Sunday, November 06, 2016

1.3 - Re-introducing myself

Re-introducing myself

For the rest of the show, what with the new name and the other changes that will come over time, this seemed an appropriate time to re-introduce myself, so that what I say here can be put into a broader context of ethical, moral, and political convictions.

I am, in many ways, "a child of the '60s," having come to political awareness during that brief (and, some would have it, mythical) interregnum marked at one end by the Sgt. Pepper summer and at the other by Altamont - or, if you prefer a political description, by Flower Power and the Days of Rage.

For those of you who are less than about 55 and have no idea what those terms mean, you can look them up. For now, it's enough to know that we're talking about the period of say, 1967-1970.

Like many members of my generation, it was the Vietnam War that initially drew me beyond vague "concern" into concrete involvement. I suspect that was especially true for the males, for those of us who faced the possibility of being drafted - that is, that's why the war was what got us involved. Which is another thing that - in this case happily - folks now can't relate to, the fact that there was a military draft, under which you could be required under pain of lengthy imprisonment to join the Army and go wherever they sent you, even to kill and die in a war you thought criminal. Even for those of us "safe" with draft deferments, who could feel confident that at least for now you couldn't be drafted, the war was always there, infesting and infecting your visions for your future.

But even beyond that, for all of us, male and female, the war swirled around us like a mist, a fog, it tugged at us like an undertow, it threaded in and out of our lives, our future, our consciousnesses, our plans and hopes, and the only way you could ignore it was by making the conscious effort to do so.

In fact, I think that those of what I'll call the "Vietnam generation" have a greater understanding of the impact that World War II had on our parents than those of what I'll call the "Iraq generation" have of the impact Vietnam had on us. Because no matter how you measure it, the Vietnam War - which is properly called the Indochina War because it involved Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia - was a much bigger war for Americans than Iraq or Afghanistan ever were.

For example, peak US troop strength in Iraq was 168,000 and the peak year for Iraq and Afghanistan troop strength combined was fiscal 2008, at 188,000. Peak US troop strength in Vietnam was nearly 540,000, nearly three times as many - and by the way, South Vietnam, where the vast majority of those troops were, was about 2/5 the size of Iraq.

US troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined, up to November 1 of this year, total just under 6,900. US troops killed in the Indochina War totaled over 58,300 - well over eight times as many. US wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan combined reached just under 50,000; those wounded in Indochina were about 304,000, over six times as many.

So yes, a much bigger war. Significantly more troops, significantly more wounded, significantly more dead. And for those of us who questioned the war, who asked our government about the whens, wherefores, and whys of the war, it seemed that each of the "answers" we got raised at least two new questions.

Now, of course World War II was bigger than the Indochina War by a factor as big as that by which Indochina exceeded Iraq-Afghanistan. The reason I think that we of the Vietnam generation understand the impact World War II had on our parents more than the Iraq generation understands the impact Indochina had on us is that unlike Iraq-Afghanistan, the war wasn't "out there," emotionally and psychologically it was right there, just as World War II was.

Admittedly, that was likely for a different reason: In the case of World War II, it was the sheer size of it. But with Indochina is was a matter of an emotional shock, a socially-disrupting shock at the depth of the very wrongness of it, a type of shock that I say just didn't exist with Iraq-Afghanistan: People might have been angry, even furious, over those wars but I doubt any meaningful number of people were truly shocked.

But getting back to our story, I had been to that time, we're now talking the mid-to-late '60s, what I now call a "right wing liberal," a type now commonly called a "liberal war hawk," that species of American political animal that's at least fairly liberal on domestic issues and clearly conservative on foreign policy. In other words, Hillary Clinton.

My personal breaking point came when I heard William Westmoreland, the man who was then the commander of US forces in the war, say "We're winning the war, just give us six more months" - and I recalled having heard exactly the same thing six months earlier.

And of course, the war didn't end in six months. It was to drag on for years.

The sort of, the term was and is, alienation that generated plus mounting evidence of what the governments we supported in South Vietnam were really like eventually prompted me to - very shyly - attend a meeting of a local peace group. That was, if memory serves, in the fall of 1968. I still remember walking into this room in a church basement and being greeted by a tall man with a beard and a not-inconsiderable resemblance to Abraham Lincoln. In fact, he later added a mustache because he got tired of the Lincoln jokes.

Okay, you can relax; it's over now. I've no intention of inflicting my autobiography on you. But knowing the roots of my involvement in the movement may help to some degree to explain where I've wound up: I'm an aging hippie, an educator, and a political activist, the terms' order of presentation depending on circumstances and my mood of the moment. I'm also a democratic socialist/green with an anarchist bent and a civil liberties absolutist who has, by both logical conclusion and moral compulsion, a commitment to active nonviolence both as political tactic and way of life. The only isms I wholeheartedly endorse are skepticism and eclecticism.

I have also flippantly described myself at times as a socialist-anarchist-communalist-capitalist-eclecticist-iconoclast. After people's eyes stop glazing over, I explain:

I'm a capitalist in that I believe in the "Ma and Pa" store, the community-level enterprise, the small factory, the two- or three-store chain.

I'm a communalist in that I believe that cooperative ventures are better than competitive ones.

I'm a socialist in that I believe that beyond a certain size, profit-seeking enterprises cannot be trusted to be responsible to the communities in which they operate and at that point the community as a whole has the right, the responsibility, and even the duty to step in to exercise control and make decisions, up to and including assuming ownership.

I'm an anarchist in that I believe in doing that with as little government as necessary and with individual freedom and civil liberties being at the maximum possible consistent with social justice.

I'm an eclecticist in that I believe you can put this together into a reasonably coherent social philosophy.

And I'm an iconoclast in that - well, you may have heard that the I Ching is based on the notion that "the only thing that doesn't change is the fact that everything else changes." My version of this is that I believe "the only ultimate answer is that there is no other ultimate answer" and so if we ever did build a society along the lines I envision the first thing I'd do is to try to figure out what was wrong with that one and how it could be improved.

In doing this show and this blog, I'm guided by four editorial principles:

1) "To thine own self be true." Which, as I expect you know, is a quote from Shakespeare.

2) "The US isn't the worst - but it is the biggest." That's a quote from Joan Baez.

3) "Sometimes a bit of humor contains more inner truth than the most serious seriousness." That's from a chess grandmaster named Aron Nimzovich.

4) "No one but no one, no matter their ideology, political perspective, or status as 'left' or 'right,' 'revolutionary' or 'counter-revolutionary,' 'liberal' or 'conservative,' can be by that reason exempt from either criticism or praise." That's from me.

The answer to the ultimate question of why I do this show is that I have always believed that in any political movement, everyone has some skill they can use, some skill they can contribute to advance the cause. While my list of inadequacies on any compilation of useful skills is quite lengthy, I do have some skill with words. With writing. Talking. Giving speeches. And like that.

So this, ultimately, is just another way I think I can be of use, another way to try to advance the idea of justice, another attempt to maintain the hope that is the only thing that keeps us going. It is, if you will, another candle in the rain.

I have been helped so much over these past years by several people without who this simply would not have happened or even if it did would not have gone on nearly so long as it has and hopefully will.

So I want to say thank you.

First to Donna, just for being Donna. She is my strength, my source, my reason to get up each day.

Next to Matt Willett, who since has gone on to bigger and better things than this local cable station, but who designed the initial graphics for the show, some of which we still use.

I wanted to say thanks to the other folks here, to Dylan, to Kris, and perhaps especially to Yvanna because she once said that she liked working the camera for the show because she always learned something, which is about the most complimentary thing someone could say to me.

Then there is Will, video editor extraordinaire of song and fable.

And finally there is Rich, the Executive Director of the station and the all-around go-to guy here who was willing to take a chance on me: When I first approached him about doing a weekly show of political commentary, one I flippantly described as "a lefty Glenn Beck minus the chalkboard and paranoia," he - I could tell - wasn't too sure that it wouldn't peter out after a few weeks. But he took the chance to let me do it my way and I hope in the time since he's been given enough cause to be happy with his decision.

Let me finish up by thanking those of you who watch the show and those of you who have commented on it. Thank you for taking the time and I look forward to more comments and, I hope, to make a show worth watching. Let me know how I do.

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