Archive for the ‘war’ Category

Death by War

May 26, 2019

I wrote a story about an American traveling through Europe in the spring/summer of 1937. In the novel, Smoke, which I published in 2015, young businessman Philip Morrow accepts an unusual errand, which takes him through London, halfway around the far side of France, then to Paris, and ultimately to arrive at a place called Flanders Field in Belgium.

At his specific Memorial battleground destination, Philip sees for the first time the final resting place of his father, a soldier of the American Expeditionary Force, who had died there in 1918 during the last week of World War I.  Philip had been eight years old in 1917 when he hugged his pa for the last time, then  beheld  his mother while she tearfully embraced her  husband, a mountaineer marksman named Clint.

In chapter 27 of Smoke, Philip arrives at the Memorial cemetery accompanied by a newfound friend, Mel, an old Frenchman who expresses his appreciation for Clint’s courageous sacrifice–given in his last full measure of devotion– for freedom, to defeat tyranny.

Clint’s total offering in 1918 was not the first, nor the last, to be put forth by millions of other soldiers since that time. In Washington DC, I snapped this photo of a newer Memorial–that one constructed for us to remember the dead of Vietnam.

VNMem (1)

We Americans do appreciate the families left behind.  Their sorrow and sacrifice is painfully precious; it  runs deep–deep as the blood that pumped through soldiering bodies alive with determination–blood that still streams through the beating hearts and minds of  us Americans and Allies.

Here’s my offering, from chapter 27 of Smoke:

       “How could this place have been a battlefield for a world war?”

‘The old Frenchman cast his eyes on the passing landscape, and seemed to join Philip in this musing. He answered slowly, “War is a terrible thing, an ugly thing. I did not fight in the war; I had already served my military duty, long before the Archduke was assassinated in Sarajevo and the whole damn world flew apart, like shrapnel. But I had many friends who fought here, and back there, where we just came from in my France, back there at the Somme, the Marne, Amiens. Our soldiers drove the Germans back across their fortified lines, the Hindenberg line they called it. By summer of 1918 the Germans were in full retreat, although it took them a hell of a long time, and rivers of spilt blood, to admit it. And so it all ended here. Those trenches, over there in France, that had been held and occupied for two hellish years by both armies, those muddy hellholes were finally left behind, vacated, and afterward . . . filled up again with the soil of France and Flanders and Belgium, and green grass was planted where warfare had formerly blasted its way out of the dark human soul and the dark humus of lowland dirt and now we see that grass, trimmed, manicured and growing so tidily around those rows of white crosses out there, most of them with some soldier’s name carved on them, many just unknown, anonymous, and how could this have happened? You might as well ask how could. . . a grain of sand get stuck in an oyster? And how could that oyster, in retaliation against that rough, alien irritant, then generate a pearl—such a beautiful thing, lustrous and white—coming forth in response to a small, alien presence that had taken up unwelcomed residence inside the creature’s own domain? The answer, my friend, is floating in the sea, blowing in the wind, growing green and strong from soil that once ran red with men’s blood.” ‘

“Now they were arriving at the battlefield. Jacques parked the car, leaned against the front fender, lit a cigarette. Mel and Philip walked through a stone arch, along a narrow, paved road lined with flowering linden trees, spring green with their large spadish leaves, sprinkled with small white blossoms. The sun was getting low behind them. Shadows of these trees had overtaken the narrow lane, turning it cooler than the surrounding fields, acres and acres neatly arranged with white crosses and gravestones, and continuous green, perfect grass between all. Having reached the end of the linden lane, the stepped slowly, reverently, along straight pathways, passing hundreds of silent graves on either side. The setting sun was still warm here, after their cool approach from beneath the trees.

“At length, they came to the row that Philip had been looking for, the one he had read about in the army guidebook, where his father’s grave was nested precisely and perpetually in its own place in eternity “. . .

King of Soul

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The Fierce Circle of Power

March 5, 2019

Power in the modern State/Nation/Union runs around in a big circle.

Circle

As in a big atom-smasher, where charged-up sub-atomic particles race to oblivion, or to wherever it is that electrons and protons and quarks and neutrinos and cheerios go when they manifest at the speed of light transforming between energy and matter . . . between things falling apart and things hanging together. . .

Power in the modern State cycles around, and is transformed, into greater and greater levels of constructivity. And, unfortunately, destructivity.

On one side of the Circle is Left, and on the other is Right.

The two sides meet at top and bottom.  At these two polarities—top and bottom—Left and Right merge together in a region  where Left and Right are indistinguishable, for instance . . .

A Government in which Democrat and Republican allow neutrally pragmatic institutions for the sake of productivity and increase.

A State in which Socialist and Capitalist tolerate similar policies that do not violate  their diverging identities.

A Regime where  Left and Right achieve tolerance, mimicking each other in their tactics.

Now looking back, a lifetime ago . . .

At the top, leaders and their agents at the peak of diplomacy met with the other side to do business, but unknowingly made arrangements that passively allow harm to all the citizens of the world who would soon get caught in the crossfire.

And a few years later. . .

An Agreement in which Communist and Fascist coexisted, militarily, for about two years, by means of a sham treaty . . .

A Treaty in which, 80 years ago, a Communist and a Nazi tyranny attacked and plundered the Polish nation that lay between them.

Then, years after that initial double-sided invasion . . .

Allied  armies later penetrated the morass of Power, bringing to light of day the deplorable bottom where Nazi concentration camps were found,  and later, Communist gulags. These hellhole prisons were established by both sides, for purposes of controlling both their peoples by means of the same criminally cruel imprisonments and executions.

Because Left and Right made no difference in their tortuous abuses of mankind.

At that low point, persecution, torture, imprisonment, pain and death are the same whether they’re inflicted by a damn Communist or a damn Nazi.

More generally, however. . .

These days, at the Top

of our hypothetical circle we catch sight of moderate players who manage to do their moderating thing  in spite of the treacherous slippery slope curvature of the two sides.

And at the Bottom—in the pit of both sides’ dubious or even despicable practices, the tactical crimes common to both extremities are occasionally uncovered, identifiable as the same  atrocities.

Because Left and Right make no difference, at their extremities, in their manipulations and abuses of mankind.

At what is perhaps our present High point, everybody seems to be chugging along in a globalized quasi-peace.

But at some future a Low point, persecution, torture, imprisonment, pain and death will be the same whether they’re inflicted by a Socialist or a Fascist, a Democrat or a Republican,  by a whacko shootist or a jihadist terrorist.

At some other low point of history, armies representing Truth and Justice—if there is such a thing in this circle— will be required again, to blast their way into the cycle of hellish human history, and liberate those prisoners who are caught in the crossfire.

Even now, the widening gyre,  the next circle, gathers speed to ramp up to dizzying velocity, delivering at some dismal low point of human depravity a new deposit of deplorable arrests and atrocities, accumulating in the pit where innocent souls get caught in the crossfire, deprived of justice and mercy.

Beware. On the last go-round, the pit could be bottomless.

Get ready to meet your maker. If you don’t acknowledge the Maker . . .well,  good luck with that. May the bird of paradise fly up your nose until it all hits the fan.

King of Soul

Religion Relapse

December 20, 2018

How odd it is—as a 21st-century scenario sets itself up—

we see the world gone mad preparing again to erupt.

So unforeseen it was that our great Argument of the Ages,

the dogmatic contentions of cadres and sages

should abandon the trappings of intelligent delusion

and revert to jihadic religious intrusion.

 

Europa intelligentsia had decided that God was indeed dead,

and they talked for a few generations of what to do instead:

whether a capitalist path or the communist wrath,

then a communist road or a big fascist goad—

And in the midst of all that

polarizing ideological spat—

we waged two world-class wars to settle the matter

of who should wield power and who should be scattered.

You know the drill;

it persists among us still:

Who should be in charge?

a strong-arm few or the people at large—

a fascist state or some proletarian rabble,

by authoritarian edict or sectarian babble?

  

After all the holocaust horror and gulag gangrene

we plummet again to mucky slog of humanic bad dream.

Obsessive jihadi encircle the world;

believing their fanatic flag will fully unfurl.

Back at the hub the elite are perplexed,

while their technocrat cadres compute the complex

as the widening gyre of the jihadi fire

leaps higher and higher and higher and higher.

  

Perhaps the privileged, enlightened elite

should renew communion with the (wo)man on the street

whose faith in a sacrificial, Prince of Peace deity

ChristCruc

brings resurrection instead of  jihad enmity.

Could it be that the God who was tossed aside

by the godless secular bureaucratizing tide

is actually the same eternal entity

who spoke our world out of chaos infinity?

Oh, let us recover some providential indemnity,

and by this testament regain our serenity.

After the Enlightenment, the Ideology, the Decline and the Fall,

Think about it the repentative way: Selah, y’all.

King of Soul

The Ambassador

December 14, 2018

I was of that generation who wanted to save the world for democracy.

When I was born, my country was fighting a war in a faraway land, trying to run the communists out of Korea. It was a valiant effort we made over there, but only—from a military and/or political standpoint—about half successful. By 1953, we had managed to help get that little Asian peninsula about half-saved for democracy.

Just like most everything in this life, we manage to get things right about half the time.

That expedition did apparently turn out better than our other Asian deliverance mission—the one that ended, or so it seemed, in 1975 with our boys having to select which war refugees could be loaded onto an American helicopter and whisked away before the Viet Minh took Saigon and then later named it Ho Chi Minh City.

Like I said before, in this life we manage to get things about half right about half the time.

Which ain’t too bad really, when you consider what we’re up against.

I mean, life ain’t no bowl of cherries; it’s not a walk in the park. Sometimes it’s hard.

But you know, looking back on it all, there were the good times and there were the bad times. . .

When I was in high school, we thought it was cool to stay up late and watch the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Johnny didn’t even show up on the airwaves until 10:30, CST, after the news, and so if you could stay up that late to catch his monologue etc, you were pretty cool. At school we’d try to make jokes as funny as Johnny could. Everybody loved Johnny—he was like the Jimmy Fallon of his day. He had really cool people on his show like Marilyn Monroe or Joe DiMaggio.

Famous people would always show up to talk to Johnny; he’d ask them questions about their careers in show business and Broadway and movies and whatnot and they’d talk about themselves, and Johnny always managed to crack a few jokes about whatever they’d be yapping about. Carson was so cool and we wanted to be like him.

Every now and then he’d have some serious person on too. But they’d still manage to have a good time.

BillynJohnny

Growing up in the ’50’s and ’60’s was pretty cool. We were the first generation to have TV, and that really changed everything, although nobody really knew what the outcome of all that boob tube influence would be. Public personalities became quite adept at blowing their own horns and making big scenes. Ultimately the guy with the loudest voice managed to bluster his way into the White House. And I guess it really should be no surprise to anybody the way things have turned out.

Who could have anticipated that there would come a day when the big 3 networks would slip into the background and the universe of media would be taken over by the likes of faceboook and twitter?

But of course there are always the folks in the background who quietly get through to people with an important message while so many others are busy running their mouths about all the great things they’re doing.

BillyinBerkeley

One thing I’ve learned about life during my 67 years: you gotta take the bad with the good. Shit happens, and you gotta deal with it, gotta get up the next morning and keep on truckin’. Ain’t nobody gonna feel sorry for ya. Well, maybe if you have a life mate to help you cope and get along, move on the next thing and all that, life can be a little easier to deal with. At least that has been my experience.

The good book says we oughta mourn with those who mourn and laugh with those who laugh. Who would’ve ever dreamed that, in our lifetime, two such different persons as these two would be laughing together?:

BillynBoris

Life is good; sometimes we win and other times we lose. When Boris Yeltsin managed to take hold of the old Soviet Union! it was amazing. Who’d have ever dreamed of such a thing? Berlin Wall came down without a shot after Reagan suggested to Gorbachev to tear down that wall.  Amazing stuff in my lifetime. JFK, had he lived to see it, would have been proud.

I mean this life is very good in some ways. In other ways it’s not so favorable. You gotta take the good with the bad, and you gotta help people. We all need a little help. It’s good to help people along the way. Occasionally, every one of us need some really big help. I mean, while there are some victories, there are of course some terrible setbacks and tragedies.

So while the good book says we should laugh with those who laugh, it also says to mourn with those who mourn.

BillynCoretta

We gotta help each other from time to time. Everybody need a little help from time to time. In my lifetime, we tried to go over there and help the people of Vietnam to muster up some democracy, and maybe it didn’t work out so well, and maybe in some ways we even made a mess of it but hey, when my daughter visited there a few years ago, and she rode a scooter through Ho Chi Minh City (used to be called Saigon) she said the people over there love Americans, and they have a tender place in their hearts for us. Go figure!

Going back even further than that, and thinking once again about what all was going on when I was born into this world. . . we were trying to make Korea safe for democracy, we find that some really good things  somehow managed to came out of it.

BillyinSeoul

I think it can be concluded that good things can indeed happen when every now and then someone comes along who is willing to—instead of tooting his own horn— work quietly and diligently as an Ambassador for the Prince of Peace.

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”

I can think of one person, at least, who has managed to live in the manner described above by our brother Paul.

BillynKimIlSung

King of Soul

From Valley Forge to Vietnam and Very Near

November 11, 2018

In 1969, I graduated from high school and went to University. In college, there was no threat to life and limb for me. It was a safe place to be.

Many of my high school buddies didn’t take that route; they joined, or were drafted into, the US Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard to defend our nation. At that time, defense of our nation—defense of our security and our ideals—was considered by most of our leaders to be directly related to the defeat of the Viet Minh and Viet Cong in  Vietnam.

While I went to college, many men and some women of my same age shipped out to the other side of the world to run the Viet Minh insurgents back into North Vietnam, and to the shut the Viet Cong  down.

The difficult mission that our national leaders had laid upon our soldiers over there was no easy task: dangerous, deadly and damn near impossible. About 54, 000 of our guys and gals who served and fought in Vietnam never came back, or they if they did return it was in a casket.

My college experience here, Stateside, was a walk in the park compared to what our armed forces were called to do in Vietnam and other theaters of war. What they did, however, was nothing new. Although in Vietnam we were strapped with a whole new set of warfare rules that few understood, and that was a major part of our problem.

But I am here today to say that: Our soldiers have been defending the USA—our freedoms and values—for over two centuries.

IwoJima

From Valley Forge to Vietnam and Very Near, millions of our men and women have lived and died to defend us. We owe them—whether they served willingly, or were drafted—we owe them respect and gratitude for their willingness to be threatened and humiliated by the pains and dangers of war and the perilous requirements of maintaining government of the people, by the people and for the people.

From Valley Forge to  Vietnam to now. . . their brave service continues to this day: defending our shores, our borders, and helping other liberty-holding nations to maintain freedom from oppression.

While thousands of guys and gals of my generation were on duty in Vietnam, many of us back here at home were protesting and working to bring our people home, because . . . the longer that war dragged on, the more and more controversial it became. Finally, by 1975, we had shut the whole project down.

So our Vietnam veterans came home and got back into the routine of living in the good ole USA. For many, many of them, this was no walk in the park, no easy transition. PTSD was, and still is, rampant among them. And while we who did not go will never understand what they endured, we can still show our appreciation.

A few years ago, I reached a time of life in which I felt a need to somehow reconcile the controversy of Vietnam that our generation had endured. My literary working-out of this angst took the form of a novel, King of Soul, which I published in 2017.

On this Veterans’ Day, I share a brief excerpt that describes one little experience in the Vietnam War. I post it here today, so that those who were there and endured such tribulation—they will know that their bravery and sacrifice does not go unnoticed by us who did not serve.

For the sharpening of our collective memory of what the hell happened over there, I post the excerpt, which begins with a quote from a popular song that many of us singing here at home. from Chapter 19 of King of Soul:

. . .where have all the young men gone, gone to flowers everyone, when will they ever learn when will they ever learn? But on the other side of the world something very different was going down . . .

~~~

. . . the gunner for their platoon, and that day he was packing an M-60 machine gun. And now there was no doubt about the threat of those nearby

NVA. Sure as hell, there was no doubt any more about anything except: they were in a firefight. Time to fight, or die. Rob got the order to haul that M-60 down the hill to a certain position and open up on ‘em. He said all he could remember about that was that he put one foot in front of the other while scuffling down that hill dragging all that weight with him, and the infernal noise that was blasting out all around him. The adrenaline was pumping and he was stumbling through it, trying to keep himself and the gun upright until he could get to where he was going, or where he was supposed to be going, which he wasn’t yet sure of. It wasn’t just the machine gun he was packing, but also three ammo belts. I mean, it was a good damn thing that he had ‘em, because he was gonna need every last one of them rounds before it was all over with. Finally he got to where he was s’posed to be, rid himself of the ammo belts and heated up the M-60, aiming up at the ridge where the AK-47 flashes were poppin’ like deadly firecrackers, but a helluva lot louder. He said he felt like he was going crazy, but somehow the craziness itself was what drove him on to do what he needed to do. I mean, what else could a man do? He was just shootin’ the hell out of them NVA, or at least he hoped he was, because it was gonna be either us or them if he had anything to say about it.

For you guys who went over there and endured such as this, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Korea, Iwo Jima, Normandy, Ypres, San Juan Hill, Gettysburg, Valley Forge, or  wherever you performed your duty for us . . .

Although we’ll never understand what the hell you did over there, still . . .Thank you.

King of Soul

Never Again

October 28, 2018

From chapter 8 of Glass half-Full, we find Hilda, a restaurant-owner, telling some friends about an experience she had in Germany.

“Hitler and his thugs tried to take advantage of the situation; they launched a coup d’etat, called a putsch in German. But it failed, and they ended up getting arrested. The event has been named the beer hall putsch of 1923. Well, I was reading about these police officers who were killed by the Nazis that night. And I was reading in my guide book some information about the incident. I kept hearing this beautiful music, really spirited music. We walked in the direction of the music. We turned a corner…and there they were, five musicians playing five instruments: clarinet, violin, accordion, cello, a drummer. I could tell they were Jewish right away. I considered their courage: to stand there at the Odeonsplatz where the Nazis had made their first move to try and take over the world, and declare, with their music, that Jewish people, along with their music, were alive and well in the 21st century. They inspired me. We must have listened to them for an hour…the Bridge Ensemble.”

This excerpt from my 2007 novel describes an event in the life of a fictional character named Hilda. While writing the book, I chose the occurrence to make a point about what happens in the history of our human race when hate-based groups take up arms against other people.

However, the event described here, although presented as a fictional event in a story, is in reality something that actually happened.

It happened to me. I was “Hilda.” My son and I were in Munich in 2002 when the music reached my ears while I was reading a plaque about the four German policemen who had been killed during the first Nazi uprising in 1923.

It was a meaningful event in my life, so I made the experience part of a long story story that I later published in 2007. Glass half-Full is a novel about some characters in the Washington DC area; they’re pretty good people, but some bad things happen to them.

Bad things happen.

When bad things happen on a large scale, nations go to war against each other and all hell breaks loose for a while. When all hell breaks loose on a major scale–a continental level of magnitude and intensity–that is called “World War.”

We of mankind have had two of them. We hope that we never have another. Don’t we?

In both world wars, our nation, the United States of America, intervened on behalf of our Allies. In both wars, our presence and strength in the fray made a big difference, and we were victorious in both holocausts.

Holocausts is a word I use in the context of that last sentence, meaning  life sacrifices, by fire: lives being snuffed out by fire, or by other destructive means. In our post-World War II experience, the Holocaust generally refers to the mass-murder of six million Jewish Europeans under the murderous regime of the Nazis, led by the demonic Nazi dictator, Adolf Hitler.

Never again should there be a holocaust of such immensity. Our nation and our armed forces were a large part of extinguishing the fire of persecution that snuffed out the lives of millions of defenseless, innocent persons before and during the Second World War.

AmIsFlags

Now, when people refer to the proposition of making America “great again,” this is–or should be–the meaning of the phrase, Make America Great Again.

That we have been, in times past, the defender of innocent people who are being slaughtered on a massive scale by hate-filled groups, –this is what made America great during World War II. And this is what, generally, does make America great in any present or future time.

Great, yes, because we have–on a massive scale– the resources and the collective will to serve as defenders of defenseless or innocent people anywhere in the world.

Not because we appoint ourselves aggressors to impose our so-called American way of life on any other nation or people-group in this world. This is where we crossed the line, in my opinion, in Vietnam. What began as a war to defend the free people of South Vietnam against aggressive Viet Minh insurgents, degenerated instead, to become a war of aggression in which we raised a lot more hell and bloodletting than we could legitimately justify; in a quasi-primitive nation that had not yet progressed to a phase of development in which they could truly understand the difference between these two words: communism and capitalism.

And may that never happen again.

A year or two ago, I also wrote a sociological novel pertaining to our Vietnam ordeal, King of Soul.

Let us Americans never be the aggressors. We are defenders. What makes our nation great, if anything, is simply the massive scale of defense we are able to muster on behalf of free and innocent people, whether it’s in Europe, Rwanda, the Middle East, or anywhere, including at home. May our great strength never corrupt us.

We are defenders not only in the military applications. We are-and should always be–defenders of the defenseless in matters of law. We are, according to our original founding codes, advocates for justice in all of our institutions: courts of law, legislative bodies, government agencies, immigration agencies, overseas aid, and administrative law from welfare to wall street. That is what makes America great.

May we never stray from the preservation and extension of truth, justice, and yes, the American way.

And may we always be defenders of same.

Glass half-Full

We Wanderers

October 14, 2018

For a very long time, people have been wandering through our world.

Many choose the rootless lifestyle because wandering makes them feel free. Others crave adventure, or exotic experience. Some launch out in search of new opportunities, greener pastures, richer soil, more money and less trouble, or better jobs. Or maybe just wide open spaces instead of crowded hovels.

Pilgrims wander in search of the sacred; saints strive for holiness; sinners search for sin,  seekers seeking yang or yin.

Immigrants flee political oppression; maybe they’re escaping persecution, evading execution,  or fleeing war-torn areas.

Refugees are all over the globe, frequently concentrated at certain infamous borders. We see pictures of them with trouble in their faces and children on their backs.

In earlier ages of our world development, populations were concentrated in old world cities and settlements. By ’n by, through exploration new world continents were discovered. Immigrants began streaming to the open lands. They spilled across borders, through forests, across streams, over mountains. We congregate along coasts.

Only two centuries ago, the North and South American continents were wide open spaces, as compared to the Old World. While our undeveloped wide open spaces were  being populated, millions of immigrating travelers streamed in through the ports; they trundled through the coastlands, trudged across vast prairies, navigated the swift rivers, slogged over steep mountains.

But eventually those wide open spaces filled up with settlers. From virgin countryside, the New World sprouted millions of farms, foundries, factories, and modernizing facilities fulfilling functions about which our forebears held absolutely no understanding. All along those rising watchtowers and MainStreet thoroughfares  towns sprung up;  cities burgeoned into metropoli, and before you knew it America was as crowded as the old country.

When the Irish and the Italians, and all them other Europeans, Africans, Germans, Asians and Aegeans crowded in, New York and Boston and Philly and all them other cities became crowded, almost like the Old Country had been.

Americans worked hard and prospered. We got rich. Agriculture was flowing; industries were growing, stores and businesses were showing so many services and goods. Everybody’s fat n’ happy, pleasing mom ’n pappy; wages high; expenses low, keepin’ up with them Joneses just for show. And we built ourselves quite a nice little nation which later became, after a couple of world wars, a beacon of liberty in the eyes of the world.

   StatLibty

Well that was then and this is now.

After 9/11, seems like everything changed, and not for the better. Instead of grace and generosity, we seem to have slid into a descent toward selfishness and paranoia.

And I can understand that.There are, after all, bad people in the world, and terrorists and self-righteous fanatics who are willing to destroy the world in order to save it. And yes, we do have to form a humane strategy for protecting our citizens from war and destruction. Let’s not forget, however, that America is the land of the free and the home of the brave. We need not slip further into xenophobia than we already have.

As our British brothers and sisters had earlier discovered, running an empire is no walk in the park.

Now what used to be the great American experiment seems to be slipping into a world gone mad.

Sad.

As I was pickin’ around with some tunes recently, I remembered an old song from back in the day that pertains to these matters, as conditions had existed in the earlier times, when everything was different and the continent we absconded from the natives was still wide open with what we thought was freedom and possibility.

I stumbled across a tune from rhymin’ Simon. The song moved me deeply, so I thought I’d toss it out there for you to hear and ponder. I hope Paul doesn’t mind, especially since he himself borrowed part of the tune from an old Christian hymn.

  Paul’s American Tune.

And here’s another old tune from back in the day, which I think Woody or Pete had something to do with.

  Wayfarin’ Stranger

As you listen, I wish you to be warm and well-fed, which is what most folks in this world are searching for, at least until they manage to become fat ’n happy.

King of Soul

Vietnam, at ground level 1970

July 10, 2018

Herein I recommend a novelized real story from that infamous “War in Vietnam.”

  https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/13437

John Podlaski’s novel about a brand-new American soldier in Vietnam strikes at the heart of the matter— just what the hell were our soldiers over there supposed to be doing?

Them brave boys were  putting their asses on the line, stalking communist enemies in strange jungles on the other side of the world, when all the while their survival instinct was demanding them to just hunker down, lay low, and get through their year-long sentence of jungle warfare in one living, still-breathing piece.

And All for what?

Because we sent them to do a job—kill communists, and run the ones we couldn’t kill back to the North.

Now we all know it didn’t work out that way, but we learned some lessons—and the world did too—in the process.

The problem our guys had over there was: how could we know, in a SE Asian village scenario, which villagers were helping the NVA, and which ones were on our side? As if these rice-cultivating peasants knew the difference between Karl Marx and George Washington!

After reading this book, Cherries, it seems to me that, in the midst of the terrible gun battles, every soldier’s internal war must have been a constant conflict between these two missions: to kill enemies and thus keep the brass-mandated “body count” on an upward curve, or to stay alive!

Which would you choose?!

In most cases, it seems it came down to protecting yourself and your squad buddies, while treading fearfully through the booby-trapped minefield of two opposing international ideologies whose political strategies had turned absolutely, militarily lethal.

That project required real men—brave soldiers who could bite the bullet— who could launch out and give it a shot while death and danger stalked them at every turn along the path.

This was a terrible, terrible ordeal that our nation put these guys through! We need to talk about it.We need to acknowledge their incredible bravery.  We need to ask: Just what the hell happened back then and there in Vietnam?—in that war that so many of us managed to evade.  Whether you were for the war of against it— reading John Podlaski’s “Cherries” is a provocative way to begin the assessment— an evaluation that needs to take place, for the sake of our nation’s future security.

Read the book, because this quasi-autobiographical story gives a close-up, day-to-day, boots-on-the-ground account of what our guys were doing over there in Vietnam, while we were trying to figure it all out here, stateside— here, safe in the home of the free, while the brave were answering the terrible call that our government had imposed on them.  They endured that jungular hell-pit so that we, as a nation, could, in spite of defeat,  pass successfully through the 20th-century burden of Cold War paranoia.

John’s fictionalized personal story fleshes out the constant conflict between two soldierly inclinations: fulfilling military responsibility by driving up enemy “body counts,” vs. following  the human instinct to just stay alive, and somehow make it through your one-year tour of duty without getting your ass killed.

Our American purpose there was unclear. No definite battlefield could be found;  the war was waged wherever our boys happened to run into the Viet Cong or the North Vietnam Army, in a perpetual theater-game of deadly hide-and-seek. Our teens and twenties recruits and draftees were dropped into unfamiliar Asian jungles, then immersed immediately in extreme fear—fear like you would feel seeing two of your platoon-mates’ heads staked on bamboo poles.

Not in Kansas any more, Toto!

Khe Sahn. A Shau, Ah shit! What have we gotten ourselves into?!

Read John’s book to find out what perils our boys  were trudging through while we stateside were trying to figure out the whys and the wherefores.

BTW, by the 1990’s it was plain to see that  the free world, led by the USA, had prevailed in our struggle against both fascism and communism. In the big picture, our effort in Vietnam played an instructive role in that victory. The governance of nations has more to do with learning from your mistakes than fighting a lost cause to some idealized bitter end.

VNGame

Thanks to you all you guys—Cherries, LongTimers and Lifers—who answered the call to service at that time. Oh yeah, and here’s another belated message: Welcome Home!

King of Soul  

What about that old battlefield?

May 28, 2018

In chapter 27 of my 2014 novel, Smoke, we find a young American, Philip, and an old Frenchman, Mel, conversing as they approach a battlefield in Belgium, a place called Flanders Field. The year is 1937;  in the last week of World War I, Philip’s father had died on that battlefield in 1918. Here’s the scene:

Something about the spring air, the mists at the edges of the fields, the lush, lowland foliage, the shadowy light, lijdt het licht het donk’re licht, something was moving deeply inside of him. “Mel?”

“Yes?”

“How could this place have been a battlefield for a world war?”

The old Frenchman cast his eyes on the passing landscape, and seemed to join Philip in this musing. He answered slowly, “War is a terrible thing, an ugly thing. I did not fight in the war; I had already served my military duty, long before the Archduke was assassinated in Sarajevo and the whole damn world flew apart, like shrapnel. But I had many friends who fought here, and back there, where we just came from in my France, back there at the Somme, the Marne, Amiens. Our soldiers drove the Germans back across their fortified lines, the Hindenberg line they called it. By summer of 1918 the Germans were in full retreat, although it took them a hell of a long time, and rivers of spilt blood, to admit it. And so it all ended here. Those trenches, over there in France, that had been held and occupied for two hellish years by both armies, those muddy hellholes were finally left behind, vacated, and afterward . . . filled up again with the soil of France and Flanders and Belgium, and green grass was planted where warfare had formerly blasted its way out of the dark human soul and the dark humus of lowland dirt and now we see that grass, trimmed, manicured and growing so tidily around those rows of white crosses out there, most of them with some soldier’s name carved on them, many just unknown, anonymous, and how could this have happened? You might as well ask how could. . . a grain of sand get stuck in an oyster? And how could that oyster, in retaliation against that rough, alien irritant, then generate a pearl—such a beautiful thing, lustrous and white—coming forth in response to a small, alien presence that had taken up unwelcomed residence inside the creature’s own domain? The answer, my friend, is floating in the sea, blowing in the wind, growing green and strong from soil that once ran red with men’s blood.”

But today, this Memorial Day, 2018, we honor not only the war dead of that First “Great War” of the 20th century. We honor all those who have given their “last full measure of devotion” to a nation that has always stood, and hopefully always will stand, for freedom and justice.

Here’s another phase of our 242-year national history with brave souls to ponder, Vietnam:

VNMem

King of Soul

The Deep

May 26, 2018

As we grow older in this world, we gain a deeper understanding of  what is going on here. But it can be discouraging. In many ways, what we find is not pretty, and it makes no sense.

The disconnect between the way the world is and the way we think it should be becomes an existential crisis for those of us who are sensitive to such issues.

Attached to this dilemma we find a long historical trail of people attempting to deal with the problem. Along that path we find tragedy, depression, pathos, melancholia, despair, existential crisis, schizophrenia and a myriad of other assorted travesties.

But there’s a favorable output that sometimes arises through this conundrum. It’s called art.

And music, and literature.

I’ll not get into the specifics of it; but we discern, threaded through our long, strung-out history, an overwhelming human opus of emotional and soulful profundity. It  has been woven through the sad, dysfunctional and tragic tapestry of our apocryphal struggle for meaning. It has been sounded forth and sculpted continuously even as our very survival is perpetually  called into question.

The depth of this existential crisis is expressed by the poet when he desperately cried out:

“O my God, my soul is in despair within me;

therefore I remember you from the land of the Jordan,

and the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.

Deep calls unto deep at the sound of your waterfalls;

all your breakers and your waves have rolled over me.”

From the mountaintops of human awareness, and from the turbulence of many wanderous shore epiphanies, we homo sapiens somehow manage to  bring forth as offerings a cornucopia of creative endeavors; they are birthed in desperation, and they are often borne in desperate attempts to somehow attain hope.

You catch a hearing of that struggle to which I allude, in this music, composed in Spain in 1939 by Jaoquin Rodrigo:

  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9RS4biqyAc

You can catch a glimpse of it in Picasso’s mural, composed in Spain in 1937, after the Luftwaffe bombing of Guernica:

  GuernicaPic

But in my exploration of these matters, the most profound expression of the pathos curse is manifested in the life of one person who, by his laborious struggle, imparted the purest and most enduring message of love ever etched upon the parchment of human history; but his great gift was rejected through our judgmental travesty: a sentence of crucifixion.

ChristCruc

Yet out of that most extreme humiliation there arose an even greater opus of creative, persistent love : resurrection.

If you can even believe it.

Smoke