Archive for the ‘war’ Category

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  

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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

Boomers’ Choice (reprise)

February 17, 2018

Is this world screwed up or what?

Tell me about it.

Nevertheless, there may be reason enough to find happiness,

contentment fulfillment and all that stuff

in the silver lining that highlights those dark clouds.

We baby boomers do have a choice, you know,

about whether to cry in our beer

or find cause enough to rejoice while

we’re here on planet earth.

Have a listen:

Boomers’ Choice:

Well, the boys came marching home from Germany and France

and the bomb had made a blast in in Hiroshima.

We were driving brand new cars; we were waving

stars and bars

and everywhere was another factory.

Back in 1953,

cruising with Dwight E.,

Elvis sang the whiteboy blues,

McCarthy looking under every bush.

In the home of the brave and the free

rolling on prosperity

and all the kids were going off to school.

57ChevF

Ten years down the road

another dream had come and gone

and the power of one gun had made itself known.

Back in 1964

big Lyndon opened the door

for civil rights and a bloody Asian war—

LBJ&McNa

young men on porkchop hill

young women on the pill.

At home they said don’t kill;

get a psychedelic thrill.

But the dreams of a woodstock nation

were just an imagination

when the boys came trudging home in ’73.

So it’s hey hey ho is there anybody home

and its hie hie hey, seeking light in the night of day:

the dreams of a woodstock nation

were just an imagination

when the boys came trudging home in ’73.

Well, it just don’t pay to sob;

guess I’ll get myself a job

selling leisure suits, maybe real estate.

I’m not moving very fast,

just waiting in line for gas

and Johnny Carson gives me all my news.

Back in 1976,

overcoming dirty tricks,

some were moving back to the sticks;

some were looking for a fix.

Ayatollahs on the rise

sulfur dioxide in the skies

and the system makes the man that’s got his own.

They say an elephant won’t forget;

let’s play another set.

There’s always another ghost on pac-man’s tail.

Don’t let this boom go stale.

Let’s find an airline for sale

or pop another tape in the VCR.

Back in 1989,

we’re living on borrowed time

getting lost in subtle sin

eating oat bran at the gym.

But there’s an empty place inside

and I was wondering why

these vanities don’t suit.

I’m going back to the gospel truth.

And it’s hey hey ho is there anybody home

and it’s hie hie hey, seeking light in the night of day;

There’s an empty place inside and I was wondering why.

These vanities don’t suit;

I’m going back to the gospel truth.

Put on your Sarejevo, Mogadishu, Kalishnikov and Columbine shoes,

for the way is treacherous with ruts and rocks.

Yeah, we figured out digits out

before that Y2K could spoil our rout,

but that 9/11 call was in the cards.

Did you consider the question of heaven

before the wreck of ’07?

EdselOld

Will you hear the trumpet call

from the Ancient of Days.

Our way is littered with freaks and fads

from Baghdad through our mouse pads

as the reaper swings his steely scythe

across our wicked ways.

And it’s hey hey ho is there anybody home?

And it’s hie hie hey, seeking light of day.

It’s a dangerous place outside

and I was wondering why.

This world don’t give a hoot;

I’m going back to the gospel truth.

  King of Soul

DeepState DeepThroat DeepSh*t

February 3, 2018

I suppose the concept of Deep State started with George Orwell. In his fictional explorations of early 20th-century dystopia, 1984 and Animal House, Uncle George presented the scenario of a so-called Big Brother government that wanted to control just about everything, including not only what people do, but also what they think.

Orwell’s real world of the 1930’s certainly presented a dramatic scenario of escalating DeepState dysfunction. Two gargantuan opposing dictatorships were challenging each other over the question of which one would control the world.

The Nazis, who had wrested control of the German gov. machine, had effectively set up a dictatorship of one man, Hitler. He turned out to be a personification of DeepMad. In other words, he was so mad at the world that he desperately wanted to find someone to blame for all the DeepSh*t. He blamed it all on the Jews and the Communists.

The truth is, however, this. We have found the enemy, and he is us.

All of us. But as I was sayin’. . .

Meanwhile, back at the northern climes, the Soviets were setting up a dictatorship of the proletariat, even though their founding dictator was dead; Karl Marx had dictated the idea that working folks could manhandle the world away from all the rich fuddyduddy lords and ladies who had been running it for so long, and everybody knew that certainly the proletariat could do a better job of running the show.

Now that’s an idea whose time has come, the arc of history and all that. Or so they thought . . .

In the ’30’s the whole damned world was torn apart when the Dictatorship of Hitler tangled with the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Oh, and there was a third one—the Dictatorship of an Emperor—Hirohito in Japan, not to mention Mussolini and his goons. Between these four, they pretty much dragged the whole damned world down into a fricking apocalypse preview. Unlike wars of old, such as was conducted by the ancient Greeks v Persians, or David v Goliath, or old dusty militarized monarchs of Europe sending their clueless vassals out to perish, the 20th-century version of warfare was exponentially more destructive than the carnage inflicted by men of old, wielding their legendary sabres and muskets and cannons and those old-school versions of techno-destruction.

Well, by ‘n by, we Allies managed, through much blood and toil and sweat, to put an end to all that dictatorial bullsh*t.

IwoJima

It was no easy job, but we collectively mopped it up in the late ‘40s, ’50s and thereafter.

StalnDown2

But that was just one small historical step, as it turned out, in all the blood, sweat and tears that was yet to come.

CastrNixn

Now understand this: there’s always a lot more deep stuff going on than we, in our pea-brains, can fathom. That said . . .

By ’n by, a new generation comes along and now all these kids still wet behind the ears are growing up with a TV in the living room, and they’re watching the world through the lens of Edward R. Murrow and Eisenhower and Kennedy and Cronkite et al, and by the time the baby boomers get out and about where they don’t have the restraints of mom and dad tellin’ them what to do all the time—in other words, college—by that time, they had figured out that they knew enough about the world to change it—the world, that is—(haha!). And so they got out in the streets and made a big mess of things until finally Nixon got the message and brought the boys home.

Well, by the time the boys came marchin’ home again hoorah hoorah—this was early ’70’s—the DeepState had gotten the idea that Nixon was a brick or two shy of a load, and so they set out to show him a thing or two by pressing the delete button on his power trip.

And this is how it happened:

That whole protest wave that so confounded Johnson and Nixon—it wasn’t just about the war. No, it was about much more than that. It was supposedly about free love and maybe some free pot and maybe even free food, as the diggers had been trying to do out in San Francisco.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, there was a lot going on in America behind the scenes.

That free love thing, you see,  wasn’t really so simple as just shackin’ up; it was also about getting kinky. So when  the reporters who broke the DeepState Watergate dam—Woodward and Bernstein— devised a pseudonym for their DeepState informant, they came up with the nomen DeepThroat.

This development, which attempted to document the infernal workings of unbridled unjustified politics in the white house, was thereby associated in the public mind with the kinky side of the sexual revolution, as represented by the porno movie of the same name which was inspired by a nymph who had turned kinky because she used her mouth for sexual purposes and they called it DeepThroat.

Hence, DeepState, DeepThroat. There’s always a lot more deep stuff going on than we, in our pea-brains, can fathom.

What the Americans did not understand was that the whole DeepState, DeepThroat thing was slowly devolving us into a pit of moral, political and economic depth beyond our ability to rectify all the deep troubles associated with same.

Now since that time, our preoccupation with all this dysfunctional politics and sex has sunk us deeper into political and sexual irresponsibility. This dystrophy has, along the way, blinded us to authentic responsibility, and ultimately imprisoned us in a yet another very deep quagmire. Yeah, I say unto thee, ’tis yet another pothole of even deeper dysfunctional distress:

DeepDebt, trillions and trillions of it.

Nevertheless, in spite of all that, ya gotta find a ray of hope somewhere. I don’t know about you, but my prescription for our dystopian dillemma is quite simple, maybe even simpleminded:

God bless America.

And if you believe that, I’ve got some deep canyon real estate in Arizona I’ll tell you.

What’s better is: In God we Trust. But with all the deep sh*t that’s going on, such blessing and trusting could require a higher power for the fulfillment part of it, and maybe even some DeepFaith.

  King of Soul

To Our Veterans, Thank You

November 10, 2017

On this Veterans’ Day 2017, I say to all men and women who have served our United States as soldiers and workers in our armed forces, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, National Guard. . .

Thank You.

Since you have served us, at risk of life and limb, and then lived to tell about it, please know that we are glad you made it through your dutiful missions, still alive and kicking.

We consider it a good thing that your name is not carved into this wall.

VietMem2

But we also consider it good that your service is recorded in the annals of our history. You were  recruited to defend  our freedoms. You answered the summons that many of us resisted. You did your duty. In so doing, you defended also the freedom of many people throughout our troubled world. Thanks for your courage in doing that.

Sometimes we prevailed in our immediate mission; sometimes we did not. Nevertheless, our collective mission as defenders and exemplaries of liberty remains intact because of what you have done.

And are still doing.

Especially all you Vietnam Veterans. You chose, or were compelled to, defend us and our way of life while so many of us  were lollygagging around  in the blood-bought liberty that you have assured us.

Especially to all you Vietnam Veterans, I offer to you the greeting that my friend, Jim Shoemake, himself a Vietnam Vet, tells me is the most precious message of all:

Welcome home!

Keep up the good work.

 

 

King of Soul

Independent Thinking in Prague

July 13, 2017

In Prague, we find a very long history of people who can detect and identify the manipulative hypocrisies that form within human institutions. From Jan Hus to Franz Kafka to Albert Einstein to Jan Masaryk to Vaclav Havel, and including  many other reformers throughout history, we discover in Prague a long line of independent thinkers who defended the initiatives of the people to conduct their own religious and political affairs without being controlled by powerful institutions such as the Church or the Communist Party.

An early historical example of such a reformer would be Jan Hus, whose life and legacy is depicted in this sculpture in Old Town Square in Prague.

Hus3

In the year 1415  A full century before Martin Luther, Hus criticized  a manipulative system within the dominant political institution of that time, the Catholic Church. Over a millennium of time, potentates within the religious hierarchy had managed to erect barriers whereby believers were denied the freedoms of reading/interpreting the scriptures for themselves. Ecclesiastical prohibitions pertaining to the reading, translating and teaching of the scriptures had led to an institutionalized Church that manipulated people for political/economic purposes, instead of assuring their liberty to read/interpret/preach the scriptures for themselves. Such institutional prohibitions had permitted non-biblical practices such as the selling of indulgences to creep into Church religion.

Jan Hus was declared by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, as it existed in 1415, to be a heretic. The judgement laid upon him ultimately cost him his life, as he was condemned as a heretic and burned at the stake.

In modern times, a reformer named Vaclev Havel suffered similar persecutions from the dominating institution of Czechoslovakia during his time of life, the 1950’s-1980’s. Havel’s ultimate fate, however, was a much happier one than that of his 15th-century forebear reformer.

After a persecuted early life of continual resistance against the cruel machinations of the 20th-century Soviet Communist Party, the writer Vaclav Havel’s role was re-defined in a most favorable way. The people of the Czech Republic elected him as their President after the people rose up in 1989 and overthrew the Communists.

As visitors to this country hoping to understand some of these changes, we visited the Museum of Communism here in Prague yesterday. In viewing that time-line  of artifacts and information, we were able to gain a comprehensive perspective. The museum displays presented a  concise history of communist ideas and dogmas from Marx onward, though Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Gorbachev. A presentation of this history reveals effects that were destructive, insofar as in they oppressed the proletariat who were supposed to have been the benefactors of communist ideology.  The Soviet controls became more restrictive and controlling as the 20-century years rolled by.

One display I saw included this text about the Communist Party establishing a Secret Police after the coup in 1948.

SecretPolice

Vaclav Havel and many other protesters mounted a lifelong, persistent resistance against these  control-freak obsessions. Their efforts paid off. In 1989,  the reformers were able to lead such a widespread popular movement that they successfully rejected Communist Party control and then established the Czech Republic.

From a display in the Museum of Communism, here’s a capsulized explanation of how that happened:

VelvetRev

And here’s the last photo I snapped from the display at the History of Communism Museum. It’s a pic of Wenceslaus Square, Prague,  in November of 1989 when, the old repressive institutions of the Communist Party began to tumble in the wake of a huge popular democratic/republican demonstration.

Wenc'89

King of Soul

The End Room

July 12, 2017

For 600 years, a royal dynasty named Hapsburg ruled the vast European domains called Austria-Hungary.

In 1848, an emperor died; and so an emperor’s son replaced him.  From 1848 onward, Emperor Franz Josef ruled the empire for almost 68 years, until his death in 1916.

Franz Josef had a nephew named Ferdinand, whose place in the extended family would later qualify him as the heir to the throne at the occasion of Franz Josef’s death.

HapsLine

But Ferdinand never ascended to that throne,  because he was assassinated in 1914. This assassination happened in Sarajevo, Serbia, on June 28, 1914. It is considered by most historians to be the fatal event that sparked the powder-keg of militarized Europe and ignited World War I.

But before all that, when Emperor Franz Josef was still ruling over the quasi-peaceful Austro-Hungarian empire, and the Hapsburgs were still lolling along as royalties habitually did, the royal family spent their summers at their summer palace near Vienna.

It is a place called Schonbrunn.

Schonb

We visited the palace at Schonbrunn as tourists. As I was walking through the “royal apartments,” the audio-guide mentioned that Franz Josef was a real go-getter when it came to performing his roles as Emperor. I got the impression that he was a workaholic monarch who spent his entire day, every day, dealing with matters of state. It makes sense if you think about it, because. . .

Ruling over an empire is no easy task. But in fact, it ultimately proved to be an impossible task. After his nephew Ferdinand, the heir, was assassinated, things really got out of hand for Franz Josef and the Hapsburg monarchy.

The whole royal arrangement really started to unwind when he demanded restitution from them upstart Serbs down there in Sarajevo who had shot his nephew.

But a Serbian concession was not going to happen. The Serbs did not like being subjects to Austrian control; they wanted to have their own country. Franz Josef’s ultimatum soon became a declaration of war.  Next thing anybody knows, there’s a whole damn alliance-mongering world war exploding all over the place, because one very important man was shot to death.

Cutting toward the chase here, I must say that about half-way through that war, the old Emperor Franz Josef died, in 1916. So the Austro-Hungarian Empire was in need of a new Emperor.

But nephew Ferdinand, the would-have-been heir, could not ascend to the throne at that time, because he had been assassinated.

Therefore, the scepter of royal authority of the house of Hapsburg passed to another nephew, Karl. Karl was the nephew of the nephew and therefore the next in line to be Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

But this would be no easy task for young Karl. The prospect of assuming that royal authority must have been, in the wrath of an escalating world war,  akin to accepting the gift of a hornet’s nest. Most all the European potentates and their armies were mad as hell at the German Kaiser Wilhelm and his Austrian co-potentate, the erstwhile Emperor of Austria-Hungary. The wrath of Republican Europe was fast mounting fiercely to dismantle their Entente Axis of presumptuous military power.

But at a terrible cost: millions of lives perished in World War I.

Emperor Franz Josef’s death in 1916, only half-way through the hostilities, was for Karl, more an overwhelming burden than some whoopdeedoo ascension to kingly privilege. His uncle’s prickly challenge to the Serbs had rendered Europe into a grand bloody mess.

So in the year  1918, a scant two years after his accession to the throne, Karl was in no position to wheel and deal on behalf of Austria, or Hungary, or his supposed royal realms, or any other entity except, perhaps, for his immediate family. He was between a rock (Germany) and a hard place (the Allies who were hell-bent on demanding reparation from Germany and Austria.)

This was no easy position for a young monarch to be in.

As we traipsed through the royal apartments of Schonbrunn last Monday, the audio-guide informed me that I had just entered a certain room where, in 1918, a gang of both friends and foes of the Emperor had presented to young Karl his choices pertaining to the Empire.

Karl’s choices were not pretty. The military leaders, diplomats, politicians in that room told him that they were taking the whole damn empire away from him and his family. He was in no position to argue with them, so that was where it all ended for the Hapsburgs. Therefore he had no choice but to concede to their demands.

So Karl and the Hapsburgs lost it all, right here in this room.

Except one thing. Karl refused to abdicate. He managed to slink away still having his title.

Whatever that means, I thought, while standing there with all my fellow-tourists in the room where a 600-year empire had ended. Karl would still be Emperor, but emperor of what? His own kingdom exiled him.

At that moment, I accidentally snapped a contraband photo:

EndRoom

This is where it all ended for the legendary Hapsburgs. As cousin George said later, all things must pass.

Smoke

Prague

June 21, 2017

A decade and a half ago, I took a few post-baccalaureate courses at our local university, Appalachian State. I had some educational strategies in mind. Those plans didn’t really pan out. Nevertheless, what I learned at that time sharpened some research skills that had been dormant in me since I had become a worker bee many years prior, in 1977.

In one education course that I took, we learned about a strategy called Compare and Contrast.

In the  years since that phase of life I have found Compare and Contrast to be a helpful idea when describing any two things.

In this case, I apply the method to two periods of time that are described in a book that I am presently reading. Under A Cruel Star, A life in Prague 1941-1968 was written by Heda Margolius Kovaly, and published in 1986 by Plunkett Lake Press of Cambridge MA.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Under_a_Cruel_Star

HedaPrag

The book is biographical; its focus is on one period in Heda’s life in post-war Prague, after we Allies had run the Nazis back into their holes.

Heda Margolius Kovaly was so fortunate to be a survivor–an escapee, no less– of the Nazi concentration camps;  Her book of which I write, Under a Cruel Star, begins with a harrowing account of her ordeal in sneaking out of the concentration camp at a time when the war was not yet over  then laying low as she slinked through Poland into the Czech lands and at last managed to sneak into  into her home city of Prague.

When she got to the city, Heda found the whole place bound up with Nazi paranoia. Which is to say: the Nazis were paranoid of losing what they thought they had conquered. At the same time, the locals–the Czechs and Slovaks–were still paranoid because that’s all they had known for the last six years.

After a while, the the Russians came in and “liberated” the place. Thank God.

But they had big plans for eastern Europe–Communist plans.

In the late 1940’s, the Soviets moved all their control-freak gear and Party personnel into the eastern European nations, including Czechoslovakia, Heda’s home country. In Soviet-controlled Prague, Czechoslovakia, the bossy Russians and their local Czech lackeys slowly and insidiously came to  dominate every aspect of life, with an intent to show the world how Communism, as prescribed by Marx, Lenin, Stalin et al, could be be accomplished.

Long story short, they made a big frickin’ mess of it.

Heda Margolius Kovaly and her husband were right there in the middle of all of it in the early days of Czech communism. Rudolf, her husband was appointed to an important job, a real plum of a job, as a project chief in the Ministry of Foreign Trade.

In her personal story, Heda gives an account of how Russian hegemony became more and more secretive, abusive, and cruel after the Communist coup in ’48. People were desperate for some kind of rebuilding of life, and they paid dearly for their willingness to accept the Soviet prescription for a better life. But it did not work out that way. 

The flaws in Communist ideology drove Czech life into a real dead end. Instead of life getting better for all the good comrades, life in Prague got worse and worse under the enforced Soviet regime. Heda  raises the question of how. How could the Czechs and others in eastern Europe have been so gullible and vulnerable to the force-fed communism?

The main reason these people had been rendered so vulnerable to Russian control and abuse is this: they had been extremely traumatized and debilitated by the incredibly oppressive, cruel Nazi occupation from which they had been liberated. Furthermore, on that side of Europe, the Russians were the liberators; they ran Hitler’s armies back into their holes. In that first  year of occupation, 1945, they were heroes.

After the war and all that life-shattering chain of events, the people of eastern Europe were worn out, broke, busted and disgusted. For the Russians, these people were easy pickin’s, with their hands stretched out, desperately seeking help and some resources to rebuild their cities and infrastructures.

And looking for somebody to tell them what to do, since they were still in a kind of wartime shell-shock.

But Russians came in with an agenda. It’s called communism. And the Ruskies did not have a lot of trouble getting these desperate people cranked up on a little Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist indoctrination. Power pounces on  a void.

Tank

Why were the people of eastern Europe so vulnerable to Soviet hegemony?

Part of Heda’s postwar explanation goes this way:

“Usually, the reasoning went something like this: if for purposes of building a new society, it is necessary to give up my freedom for a time, to subsume something I cherish to a cause in which I strongly believe, that is a sacrifice I am willing to make. In any case, we are a lost generation. We all might have died uselessly in the camps. Since we did survive, we want to dedicate what is left of our lives to the future.

“This streak of martyrdom was stronger that was generally understood. People felt chosen by destiny to sacrifice themselves, a feeling that was reinforced by a strong sense of guilt that characterized many who had survived the camps. Why was I alive and not my father, my mother, my friend? I owed them something. They had died in place of me. For their sake I had to build a world in which this could never happen again.

“This was where the misconception lay: in the idea that communism was the one system under which it could never happen again. Of course we knew about the communism of the thirties in the Soviet Union, but that was an era of cruelty that had ended long ago, the kind of crisis out of which all great change is born. Who today would condemn democracy for the Terror of the Jacobins after the French Revolution?

“The most eagerly embraced belief of the time was that no national or racial oppression could exist under communism . . .”

A couple of pages later, Heda arrives at this assessment:

“It was an insidious process and as old as the world. Had it not been for the war and the overwhelming need for change, we would have seen through it easily.”

Now here is where the Compare and Contrast (that I mentioned earlier) comes in.

That naive willingness to accept the communist game plan was in 1945, immediately after the trauma and desperation of the war.

Let’s fast-forward to 1952, after the Communist Party had been been running their postwar recovery show in eastern Europe for about seven years, and after Heda’s husband, Rudolf, a dedicated, very intelligent, workaholic apparatchik of the State had suddenly been arrested and imprisoned without explanation, without trial, and without any indication of where he was being held, or how long he would be detained, or when he might be released.

In her darkest days of disillusionment with the dysfunctional state of the State, in the grip of despair over the unsure fate of her imprisoned husband, Heda begins a chapter of the book by providing this description of what Czech life had become:

“Life in Prague. . . had acquired a totally negative character. People no longer aspired toward things but away from them. All they wanted was to avoid trouble. They tried not to be seen anywhere, not to talk to anyone, not to attract any attention. Their greatest satisfaction would be that nothing happened, that no one had been fired or arrested or questioned or followed by the secret police. Some fifty thousand people had so far been jailed in our small country. More were disappearing every day.”

Compare Heda’s postwar description of the the Czechs’ willingness to accept Russian hegemony– when the liberated people were compliant to help bring in the communist agenda for rebuilding the nations– Compare it to her description of how things actually turned out seven years later.

You’ll find a big difference there, a huge contrast, like the difference between day and night.

But here’s the good news. In 1989, the peoples of eastern Europe–Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Slavs and others, cast off the chains of Soviet domination, and the light of liberty began to shine again.

We need to help them strengthen the good that was gained in 1989.

Smoke

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