War and Society

“By encouraging the formation of a single ethnic identity, the state could in turn claim that it existed to defend and promote the unique interests and values of its people.” (1)

In the U.S. today, the power lies in the hands of white men, for now…although even the ‘now’ is questionable, as the demographic landscape transforms before us. But white men are desperately trying to hold on as an ethnic group, as Americans.

But the irony is that white Western countries have abused so much of the earth that they have created the conditions that cause many non-white people to seek asylum and shelter in the only safe place they can see: white Western countries! And now many whites struggle with this influx, especially as they see the demographics shift in their own countries.

And right now it happens again, as the U.S. administration undermines democracy in Venezuela. Sanctions and other U.S. efforts have destabilized that country, and now the sharks close in to feast, to install their preferred candidate, one who is sympathetic to corporate interests and willing to sell out his people and exploit the natural resources of the land.

What will result? As we see so often, when corporate interests are promoted above human rights the masses suffer, populations are decimated, poverty explodes and refugees flee for their lives. And the U.S., or at least the current administration, will keep them at bay, all the while speaking words of righteousness.

Notes: O’Neil, Patrick H., Fields, Karl, and Share, Don. “Cases and Concepts in Comparative Politics.” W.W. Norton and Company, New York, NY. 2018, p. 62.

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Early Memories

One of my earliest experiences of of being exposed to war stories came when I was in elementary school. I was in the 9- to 10-year-old range. Now, although I was alive during the Vietnam War, I didn’t have much knowledge of it. My age, coupled with living in conservative and semi-rural Pennsylvania, meant that I was both insulated from the war and its social crises and I was oblivious to such grown-up concerns.

But I grew up knowing that my father had served in WWII. This was one of those things I just knew, without knowing when I first heard it. It was part of the family history and I knew it as part of that story. My father retained some nostalgia for that war and his experience of it. I cannot recall hearing him talking about Korea or Vietnam, but he had stories and opinions of WWII.

So in the mid-1970s a documentary started airing on PBS, called “World at War.” It was about WWII, and my father watched it regularly. Sometimes we would sit with him, my brother and sister and me, and share the experience. I recall looking on in horror at the black and white footage of battles, destruction, the results of human conflict. Particularly distressing were scenes of the holocaust and its victims. Those emaciated, hollow-eyed prisoners would haunt me. Images of tractors plowing piles of dead bodies into pits shocked and sickened me. I was probably too sensitive to watch that stuff, as ugly as I felt afterwards.

Nor was my dad very talkative about it all. He did not engage with me about feelings, mine or his. Here or there he would mention some odd detail or tell a story about his time in the Pacific, but we never explored how these stark scenes of human chaos and suffering made us feel. I had a limited understanding of what war meant, but it terrified me deep inside. The evil that people were capable of was too much to comprehend.

Colombia

Colombia endured a civil war for decades. Over 200,000 killed, 25,000 disappeared and over 5,000,000 displaced. A peace agreement formally ended the violence in 2016. But that has not meant that peace has come at last to this war-torn country.

According to La Via Campesina, the International Peasant’s Movement, many aspects of the peace agreement are either not enforced or have been eliminated. Some of these issues: a provision to create a land fund for rural peasants has seen no compliance; political reform has not been addressed; the obligation of third parties to testify in investigations was eliminated, so that the role of multinationals can remain covert; political reform has not been addressed.

Additionally, since the peace agreement was signed, there has been violence against ex-rebels and their families, students, peasants and indigenous people. Why must the small, powerless people of the world be made to suffer?

On such person, a member of the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado, spoke at my school this past fall. He was in the U.S. to raise awareness of the issues confronting peasant farmers, notably the violence being perpetrated against them by paramilitary groups in the employment of multinational corporations. This simple man, a peasant farmer, had survived several assassination attempts. He and his fellow villagers had been targeted for their peace efforts, for their need to work the and to survive.

The people want peace. That is the case everywhere: the common people, the farmers and workers are typically just trying to make a living and take care of each other. The trouble is that they often get caught in the crossfire of competing powers.

Fourth Grade Fairness

My original story of fairness is one that I’ve always viewed as more of a dork story. What I mean is, although nowadays I see my story as one of learning about fairness and being inspired by justice, I was mostly a dork, a nerd, trying to do the best I could.

One early memory is from the fourth grade, at 9 or 10 years old. (My family had moved in the fall of that school year, so I had been in this class and among these kids for a few months at the time of this memory.) Roman and Steven were good friends, probably the cool kids of the class. Steven, although caucasian, was tanned more brown than most people. Because of this, Roman’s nickname for him was ‘ni**er poo.’ (I won’t spell the racial epithet here.) Apparently Roman thought that a black person’s poop was even darker than other people’s, and thus fit the darkness of Steven’s tan.

One day at recess we were all out running around and Roman yelled out the nickname (which no-one else used, by the way). I can’t say how many times I’d heard him say it before, but this time I decided to do the right thing. In a gentle manner (all I had back then) I suggested, “Roman, maybe he doesn’t like being called that.”

Roman’s answer was simple and to the point: “Fu** you Adam.” Done and done. Did that shut me up over the years? Did I hesitate to express myself at times due to that rebuke? Probably not, it was more likely that it was a rare exception, as often I would find myself afraid to speak up, or full of self-doubt about how I would sound (also fear). I have not done a lot of that in my life, standing up as I should.

And that’s why I’m here now, because I want to reverse that. I want to use my voice to speak up for those who cannot.

The Mexican Drug War

According to the National Institutes of Health, as of March of last year there were an average of 115 opioid overdose deaths per day in the U.S. (1) That’s about 42,000 in a year, and includes overdoses of prescription drugs, fentanyl, and heroin. More than 90% of heroin consumed in the U.S. comes from Mexico.(2)

Is it fair to deduce that there is significant demand for Mexican drugs in the U.S.? And if so, is it such a stretch to see the U.S. as complicit in the tens of thousands of deaths related to the Mexican drug war each year? Perhaps the two countries can trade body counts and call it even. They all are interrelated. Maybe neither side needs to be blamed, maybe it can be enough that we see some cause and effect, from one side to the other.

It does not seem up for debate at this point that Big Pharma bears significant responsibility for the opioid epidemic that hangs over much of the U.S.(3) The NIH takes this a step further by stating that heroin users typically start on prescription opioids. And of course we know that the U.S. government is responsible for regulations and oversight, including over the pharmaceutical industry.

Of course, I’m trying to make the case here that the Mexican drug war, and the violence it begets, are not problems exclusive to that country. The U.S. has done its part in creating conditions that support the drug trade, from the challenges imposed on Mexican farmers by NAFTA to an opioid crisis that has created a significant market for drugs. It would only make sense for the U.S. to share the responsibility of ending the violence.

  1. Opioid Overdose Crisis. drugabuse.gov, https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis. March 2018.
  2. Isacson, Adam. “Four Common Misconceptions about U.S.-bound Drug Flows through Mexico and Central America.” wola.org, https://www.wola.org/analysis/four-common-misconceptions-u-s-bound-drug-flows-mexico-central-america/. June 20, 2017.
  3. Morriscey, Carol. “Big Pharma Held Accountable for the Opioid Epidemic?” searidgedrugrehab.com, https://www.searidgedrugrehab.com/article-big-pharma-opioid.php. 2016.

Who Am I?

Who am I to talk about war, anti-war, peace, cooperation? These days we see, I think especially on social media, the idea that one’s voice doesn’t count for one reason or another. “Stay in your lane” is the phrase that comes to mind. As if one needs to be an expert, personally invested in the subject at hand, in order to be heard.

But of course that is just arrogance, censorship, an unwillingness to listen to others. I think that any articulate voice should be able to join the conversation. We live in an interconnected world and politics and current affairs affect all of us. That alone should be reason to care and have a voice. But still I feel the heat of the question, as if I need to justify myself before speaking up. So I will take this post to explain a bit about me, just in case.

I am a citizen of the United States, born and raised here; I’ve lived here for over 50 years. I pay taxes and have done so since I was 16 years old and got my first job. There were a few months here or there when I was in school and college when I did not work, but other than those periods I have worked and paid my share of taxes. I have never worked under the table or taken public assistance.

I never served in our military, but in 1984, when I turned 18, I registered with the Selective Service, meaning I was eligible for the draft if needed. It was my choice to not enlist in any branch of the service, I never felt called to that path. But I did what was required and registered.

I have been a responsible citizen, I vote regularly; but more than that I stay educated and informed. I have discussions about issues and current events, and I listen to the opinions of others–I believe respect and understanding, compassion even, is essential to public discourse.

So there is my justification for having an opinion, if it’s needed. I am responsible and productive and this blog is part of that. I will express myself without being insulting or degrading to others, as best I can.

War


For too many of us, war is an abstraction. Perhaps if it was more concrete to more of the wealthy, there would be less of it. In the US, for example, the Mexican drug war exists simply as a reason for the president to demand a border wall. It does not exist as one of the deadliest conflicts in the world. In Mexico, a country with which the US shares almost 2,000 miles of border, around 100,000 people have been killed over more than a decade of violence.

How is this not more real for the people of the US? Are we oblivious to the demand for opioids that exists here? Are we unconcerned about how NAFTA affected Mexican farmers, driving them out of agriculture and into drug production? Are we blind to the role we play in the situation there, the ongoing violence?

The purpose of these essays on war is to point out what is happening and to look at the underlying causes. I am not privy to unique information, this is material that anyone can find and interpret. But that is what I have, my own interpretation of current events. I don’t expect to solve any issues, but I need to use my voice. So please feel free to check back in each week as I post new articles on what is going on in the world.

The (re)Introduction

There is so much that I never understood or accepted about myself. One of those things was my Libra birthsign, and the set of scales which represents it. My brother Scott was a Cancer, sister Net was a Scorpio, and cousin Phil was a Leo, all animals, all cooler than my sign. You see, I spent a good bit of my childhood trying to keep up with those three and be like them, and they all had cool animals for their zodiacs. I had scales….come on. Like, what were they supposed to even mean?

It would be many years, decades even, before I’d be able to appreciate what those scales symbolized for me. Even though I always rooted for the underdog; always tried to make the outcasts, the weirdos, feel welcome; even though I had compassion for others which exceeded my understanding of it, I never really had a sense of myself as seeking justice, standing up for fairness, anything like that. I was not a brave kid, but I tried to stand up for those who were picked on, even if it was just in my heart. So I didn’t identify with the Scales of Justice until much later in my life.

Now that I have, I am ready to accept my destiny. I am here to speak up for the oppressed. I am here to do my little part to fight injustice, to speak the truth about warfare and conflict. This is my story, unremarkable in many respects. But I have come to realize that one remarkable thing about me is that I have always cared. I have always wanted to do what’s right and resist those who would deny others their rights. So with that newly-realized passion in mind, my blog will change direction somewhat.

My Unremarkable Story has been inconsistent over the years. The original idea was to write the story of my life, in all its unremarkable glory. But part of my unremarkable-ness is my inconsistency, a lack of really making an effort at much of anything. Thus what I’ve found myself left with is ideas which I rarely followed through on, plans that never materialized, and dreams left unfulfilled.

I have committed to a different story from here on out. I will tell my story, and I will stay with it week after week. And what my story is about is not just a kid growing up in middle-of-the-road America; it is about a kid learning what to stand up for, a kid trying to be the best he could be even when he didn’t know what that meant. This story is ultimately about me learning who I am, even now at this late date.

Place

 

Growing up, home was simply about where my family lived at the time. By the time I was done with public school we had lived in 11 homes, in 9 cities, in 7 states, and I’d attended 8 different schools. No “place” was home.

My mother was raised Southern Baptist in rural Alabama, my father was Jewish from Brooklyn. There was no faith, no specific heritage that I found refuge in either. I was baptized in the Lutheran church, when I was about five years old, but I never felt fully part of it. My dad would come to church on Sundays, but he just came along to keep mom company. He did not participate. This felt odd, and there was always a part of me that felt divided.

I was the baby of the family; 17 years separate me from my eldest sibling. I never had a cousin my age. So even at  family gatherings I was on the edge of things, always trying to be part of what my elder siblings and cousins were up to, trying to tag along. 

Perhaps that is the most clear way to describe how the lack of home impacted me: I’ve rarely felt like I fit in. I lived in a small town in Illinois in high school, small enough for most of us to know each other. Yet, I was always the new kid because I did not have the history with the others. I lived in an urban sprawl area on the Jersey shore, and there I felt like I disappeared in the crowd. 

But as an adult I’ve found the feeling has shifted. I’ve now lived in Albuquerque longer than anywhere else, and my last house was my longest residence by a factor of two. But it’s not just the amount of time that has caused a shift. I finally feel close to a landscape. The mountains and the desert move me in ways the eastern flatlands never could. The climate, the dry air, was a balm for my heavy soul when I moved here; 33 years in the humidity weighs one down. 

However, as much as I love the place that is New Mexico, I think I was simply ready for it. After the moving I had done, after the searching for my own life, I arrived here ready to embrace it. I knew that immediately. The drive from Florida to Albuquerque was only spread out over three days, but it may as well have been the journey of a lifetime. I was home, and I knew that I would be staying here for some time.

I may not stay in New Mexico for the rest of my life, but I have found home. Besides this town, this geographic place, I know that home is really in one’s heart. I felt like an outsider for much of my youth, but I feel grounded now. Even when I move away, even when I’m new to another town, I’ll be able to feel at home.

I have known people who grew up in one town, but hated it and couldn’t wait to move away. I’ve known people who have disowned their family of origin. Duration, being “from somewhere,” does not necessarily make home. What we choose in our heart, where we are drawn to, that defines home.

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