Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Young Girl's Guide to Wars and Drugs
I remember one Monday morning, back when I was young and the war on drugs was just a few years old. I was in a Canadian college classroom; my department head had just flown in that morning from a justice conference back east. I gave the class my opinion that the new war on drugs was a farce. “What a coincidence!” said my department head, explaining she had been sitting beside the Canadian police chief for Toronto, and the chief had told her the US drug war “is a farce.”

Back then I knew next-to-nothing about pharmacology, or criminology, but (a) I knew about the Vietnam War, and (b) I knew the Americans had forgotten their history. How, then, could they ever hope to not repeat their farce?

(Come to think of it, maybe "farce" is hardwired into the US government: For their latest war, the most senior official of—believe it or not—Homeland Security publicly said that some of the 9/11 killers had crossed over from Canada. Not so.)

A Young Girl’s Guide to Wars and Drugs
I am writing this for idealistic young Americans who are not afraid to be informed. It seems to me that information on two wars is being denied to young people, both about the war in the Republic of South Vietnam and about today’s war on drugs. Therefore, lacking any ability to compare and contrast, US citizens are doomed to repeat the same mistakes in both wars. And then, dare I say it? Doomed to be losers.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at ignorance about the Vietnam War. During that conflict, while on paper Americans said, “We mustn’t break our word” and “We said we would support our ally” and, of course, “We must contain communism,” in reality there were other unwritten reasons. At the time the American people were feeling somewhat OK with losing their internal war on poverty, a war declared one day by congress but later dropped in order to free up funds for Vietnam; meanwhile, externally, in justifying Vietnam to themselves and others, they weren’t feeling OK, and they weren’t about to write down any real reason for keeping troops overseas. No representative to the United Nations was going to stand up in the UN forum and say, “We, the people of the United States, are staying in Vietnam because we don’t want to be losers” and then sit down to a stunned silence…

Today our egos are keeping us from asking whether the war on drugs should be ratcheted back to peace time, or, as a compromise, ratcheted down to a campaign against drugs. In the end it might be easier to flip flop into talking of decriminalizing or legalizing. It was to manage ego, because of Nam, that Terry Orlick invented New Games, co-operative games, such as by using a parachute in a circle. 

From ego, once they pulled their troops out, and shamefully denied their ally any ammunition re-supply, (After teaching them to waste ammo like Americans do) the American people went into shameful denial, not teaching the war in their schools. I’m serious: A classic “war,” with classic lessons to be learned, is just not being taught. It’s enough to make George Santayana weep. Never mind the drug war: Which aspects of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are a needless repeat of lessons that should have been already learned? Are we blindly re-inventing the wheel? Idealistic students, and the American people in general, don’t have the resources to offer any answer. We, their elders, have failed them.

I am reminded of how, after the Nazis lost their war, the young Germans weren’t being told a blessed thing by their parents, not even when they asked. It was not until the 1961, after many experiences of talking to eager students, that Hannah Vogt resorted to writing for young West Germans her history book, A Burden of Guilt. It sold out in a flash—Because older people snapped it up! They too wanted to know their history, being at last ready to lose their denial. (I wonder if copies were smuggled into East Germany?)

Of course, it’s hard to distinguish denial from ignorance, as I was recently reminded. They say “a word” to the wise is sufficient. Accordingly, I used few words when recently I commented about the drug war on a nice intellectual blog. Of course I realize computer blogs attract a level of reading closer to television and electronic devices than to books or newspapers, but still, this particular blog was about as intellectual as blogs can get, being the essay (journal) site of a Chicago Sun-Times movie-critic and writer, Roger Ebert. I used only a minimum of words to compare and contrast, as a “no-brainer,” the war in Nam and the war on drugs. Maybe I should have used a few more words than I did, as someone said, in a reply comment, that I “made no sense.” Denial or ignorance? I reasoned it out: Not only was the man who commented innocent about the Nam war, but, as incredible as it sounds, I think he was also ignorant about the “history” of his drug war. I hate to say it: If his neighbors are equally ignorant about “their” war, then they are all unfit to win “their” war. As Yoda would say, “there is no try”: If you don’t plan to win, you deserve to lose.

If you are a young US citizen reading this, then maybe you’ve heard the cold war term “Ugly American.” With that term in mind, if you seriously want to win any wars, at home or overseas, you would do well to consider two harsh scenarios. Scenario One: Many folks overseas and down in Latin America are sure you guys engage in imperialism. Rather than reflexively exclaim, “No we don’t!” why not find out? (Hint: It has been shown scientifically that "what makes a terrorist" is connected not to "poverty and despair" but to a lack of civil liberties, nevertheless, this month, March 2013, a top US official traveled to Egypt expressly to pressure the president take a big loan: He succeeded. The American failed to attach any foreign aide strings whatsoever: The Egyptian president is not expected to do anything about human rights, or democracy, or even to cut back on the killings of street protesters. Think about what this declares to the rest of the world.)

Scenario Two: Americans are notorious worldwide for being uneducated and uninformed. Even Canadians, who share the continent with you, sharing some understanding of you, find themselves making an effort to be indignant instead of furious. They resort to laughter as they share stories about Ugly Americans. Then they promptly forget the stories—because it’s hard to live with daily knowledge of incredible stupidity. I guess I forget too— I should have made allowances, in my blog comment, for a Yankee not knowing the history of his own no-longer-new war on drugs.

By the way, what helps me personally to be gentle about American innocence is a letter to Ann Landers, the newspaper advice columnist. Someone in Hawaii tearfully despaired at how her relatives on the mainland thought her family lived in straw huts. (This was before the re-boot of Hawaii Five-O.) If the folks in the US of A behave so unfortunately even to each other, I guess I can cut them a little slack.

Of course the war in Nam, and the war on drugs, are each as unique as any other wars, but still, there are certain basic principles, applying to both, that are common to any war in any healthy democracy.

If, hypothetically, you live in a non-democracy, then I guess your life is comfortable and your conscience is clear. While you are being taken care of by your rulers, any war belongs to “the government,” or to the emperor, to Darth Vader and his storm troopers. It’s his war, not “our” war. It’s “just not my responsibility.” That way, as a passive “peasant,” you don’t have to know “why” or even be able to find the war on a map. In contrast, the central quality of a “citizen,” as a character in a David Gerrold novel said, “is a willingness to be uncomfortable,” meaning: to make an effort. As we re-learned the hard way after the egregious errors of World War One, “War is too important to be left to the generals."

The model for a war by democracy, set by the ancient Greeks, is still true today. “A citizen’s duty is to be informed” and “The price of democracy is participation.” These are such ancient clichés, God knows, but only because they are true. We saw these time-tested principles being put into practice when the “greatest generation” had their war. Informed? They could all find Pearl Harbor on the map. Participate? Women rolled bandages and men hauled heavy scrap iron to recycle. Citizen oversight? A clear example was when General Patton, the general most feared by the Germans, and so valued by the pentagon, was caught slapping a soldier in a hospital. The citizens, regardless of what the generals thought, had Patton relegated to the rear until he had time to think over his lesson. Perhaps this was a mistake, but—as a philosopher said, “The people may not be the wisest, but they are the safest repositories of power.”

I suppose for younger Americans the eight years of the Bush administration, years when every “citizen” stayed on their couches while egregious errors were made, seem normal. For you, if you are under age thirty, this is your adult life. However, such apathy was not normal back when people my age were young. I am hoping the “couch-itus” of those eight (and more) years, years without oversight, when no one in the White House was fired or even reprimanded, will be a passing phase. When I was young, back during the cold war, Americans were as active as the old Greeks. I remember, about the time color TV came out, we even went so far as to say, “If you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

Lately I wonder: Maybe part of why the republicans so bizarrely hated Obama, not just after he created a track record, but even during his very first weeks in office, was because they were so very, very ashamed of staying on their couches during the Bush terms.

The worst example of republican (and citizen) apathy, to me, is regarding the supposedly important work of “nation building” and “teaching the Iraqis democracy.” When the first general in charge, as the dust was still settling from the invasion, planned a timetable of US withdrawal for six months after the invasion, he was overruled. Surprise: It was going to be very important to teach democracy… Which would require nation building. The scandal to me is how no one “blew the whistle” when, for the recruiting for this great effort, the loyal Americans with years of nation building experience in Asia, or with years of working in the grim wreckage of the former Yugoslavia, were always passed over in favor of young peach-fuzzed amateurs who happened to hold a republican party membership card. How could the folks who kept silent not feel a burning shame? I just don’t know.

What young people of today need to know about committing troops to Vietnam is that, as a result of previous wars, history’s cold equations were clear: It takes at least ten good regular soldiers for every insurgent in order to contain the insurgency. Furthermore, the guerrillas don’t have to win: They just have to keep not-losing. In the case of Nam, the pentagon’s cold equations were especially grim: The People’s Republic of North Vietnam could always sneak reinforcements to the fighters in the south in such numbers, given the cold ratio, as to neutralize any possible reinforcements by the US. As best I recall, the US public was never told about the math, and I don’t know if Washington was ever told, either—I’m serious.

Meanwhile, Mao Ze-Dong, (Tse-Tung) the guerilla leader who went on to rule as “Chairman Mao” of China, had announced (from my memory) something like, “The guerrilla hides in the friendly population like the fish swims in the friendly sea.” Clearly, the only chance for the US and the South Vietnamese to win was to “dry up the sea;” …by “winning the hearts and minds;” …by converting the undecided to democracy over communism.

You might think democracy has an unbeatable advantage. You might think converting people to communism is hard, especially if you consider the ridiculous efforts of American communists here at home who spouted words like “imperialist lackeys” and “running dogs,” those same Americans who said they despised the “bourgeoisie” and favored the “proletariat.” Over in Nam, though, the commies were more convincing. And over there the Americans were less convincing because, despite their motivation and skills (some even had degrees in communication) they had major trouble taking the Ugly out of the American. Not to mention their minor problem of having a reputation, overseas, for favoring imperialism over democracy. You might say democracy is a “no brainer,” and you might say being straight and clean from drugs is a “no brainer.” Not so.

What they tried in Nam was—no, let’s jump ahead to another war. During the 1960’s in North America there had been a lot of effort against drugs. People were scared. They didn’t know if drugs would turn folks into passive “lotus eaters.” Better not find out the hard way; better not let drugs get established in the civil ecology. By the 1980’s (When, according to my memory, no one in the US was saying “war on drugs”) Canada was still at peacetime level, as if drugs were unimportant enough to simply leave to the police chiefs.

At that time, in the US, under President Reagan, the American people “declared war on drugs.” In wartime, remember, it is OK to do things that would be “cruel and unusual” during peacetime. Maybe Reagan’s cruel act of replacing a sliding scale with “zero tolerance,” an act that “wasted” the remainder of the lives of so many confused young kids caught with just a single marijuana joint at the border, is cruel but acceptable, since cruelty happens in wartime. US prisons became crowded, then overcrowded, producing some really sad life-changing consequences, and maybe that’s OK too: You may have some collateral damage in return for victory, a victory harsh won but followed by sweet peacetime.

What they tried in America—for the drug war—was the President’s wife Nancy preaching, “Just say no to drugs!” TV commercials were made—something that had never been tried before. I heard that one involved a frying pan with an egg: “This is your brain on drugs.” As for “winning the hearts and minds” of uncommitted young Americans… I think young people who are unconverted won’t care solely what the police chiefs or a president’s wife think: They will want to know what “the public” thinks. I realize the stereotype of Americans as “loud, backslapping and eager to be popular” is false, but then again, I've seen a respected major US newspaper that editorializes by having what the majority thinks right up in the lead paragraphs of the front-page news stories. So… What did the majority think? Were they committed to winning?

Well, let’s think: They surely weren’t committed to their other war, the one on terror. As previously noted, “couches R us” was the word during President Bush. I remember a few years after 9/11, after the huge New York Police Department had become the world leader on understanding western home grown terrorism, there was a scandal: The F.B.I., “in wartime,” had seriously failed to share important information with the NYPD. It was as if the F.B.I. had been infiltrated by Al-Quaida sleeper cells. Call it a turf war…

It may well be the phrase “war on drugs” is a “harmless lie,” an attempt to get law enforcement to be motivated to diminish their turf wars, a phrase as “harmless” as saying “literally” when you mean “figuratively.” (You may have seen this month’s web T-shirt: Your misuse of “literally” is driving me figuratively insane) I would say wasting lives with zero tolerance is not harmless.

Then again, as the “greatest generation” knew full well, you cannot urge a man to leave his wife and kids, leaving his crops half-grown in the field to go and serve in war, not unless “everybody else” supports the war. Perhaps the phrase “war on drugs” is a lie, a hyperbole, calculated to get people to sacrifice their recreational drugs “like everybody else.” I would say lies are an unstable foundation for a democracy.

What they tried in Vietnam—God bless them. Over there it was no coincidence that a soldier “who got killed” was referred to as one “who got wasted” Cynical? The GIs on their scary patrols had good reason to be cynical about their efforts being wasted: They believed the so-called “citizens” back home were leaving the war to the generals… And they were right: The evidence is in any good history book. (My favorite is Backfire by Loren Baritz)

Meanwhile, it must have been hard for an idealistic Vietnamese boy of fighting age to be converted away from communism… hard to for him to believe the truth of, say, the Yankees in the embassy or the ones giving agricultural help, those Yanks who professed “Truth, justice and the American way…” Not when all the idealistic Vietnamese could see for themselves that proper Vietnamese girls were being turned into prostitutes, that decent Vietnamese boys were being turned into drug users and criminals, that the former pearl of the east, Saigon, because of US involvement, was now figuratively one big cesspool. This while the citizens back stateside either didn’t know or didn’t care.

Two good Americans, in their despair, wrote The Ugly American, a 1958 cold war best seller. Eugene Burdick and William Lederer have a character say the best advertisement for democracy was the Americans themselves—when they received visitors at home. But unfortunately, he continued, as soon as Americans crossed the international border they magically turned ugly, “loud and ostentatious.” By the way, sometimes I wonder about the most northerly of North Americans: the Canadians. If Canadians are so polite, well, maybe it’s not so much to their credit: Maybe it’s merely an application of what cold war secret agent Matt Helm, of Santa Fe, once said: No self respecting New Mexican wants to be caught sounding like a Texan.

Burdick and Lederer wrote that in Vietnam only a very few American civilians achieved credibility by going out to the farms and painstakingly getting to know the locals. All the rest would hang around in the capital, Saigon, associating with the rich elite. The guerillas, needless to say, were in the rural areas. And if left unimpeded, they would convert entire villages: Grandma would make the traps, Mama would set the traps, and the children, when not spying on Americans, could safely run and play around the traps. Observing how the kids never tripped any wires themselves became yet another cause for the patrolling GIs to feel cynicism.

There is an old cliché: How does a politician get votes? One by one by one. When you stay comfy in the capital, “among your own kind,” you miss a lot of ones…. And all this time, the villages, one by one, are adding up.

If only more Americans had walked up to native farmers, commented on the weather, pulled out their wallet of family photos, and with some even saying they too were farmers, back home in the USA. After establishing a dialogue of equals, they could then ask, “What would take to keep you, and all the guys in your village, from converting to communism?” Of course, the very definition of Ugly American is the locals cannot be your equals. Now imagine an affluent Nancy Reagan briefly opening the window of her air conditioned car to call over, “Hey, you in the straw hat! Just say no to communism!” As you may imagine, I don’t think much of the current US war.

To me it’s a “no-brainer:” If US citizens cared about “what would it take…” then, just as nation building in Vietnam involved many things, they would, in America, undertake many little bits of home grown nation building. 

Research with lab rats is pertinent. As everyone knew, rats always chose drugs instead of plain water… until researchers at Simon Fraser University found that "what it would take" was to jazz up the sterile cages with straw and things to play around.

Maybe at first citizens might need some soul searching to sharpen their ability to see things, pondering what to give up. (consumerism? racism?)
Theoretically, to be sure, they could generate the humility to make the effort, amidst earnest national dialogue, but… Suddenly that couch is looking better and better.

I am thinking of US citizens being so unfeeling, or uninformed, about the crime-fest of Saigon that was staining the rest of South Vietnam. It was a recruiting bonanza for the communists. Maybe the US is the new Saigon. Staining Mexico. The new recruiting, I guess, would be of Mexicans for murder and of Americans for apathy.

Today, after thinking of Mexico, I was thinking about a young American college girl. Perhaps she is wondering if her fellow Americans are all committed, or if, in reality, the respected businessman who is mouthing the words “There’s a war on drugs, young lady” is in fact going to his elegant boardroom and parties to do marijuana and cocaine. She can’t ask directly, granted, but she can see the reaction if she asks the businessman, “How do you feel about the thousands of widows in Mexico from drug violence?” She could expect the man’s reaction would differ depending on whether, to him, citizen-fashion, the war on drugs is owned as “our war,” or if instead he sees it as “their” war or “the government’s” or Darth Vader’s war. The girl would know: ...The payoff for feeling non-idealistic is you can feel detached. If “it’s just not my responsibility” then you feel no impulse to get off the couch.

I once found an old brown-paged book in a used bookstore, published right after the last world war, where the author warned that US slums were in danger of becoming ghettos like in Europe. Well. I guess “participation” and “being informed” could imply the question: What is the difference between a slum and a classic ghetto? Here’s another: Are drugs more common in the cities or in the rural areas? (In Canada it’s rural) Then it’s only one small step to asking, “What would it take for you and the other guys in your town to…”

I just mentioned Canada. Lest we forget, the Canadians have shown how a humble peacetime level of success can be sustained: Drug crimes are still being prosecuted at a peacetime level. Canadians are coping. Drug use is not decreasing—they are coping—but it’s not increasing, either.

In North America, many people know a helpful little story of someone managing to get off drugs. During Vietnam, as we wondered whether to pull out or not, there was a "helpful" book published documenting little victories called The Green Berets. The implicit question: Maybe we could still win, by trying harder? The book was both true and false. The victories were true, but also false because Americans did not have "the right stuff" to try harder—the nice little victories ignored the inner faults of Americans, and of middle class Vietnamese in Saigon: For tragic and petty reasons Vietnam was "an unwinnable war."

If today Americans don't have the "right stuff" to change, if I am right about this war being like Vietnam… if the war on drugs is “an unlearnable war” then I suggest you STOP thinking you will ever learn how to win.

And stop wasting lives. Start brainstorming how to get out of this war with honor.

God bless America.

Sean Crawford
Throwing snowballs in Canada,
Desperate for spring
March 2013

~As it happens, the South Vietnamese and the Americans, as Robert (Bobby) Kennedy wrote in the public domain before his assassination, did know (unofficially) "what it would take"to win the hearts and  minds—they just couldn't bring themselves to do it.

~If you are a social studies teacher, you may be forbidden to teach Vietnam directly, but maybe you can do an end run: Here’s a social studies class planner for The Ugly American.

~After publication, the acts of deception being exposed in that best seller did not cease. See my essay with footnotes about a Pulitzer Prize winning Vietnam correspondent, David Halberstam was a Harbinger, archived in September 2012.

~Chairman Mao said, "Don't punch with two hands." I don't know whatever possessed the republic to try to fight two wars at once, but for documentation of how once things were different, see my No War archived April 2014.

~I touch on Yankee imperialism in my post and footnote on Secretary of State John Kerry; and, for how imperialism spreads to the homeland (as Orwell found for Britain) see the next one on Michael Moore: both are posted in March 2016.

~As for hope that generation Z may in the fullness of time surpass my own generation, here is a hopeful blog posting by Penelope Trunk.
I hope young college kids will match their passionate innocence with a simmering forceful determination, along with a sense of humor, to get them through the rest of their lives.

~“ I don’t know if Washington was ever told, either” see War Without Windows by a young intelligence officer who was angry at how enemy troop strength was being hidden by senior “officers and gentlemen.”

As for re-inventing the wheel, and classic lessons not learned… according to the above, and Talking With Victor Charlie, (by a U.S. interpreter) the army language school was not producing enough linguists. You might want to ask your congressman to look into whether the army language school is still using the very same old limited number of classrooms from the 1960’s. If the richest army in the world is committed to teaching democracy in the near east, but won’t teach enough of it’s soldiers Arabic,  then you can expect a lot of cynicism among the Iraqis, not to mention among US historians and helpless GIs.

And beyond language school: As for those army night raids that terrified Iraqi families, and thereby encouraged them to favour the insurgency, just imagine if the U.S. people, such as Arabic-speaking housewives and young students of Islam, had been encouraged to go serve as translators.

~ Unfortunately, many potential U.S. recruits, or their relatives, are capable of reading this blog, and the various resources mentioned, and so forth. When the officer corps neglects to learn from history, or to prosecute the war with integrity, then they are shooting themselves in the foot. Tell that to your congressman. (Below is from my June 2011 essay Focus and Commitment)
Before me, from December 2005, is The Atlantic magazine with a 14-page cover story by national correspondent James Fallows about Iraq, called Why Iraq has No Army. 
As of 2005 the Americans don't have the commitment. As Fallows notes, "The pentagon's main weapons-building programs are the same now that they were five years ago, before the United States had suffered one attack and begun two wars. From the Pentagon's policy statements, and even more from its budgetary choices, one would never guess that insurgency was our military's main challenge..."(page 76)
~ “Americans experienced in nation-building were passed over,” see Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, footnoted in my essay Humble and Iraq in November 2012. (Incidentally, speaking of being humble, I am humbly aware that, following this essay, my statistics software will show me that scarcely anyone is going into my archives to follow up on these footnotes)

~For the Bush years of staying on the “blankety-blank couch" as compared to traditional citizenship see my quotes of The Assassins Gate in my essay Citizenship After 9/11 archived in September 2012.

~Let me say it again,
“God bless America.”

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Goals and 300 (the film)

Voting is a lifeless objective...

My nieces are too young to see the film Pan’s Labyrinth and so we saw 300, the one where the Spartans fight to hold a pass against the host of the mighty Persian Empire. I explained that had the Greeks not sacrificed themselves at that battle, and earlier at Marathon, we would likely not have democracy today.

“Really, Uncle?” Yes. The Greek city-states set democracy as their national goal. Over time that goal exerted power and magic: it determined not only their physical actions but also their very hearts and minds.

The Spartans added a second national goal: excellence in battle. Spartan girls would run to school to strengthen their bodies to be mothers of warriors. Spartan boys, in school barracks, would be underfed to encourage them to learn how to forage on campaign. And they were forbidden to get caught. The adults in Spartan society eventually came to talk not fluently, like their artistic fellow Greeks, but tersely, like soldiers do. “Sparta” is the Roman name; the actual Greek name was “Lacedaemon.” Hence our term for terse speech: laconic.

A digression:
I am still chuckling over the third episode of Angel, by Douglas Petrie, where Angel enters and finds that Oz has shown up in LA. Instead of loud lengthy surprise you get:
Angel: Hi guys. Oz”
Oz: “Angel”
Angel: “Nice surprise”
Oz: Thanks”
Angel: Staying long?”
Oz: “Few days.”
Doyle: “They always like this?”
Oz: No, we’re usually laconic.”

According to legend a Spartan schoolboy who was out foraging trapped a fox just before some men came around the corner. The lad hid the fox under his cloak. As the adults questioned him he kept a straight face even as the fox was gnawing out his stomach! The boy died a hero.

Such bravery is commonplace among the soldiers in 300. Sometimes they wear nothing but a cloak, sometimes no clothing at all. The Greeks did not have our modern modesty taboo. I told my nieces the Greek word “Gymn” means naked, and “asium” means place for.

It was in a gymnasium that I learned about goals. I was a new recreation therapist rushing to set up programs for sports and leisure classes. My boss stopped me from going too fast.

“Goals first,” he said.

“But I thought we would just do it,” I replied.

“No,” he said, “for I have found that if you don’t have goals for something to happen, then somehow… Nothing Happens.” (Even though you are still having a game)

Down the years I have come to see how right my boss was as I have delved into management theory. This theory states that goals—often abstract and hard to measure—are critical and must precede objectives. Of course goals such as “nurture democracy” or “the participants shall cooperate” may be disturbingly hard to measure. That’s OK. Leave it to the board of directors since their mission is to see that the objectives are congruent with their goals.  Disturbed people can take comfort from concrete objectives (stepping stones to the goals) where one can clearly, objectively, measure success or failure.

For example, the U.S. army officers in South Vietnam pursued such measurable objectives as enemy “body count” and how many villages had yet not gone communist, i.e. “percentage of pacified hamlets.” And of course the officers just worshipped their objective nice pretty paperwork. Unfortunately not only did their war college goals of “duty, honor, country” get left behind in the States but they also did not create appropriate goals for Vietnam. The goal “counter-insurgency” is just meaningless noise, not a guiding concept, when all the captains blindly assume it means battling all the bad guys. The boys in Nam fought bloody hard but without proper goals… Nothing Happened.

So the Republic of South Vietnam is gone. And Iraq? I know this for sure: voting is a lifeless objective. Voting is an earthen pot, dry and dusty, until filled with the sparkling goal of democracy.

Goals have power. A young idealist named George S. Patton set a personal goal of becoming a true soldier. As a white haired General he led the Third Army into history. I hope my nieces choose worthy goals in worthy communities. There is a delightful lengthy passage in Snow Falling on Cedars where an island community becomes quiet, perhaps reflective, because of the hush needed at night for small boat fishing. Goals have magic.

I alerted my nieces as to how in 300 the Persian lord wants the Spartans to bow down. But the Persians found how goals have consequences: Having a national goal of democracy, a Greek considered himself the equal of any man. He would never bow, never kneel. Even if a mighty god from mount Olympus appeared a Greek hero would remain standing, looking eye to eye. At the same time, the gods were often haughty and the hero ran the risk of being blasted for insolence.

The ancient Greeks would approve of the saying from the Spanish civil war: “Better to die on your feet than live on your knees.” The republicans said this while fighting against the fascists in the 1930s. When my nieces are old enough to see Pan’s labyrinth, about that war, I shall point out the fascist supper scene where a smug priest sits by a rich man next to a haughty captain who declares the masses deserve to be kept in their lowly station and ruled by their betters… And that is what everyone believed in the huge Persian Empire. This included Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and the oriental lands beside Greece.

(Surrounded in space and time)
As Sir Edward Creasy described things in 1851:
Quote “…A monotonous uniformity pervades the histories of nearly all Oriental empires, from the most ancient down to the most recent times. …It is also a striking fact that the governments of all the great Asiatic empires have in all ages been absolute despotisms. And Hereen is right in connecting this with another great fact, which is… (quoting Hereen) ‘polygamy: where that custom exists, a good political constitution is impossible. Fathers, being converted into domestic despots, are ready to pay the same abject obedience to their sovereign which they exact from their family and dependents in their domestic economy.’(unquoting Hereen)

We should bear in mind, also, the inseparable connection between the state religion and all legislation which has always prevailed…stereotyping the lines in which literature and science must move, and limiting the extent to which it shall be lawful for the human mind to prosecute its inquiries.” Unquote

Creasy points out that there was little west of Greece: only a few Greek colonies along the Mediterranean Sea and the weak city of Rome. They too would have fallen to Persia (modern day Iran). So if Greece had been snuffed out that would have been the end of freedom of thought. Gone with the wind. Generations would have lived and died not even knowing they were missing anything (yes, I’ve read Nineteen Eighty-four).

When finally a generation came along to invent movies they would have made dreck like they did during the cold war in the Soviet Union. I wonder if that movie about Mel Gibson’s family during an invasion, Signs, was ever dubbed into Arabic. What can Arab extremists make of the scene where the danger is so close that Mel’s family may be having their last supper on earth? Remember what Mel decides? He lets his family vote on what to do. Arabs must be baffled.

Recently I was told that most of the world’s building cranes have gone to the Middle Orient, the lands of the former Persian Empire. Yes, today the people of the Middle East have all the measurable "concrete" objectives of a modern state. They have skyscrapers, highways, even schools for computer technology…yet, except for Israel, something … is Not Happening. Until the people grasp the goal of democracy…greatness will forever elude them.

Sean Crawford
from April 2011.38
re-posted March 2013

~Everything I know about goals not being measurable is from Boards that Make a Difference, John Carver's book with the Jossey-Bass publishers, 1991. I have just today sent away for his expensive revised third edition "with a 100,000 copies sold."

~What the army could have done in Nam, or in the near east today, is learn to see the culture as the terrain.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Men's Underwear and Symbolism

"Wearing a corset certainly changes your state of mind."
Radha Mitchell, Australian actress

It’s queer how a man’s humble underwear can symbolize so much…

Back when the world was young, and so was I, I took a college communications class. One day the teacher tried to show us a short Oscar-winning documentary, Neighbours, on the terribly grave issue of international peace. Unfortunately, it was hard for us to “relate,” as we kept laughing and laughing at how the two neighbours were wearing such wide legged pants…

Looking back, I can see we didn’t mind wearing clothes from our grandparents, such as top hats, waistcoats or “faded feathers from salvation army counters”; and we didn’t mind wearing the buckskin jackets of our childhood—we just didn’t want to dress like our parents. Today I still wince when I first see some young men wearing wide pants, nerd frame glasses and plaid shirts, but then I remember: They aren’t dressing like my father—they’re dressing like their grandfathers. To them it’s OK, a scattered few even wear fedoras: on them it looks “retro.”

You can’t take fashion too seriously; it’s a gut thing: if ever I buy a businessman’s trench coat, complete with epaulets, I’m not going to insist it include, as many coats do, a “real” loop for my pistol lanyard. I still get a little miffed during every stampede when people talk of dressing like a “real” cowboy, or when some fool in the bar tells me my bandana isn’t knotted like a “real” cowboy’s bandana. After all, I would never tell a civilian his trendy khaki isn’t like a real soldier.

Personal fashion can be frivolous, and also “the personal is political”: At the end of the day, fashion may carry a freight load of symbolism. Underwear too.

When I was a member of the longhaired “younger generation,” a.k.a. the “now generation,” a generation uninterested in historical films where the characters had short hair, a generation that tweaked the hair length of young doctors on the TV show M.A.S.H.,—but not for the “older generation” guy Colonel Potter—I was then wearing my own hair proudly short. I was proudly in the service, at a base that is now, alas, defunct: CFB (Canadian Forces Base) Currie Barracks.

Of course none of us young bucks would be caught dead looking like our fathers. One day an older corporal was saying how over at the quartermaster stores you could still buy a great coat. A fan of romantic nostalgia, I went over to see, and found myself eying some olive drab boxer shorts. … not to look like the dreaded “older generation,” but for nostalgia, to be like a young World War II hero. At the time we were all wearing thin synthetic baggy “combat pants,” like green pajamas, and…well… I guess I was a leader, for soon the other guys were buying these shorts too.

“Have you heard?” someone asked me with outrage, “Pelletier was wearing his boxers out on a Friday night! What if he gets lucky? As soon as he takes down his jeans a girl will burst out laughing!”

A few years later I was a civilian, lounging in the university drama student’s lounge, spying on them actually, enjoying their freedom and energy, when a short woman with short dark hair, a real “cutie pattutie” came in wearing olive drab shorts. The other actors were intrigued; they asked her, and she explained she was wearing men’s boxer shorts. At the time, as a starving student, with old jeans and old underwear, I was tempted to get a laugh by pulling out my thick green waistband... But they didn’t know me, and I judged at the time it would not quiiiite have been funny. And besides, only a crazy nerd would ever wear boxers.

About a decade later I was doing a one-year certificate program in professional writing—and yes, some peers wrote of dressing like a "real" cowboy. Short hair was back in style (Gay men had been first) and the most timid generation X’ers were starting to wear bathing trunks like Grandpa’s, called “board shorts,” far down their legs. Poor guys: They might as well walk with cold seaweed wrapped around their legs. At least the trunks were more colorful than Grandpa would have been able to afford. This was on the prairies where no one had ever seen a surfboard in real life. One night, downtown at the bar, one of my writing classmates told me she could always tell whether a boy was wearing boxer style or jockey style. Oops! So maybe a decade earlier females could tell I was being a nerd—Perish the thought! A week later, chatting with three young gay males, I asked. One guy said he noticed, the other two didn’t… Since then, by the way, my pretty forever-young classmate has settled into granny style underwear.

As for me, I had never noticed: not because I was a typical oblivious male, but because I was so uptight, if not homophobic, and so I would have just died if anyone caught me looking… Yes, we males have a lot of double standards. And liberation does not come handed on a silver platter.

I’m not the only one who’s uptight. Recently, in this best of all centuries, I was inside an outdoors store buying some of that newfangled sweat resistant Marino wool. Some of the long underwear was looser, while some was snugger, for ice and rock climbing. As you know, for snugger clothes in general, just as when you wear slim cowboy jeans for horseback riding, the way to go is jockey style underwear. My young outdoors salesman, leading me over to the briefs, was fine with boxer style, but made a screwed up face at what he called the “grape smuggler” jockey style. “I’m a baby boomer,” I said using my crotchety old man voice, so as not to sound like I was being personally judgmental of the young man, “and that’s what I buy.” But wow, I could sure tell he was uptight.

I daresay young women his age are uptight too. My guess is that a young man of today doesn’t dare pull down his wide pants on a lucky Friday night while wearing jockey style, lest the modern lady laugh at him. Whatever happened to the younger generation’s revolution against old age and being uptight? I wonder: Does this means the “women’s liberation” of my youth was for naught? Did my generation endure protests, tear gas and derisions, only for 21st century women to say, “I mostly believe in equal rights, but not the goal of equality” or “I believe in equal rights, but I’m not a feminist.”?

Well. I have it on good authority that if you dare to dial up your light of consciousness, dare to see and know, then you too will believe in feminism. Of course, who wants to endure a short sharp knock, feeling shocked into being strident?  It’s easier to only see the world dimly, easier to perceive men’s underwear, and women’s corsets, as being totally devoid of any symbolism.

Sean Crawford
Forever in blue jeans,
Relaxed fit... but not high waist
March 2013
Incidentally, I essay about timidly deciding between boxer and jockey style bathing suits, in August 2012 archived as A Boomer Too Timid.

I envision a man, like young John Kennedy, up on a soap box, giving a speech:

"There are those who say that women have had full and equal rights ever since back in the 20th century: I say, "Let them go to a lady with the credibility of being a rich successful capitalist.

"There are those who say we no longer need feminism: I say, 'Let them go to the fifth most powerful woman in the world, according to a Forbes list, Sheryl Sandberg.'

"There are those who say women in the working world are really, really close to equality—all they need to do is stay silent, keep their heads down, and pretend there's no need for feminism: I say, 'Let them go discover how Sandberg's book, subtitled "Women, Work and the Will to Lead," is NOT from the 1970's but from this year, 2013…' The title is Lean In.
(With help from Nell Scoval, her book is in plain English: The oodles of footnote-documents proving lack of equality are relegated to a separate back section.)

"Until all women, rich and poor, business and nonbusiness, have equal rights, "Ich bin ien feminist.""

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Olympics and Feminism


There is a War On
*Issues Are Connected (Here are the last three paragraphs from the original introduction)

The (US) president's second mistake, (during his speech it Cairo) according to the confident local Muslim, is that he said the west, too, needs to do more for equal rights for women. Too many Muslims will use this as an excuse not to act. I have read in other sources that Muslim men believe that we western men are dishonest, that in reality we too believe that women should not be equal. This reminds me of how the white South Africans, under apartheid, used to say that we too believed in racism.

I have a dream that one day we shall all meet under a democratic sky, a dream encouraged by the scientific evidence (see economist Krueger) that terrorism is connected not to poverty but to a lack of democratic rights. Perhaps the completion of the war on terror will be at the end of a long slow road to human equality. Not male equality.

So if you know any western people on the winter Olympic committee, people who are making us look bad to the Muslims, please rap their knuckles for me.

The Olympics are for Peace
*An Issue went to Court (Here are the last two paragraphs of an Olympic essay introduction)

Nancy Green attended university in Nelson; I took a U of Calgary night school class in law: I learned how the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies not only to citizens, but, by federal Supreme Court ruling, to anyone under Canadian sky. Now I find how oppressors can get around that ruling if the orders to oppress are issued from offshore.

The B.C. Supreme Court (provincial) has finished hearing the case of the Canadian women ski jumpers. "There will little solace to the plaintiffs in my finding that they have been discriminated against; there is no remedy available to them in this court." This was in the Calgary Sun, Saturday July 11, 2009. The Sun, reminiscent of my other essay, has buried the story 15 pages into the sports section.

Olympics and Feminism

I can never forget her. She was a pretty biathlete who wanted to be an Olympian. I remember her bright white T-shirt, nice blue jeans and blond athletically short hair. When I came upon her she was standing on a low stool and painting on the boards on a construction site. Here our city's Olympic plaza was being built, inspired by the plaza in Sarajevo. People at the winter games in Sarajevo, a few months ago, had gathered every night celebrate the day's events. For our own Olympics we would soon have a plaza too.

For this dear lady, though, future Olympic celebrations would be bittersweet. The looming Olympics excited the rest of us; schoolchildren had painted happy athlete stick figures on the boards. And there the blond stood, on her stool, like Moses on a hill, sketching a holy land she could never tread. My friend would never ski at the Games. She would only watch.

The world body for the biathlon for the winter Olympics is mainly European. They had just met and "decided" that female biathletes would not participate. There would only be a men's event. I could understand that Europeans lag behind the rest of us in feminism, but understanding does not mean forgiveness. Not from me. By waiting four years for the coming Olympics, and then a further four years down the road... my friend, despite her buff determined body, would be too old to compete. How very sad. I felt like an eight year old trying to silently comfort an adult as I reached up to pat her arm twice.

Down the years I've never quite wanted something badly enough to become devoted to excellence and focus, not like an athlete, but I sympathize deeply with those who do. Myself, I prefer to read more than I exercise, reading things like George Santayana's "Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it."

This winter I am imagining some European guy talking out of both sides of his mouth. "Rights? Women already have equal rights... And besides, they don't deserve it." In Canada the right to the pursuit of happiness is perhaps not yet equal either: buried in the middle of the newspaper, buried six pages into the sports section, is news that the Europeans have done it again. According to the Calgary Herald, Nov 29, 2006 page E6, the International Olympic Committee has ruled that the coming Games of Ice and Snow will include an exciting new event, ski cross, but will not include ski jumping, not for women. I guess the old unexciting concept of equality is still too new for them.

The article contained quotes of Canadian athletes mourning the loss, and hoping against hope that the aging leading lights in their field would not retire before the next Olympics. Ironically, on the same page was a story of Canadian ski racers getting inspired by, and empathizing with, the Canadian male ski racers. Excitement? Empathy? If only Europeans could learn, as Canadian women have, to stand in someone else's ski boots. How many times can we turn our heads while the light of half the human race is dimmed?

By the way, ten years later an eager young biathlete told me that my old friend was still hitting the snow trails skiing and shooting.


Finally the issue came to a sad conclusion. This time the story was not buried in the sports section: The front of section C, "People," for the Calgary Herald, Sunday April 10, read "Behind the scenes of this week's announcement allowing women's ski jumping into the Olympics was a group of Calgary mothers who worked tirelessly on  behalf of their daughters to buck the international sporting establishment."

I am angered at the word "allowing" for I think rights are not "allowed;" I am soured at how the "work" came from women old enough to have known feminism, not from any of the young male "good German" sports figures; I am saddened at the recital of the names and occupations of young daughters who, while they may have gone on to "get a life," going on to "the real world," they have also left behind their dreams of skiing down Mount Olympus. A little bit of my dreamlife is gone too.

Sean Crawford
as the snow is dumped on us again today,
heartened to feel that spring is as perennial as hope,
March 2013 (and April 2011.31)

Footnote: This is a companion piece to my one from last month, (February) Olympics and Boards. As I wrote then, I see no reason to wait until next year's Olympics before we start to think critically about the Games. Once the Games start we will be too busy to think.

Update: Edmonton Sun, Dec 13, 2013 , page Sports 19, below a big (AFP) photo of a mid-air skier, and a small (Getty Images/AFP) picture of Canadian woman ski jumper Atsuko Tanaka:
Headline: High Flyers Grounded kicker: Canadian ski jumpers won't receive any of the $37 million coming to Own the Podium program
According to coach Lyon, "…said the program received funds in years past, but because the Canadian jumpers didn't perform particularly well at last year's world championships, they wre cut off—meaning that the build-up to this season for Sochi has been a financial grind for the team and the program."

As the article by Steve Bufffery explains, from coach Lyon: "He said a professor at McMaster University, in a gesture of goodwill, designed a special harness the Canadian jumpers could use at the Ottava facility to help in their preparations for Sochi. He said most of the top European teams use wind tunnels for training." But it would have cost abut $40,000 for three days… and so the Candadian athletes were shut out.

Buffery's article ends: "And how's this for the ultimate kick in the head? While programs like Ski Jumping Canada are forced to scramble ahead of the Games, the COC recently announced that it will be  flying its new team mascot Kamak the Moose all across Canada and to Sochi to do whatever it  is mascots do. Talk about getting your priorities mixed up."