• Tag Archives Vietnam
  • All in a Morning’s Jaunt

    Spring                                                      Bloodroot Moon

    Today is the much nicer day of the next three.  Tomorrow the high will be 46 and windy, Monday 41 with ice and snow. Today it is 53 and sunny. I chose walking over museums today.

    Before leaving I ate my first and last breakfast at the hotel.  Their main breakfast is a buffet, served for the  many students staying here.  The coffee was weak and served in tired blue plastic mugs.  Jack Reacher would have scored the coffee very low.  A group of 18 students from Germany didn’t seem to mind the coffee though.

    Outside the wind was mild, though the temperature in the morning was in the high 30’s.  I saw people in shirt sleeves but I stuck with my hat, Chilean fjord special muffler and my Ecuadorian coat.  There were a number of people out enjoying the sunshine when I passed the Willard Hotel.

    (apparently my Android takes self-portraits.  This one showed up in my pics today.)

    Those of you who watched House of Cards would recognize the Willard from the scene where Clean Water held its fund-raiser on the steps, then crossed the streets with trays of food for the striking teachers.  Up close it looks like money and power compressed into architecture.

    About a block from the Willard and right next to the Whitehouse–how did I not remember this?–is the department of the Treasury.  Keep the nation’s finances right close by the Oval Office, I guess.

    Michelle’s garden is on the south lawn and visible from the fence where we all gathered, gobsmacked by the presence of this icon of politics and American might.  The Whitehouse has been the home of all U.S. presidents except for George Washington though Truman vacated for four years while it got a top to bottom rebuilding.

    Onward to the Mall, entering the green west of the still not open Washington Monument.  It’s having repairs and rejiggering of its foundations due to a 2011 5.8 earthquake whose epicenter was in Virginia.

    Walking along the reflecting pool on my way to the Lincoln Monument I saw a very large Irish Wolfhound, gray and stately, walking its people, unfortunately too far away to meet.

    At the monument there were a lot of people though not the crush I’ve  experienced at other times.  This is a moving place as I’m sure you already know.  It is, as it says right over Lincoln’s head, a temple.  Immersed as I am right now in Greek and Roman mythology it’s easy to see the architect and sculptor’s reach back to those ancient worlds for adequate ceremonial features.  He was and is a giant in our history and this haunting building makes that place clear.

    A brief thought passed through my head that this was a monument for the ages, then Ozymandias came in its wake and I realized I was a citizen of Rome at Rome’s peak.  London at the height of the British Empire.  Xi’an during the T’ang empire.  Edo during the Tokugawa era.  And the glory of those cities now lies in the past, a memory, not a present fact.  So it will be with Lincoln and Washington, D.C. itself.

    After the Lincoln Monument I went by the additions to the Vietnam Memorial, two statuary groups, one three men, the other three women, and wandered on to come upon what must be the most jingoistic of all our monuments and one built under the reign of George II, George W. Bush.  Nothing against the vets of WWII, among them were both my parents and an uncle, but this monument reeks of American exceptionalism and the projection of US power.  With George W.’s name on it it will forever be linked, as I’m sure he intended, with his misguided efforts in Iraq.

    This is an example of the unintended consequences of the use of power.  No one can or should compare the US WWII effort, the last ‘good’ war’, with the ill-advised and deceitfully sold war against the Iraqi people.  This monument will itself stand as stone and metal irony on just this point.

    In case, though, all these monumental treatments of liberty and freedom seem ill-advised, I found this on the back of a truck parked on the corner of Constitution and 15th, just two blocks from the Whitehouse.  There is always someone who would take freedoms away.

    By the time I trudged my way back–I figure 4 to 5 miles round trip–this guy had exhausted himself.  A lunch at the Elephant and Castle then a long nap.  Woke up refreshed and ready to go back to the PRB show tomorrow.

  • the quiet american

    Imbolc                                                                  Valentine Moon

    In the spirit of catching up on the films of the last few decades Kate and I watched the Quiet American, a 2002 adaptation of Graham Green’s 1955(!) novel.  It depicts, through the eyes of a British journalist, the early activity of the CIA in creating the South Vietnamese army and government.  Astoundingly prescient.

    Raised many different feelings.  Yearning for Southeast Asia, a wonderful, yet strangely far away part of the world.  A place I feel intimately tied to through my sister and brother’s long tenancy there and my 2004 visit.  Disgust at the role of the American government in its most banal anti-communist clothing.  Memories of the 60’s as the dark fruit of the 1950’s seeds began to ripen, then rot.  Kate’s distaste for war.  “Killing doesn’t solve anything.”

    A period for my generation that defined us as young adults.  Either for or against, little middle ground.  Those division persist among us.  Even in my high school class there are only a few of us who were anti-war.  The rest, the blue collar middle-class of those days, patriotic in a militaristic, flag-waving way.  Long ago but not far away.

  • 1967

    Winter                                                                 Waning Moon of the Winter Solstice

    1967.  Anastasia Pydych, a docent friend, has done a movie on 1968 which has a relevance to her father that I can’t recall right now.  A friend of hers, a writer for Rolling Stone, has a book underway about 1967.

    When told her I was a sophomore in college that year, she said, “Oh, that’s perfect.  That would have been the perfect time.”  It reminded me of a comment made by one of the interviewees for the Sierra Club policy position, “I wish it could be like in the 70’s, when people had passion.”

    We didn’t know it was historic, that year, we were living it.  It was a confusing, wonderful, chaotic, astonishingly hopeful, colorful, drugfull, penetrating, unafraid time.  Long ago, I don’t recall where now, I read that the 60’s happened because there was so many young adults than mature adults, that we, in effect, socialized ourselves.  That still seems like the most cogent explanation I’ve heard for the extraordinary sense of freedom and possibility that swept through my corner of the world, central Indiana.  As people passed through town, Muncie, and as some of us hitchiked around and saw other campuses in other states, we knew personally that it was not just us.  A crazy, heady wind had begun to blow, and the times, as Dylan said, were obviously changin’.

    It was in ’67 when the draft became a big issue, right across the country.  And, yes, there is an obvious class bias involved in draft deferments, since those of us in college could get one and those who weren’t couldn’t.  Yes, again, there were many baby boomers, probably most, whose lives went on as they would have anyhow, taking a factory job, going into the military, learning a trade, trying out different jobs, getting married, settling down and raising kids.

    That wasn’t the way it felt at the time, however.  In those years we believed, as I still believe, that US adventurism and a naive anti-Communism had caused us to insert ourselves in a civil war centuries old, a war in which we had no self-interest and chose our allies only because they identified themselves as the anti-communists.   Most of us men in college then, at least those of us on the left, saw the draft as a form of indentured servitude, only with a cruel twist, in this case the slaves had to die or kill.  Not a great choice.  Many of us, like me, were selective objectors, that is we opposed the Vietnam War as a stupid meat-grinder conceived in Washington and held in place by machismo gone wild, but we were not conscientious objectors, that is, we did not object to all wars.

    That sense of being at odds with the ultimate power of the land, the Federal Government, was a powerful glue.  It stuck us together.  We were more disparate than unitary in our objections to the draft, but we were at one in our objection to the war.

    This sense of overagainstness,  a feeling bordering on outlaw, made us courageous and reckless.  It made the days, the hours, we lived focus on experimentation, on analysis, on argument, on planning, yes, but also on relationships, parties, drugs and acid rock.  If the man didn’t understand us, we’d understand ourselves.  And boy we worked at it.

    If you’re going to San Francisco…  I missed the Summer of Love and Woodstock, though I did make it to two hot years of the Cincinnati Jazz Festival.  I wish I could get the words to say how it felt then.  We felt free, even called, to challenge anything and everything:  our parents, their values, college administrations and their ridiculous in loco parentis, the draft boards, day-to-day reality, sexual limits, congress, the President, the military.  All of it, each day, every minute.  The times were so intense, so charged, so electric.

    Well, here’s the thing.  Kate has a colonoscopy in the morning and I have to drive her.  I’m drawing Social Security and so is she.  This next week is her last week of full time work.  1967 is a long time ago is what I’m saying.  But, boy am I glad I was part of it.  It was quite a ride.

  • Weak Tea

    Fall                                                   Waxing Harvest Moon

    The tea party.  What a change that phrase has experienced from the days of 5 year old girls with their princess themed tea sets and imaginary tea.  Or, maybe not.  These folks seem to have a fantasy going, too, a party in which they serve a tea called small government that has no money, no responsibilities and no Democrats.  Now, I appreciate a good anarchist as much as anyone, but these folks seem to have missed the Bakunin/Kropotkin memo.  When you eliminate the guberment, a sentiment I was known to espouse in my youth, something must replace its function.  The anarchist solution was mutual aid, co-operation, co-operatives.  That is, individuals would band together and create systems that distributed wealth and power and therefore goods and services.  The trick here is that those systems would be run by individuals for the sake of the community.

    This is different from the tea party notion of no taxation, ever, under any circumstances so I can continue adding to my bank vault.  Very different.  A libertarian may look like an anarchist and sound like an anarchist, but in fact they are stalking horses for the moneyed elite, eager to eliminate any and all impediments to the rapid and persistent collection of wealth.  Lots of just folks have taken up the tea party banner, also wanting the government out of their lives.  “Keep your hands off my social security and medicare!”  “Don’t mess with what goes in my schools!”  Oh, yeah and fix those damned roads.  And fight the terrorists.  Well, freedom from contradiction has never been a political virtue, no matter what stripe, but at least cover it up a little bit.

    Here’s my read.  This is a populist uprising, one of many over the history of the US.  People are angry.  They’ve lost jobs, wealth, homes and dignity.  Somebody’s gotta pay and it’s gonna be political incumbents in this by-election.  It makes more sense to me to direct this anger at Wall Street, large corporations, bankers in particular, but government always shoulders the blame.

    Why?  Because,  The government is our designated problem solver for collective problems.  I understand the angry flailing, since I did a lot of it when the government insisted on fighting in a 3,000 year old civil war in Vietnam, killing  thousands of Americans and Vietnamese.  Government is supposed to find solutions and when it can’t or won’t people get mad.  Democracy, or representative democracy like we have, is the solution to civil war when real problems and solutions divide us.  I can appreciate the desire to tar Washington and its career insiders with the brush of infamy.  It’s great fun and you meet lots of people while engaged in the act.

    Yet when the tea party is done ranting and politicing and blustering, we will still have an economy in peril.  It will still be up to somebody to fix it and that somebody will be the Federal Government.  Instead of starving the beast, Reagan’s favorite tactic, we need to demand the government and corporate and financial sectors get serious about upgrading the lives of the former middle class, about finding work for all those for whom college education does not make sense.  The solution to these vexing and real problems:  unemployment, a widening gap between wealthy elite and poor everyone else, a sense there might be a lost generation, lies in a great coming together of us all, recognizing that each of us has a stake in the others success.  That to be strong we must do well by all our citizens.  That to be the beacon on the hill Reagan wanted us to be we must continue to offer hope to those who would immigrate here.  Will the Michele Bachmans of this political climate move us in that direction?  I don’t think so.

  • Why I Changed My Political Focus

    Winter                                   Waning Moon of Long Nights

    In my freshman year of college, I became active against the war in Vietnam, protesting CIA recruiters on the campus of Wabash College.  Over the subsequent years my political analysis and activism broadened and deepened, first to include civil rights, then issues related to economic justice.  The anti-war work waned in the early 70’s and civil rights activism for me took a more cerebral route with anti-racism training and consulting.

    At the same time I had moved into Minneapolis, the Stevens Square neighborhood, where General Mills Corporation had the bright idea of purchasing and rehabbing all the blighted buildings in our community.  Most of us living there knew the logical outcome of this move.  Lower income residents of Stevens Square would have to  move out, the ethos of the neighborhood would become an extension of General Mills’ corporate largess and the neighborhood would lose the sense of self-determination it had gained only recently with organizing to save a park water pump in the Stevens Square Park that gave its name to the community.  (Doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it became one.)

    We fought them.  A woman who would go on to become an attorney in the State Attorney General’s office and I led neighborhood group opposition to the plan.  We turned away General Mills and developed, with city and federal grants, a planning process with a local urban planning consulting firm.  It was among the first, if not the first, of the neighborhood developed community plans in Minneapolis.  This was 1973 or 74.

    This fight turned me into an advocate for the rights of low income neighborhoods to make their own decisions about their community’s destinies.  I spent the next 12 years  pursuing that vision at various levels and in different communities:  Loring Park, Eliott Park and most intensively, Cedar-Riverside.  This work further sensitized to me the central role economic justice plays in all of the issues I’d encountered.  In other words, if people have decent paying jobs, they can afford quality housing and health care, good education.

    Those structures that keep people locked into low income dreams and low income lives were the key points of attack for political work.  I don’t know to this day whether I’m a  socialist or a communist or a far left liberal, but I do know that until we can figure out how to level the economic playing field most of the issues affecting poor people and especially poor people of color will not go away and there will be no true justice in this or any other land.

    Even so.  A few years back Kate and I went to a conference in Iowa put on by Physicians for Social Responsibility.  The focus was environmental issues.  The conveners had put together speakers and panels of thoughtful, progressive folks.  They explored a range of issues from climate change to renewable energy, local foods to clean water.  Speakers also talked about Capitalism 3.0 and the need for a new economic system that would have different incentives.  My political focus changed.

    After that Iowa City conference, I came to believe that though human justice issues remain important, they will be exacerbated and even exceeded in importance by changes in our planet.  My political center of gravity shifted during that conference to what Thomas Berry calls the Great Work for our generation–moving from a malign human presence on the earth to a benign one.  This is not an optional change, either we become native once again to this planet that is our home, or it will scour us from its face.  Since I love humanity and what we can be, what we so often are, I decided that the Great Work must be the focus of my political activity.

    That was when I shifted from economic justice work to work with the Sierra Club, a group of activists whose concerns align with the Great Work; a place where my energy can help multiply the energy of others.

  • Vietnam

    Fall?                                       Waning Blood Moon

    Woke up again this morning to snow covered trees and lawn.  The snow hasn’t let up since then, but no snow accumulates on the roads and driveways and sidewalks.  We’re still warm at ground level.

    The truck had passed the 3,000 mile mark for an oil change a couple of weeks ago, so I got it in to Carlson’s today.

    While I was there, a Vietnamese man sat down and we got to talking.  He’s lived here 20 years. “I go back 2-3 years to visit my family.  They live in Saigon City.  No job.  Poor.”  In his opinion Toyota stopped making good vehicles about 8-9 years ago.  Now “they make them all over.   China.  Vietnam.  Korea.  Everywhere.  Quality not as good.”  He’s here primarily to earn money for his family since a job there often pays $40-50 U.S. a month.

    We talked about Cambodia for a bit.  “Not safe.  Americans who live there left.  There a lot of Americans in Saigon City.  Looks like a small American city right in Saigon City.”  He went on, “After 1975, American’s left.  Ten years they’re back with their families.”

    After he left, I worked on a tour for the MIA.  The subject matter?  Asian art.