Posts Tagged ‘Vietnam war’

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

Change is Gonna Come

October 19, 2018

Some wise person said a fish wouldn’t know (s)he was out of water until it actually happened. When the angler yanked the critter up the into air, the fish would immediately know that something had gone terribly wrong.

I think our situation in modern life is a little bit like that. In our present media-engulfed life, we humans are so totally immersed in electronic media that we would feel disoriented and panicky if we were suddenly jerked out of it—like a fish out of water.

Some might even suffer withdrawals.

Nowadays some social critics among us complain about the dumming-down effects of twitter and facebook, and all that other blahblah googlifief also-ran flimflam that’s floating around in the datafied air of 2018.

Back in the day, during the adolescent phases of my baby boomer generation, people romanticized about the fact that we were the first generation to get raised up with a tv in the living room and therefore a boob-tube mindset. Whoopdee doo that we had pop-culture and instant gratification on the brain instead of the traditional 1-2-3 and a-b-c worldview of previous generations. No wonder we fantasized that we could change the world. We were walking around in the first-ever TV-generated dream world.

Actually, some of us did change the world. Those guys who were mastering their calculus and fortran instead of doping up—they managed to hatch out a totally electronic data tsunami that has since commandeered our attention and maximized our compulsive fascination with constant entertainment distractions and rampant twitt-faced narcissism.

Along with some real information, of course. There’s always both bad and good in any changes that are gonna come.

A  generation before us in the timeline, it was another set of emergent media wonders that were transforming the world of the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s. Our parents’ generation also grew up with a revolutionary media box in the living room and the dashboard—radio. They had Roosevelt’s fireside chats, Glenn Miller, Amos n’ Andy,  and Orson Wells’ terribly realistic radio depiction of us being invaded by extraterrestrial aliens.

But radio was no TV. Radio was about hearing. TV was like a whole new, artificial world of hearing AND seeing.

The rate of change, accelerating in the TV age, has exponentially accelerated and intensified with the coming of the electr(on)ic internet, 21st-century version.

A few years ago, I undertook a writing project to express some of the angst of the boomer generation that I grew up in.

Because I had graduated from high school and then entered college in 1969, my novel, King of Soul,  turned out to be mainly about the elephant-in-the-room issue of my g -generation’s historical  era—the Vietnam war.

But that war was far from being the only issue that we Americans had to deal with.

LittleRock

In struggling to depict—and even to somehow reconcile—the great divide between them that went and us who did not go to Vietnam, I embarked on a research project to learn how the Vietnam war had started and how it escalated to become such an overarching generational crisis. My g-generation was torn apart because of what all took place over there as a result of our tragic illusion.  We thought we could, with our high-tech way of doing things, show a country of undeveloped farmers how to expel the communists.

We learned a very hard lesson. It was tragic, what happened.

While the world had worked a certain way during the Big War, when we ran the Nazis back into their holes, something had sure as hell changed by the 1960’s.

The old tactics of massive military push against jungle guerrillas did not work.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, the kids didn’t wanna have to go over there and do Lyndon’s dirty work.

The anti-war movement’s seemingly sudden organizational strength in 1967 was no mere happenstance. Those activists who devised a widespread effective resistance against the war had learned the hard facts of life from a previous protest movement—the Civil Rights movement.

It took a while for the anti-war movement to get its act together. But when they finally did, it was because of a hard lesson that had been learned by black folks down in dixie.

In the Freedom Summer of 1964, a widespread collection of honky activist youth suddenly showed up down in the Segregated South to help the black folk get organized for voting and organizing real societal change. There in the historical shadow of the old defeated, slave-slappin’ South, wide-eyed yankee students got a fierce reality check. Their rose-colored glasses were left broken on the blood-stained grounds of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, when they saw what violence and oppression the racist Establishment was inflicting on people of color.

Right here in Amerika, it was. Land of the free? and home of the brave!

A wake-up call it was. Based on what them wide-eyed college kids from up Nawth encountered when they got down here, they got a severe reality check. Stopping the war in Vietnam  would be no walk in the park. There was bad shit going down right here in the good ole USA, just like in the rice paddies of Vietnam.

If the peaceniks wanted to get us out of Vietnam, they would have to get organized, and maybe even pick up some heavier-duty tactics . . . civil disobedience.

Meanwhile, there were a few blacks who were doing alright. Sam Cooke was one of them.

During the early 1960’s, Sam was a very successful singer-songwriter. Most of his tunes were soulishly romantic and swingy. He had a knack of finding the best in everything he wrote about. With an admirable optimism that shone forth in all his song-work, Sam managed somehow to spread good will and positive attitude everywhere he went, in spite of all the tough changes that were going down.

Some may have thought Sam to be an uncle tom, because he didn’t get angry.

But Sam Cooke—even though he celebrated optimism and good attitude—was no uncle tom.

He was not a “house nigga.”

Here’s a song that expresses Sam’s feeling about the societal changes that he felt needed to happen in the USA in the mid-1960’s.  After his death in 1964, this composition was released posthumously on the B-side of a single record called Shake, and also on an album by the same name.

Here’s the tune, A Change Is Gonna Come:

     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEBlaMOmKV4

And here’s my version:

    Sam’s Change Is Gonna Come

As we geezers have seen in our lifetime, change did indeed come.

But some things will remain the same.

Here’s a truth that always remains: Change is gonna come, like it or not.

When it does, may the change be with you, and . . . may you be with the change, if it is good.

If it’s not good, go listen to some of Sam’s old hit songs and get an attitude adjustment. Maybe you can learn to deal with it as he did—with a good attitude.

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

A Boomer Looks Back

September 5, 2016

VietMem2

Now that I’ve been growing up for 65 years, I am at last approaching some semblance of adulthood.

During the course of my baby’boomer lifetime, I have seen some changes; some of them I am actually starting to comprehend.

Now I look back on it all and find myself wondering about some things, but quite sure about some other things.

Several years ago, my wife and I spent some vacation time on the island of Maui, in the great state of Hawaii. While driving one afternoon down the western slope of Hale’akala volcano, we happened upon a memorial to a great man named Sun Yat-sen.

In his lifetime, during the early 20th century–1911, Sun lead many of his countrymen in a revolution that deposed the old monarchy of their country–the Chinese Qing dynasty. But before that happened, he had spent some time in Hawaii; that’s why there’s as statue of him there.

At the base of Sun Yat-sen’s memorial a quote from him is carved in the stone, and this is what is said:

LOOK INTO THE NATURE OF THINGS

Ever since I saw that, I have been working that pearl of wisdom into my way of living as much as I can. And this principle of living and learning has been not only a motivation for me toward acquiring useful knowledge, but also a source of great joy and satisfaction.

This principle is expanded in the Proverbs of the Bible: Understanding is a fountain of life to one who has it. Proverbs 16:22.

Now this may seem like a philosophical idea, but it is really very productive in the living of real life. Here’s a nuts n’ bolts example:

In 1992, when I was still a young man of 41, working as a carpenter to provide for our three children, and for my wife who had not yet become a nurse, and for our household, I took a job with a construction company remodeling (a refurb job) an old K-Mart. My job was to tear old stuff out from around the inside perimeter of the store and replace it with a newer style of retail display.

I had been visiting K-Marts ever since I was a teenager in the 1960’s. So I had been seeing those retail structures for most of my life. But to look behind the facade, into the structure, and then to reconstruct the structure based on newer, more modern components–this work experience held a strange satisfaction for me, as well as a source of income for a season of our life.

Working on that K-Mart was more than a paycheck; it was a joy to behold as the various phases of reconstruction unfolded beneath my hands and before my eyes.

Look into the nature (or structure) of things!

Many years have passed; now I’m looking back on it all. Part of the outcome from this reflection will be a novel that I am now researching and writing. It is a story that takes place during the time of my youth; it has become a cathartic process for reconciling the difference between what I thought I knew then and what I now know about that turbulent period of my g-generation’s growing up.

Ours was the generation whose maturing was said to be delayed because Dr. Spock wrote a book about child care that–as some have judged it–convinced our mothers to spoil us.

While there may be an element of truth to that judgement, I have noticed in my conversations with some people lately that there is category of folks in our boomer generation who were definitely not spoiled:

Those guys and gals who fulfilled their duty to our country by going to fight the war in Vietnam–they found themselves in a situation where they had to grow up in one hell of a hurry.

What I am seeing now is, in my g-generation, there was a great divide between: Them that went, and them that didn’t.

While I was college freshman in 1969, trying to figure out what life was all about, and marching against the war, those guys who who went to ‘Nam were required–and yeah I say unto thee–forced to figure out how to keep life pumping through their bodies and the bodies of their buddies who fought with them.

Those soldiers who went over there had to grow up a lot quicker than I did.

I did not go to Vietnam. My lottery number in 1970 was 349, so I literally “lucked out” of it.

During that time, a time when I was stepping lightly through ivory-tower lala land, our soldiers on the other side of the world were trudging through jungles, heavy-laden with weapons and survival gear. While I was privileged to be extending my literacy skills,  they were committed to learning how to kill the enemy before he kills “us.”

Now it turns out my research about the ’60’s is swirling around two undeniable maelstroms of socio-political showdown: civil rights and the Vietnam war.

So, in my project of looking into the nature of things in the 1960’s, I am learning about that war and how it came to be a major American (undeclared) war instead of just a civil war between Vietnamese.

One thing I have found is that Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara undertook a similar project in 1965. When he was in the thick of it all–as one of the best and brightest industrial leaders of that age, having been recruited as an insider in the White House, then calling the shots on major events, wielding incredible military power on the other side of the planet, in the heat of the moment and in the fog of war, he found himself wanting to know. . .

how the hell did this happen? how the hell did we get here?

McNamara’s question lead to a .gov-commissioned research project, paid for on our taxpayer dime, and ultimately made public by the primary researcher of that undertaking, a former Marine Lt. Col. named Daniel Ellsberg.

Look deep into it. In Ellsberg’s case he looked deep into 7000 pages of military documentation, starting in the 1940’s and going all the way through Tonkin Gulf in 1964.

Look into the nature of things.

I’ll let you know in another year or two–when the book is done– what my search dredges up from the streets and battlefields of our g-generation’s  search to find meaning and fulfillment, and maybe even a little justice and mercy thrown in.

But one thing I want to say, now, to THEM THAT WENT:

Although things did not turn out the way we had intended, there isn’t much in this life that actually does end up like we thought it would.

You went and did what the USA asked, or compelled you, to do, while many of us were trying to pull you back to stateside.

Thank you for your service. We’ll need many more of your stripe before its all over with.

Glass half-Full

Listen: Boomer’s Choice

Hammer and Sickle ’65

August 23, 2016

Here’s an excerpt from chapter 5 of the new novel, King of Soul,  now being researched and written. We’re talkin’ ’bout 1965:

       The manipulations of human history had conspired to contrive a vast, geographical hook. The hook itself was forged in the shape of a country; it was a skinny little wire of a nation, slung long and slender along the 900-mile S-curve of an Asian sea strand.  Upon this seacoast hook the fearless pride of Pax Americana would be fearlessly snagged, fish-like. But the snagging ended up requiring an extremely long expedition, for the catch fought on the line for eleven years before being reeled in.

       This was Ho’s intention all along; he was a very patient angler. Ho was not a novice; he had been around the world a time or two. He’d been to London and to Paris, Hong Kong and Can-ton. He had spent part of the 1930’s in Stalin’s Russia, and had learned a thing or two by observing Uncle Joe’s tactics. Ho Chi Minh understood what it would take to get his fish on the line, and how to handle the catch once it was snagged. The expedition would take 11 years, but eventually South Vietnam was dragged up into the Viet Minh boat.

       Uncle Ho had learned a thing or two.

       Around the world, especially in defeated France and in bold America, there was talk about Ho Chi Minh—who was he and who did he think he was and what the hell was he capable of.

       Some folks never saw the hook at all. When they looked at that odd-shaped southeast Asian country on the map, it resembled something else, with its long arc curving around the western shore of the South China Sea. .  . . . maybe a domino?

       No. Vietnam was no domino; there was nothing straight nor square about the place. Nothing predictable. But we didn’t know that until much later in the game.

       The shape of Vietnam did, however, have resemblance to a sickle, like that sickle of the  infamous hammer and sickle. It was a curved blade,  hauled upon the lean, hard backs of legions of peasant laborers. As the years of the 1960’s rolled by, the sickle was forged into a weapon, to be skillfully wielded in the hands of militarized Viet Minh insurgents and Viet Cong guerillas. And that army of sickles was backed up by the persistent pounding of Uncle Ho’s communist hammer.

       Vietnam was a hammer and sickle; that’s all. It wasn’t some great domino scenario that toppled the Republic of the South during the 1960’s, ultimately rejecting President Diem and killing him, and then later ousting Thieu and Madame Nhu,  like Ho had swung up at   Dien Bien Phu.

       After the French pulled out—with tail between their legs in 1954—when  the Americans pulled in, hellbent on showin’ the world how to defeat communist incursion, it was pretty slow going for awhile. B’rer Ho Chi Fox, he lay low, waitin’ to see what  B’rer Rabbit-ears would pickup on his radio, because B’rer Rabbit did have a pretty fancy radio, and a lot of heavy equipment to back it up with, and a heap o’ ordnance to fling around with a lot of fired-up thunderations. B’rer Rabbit-ears could sho’nuff make some powerful destructions when he put his mind to it.

       By the time things got really cranked up in 1965, the man in charge of yankee warfare had come up with a plan. But there was a problem.

       The problem was an old one; stated simply, from a mathematical viewpoint, it was this: the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

       No way around it; shortest distance between Hanoi and Saigon was a straight line. But the line didn’t go through Vietnam; it went right through two other countries.

       If Uncle Ho were to set a taut insurgent line of troop transport from, say,  Hanoi to Saigon—like from the handle of the sickle to the endpoint of the sickle’s curved blade—it  would pass, not through the south part of Vietnam, but through Laos and Cambodia.

       This was a problem. It wasn’t so much  a problem for Ho—his stealthy, low-lyin’ insurgent diehards just crawled right under the rules of international proprietary expectations; they slouched through Laotian jungles and beneath Cambodian canopies like it was nobody’s business. After a while, the clandestine route they had cut for themselves was called by the name of the one who had commissioned it: the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

King of Soul

Mysteries of 1964: Meridian and Tonkin

August 11, 2016

From the new novel King of Soul, now being researched and written, here’s an excerpt. In chapter 4, we find Uncle Cannon speaking about murder in Mississippi, and then the scene changes. As Uncle Cannon was saying, on August 4, 1964 . . .

        “Now these white-power types and KKK misfits who been runnin’ around for a hundred years like they own the place—now they won’t have a leg to stand on when Bobby Kennedy and Hoover’s FBI agents show up with their high-falootin’ writs of law.  I’m sure the Feds knew if they’d root around long enough, something rotten would turn up.”

       “Well now something has turned up. Three dead bodies. Over near Meridian, they found those three dead boys—two yankee college students and one local black, and all hell is gonna break loose. The old ways are gonna go, but they ain’t gonna die without a fight—probably a pretty damned ugly one.”

       The old man shook his head. “With Kennedy being shot last year in Dallas, and now Johnson, who is an extremely competent politician, following in his wake, this whole civil rights movement will mount up  like a tidal wave. It’s gonna break right over the Mason-Dixon line and keep on going, until it rolls all the way down to the Gulf. . .”

~~~

       It just so happened that, while Uncle Cannon’s projections were being uttered into the sultry southern air, a wave of a different kind was being set in motion on the other side of the world. It went thrashing just beneath the choppy surface of  Gulf waters that lie between the coasts of China and Vietnam. The Gulf of Ton-kin.

       A phosphorescent wake—the eerie, night-time straight-line underwater path  of a launched torpedo—went  suddenly slashing beneath the stormy surface of the Gulf of Ton-kin, sixty miles off the coast of  Vietnam. The torpedo had a target:  a destroyer ship of the U.S. Navy.

       Under cover of the dark, stormy night, the torpedo’s path was nigh-impossible to see, almost as difficult to detect as the P-4 North Vietnamese patrol boat from which it had been launched.

       In the air above the USS Turner Joy naval destroyer,  a plane-launched flare erupted,  illuminating  for a few moments the rain-stilted night sky. In the desperate brilliance of one flare flash, a boatsman’s mate caught plain sight of the attacking boat; he noticed, in the fleeting brightness, an odd detail—its long bow.

        Meanwhile, all hell was breaking loose, with the two U.S. Navy destroyers firing ordnance wildly into the stalking mysteries of the Tonkin Gulf.    Two  members of the gun crew sighted the offending boat in the strange light of their own exploding 3-inch shells; one squinting seaman managed to hold the object in view for what seemed like almost two minutes.

       Two signalmen, peering through dark Tonkin night-soup, strove to pinpoint the patrol boat’s searchlight, as it swept through the dark seas several thousand yards off the starboard bow;  Director 31 operator could identify a mast, with a small cross piece, off the destroyer’s port quarter, as it was illuminated in the glare of an exploding shell that the Turner Joy had fired.

      Ahead of the USS Turner Joy, on the flagship Maddox, two Marine  machine-gunners were posted on the ship’s signal bridge; after sighting  what appeared to be the cockpit light of a small-craft, they watched through the fierce weather. Having no orders to fire, they visually tracked the unidentified vessel—friend or foe they didn’t know—as it churned up along port side of their ship; later the miniscule light was seen coming back down on starboard.

       Up on the flagship Maddox bridge,  Operations Officer Commander Buehler was not surprised at  the spotty hodgepodge of indecipherable bogey signals and sightings from various quarters of the two ships; for his ship’s radar contact had earlier indicated something approaching at high speed, which had suddenly turned left when it was 6000 yards from and abeam of the USS Maddox. He knew from the swerve that whatever that was—some vessel the radar contact had indicated—had fired an underwater  torpedo. Approximately three minute later, a topside crewman on the Turner Joy had spotted the thin, phosphorescent wake of the torpedo as it missed both ships and  then disappeared in the dark Tonkin waters that chopped beneath them.

       Later,  black smoke could be discerned,  rising in a column through the black night, and the mysterious P-4 bogey aggressors were seen no more. Where did they go? Davy Jones locker.

King of Soul

In Memoriam

May 29, 2016

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I have written a story in which, in the year 1937, a young man and an old man travel from Paris to a World War I battlefield cemetery in Belgium. In the scene, Philip poses this question to Mel:

“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, they 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 . . .

The excerpt above is taken from chapter 27 of Smoke, the novel I published last year. I highlight the above passage as a memorial to the brave men and women who have died in wars while defending our United States of America and assuring the causes of human freedom throughout this tragic, precious world.

VietMem3

52 Pickup

November 15, 2015

Strange things happen in this world, but you never know what’s pre-planned and what’s the luck of the draw.

52 years ago, the government of Vietnam was overthrown when President Ngo Dinh Diem was deposed in a coup led by his own military leaders. The next day, November 2, Diem was shot dead.

Three weeks later, American President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22. Two days after that, the alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald was shot dead while in official custody.

I was twelve years old at the time.

Strange string of events, it seemed to us. Mystery still surrounds. Some things we’ll never know.

After Kennedy was gone, Lyndon Johnson became President. Johnson was a good man; among many other notable accomplishments, he shepherded the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through Congress, as he knew it had been an important component of his slain predecessor’s would-have-been legacy. Lyndon was very good at getting things done, and so he came through, as Chief Executive instead of President of the Senate, to get that historic legislation manifested as the law of the land.

LBJ was a Texan. He walked tall like a Texan because he was a Texan. Lyndon’s leadership style had originated within his humble beginnings; he was a man who knew the nuts and bolts of what makes America work. He knew how to get things done; was a wheeler dealer politician who pulled himself up by the bootstraps. As fate and his own fortitude would have it, he was in the right place at the right time in 1960 when the Democrats selected him to take the VP slot on Kennedy’s ticket.

And so, three years later on that fateful night of November 22, 1963, while the nation was in shock, he was in the right place at a bad time, to receive, in the whirlwind of a tragedy, the awesome mantle of national–yeah I say unto thee–  even world, leadership.

But  good ole Lyndon was in a very difficult place at that right time. While we were weeping, reeling from the thought of Jackie dressed in pink climbing on the back of that convertible to get away, or to assist the Secret Service guy while she reached over what was left of her husbands head…

while all that was fresh in our minds, this big man Lyndon Baines Johnson took an oath while winging through the atmosphere at 35,000 feet, and the nation heard of it, and he landed a few hours later in Washington. Even before he stepped off that plane Lyndon was in charge.

Like it or not, there he was.

There we were.

And while we loved Lyndon, prayed for him, looked askance at him, we hated, absolutely hated the circumstances that had slammed him into that perilous Office, and had thrusted him into the fragile pinnacle of leading–not just the Senate or the Congress–but the whole damn United States of America in the days to come.

In the days that followed, he proved to be a strong President. I mean, after all, he was a strong man with a forceful, arm-twisting leadership style.

A couple of years passed. In some ways, our nation settled down a bit after the trauma of Kennedy’s assassination; in other ways, we didn’t settle down at all, because a lot of circumstances were raveling at the time. One of them was the war in Vietnam.  By 1965, after consulting, as Kennedy had done before him, multiple voices of military and diplomatic leadership, LBJ decided to escalate the war.

It was no simple situation over there. The South Vietnamese could not stop the onslaught of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese insurgents, and it’s questionable whether they really had the gumption to do it.

The tall Texan was not about to allow to the USA to withdraw from such a thing as that. Many of his advisors, even McNamara, indicated that maybe the whole damn thing was, as Cronkite said, a stalemate. But LBJ plunged us in deeper.

Then in 1968 LBJ, strongman that he was, decided not to run for re-election. He could have, perhaps, devised a plan, before retiring, for this nation to extricate from Vietnam, but he chose not to do so. Not on his watch.

When Nixon got in the White House in 1969, he could have saved us a lot of grief and death if he had wound the war down at that time. Instead, he escalated it with intention of obtaining peace with honor. Another Not on my watch scenario.

He should have just gotten us out of there. A few years later, Nixon was history too;  by ’73 we were officially out of there, and by ’75 we were really out of Vietnam.

Strange string of events, it seemed to us. Mystery still surrounds. Some things we’ll never know.

 

52 pickup; here’s another card I chanced to pick up today:

64 years ago, the King of Jordan, Abdullah I ibn al-Hussein was assassinated while attending prayers at the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

Not that it means anything here, but this writer was one week old at the time.

King Abdullah had sought to be a peacemaker. He was one of the few Arab leaders who had been willing to negotiate with the Israelis in 1947-48 when Israel was establishing its independence and identity as a nation.

July 20, 1951, a Palestinian named Mustafa Ashi shot Abdullah dead after Friday prayers.  Ten alleged conspirators were later prosecuted in Jordan. According to Wikipedia,  the prosecutor alleged that one conspirator,  Colonel Abdullah el-Tell, ex-Military Governor of Jerusalem, had given instructions “that the killer, made to act alone, be slain at once thereafter to shield the instigators of the crime.”

Strange string of events, it seemed to us. Mystery still surrounds. Some things we’ll never know. Strange things happen in this world, but you never know what’s pre-planned and what’s the (bad) luck of the draw. Makes you wonder what woulda, coulda, shoulda happen.

No point in that, really. Life goes on. It is what it is.

Boomer’s Choice

Robert McNamara’s Tragic Choice

August 27, 2015

My freshman year of college at LSU was a real eye-opener. The world I entered that September was remarkably different from the high school existence from which I had just graduated.

There was a lot going on in 1969. I understood practically none of it, so my college education would be a huge learning experience–not only about the subjects of classic university study, but about the tumultuous times that we lived in then.

If you have, in your life, spent a freshman year at a large university, then perhaps you know something about the changes I was dealing with. But if you were a baby boomer like me whose collegial initiations happened in the late 1960’s, then you might agree that our experience then was even more intense that most college frosh would typically experience.

Nowadays, in my 64th year of life, I have undertaken to write a novel that is centered around this experience. The book, which will be a fourth novelic publishing project, is called King of Soul.

Who is the King of Soul, you may ask. You’ll have to read the book to find out. But of course you cannot read it, until I finish writing the dam thing, probably about 3 years from now.

Now when I’m doing this sort of project, I’m heavy on the research. The direction of my research will determine much of what happens in the story. For the last six months or so, I’ve been reading many books and articles about the 1960s. My historical novels are subjective explorations of selected time periods. The three previous novelic projects were propelled by research explorations in these years: 2005 (Glass half-Full), 2000 (Glass Chimera) and 1937 (Smoke).

1969 was, as Frank Sinatra might say, a very good year. On the other hand, in some ways it was a very bad year.

Just like any year, I guess. Depends on who you are, where you are, and what is happening around you.

What I found was happening around me and the other college students of 1969 was this: a helluva lot of change, and it was going down at a very fast clip. Most of the change revolved around three areas of societal ferment: civil rights, the Vietnam War, and sex.

I wandered, like millions of other high-school graduates, into a maelstrom of disruptive events and ideas.

My current enquiry about that anarchic decade has identified three main influences:

~the civil rights movement, which had started long before, but was accelerating in its intensity during that time

~the Vietnam War, and the draft

~the metamorphosis of the 1950’s “beats” into something new called the hippies

My first great discovery has been that the groundbreaking civil rights activists of the 1950s-60s taught the antiwar activists of the late 1960s how to mobilize and organize in order to get things done. The “Freedom Summer” of 1964 is the clearest expression of this development. That’s when bunches of white kids from up north spent their summer going down south to help blacks in their struggle for civil rights, and America was never the same after that.

My second great revelation is (as if we didn’t already know) the elephant in that era’s living room: the war in Vietnam.

This may seem obvious to anyone who was there, in the USA at that time. But God, and my advancing age, have taught me a great lesson in recent years. And the lesson is this:

One of life’s greatest satisfactions is to, by study, delve back into the time in which you were growing up, and learn about what the hell was going on then when you were so young and clueless about it all.

Toward that end, I am reading a great work of jouralism now, one of the best I’ve ever picked up: David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Best-Brightest-David-Halberstam/dp/0449908704

Today I encountered in that book a startling realization. You can perhaps discern what it is by reading this selection from page 242 of the 1972 Ballantine paperback edition:

“. . .in making his (Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s) arguments against nuclear weapons, forcefully, relentlessly, he had to make counterarguments for conventional forces. We had to have some kind of armed might, so he made good and effective arguments for conventional weapons (and if the Chiefs wanted to use them in Vietnam, to send American combat troops without nuclear weapons, he had to go along, since he had developed the thesis, the mystique of what conventional weapons could do with the new mobility). He gave them a rationale, for his overriding concern was quickly to limit the possibilities of nuclear war, to gain control of those weapons.(emphasis mine).”

In other words, the slippery slope of  conventional warfare in Vietnam war escalation came about as an effort to prevent ultimate nuclear war with the Communists!

That’s something to think about. Who knows, maybe the strategy worked. Maybe it will help us understand how that war slid, over the course of a dozen years or so, from a few military advisors deployed in 1961 to 54,000 Americans dead by the time we finally got out of there in 1975.

There was, admit it or not, a rationale to the tragedy of Vietnam.

As we (still) face a 21st century situation of potential nuclear disaster, maybe the strategy of conventional war–a lesser evil– can fend off the worst possible bellicosity–nuclear war against the “Communists” of our present age, the Islamic State of Iran, or North Korea.

Our detonation of atom bombs over Japan in August 1945 has changed the world–and the world’s strategic inevitable realities–forever. We’d best not forget that. For the preservation of human life on this planet, any bellicose nations who strive to develop nuclear warheads must be kept in check.

 

Smoke