’s a
pretty crummy job. And for all my sitting in nice, safe Sweden and
writing about the image of America abroad, I *am* safe. So I wanted to take a week and give a shout out to the “boys and girls” in the service and say thank you. Thank you for being braver than I could ever be, and thank you for putting your life on the line. Although there has been much made in the press of the bad apples, the good apples get basically ignored, so this is for them.

Just the other day I heard about two Iraqi brothers who have been living in Sweden for 25 years. They just sold their shops and they are going home for the first time since they left their country. They couldn’t go back because of Saddam Hussein. I might not agree with how it was done, but what’s done is done, and good riddance to him. Saddam, that is. Those two brothers were quite pleased that the US finally got rid of him so that they can go spend their final years at home. And let me tell you, they say thanks to the boys, too.

A kid I used to baby sit is with the Marines in Afghanistan, and more
than one friend has a son in Iraq. Through them, I’ve heard things that
give me pause. I complain because I can’t get my favorite cleaning
products in the places I’ve lived. These guys can’t get the sand out of
their underwear. You know how horrible it is when you’ve got sand in
your bathing suit? Well, from what I hear, this is a permanent problem
over there. They feel like their underwear and socks are made of
sandpaper. Sand gets into everything. One day my friend got frustrated and washed his clothes in a bucket of water. When he hung them out to dry, a sandstorm blew up and sanded them worse than before. I’m told one of the best things they can get in a care package is a pair of tightey-whiteys (the regulation underwear) as it means no sitting on sandpaper for a day or two.

Sand is a hardship, of course, but then there’s the getting shot at. Of
course, that’s an occupational hazard in their chosen career, but still,
I can’t think it can be much fun. How’s that for understatement?

I sometimes get e-mails from the mothers, written late at night when the fears can set in. Those moms are heroes to me. (Dads, too, I guess, but as a mom, I emphathize with them more.) I have a hard time sending my son to school where I know there are bullies marking him out. I literally can not imagine waving my son off, knowing he’s going into battle. Mothers have been doing it for millennia, of course, but hearing my friends voice their fears makes me wonder how they can
possibly do it. I know I am no Volumnia, mother to the great Roman
soldier Caius Martius, later known as Coriolanus. Thanks to
Shakespeare’s version of the story, she’s famous for training her son to
be a fierce soldier. In fact, in the play, based on Plutarch’s /Lives/,
Volumnia says that she was happier when her son was first wounded in
battle than she was the day he was born and she was told he was a
“man-child”.

Some ancient cultures recognized how difficult it was for women to send their children into battle. So according to their beliefs, men could
attain paradise by dying in battle, but women could attain paradise by
giving birth to warriors. I can understand where that belief came from,
believe me. Faith got those mothers through.

Today, all of my friends get by on Faith, as well. I’ve heard it said
that there are no atheists in foxholes. Well, there don’t seem to be
any among soldiers’ moms, either.

And they get by on the kindness of strangers. Time after time I hear
stories of regular people doing things for the soldiers overseas through
their churches, work place or social groups. As I mentioned to one of
my soldier-mom friends, one good thing about this awful war is that it
has shown us that Americans really do unite and help one another when they need to.

As I was preparing to write this essay, I found an interesting piece in
the /New York Times/. It was David Brooks’s “Snapping to Attention,”
and in it he says that civilians in America have a strange reaction to
our military: “Our attitudes seem bipolar: we’re either at the
military’s throat or we’re at its feet.”

“Sometimes,” he says, “the military is regarded as a bizarre, primeval
institution dangerously at odds with enlightened American culture.” But
then, “at the flick of a cultural switch, the same people who were
watching “Dr. Strangelove,” “M*A*S*H” and “Platoon” are lining up to see “Top Gun,” “Saving Private Ryan” and “We Were Soldiers.” Suddenly the military is a bastion of the higher virtues – selflessness, duty and honor.”

Burke has a few reasons for this “bipolar disorder”: “I get the feeling
these bipolar attitudes arise from a cocktail of ignorance, guilt and
envy. First, there are large demographic chunks of the nation in which
almost nobody serves….At the same time, they know there’s something
unjust in the fact that they get to enjoy America while others sacrifice
for it, and sense deep down that there’s something ennobling in military service.”

(You can find the link to buy the essay at
_http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F30D10F73D580C708CDDA10894DC404482_
It is from the /New York Times/, Late Edition – Final , Section A , Page
19 , Column 1.)

I think he’s on to something there, but I also think that in its ideal
form the military is a “bastion of the higher virtues,” but these
virtues he mentions, selflessness, duty and honor, are losing their grip
in our society. And not just American society, all of Western society.
(I can’t speak for other societies here, because I’m a product of
Western liberal humanism, so I’m limiting myself to that.) Honor seems to be a forgotten word in our life, and duty? Well, that just seems laughable to most people. Think of all the people you know in your own life who shirk duties–work responsibilities, parental responsibilities, marriage responsibilities–because they are too much, too hard.

When we see young people, some just barely 18, fulfilling their very
dangerous duties in a highly unpopular war, how can we not be made aware of our own failings? And it’s easy to take our frustrations about the war out on the young people who are fighting it. Many of them joined the military for a shot at a better life. And they’ll have one if a) they can stay alive, and b) they can resist the temptation to hate.
It’s difficult, but hate is what turns them sour inside and makes them
into the people who get the negative headlines.

So when I pray for them all over there, and I do, every day, I pray for
physical, emotional and spiritual safety. And this is my shout out to
you all–thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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