Archive for the ‘1970’s’ Category

Overcoming Mediocrity and Alienation with Freedom

June 10, 2017

Trying to fix this world is no easy task. Many people have pondered about what is wrong with it, and some have offered remedies about how to correct the perpetual problem of human activity and its destructive effects on our collective life on this planet.

For instance, about a century and a half ago, a very smart German fellow named Karl Marx theorized that the prosperous owners of the world’s production facilities should be replaced by the working folks who keep all the nuts and bolts turning. If this transition of ownership could be accomplished, the world would eventually be a better place, or so Karl thought.

Vladimir Lenin and his Bolshevik comrades got a hold of that idea, and they enforced the Russian Revolution of 1917. After they deposed the Czar and his Romanov dynasty family, and after the revolutionaries had manhandled power unto the people for purposes of taking control of the “means of production,” the newfound Communists of Russia took a stab at running the country, with their sights sent on the entire world.

There was some confusion in their ranks about exactly what needed to be done; Lenin and his diehards had to push Trotsky and his people out of the picture, but that wasn’t really enough purging to settle all the issues. So later, in the 1930’s, Joe Stalin took it upon himself to purge the revolutionary and bureaucratic ranks of all questionable persons who couldn’t get with the (Stalin’s) program.

Well, that was a sinister and bloody affair. Meanwhile, further down the map in Europe, Hitler and his Nazi goons were making a big bloody mess of Germany and the surrounding countries, and that whole conflagration turned into one hell of a humongous World War, in which we Americans had to go over there and help the Brits and the French, et al, put an end to it.

After the Big War, the Communists were still in control of Russia, and Stalin was still running the show and the gulag, and the working out of the Marx-theorized dictatorship of the proletariat and so forth. Part of the strategy of the International Communist plan to save the world from Capitalist abuse was to spread the revolution into other parts of the world.

After World War II finally skidded to a long-overdue frigging halt, when the dust settled in Europe, the continent was pretty much divided down the middle between the freedom-cultivating Capitalist Allies and the pushy Russian Communists. There was a kind of imaginary dividing between these two entities, which Winston Churchill called the Iron Curtain.

Over here in the West, we were flat-out tired of making war. The Nazi war machine had worn us out, even though we won. And the Russians, although they were certainly tired of fighting the war, were also tired of the whole damned war thing.  Nevertheless, the Ruskies were still quite stubborn in their resolve to save the world from Capitalism.

So they began a new, very big project to impose their Russian version of Communism on the rest of the world– Starting, mainly, in eastern Europe where they were already occupying those post-war-torn Nazi-disaster zone nations, most notably Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.

BrshnvK

Recently I picked up a book, from my precious local library, about people and events in Communist-occupied postwar eastern Europe.

   https://www.amazon.com/Prague-Sprung-Notes-Voices-World/dp/0275945367

David Leviatin’s Prague Sprung  presents a penetrating view into the Communist world of power mongering as it existed from the 1948 takeover until the overthrow of Russian hegemony in 1989.

In his book project, David interviews many Czechs who, as members of the Communist party, performed roles in the development and administration of Czechoslovakia.

During one interview, David Leviatin speaks to Miroslav Jindra about his career as an educator. Jindra’s training as a teacher of English and Czech language began in 1948 when he entered Charles University in Prague. After graduating he taught languages at both elementary and college levels.

During that time Mr. Jindra encountered there, however, a double-minded mindset that tended to complicate everything. It seemed that academic excellence and enquiry were not the first priorities. Rather, he found that behind the surface of the institution was a certain Marxist mindset which was being promulgated by the Communist regime. The politicos in charge of Czech education had an agenda, and it was more about political control than academic enquiry. Consequently, to function in such an academic environment was no simple matter.

“I belonged to the group of people who developed some sort of maneuver, some sort of defending mechanism, because otherwise it was impossible to survive. I learned at the same time to be as inconspicuous as possible. If you were very good, you were conspicuous. Something would happen to you. If you were too lazy, you were also conspicuous. This is what we now call the tendency to mediocrity.”

Jindra goes on to  explain that the Russian takeover of his country in 1948 was followed by a period of radical leftist change, which was imposed methodically by Communist taskmasters. But later, during the 1950’s their doctrinaire extremism began to run out of steam. The demands of economic and political reality required more practical applications of human motivation and activity. By the 1960’s narrow-minded apparatchiks who had imposed Stalinist cruelties had to tone down their rhetoric and their programs as it became apparent that something was wrong.

By 1956, Khrushchev’s admission of Stalinist abuses and crimes initiated a shockwave of reassessment that rumbled across the whole communist world.

As Jindra states it: “They found out something was wrong.” So the Stalinist phase of world communism began to morph into something else.

But Khrushchev’s admission wasn’t the only crack that was then appearing in the Soviet wall of oppression.

Also at that time, in 1956, the partisans of Hungary, next door  to Czechoslovakia, rose up in undisguised anger against their Russian overlords. As a Czech speaking about their 1956 news of the Hungarian uprising, Miroslav Jindra says:

“We were told that the Revolution in Hungary was endangered by some reactionaries, but everybody knew what happened there.”

Which is to say, everybody knew what (really) happened there.

As citizens of eastern Europe found themselves, over the years, mired deeper and deeper in sloughs of Communist Party control,  they were cornered into a new, schizo way of thinking and speaking. Euphemism– saying what is generally known to be true but saying it in a way that would not be objectionable, or even understood by, Communist party officials– became a necessity. Saying what you meant without really saying it become a finely honed, stealthy strategy–even a mindset– of mounting resistance.

Eastern Europe came to be something like a kettle put on low heat; it took a long time to boil. It didn’t actually boil over until 1989.

There were many Soviet oppressions that provoked discontent and bitterness among the people of eastern Europe.

Here’s one bitter bi-product of Soviet oppression in  particular, that Miroslav Jindra’s narrative brings to this reader’s attention. But it was not an obvious one. Rather, it is subtle thing, and it slithers into the fearful comrade’s mind like a serpent: alienation.

Think about it this way. Have you ever been in a job where you wanted to do good work, but could not, because your micro-managing boss or co-workers were obsessed with unimportant details instead of actually accomplishing good work?

That’s what was going on in the world of Soviet political correction.

From page 66 of David Leviatan’s Prague Sprung, educator Miroslav Jindra speaks of the doublethink that was required to function as faculty member at Charles University, in Prague:

“In 1976, I was invited to come back to the faculty since two people had retired and they needed some help. There were some very good people in the faculty. If you had some contacts with them, you were quite safe. On the other hand, there were some very nasty people in the Party, people who were not qualified as experts, as specialists, who were just political figures. Their task was to watch over what we said. If you were careful enough you could evade them. We didn’t have any intellectual freedom at all. We had very limited area to maneuver. If you were clever, you could. I think that quite often I managed to tell the students what I wanted to tell them, but maybe I didn’t tell them directly. I tried to make them find out for themselves.

But it’s a big relief now (circa 1991). I don’t need to think over anything, my next word. This was crazy. It was double-thinking.”

The mindset that requires fearful, constant double-minded euphemism is destructive. When truth cannot be plainly spoken, a kind of collective schizophrenia takes hold of a society. This is what the history of communism has revealed about human nature. In State-controlled regimes, Party-appointed–or even self-appointed– micro-managers who are obsessed with political correctness and petty rules dominate everything that is allowed to happen. The end results bring mediocrity, which is the opposite of excellence. For serious teachers, students or workers who want to discover truth and strive for productivity, alienation plagues them and drags them into sloughs of discouragement and despair.

By the late 1980’s, the peoples of eastern Europe–and even the Russians– were sick of the double-minded burdens that the communist State had been demanding of them, so they overthrew it. The revolution began with bold people like Vaclav Havel in the Czech lands, Imre Nagy in Hungary, Lech Walesa in Poland.

Eventually leaders such as Yeltsin and Gorbachev got a hold of it. The rest is history. Gorbachev took Reagan’s advice; he tore down a wall. That certainly to helped to get the ball of liberty rolling.

Much to the doctrinaire Communists’ surprise, the people of Germany turned out to be more than willing to help in tearing down that Berlin wall–piece by piece. Freedom is irresistible when you get a whiff of it.

But freedom is not easy to attain. In America, we are fortunate to have prospered in the liberty that was attained, at great sacrifice, for us long ago. That liberty has since been assured and secured by men and women who are willing to defend it. We defend it, not only militarily, but also politically, academically, and economically.

Let’s keep it that way. Freedom is a way of life that we don’t want to lose. Let us not squander it.

King of Soul

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Their Last Full Measure of Devotion

May 28, 2017

In the novel King of Soul, which I have recently published, college students Donnie and Kevin take an impulsive road trip to Kevin’s home in Ohio. This happens in early May of 1970. While  on the road in Tennessee, they pick up Ed, a hitchhiker. Ed has been honorably discharged from military service in Vietnam only three weeks ago.  In chapter 23, we find  Donnie and Kevin accompanying Ed to a bar in Nashville:

       At the China Beach bar and grill in downtown Nashville, Donnie and Kevin tagged along while Ed linked up with a buddy of his from the war.

       Sled was a sort of hillbilly with a twist. His West Virginia upbringing had been traumatized in a snow-sledding accident that happened when he was ten years old. In a head-on collision with a pine tree, a low branch had penetrated his left cheek. A scar that resulted from the surgery gave the appearance of a question mark on the left side of his face. From his teen years onward, all John’s people called him “Sled” because of what had happened to him in a sledding accident when he was a kid.

       Ed and Sled had become friends at Fort Hood, Texas, before they both went to Vietnam. They were assigned to the same Company, but different platoons. On this particular evening , Sled and Ed were having beer and burgers as they celebrated the fact that they both had survived Vietnam. This was the first time they had seen each other since both were honorably discharged. Donnie and Kevin listened intently as Sled reported to Ed the account of how their CO, Lt. Gary, had fallen in battle only 11 months ago.

       Sled explained that, in a strategy to avoid group casualties, Lt. Gary had his men spread out as they were advancing down a jungle hillside.  Three dozen soldiers had distanced themselves from each  other, and each man was walking alone.  The radio man reported that an NVA encampment was below them, but the exact location had not yet been determined.

       Delta company was thus strung out for a mile or more. When their point guys reached the bottom, they caught sight of evidence of the enemy bunkers above them, up on the north side. Sergeant Charles halted his men at a covered spot.  He knew they were near the enemy because, he said, he could smell their rice cooking; but as he took a few steps to obtain a better view of the area in question,  suddenly he was struck with a bullet. It hit him in the abdomen;. Within seconds, an assault by automatic weapons erupted  somewhere northward and above them, with what sounded like AK-47 fire.

Sgt. Charles did not make it home alive from Vietnam.

On this Memorial Day, 2017, we remember Charles and the other 54,000 American soldiers who never got back here to taste the good life of the dear ole US of A. We appreciate that these men and women sacrificed their last full measure of devotion so that we we can live free.

VietMem2

King of Soul

The Nutcase

February 8, 2017

Recently I discovered this empty shell of walnut.

NutSquirl

I saved it, because I wanted you to see it. Looking into its vast crevice provides a poignant glimpse into the world of a squirrel.

SqrlEat

Even more significantly, however, it affords us a view into nature itself. Furthemore, this empty nutcase gives us a profound view into life itself, the meaning of it.

Peer into that void and ye shall see the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

When I was a young man, I make some poor choices, some mistakes. At one juncture, when I was about 27 years of age, my life went into a skid. I hit bottom, was in a bad spot, between a nut and a hard place and I was at a loss as to what to do, so I turned to God; Jesus pulled me out of the pit of my own errant ways.

Everything got better after that, although it has certainly been no bed of roses in the 38 years since I the Lord of the Universe saved me.

Shortly after that salvation turnaround, I met a loverly girl and married her. By n’ by, she presented a son and two daughters to me and since that time we’ve been in squirrel heaven, insofar as we abide in a woodsy area, happy as a squirrel in sugar maples.

In the first year of our marriage, we did an exodus from the rat race and relocated ourselves to a remote mountain town where we have lived ever since. A big part of that move was our involvement with a group of Christian believers, good people who are saved and sanctified by the blood of the Lamb.

Those were good, productive years, in which we took possession of our promised land–which is to say, our very own lives, instead of life as defined by superfluous externals such as success and keeping up with the Jones’ blahblah. Up here in the Blue Ridge we were living as  a bunch of young bucks and does, with many fawns coming along as a natural outcome. Many of us had been refugees from the destructive influences of countercultural excesses, having slogged, wounded and bleeding through the minefields of a corruptive world.

We were pretty excited about our quasi-communal churchified project, most of us raising our kids together, training them up together in the fear and admonition of the Lord. It was all good for a sufficient time; then things changed and we eventually went our separate ways, although a few of us still hang together, and that collective friendship is as satisfying now as  the old wine that might have been bottled in Napa valley or somewhere  during that era.

Our son recently joined with his wife near Napa Valley. Life is grand.

But back in the day, you see, when we were . . .  as Don McLean sang, “. . .  all in one place, a generation lost in space” (although we were no longer lost because we were all found, in Jesus) . . . back in that day– a primary reason we were of one mind about such things as God and family was this:

We were all reading from the same script, the Bible.

And this was a good thing, although it had its drawbacks.  We were trying to do everything “by the Book” instead of getting bogged down by the religious systems from which we had fled; as time passed, we did have a problem with spiritual pride. Arrogance.

Well, by ‘n by, we–long story short–we paid the price for that pride, which is a very real sin issue for folks who think they know a thing or two about God and spirituality.

But in our born-again zeal we had a tendency toward legalistic judgements toward others who did not share our vision. So doctrine became a real sticking point for us, and  actually, further along in the big picture, it turned out to be quite a stumbling block.

This is nothing new. It’s been going on for thousands of years in the human race. There’s always some person or group around who thinks they’ve got it all figured out better than everybody else.

But it was new to us, being young and wet behind the ears. In some ways. . . although we were living in a woodsy region, we could not see the forest, because of the trees that occluded our immediate vision.

Uncle Remus might have spoken that there is, among all creatures great and small, another minuscule mammal who inhabits our fancified forest: the squirrel.

And somehow or another, back in those old dogmatic days, we maligned that lowly creature’s integrity when we used his identity for purposes of identifying what we considered to be bad doctrine.

If we didn’t agree with the way a person or group interpreted scripture or even life itself, we’d called them “squirrely.”

It was a euphemism, much easier to utter than saying plainly that we judge them to be wrong about something. Because, deep down in ourselves, we knew that we were not right about everything either.

But I’m here to tell ya that we were too hard on the squirrel; heshe is actually blameless, and I appreciate herhis dutiful purpose in the great forest in which we live. HeShe’s actually a pretty good little critter, minding herhis own business and feeding their young’uns. And I greatly appreciate hisher Museship for having inspired this here squirrely stash of nutty musings.

No wise-cracks please. We live in a dangerous world. Remember another nutcase from back in our boomer childhood: Nikita Khrushev stood at the UN and said: We will burrow you!

SqStandg

Glass Chimera

Tan Son Nhut 1970

October 9, 2016

VNamMus70

When Johnny came marching home again it was in 1971, although really, there was no parade.

He wasn’t actually marching, anyway, but rather flying commercial out of Vietnam on a PanAm from Cam Ranh Bay. The jet featured American stewardesses, and this was a very favorable detail that our exiting guys did not fail to notice as they soared off to Pacific destinations and ultimately all the way back  over here to the good ole USA. It was a long flight from the war, and a long time to have to watch stewardesses traipsing up and down the carpeted aisles, serving food and drink; but our guys managed to get through it.

My old friend Johnny’s departing flight from Vietnam was a reversal of his arrival there, a year earlier, on a commercial US aircraft.

But here’s a curious fact that he confided to me. The “scaredest” he ever got while in Vietnam was on that first day, during the jet’s approach into Cam Ranh, because the descending plane was drawing enemy fire!

Welcome to Vietnam! Haha!

Last week, during the first days of October 2016, my old neighborhood friend Johnny told me about his one year tour in Vietnam. He lives in Louisiana, where we both started life; now I live in North Carolina. We brought our wives and had a Florida panhandle reunion at the beach.

We were chums in high school, but after our graduation in 1969 he went his way and I went mine. I went to college; he went to Vietnam.

I was protesting the war; he was over there in the middle of it.

Before last week, I had not seen Johnny since about 1975.

Now I’m writing a novel about that period of time, and about some of the differences–and reconciliation– between those two diverging groups–“them that went” and “them that didn’t.”

As it turned out, Johnny’s year of duty at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, just north of Saigon, was, he admits, easier than the brutal combat some of our guys had to endure out in the jungles while they were on patrol  being relentlessly pursued by the silently stalking Viet Cong.

During our time of defending the former Republic of Vietnam, tons and tons of weaponry, machinery, and supplies had to be delivered into the country to supply our people there. Tan Son Nhut was a busy location for transport and communications, and we needed a lot of guys on the ground to keep systems oiled, protected and combat-ready. My friend Johnny was one of those men.

During high school, Johnny had acquired some work experience in appliances and refrigeration. After our high school graduation he was not inclined, as I was, toward college. He worked for a while. Then he saw, you might say, “the handwriting on the wall” about how career choices were shaping up in 1969-70. So he volunteered for the Army. After boot camp at Fort Polk (Louisiana) and some duty-specific training at Fort Belvoir (Virginia), he shipped out, which is to say, he was put on a flight path that landed him at the Cam Ranh Air Base where they almost got shot down before setting foot in the infamous theater of Vietnam.

StratCom

When my friend arrived at his post on the perimeter of Tan Son Nhut Air Base, he spent a year on guard duty, keeping watch over the rice paddies and distant jungles beyond the fence, and reporting whenever mortar fire or any other unfriendly thing was approaching the air base.

Inside the base, there were moments when our guys could take a little time off. Here’s a pic that Johnny snapped; it depicts a recreational session of high-stakes card-sharking, with maybe a little bluffing and probably some bravado bullcrap thrown in to keep the game interesting.

VNGame

Here’s a pic of Johnny, taken when he had only been in Vietnam a few days.

JLViet70

Last week, after Johnny showed me a few hundred photos that had been stored away at his home, I thanked him for taking the time to meet me in Florida so we could talk about Vietnam.

Because I can’t write a book about what was happ’nin’ in the USA in 1969 without talking about Vietnam. I also thanked my friend for his service to our nation.

And I thanked God that he survived it. There were 58,000 of “them that went” who did not.

If you were a college kid like me in the 1960’s-’70’s, you will find it well worth your time to visit a few of the men and women who did not do college at that time, but who served–by choice or by draft–in the military. Right or wrong, won or lost, however you call it, they did what our country called them to do.

We may need many more like them before it’s all over with.

King of Soul

Woke up with the Angels

April 9, 2016

Our first twelve hours in Los Angeles has already included a trip down memory lane.

It’s not that I ever spent much time here; I only breezed through  back in the early ’70s. But rather, this immediate reminiscence is triggered by a deeply insistent behind-the-scenes presence of this fabled city in my g-generation’s memory.

Not personal memory. Collective memory. LA was all over our baby boomer adolescence and young adult misadventures: Hollywood is here, with all its celluloid-manufactured dreams, along with the Dodgers, the surfers, the cop shows on network TV, even the Beverly Hillbillies.

I suppose I’m a 2016 hillbilly, blowing in last nigh from my back-east Blue Ridge mountain home. But I’m here to tell ya this megalopolis has made such an immense impact on my 64-year consciousness, I hardly know how to mention all the influences.

Our son and his bride-to-be fetched us at LAX last night, about eight o’clock. After the tension of negotiating our airport pickup–“negotiating” with all the other hundred passing vehicles and passengers at the curb of the A terminal, and “negotiating” with an irate neon-vested traffic controller about our hazardous rendezvous tactics in the midst of their managed confusion–after that little eye-of-the-needle thing, next thing I know we’re out on the freeway at night in a river of whizzing lights and gleaming glass, metal and speed.

On one heightened stretch of this highly energized raceway I caught a glimpse in the distance of this glistening mega-city into which we were fast propelling. Then out of nowhere a phrase from some old song was jangly in my head:

“but I couldn’t let go of L A, city of the fallen angels”

Not literally true of course. There are plenty of good people here, millions of them. But that phrase is a cleverly cynical play on the name itself: Los Angeles, Spanish for “The angels.”

I knew the phrase was from an old Joni Mitchell song; I could hear the line sung in my head, but didn’t remember which song.

This morning when we woke up, this was the AirBnB view from our window:

LosAngl1

After a couple of cups of coffee, and a time-warp discovery in our apartment of an ancient artifact:

Phonogrf

This must be what an MP33rpm looks like.

With that old turntable spinning snippets of misspent youth around in my brain, I decided to take a chance on writing this blog, as a vehicle for summoning up whatever memories are zinging around in my mind just now, while sipping coffee in eL A in the morning. Look at this old phonograph; grok its significance in the history of communication technology; cherish its unique position in the collective consciousness stream of my g-generation. You can perhaps imagine within its groovy vinyl-etched peaks and canyons, the adventurous wanderings of our g-generation as we sought far and wide for something we know not what nor where we might find it. Through those pathways of memory you may recall earlier mention, back in the first paragraph, of: reminiscence . . . triggered by a deeply insistent behind-the-scenes presence of this fabled city in my g-generation’s memory.

Joni Mitchell, back in the day, wrote a beautiful, piano-based song, Court and Spark.

   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHEDdecvLpU&nohtml5=False   

Her crooning imagery, describing in this song some encountered street-singing man, captures well the wandering spirit of those times–the obsession with freedom in all things–love, travels, thoughts, romantic interludes that did or did not happen.

And it was in that song, Court and Spark, that the jangly phrase “. . . couldn’t let go of L A, city of the fallen angels” is found, in the very last line.

The flights of flirtatious fancy therein are a prospect that a man or woman could spend a lifetime pursuing.

But I do believe that, while the prospect of such a life of romantic rendezvous seems quite attractive and very compelling, the actual living of it, long term, is probably very problematical, perhaps traumatic, maybe even tragic. Tragic romanticism–I knew it well. For a while. And I associate it with the stuff of our dreams, my g-generation’s dreams that floated from Hollywood and eL A and the city by the bay and all that groovy stuff.

I imagine the lovely genius woman who composed that musical phrase about the city of the fallen angels; she  must have lived a life in adventurous pursuit of such exciting moments and passionate encounters, one after another for a whole lifetime.

Me, I did not. I settled down, got a hold of the Christian faith, became a one-woman man. After 36 years of shared adventure, including the present one of visiting Micah and Kyong-Jin in this great city of Los Angeles, Pat and I sit here contentedly this morning with our coffee and our leftovers from last night’s Korean feast for breakfast. And nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina California in the morning.

What a great ride!

Glass half-Full