Too soon, Boston Globe, too soon

1861, 1919, 1932, 1968, 2020

too soon

The Boston Globe has attempted to make us feel better about 2020. “The news that the president himself had contracted the coronavirus, just days after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg triggered a high-stakes Supreme Court battle in the middle of a global pandemic that has upended nearly every aspect of modern life…

“‘Is this the most deranged year ever to occur in American history because it certainly feels that way?’ The story was published on October 6. Too soon. There were 12 full weeks of crazy to come, including a sure-to-be-contentious election that won’t be settled on November 4, and maybe not by November 10.

For instance, one of the other contenders is 1861, “the year that the country fractured into the bloody Civil War… The beginning of the war was partly the result of the tumultuous 1860 election… It is encouraging that this year the United States has not plunged into literal war with itself — yet.” Give it time. External war, while still going on, seems less in the forefront than the potential for domestic disturbances.

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” The Second Coming by poet William Butler Yeats, 1919 

In 1919, “the country had just emerged from a gruesome global war, and a deadly flu pandemic was killing millions of people around the world. President Woodrow Wilson suffered a severe stroke and became incapacitated…” 2020 pandemic: check.

“In the same year, white citizens led a series of racial pogroms that decimated Black communities, partly in response to Black soldiers’ demands for equality after fighting for American democracy abroad.” A different version of racial strife is taking place this year.

The Great Depression

By 1932, “the Great Depression had reached its peak, with about a quarter of Americans out of work and virtually no federal aid. Families were losing their homes and desperate for food. It was an election year, with Franklin D. Roosevelt running against Herbert Hoover.

“There was also climate disaster happening… In the Dust Bowl, severe drought caused farmlands to literally blow away, killing people and crops and leading to massive migrations.” We have in 2020 record wildfires in the West, hurricanes in the Southeast.

“Against that backdrop, extremism was on the rise worldwide. The Nazi Party became the strongest party in the German government in July elections.” Extremism around the world – we have that in 2020.

And of course, 1968, which featured the Vietnam War raging, including grave atrocities. Student protests erupted across the country. The assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy dashed the sense of hope.

Here’s the real question

So does this mean that if we get a really sucky year every once in a while we’ll be inoculated for a while? History is mixed. Another year of civil war in 1862. Statistical somewhat less violence against black people plus Women’s suffrage in 1920.

The New Deal started in 1933 under FDR, even as the markers for World War II began to build. And I remember 1969 as nearly as contentious as 1968, with Nixon in the White House rather than LBJ, but we went to the moon.

Tell me that 2021 will be better. Lie if necessary. Oh, and you still have until the end of the month to complete the decennial Census. So do the damn  Census. And vote, FCOL. I’m thinking in-person but early, the week before November 3. 2020 may suck, but I’m trying my best…

 

A global ceasefire: a way to remember

blind, deluded militarism

global ceasefireSeveral years ago, I came across a list of American Military Deaths in the Iraq war since May 1st, 2003. Though the list hasn’t been updated since early 2012, and the count since mid-2016, it’s still meaningful. This guy from North Carolina was killed by an improvised explosive device. That guy from Texas died from “wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with small-arms fire.”

There is something very powerful about seeing the specifics. These people who died aren’t just numbers. They are spouses, siblings, sons, and daughters. My opposition to that war, from before the beginning is well-documented in this blog.

What happens next?

Will the current regime participate in a global ceasefire or more lost wars? As the subtitle of the article reads: “Like his predecessors from Truman to Obama, Trump has been caught in the trap of America’s blind, deluded militarism.”

“Undercover of highly publicized redeployments of small numbers of troops from a few isolated bases in Syria and Iraq, Trump has actually expanded U.S. bases and deployed at least 14,000 more U.S. troops to the greater Middle East, even after the U.S. bombing and artillery campaigns that destroyed Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria ended in 2017. Under the U.S. agreement with the Taliban, Trump has finally agreed to withdraw 4,400 troops from Afghanistan by July, still leaving at least 8,600 behind to conduct airstrikes, ‘kill or capture’ raids and an even more isolated and beleaguered military occupation.

“Now a compelling call by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for a global ceasefire during the Covid-19 pandemic has given Trump a chance to gracefully deescalate his unwinnable wars – if indeed he really wants to.” I assume it’s harder to fight a war when your hands are slippery from hand soap.

There was a recent 60 Minutes report about the military during the pandemic. Exercises were canceled. Extra precautions were taken not to infect servicepeople. Fighting an “unseen enemy” has put the brakes on many activities. Perhaps it is a sign of what we should do going forward.

Or not.

The lasting trauma of war

avoiding protracted war in the first place

Normandy landingI never saw the movie Saving Private Ryan. Didn’t think seeing the apparently realistic depiction of hundreds of soldiers being shot during the D-Day action at Normandy was something I wanted to experience.

Even 75 years after D-Day, we’re still learning about the campaign. Classified maps and documents reveal the careful planning that went into the invasion, “as Allied commanders orchestrated how to begin liberating Europe from Nazi tyranny.”

Not incidentally, today, members of the Albany (NY HS) Marching Falcons marched along Omaha Beach from Vierville-sur-Mer to St. Laurent-sur-Mer, two towns liberated during the Normandy invasion by American and Allied forces. They’ll also participate in the wreath-laying ceremony at the Normandy American cemetery.

Most World War II veterans didn’t talk about the war, at least not in their twenties or thirties or forties or fifties. But as they got older, some of them were willing to share their stories, no matter how gruesome and devastating. The storytelling is more important than ever. Out of 16 million US veterans of WWII, fewer than a half million were still alive in 2018, with about 348 dying each day.

Meanwhile, for our more recent veterans, Civilians Are Blind To The Lasting Trauma Of War. “Shortly before Memorial Day weekend, the U.S. Army posed a broad question to veterans, prodding them to talk about how serving America ‘impacted’ their lives. [They]…offered a stream of stories that comprise a very different picture [than expected]: suicide, depression, PTSD, poverty, drug addiction, living with physical disabilities and a sense of abandonment from the Army itself.”

There are ways that folks can give back to veterans. The harder task would be finding Ways You Can Support a Veteran Living With PTSD. Veterans have a suicide rate 50% higher than the general population.

“In recent decades, we’ve seen a widening experiential divide between civilians and soldiers in American life. The U.S. has one of the largest all-volunteer armies in the world, and while that may sound good on paper, it’s really not.

“Volunteerism means that military service is vulnerable to stratification by class and race.” Those distinctions, of course, also existed during the draft for the Vietnam war, but the broader point remains true.

“Addressing war’s lasting trauma — and avoiding protracted war in the first place — should be a defining issue in politics right now.”

War protest songs, just a few

Business Goes On As Usual was originally performed by the Chad Mitchell Trio back in 1965.

For some, May 4 has that Star Wars thing going. But for me, it’s always about Kent State, at least since 1970, when four young people were killed at a university in Ohio for conducting a war protest. I’ve written about it before, most extensively here.

Since it’s Saturday, and I usually write about music then, I thought I’d include some songs about war protest. There are SO many of them, covering several wars, or war in general.

I limited my list to songs of which I own a physical copy and those I thought of without picking through the list. I left off the irritating Student Demonstration Time by the Beach Boys, which I described here.

I skipped Give Peace A Chance by John and Yoko because I’ve linked to it plenty of times. Ditto some of the general protest songs; What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye I linked to this spring.

War – Edwin Starr,#1 for three weeks pop, #3 soul in 1970. One of the most successful protest songs commercially. It was recorded by the Temptations first, but Motown decided to withhold their version from single release, fearing a conservative backlash. Bruce Springsteen recorded a live version. I own both of those versions too.

Waist Deep in the Big Muddy – Pete Seeger, 1967. Even though the reference is to 1942, I remember quite well the controversy over Pete banned from performing this on the Smothers Brothers show in September 1967. But CBS relented and allowed him to sing it in February 1968.

Alice’s Restaurant Massacree – Arlo Guthrie, 1967; shortened studio version #97 pop in 1969. A Thanksgiving favorite. Every year for at least the past decade, someone posts on Facebook a newspaper clip showing the littering charge REALLY HAPPENED.

I-Feel-Like–I’m-Fixin’-To-Die Rag – Country Joe McDonald and the Fish, 1967. Famously performed at Woodstock in 1969 with an augmented Fish cheer.

Unknown Soldier – the Doors, #39 pop in 1968. Vietnam was the first television war.

Fortunate Son – Creedence Clearwater Revival, double-sided single with Down on the Corner, #3 in 1969. Class warfare as well as the military kind.

Business Goes On As Usual – Roberta Flack, 1970. This was originally performed by the Chad Mitchell Trio back in 1965, which I had never heard. This version is from the great Chapter Two album.

Talking Vietnam Potluck Blues – Tom Paxton, 1971. I’m high just thinking about it.

I’ll finish with the obvious, and its B-side:
Ohio – Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, #14 in 1970.
Find the Cost of Freedom – Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, 1970.

There are a couple more which I am withholding because tho artists are turning 70 this year, and I’ll mention the songs then.

The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick

The real value of the documentary was the story telling

There are over 6.6 million living veterans in the United States from the Vietnam war era. That constitutes about 36% of all US vets, according to the 2016 American Community Survey, the largest contingent in the country.

And of course, it was the war I grew up with. So I just HAD to watch the series The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, all 10 segments, all 18 hours of it, though it took almost a month. It did not lend itself to binge-watching.

I knew quite a bit about the war from my time protesting it. Names, dates. 1954: the French fall at Dien Bien Phu. But I never felt how brutal the battle was. How the the United States, first little by little, then in a big way after the Tonkin Gulf resolution, expanded the war, were facts I knew.

Of course I had not been privy to the thoughts of the American Presidents and their administrations as they struggled with their decisions as events on the ground did not go as planned.

The real value of the documentary, though, was the story telling: the soldiers that were there taking this hill or that, only to abandon it a few days later. The sister of one soldier killed in Vietnam who became an antiwar activist.

And while the segments prior to my political awareness were interesting, seeing the parts I lived through had the greater impact. It managed to reflect all sides of the war: Vietcong soldier to disillusioned American vet.

The evolution of the antiwar movement was of particular interest to me. The killings of four students at Kent State in 1970, for instance, which I was well aware of, nevertheless became deeply personal.

One of the odd takeaways I got was that Hillary Clinton was Lyndon Johnson were the policy wonks who arguably the most qualified in 2016/1960, but that the more TV/media-savvy candidate got the nomination (John Kennedy) or won the election, even though Trump had claimed his sex life was his personal Vietnam.

I saw the criticism of the Burns/Novick work, that “Vietnam was not a ‘tragic misunderstanding’ but a campaign of ‘imperial aggression.'” Surely it was the latter, but I leave room for the possibility that it was the former as well.