Thursday, November 5, 2015

History and Being Strange

In this life, besides death and taxes, two things go without saying: We all have our individual little quirks, and history repeats. Nothing, not even the most horrible of wars, seems to result in anybody learning anything. I know what my quirk is: being disturbed at seeing society forgetting horrible lessons—it doesn’t seem to bother anyone else.

Recently I was at the Legion Hall for a big public meeting. The occasion was something bizarre: The provincial (state) government was going to force us to implement extremely costly safety changes to our homes, and was beginning bizarre “safety” inspections. The provincial busybodies had no understanding that no minority group, including persons with disabilities, deserves to have, say, government strangers coming in and asking a young handicapped lady how often her towels on the racks are changed, or asking if anybody in the home hunts, because deer meat is not government inspected—believe me, this is already happening.

The only historic precedent I can think of is the general one of a government department getting too big, having too much time on their hands. I’m sure no other state in North America is demanding, as our is, that low-profit landlords and single-parent families retrofit new ceiling sprinklers, install new firewalls and more.

In attendance were officials from our city. They didn’t know why we were protesting, couldn’t understand how anything else could be as important as safety. Maybe they hadn’t realized people on disability incomes deserve to rent among the rest of us in the community, and not live in “special warehouses” out beyond where the transit buses run.

When my turn at the microphone came, near the end of the evening, I chose to explain the initials that people had been saying again and again: PDD. I said it stands for the provincial government department that is standing on our backs, Persons with Developmental Disabilities. I remembered when there was no PDD: things were better back then. I said whoever was in charge of reaching out to the local newspaper should ask for elderly columnist Don Braid, as he had previously exposed PDD.

Afterwards, as we were milling around, a few people thanked me. I felt good. What I didn’t tell my fellow haters-of-PDD, some of whom had in fact being trying to reach Don Braid, was what I didn’t say.

I stayed silent partly because many in the meeting were intellectually challenged, and partly because I thought it was too late in the evening to start talking broadly, but mainly because my common sense knew better: I overruled my quirk of “giving a care” about history.

Instead I told my sister a week later as we walked along the sidewalk. I said I hadn’t spoken of the horrors of putting safety above all else during our own war, by using what we euphemistically called “force protection” when we were aiding the local power. You can’t “win hearts and minds” for the people to convert to democracy over Vietnamese communism, or over Arabic radicalism, not after such “safety”—firing back wildly—has left the first baby or child lying dead.

I told her I didn’t mention the horror, in Iraq, of them not listening when everybody—barbers, taxi drivers, interpreters, Bagdad professors—everybody would say, “Are you crazy? You can’t disband the Iraqi army!” But they did, and a slow stream of gasoline fell down towards the fire.

My sister said I did the right thing not to speak.

History repeats when everybody in the disabled community is against the government’s insane safety measures, and nobody in power listens. It disturbs me: The public puts our boys in harms way, to suffer terribly, continuing to suffer for years after they return, if they return, and then the public acts as if it’s all for nothing… all that agony with no lesson learned… Hey, here’s a sad joke: Someone said the only lesson learned from Vietnam was: never get involved in a war in a former French colony in South East Asia.

A fellow Calgarian, who was a field nurse when we were young, refers to Vietnam as causing “dreams that blister sleep.” We think those years were important. During Nam we youth were sure that a major reason for losing that war was paperwork, specifically paperwork of the CYA variety, our term for “cover your ass.” You might hold the possibility, scientifically, that we young guys didn’t know enough to judge. Not so. A career colonel (top executive) published his memoirs of being a young officer in Vietnam, and in his forward he writes he learned there that army paperwork is not important. He sounds like a modern housewife saying things aren’t critical unless someone is bleeding.

My dad’s war, of course, was fought by volunteers and conscripts. They weren’t peacetime career soldiers as in (except for drafted privates) Vietnam. Without CYA paperwork, they kept their gaze focused on carrying out the mission.

I suspect PDD has made CYA systemic and endemic. Maybe, in a sense, PDD is spitting on the graves of our Vietnam veterans. Or maybe that’s just my quirk—sure it is.

It’s queer. I’m as old as Dad was during the Vietnam War. And now I wear wide-legged pants like him. He passed away this year, but I can imagine us today on a screened-off porch: He, street-wise, is giving me advice to “go along to get along.” Beyond the screen, pale and anonymous, are angry young men. I am sorry. In my youth I made them a promise that today I just can’t keep.

During Nam, Robert Kennedy noted that the South Vietnamese government knew what would work to encourage democracy: they just couldn’t bring themselves to do it. It’s like how today we can’t bring ourselves to fix our little regions of higher drug use and suicides. I’m still a little disturbed these days, but I realize: My dad and the majority are right, and I am wrong.

Now, like everyone else in my field, I go along: I write daily reports as if the reader does not take responsibility to read yesterday’s reports, does not believe in “benefit of the doubt” and does believe in writing CYA-style, as if Vietnam never happened. I am sorry.

Sean Crawford
Maybe we’ve won: The minister has said the government will hold off on any new safety measures until around Easter of 2016. I have my fingers crossed.

1 comment: