Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Hang Up and Drive

According to a story in today's LA Times driving while using your mobile phone approximates the level of impairment one experiences when legally drunk and indeed reflexes for drivers at the legal limit for alcohol actually were better when braking or performing avoidance maneuvers!

Anecdotally speaking I have to agree as it seems that if I happen to pass a slow or erratic driver invariably they are talking on the telephone.

The text message revolution makes it even worse.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Time to go...

While I would gladly support Mrs. Clinton in the general against any Republican candidate I do not believe she can win the nomination. Mathematically its almost impossible. Therefore instead of continuing to split and damage the party she should bow out of the race and support Mr. Obama immediately before she creates more talking points for the Republican party ensuring the election of John McCain. Mr. Obama is the candidate of the future, as much as I respect and admire Mrs. Clinton she is not. She is also too divisive of a figure. I do not believe she has capability of winning more than 50% + 1 in the general while Mr. Obama has the capability of winning 55% - 60% in the process providing coattails and increasing the Democratic majority in Congress. If Mrs. Clinton wins the nomination her candidacy will not provide those same coattails and the Dems will end up with a slim majority in Congress ensuring four more years of gridlock. As much as it pains me t say this, Mrs. Clinton please bow out before its too late.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The New Gestapo? Part II

This is an email comment received on my post about the "New Gestapo." This man is a Vietnam Vet and an artist. I have great respect for him. I asked him if I could post this and he didn't reply. He's probably pretty angry with me but his comments are so poignant I just had to share them. My reply to this follows below.

I wanted to briefly comment on your statements about the military, which are basically doing what they are trained to do under orders and fear. This is coming from someone who learned about the innocent civilian camps in Vietnam near where I served and in an outrage to them, made a series of works called, "Innocent Citizen Series". I tended to empathize for the poor Vietnamese farmers, women and children, who were detained by American troops, questioned and deemed innocent or hostile in Kangaroo court fashion. The innocents were sent to a special camp for Innocent Citizens (called I.C's). These camps had a corrugated tin for a roof, barbed wire surrounding them and very basic necessities. Never mind that their farms were burned to the ground or taken over by the enemy the following week.
I also have tape recordings of pilots in helicopters chasing people on foot running through the fields--"If they're running, they must be bad guys, so shoot the m. f'"
As I made the IC Series, I was outraged -- some 12 years after returning home. I continue to be outraged, but what else is war suppose to be? I remember my Dad mentioning that the British would stop the war for tea time, then go back to fighting. That was rather disgusting to him. He was attached to a British air force unit in "Project Avalanche" over Foggia, Italy. To have heard him talk about it, he thought he was over Sicily. I found his army record which said otherwise. He mentioned to me once that he was scared shitless.
I didn't see direct combat, but I rode luxury jet liner with audible explosions around us with no idea what was happening or whether we were the target and what will happen when we land, if we did safely land. I was scared shitless then too. No one knew anything. We continued to not know anything for the 11 months while I was there. After four months of this, one breaks down to a godless and numb state of self-denial, that took those following 12 years and more to expel. And I didn't even see combat. After six rocket attacks, one that came within feet of me, nothing else happened the entire year. My most vivid memory remains to be a pile of combat boots, used, two stories high as I walked on the tarmac to enter the freedom bird. I still had my boots on. I could never shake a sense of guilt about that. And I could never shake the guilt about the IC camps.
But the IC camps were nothing like the Nazi death camps. Abu Grave is laughable by comparison. My Dad was proud of how Americans did not use the tactics that the Germans and the Japanese used in their camps. Hogen's Heroes was just a TV program. This is not to mention the Stalinist Russians, who out killed the Nazis by far. The fact that the victims were Ukrainian, Russians and Poles makes it forgettable for most Americans, and apparently for Roosevelt.
What's my point? Bluntly put, your statements about our military are naive, and because of this stand to lose credibility. Other nations laugh at us because of our perceptions of war. Yes, Bush and his machine are comparable, to only a small degree to the Nazis, but the fascist direction he is taking is unmistakable. As for our military, They are following orders in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are not Nazis. They are gadgetized spoiled brats that find themselves in the sorry mess of a reality that their commander in chief and his buddies sent them to. While they can call home on a whim, email every day and enjoy AC barracks at least some of the time, it is our leaders who should take the rap. Saying this has become more difficult, now that we have a volunteer Army. When people were drafted there was more protest and subversion within the ranks. I am sure that guys volunteered though, for numerous reasons: money, education and the faith in our leaders to use their wisdom (maybe?). Some volunteered to be like Rambo and simply shoot. Some are addicted to killing. That is a small, small percentage of most people in the military. Something like 90% plus are support. 10% minus are actual warriors. (I remember well standing in formation before guard duty how our office personnel would tip their helmets and hold the machine gun they never used in target practice to look like John Wayne or some WWII hero in the movies before the Officer in Charge would straighten their asses out with a few sharp words before they moved out to their posts.) Most are trained to simply think of this war in only one way--and for them that might be their best means for survival. I also remember being told to shoot "anyone" who moved, regardless of age or gender and whether or not I thought they were innocent. That is a part of war I did not have to follow through on, thank God. War is war. Increasingly, those who return home find themselves feeling disillusioned, broken and neglected. They have paid for the war what Bush will never pay for the decision to put them to war. That is the real tragedy.

The post was deliberately put in the form of a question. War brutalizes both sides and makes people do things they would never do in normal life. My point is the German soldiers were pretty much the same in that they were "doing what they were trained to do under orders and fear." Obviously we have to blame the leaders that put them there in the first place. We also have to look within to understand how we empower these so-called leaders to make war, especially those started under false pretenses like Vietnam and this war in Iraq. Hitler, after all, was freely and fairly elected.

The shock value of using the word "Gestapo" was deliberate and while a police organization American soldiers are forced to act counter to their training and police a civil war. I use the term to help the reader question if there are indeed any parallels between the Nazis and our own soldiers. Did you read the entire piece referenced in the link? The quote is from a long article in Rolling Stone by a reporter who spent several weeks with the 2-2 Stryker Cavalry Regiment. The thrust of the article is that the story of the surge working is a myth, a reduction in violence brought about by buying off former Sunni militias and Al-Qaeda insurgents. Essentially we are arming and paying both sides in a civil war to stand down. Whatever works I guess but a small victory in a maelstrom of our own creation. The quote I used struck me so hard that I had to make a post about it. As the saying goes, "never again." and "Those who forget history (or in many cases don't know it to begin with) are condemned to repeat it." All my knowledge of the history of the 20th century as limited as it is keeps me ever vigilant to historical parallels. America is so powerful she can cause great harm to herself and others if she doesn't remember the lessons of other great nations in history.

The facts of your Vietnam experience would tend to illuminate the question posed by my post. But am I naive in this area? Perhaps, possibly, probably; I certainly don't have the same experience as a veteran. All I have is my intellect and education to guide me (and a big mouth). War is ever so. The Nazi death camps were unique. Abu Ghraib and the IC camps you recount were nothing like them. Nor were the Japanese-American internment camps, the Indian reservations, the Trail of Tears, Wounded Knee, the Andersonville prison camp in the Civil War or the slave ships and plantations during slave times. Notwithstanding that these don't reach the level of the death camps doesn't mean they weren’t atrocities. It's a slippery slope we travel. Many in the world see us as crusading imperialist jack booted invaders. The Native Americans and slaves were just the first to feel the brunt.

When does the mission of the soldier become the soldier? I ask because I don't know. Fear and the instinct of self preservation has made humans do unmentionable things.

Your point that these soldiers are volunteers is instructive and brings up questions we probably won't have the answers to for a very long time. The soldiers in WWII and Vietnam were conscripts. What we have now is basically a mercenary army many of whom, due to the failed policies of our government where "free" trade ships jobs overseas to low wage countries, have very little other choice in life to better themselves but to join the military. Not to mention the Blackwater mercenaries completely unaccountable to the rule of law - Iraqi OR American but that's another post.

America and especially the "new left" committed a grave injustice to its returning soldiers after Vietnam by not recognizing they too were victims of a failed policy. Calling returning vets baby killers and showering hate & vitriol on the young men and women who were "doing what they were trained to do under orders and fear" was inexcusable in my opinion. We have to be careful we don't do it again. But should that prevent us from asking the hard questions? Artists are the conscience of society. You perform that function with your work and I in my small way do with words (and music if I can ever finish my new CD!). Provocative? Yes, but shouldn't it be?

Thanks for sharing your experience its a valuable thing to do.

I recommend "People of the Lie" by Dr. Scott Peck. The same fellow who wrote "The Road Less Traveled" he was the psychiatrist hired by the Army to study and report the reasons behind the My Lai massacre. The book studies evil in people and its cause.

This is not a new phenomenon in American history. The Indian Wars, the invasion and occupation of the Philippines during the Spanish American war and many other acts of our government show our history is not as benign as we've been taught and is replete with examples of imperialist behavior and atrocities committed both during war and peace.

The Happiest Place on Earth - and it ain't Disneyland

According to a study published by an English researcher in '06 (I'd heard about it then but came across it online again today as a result of a conversation with my 17 year old daughter) the happiest place on earth is Denmark. The US is #23.

I'll bet that number improves greatly when GWB leaves office. It's been like the Dark Ages in the USA ever since he took office. Click the title of the post for the link to an article on The BBC Site.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The New Gestapo?

George, have you turned us into The New Gestapo? Support the troops? Following orders? That's what the Nazis said. Where is the line?

I ask not because I know but because I don't know.

Reader - search your heart.

"Somebody move!" shouts one soldier. "I'm in the mood to hit somebody!"

Another soldier pushes a suspect against the wall. "You know Abu Ghraib?" he taunts.

The Iraqis do not resist — they are accustomed to such treatment. Raids by U.S. forces have become part of the daily routine in Iraq, a systematic form of violence imposed on an entire nation. A foreign military occupation is, by its very nature, a terrifying and brutal thing, and even the most innocuous American patrols inevitably involve terrorizing innocent Iraqi civilians. Every man in a market is rounded up and searched at gunpoint. Soldiers, their faces barely visible behind helmets and goggles, burst into a home late at night, rip the place apart looking for weapons, blindfold and handcuff the men as the children look on, whimpering and traumatized. U.S. soldiers are the only law in Iraq, and you are at their whim. Raids like this one are scenes in a long-running drama, and by now everyone knows their part by heart. "I bet there's an Iraqi rap song about being arrested by us," an American soldier jokes to me at one point.