LIFE magazine: June 27, 1969 (part of why I am who I am)

I discovered this evening that entire magazines are part of Google’s massive digital library and I began looking for a particular issue of LIFE magazine. I wasn’t sure of the specific issue, only that it was from the summer of 1969 or 1970 and I knew that only because I knew that I had first looked at the magazine- in a crummy motel somewhere in western Pennsylvania or upper New York state where I had been involved in installing golf course irrigation systems during my sophomore and junior summers while in college.

So I found the magazine I wanted to find/was afraid I would find. It’s the June 27, 1969 issue of LIFE and in it were pictures of all the Americans killed in Vietnam during the week of May 28- June 3. The article was called “The Faces of the American Dead in Vietnam- One Week’s Toll.”

The article had made the news previous to its publication. Some government officials at the time had asked that it not be published, but there was an overwhelming response from the families of the dead soldiers that it should be published. In the history of the Vietnam War, the LIFE article is one of the factors credited with redirecting much of the remaining popular support of the war.

I carried it with me all day, having bought the magazine at a grocery store near the restaurant we ate lunch in each day. Washington, Pennsylvania: once I ‘found’ the magazine again today, I remembered exactly where I was at the time. On a $10 per diem, I was able to stay at a motel and eat out two meals a day. There were other workers at the motel, too, but I- fortunately, that day- was in a room by myself. We finished work at about 6 p.m., stopped for the obligatory (at the time) six pack of Rolling Rock (sweet green-glassed golden brew of the Susquahanna Valley), cleaned up and- usually- went somewhere together to eat. I opted this day to stay, drink beer, and look at the LIFE.

The article consists mainly of pictures of mostly very young men- 242 of them (two hundred and forty-two.) There is a name, a branch of service and rank, and the age and hometown of each man listed. One week’s toll: 11 pages, 20 names per page. I looked at the first row of pictures today and had exactly the same reaction I had almost 42 years ago and that I am having right now as I write and look at the pictures once more.

Here, by the way, is the link: http://books.google.com/books?id=pE8EAAAAMBAJ&printsec=frontcover&rview=1&source=gbs_atb#v=onepage&q&f=false

I know now why I used to drink too much: I see and feel everything (EVERYTHING) through an exaggerated sense of recognition and understanding. Beauty or ugliness- doesn’t matter: my empathy is permanently switched on high and I will see every brush stroke of a beautiful painting and feel every tear of someone else’s hurt. Alcohol makes beauty and/or pain bearable. Odd? Yes, but there are plenty of others who know those feelings exactly. Hopefully, they’ve gotten some help. If not, call me. Really.

The beer, that evening, didn’t help very much. Row after row, page after page. As I looked at them today for the first time in so many years, I realized I could still remember well some of those faces. They had etched themselves in my deepest mind. They were synaptically sealed in my 19 year old brain.

Yeah, 19 years old. That’s how old I was and that’s how old soldier after soldier was that had been killed during that week in 1969. Row after row, page after page. Here’s page 26, row 3: Patrick Hagerty, 19, Army, Youngstown, Ohio; Albert Carledge III, 23, Marines, Dallas, Texas; James Drew, 20, Army, Kansas City, Missouri; Peter Borsay, 24, Army, Salt Lake City, Utah; Robert Yates, 18, Army, Hondo, Texas.

Johnny Cash’s ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ was playing on the radio as I looked at the pages of pictures. It would become the commemorative soundtrack to the event of my mind exploding. Because that is what was happening. For whatever cognitive reasonings were coming together in my young mind, I’ve recognized that evening many times since as one of the pivotal ones of my life. That was the night I stopped (forever) believing my government knew best, was best, or acted best about anything they purported to know, be, or act upon. It was the first time I asked myself the question I had heard posed many times by others but had never fully asked on my own: “What the hell did these guys die for?” And I still don’t have an answer.

Later that Summer, there would be Woodstock. A month before Woodstock, Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the moon. Two days before that, Larry- a guy I’d grown up with at school, in Sunday School, and on various football teams, himself became a picture of a dead soldier: Larry Esterly, 20, Marines, Lisbon, Ohio.

Years later, I learned in counseling how to stop looking quite so deeply at everything, so that beauty, ugliness, or any of a hundred various sensory stimuli, would be unable to tattoo themselves quite so painfully on my emotions. I stopped drinking alcohol, too, 17 years ago. But those positive efforts were too late for the trauma that the images of those 224 sons, brothers, friends, boyfriends, uncles, cousins even young fathers had battered on my mind, and my soul.

I didn’t expect to ever see those pictures again, because years ago I had decided never to look too hard for them. But it was easy today, and I am glad to have seen them all again. I told Patrick, Albert, James, Peter, Robert, and..Larry, in conscious thought that transcends time and the universe, that each of them had helped, for awhile, to shape a nation into one that vehemently disagreed with its very wrong leaders.  I thanked them for their idealism, their enthusiasm, and their courage- a courage in which I had never been called upon to breathe, or live, or act. I apologized to them for minutes, days, even years that I’d wasted on the mundane, selfish, or idiotic- time that none of them had ever had a chance to experience.

And I thanked them for allowing me to remember them today, and maybe even honor them this way in a small way.

I hope others might take a look, too. And talk to them.

by the afternoon’s early light..

Any object, intensely regarded, may be a gate of access to the incorruptible eon of the gods..” James Joyce, Ulysses

In the corner of the garage, forgotten under a tarp thrown down in 1996 to protect the boxes beneath from the rain edging its way under hail-damaged asphalt roof shakes, a box.

A box- a box filled once in the 1950s with oranges from “Sunny Florida” later sealed with now dried and flaking masking tape, forgotten..first under the tarp, before that next to a pile of lumber intended to build a never-built back porch, and before that because it was just a box that would get moved later, sometime. Maybe tomorrow.

Now, fifty years after the last orange was peeled and eaten, the move finally begins with the lifting of the tarp frozen by dust and time into the shape of a small foothill sloping gradually to the flat twelve inch high mesa of a box top. The tape cracks away in the confetti of long expired glue, and the lid is lifted.

Lifted.. and the air inside is drawn in a gentle vacuum from the cardboard tomb in which it has been sealed since Eisenhower was president, since Sputnik was a funny sounding word, since young men stifled nightmares of bodies floating in the waters off France and Bataan, since nobody had ever seen a color television. Before assassinations, long before the Bicentennial, long long before anyone knew what/who/when an Ayatollah was..

And inside, an envelope (brown, manila, creased, thick) labeled in pencil, “Edith Cross, City” with 55 cents worth of various blue and red postage stamps postmarked “Buy War Bonds, 1944.” Two little cardboard buttons around which, in a figure-8 twist, a string keeps the flap of the envelope closed, officially perhaps. Unwinding, the long-untouched string breaks, its work completed, and the envelope is gently torn just enough to lift the flap and inside..

A flag, trifolded redwhiteblue stars whitehemmed metalgrommets. The love of Edith’s life? 1944, D-Day? Edith’s father? A muddy trench in a Flanders field, sent by executors of an estate a half century ago to the younger generation for safekeeping?

The air of the envelope, older even than the air of the orange box, wafts through the stale air of the garage, over the canvas foothills, upwards toward a window rarely opened where the pale sunlight of an otherwise quiet summer afternoon spills across cardboard shadows onto an unmarked grave.

Oh, say can you see..?

David B.Weber, 2010

Obama’s Speech to the School Kids- What I learned on the way to the end of my fears

At Booker T. Washington High School in downtown Dallas, they gave President Obama a standing ovation when they saw him enter on the large television screens. Booker T. is my daughter’s alma mater- it’s the performing arts high school. It’s Norah Jone’s alma mater, too. And something she is proud of, also.

So, when I saw the kids there jumping to their feet as the President appeared on-screen, I knew that the people to whom the president was aiming this speech were going to hear it. And as was evident from their comments, they heard it loudly and clearly in a way even most of us adult supporters of the president could not have heard it.

“He was speaking to me,” one small 9th grade boy said.

“He makes me want to get all As this year,” said another.

Many adults, especially- it appears- those of the Caucasian persuasion, were fearful of what the president would inculcate their children with today. I heard them breathing hard and sweating into the cameras pointed toward them as they screamed that the president had no right to tell their children what to think. Maybe they were afraid he would reveal the secret message of the fist-bump to curious fifth graders, or describe the joys of his parent’s interracial sex to shy high schoolers. Given the level of anger and suspicion many of these parents displayed, it is hard to even guess at what kind of jive they were afraid the president would brainwash their un-brainwashed children with.

And, despite the fact that even Laura Bush and Newt Gingrich endorsed the content of Obama’s speech, we know that in today’s America the facts don’t matter nearly as much as what a person wants to believe. If you want to believe Obama is a Muslim, there’s nothing anyone can say, show, or demonstrate that will dissuade you from that belief. In America today, among a certain crowd of fellow believers, you will even be applauded for hanging on to a belief despite the Truth that lies dying in the ditch nearby.

And there are still people waiting for the release of Michelle’s “Whitey” tape and for the Belgian Congo birth certificate of the president. And they’ll wait and they’ll wait because they KNOW they’re right and it doesn’t matter that that astronomy reveals the sun to be the center of the solar system, you silly fools, you can see that the sun rises and sets around the Earth, can’t you?

So here’s what I’ve learned today: All of that noise was preceding the speech was irrelevant. A whole lot of parents kept a whole lot of children out of school and away from the Internet and television today because they were afraid of something that bore no fearful meaning whatsover- liminally, subliminally, or otherwise. They were people being afraid, and that’s all. They would probably call it being protective, but they could have been protective at home, with some intelligent conversation around the dinner table tonight. They could have introduced their children to genuine critical thinking. I assume most of them are capable of that.

Since the noise was irrelevant, I should consider it so as well. AND SO SHOULD THE PRESIDENT! My argument with the president so far, indeed, my disappointment with the president so far is that he is spending too much time trying to be friends with people who don’t like him, did not and will never support him, and whose candidate in the last election was convincingly defeated.

President Obama: those of us who voted for you voted for change, significant change to happen. We wanted our country out of the twin sinkholes of Iraq and Afghanistan that we were lied into. We want war criminals tried, if that is what a grand jury deems them to be. We want sexual preference among adults to not be a factor at all in a person’s enjoyment of their full civil rights. Those are the changes we voted for above and beyond the need this country had for a president who was smart and who didn’t look like every president before and who was running with a vice-presidential candidate who didn’t scare the living socks off of us as we imagined him possibly becoming president. That’s what we voted for, Obama, not how many friends you could make among the people who had gotten us into the military and economic quagmire we are in now.

So, while many many, many of my friends are Republican, most of whom I would take a bullet for (and they know it), I must tell them that I will not listen to their political views with any more fear. Theirr politics are coming to an end. The world can’t be the way it was in the 50’s; they’ve spent us into a hell hole of unimaginable depth, and while they can try to blame the other party for that, the statistics of Reagan, Bush, and Bush tell another story. Unfortunately, I voted right there beside them until 2006, when I saw the light. It’s not a bright light- Pelosi and Reid are both standing in it after all- but it is a whole lot brighter than the dim fluorescents pirated out of Enron’s headquarters.

And I know this: that the loudest among you old-timers- those who fussed the most about Obama’s Svengali grip on the minds of school kids, some you made asses of yourselves. And your kids saw you doing it. And while they no doubt still love you, they have seen you be wrong, over-reactive, maybe even goofy. Statistics show that that has happened a lot recently. During the 80s and 90s you preached and preached and preached about the takeover of schools and government by those with a gay agenda. You made bogeymen out of young men dying of AIDS so that you wouldn’t have to confront the sympathetic response you deeply felt toward them. (We all know it is easier to fear and hate than it is to give in to love, especially if that love- holy cow!- might be misconstrued as fag love!).

The point is, you painted the homosexual community into something it wasn’t. At all. Your kids went to college, got jobs, and moved into apartments near and with these men and women. They even became friends with them! They found out that you had been wrong about them, and that some of you and some of your preachers had been lying about them to you. They even found out that there seems to be a direct relationship between the loud rantings of an anti-gay protester and his desire to passionately kiss the object of his fury!

So you lost more young people in your loud and silly protests over this speech today.

Good.

And knowing those things, I won’t be so upset the next time. Your numbers are decreasing even as the spittle from your radio and television leaders is increasing. Even as the crazed rantings of Beck and Limbaugh and Hannity grow louder, more and more young people are hearing them, and the demographic slice of their advertising pie grows older by the day.

(Thank you again, young people of Booker T. Washington High School, Dallas, Texas. I’m giving you my own private standing ovation right now!)

Death’s War of Words


“Without the creation of abstract images of the enemy, and without the depersonalization of the enemy during training, battle would become impossible to sustain. But if the abstract image is overdrawn or depersonalization is stretched into hatred, the restraints on human behavior in war are easily swept aside. If, on the other hand, men reflect too deeply upon the enemy’s common humanity, then they risk being unable to proceed with the task whose aims may be eminently just and legitimate.”
(Richard Holmes, Acts of War, quoted by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, in his book, On Killing)

Grossman’s book is about the military history of killing the enemy. And his conclusions are fascinating: getting the enemy killed has not been an historically easy thing to do! Soldiers don’t want to kill other soldiers and many, many of them- based on statistics and evidence gathered from all of America’s wars- have shot over the heads of enemies, or not at all.

Empathy is something we, for many years, thought we learned about in civic class or Sunday School. It may have been enhanced in those settings, but it turns out that our brains are wired for empathy- the million year evolution of our species demanded that we cooperate with each other in staying alive. Mirror neurons in our brains allow us to read, to an important extent, the minds and feelings of others. We can then match our actions to theirs, either consciously or, more often, unconsciously. It’s silly and obvious to say but, under normal circumstances, we know what the person near us (sitting beside us, or in our gunsights), we know how that person feels about their own death. We read it in their face and in their body language in exactly the same way, it turns out, that we feel it in our own body. Thus, it is very hard to pull a trigger. And thus, military trainers needed to do something about that.

And what was successfully taught beginning, Grossman documents, in the early stages of the Vietnam War, was a purposeful, dedicated de-humanizing of the enemy. Slopes, Gooks, and other such words were not only used (words like that have always been used in war), but they were institutionalized during the soldiers’ training! It makes it not so hard, at the time, to kill an old Gook, even one that appears harmless. (Those Gooks are up to no good! They’re not like us! They don’t have feelings like we do! They speak mumbo-jumbo. There are too many of them. They’d kill us if they had the chance! Etc., etc., etc.)

The empathy we feel toward another person that prevents us from killing them, is the same empathy that causes us to share food with a stranger who’s hungry, or to support orphanages, etc. We understand, without jabbering about it, that Death is also a big deal to the Other. The only way we can get past that empathy, the military has shown us, is to artificially re-shape the Other into another, lesser image.

And I’m wondering (which is the point of this off-the-path excursion into war) I’m wondering if we haven’t been encouraged by a whole line of people through history to artificially re-shape and re-make our ideas of Death into something other than what they naturally are. Have we been coerced perhaps into fearing Death in ways most of the world’s inhabitants historically have not? Have we become too eager to fight Death without knowing how or when to stop “raging against the dying of the light” as Dylan Thomas wrote?

I wonder if it might be possible to be able to see our present reality from a slightly different angle? Maybe in the final years we should have a greater opportunity to tend, rather than to mend; to move toward hospice rather than the hospital. It sounds cruel what I’m saying, doesn’t it? But I’m saying that these gentle suggestions of mine have made to sound cruel. We have, so many of us, been trained to be good soldiers in the economic battles, right to the end.

Thoughts on the 60th Anniversary of D-Day

Thoughts on the 60th Anniversary of D-Day
(to Ike, written 2004))

I wish they had talked more, And I wish we’d have asked more.
They were our fathers, uncles, teachers, and neighbors,
And that one guy who sat at the park by himself.
They were men, then, and we couldn’t imagine they had been soldiers.

We played in the dirt with our plastic soldiers
and mimicked machine guns in the woods:
Eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh…
then spun to the ground in death throes we knew nothing of.
They didn’t tell us how to play, or how men really died…screaming sometimes.
They kept those thoughts to themselves,
sitting on them in a silence which their children did not need to hear about,
because nothing could be that terrible.
Ever again.

Maybe it was a matter of time:
A time when tears did not signal doors opening to what really mattered;
A time when it was best to be busy with the yard, the car, the other thousand tasks which mattered to them but have never mattered to me.
A time when sitting next to others at Rotary or Kiwanis who shared those memories was enough.
Even when we wanted them, so we could compare my dad and your dad, to talk,
they would answer questions, without elaboration, a sentence or two,
then back to the yard or car.

Al hid in a haystack in France for months. Then left for the garage.
Fred’s brother died in a tree, shot while he parachuted. But he’s gotta change the oil today.
Dick was in a POW camp for a year. He ate mice. That damn yard’s getting out of hand.
Dad saw Japanese skulls bobbing in the water but didn’t know what to do about them. And he had to go down to the cellar.

We didn’t know how to ask; and they didn’t know how to tell us, anyway.
So we all got older together during quiet baseball games in the back yard.

When we came back, they’d gotten very old. Dad did, too.
Sometimes he would just sit. I remember him the summer before he died, sitting by the back porch crushing sweat bees with the handle of a hoe.
Maybe I should have asked him then.

The guy in the park shot himself years before he’d gotten old.
And now the rest, all of them that I knew while they worked on their cars or in their yards, or who sat at Rotary meetings each week, and who needed stuff from the cellar, the barn, town… they’ve joined that first one.

Maybe they had all died back then and gone to hell on the shores of France, or on some jungle island, or behind the barbed wire of a camp somewhere in Germany.
Maybe these new lives had so little to do with where they’d been that the silence had to be.
Maybe they simply could not go back there while their kids were playing war in the woods,
because they might have had to die all over again.

Requiescat in pace.
We just didn’t know. .

by David Weber, 2004

Time Out..Gaza is still occupied

 

I’ll resume my discussion of tribalism and fear, but I think we ALL need to be periodically shocked (right down to our socks), by a glimpse of how despicable humans can be when they’ve got “God on their side.”

And if you can stand it, here’s a slide show. This was all happening last December while we here in the U.S. were concerned about retail sales and the GNP, and whether or not that son of a bitch behind the counter at Target would say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holiday.”

http://www.flickr.com/photos/wearewideawake/show/

Meet me at Starbuck’s in the morning and over a double latte and orange scones; we can argue about teabags, then head to the mall.

American Soldier Throws Puppy off Cliff

Warning: It is what it says it is

Little things have larger meanings. Always.

Little sounds we make with our mouths, in combinations with other sounds, make words. Words represent specific things and our feelings about those things. Those are our thoughts- our personal reflections and opinions about the connections of things and people around us- and we are enabled through them to share ourselves with other people immediately, and through time.

But all of those personal thoughts reflect larger cultural and cosmological realities, too. They reveal our commonalities, our shared values and understandings of ourselves in community contexts. The things we say and do are not isolated events. They always have larger meaning.

Always.

Thus, the horror of this video.