Sergio Romero is a young engineering student at an Ivy League university where he is trying to find a girlfriend, for love and sex, in the Spring of 1969 before he is drafted into the US Army to fight in the Vietnam War. Can he evade the military draft at the height of the war to pursue his career goals and to find a woman he can share love with, without missing out on both and having his young life cut short? This is a story of young people bursting into adulthood at a pivotal time of great uncertainty and creativity, filled with beauty, tragedy and promise, and it is a story of friendship.
I grieve with you. And I grieve with you, Ukrainian widows and widowers and orphans and heartbroken lovers dropping your tears in the cold dusty blackened ruins of your invaded cities, towns and villages.
It is reported here, in the United States of America, that at least 7,000 to as many as 14,000 Russian soldiers have been killed during this first month (24 February – 24 March, 2022) of Russia’s — Vladimir Putin’s — invasion of Ukraine. So, sadly, there are now up to 14,000 more Russian families with new widows and newly heartbroken lovers grieving for their young men sacrificed in a war as the blood lubrication for the gears of the ponderous and plodding machinery tracking your would-be emperor’s ambitions of conquest and power into the fields and streets of Ukraine. And now all your young newly widowed Russian women, and newly bereft Russian mothers, are reliving the anguish and grief suffered by an older generation of Russian women whose young men were taken by the tragically disastrous Russian war in Afghanistan forty years ago, and many of those women may have been robbed of their chances to become happy grandmothers.
Who can doubt that on 24 February 2022, many Poles instantly thought of 1 September 1939, and 17 September 1939; and that many Danes, Norwegians, Belgians, Dutch and French instantly thought of April and May 1940; and that many Russians, along with Belarusians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, and Ukrainians instantly thought of 22 June 1941?
The trauma of a heartless dictator’s destructive invasion of your country to subjugate it as an exploitable colony and then carry out a campaign of continuous mass murder, is not soon dissipated from the historical memory of succeeding generations of those previously conquered nations, and the hollow feeling of seeing this happen again, two to three generations later during their young and modern 21st century lives, quickly steels the youth of those countries today into a resolve to fight off the invader and preserve their national independence, and national honor, and national pride. And such resolve can make them fight to the death because they feel sanctified by history and by the truest morality that every human of any age instinctively understands.
So your poor Russian soldiers are here at a great disadvantage, because as they awaken to any degree of the truth of their situation, they will know that they can not be justified and ennobled by any moral principles, they are just being used as expendable tools to perpetrate war crimes at the service of your Caesar, Putin’s imperial ambitions.
And I grieve with you because all the foreigners sympathetic to the plight of the Ukrainians, either because of resonant echoes of painful memories from their own national histories, or from simple emotional reactions against the outrageous injustices being inflicted on Ukraine, will contribute to efforts to resupply, rearm, fortify and accept refugees from Ukraine so it can continue, and hopefully win, its defensive war against the Russian military, and against Vladimir Putin’s inhuman ideology.
And I, too, am sympathetic to the Ukrainian cause. But this then means that my sympathy, along with many others whose sympathy is expressed as military assistance, will necessarily kill more Russian soldiers and create more Russian widows, and more bereft Russian mothers, fathers, and lovers. And I grieve that such increased pain to the Russian people is impossible to avoid with any effort to relieve the massive injustice and massive pain being inflicted on the Ukrainian people. I grieve that in being sympathetic to a people afflicted with a cruel and unjust invasive war, I am inextricably guilty of adding to the increasing grief of the Russian people whose young men are being consumed in that war.
During my youthful adult years, the United States was prosecuting its own massively unjust imperialistic war — against “communism” — in Vietnam and Laos and Cambodia. The Vietnamese simply wanted to unify their country, which was briefly liberated from both the French colonizers and Japanese imperialists during 1945, and continue as an independent nation free to use its natural resources and peasant agricultural economy for the well-being of its own people, and to be free to have their own Vietnamese rulers, both the honest ones and the pocket-lining corrupt ones as exist in every government, and to fashion their nation as a “communist” one, that is to say with some degree of beneficial collectivization, and some degree of insulated hierarchical power, which power and patronage pyramids are blemishes (or gaping sores) of every government everywhere, whether it calls itself “capitalist,” “democratic,” “socialist,” or “communist.”
My country, the United States, sent a Marine invasion in 1965 to prosecute a massive land war, and helicopter war, and aerial bombardment war in Vietnam till late 1972, which was continued by the Vietnamese troops of the South Vietnamese puppet government till it collapsed in April 1975. During the 13 years or so of direct U.S. military involvement in Vietnam (1962-1975, previously the U.S. had funded the French war to recolonize Vietnam, 1946-1954, after its liberation with the defeat of Japan in August 1945), the U.S. military sent in about 1 million soldiers, sailors, airmen, and women nurses, whose collective work resulted in perhaps 2.5-3 million Vietnamese killed, and perhaps up to 3.5-4 million people killed in Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, as sections of the latter two nations were also heavily bombarded and chemically defoliated).
Of those approximately 1 million U.S. military personnel that passed through Southeast Asia during the American war there, just over 58,000 of them were killed, and many thousands more suffered debilitating physical and psychological wounds that lasted, and are lasting, till their deaths.
The Vietnamese Communist Party, which was conducting its war of national liberation, and defensive war against American aggression against their unified communist national aspirations, was desperate to receive whatever foreign assistance it could get in the way of arms and humanitarian supplies to combat such an awesome enemy. It was “communist” Russia and “communist” China that supplied the better arms the Communist Party of Vietnam acquired to fight the Americans. The governments of Russia and China did this in part because of “communist solidarity,” but also in large part out of “superpower” — that is to say, imperialist — rivalry with the alternative capitalist empire of the Americans and their associated Western Allies.
I say “alternative capitalist empire” because both Russia and China were also basically capitalist but in the form of state-monopolized top-down command capitalism, instead of the American form of lightly regulated largely disorganized privatized capitalism that bought self-aggrandizing government influence and insulation from public responsibility and popular democracy. America’s “colonies” are foreign zones of extractive economic exploitation. The colonies of Russia’s empire — its zones of extractive economic exploitation by Kremlin leaders — were the captive nations within the U.S.S.R. (like Ukraine) as well as the captive nations within the East Bloc, behind what Winston Churchill called the “Iron Curtain.”
The Communist Party of China (its exclusive power and patronage pyramid and nomenklatura), like Russia, envisioned itself as an insular empire with internal colonies, stretching in the west from Xinjiang (with the oppressed Uyghurs, a Turkic and Islamic people) and Tibet (annexed by China in 1951, and Tibetans are a different ethnicity than the dominant Han Chinese) in Central Asia, east to the Pacific Ocean, north from what used to be called Manchuria (north of the Korean peninsula) to south with Hainan island in the South China Sea, and out to the still independent and very western-style capitalist Chinese island nation of Taiwan.
In the extremity of their situation during their thirty years of wars of national independence (1945-1975), the Communist Party of Vietnam could not concern itself with the multipolar superpower rivalries between the Chinese (whom they traditionally hated from previous centuries of conquests and oppression), the Russians who were using them as proxies to bleed the Americans in their Russian-American “Cold War,” and their own very immediate and massively destructive American invaders trying to force them to be “capitalists.” They took what arms and supplies and money they could get from sympathetic foreigners to keep their struggle for independence alive.
And such is the situation of the Ukrainians today, as it was for the Afghans during the 1980s when the United States supplied the Afghan Mujahideen with shoulder-fired anti-tank and anti-aircraft missile weapons, as the Americans sought revenge against the Russians for the very useful help (as with anti-aircraft missile systems) the Russians had rendered the Vietnamese Communists during the 1960s and early 1970s.
That United States policy for Afghanistan was initiated as a covert action by a Polish-American government official, Zbigniew Brzezinski (1928-2017), who was born in Warsaw and left Poland in 1938 as a 10 year old boy with his family when his Polish diplomat father was posted to Montreal, Canada. Brzezinski was obviously motivated by his memory of Stalin’s ravaging of his homeland, and not just by a desire to be of foreign policy service to the 1978 American government he had become a part of.
So from Stalin’s Red Army and NKVD in Poland in 1939, to Lyndon Johnson’s and Richard Nixon’s (and Henry Kissinger’s) U.S. military in Vietnam in 1962-1975, to Leonid Brezhnev’s and the Kremlin’s Russian military in Afghanistan during its war there from 1979 to 1989 (when the Berlin Wall fell), to now with the Russian-Ukrainian War, it has been tit-for-tat bleeding of each other by rival superpowers (that is to say, nuclear armed empires) using the wars of small nations struggling desperately to gain their freedom and independence. And it is the freedom and independence of those small nations that are the only morally justifiable aspects of this chained cycle of superpower vengeance by proxy, through wars of independence so cruelly destructive of and callously inflicted on the small nations that have to wage them.
While eventually the small nations, invaded and crushed by the murderous onslaughts of the huge wars prosecuted by the major world powers during the 20th century, gained varying degrees of freedom, independence, stability and prosperity, the one universal outcome of all those wars was the creation of many millions of dead, many millions of physically and mentally traumatized, and many millions of surviving widows, orphans, widowers, and bereft lovers.
That truth has been captured in many mournful songs of lament, and one that especially affects me is “High Germany” as sung by my younger daughter. Of course, it is the personal effect of hearing her lovely voice, besides just the sentiment of that Celtic ballad, that makes for such an emotional effect on me. Over a century ago, young men from Scotland, a Celtic nation conquered and absorbed by England in 1651 (and formally incorporated into the United Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707) were drafted into the English Army to go fight Germany during World War I. Young men from other Celtic territories earlier captured by the English (Wales, Cornwall, the Northern Counties of Ireland) were also sent a-soldiering for the British Crown. And 895,000 of those, mostly young men, from the United Kingdom died in WWI. As we know, there were also many wounded and traumatized veterans, and many grieving families and lovers of those lost, in fact a “Lost Generation.” It is the lingering heartbreak of such grief by the survivors of the powerless people sent to fight those wars by their imperial masters, that is the essence of that song.
And today those powerless pawns sent to bleed and die for their national Caesar’s ambition to reconstitute a rump insular neo-Stalinist empire by recapturing Ukraine (independent from 1991), are Russian soldiers, who like their American counterparts today are most likely in the military because of a paucity of decent good-paying civilian jobs.
The command structure of your Russian military is more attuned to Putin’s imperialistic ambitions, because like the American military command structure during the 1960s, they are careerists and have a triumphalist attitude gained by their facility at massively bombing unarmed and barely-armed civilian populations: Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian for the Americans, while Chechen and Syrian for the Russians.
Stopping these predatory wars by superpowers is so difficult because the perpetrating governments are largely immune from civilian humanitarian sentiments and popular democracy (naturally, they are empires), and only military mutinies and revolutionary changes of government can really stop their nation’s wars. Was this not so with the Russian Revolution in 1917?, and with the escalating military mutinies by U.S. soldiers, sailors and airmen between about 1969 through 1972? Thoughtful Americans today are proud of their war resistors and protestors of the 1960s and 1970s, just as your thoughtful Russians will be proud in years to come of your brave war resistors and protestors today. If only such civilian resistance to their nation’s wars of choice were more effective at preventing and stopping them; and if only a greater portion of the militaries of our nations would revolt against prosecuting such wars of choice, and thus render the greatest service soldiers can render their nations’s people — the actual people.
But as with you in Russia, we here in the United States also have our thoughtless and inhuman people who define their allegiances not with humanity and its sufferings anywhere, but with their own selfish careerist ambitions couched as principled concerns for supra-human and exclusionary ideological political abstractions, which they like to imagine elevate their intellectual pretensions and ennoble their moral characters.
So among your Russians you have those who follow Vladimir Putin canard of seeking to “de-nazify” Ukraine, despite “the Putin regime’s own record of collaboration with far-right extremists. Even as Russian diplomats condemned ‘fascists’ in the Baltic states and Kremlin propagandists railed against imaginary ‘Ukronazis’ in power in Kyiv, the Russian state was cultivating its own homegrown Nazis” —
And we here in the United States have allies of that oligarchic-authoritarian anti-feminist, homophobic, White Supremacist ideology, and who have no sincere sympathy for Ukraine under attack, such as Donald Trump — our sociopathic narcissistic previous president who lauds Vladimir Putin whom he sees as mirroring his own ambitions — and the entirety of our Republic Party (and Abraham Lincoln would weep to see what has become of the party he was the first US president of).
But we here in the United States also have “leftists”and declared “socialists” who have no sincere sympathy with the Ukrainian people, because they are wrapped up in their self-delusions of themselves as highly enlightened anti-nazis, and “anti-imperialists,” by which they mean anti-US imperialism only, and that includes in their minds their idea of “NATO expansionism.” For them any “enemy of US imperialism and NATO expansion,” however despicable and murderously dictatorial they may be to their own people, such as Muammar Gaddafi was and Bashar al-Assad is, are worthy of their consideration and defense, because for them thwarting US imperialism (both actual and imagined) is always more important than forthrightly helping to relieve actual terrorized people of their murderous oppression by their tyrannical rulers.
Such ideological and thus effectively inhuman leftists myopically, and really narcissistically, see themselves as having a “higher purpose” like the journalist “Frank Pitcairn” who was a propaganda agent for Stalin during the Spanish Civil War and wrote dispatches for the Irish press that were pure lies intended to further Stalin’s campaign to betray the Socialist Revolution in Spain during 1937 in his effort to have his Communist cadres gain complete control of the Spanish Republican government. That cynical campaign by Stalin resulted in the tortures and murders by the NKVD of socialists and anarchists in Spain not controlled by Stalin, and thus sapped the strongest moral force fighting against Francisco Franco’s fascist revolt against the democratically elected Spanish Republican government.
Franco was backed militarily by Hitler and Mussolini, and economically by Great Britain. The Spanish proletarians who manned the most effective and motivated anti-fascist forces were organized as the Socialist and Anarchist militias fighting for proletarian dignity and economic independence within a projected Socialist Spain. Once the socialist national dream for Spain was violently quashed in May 1937 by the combined forces of Stalin’s organs of repression and Spanish Communist troops directed from the Kremlin, and the military forces of the anti-Francoist Spanish bourgeoisie, the spirit animating the defense of the Spanish Republic dissipated and the war ended in a terrible defeat in 1939, followed by almost four decades of Francoist dictatorship during which more Spanish anarchists, socialists, communists and republicans were executed than had been killed during the Civil War itself.
I had a grand-uncle who was a violinist with a pre-war Spanish symphony orchestra, who was jailed for a time by Franco after 1939 for being an opponent of the regime — a classical violinist! So, I have an animus to the “Frank Pitcairn” types, the self-declared and comfortable Western leftists who defend rather than decry tyrants who oppress, torture, disappear, gas and bomb their unarmed civilian populations seeking reforms against their government’s oligarchic corruption, and for their own democratic participation in charting their nation’s course, because those Frank Pitcairn types are consumed with approval-seeking (from Stalin in the 1930s and 1940s, and from like-minded internet audiences today) and burnishing their own self-delusions of having superior worthiness as politically advanced and thus presumably morally elevated “US-only anti-imperialists.” Their lovingly satisfying gazing into their own self-referential mirrors are not to be interrupted by any concerns for the sufferings of actual people being killed by dictators and regimes nominally opposed to “US imperialism,” and so those oppressed populations, by “anti-imperialist” ideologically necessary definition, “deserve it” because they are Nazis in Ukraine, and al-Qaeda in Libya and Syria.
All the arguments by these “anti-imperialists” boil down to a defense of how they wish to think of themselves, regardless of how many foreign civilians have to be murdered (by approved of foreign “anti-imperialist” potentates) to preserve that self-image. And Vladimir Putin’s organs of disinformation and propaganda gleefully use these Western “anti-imperialist” poseurs to help perpetrate his many war crimes since 2000, when he gained power, and most recently in Syria and Ukraine.
So I now find that I am more isolated politically than I used to believe was possible, because the “leftist community” that I identified with and once imagined was at least unified by some wonderful human-centered principles of solidarity by class — the “working class,” “the proletariate,” “the voters,” “the people,” as opposed to the wealth and power classes of oligarchs and “capitalists” and corporations and “nomenklatura type” politicians — a human-centered solidarity that cut across national boundaries and ethnic differences, has been vividly exposed by the war in Ukraine to be irredeemably fractured between Frank Pitcairn type rigid ideologues of very selective anti-imperialism and of inconsistent sympathy with oppressed populations, and George Orwell type inconsistent ideologues for anti-imperialism, with consistent sympathy for oppressed populations. The essence here is whether one identifies with one or another of the power pyramids engaged in the “multipolar” (one of Putin’s favorite words in his apologetics of his imperialism) rivalry between the major power pyramids, or “superpowers,” vying for greater control of world populations and their economics, or whether one identifies indiscriminately with “the workers” and the actual “ordinary” people of the world, who universally want safe, secure, decently prosperous and not exploited lives for themselves and their families in stable democratic non-contending nation-states.
What we really need in the world today is for NATO to expand globally to encompass EVERY country on Earth: every nation pledged to come to the immediate aid and defense of any nation that happens to experience a crisis or catastrophe, be it of political origins like a military invasion or a civil war brought on my dictatorial megalomania, or a catastrophe of natural origins like a tsunami, an earthquake, floods, crop failures and famine, or Climate Change.
Global Warming Climate Change (GWCC) is a pernicious geophysical positive feedback loop of negative consequences for planetary habitability, being a human caused and accelerated effect driven by emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (primarily methane) exhausted from the burning of fossil fuels used to generate the heat-energy that powers so much of “our” capitalist and militarist and imperialist ambitions. The only way GWCC can be slowed and eventually stopped before it makes organized human life — human civilization — impossible because of the heat-induced onslaught of many irreversible and catastrophic environmental changes, is for an internationally cooperative and unified and permanently sustained maximum effort to quickly abandon the use of fossil fuels everywhere, and to power all human activities from naturally sustainable sources such as by solar, wind, hydrological and geothermal power.
Such an internationally integrated worldwide anti-GWCC effort would necessarily define a new reality of World Socialism: “all for one and one for all.” The transformation of one’s own country for a Post-Carbon World, along with its assistance offered to and cooperation given with other countries engaged in their own self-transformations to the post-carbon paradigm, would necessarily be leveling socialist economic revolutions nationally and globally. Both the “communist” labeled command-capitalist oligarchies and the “capitalist” labeled corporate “free market” oligarchies would have had to fall away in favor of a broad socialism centered on meeting the human needs of Earth’s people, for a planetary anti-GWCC effort to be able to be mounted and to succeed.
And it is because I now see the emergence of such a planetary anti-GWCC world socialism as impossible that I also grieve. That “impossibility” solely exists because of the obduracy and pettiness of a vast portion of humanity’s minds, even among minds in our communities of supposedly most politically enlightened people (according to themselves): our socialists, and safely comfortable Western recreational “leftists,” people who cannot bring themselves to support the assistance — from whatever quarter possible even NATO — to small national populations struggling desperately against murderous onslaughts from their dictatorial rulers like Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and from invasive imperialistic foreign juggernauts like Vladimir Putin in Syria and in Ukraine.
If we cannot all see the moral universality of human struggles against anti-democratic oppression and against the losing of personal freedoms, of national independence, and of life itself for so many, then we will never be able to prevent our fractious selves from destroying our planet’s habitability through our competitively myopic escalation of Anthropogenic Climate Change.
So I grieve for the human pawns being sacrificed to advance tyrannical and imperial ambitions, for the many widows, orphans, widowers and bereft lovers who survive, for a while, those human pawns sacrificed on the chess boards of ambitious narcissistic potentates, and I grieve for my lost illusions about leftist communities and socialist potentialities, and I grieve for a world I think is hopelessly beyond salvation — by choice.
Believe me, I fervently wish history would prove me wrong, and soon.
And I hope Ukraine wins its defensive war, soon.
And ideology be damned: human solidarity is everything.
It is true that Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement policy (1938) held off WWII for a year — for Poland (1 September 1939) — and maybe a bit more for Norway, Denmark, and the Low Countries, and then France (May-June 1940); and then maybe up to two years for Britain directly if you count in the Phony War (1939 to before May 1940), and then close to three years for Russia/USSR when Hitler tore up the Molotov-Ribbentrop alliance (22 June 1941) that had initiated the joint German-Russian invasions of Poland in 1939.
Each of those time gaps allowed the countries enjoying them, before being swallowed up into military hostilities, to safely arm or rearm as they could in anticipation of the worst, which soon came to all of them. So it is easy to see some short-term tactical advantage to an appeasement policy prior to experiencing a military invasion.
This was certainly Hitler’s and Stalin’s view when each chose to enter into their Molotov-Ribbentrop alliance to carve up Poland (seen by both Hitler and Stalin then as Putin sees Ukraine today), and to keep from warring against each other (in the inevitable Fascist-Communist 1940s superpower war), and in Stalin’s case to appease Hitler’s eastward expansion without the USSR having been able to gain any Western European allies against Hitler/fascism and Japanese militarism.
The essence of the various interrelated appeasement policies of Chamberlain, Stalin and Hitler (the MB Pact being in part Hitler’s appeasement to USSR westward expansion) all shared one fundamental principle: the independence of or submission (even to the point of nonexistence) by smaller weaker countries was for the major powers to dispose of as they saw fit, and as served their plans for protecting their own political domains (empires) and for imposing their geopolitical/territorial schemes (colonization) beyond their existing borders. So, Czechoslovakia and Poland got “tossed under the bus” in 1938-1939 so the British Empire, the Third Reich, and the USSR could continue to have their pieces of the European and World pies. This reality of international relations is doubtless as old as humanity itself:
“…the standard of justice depends on the equality of power to compel, and that in fact the strong do what they have the power to do, and the weak accept what they have to accept.” — [Thucydides, 416 BC].
This was how Thucydides wrote about it, in his account of the “Melian Debate” between the Athenian Empire and the leaders of the small Aegean island of Melos that Athens (the Delian League) wanted to occupy as a forward naval base against any invading Spartan (and Persian sponsored) fleet during the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC). Ultimately, the Athenians assaulted Melos, defeating it, killing the men and enslaving the women and their children. The lands between Berlin and Moscow suffered similar fates between 1933 and 1945.
The idea of appeasing Putin’s imperialistic ambitions, as regards Ukraine, arises naturally when he threatens to resort to nuclear weapons if thwarted in his expansionist military operations. By the same logic it seems reasonable for public safety in the United States, the European Union, Russia, and even beyond as far as China, if the 194 recognized countries of the world would accept the power principle articulated by Thucydides and let the nuclear superpowers to dispose of everyone’s national independence or dependence, submission or nonexistence, as those superpowers — empires all — saw most convenient for themselves: better that the people in the smaller weaker and poorer countries suffer and die by imperial conquest than that the people in the larger stronger richer and “safer” countries expose themselves to hazards — from the inconveniences of slowed supply chains, up to the terrors of thermonuclear face-offs — by coming to the defense of the invaded “weaklings.”
This dilemma was addressed in 1945 with the formation of the United Nations (and a subsequent variety of treaties) — a far from perfect organization but a positive step to address the problem — and the formation of NATO, also far from perfect but even so a membership in which has been avidly sought by every country occupied by Nazi Germany and/or the USSR between 1939 and 1991.
The whole point of these organizations is to prevent a reoccurrence of the political-military escalations that unleashed WWII (and similarly for WWI, earlier). By that logic the UN ‘world alliance,’ the EU economic-military alliance, and the NATO military alliance exist to resolve outbreaks of destabilizing world disorder like the Russian war in Ukraine, without sacrificing the population under assault, because by sacrificing them (again; as in 1935, and 1936-1939) the glue of trust needed to maintain such structures of mutual security dissolves and they fall apart, and we are back to Melian Sacrifices before all subsequent superpower expansions: unchecked imperialism.
“The fate of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will determine the propensity of all other countries for aggression. If it fails in turn, the effect on all global and regional powers will be one of powerful deterrence. If it succeeds, that is if Russia manages to ‘pacify’ Ukraine under Russian boots, the effect will be a major slide of the global situation toward unrestrained law of the jungle, emboldening US imperialism itself and its allies to resume their own aggressive stances.” — [Gilbert Achcar, “A memorandum on the radical anti-imperialist position regarding the war in Ukraine,” Sunday 27 February 2022, http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article61309]
So, in February 2022, it is time for our many political, government, parliamentary, diplomatic, military and economic leaders and officials to earn their pay by coordinating their actions to reign in the aggression into Ukraine by the Putin government of Russia, without being so clumsy as to set off a nuclear war. From their reported and escalating actions this week (21-28 February 2022) it seems quite clear that they are well aware of what is required, and even such rigidly neutral countries like Sweden and Switzerland have joined in that effort: an economic throttling of Russia’s money flows coupled with increasing amounts of sophisticated weaponry delivered to Ukrainians so they become more effective in fighting their defensive hot war against the invading Russian military (and maybe if Lukashenko is stupid, an invading Belarusian military as well).
Recall that in the multipolar nuclear weapons era (>1949) that both the USSR and China dampened US war-making campaigns in Korea (1950-1953) and Vietnam (1965-1975) by supplying North Korea and North Vietnam with advanced weapons (small arms like AK47 rifles and ammunition, artillery, fighter jets, anti-aircraft missile and radar systems), and by merely existing as nuclear weapons ’superpowers’ allied with the Communist forces in Korea and Vietnam. The US had wanted to use nuclear weapons (MacArthur in Korea, Westmoreland and LeMay in Vietnam), but Korea and Vietnam were politically and territorially too close to China and the USSR for the U.S. to take that kind of risk. So despite the awesome military might and malice of the United States, the Koreans and the Vietnamese bled profusely to fight through their anti-US wars but they managed to survive them as three independent states (a unified Vietnam and two Koreas).
Given the ongoing antiwar protests in Russia and even Belarus, where such protests are heavily penalized by their laws (no 1st Amendment there, 20 years in jail threatened), rather than the Russian and Belarusian people expressing obvious commitments to all fight and die for their leaders’s Ukrainian war aims, it seems reasonable to anticipate that the Putin and Lukashenko governments could be brought down by popular revolts (and military mutinies) if enough of those people became sufficiently distraught at the losses of their boys in the snows, mud and streets of Ukraine, and terrified at the possibility of themselves being subjected to American, British and French nuclear bombardment in retaliation to Putin’s most extreme possible action.
At present, I think it most likely that Putin (and Lukashenko) will be reigned in without any nuclear weapons having been used, and his ultimate military defeat will cause, or be caused by, the fall of his regime. What is to be wished is that that happen as soon as possible so as to minimize the pain, suffering, death and destruction in Ukraine. And it is important to remember that the Russian and Belarusian people are not the enemies, but the Putin (plus loyal oligarchs, and Lukashenko client regime) are.
So I do not favor an appeasement policy with regards to Putin (and too bad he was not stopped sooner as with Syria in 2014), and I also realize that the management of an internationally coordinated counter-Putin-aggression economic-military policy is a delicate matter in our nuclear superpower era of the ‘World Order.’
I think the hazy idea of a “lasting peace” in world affairs is an ‘unobtainium’ at our current level of human and societal development (unchanged for millennia, as the late -5th century Melians would no doubt say if they could see us now), and that we should see the management of “peace” as a never-ending and always imperfect effort of pragmatic political improvisations; and that we should pick as our leaders people who are honorable and astute at doing that management without sacrificing human solidarity.
’The Trojan Women,’ a play by Euripides, was first performed in Athens 2,436 years ago at the height of the disastrous Peloponnesian War. It is considered a commentary on the capture of the Aegean island of Melos and the subsequent slaughter of its men and the enslavement of its women by the Athenians earlier that year, 415 BCE.
This play focuses on four women awaiting their fates after the fall of Troy (~1,200 BCE, in northwest Turkey near the Dardanelles): Hecuba (the wife of the slain king, Priam), Cassandra (the beautiful virginal daughter of Priam and Hecuba, who was blessed and then cursed by a lustful Apollo, with having a gift of prophesy none would listen to), Andromache (the wife of the great Trojan hero, Hector, who was slain by Achilles), and Helen (the Achaean queen and wife of King Menelaus of Sparta, who ran off with Paris to Troy, and which elopement was the purported cause for the Achaeans’s war against Troy).
The three Trojan women would all be made concubines and slaves by the Achaeans (mainland Greeks), and Helen returned to Menelaus. Because the Greeks wanted to ensure there would be no surviving male heir to the Trojan throne, they took Astyanax, the infant son of Hector and Andromache and the grandson of Priam and Hecuba, up to the high parapet of Troy and tossed him down to his death on the rocks below.
In 5th and 4th Century BCE Athens, the playwrights were known as poets and called teachers, and in ’The Trojan Woman’ Euripides was desperately and dramatically striving to teach the Athenians that the horrors of the Peloponnesian War were destroying the soul of their society, and that they should find ways of extricating their city-state from the war. His vehicle to convey that larger message to the Athenians was this dramatization of the final days in the death of the Trojan city-state eight centuries earlier (if in fact it was a single real historical event), as told in Greek myths recounted by legendary poets like Homer and his many forgotten colleagues.
’Stateless’, an Australian 6-part television series that was launched in 2020, is about a refugee and ‘illegal immigrant’ detention center, and strikes me as being similar to ‘The Trojan Woman’ as a societal teaching drama. It is both a searing depiction full of human and political insights about the current refugee crisis in Australia, as well as a close analogy for similar tragic realities along the US-Mexican border, in Libya and southern Italy, in Syria and the Greek Islands; and in other places where minorities and disfavored ‘others’ live precariously without stable statehood and are internally displaced or incarcerated, as in Syria, ‘Kurdistan’, Palestine, and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The writers of ’Stateless’, Elise McCredie and Belinda Chayko have done a magnificent job. The directors, Emma Freeman and Jocelyn Moorhouse have made an absorbing and compelling visual work (https://www.netflix.com/title/81206211).
How many refugees are there around the world? The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR (https://www.unhcr.org/figures-at-a-glance.html) states that: “At least 82.4 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes. Among them are nearly 26.4 million refugees, around half of whom are under the age of 18. There are also millions of stateless people, who have been denied a nationality and lack access to basic rights such as education, health care, employment and freedom of movement. At [this] time 1 in every 95 people on earth has fled their home as a result of conflict or persecution.”
We must add that the deleterious effects of climate change — crop failures and lack of drinking water from extended droughts, and the loss of land, housing and employment due to violent weather and flooding — has also spurred refugee streams.
Those refugee streams flow out of the tropical and sub-tropical latitudes: from Africa northward across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, up from Central America and Mexico and across the Caribbean Sea to North America, southward from Eastern Asia to Australia, and from the arid interior of the Middle East westward toward the Mediterranean Sea and Europe.
Americans, Europeans and Australians see these refugee streams as incoming waves of impoverished humanity comprised of dark-skinned people with cultures, mind frames and languages vastly different from their own, and thus a threat to American, European and Australian prosperity, and their existing ethnic balances, if too large an influx. We must realize that these refugee streams course back up along the gradients of wealth leading from the Global South to the Global North (and Australia), propelled by the pent up pressure of economic disparity created by over half a millennium of conquest and imperialism with over three centuries of slavery, by the White people of the north: the Europeans and the descendants of their American and other colonists.
The Australian television series ’Stateless’ is composed of a weave of four sub-plots, each about a person caught up in and then piteously twisted to the breaking point by the day-to-day reality of escalating crisis in the asylum-seeker Braxton Detention Center. All these stories are based on actual case histories. Threatened men and women become refugees and are driven to acts of desperation, they are victimized, families are torn apart, some eventually find sanctuary while many others languish indefinitely or perish. Low-level workers in the host countries looking to hang onto paychecks are shoved by higher level bureaucrats and policy-makers to go in and do the dirty work of “keeping a lid on” and also “making it look good for the public.” And the sanctimonious of all stripes on the outside are more often than not “virtue signaling” for their own ego boosts, than having any useful empathy for all the individuals mired in the toxic tangle of “the system.”
One story in ‘Stateless’ is based on the real case of Cornelia Rau, an Australian woman citizen who was emotionally disturbed at the time and who was inadvertently — and unlawfully — incarcerated by the Australian government’s Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA), and held for 10 months during 2004-2005 under the country’s mandatory detention policy for refugees, until Cornelia was traced to Braxton by a relative, and correctly identified and released to a hospital.
Another sub-plot focuses on an Afghani family fleeing the Taliban, being cheated and robbed by criminal human traffickers in Pakistan, being separated while attempting to make the perilous sea voyage to Australia in rickety boats, with the survivors eventually finding each other at Braxton. But the effort of the Afghani father to gain entry visas for his surviving family proves to be a very heartbreaking and essentially impossible effort. Despite some commendable humanitarian impulses by Australian workers tasked with maintaining the day-to-day operations of the center, and of some right-minded procedures embedded in the immigration policy, that policy is nevertheless largely fueled by a great deal of officially mandated bigotry and prejudice.
The conflict between offering a welcoming humanitarian response to the desperation of the trapped refugees terrified of being deported back to certain death, and the politically motivated mandates from the central government to maintain this bureaucratic structure for continuing exclusion, and without arousing public attention to it, is personified by the story of the woman appointed as the new director of the center. She is emotionally torn apart by the inherent cruelty of the job, and her political expendability to the remote higher-ups.
The last of the four sub-plots in ‘Stateless’ centers on a local rural freelance mechanic who seeks to leave precarity behind and support his young family with a steady paycheck earned working as a ‘prison’ guard at the detention center — though he is instructed that it is a refugee center and not a prison since its residents, despite having no freedom of motion, have not been placed there for the commission of crimes. This individual is a good-hearted fellow who quickly comes under unrelenting strain because of his repulsion at the cruelty toward unruly refugees by a sadistic guard, and because of the numerous requirements for him to perform rough enforcement actions on people exhibiting outbursts of anger, fear and madness. Both the emotional and physical traumas sustained in doing his job while trying to thread the needle between the frayed edges of UNHCR compassionate supervision of a precarious population, and the barbed razor sharp edges of bureaucratically enforced nationalism, nearly deaden his heart and rip apart his family.
Each of the four sub-plots in ‘Stateless’ is populated with many supporting characters who enrich the presentation, and the entire ensemble presents the full spectrum of human experiences that take place in the turbulent focal point of mixing-nonmixing between Australian society and Asian refugees at the Braxton Detention Center.
The ultimate solution to the world’s refugee crisis is so far out of view: ending all wars to establish a lasting world peace, and ensuring intelligent economic development up to decent standards everywhere so that people can remain in their countries with their families experiencing physical and economic security and good health down through the generations. Achieving these conditions would obviate the need for anyone to become a refugee and seek foreign asylum.
Yes, this is idealistic (naïvely so?, impossibly?), like wanting equitable worldwide cooperation to stop anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions so as to tamp down the acceleration of global warming. But neither of these ideals is intrinsically impossible to actualize, and that is why the continuation of the refugee and climate crises are such tragedies: they are fundamentally unnecessary sorrows, open and festering wounds on the body of humanity.
What we have today is a compounded system of exploitation through tiered victimhood, a system commanded by über capitalists and nationalistic warlords living luxuriant lives, and served by hierarchical cascades of lower level petty boss bureaucrats, their functionaries, and in turn their laborers and armed enforcers. This system is so abhorrent that Nature itself has abandoned us, and is trying to burn us off the land and wash us away into the seas and oceans we have thoughtlessly poisoned with our wastes. An added cruelty to this accelerating rejection of humanity by Nature is that those who are suffering now, and first, and will suffer the most from the increasing hostility of Earth’s climatic conditions to human life are the people of the Global South (the Third World), the regions from which today’s refugee streams emerge, the poorest of Earth’s people, those who lead the most precarious lives, and those who contributed the least to the creation of the global climate crisis.
Coda: a Meditation on ’Stateless’
Must I have a stone heart to preserve a sane mind in a world of pure suffering I am luckily insulated from — for now? How does one combat compassion fatigue and empathy burnout? Does one sink into survivor’s guilt for blamelessly being born lucky?; for living in a bubble of comfort, freedom and justice that is much rarer than one had previously imagined?; and that seems to be diminishing by national policy out of view of its lucky inhabitants confident in their unawareness? But of those lucky people who do become aware, how do they survive and stay human without deadening their souls? We have become a race of monomaniacal blind cyclopses raging about our freedoms because we cannot conceive of anything beyond our own frustrated infantile selfishness. Becoming aware of the sufferings of others is the first step in the very long journey of personal redemption. That journey has many perils, and no one completes it unscathed.
This is the kind of commentary, and commentator that pisses me off. Yes, an honorable, intelligent, patriotic former career soldier, and highly respected military-political commentator comes to forthrightly state that the war-crazed dysfunction of the American state now seems fatally terminal, and one might have found glimmers of that realization as far back as 1969, such as in Kurt Vonnegut’s new book that year Slaughterhouse 5, though Bacevich finally acceded to it in mid-Trump Administration.
WOW! I fucking knew this in 1968 as an 18 year old! I read SH5 in 1969, and Catch-22 in ’68, and had read Helen Hunt Jackson somewhere between 1963-1967 (which was before Dee Brown’s “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee” was published).
Okay, so now the old West-Pointer Bacevich has finally read SH5, and published his erudite books on the stupidity of American militarism, and been forthright about his previous white American exceptionalism careerist wrong illusions, and made sincere and public efforts to advocate for an inclusive, just, “progressive” America, and write as here about the complete toxicity of Trumpianism and the Republicans, and the pathetic flaccidity of the less than B-minus grade Bidenites — great, all welcome and good (and Stan Goff would tell me to be accepting of anyone’s personal redemption — okay), but DAMN! it took long enough!
The whole damn Vietnam War genocidal catastrophe wasn’t enough to wake you up by 1975? by Reagan-time? by Bush II time and the Iraq War? How come so many of us dumber unimportant people can figure this stuff out decades before you super-informed, super-plugged-in brainiacs and lever-pullers?
Well, okay, you’re good now Bacevich, and thanks for the accurate insights about today. I’m guessing that just as (some) serious people like Bacevich have woken up to the evils of American militarism 50 years after the Vietnam War, that equally in 50 years time we’ll see a heartening swelling in the ranks of today’s serious lever-pulling people who have woken up to the Planetary Crisis encompassing global warming climate change, collapsing biodiversity and its attendant social inequities. And then (forgetting about all the bodies buried since then) they’ll want to do something about it. By then palm trees might sprout in Greenland, and we may even have a smaller world population (involuntarily).
Okay, rant, part 1, is over. Now for part 2.
From Wikipedia: The Oklahoma City bombing was a domestic terrorist truck bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States, on Wednesday, April 19, 1995. Perpetrated by anti-government extremists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, the bombing happened at 9:02 am and killed at least 168 people, injured more than 680 others, and destroyed more than one-third of the building, which had to be demolished.
From Wikipedia: On June 24, 2021, at approximately 1:30 a.m. EDT, Champlain Towers South, a 12-story beachfront condominium building in the Miami suburb of Surfside, Florida, experienced a sudden partial collapse. At least 12 people died, and 11 others were injured.[as of 30 June 2021] About 35 people were rescued from the uncollapsed portion of the building, 2 people have been rescued from the rubble, and 149 people remain missing as rescue operations continue… As of June 28, 2021, 12 people are known to have died during the collapse, and 11 more have been injured. 11 of the 12 fatalities have been publicly identified, including two Venezuelan nationals and two Cubans. Up to 149 people remain unaccounted for.
So, it looks like the Champlain Towers South will have snuffed out 162 lives. “Missing” and “unaccounted for” are the terms used to describe people that have been killed but whose bodies have yet to be recovered, and for whom, illogically, their loved ones hope (and who can blame them!) that they will miraculously return alive.
So this building collapse — in all probability — nearly equals the death toll of the Oklahoma City terrorist bombing of 1995, though it did not cause any noticeable number of other injured. But the Oklahoma tragedy was “terrorism” and required a swift and vigorous government response, both to care for the victims and to apprehend and punish the perpetrators. But the Surfside (Miami) building collapse tragedy is not “terrorism” by rising seawater intrusion climate change undermining heedless shoreline real estate development, so: hold your horses!, let’s not rush to judgment!, let’s not act hastily — meaning at all — about that uncertain “climate change” scare tactic. Yeah, sure Gomer.
The mainstream finger of blame is pointing to faulty building construction and maintenance — which is undeniable — but that mainstream public consent-directing ministry (“of Truth”) has a massively pregnant silence about (the unthinkable!, the unmentionable!, don’t “politicize” tragedies!) CLIMATE CHANGE! But, well, “the possible excessive ingress of salt water” MIGHT have also been involved.
The bottom fell out and has been falling out not only of the Champlain Towers South, but of the whole damn Idiocracy clinging to and dangling from their high hopes of exponential prosperity for the ‘serious’ and ‘worthy’ (a.k.a. “exceptionalist”) denizens of the United States of Amnesia. Victims R Us.
“And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand.” — Matthew 7:26, King James Bible.
On 21 May 2021, Mark Ashwill’s excellent and moving article, “Of Class Rings, Bone Fragments and Fish Ponds: the Interminable Search for US MIAs in Vietnam,” was published (https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/05/21/of-class-rings-bone-fragments-fish-ponds-the-interminable-search-for-us-mias-in-vietnam/). It is about the searches by both Vietnamese and American groups for the unrecovered remains of those killed during the Vietnam War, while at the same time Americans continue to studiously avoid searching through their 20th century history to face up to its ongoing contortion of their 21st century national life. Think: Gaza in Palestine, May 2021, bombed Guernica-style by an unopposed Israeli military massively armed and lushly funded by the American Government.
“History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes,” (misattributed to Mark Twain, but actually from 1970).
It is my belief that 1968 was the most pivotal year in United States history after 1945. The commitment then to continue pursuing the Vietnam War, and the refusal ever since to face up to the consequences of it — unlike Germany’s postwar forthrightness about its 1933-1945 period — have doomed the U.S. to sink with increasing madness into the delusional path of “exceptionalism” it has been on since.
The last time there seemed a faint chance of breaking free from our American neo-fascist trajectory was 1976-1978, during the Carter Administration — and, yes, I know he was far from “perfect.”
I don’t think the U.S. will break free of its current delusional-ideological trajectory until it has fully come to terms with its Vietnam War history — and war crimes — and I mean by much more than just erecting a Black Wall.
The Amerindian Genocide, Black Slavery + Jim Crow, and the Vietnam War are in my view the three major American-perpetrated Holocausts. American “sleep” is shame-based denial of historical American reality. We as a nation could awaken from that sleep and transcend its underlying pathology, to such great benefit to everybody everywhere.
A good friend of mine is a 1966-1967 US Marine combat veteran of the Vietnam War, who survived much heavy combat and encirclement during the 1st Battle of Khe Sanh. He is the fiercest peacenik-socialist I’ve ever met, and also a really sweet gentle guy. He knows the truth.
And that truth is that official US Government ideology operates as an open cycle through the propagandized American Public Mind: we are not to “connect the dots” between what “we” have done with what “we” are doing. Acknowledging such attitudinally-causal links would be to operate both the personal and public minds in a morally closed cycle manner — to actually understand what is happening and why — and such clarified thinking must be dispatched into the non-thought oblivion of the memory hole in order to preserve the artifice by our political class of their guilt-free righteousness in perpetrating and sponsoring the war crimes deemed essential to the success of American foreign policy.
Let me suggest one such open cycle sequence of rhymed histories:
the Wounded Knee massacre, South Dakota 1890;
the Moro Crater massacre, southwestern Philippines 1906;
the No Gun Ri massacre, Korea 1950;
any number of massacres and bombardments in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War between 1965 and 1975;
the El Mozote massacre, El Salvador 1981, by a US trained and Reagan Administration sponsored Salvadoran Army;
the 2003-2011 Iraq War and its catastrophic aftermath;
May 2021: Palestinians apparently do not have a “right to exist,” but Israelis continue to have the right to destroy them with massive firepower gifted to them by the United States.
Imagine if closed cycle thinking had been applied after any of these catastrophes, and that had prevented subsequent ones because of the socially transformative moral effect of such thinking on the people and government of the United States. Give peace a chance. Is that funny? Why should the moral elevation of our American civilization be seen as an unrealistic and ridiculous fantasy? That is just a cowardly excuse to cling to barbarism and immaturity.
Our planet’s habitability is too rapidly and visibly decaying today, for us humans (and that includes you, unexceptional Americans!) to continue carrying on with the sociopathological behaviors exhibited by ancestors like Achilles, Genghis Khan, the Spanish Conquistadores, and the dictators of the 1930s. It is time we applied closed cycle moral thinking for the guidance of our political selves.
On 21 May 2021, The Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper reported that:
In pointing out this news story, Jeffrey St. Clair commented (23 May 2021, FB): “Same old story, all across the West. The mining, oil and timber corporations rip it up, abscond with the cash, leave behind poisonous rubble and the bill for cleaning it up…if it can be cleaned up.”
This “profitable” business behavior by resource extraction corporations is consistent with the type of energy cycle being promoted: the open cycle.
In thermodynamics, the open cycle is defined as the operation of any isolated “engine” — for extracting “work” from the consumption of “fuel” — by drawing the energy-containing resource (fuel) from an assumed infinite external and unchanging source (i.e., Nature), consuming it within the engine at high temperature to extract work (such as torque, or thrust), and exhausting the waste products of the conversion process into an assumed infinite external and unchanging sink at lower temperature (i.e., Nature). It is left to unspecified external reality — Nature — to endlessly absorb all wastes from our engines, and produce all fuels for our engines, without alteration to itself while existing at a constant temperature.
This has been a very useful concept for designing thermodynamically isolated fossil-fueled engines, like for jet airplanes, but it fails when “the engine” becomes so gargantuan — like being the aggregate fossil-fueled powering of our entire industrialized civilization — that it becomes comparable in “size” to the source and sink it is supposed to operate between. In terrestrial reality there are no isolated engines. You can’t wash an elephant in a kiddie pool, pretending it is in a river.
The aerobic-respiration-photosynthesis cycle sustaining wild animal and plant life on Planet Earth operates as a closed cycle. The aerobic exhalation of carbon dioxide by animal life is inhaled by plant photosynthesis to in turn exhale oxygen, in a balanced closed loop energized by the “fuel” of sunlight, and which cycle generates food for all: sugars, cellulose and protein.
The need to transform our civilization and reduce the amount of energy we use to conduct it, is entirely the task of abandoning further reliance on open cycle thermodynamics — the fiction that all our billions of little engines are each thermodynamically isolated — and operate our civilization’s aggregate planetary engine in a closed cycle. Of necessity this would mean abandoning the fiction that all our millions of little polities are sociologically isolated and can function in an apartheid and exclusionary manner.
Mens sana in corpore sano.
To power our planetary civilization with planetary closed cycle thermodynamics — in the interests of maintaining the longevity of human and much other life on Earth — we have to conduct our various socio-economic lives in a politically closed cycle manner across this planet. Think of this as thermodynamic socialism.
We humans are physically and intellectually capable of rearranging our civilization to operate at this elegantly integrated more advanced level, and we are now morally tasked to do so. We must leave our barbarism in the past and become a nation of morally closed cycle thinking in a world of thermodynamic socialism.
Is that impossible? The toppling of moral impossibilities in past human society always began as gleams of morally closed cycle thinking in just a few minds.
This is a stream-of-consciousness outpouring of my thoughts and memories and learning of Cuba, without any additional research, or “fact checking,” because I am sure whatever details I may have “wrong” are inconsequential to the truth of my testimony. And besides, I’m in my “don’t give a fuck what you think of me” senior years. Let the picayune, pedantic and nit-pickers do their own fact-checking (it’s easy enough today). But, to those with poetic and musical and socialist souls: welcome!
My family lost everything in the Cuban Revolution (from 1959): family business, property, grandparents’ health (early death); 1961-1967 were hell for us that way. Because of the rabid U.S. assaults on the Cuban Revolution, Fidel followed Raul’s lead and looked to the Communist Party — i.e., Russia — for help (I saw a Russian freighter in Havana harbor in 1960), and in reaction to those assaults, Castro banned rock music and the Beatles (in ~1965-1967; yet Juan Formell, famously, penned the seminal Cuban Rock-and-Roll classic, “Llegué, Llegué / Guararey de Pastorita,” and founded Los Van Van in 1969, https://youtu.be/75VYMyYVPhA).
BUT, my father forever refused to ever play golf (the signal Republican/Conservative/Imperialist/Reactionary/Fascist “sport”; I had offered to buy him golf clubs as a retirement present), and refused to ever visit Miami, where his old Upper West Side NYC buddies from the 1940s-1950s had gone in their senior years, because he did not want to go where “the pain in the neck” Cubans were.
My father had sent money sub-rosa (for bribes) to help his two childhood friends and their families to get out of Cuba in the later 1960s, and he cried when thinking back on it all, saying the U.S. had “destroyed my country.” Che Guevara was executed on my father’s 43rd birthday.
So, I know that Castro made many mistakes, and had dictatorial tendencies, but he was exponentially better for Cuba than the U.S. ever was or ever will be (Cuba si! Yanqui no!, I saw that grafitto painted on Cuban walls in 1959-1960). And the Cuban government always has the U.S. and its embargo and its CIA, as an easy excuse for and distraction from its own mistakes and heavy-handedness in managing Cuba; but there is an abundance of truth in that excuse nevertheless.
Despite its evident poverty, Cuba is what Puerto Rico (I am 50% Puertorriqueño) should be: independent; “the Cubans will never bend the knee,” as the last East German premier has said. Despite killing 2 to 3 million Vietnamese (between 1965 and 1975), and toxifying much of their land with Agent Orange and Cluster Bombs, the U.S. has “forgiven” officially ‘Communist’ Vietnam because it has let itself become a sweatshop for capitalism; Cuba remains unforgiven because it has not. And THAT is a dagger pointed at the heart of American imperialists’ greatest fear.
By the way: rock and roll is, deeply, a Cuban invention. The “French Quarter” of New Orleans is considered by US Americans as the birthplace of rock-and-roll through the African-American roots of Delta Blues, R&B, and Gospel music (rhythmic and charismatic African call-and-response choral music – originally without drums, which were forbidden to American Black slaves).
The French Quarter was actually built by the Spanish governor of New Orleans during the ~25(?) years of Spain’s ownership of that port, by treaty with the French (who had established and owned it previously, and then owned it afterwards – eventually selling it to the Americans in 1803 – all by treaties between France and Spain, because of European wars in the 18th & 19th centuries).
The rhythm-based African music was imported to Cuba with the slave trade (Cuban slaves were allowed the freedom to drum at night, which was forbidden in the U.S. over fear of “signalling” a slave revolt). There was a huge trade from Havana (of Cuban sugar) to New Orleans (and back with furs bound for Europe), and with it rode in Afro-Cuban musicians to New Orleans, who by then had already incorporated colonial Spanish instruments (guitar, flute, violin, brass, piano) into their bands. Those musicians brought in the roots music of what would eventually flower as Blues, Jazz and Rock. Chuck Berry’s “Louis, Louis” is a pure cha-cha-cha.
Today, Cuban popular music incorporates hip-hop (reggeton, via Puerto Rico, and via the many back-channels Cubans have used to gain access to foreign recorded pop music: Cubans are the most talented and accomplished “pop” musicians of the world, and the tap root of it all is Africa). All pop music worldwide is basically African-based, which is why, (pop) musically, Cuba is the “ombligo del mundo” and Africa is its placenta.
“I’ve only read and studied about the Nixon era, and the Watergate scandal (1972 to 1974) that led to Nixon’s resignation. To those that lived through it: is our current state of political scandal worse? The G.W. Bush era was definitely worse than Nixon. Even John Dean called it: WORSE THAN WATERGATE. That was followed up by Obama continuing the War On Terror; putting drone warfare into hyperdrive and going after whistleblowers. And placating capitalist-banksters who should have been prosecuted and put on trial. I feel like we are setting so many bad precedents that our Republic may never recover. This country needs a full-on Democratic reckoning and that doesn’t mean if we just elect Democrats that our Republic will begin healing. Needs to be more than that. It starts with civics and the rule of law.”
Eric, Here is how I remember it.
I lived through the Nixon Administration:
– being 18 in 1968 (and actively sought by the Draft Board for being mulched in the Vietnam War);
– when the Tet Offensive erupted (and the U.S. actually lost the Vietnam War);
– when Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated (on 4 April);
– when Bobby Kennedy (who started out working with Roy Cohn for Joe McCarthy, and then for his older brother President John Kennedy, running the covert ‘assassinate Fidel’ CIA program) was assassinated on 5-6 June;
– when horrendous urban riots, outbursts fueled by multi-generational despair, broke out in many cities after King’s assassination;
– when the corrupt Mayor Daley administration in Chicago sent the cops out on the bloody attack on young, peaceful and unarmed demonstrators during the Democratic National Convention (which veered to the Johnson Administration’s man, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, and away from the antiwar egghead Eugene McCarthy, Bobby Kennedy having been removed a month earlier);
– and when Dick Nixon invented and used the “southern strategy,” which is the standard Republican strategy of today (consolidate the bigot vote), to win the 1968 election as the “law and order” (White Supremacy) candidate.
Nixon, with Henry Kissinger (National Security Advisor, and later Secretary of State), had sabotaged Johnson’s peace initiative with the Communist Party of Vietnam (the “North Vietnamese”) in 1968, with about 30,000 American soldiers already dead from the Vietnam War at that point; by having Madam Chennault (a Chinese woman associated with the Chiang Kai-shek Nationalist Chinese regime-dictatorship in Formosa) make secret contact with the North Vietnamese government leaders and tell them not to accept Johnson’s peace terms, so Nixon could get elected (because Johnson would be seen as a failure), and Nixon would give them better terms.
Five years later, and with over 20,000 more Americans dead (and millions of Asian dead), the North Vietnamese accepted the exact same peace terms from Nixon that Johnson had offered them. The U.S. military pulled out in 1973, prisoners were repatriated, and Nixon poured money into the corrupt South Vietnamese regime for arms, but so much was funneled into pure graft, and that regime collapsed in 1975 from the combination of rampant corruption, lack of popular support, and cowardice in the field (and the Communist forces were very good militarily).
From 1969, Nixon and Kissinger secretly expanded the war into neutral Cambodia. The U.S. bombing of Laos and Cambodia (along their eastern border areas adjacent to Vietnam: the famous Ho Chi Minh Trail) had been so massive and genocidal to Laotian and Cambodian peasant societies that the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime resulted in Cambodia: an insane nihilistic death cult. The “Secret War in Cambodia” was exposed in 1970, and that ignited ferocious protests in the U.S., one of which led to the killing of unarmed students by National Guard troops at Ohio’s Kent State University.
Nixon won a landslide reelection in 1972, over anti-war Democrat (and decent guy) George McGovern (a WWII B-17 pilot and combat veteran). Part of Tricky Dick’s M.O. was covert “dirty tricks,” like the Watergate Break-in to the offices of the Democratic National Committee, in June 1972, to spy on the Democrats’ plans. I graduated college that year. A similar dirty trick had been the break-in to the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist to look for blackmail material against one of the men who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971 (Anthony Russo was the other leaker, and it was he who recruited Ellsberg to the effort).
The Watergate caper unravelled in 1973, and led to televised Congressional impeachment hearings in 1974. I was then in graduate school, and we grad students would pass much time every day watching the hearings (on TVs in graduate housing common rooms), and the months-long cascade of damning revelations. Now, and this is a key point: there were vigorous Republican investigators in both the Senate committee (like Senator Howard Baker) and House Committee, and they focussed on crimes against the Constitution of the United States, which in the case of Nixon were direct violations of laws passed by Congress, of which the invasion of Cambodia was the most egregious example (a military invasion of a neutral country, without a congressional declaration of war).
While there were certainly many Republicans anxious to avoid electoral losses because of the deterioration of the Nixon Administration, and who soft-pedaled Nixon’s crimes, there were enough of them faithful to the idea of “defending the Constitution” to make it inevitable Nixon would be impeached if it came to a vote — as Barry Goldwater personally told Nixon it would. That is why Nixon resigned (his VP, Spiro Agnew, had resigned earlier because he was caught in a corruption scandal; Gerald Ford was the new VP, and ascended to the presidency when Nixon resigned, and soon enough after pardoned Nixon, which is why Ford was soundly defeated in the election of 1976 by Jimmy Carter).
The first half of the Carter Administration, 1977-1979 (or 1976-1978), was the peak of American political decency combined with freedom from foreign wars (what is conventionally called “peace”), at least since the late Eisenhower Administration (after the Korean War and McCarthyism). After that, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s NSA Director, took the Carter Administration back into Cold War nastiness, by setting the Afghan trap that sucked in the Soviet Army, and was the major disaster that led to the downfall of the U.S.S.R, from 1989-1991.
The year 1979 is when the UK inflicted the world with Margaret Thatcher, and Ronald Reagan’s campaign to ‘make America great again’ took off, and he won the presidency in the 1980 election. Carter was undone by the external circumstances of austerities imposed on Americans by the energy crisis (Arab Oil Embargo) and stagflation, and by the embarrassment to national pride of failing to negotiate the extraction of American hostages from Islamic Revolutionary Iran (and also having a military rescue raid fail), since Reagan had made a Nixon-type deal for post-election hostage release with the Iranian theocracy (what a guy). Reagan’s win in November, and then the murder of John Lennon in December, marked the coup de grace of postwar (WWII) American liberalism.
The “conservatives” had been gathering strength through think-tanks (for policy formulation and capital accumulation) since at least 1971 (after the “Nixon Shock” of dropping the gold standard, the Bretton Woods Agreement on currencies); to conservatives during 1968 to 1971, it had looked like a left-wing “revolution” might succeed in the U.S.
Trump is just the latest manifestation of that Reaganite neoliberalism that erupted and gained ascendancy during 1979-1981. Along the way we’ve had a string of neoliberal presidential tools: G.W.H. Bush, W. Clinton, G.W. Bush, B. Obama, and finally the Maddest Hatter of them all: Donald J. Trump.
So, is Trump worse than Nixon? Is 2020-2021 worse and more dangerous than 1968?
What was worse in 1968 was the magnitude of the foreign slaughter inflicted by the U.S. military, and that operation’s huge suction of young American men into psychological and physical destruction (about 58,000 of them got their names chiseled on a Black Wall as a consolation prize), and the massive loss of public trust in government, which was exposed as being manned by too many callous lying careerists. This rupture of public trust has never been repaired and is a direct cause of the ongoing degradation of American public life. The American people as a whole have paid a terrible price for the self-induced bloody catastrophe of the Vietnam War (not to negate the genocidal magnitude of its cost to the Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians), and compounded that tragedy by never having internalized the lessons of that war, by a transformation of American society in the same way that Germany (as an example) has transformatively and truthfully faced its Nazi past. Americans chose denial, and let themselves open to repeating similar catastrophes; though for a time there was a strong resistance to mounting subsequent foreign military adventures until Reagan and subsequent neoliberal presidents (all of them) rehabilitated militarized American imperialism with the now (from 1973 on) “volunteer” (or, economic draft) military.
What was better in 1968 (to about 1971 really, and at most to about 1977) were the economic conditions for working people. Up to the recession of 1971, jobs could be gotten, a man could work as a janitor in a school or office building and support a stay-at-home wife with children in a house with a front lawn! Recession and inflation came in 1971 and after, because of government waste-spending on years of war on top of trying to maintain Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” and the implementation of the Civil Rights Laws (of 1964-1968): “affirmative action,” and the social concerns of the Office of Equal Opportunity (EEOC).
So the economic situation deteriorated significantly and quickly for many people, and the neoliberal movement (non-liberal Republicans, social and economic conservatives, and hardened corporatists) pushed on those economic conditions with initiatives of austerity: dump the little wage-slave guy to preserve the gain expectations of the bigger capitalists, and demonize the welfare-needing poor to redirect the anger of the increasingly impoverished wage-slavers onto the welfare-needing, and away from the exploiting corporatists and stock speculators. This remains Republican Party orthodoxy. And, as already mentioned, back then there were still liberal Republicans (people like Jacob Javits) and “defend the Constitution” Republicans capable of turning on Nixon. But all that liberalism was decaying along with the economic conditions — lots of good jobs — that were necessary to support it.
What is worse today is the complete putrification of the Republican Party into a completely anti-democratic organized conspiracy for gaining political power for purely factional aims of plunder to the benefit of high-end classists (the rich) and an overtly White Supremacist tribalism. Certainly such people existed back in 1968 and worked for the same ends as such people pursue today, but the broader extent of the relative prosperity offered by the economic system back then meant that there was less atrocious squeezing of the poor by the rich in order for those rich to lard themselves to their satisfaction at the national expense.
The whole idea today of giving workers, in or out of work, $2000 survival checks from the government during the pandemic, and extended unemployment insurance, is a specific indicator of the vastly impoverished national economy and economic management of today as compared with 50 years ago. The resistance to providing that economic relief today is because of a fear by the economic gatekeepers employed by the 1%, of reigniting memories of broader systems of economic equity and prosperity that obviated the need for such piecemeal and episodic economic survival crumbs-to-the-masses, like one-time $2000 checks. This realization is what Bernie Sanders tapped into, a return to FDR’s 1944 proposals of essentially expanding Social Security, with job and healthcare security for all. So far, such “socialism” is rationed to the U.S. military (and not all that generously for the rank-and-file), the political elite, and the corporate insiders.
Another clear degradation since 1968 is in the intellectual quality of much of American society and certainly of the American political classes; all coincident with the withering of educational quality over the decades, but ameliorated by a broadening of educational access to underserved communities (but again, not nearly enough of that, and over time increasing closed off by increasing costs-to-participate). So “leaders” like Trump and George W. Bush are clearly stupider than earlier generation leaders like Kennedy and even Lyndon Johnson. Leaders back then were hardly moral, so one can’t say that today’s political actors are vastly more immoral, though Trump does seem hellbent on pushing the envelope negatively in that regard. However, it is important to remember that Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger were/is truly evil because they were/are so intelligent and thus extremely capable of really well-thought out malevolence. Trump is closer to being a very maladjusted 3-year-old of 74 years of age and with no functional intellectual machinery, nor impulse control nor conscious moral ethics: he is just a destructive incompetent.
So from my perspective, the improved technocratic systems and technological machinery of government and the American industrialized civilization of today would be better able to address the physical and political challenges of today — primarily global warming climate change and the gross inequalities of standard-of-living (wealth, income, education, economic opportunity, job and health security) — IF we had both better government people to manage public affairs AND such politicians and technocrats (which includes the corporate sector) along with the majority of the American public had the desire and intention to implement a wholistic approach to managing the country for the benefit of all, rather than classistly (just for the 1%), tribally (just for White Supremacy) and factionally (competitively between narrowly defined special interests).
I see the failures of the management of American public life today as being primarily due to the poor moral, ethical and intellectual quality of the people doing that management, and the utter pettiness of their motivations and visions, rather than because of an overwhelming intractability of external circumstances, or technical deficiencies in the machinery of political management. Fifty years ago there was probably a greater fraction of better people in those roles (even though still with many, many horrible ones in place) but the magnitude of the military and financial disasters they had gotten themselves into (the Vietnam War, 1970s stagflation) were so great that they undid their more valiant efforts (like the War On Poverty, and Affirmative Action).
The neoliberal program, from 1979 onward, gained more control over of the catastrophe-prone external circumstances — like war, economics and welfare — by using improvements in technological knowledge and economic systems management to relentlessly impoverish an increasing proportion of the American public, from the bottom up economically, in order to preserve and grow the wealth of the wealthy. In a sense, the societal chaos that erupted in 1968 was natural and spontaneous, but today American society is so tightly controlled by being so thoroughly micro-managed to its impoverishment, that societal chaos is now an entirely managed effect, like the flow of a river throttled by the programmed releases of impounded water by hydroelectric dam engineers. The Trumpist Putsch of January 6, 2021, was just such an incompetently (thankfully) managed ejaculation.
So, which was/is worse: Nixon’s 1968 or Trump’s 2021?; or perhaps G.W. Bush’s exploitation of 2001’s 9-11, and his Iraq (and Afghanistan) War?
From the perspective of foreigners, Nixon was worse than Bush who was worse than Trump: 3 to 4 million dead in Indochina (plus all the bombing, land-mining and chemical defoliation); versus many hundreds of thousands dead in Iraq and with millions made refugees; versus thousands droned to death under Trump. But Trump gains many extra negative points for his tireless efforts to destroy the climate and ecosystems of Planet Earth, which ecocide directly cause fatalities.
From the purely selfish perspective of the American people, things have gotten steadily worse since Nixon because of the unrelenting vampirism by the 1% on the American economy, with its attendant impoverishment of wage-slaves (who too often contribute to their own enslavement by their myopic bigotry, anti-intellectualism and anti-environmentalism).
So in the grossest possible characterization:
– back in 1968-1971 the external circumstances of war and economics were worse and better, respectively, than today while the quality of the political class was better intellectually and professionally; in general society was freer because the economy was more expansive and supportive of popular aspirations despite still having many specific inequities (e.g., racist and sexist practices); also Earth’s climate and ecosystems were far healthier than today;
– today the external circumstances of war and economics are better and worse, respectively, than 50 years ago because the political class, despite being so much worse intellectually and professionally and so much more a captive appendage of corporate marketing departments, has a much tighter grip on external circumstances through a greater understanding of the levers of economic control; and society is more controlled and restrictive for “the working class” because their economic confinement and impoverishment is the mechanism by which the political class manages national affairs to further the enrichment of capitalist wealth, their patrons; and that intentionally worsened and worsening economic situation for “the working class” (the 99%) in order to exponentially enrich the wealthy is paid for by the now little-reversible ecocide and global warming destruction of the climate system.
In any case, we can’t go back. The best we could do — if we dropped the totality of capitalist neoliberalism (“fascism”) and its foundation of White Supremacy, and developed the moral character required for fashioning a wholistic “all in” national society — is to learn from the history of our national mistakes, and then apply those painfully gained insights to implement a societal transformation that adequately and equitably meets the existential challenges of today: the sustainability crisis with its global warming climate change, and nuclear disarmament.
What is war? Let me propose the following undoubtedly imperfect definitions.
War is dehumanization by the violent crimes of mass murder and the efforts to destroy civil societies. Offensive war is the crime of making war to dominate another civil society. Defensive war is the tragedy of resisting aggression from offensive war. Making war is the sacrifice of a mass of domestic workers, by their regimentation and military use with likely injury or death, to inflict harm on a designated victim-enemy population whose combatants are responding in kind. The demarcation between offensive and defensive war can be ambiguous, dynamic, fluid and fragmentary. The structure of war is hierarchical: the higher an individual’s rank in the warring society the higher the probability of their being privileged and guilty of being a perpetrator; the lower an individual’s rank the higher the probability of their being victimized by the war.
The ideas embedded in these definitions and statements include:
– war is a crime, war is dehumanizing, war is violent;
– the directing perpetrators of war are the most shielded from its hazards;
– the people at greatest hazard from warfare are those least responsible for initiating and directing it;
– the troops sent into combat are themselves victims, having been robotized by coercive militarized training to perpetrate individual and mass murder as ordered (and to sometimes spontaneously murder, rape, pillage and torture on their own individual initiative), and in turn to absorb the mass murdering counteractions by the enemy.
I was prompted to these thoughts by reading the newly published (2020) book by Marc Levy, The Best of Medic In The Green Time, Writings from the Vietnam War and Its Aftermath.
I believe this is a book everyone in the United States should read and take to heart, because then the American Public might put up more resistance to ‘their’ government’s making of war, and the exorbitant funding of war technology and subsidized corporate profiteering from it. Also, the deep immersion of noncombatant readers’ consciousness into the personal testimonies of Marc Levy and the many veterans Marc presents in this anthology might induce a greater commitment by members of the public to antiwar political activity and voting choices, and a greater commitment to more conscientious ethical behavior and to the wellbeing of all of humanity.
The Best of Medic In The Green Time is divided into four sections. The first is an informative, significant and thoughtful Introduction by Janet McIntosh, Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at Brandeis University.
The three sections of Marc Levy’s text are labeled: War, Poetry, and Postwar.
The section War comprises of 24 accounts occupying a total of 151 pages. The section Poetry comprises of 15 poems occupying a total of 36 pages. The section Postwar comprises of 34 accounts occupying a total of 366 pages.
All of the prose is written in a completely direct and unadorned style; and all of the poetry is transparently clear. None of the authors is allowing egotism to encumber their writing with attention-seeking convolutions and ornamentation. This is a group of writers who are just not interested in bullshit. Their words are vehicles for transmitting their truths as clearly as possible, because their purpose is to inspire the public to end America’s proclivity for making war.
While the entire agony, criminality, futility, injustice, sorrow and long-lasting pain of war generally, but in particular of the Vietnam War — since it nearly absorbed me into it during 1968-1969 (I was eventually passed over for induction because I drew a high number in the draft lottery of December 1969) — all make me angry and sad, what especially infuriated me in the accounts in Levy’s book were the descriptions of incompetents whose stupidity caused needless injury and death in the field, as well as the cop-mentality stupidity and rule-bound insensitivity of the bureaucratic assholes far behind the front and in the stateside draft boards, who added to the mental traumas of wounded warriors.
Jeff Motyka, a permanently disabled soldier, recounts how after many months of painful hospitalizations and physical rehabilitation after being blown up and deeply pitted with shrapnel in combat, he was hounded by his draft board witch (who had erroneously classified him as 1A years earlier, just as my draft board witch had done to me in 1968), seeking to have him returned to active duty because she believed that all documentation and physical evidence — like leg braces! — that anyone presented as evidence of an incapacity for military service were “usually phony.”
The section on War is a series of war stories, the types of scenes that inspire war movies, but which are entirely real here and thus authentically gut-wrenching and heart-breaking. This section prepares you to begin understanding why the authors and their compatriots can be so focused on and mentally confined by their experiences in Vietnam, and which they try to process over the remainder of their lives through poetry and postwar memoirs as in this volume, and also with psychotherapy, drugs and their own postwar veteran camaraderie; to try warding off the demons of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), survivor’s guilt, guilt over crimes and killing, and alienation from the uncomprehending and disinterested civilian society they returned to.
One particularly thorny essay (actually, they are all thorny) is called “Five Simple Words”: Thank you for your service. Veterans who may carry 1000 years of aging and war sorrow imprinted on the minds and shot into their bodies during a one year tour of combat duty are now having to sustain postwar assaults with that platitude gushed out at them by clueless people in their self-satisfied certitude that they have demonstrated their higher moral sensitivity. Some veterans might take weeks to regain their fragile psychological equilibrium after the mental turmoil stirred up by being inflicted with those five words. If you ever feel compelled to comment to a veteran on his or her war experience, just offer them that most basic form of human love and solidarity: “Welcome home,” or “I’m glad you’re safe.”
Beyond that, neither you nor I as non-combatants can ever really know at a visceral level what any combat veteran’s experiences, both in the field and in postwar life, are like. At best we can become much better informed about war’s personal costs by reading books such as Levy’s, and we can become better citizens by conscientiously exerting the prerogatives of our citizenship with a sharp focus to counter the people and political groups that perpetrate and profit from war-making and war industry. In that way we can ‘thank veterans for their service’ by helping to prevent more war, and prevent more workers from being victimized by being pressed into manning wars, and becoming casualties who would sustain the murderous violence of America’s wars of choice (by ‘important’ people who don’t fight in them).
An important part of Levy’s book (actually, all the parts are important) is his descriptions of the humanity of Communist Vietnamese soldiers — like Bao Ninh (a man), and Dang Thuy Tram (a woman) — who fought against the American invaders and for the independence of their country. The recognition after the war by many formerly antagonistic American and Vietnamese veterans, of their shared humanity, has led to many touching reconciliations since 1975.
That same recognition can be applied to resolve international political differences to prevent them from degenerating into dehumanizing wars. And books such as this one by Levy can help spark that realization in more minds, and stiffen the resolve of political actors to actually work for the peace and wellbeing of humanity beyond the narrow confines of factionalism and mere nationalism.
There are touches of humor and jokes in Levy’s book, sort of along the lines of Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22, but all layered on a horrendous substratum of warped reality and thus painfully ‘funny’ and painfully real. There are also sweet moments in the book, as when some caring giving soul, man or woman, shares a kindness with a soldier in need of relief.
The Vietnam War is not over, and neither are the Korean War, the Iraq War, the Afghan War, and many other unnamed and invisible American mini-wars and micro-wars that all produced war dead and permanently war-wounded, both American and foreign. Some of those voices from other wars are included in Levy’s book.
These veterans and their survivors carry the heavy loads of psychological sorrows and physical pains of their wars every day of their postwar lives, and those wars can never be said to have ended until all such visceral memories have been extinguished by the passing of the people who were personally seared by them.
What Marc Levy has been doing with his writing about the Vietnam War is to seek to manage his own trauma from his wartime experiences, and also to continue caring for his men — as he did as a medic during his time in combat — in their postwar lives by offering them avenues for release; and then by presenting all this literary work to the public to prod it into transforming America away from its self-harming behavior of war-making and militarism.
Marc Levy’s Medic In The Green Time is not some dry academic exercise of top-down analysis of historical trends and national policy decisions, it is a bottom-up first hand account from the heart of individuals sustaining the brunt of war and struggling to maintain or recover their humanity as, unlike many of their fellow soldiers, they managed to survive the fighting and are now locked in postwar struggles against demons that could easily kill them through submerged terror and unrelieved regret.
Finally, for completeness I mention my criticisms of the book, which are all very minor but which I note in the hope that they will be addressed to improve subsequent editions:
While the proofreading of the entire volume was stellar, there still are two typographical errors: on page 466, “forhonorably” should probably be “for honorably”; on page 506, “it’s his not job” should probably be “it’s not his job.”
While footnotes and parenthetical notes are frequently used to define acronyms, jargon and slang, it would be very nice to have a glossary as an appendix to the book for easy reading generally, and the convenient rereading of excerpts. It would also be nice to have an index.
A thoughtful interview of Marc Levy, and discussion of Medic In The Green Time, has just appeared, see
For me, Medic In The Green Time is the channeling of the pain, loss and isolation of combat survivors, into a work seeking to humanize us all into recognizing our fundamental and compassionate connections to people everywhere.
I landed in college as a green wide-eyed freshman, at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia (NOT Penn State!), in September 1968. This was an explosive year, to my mind the most pivotal one in the United States since 1945. My dorm room was in a short cul-de-sac second floor hallway of the large antique pseudo Oxford-Cambridge style ivy-festooned stone masonry men’s dorm quadrangle building off Spruce Street.
I felt really good to finally have gotten out of the prison day-camp Catholic boys high school I’d been in for 4 years, and out of the nice suburban North Shore Long Island town my family lived in during my adolescence (before that being in New York City); and I had a brand spanking new draft deferment that I thought would insulate me from the carnage of the Vietnam War, which was at its peak at that time with the Tet Offensive.
In fact, Lyndon Johnson’s televised speech with the surprise announcement that he would not seek reelection in November 1968 happened two days after my 18th birthday, after which I had to troop down to the post office and register for the draft. That didn’t feel too good believe me, because I’d watched the news and read the papers daily all through high school. Those were my “Greta Thunberg” years, 1964-1968: from the Bay of Tonkin con-job and 1965’s Marine invasion of South Vietnam — “escalatio” as Tom Lehrer called it — to Tet, erupting on January 31, 1968, and pulsing through three bloody phases that year; when I was dreading the fucked-up situation the adults were shoving my way (you know: die for us, it’s good for “the country”).
My own priorities were: #1, study engineering so I could become the next Enzo Ferrari and build my own sports cars; #2, find receptive female companionship to find an outlet for my raging testosterone levels; and #3, stay out of Vietnam. I was not wise as an 18-year-old, I was NORMAL, having been instructed about women (“girls” was the pre-feminist term used then) by Beach Boys songs (those cherub troubadours of the white colonial culture of the Occupied Territories of Mexico’s northern part of Baja California) and Sophia Loren movies.
In the decades since then I’ve come to realize how difficult it is for women everywhere, and most certainly in the United States with its huge proportion of knucklehead males, to accept becoming the “second mothers” to so many needy fake-macho lunkheads: pickings for good husbands, mates and sperm donors (drones in the Bee World) can be slim for so many alert and intelligent women.
But, in the fall of 1968 I was feeling good and with high hopes. I burrowed enthusiastically into my school work and got on the Dean’s List. Three of us in our hallway were socially awkward and stayed in at night from lack of alternatives and fear blunting initiative. Besides, all the coeds had lots of upperclassmen to pick from and who owned cars and had money to spend. So, Joe Williams invited two or three of us to listen to his Bob Dylan records (note: using a plug-in electric machine that played vinyl discs to produce recorded music sounds).
Now, I had heard all the pop music of the day every day before that, because I had gone to my somewhat distant high school in a carpool driven by a neighbor boy’s father (a NYC fireman with rank, so lots of time to call his own), in a Ford Econoline van (a very cute unsafe-as-hell design), and Robert (the son) would put on the radio for every trip. Beside hearing it all in this way (the grating falsetto Sherry Baby too, too many times, but the Rascals on “Good Lovin’” was the best), and outside school it was so easy to hear spillover sounds from radios playing everywhere. At home I listened to the classical music and Spanish Zarzuelas (operettas) so close to my heart. So, by September 1968 I knew about Dylan’s hit songs up to that point.
But, Joe Williams said we had to hear Dylan the right way. Joe turned us on to grass: marijuana. We would sit up through the night listening to Dylan’s 1965 and 1966 albums: “Bringing It All Back Home,” “Highway 61 Revisited,” and “Blonde on Blonde.” We laughed our asses off totally stoned listening to “Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35” — “everybody must get stoned!” — yeah. It was so hilarious to read the “adult” press on this, where the experts saw in this song a deep poetic cry of alienation. Man, the adult world is just one big blivet of puffery.
I had heard all the popular folk music during its period of prominence, which coincided with the Civil Rights movement from about 1961 to its crescendo in August 1963 when Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed his dream to the nation and world from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial (which is my favorite single building in Washington D.C.), until its triumphs with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
At that point Bob Dylan checked out of the topical political protest folk singer-songwriter role he’d mastered, and moved on artistically. No creative person can stand typecasting. Dylan’s early career in pure folk music was masterful, but I wasn’t into folk music. I turned onto Dylan when he went electric. For me a good song has both good words (even poetry) plus lots of really good instrumental music. And this essay is, believe it or not, about that.
Bob Dylan went on tour in 1966, backed by a 5 piece rock band, 4 of whose musicians (except the drummer) were a longtime group that would emerge on their own in 1968 as “The Band.” Dylan was booed at all his concerts in Europe and at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, as a “traitor” to the pure folk music style his earlier audiences had typecast him into. Even his pals Pete Seeger and Joan Baez were put off. Why?
In the late 1930s, Frank Sinatra exploded into popularity because he revolutionized how pop music was delivered to the fans. Earlier singing phenomena, like Bing Crosby, knew how to croon with projection to make up for the deficiencies of the crude electrified public address systems of the times, if one even existed in the halls they sang in. By Frank’s high school years (which he bailed out on) microphones and amplifiers were improving significantly (“modern” hi-fi equipment was finally introduced by RCA in 1941).
Tony Bennett has perceptively pointed out that with this new equipment Frank Sinatra did not need to project, so he “made love to the microphone” and sang in a very intimate style, and which every listener in the dance halls and over the radio broadcasts felt was delivered just to them, person-to-person. The Bobby-Soxers went ape-shit over this, a mega-scale precursor to the Beatlemania of 20 years later.
This is where Frank Sinatra was a pivotal figure in the evolution of broadcast popular music: he had that smooth melting crooner’s voice (and had even taken voice lessons from an ex-Metropolitan Opera vocal coach), he had lovely breath control (much learned from Jo Stafford, listen to her meltingly wonderful “The Nearness of You”) with which to fashion long lingering phrases, and he had that intimate emotional and yet cool even vulnerable at times feeling, which he conveyed so convincingly.
Bob Dylan’s folk music was conveyed to his initially small audiences in just this intimate way. Even without a P.A. system, a non-projective (non-operatic, non-Irish tenor) style of singing was just fine in the always small coffee houses and folk clubs of Greenwich Village in the 1950s and early 1960s. And of course, Dylan’s albums from 1961 to 1964 carried his recorded intimate-delivery folk music far and wide.
Now, the American folk music of the early ’60s was nothing like the polished hip big band standards that Frank Sinatra put out, but even at its most angry, and ‘protesty’ and ‘shouty’, the folk music of those years was essentially intimate (think Phil Ochs): it spoke to the personal feelings for and dreams of social transformation in each of the audience members, and with minimal acoustic instrumentation. Those songs were usually not stadium-sized sing-along sonic-boom anthems like Freddy Mercury’s “We Will Rock You,” even though Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-changin’,” and “Blowing In The Wind” sort of became ones.
So by 1965, Bob Dylan was typecast by his folk fan base as “their” intimate public voice. But by then Dylan had gotten stoned and was now deep into making group electric music for being stoned. That was the first pop music that could burrow into your stone-cave and light up the panorama movie screen of your stone-mind with its soundtrack — for so many of us lunkhead males, and also for plenty of girls (sorry: women) as I soon learned from direct experience —: the blazing folk-rock of Dylan in 1965 and 1966: “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” and “Like A Rolling Stone.”
The poor folkies who wanted to be aurally cuddled by their post-Beatnik second daddy folksong troubadour wailed about their Big Brother’s abandonment of them. This is where Bob Dylan is a pivotal figure in American (U.S.) broadcast popular music: his was the folk-blues phantasmagoria of proto-rap lyrical torrents cascading out on streams of blazing hot blues-rock electric music that engulfed the newly stoned minds of the emerging adolescent and young adult nymphs, and the innocent drones and satyrs scheduled as cannon fodder for the Vietnam meat-grinder. That was me.
In 1969, I lost my deferment (2S) and was classified as ready for war right then (1A), because of some screw-up where it was reported to the draft board that “my” grades were failures. For those people any boy Garcia was the same person, so I get pegged with someone else’s failure. When I called the draft board to complain about this clerical error, telling them I could send them a copy of my dean’s list letter from the school, the old lady scarecrow on the phone just said to me “once we start the process we just keep going.” Up to 1968, 50% of the Vietnam War casualties among U.S. soldiers were Blacks and Latinos, always sent out “on point” by their white-boy lieutenant platoon commanders ‘leading’ their men, from the rear, into jungle ambuscades (I heard about such things from first hand recollections by Puerto Rican veterans who survived their 1960s in Vietnam).
So I basically lost my mind, desperate to achieve my goal #2 before being done in by a failure to meet goal #3; and I kept up my studies in the hopes of being ultimately able to proceed with my career ambitions to do engineering and science in a creative way, should I survive. I eventually lucked out by getting a very high number in the draft lottery of December 1969, and so I was passed over for being inducted into the U.S. military.
And during those years of 1968 and 1969, I listened to much music designed to accompany being stoned: Dylan, Doors, Janis Joplin, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, and even Crosby Stills and Nash. Janis and CSN were favorites in the girls’ dorms (dorms were segregated by sex in those days, so making an overnight stay involved careful planning and inside help to pull off, like a bank heist caper). I learned much about all this music from the young ladies — all of them far more socially aware than me, keenly informed about pop music, and all very bright — who accepted me into their group company to listen to records at night.
After 1969 I started becoming an adult, but that is another story. Last tip: put Crème de menthe into your bong instead of water, especially helpful with hashish.