Monday, May 23, 2011

Japanese Anime Cartoons

Why I went
I was away this holiday weekend watching “anime,” or, as I jokingly call it with my unaware mundane friends, “Japanese cartoons.” I don’t know how to tell the mundanes they are prisoners of their culture, like most Americans, chained into assuming cartoons must always be for children. Not so.

Actually, when it comes to Hollywood, it’s as if live action shows, too, are broadcast for children. You may recall that Jackie Gleason’s The Honeymooners inspired a cartoon shown after supper, —when evening cartoons were unheard of!— The Flintstones, about a modern stone age family, a show which years later was easily aired at four p.m. If The Honeymooners had been in color, then surely it too would have eventually been shown during the children's hour. (Before the parents come home to nap) Has our culture changed much since the days of black-and-white TV? Put it this way: If Hollywood ever does yet another remake of the Disney movie Freaky Friday, the film where a mother and teenage daughter swap bodies, then the show will yet again be as harmless as white bread—and just as nutritious.

In contrast to U.S. cartoons and live action, today I was moved by the anime TV series Living For the Day After Tomorrow. Here was a freaky body swap, but with such different characters! These guys have suffered. In this version the "teenage" girl is a kindergarten girl who has grown up too fast. She has learned to cook and be tidy because she “doesn’t want to be a burden.” The “mother” is a spinster, warped by unrequited love. The anime is a “cartoon,” but not a light comedy: Viewers see the girl, the night after the swap, waking up sobbing, “This is not my body.” Not exactly suitable for Disney.

Another show I saw today, one that also made me sad, was Clannad After Story. A father, self described as “weak and pathetic,” is raising a little girl. He yells too much, never holds her, and never sees her cry. Not exactly suitable for Saturday morning cartoons.

The rating for both shows is merely PG. And in both series, unlike for U.S. TV, the characters change and grow.

I’m sure there’s been only one U.S. animated action show that did not talk down to the audience, albeit having no-growth characters, and that show was a way back in the mid 1960’s. It aired at 7:30 p.m. Next day kids across the land would talk about it in “show and tell.” Too bad Hollywood producers never had the guts to make a second season. Granted, the show wasn’t processed white bread: I dimly recall the producers had to stipulate the first episode to be aired must be one where the kids successfully combat a whole bunch of frog men: Because then the following episodes would not seem so scary. I still have fond memories of scenes of the boy hero’s adult bodyguard visiting a prostitute, or, after the boy sees a bad guy crash, the adult saying, “It’s a terrible way to die, Johnny, but he deserved it.” I don’t think a kid’s show needs to be childish.

Years later, a white bread sequel was made, with Johnny a few years older, called The Real Johnny Quest, but it was nothing like the unreal, unimproved original. Nope. The original was not exactly a show that would be made today.

The first anime series I ever saw delighted me with how the camera work was so slow, and used zen-like repetition, instead of assuming the viewers have a child-like need for a rushing plot. That was Serial Experiments Lain,  made "for ages 16 and up"where Lain is a 13-year old nerd—a nerd not from being smart, but from being abused by her parents, and where her classmate is shown committing suicide.

No wonder I like anime. I could have spent this holiday weekend relaxing in a lawn chair with a beer and a soothing campfire, but no, I preferred the bustling excitement of the Japanese anime and manga (comics) convention, called Otafest. Many of the costumed kids were too young for beer, but they were old enough to know what they like. And what they like isn’t just safe U.S. cartoons but anime that isn’t afraid of wild emotions and mature themes. I’m going back next year, for sure.

If you go
Be prepared for a constant sense of excitement, and knots of young people trooping by. Half the attendees wear homemade costumes, but there is no pressure to do so. My camera I left at home, because once you start shooting the sweet costumes, when do you ever stop? (Of course, I could always ration myself… by bringing some polysided D’nD dice and rolling for every person I met…) Lots of amateur artists set up on six foot tables to sell their stuff in the “artists alley” (I supported them) and many commercial stores had booths in the vendors room (I bought there too, mostly anime and figurines)

Part of the reason people attend is to find out what the best new anime is, so they can spend their cash wisely. I am pleased to report that while "Sturgeon’s law" is accurate for Hollywood police shows, sitcoms and westerns, the ratio is skewed for anime. Sf writer Theodore Sturgeon once said, “Ninety percent of everything is crap.” Yes, but anime is still so new that no one will bother to translate the poorest stuff.

Another reason to attend Otafest is to experience how certain American cultural beliefs are not worldwide—including our belief that cartoons are always comedies, suitable for children... And as for Japanese cultural beliefs about sex, wow, let me tell you—… nah, that can wait for next year’s essay, after Otafest 2012.

Sean Crawford
On the Queen Victoria Day weekend,
Calgary 2011
Music, and Later Thoughts, of March 2014
(Reminder: if you click on the box thingy in the bottom right corner the "TV" fills the whole screen)

Here is the opening theme for Angel Beats. The teen angel at the piano is lonely because she actively opposes the rebellion against God. That's why she's not in the band or with the other energetic kids.
Here is the opening theme for Lain. The images reflect the way much of the series is about cyberspace.  Lain reminds me of a damaged, bleeding soldier or car accident victim who keeps thinking of others. She is a nice kid—too bad she's so messed up.

{Update, same month
Did you know the literal translation of manga, or Japanese comics, is whimsy? Or so I've heard. On a whimsy, I am including, for those in the mood, a ten minute review of Lain… on Youtube, complete with comments. Don't worry, it's not by an analytical English teacher, but by a young fan having fun.}

Western productions, since Aristotle, have striven for "the unities" and being, say, tragedy or comedy but not both: But the Japanese are not so uptight. The fine series Trigun develops into sober tragedy but begins with the lead character seemingly looney, hooting and bounding over the plain dodging bullets. (I bought the diorama of the insurance agent with a bullet riddled desk)

Angel Beats is about "rebels against the god." Set in a heaven-high school, it starts with teenagers with guns who can't die—because they are already dead—and in good high school spirits, and it ends with solemnity and people passing away. For me it's as sad as the final story in Winnie the Pooh, the one nobody dares read to their kids.

The dramatic series about the Ronin with the X scar (from the movie where he renounces killing) doesn't end each episode with humour, like some US shows and TV commercials do, but instead you can set your watch by the joke in the first few minutes of each Ruroni (Ronin) Kenshin episode. That was the series where I first came to understand—and I've noticed it in other series—another difference about the Japanese: The artists there, just like artists over here, may be unsuitable for a military life, yet unlike ours they are very sympathetic to the tragedy of the soldier. I'm thinking of how the guys who die charging a gatling gun are remembered by name and their spirits appear.

In recent years I've seen two modern movies, filmed in black and white, set on a street in Tokyo in the 1950's when society has finally recovered economically from the devastation of war. There is a touching scene where a veteran brings a fellow veteran home from a re-union and they cry in their cups all night. The wife and daughter notice a firefly by the window—how unusual for urban Tokyo. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Folly? Democracy is Not a Folly

...As I write this our U.S. cousins are committed to "making" Iraq be the first Arab democracy. Well. I hope the U.S. people don't think they can teach something as complex as "democracy" with just a sound bite....

I would hope the average journalist, reporting on all levels of society, would have a sensible perspective on democracy. Not all do. Not the Calgary Sun journalist who wrote a column about the proposed west rail extension for the electric Light Rail Transit (within city limits) train. He angrily judged it "folly" to have only five (or seven) people on the planning committee. My blood pressure rose and I thought, "Methinks he hates the new rail line too much."


Folly? Surely he doesn't wish that early one evening police with clubs would swoop on a hundred homes and cart people away to a community center to decide on a rail line? And surely he doesn't wish to see the club kept in a soft leather case while a hundred legal summons are sent out? Perhaps he hopes that a hundred people will voluntarily answer the call to go meet?

I like volunteering. And as a university graduate I am well versed in "comparing and contrasting" and thinking. Of course, to do it right, we would require several meetings to give people time to send for experts, to "sleep on it," and to discuss with a slow pace to encourage the subconscious to come up with stuff.

Yes, as a graduate I am highly trained in being open minded but I must confess: If I had to sit on a steel folding chair in a crowded stuffy hall then I might be tempted to throw my integrity in the ditch on the way to the hall and arrive with my mind secretly made up in advance... and then ask us to "decide" by calling for a vote with almost indecent speed....

"Democracy and town halls" were touched on when I was a boy during the cold war. Everyone said we were more democratic than the Soviets; there was a fine Norman Rockwell painting of a man standing up to talk at a meeting. Sure, we love democracy, but let's keep our town halls in perspective.

As a boy, I read, somewhere, that it is not enough to have a speaker renting the hall to advocate fascism on one night, and another speaker advocating communism on the next night. No, what is required is for the same townsfolk to be in that hall on both nights listening hard. And this requires enough self-discipline to believe in Freedom of Speech. Such self-control isn't easy, as most of human history, and all of today's Arab world, can tell you.


How can you listen hard in a creative meeting of a hundred people? If each person gets a minute to speak, followed by a respecfull minute of silent thought, then... that's a lot of minutes. Better to break the meeting into subcommittees of five to seven people, each with a leader and secretary, who report back to the main group before the half-time break. Better still to hold the meeting with just five people. I would trust this precious few just as surely a herd of deer trusts a single sentry.

Of course there would be checks and balances, starting with selecting people who are already respected in the community for having common sense. I know they would be conscientious, just as you and I, dear reader, would be. I would trust them to deliberate weekly for as many long nights as they needed. The poor Iraqis are having trouble trying to be the first Arab democracy because, in part, they don't trust each other.

I would guess that having a national dream of democracy has caused us not accidentally, but rather, unconsciously, to "grow" the sort of nation where we can generally trust each other.

God save the queen.

Sean Crawford
Summer 2008

For what you can do (besides learning about democracy) to help America's counter insurgency see my April 2011 essay Are Yankees Stupid?

a reply: Blair Petterson notes that the Iraqis (and others) can trust less because they have more at stake: with fewer resources to go around, and thus a smaller margin of safety, they must naturally be more anxious when making their funding decisions.

~For more on subconsciously growing democracy see my March 2013 essay, Goals and 300 (the film).

~I just happen to have my Master of Facilitating certificate from Mount Royal College, from taking several two-day courses. Regrettably, I regard most of what I learned to do as being "tricks" that represent a hasty compromise, balancing thinking with the constraints of time and "work aquaintainces" in our modern world, rather than facilitating true thinking.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Democracy is Not a Farce

The original introduction ended with these paragraphs: 
On Friday our police chief, Rick Hanson, was quoted at a conference on  gangs by local writer Rick Bell of the daily Calgary Sun on page five. Regarding rich drug users he said, "These people are hypocrites. It's time they look inward and decide what they want more.  Do they want a safe community or are they going to contribute to the problem themselves?" says Hanson. "That's going to take some soul searching."

On the same page the justice minister said that when you make a choice to do drugs you are impacting others, and you are fueling gangs, gangs that have no loyalty to the rest of us.

On Saturday in the daily Calgary Herald the impact was made plain. Yankee drug users are fueling crime in Mexico, where since December of 2006, when President Calderon took office, violence has wounded many and killed 12,600 people.


...As I type this our U.S. cousins are working to make the Iraqis have the first democracy in the Arab world... I believe that teaching democracy, contrary to popular opinion, can't be reduced to a sound bite. I sure hope that Americans, unlike the letter writer below, "get it."

Meanwhile, at home, as U.S. citizens pursue their other war, they won't stop in mid-battle to second guess themselves. In Canada, though, it's peace time. No need, here, for temporary war time "cruel and unusual" measures, no need to replace a sliding scale with zero tolerance, or for prisons to become crowded then overcrowded. Since we here don't have a war on drugs I hope my dear U.S. readers will forgive me for "fraternizing" with an enemy drug user.

Democracy Is...

...In a letter to the editor of the newspaper someone angrily wrote that a poll showed that most Canadians believe that drugs should be legal. Since the laws don't reflect this poll, he wrote, "democracy is a farce."

My first reaction, after "What poll?" was: Methinks he needs his drugs too much. A farce? I am old enough to remember when you could confirm for yourself the results of a well known poll. Walk into any bar and most patrons would loudly tell you, "Hanging's too good for them! Keep the death penalty!" But a queer thing would happen in the privacy of the voting booth. When faced with the silent responsibility, most people would find that no... no, they just couldn't pull the switch to send a man plunging through the gallows. I wasn't going to the pubs myself at this time: I was in school and our principal explained these facts of life to us.

Polls are of value to a leader to indicate what most people think, but a full-time political leader can't substitute such "votes" for sober decisions. For one thing, having to "take responsibility," not just think, sharpens the mind. For another thing polls, as above, can be wrong. (Dewey defeats Truman) Those of us who have to work for a living can't take the time to be readers of briefings and commissions and committee reports and position papers and hey, we don't have the funding, as parliament does, to have staffers doing research for us. (Each party has separate taxpayer funding, with the most research cash going to the official opposition.)


I live on a planet that is warming up, within a nation that exports nuclear (CANDU) reactors, and in a province, Alberta, that exports oil world wide. This while Alberta fossil fuel—coal—goes up in smoke for power plants. If I want to reduce the invisible C02 and conserve coal for our children then I should know certain things. But I don't. What is the difference between a CANDU reactor and the one at Chernobyl or the ones powering U.S. submarines? I don't know. I don't even know the difference between fusion and fission. Heaven help us if I suddenly had to vote on all those questions... or if my "guesses" to a pollster were misinterpreted as "votes." Sad to say, I won't expect the "greens" and "leftists" to know those answers for me.

My regretful conclusion is this: the leftists are "thinking" in the spirit of a back seat driver, rather than trying to boldly imagine holding the wheel of final responsibility. If they answer a pollster about fusion reactors it won't be based on burning the midnight oil in the community college library. No, because "deciding" from slogans is easier for them.

I don't remember us consulting libraries very much even when we were school kids. Back then all of my male peers had long hair. The drug users, just like the smokers of the day, claimed to hold the moral high ground. To voice "anti" sentiment, for tobacco or weed, was to feel defensive, weak and uncool. For in the official judgment of our generation we baby boomers were destined to someday become the majority—but NOT "the establishment—" and then drugs would be nice and legal. Or so we claimed.

But who were we to judge? Except for the nerds, our world was only the school, the popular hang out, and the main street we cruised in between the two. As kids we didn't know the name of our alderman, and we didn't truly grok words like citizen or coping. We claimed we were the "now generation," and we didn't care that society existed before we ourselves were born. We didn't grasp that every civilization, in every space and time, had coped as best they could, each in their own way, with drugs.

A belief in "all or nothing," in "total prohibition or anything goes," was a common belief for children. We boys and girls of the 1960's, as an example of our black and white thinking, sometimes argued for a society of total nudity, (like in a commune, can you dig it?) but if we had checked the library we would have found that even societies with freedom and sunshine, like the cities of ancient Greece, or the African city of Timbuktu, had done otherwise. The world isn't perfect. We cope.


How queer that my peers grew up, cut their hair, and judged that our poor society could cope best under our current drug laws. For us, life was no longer the bright romance of a Johnny Rocker song; life also had the grit of a Johnny Cash drunkard song. We watched as peers became alcoholics. We found that most alcoholics are not in AA; they are not able to look in a mirror and admit, "I am an alcoholic."

As a child I may have believed that, "It isn't stealing if it's shoplifting." As an adult I have put childish ways behind me: theft is theft. Crime is crime. How embarassing to meet with a co-worker, a middle aged boomer who still hates the establishment. Thus he justifies his drugs. He recently talked to me angrily about using "guns!" and "cages!" for drug offenders although he seemed OK about mere "prisons" for bank robbers.

The sad thing about "needing" illegal drugs?
Propping up one's self respect by having to disparage your neighbors and their "farce" of democracy. Such isolation implies having alienation, having to avoid feeling part of society, avoid feeling part of something that will continue after you yourself are gone. How sad to be driven to desperately do anything rather than look in a mirror and admit, "I am a criminal."

Sean Crawford

on a Sunday morning sidewalk,

Summer 2008

For more on Democracy and folly, click on "newer post" at the bottom for a CBC radio interview of a Nebraska senator explaining how senators should know more (about, say, drugs and the death penalty) than the average citizen.

Note to dope-using criminal Trolls: before you troll (rudely comment) over the last paragraph first look up "implies" in the dictionary. It does not mean "forced to." Middle age implies putting on extra pounds.

I was going to follow convention to put a certain foreign word, a Martian one, in italics. Imagine my delight when my ROM English dictionary had "grok."

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Atrocities and Our Troops

(The Associated press) MAJAH, Afghanistan - Taliban fighters holding out in Marjah are using civilians as human shields, firing from compounds where U.S. and Afghan forces can clearly see women and children on rooftops or in windows. The intermingling of fighters and civilians has been confirmed by Associated Press journalists. It is part of a Taliban effort to exploit strict NATO rules against endangering innocent lives to impede the allied advance through the town in Helmand province, 610 km southwest of Kabul. (Thursday Feb 18, 2010)

There were a half dozen of us nice middle-aged men and women in the Good Earth organic coffee house. My associates tended to be into health food, spirituality and new age. Like I said, nice people. The topic changed to speculation as to whether our young people in Afghanistan, under the stress of combat, were resorting to atrocities and massacres. Back when my peers were young they had all had long hair. Among us only I had the relevant background or book learning. Unfortunately I floundered. I can think and express things so much better when I have a long time to do an essay. So here goes.

We have all read of how Saddam Hussein and his sons, if not the Iraqis, if not the Muslims, believe in using people as human shields. Perhaps the Taliban, too, believe in shields and collateral damage. We know that our boys, in contrast, believe in fairness and the Geneva Convention. And when under stress, our boys can be furious at unfair lawbreakers. They may lash out and—...I can sympathize. My coffee friends, I am pleased to say, also sympathized. They did not try to avoid the issue and just abandon our young people to their plight. As a poet once said, "War is too important to leave to the generals."

(Police action)

I know this topic isn't pleasant. I would ask you to take a deep breath and read, but don't answer, the following question: what if the Taliban put their relatives in a longhouse with loopholes and then fired on passing NATO troops? OK, breathe. Obviously the Taliban won't risk their own relatives, right? ...It would be easier to approach this topic with the emotional distance provided by time... I am thinking of the UN "police action," also called the Korean war. I still remember the black and white footage of the UN soldiers having checkpoints for the refugee columns. The troops resorted to holding up their big round land mine detectors over baby carriages. The communists, you see, believed it was OK to hide guns and bombs under a baby's swaddling clothes.

And what if you found the reds opening fire on you from within the crowd? (This happened.) During the safety of peacetime a police officer might sacrifice his life, might take a bullet for the public. During wartime, though, the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln applies. He said, "You can sacrifice a limb to save a life, but you cannot sacrifice a life for a limb." If soldiers are needed then the actual life, the very existence, of the nation is at stake. So the soldiers must not sacrifice themselves: they must return fire. They do so according to their military doctrine of minimum force.

This doctrine mandates things like firing single shots, if that will do, rather than firing on full automatic. A peacetime equivalent, I suppose, would be the homeowner who can legally stab a home invader to death, provided he uses the minimum force needed to defend himself. It's common sense.

(First Point)

Soldiers take their military manual seriously. They are drilled and trained and practiced and indoctrinated with a sense of professionalism... until they can perform their duties, such as using minimum force, even when under stress, with proud self-discipline. This is a part of the reason why officers usually have to spend years at military college before they are given their first command. You and I, of course, lack this professionalism. If we had a job overseas as, say, civilian security guards and if we heard a single round go past, then we might save our own skins by blasting back on full auto with everything we had. However, soldiers are not like me and you...

So my first point is that soldiers take pride in doing the right thing. (Incidentally, soldiers learn to react to "effective fire" not to stray single rounds.)

For my second point, I would try again for emotional distance. As a boy I read a rousing story, in a British special Children's Reader's Digest, called They Remembered the "Birkenhead Drill." When a passenger steamer, the HMS Birkenhead, was sinking, the civilian adult men were lined up on deck and they stayed there, for as long as it took, until their women and children boarded the boats. Then it would be their turn, if still possible, to join in whatever life boat space might be left. I forget how fast the water rose, or how many men died. If just one man in the line up had bolted it would surely have started a panic. But no man broke ranks.... These days, to be sure, I talk like a timid middle-aged man, but I had I been on a sinking ship the "remember the Birkenhead" reflex would have hit me. I too would have sucked in my gut and tried to be brave like everyone else.

I saw the RMS Titanic exhibit at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria. When that ship was first sinking, after that bump in the night, they didn't know how bad it was. And so some men innocently joined the boats. In later years one or more were to commit suicide: they could never outlive the shame. (Incidentally, when the "unsinkable Molly Brown" asked for a brawny crewman to join her boat as an oarsman he first got written permission from the captain, in order to be able to prove afterwards he wasn't a coward) So far, so good.

But recently, when a large ferry sank? Off the roadless coast to Alaska? I imagine the passengers, husbands and wives, boarded the lifeboats two by two—and this was morally right. Partly because, in practical terms, there were ample lifeboats, and partly because women, for practical reasons, now need less protecting: they don't often die in childbirth, and they do have equal rights. Practicality is the horse, morality is the cart.


Some years ago, back before 9/11, I flew to visit my brother who lived in Fort Lauderdale. If my jet had been hijacked to Cuba I would have sat with folded hands: my brother might have despised me had I tried to be a hero. It might have been morally wrong to risk my fellow passengers. But suppose I flew on flight 93 on that day of infamy? After the first three jets had crashed it was no longer practical to be passive; now my brother would surely despise me if I didn't risk everything and say, "Let's roll!" and go down fighting. Again, morality follows after the horse.

A digression...Here is a joke from childhood:

On the Los Angeles to New York flight a man goes into the cockpit. He pulls out a knife and says, "This plane is going to New York!"

"But sir-"

"This plane is going to New York!"

"But sir, we always go to New York. This is the LA to New York flight."

"Don't give me that! The last three times I was on this plane we went to Cuba!"

(Second Point)

And now our sons and daughters, reservists and regulars, are fighting to build a new Afghanistan. I propose a not-too-scary thought experiment. Although the Afghan economy surely doesn't allow for animal shelters, lets suppose: The Taliban have sneaked into the dog shelter; they have filled sandbags, cut loopholes, and have opened fire on our NATO sons. Now what? Despite some doubt and indecision, of perhaps only a few milliseconds, (those poor dogs!) the young men would surely return fire. The second time it would be easier to react properly. And then the next morning in the mess tent our young reservist daughters, who have left their own dogs safely back at home with their parents, would be having breakfast. They would nod solemnly to each other and agree it is altogether fitting and proper for the boys to return fire... A new horse—innocent dogs as shields—has meant a new cart: returning fire even unto the death of "man's best friend."

My second point, therefore, is that our children overseas would be trying to be as moral as they could be, redefining morality as needed, in order to be as civilized as possible.

Now I should probably "digress" to discuss South Vietnam. After all, my grizzled longhaired peers and I had our formative years during the brief life of that republic. It was hard for the young troops back then to understand that war, and it was hard for them to bear how their own civilian peers hated them and spit on them: the average age was 19 as compared to my father's war where the average age, for a G.I. Joe, was 26. (Same as my university graduating class.) But wait—it wasn't a "war;" it was officially a "conflict." Are you confused? So were the young men. The conflict was supposedly real important but... troops in Germany felt no urgency, the national guard was never called up and the occupation troops in Japan continued to eat ice cream and play baseball. Are you frustrated? So were the troops. And let's not even begin to discuss feeling stabbed-in-the-back by the people they were trying to save...

Do you know the term "regimental family?" This comforting phrase was used a lot during a recent military funeral in my hometown. The funeral, let me say for the record, was for a young hero killed in action in Afghanistan. Corporal Nathan Hornburg. My coffee buddies had all attended, had all known his family. In contrast, sadly, the poor boys in Nam scarcely had the phrase regimental family in their vocabulary. The controversial "Vietnam year" meant the soldiers were rotated in and out like spare parts without a soul, while their peers were also coming and going, "new guys" and "short timers," while they all knew—they knew!—that the whole effort was a fiasco, from top to bottom, from the White house down to the ignorant citizens on main street U.S.A. The boys would not have known it at the time but... they were all terribly lonely... There is a reason why Nam vets don't have reunions.

(Third point)

The military climate in Afghanistan, in contrast, is much less conducive to war crimes. My third point is that our troops have healthy unit cohesiveness. It would never occur to young volunteers (not conscripts, not draftees) to refer to their middle-aged leaders as "lifers." Not like in Nam, not at all.

Here at home nearly everyone my age knows of a young slacker, call him LeFool, who lives in his mother's basement and won't get a job. You might imagine LeFool getting into the army and behaving inappropriatly, doing such things as brandishing his rifle in the air like foreigners do on TV, or perhaps, while on patrol on a clear day, with no Taliban in sight, suddenly shooting a round into the wall of an animal shelter just because it "felt good." Won't happen. No way. Better to imagine LeFool with peer pressure, in a warm noisy regimental family, which allows no space for "hiding in the basement." His peers will have the work ethic and the sense of purpose that comes only from high standards. If LeFool were allowed to slack off do do what "feels good" then he would be of no use: neither to the military nor to himself. Long before his character declined to the point of rudely brandishing or shooting into a wall he would have revealed his inner weakness by how he took care of his personal gear and group shared equipment. A hawk-eyed corporal would have intervened in time. The same principle applies to sailors and ground crew.

I am reminded of how, early in world war II, General Patton ran a vast desert training base in Nevada. Today I have a brother living in Las Vegas, but at the time, before air conditioning, Vegas was still a town. Patton wanted his men to feel pride and determination: to be, in other words, soldiers between their ears. He ordered that if any man, after leaving base, was found in town, by the military police patrol, with his necktie undone... then his company commander would have to write a letter to Patton to explain why. If it happened twice then the officer would have to resign. No one ever had to.

I mentioned the sharp eyes of the corporal. The armed forces has a series of such checks, right up to the Inspector General. If such a general, during an inspection visit, found the troops dressed like pirates with their unit equipment dirty and not oiled, then surely all the officers would be instantly replaced. I know of no such case; I say this only as a thought experiment. I do know of a tank regiment in world war II, with grave morale problems, that, understandably, had things like rusty side arms...They ended up getting the great honor of a presidential unit citation. Their change in outlook came, understandably, when they were assured that they would indeed be allowed to go overseas to fight. (Yes!) These were "Eleanor's (Roosevelt) troops." African-Americans.

(Dressing for dinner)

I could have reminded my coffee friends of how the Duke of Wellington said the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton (boarding school). I could have called their attention to how colonial administrators in rotting remote jungle outposts would insist on always formally dressing for dinner, always taking down the flag before sunset. "The sun never sets on the Union Jack" we said. These things matter.

I could have told them how an army base is like a God-fearing small prairie town, complete with the three Ps: the post office, the police and the protestant chaplain. On that base, during rare and hallowed evenings, the men would put on their dress uniforms, get out the old Boer war candlesticks, and the chaplain would say grace. The first toast would always be to the queen. They would, during that toast, be reaffirming the values of civilization.

Next day, in broad daylight, it is the entire base that packs up big tents to go overseas. And so when tired dusty troops are returning from an Afghanistan patrol at sunset... they are returning through the gate to the three Ps and civilization. There can be no war crimes, not when such men and women, determined and proud, hold their ground.

Our sons and daughters overseas are motivated. They don't feel forgotten or hated by their peers, not when they are visited by NHL players and there is a civilian staffed Tim Hortons for donuts. They have unit morale. When they return home, those who survive, they will probably spend less time down in the basement with LeFool and more time up in the kitchen with us grownups. And we will be proud of them.

God save the queen.

Sean Crawford

on the prairie, summer of 2009.15

Note: For more on what you can do, see my essay of April 24 entitled "Are Yankees Stupid?"

Footnote: Patton told his officers of how the American colonists, lacking weapons, at first resorted to rolling logs downhill against the Redcoats. In Starship Troopers by R. A. Heinlein the equivalent of Patton's "necktie," for teaching determination, is when the recruits, who would normaly have ample ray guns and atomic grenades, are forced to practise throwing a mere knife against a straw "sentry." A lack of weapons is no excuse to quit. When I had no shovel I dug with my helmet...

Funny footnote:
After the general says a soldier can "take this shovel..."

Young officer: Uh, Sir, that's an entrenching tool.

General: I'm a general; I can call a shovel a shovel.

(from a half forgotten novel by, I think, Philipe Jose Farmer)