Vietnam war

Musings

Some of history’s biggest catastrophes have been created by devious people with a lot of time on their hands.    For example, Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’, 9/11, the use of Napalm as weaponry, Watergate,  The University of Texas Longhorns 2016 season.

I was fortunate enough to retire from a more than three decade career in Broadcasting.  Since shutting off the perpetual live mic, I’ve read a lot, watched a shit ton of documentaries on mindless topics such as a day in the life of a lemur, how and why honey never, ever spoils and of course the Maysles’ Grey Gardens, and a strange but colorful 67 minute journey into the life of style maven, Iris Apfel, a woman who never met a feathered boa or bracelet she didn’t like. 

Oh yeah, there’s the one about Hitler’s fascination with the occult,  one about Virgin Mary’s personal concert for three Portuguese shepherd children at Fatima (that one required Big Pharma) and an intriguing documentary about another  Prince William, a dashing sort and oddly handsome for a British royal.    He was killed in a plane crash almost 60 years ago.   Look him up.

I have eclectic interests, I suppose and what I can’t look up on this contraption, I think about in my head.

I muse about things.     I wonder if Caroline Kennedy has ever seen the Zapruder film.  I wonder what she does or thinks about every November 22nd, if she think or does anything at all.  I wonder if Fidel Castro’s death meant anything to her.

I wonder who the first person was to watch an egg emerge from a chicken’s…..whatever….and decided to crack it open and determine it was edible and eventually vital in many recipes.     How was flight conceived?    Who in the hell thought that smashing atoms could be weaponized and a used as a fuel source?   Yeah, I’ve seen documentary on Hans Bethe, but he basically conceived nuclear fission by looking at sunshine. Huh?  Must’ve had a welder’s mask.

I’ve thought about politics lately.   I’m glad Trump won but a lot of sore losers are going to make his political life a living hell.   I wonder what affect his presidency will have on his hair.

Then, there’s Benghazi.

I listened CSNY today singing a live version of “Ohio”.    For you youngins, that’s a song written  about four anti war protestors who were shot and killed by National Guardsmen during a riot on the campus of Kent State University in Kent, Ohio.

Hence, the title.

Then, I started musing lyrically.   It’s missing a few lyrics but you’ll get the gist of it.    And here it is, with apologies to Mr. Young.

No soldiers, no Clinton calling
They were definitely on thier own.
That September there were four bodies
Four dead in Benghazi

Gotta get down to it

Ansar al-Sharia cutting them down
Should have been protected long ago.
How much did Hillary know with
Chris Stevens dead on the ground

How can you run when you know?

I also think about how some people with absolutely no moral compass can live with themselves.

My, my…how you young know-it-all millennial saplings who think you’re so much more emotionally evolved than everyone else, would have loved the Sixties.   Tumult was so in vogue back then.   There was a real purpose to it back in The Day.

Today? Not so much. Bitch about whatever offends your concept of diversity and when you throw a brick through a window because of that, or because of university rape cultures, xenophobia, Islamaphobia, global warming, trans bathroom issues, entitlements of all kinds, or how being female in 2016 somehow means being a victim, remind yourself you could be in a Humvvee and drive over a powerful IED on a deserted road in Afghanistan.

You could be in a massive firefight in a hellish jungle in the Mekong Delta.

Or near the 38th parallel.

Or liberating what’s left of a fucking Nazi death camp.   Endure any of those things, then you can tell me you need a safe space and a therapy dog.

That’s all I have to say.

(Turns on mic on last time, then releases it from hand to drop on the ground to imply righteous indignation)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Past Is Prologue

boston bombgingI was watching previews on one of the Pay-Per-View channels recently and saw this movie that based on the number of palm trees and Cuban restaurants in the background, had to have been set in Miami.   It’s called “Step Up Revolution” and it stars a whole bunch of people I don’t know and focuses  on a premise for which I DO NOT care.     As best I could tell the gist of it concerns young agile, coordinated and choreographed kids, perfectly coiffed and wearing the latest fashions worn only by the most  discerning  of 21st Century militants…

With rhythm.

Apparently, the movie would have us believe that some  big hotel developer wants to build the granddaddy of all hostels on some land that’s so important these dancers decide that performance art  which entertained the city with flash mob demonstrations in the damndest of places, simply isn’t enough….they need ‘protest art”.   And as best I could tell, this involved various impromptu stagings of the cast of “Fame”, dancing atop taxi cabs, bike racks, marquee signs and on my last nerve.

Protest art???????

MEMBER OF THE  ESTABLISHMENT:   “What was that move you just made, young man?”

MILITANT HOOFER:  “Well Sir, thank you for noticing my interpretive angst.  That was, if I say so myself,  a perfectly executed  grande jété with a healthy dose of  anger and just a  soupçon of belligerence thrown in.  You know—-for good measure!!”   

Explain a furious  fouetté jeté to David Rubin,  Abbie Hoffman, Bobby Seale or  the late Jill Johnston.     I don’t think these very involved Yippies would compare the burning of the University’s admin building,  the takeover of a major college’s ROTC’s HQ or disruption of the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago with any of your moves.    Back in the Sixties and early Seventies when the war was raging in Southeast Asia, these guys made points with Molotov cocktails, causing an explosion here or there and inciting riots–serious riots—-the kind which resulted in brain damage for some unlucky few.  You know, the real rebels who believed in The Cause so much, they  “throwing their heads up against” a policeman’s  billy club repeatedly.

I don’t condone this behavior, but I completely understand the need to be heard, the need to express oneself and think in some misplaced  narcissistic way, that your actions can help change the world.     That said, castigate me if you will, but I can wrap my head around what the Brothers Tsarnaev did at the finish line of the Boston Marathon last week.     I get hate, anger, bitterness and revenge, regardless of the miscues it appears to those who don’t share the terrorists mindset.     I can understand how those feelings, especially in a young person can be idealized, then radicalized.    Argue if you care to, but these are basic human emotions that we all have; the ones that can and do rear their ugly heads from time to time.   Save for the training and intent to randomly murder civilians.

What I  DON’T understand is how that line gets crossed.     I seriously wonder how anyone can take these raw emotions to such an extremely dark place and keep them there so long and so well fed, that the concept of exploding pressure cookers filled with nails, ball bearings and a body count can become normal thinking; a  natural goal for which these mean and women can aspire.   Maiming, death, spilled blood is what matters to them and its best if that blood is red, white AND blue.     What we as a nation have done, are doing and no doubt, what we’ll continue to do, will always be the scarlet elephant in the room.     We do are civilian take downs it under the guise of wartime.     We do it to defeat any one who things differently and threatens said mode of thinking.       And if some unintentional uh…..well, collateral damage happens to be part of the end result???   We all know that old saying:   all is fair in love and war.

The Vietnam war ended in 1975 with the fall of Saigon to the Ruskies.    “Good lord!”, thought the war hawks, “The dreaded Communist hun will take over  and the domino effect will happen after that.    Other countries will  fall and go the way of Larry, The Left Leaner.”

But that didn’t happen.

What took hold of this tiny little country whose populace can create culinary magic with fish heads, was a fairly rapid rise in capitalism, as Communism fell.     I do believe the country still considers itself Marxist or Leninist  but it sure welcomes capitalization.   It now has its first millionaire…or that would “dongianaire”.   Vietnam’s currency is known as the dong (liberation dongs post 1975)  and you betcha things are a hoppin’.      We’re talking  capitalism of the meaty Westernized variety.   These days in Ho Chi Minh City (which was once called Saigon) you can see the same  Starbucks, retail shops and  fast food joints that dot almost every American city, large and small.   There’s even a Louie Vuitton boutique.   Now, that’s a lotta dong for a little bag.

Protest art, bombing civilians with pressure cookers or high-flying unmanned drones,  trying to strong-arm a well-armed cop in the name of peace with your long hair and love beads proudly blowing in the tear gas are efforts that just don’t make sense to me.   No, I’m not getting more liberal,  it’s just that I’ve gotten old enough to see the folly in many causes that once seemed so purposed.     Peace, I’m beginning to think, is really a frame of mind.

I just wish more of us could manifest it.

Beyond that, I don’t understand why we didn’t learn the lessons from September 11th.

And last week, it was like watching  mini-reprisal of that dreadful…one on a non-stop, continuous loop.   Just as I did 12 years ago, I watched in horror the raw, unedited video taken minutes after the bombs exploded in Boston last week.     One of the very first images I saw and will always see when I close my eyes, is that of Jeff Bauman being taken by wheel chair to the race’s First Aid tent.   Both legs beneath the knees had been blown off.    I saw two jagged and bloodied tibias, with no sign of fibulas attached, no sign of muscle tissue either;  .just tattered flaps of skin, gently waving in the breeze created by the movement of his transport.

There were other horrific sights, too; all ghastly images that ‘had’ to be created to prove a point, loudly and clearly.  Dzhokhar  Tsarneav claims that he and his older brother Tamerlan  did it because of their intense faith in the Muslim Brotherhood and for America’s involvement in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and all those civilian deaths in those war-torn regions.     This “protest” killed four people altogether and injured nearly 200.     This was revenge on a small, but effective level.

It’s all immensely tragic, no matter what you call it and yes, there will be those who’ll have the temerity to  call the dead and wounded “collateral damage”.    It’s interesting—Gitmo prisoners were always referred  to “casualties of war”.    I’m

VICTIMS

sure they were considered “victims” from the Taliban’s perspective.

Those who died in the towers, at the Pentagon and at the field in rural Pennsylvania on that balmy September morning 12 years ago victims to us; “casualties of war” for anyone  who applauded the events of that day.

Just words, I know, but try telling explaining either definition to Todd Beamer’s wife,  Barbara Olsen’s husband, the Kurdish woman cradling her dead brother, gassed by rebels.   Say this to the father of Martin Richard, the Boston  bombing’s youngest victim, the little boy with the charming smile who  wouldn’t live to see his ninth birthday.

Perhaps the specific term to be used here  depends on which side of the detonation device you’re on.

Goddamned Semantics. 

The Salute

This hand gesture is as much a part of military life and living as the uniform, weapons and battle strategy. 

But where did it begin?   How did it begin?

No one really knows;  not even military historians, but this form of demonstrating respect for someone of a higher rank has been a party of military lore for ages…and not just that which falls under the heading of American.  

The salute dates back through history.  It’s made with the right hand (the “weapon hand”) and initially, it’s believed, was raised as a greeting of friendship.  The idea may have been to show that you weren’t ready to use a rock or other weapon. Courtesy required that the inferior make the gesture first.  Certainly, there’s some connection between this old gesture and our present salute.

One romantic legend has it that today’s military salute descended from the medieval knight’s gesture of raising his visor to reveal his identity as a courtesy to his jousting opponent, his king or even his Lady fair.  

The truth is, the military salute has in fact had many different forms over the centuries. At one time it was rendered with both hands.  But obviously that was awkward and probably made the saluter (?) too vulnerable.  What we do know is that it has been a long-established military custom for juniors to remove their headgear in the presence of superiors. In the British Army as late as the American Revolution a soldier saluted bv removing his hat. But with the advent of more cumbersome headgear in the 18th and 19th centuries, the act of removing one’s hat was gradually converted into the simpler gesture of grasping the visor, and issuing a courteous salutation. From there it finally became conventionalized into our modern hand salute.

Whatever the actual origin, clearly in the tradition of every branch of the US military, the salute has been used to indicate a sign of respect, and therefore a right and a responsibility of every soldier regardless of rank.

But civilians can salute the military as well.   It might not come in the form of a hand gesture, but it’s every bit a formal honor and commendation.

It’s something that sadly,  we only learned to do in the past ten years, really.   For decades, we forgot about their sacrifice.   Something happened after the Korean war.  Our attitudes toward our US Servicemen changed.   Even the attitudes of soldiers changed.   Why?   The U.S. got into the war, in earnest, after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  It was a sneak attack and it was thought for years that US scrap metal sold to Japan was used to make the airplanes, the subs and the very bombs that killed  2,402 men wounded almost 13-hundred others.  This enraged every American and this anger united a country.    Unlike the first and second World Wars,  the US was drawn into conflict with Korea and Vietna,m too.     

But the Vietnam war and its veterans deserve special mention.   The war happened at a very corrupt period in American history.   If those who fought in World War II were/are our greatest generation of Americans, then those they gave birth to, the ones who revelled in the spoils of post war-America and who’d grow up to ostensibly spit in its face, are indeed, the worst.

Harsh?   Nah…..

It was the Peace/Love/Dope generation–the Hippie idealists hell-bent on turning the country into a Utopia.     This conflicted with some servicemen who got so caught up in the war, so motivated by fear and by the belief in our absolute rightness and lest we forget, Vietnam served as the perfect place for some to exercise their own savagery and sociopathic tendencies, that a  minority killed innocent women and children,  raped innocent women and behaved in the most inhumane of ways. 

Lt. Calley and the My Lai massacre comes to mind.   Now, that isn’t to say that some women and children were in fact, gun wielding, American killing Viet Cong sympathizers; enemy combatants, if you will.   And in Vietnam,  as it has been in every war, it was kill or be killed.

Additionally, we must remember that Vietnam was the first televised war.  Cronkite and others brought it into our living rooms every evening.  We ate Salisbury steak and peas and carrots at the dinner table as talking network heads reminded us of the number of US casualties and B-52s that had been lost that day.     We saw things and heard about things that preciously, war correspondents kept to themselves and things for which soldiers refused to speak.  War IS hell–make no mistake, there’s nothing ever civil about battle and we witnessed it…true, we did so from afar and from the safety of our dens, but we saw what we saw;  including that which happened here at home.  The protests, the riots that seemed even more senseless than the war that had prompted all of that violent anarchy.    

Perhaps it’s because I’m older and wiser that I’d like to think that maybe…just maybe,  some of the unrest and hatred forthe Vietnam war and those who fought in it, was spurred on by a little bit of guilt.

I’m sorry for the way Vietnam vets have been treated.   I am, but I’m pleased that these days and really, since the first Gulf War 20 years ago, we’ve mercifully matured as a country and have come to understand that the soldier does (as he has always done) what the soldier is ordered to do.  We now  honor our warriors mroe than ever before because we know that he/she is just doing his or her duty; what he/she willingly signed up to do.

It also helps that we’re now well aware that war is a political device.  Even so, duty is upheld regardless of politics.   I commend every soldier who can see beyond that point.

And that’s why on this Memorial Day of 2011…almost ten years after the country’s second most unifying event…I pay homage to the US service man and woman.   And beyond that, I salute the mother who raised him or her.    The husbands, the wives and the partners who tearfully watched them board that plane…or walk up the gang-plank of that battle ship.   I salute the children who anxiously await the return of their parent from the battlefront.  I salute the man and woman fighting the battles a home who miss their family members.   

I tearfully commend the fathers who’ve tragically had to bury their children.      

In closing, I honor every man and woman who has ever raised their hands; who took that oath; who donned the uniform;  who brandished a weapon; and took a life…..or lost his or her life….. in order to save mine.    

It is with gratitude that I salute you.   


dccccc

Walter Cronkite 1916-2009

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Ninety-two years.    That’s a tremendous lifespan for anyone, but it’s especially long for a journalist.   My people aren’t known for their healthy lifestyles.

Walter was born in Missouri, but his family moved to Houston where he wascronkite raised.  He had the good sense to attend the University of Texas where he persued a Journalism degree and worked for a small Austin radio station as a sports anchor.   He was fired by a boss who told him he’d never make it in the biz.    So very often, this declarative  from station managers has preceded some of the most successful careers.

And Cronkite’s career exemplified success.

Upon news of Cronkite’s death Friday night, I was asked if he had any influence on my decision to venture into the crazy world of broadcasting.   I didn’t know the answer to that question, but later realized there was no way he could not have influenced me.

I was raised with Walter Cronkite.  I learned about the latest anti-war protests on some college campus.    I learned about the number of B-52’s that were downed in Vietnam that day; he told me about the latest firefight over some jungle hilltop and I knew the number of body bags that would soon be returning to the States.

My earliest memory of Walter Cronkite was at four years of age.   Few believe  I can remember anything about the Kennedy assination on November 22, 1963  but I’ve recited  certain facts of the day that my mother verifies.   Cronkite is part of that memory.   My mother was rocking me after lunch in an attempt to get me to take my nap and she was doing so while watching her favorite soap opera, “As The World Turns”.   I remember the screen went black and suddenly Cronkite’s voice  broke the silence and announced that JKF had been shot while riding in a motorcade through downtown Dallas.    A few minutes later, he came back on to announce that Kennedy had died.  My mother, then a card carrying Democrat, started to cry and a few minutes later, so did Cronkite.

He did something that no network anchor had done before:  he showed his emotions.

He didn’t sob; he didn’t wail, there was no gnashing of teeth.  It was brief and polite and all things considered, it was appropriate.  Nevertheless,  I think it stunned some people.     America was used to seeing their stoic, stone-faced network news anchors in overtly humanistic roles.    

But Cronkite changed that.

And the man didn’t hide his boyish enthusiasm when Neil Armstrong landed the lunar module on the surface of the moon.      I was ten on July 20, 1969.   I had been raised with the space program.  By that time, even landing on the moon bore a degree of  mundanity  for me, but  for my parents, their contemporaries and Cronkite who were raised in a world of limitations,  improbabilities and Flash Gordon, landing on the moon and the journey it took to get there, was colossal.

While my TV relationship  with Walter Cronkite started waning in the mid 70’s,  my appreciation for his style, his efforts and his professionalism never ceased.   As network news shows go, Huntley and Brinkley did it first, but Walter did it better.

He was called, ‘the most trusted man in America” and we believed it…perhaps for reasons we still don’t know.   You just had a sense with  daily ministrations of Cronkite’s baritone and often monotone delivery, you were getting nothing but the facts; the real story.   He would have never made the news he was reporting.

He would never have called President Bush (41) a wimp to his face;  he would never have launched a smear campaign against a sitting president (Bush 43) by publically maligning and bending reality regarding his military history.

Cronkite would never have done half the things that so many newscasters do today.

It’s odd, you know…odd when you reach a certain age and you start to look at things differently.   Life and death and the fine line which separates them while not foremost on your mind, becomes more of a concern.   I’ve been thinking about Cronkite’s life.   It spanned 92 years.  He saw war,  death and violence and he saw wrongs that were never made right.   He reported on good things too I suppose, but those so rarely ever get press.

I made it a point to watch Cronkite’s last newscast in 1983 and I remember doing so with a slight lump in my throat.   Not because I was some ardent fan and not because I was in Journalism school at the time and there because I had been duly inspired by his 19 year reign as America’s premier newsman.   I watched because goodbyes are often historic and this one was.    His departure also represented the end of an era and sadly, the beginning of a new one.

I firmly believe network news coverage changed after Cronkite left the anchor desk and it’s only gotten worse since news programming has become so ubiquitous in recent years.    News people are now TV stars more than anything else.  Beauty has replaced ability.    Ken dolls anchor while Barbie and a cadre of hair and make-up stylists are out in the field reporting on day ten of  Michael Jackson’s allegedly mottled penis and how it once owned a set of Ghandi’s gilded steak knives.

When Cronkite left, so did many if the good things about network news.  

Nuetrality died.

And sadly, that’s the way it is.

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