Posts Tagged ‘commentary’

[Please note: this post contains strong language and extreme soapboxing. It’s also off-topic from the main theme of this blog: insights from my travels through the National Parks. Apologies to my subscribers, but I feel the need to do this.]

A Repulsive Story

The other day I heard a repulsive story. I don’t know if it’s true or an urban legend, but here it goes:

“A friend of a friend was going on vacation somewhere in the middle east. He thought it’d be funny if he put a packet of bacon in his luggage. But when they checked his luggage at the airport they found it and wouldn’t let him take it. Can you believe that shit?”

Um, WTF?? That is the stupidest thing I ever heard. Why in the world would you intentionally do something so patently offensive when traveling to a country on vacation? You would actually taunt the citizens of a country where you don’t speak the language, where you are (obviously) oblivious to their customs & culture, and where you’re (therefore) at the mercy of their generosity and goodwill? That’s like being invited to a friend’s house for dinner, walking in the front door, whipping it out and pissing on their couch. Then asking “haha, just kidding. Whatcha cooking?”

Toss on top of that the reality: that part of the world is in an immensely transformative state, one where we may not come out on top. The Crossroads of the World is at the Crossroads of History, the choices we make now can end well or can end very, very poorly. Imagine the 1979 Iranian Revolution and hostage crisis x10 if you want to understand the magnitude. Read a newspaper and understand the situation. They you’ll (hopefully) understand that pulling that kind of stunt is just Ignorant (capital “I”).

Actually, in my opinion the TSA did the wrong thing. They should have happily put the bacon back in the luggage, let the dude board the plane, then make a special phone call to security at the destination airport. That asshole could then re-assess his life choices while they’re stapling electrodes to his testicles in a dank room far, far from civilization. Then the State Department can quietly put his passport documents into the shredder. Another asshole lost to the dustbin of history.

Now if this was just one of those “I heard it from a guy who knew the guy” stories, it would have ended right there. A footnote on snopes.com. But in this case, it was the storyteller who irked me. This person thought it was ridiculous for the TSA to confiscate it, that it would be funny, and after all, they just come over here to blow things up anyway.

OK, so now double WTF.

It really troubles me that people think like this. I mean, it really troubles me that AMERICANS think like this. Shouldn’t we be enlightened, at least a little bit? We think we have are the best at everything. Do we even show a little bit of insight, or thoughtfulness, or consideration, or understanding? No, we’re a bunch of arrogant, paranoid, thuggish fuckwits children.

So let’s just let this pass. There are bigots all over the place. I don’t have the strength of will to challenge them all, and my demeanor in these situations would make things far, far worse. I simply wasn’t interested in making a big stink about it. I just jotted it down in my mental notebook and turned the page.

Well, for a few days anyway.

Part Two

My mother is 78 years old and lives alone. I regularly take her out to do different things, like the movies (she loves sci-fi 🙂 ), or museums, or nature walks, or carnivals, or whatever. This past weekend, I took her on the Lady Bea, a small tour boat on the Connecticut River. It’s just an excursion, something to do, away from the TV. We’re sitting there, waiting for the boat, soaking up the sun, and a large van pulls up. About a dozen or so young women step off, most wearing hijabs. Muslims, obviously.

Now I am a human being. I have my foibles and fears. My initial, internal reaction was not positive. But I got over it without saying a word about it. I figured they were a club or something, perhaps a “women’s auxiliary” (to use an ignorant American euphemism) to a local mosque. There are Muslims living their lives in this country just fine, and they have every right to socialize wherever and whenever they want. And because the rest of us are a bunch of arrogant, paranoid, thuggish fuckwits children, it makes perfect sense they’d want to hang out with people “just like them”. It’s probably far safer and far more comfortable to do that, instead of hanging out with the rest of us who will undoubtedly try to sneak bacon into their ginger tea or something “because it’s funny”.

When we boarded the boat, it became obvious that they were tourists and not immigrants. I overheard one of their American guides explain the situation: they were students from Baghdad University, and just flew in to attend a one-month program at Smith College. Now I was intrigued, and perhaps a bit more optimistic. When an opportunity presented itself, I started to chat with their sponsor. These women were all in the country to study biological sciences in a special exchange program. It seems their country is actually trying to encourage their women to travel and learn at universities around the world.

Now this has to sink in, I think folks have to get this: an Arabic country, an Islamic country, a culture and a religion not known for kindness towards women, is actually encouraging its women to go overseas and become educated. This is outstanding! And to top it all off, they want to come here to do it. Let’s face it: as a whole, and contrary to popular belief, we did not do good things over there. Sure, we toppled their dictator, but the ensuing carnage and instability ruined their country (and I fear we have yet to see the inevitably horrific long-term consequences). Perhaps it’s not as gloomy as I think it is, perhaps there’s some hope …

Oh wait. We’re a country full of assholes who think it’s HYSTERICAL to insult, degrade, and demean those different from us, those we don’t understand, those we don’t like, or those who might share the same God as a suicide bomber or the same last name as an airplane hijacker. I suddenly felt bad for those women. I hoped they’d stay with their group and not wander on their own because we’re a society that will taunt and torment them or perhaps commit our own acts of violence & terrorism against them because “they just come over here to bomb us anyway”. I wish them well, I hope they have a good stay, and I hope they go back to Iraq and do good work.

I also hope I live long enough to see a time where the ones who are ostracized in this country are the arrogant, paranoid, thuggish fuckwits.

[Thanks for your patience. Back on topic starting next post.]

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Mistakes Were Made — Again

The last U.S. troops have been pulled from Iraq. To all the folks who served in that country, thank you. I’ll never know what you went through, but I’m certain it wasn’t pretty. I hope you’ve at least made it home safely. And to those who’ve lost a spouse, a family member, or a friend in that country, I am truly sorry, and very much appreciate the sacrifice you’ve made. So thank you, all of you.

Instead of saying “thank you”, however, I really should be saying “I’m sorry”. It certainly seems much more appropriate, and much more honest. What I really should do is paraphrase terrorism expert Richard Clarke’s famous opening statement to the 9/11 Commission: your government failed you, those entrusted with protecting you failed you, and the people of these United States – all of us – failed you, too. It was a terrible, terrible mistake to invade Iraq. It was off-purpose, off-policy, off-mission and incredibly stupid, and should never have been done in the first place.

I wonder what you, the Iraq veterans, think when you hear or read comments like this.  It probably pisses you off something fierce. You went halfway around the world to some Godforsaken country, fought a ruddy complicated insurgency, avoiding exploding garbage cans and roadside trash all the while, and hopefully made it back home in one piece, all to hear jerks like me say stuff like “it was all a mistake”. But I can’t say anything else about it. It was a mistake, a huge mistake, and a mistake that didn’t need to be made.

Now, I could write paragraph after paragraph about the manipulated intelligence, the fabricated link between Saddam Hussein & al Qaeda, and the lack of WMDs. I could write about the theoretical Neocon conspiracy to commit fraud upon the country and the world for their own political (or perhaps financial or perhaps retributional) gain. I could discuss at great length all the strategic and tactical blunders that occurred: dropping the ball in Afghanistan; letting bin Laden go; not providing adequate body armor; poor Humvee design; aggravating international relations; trusting the advice of an ex-pat Iraqi playboy. But all of these things have been talked about ad infinitum, and by people far more knowledgeable. I will say that all of these things, put together, are enough to convince me that we owe you all a tremendous apology for all we’ve put you through.

From the viewpoint of an amateur historian, here’s the real reason why we owe you an apology: it seems we all forgot what “war” really meant. Which was completely idiotic, we’ve been in enough wars that we should definitely have known better. But in the days leading up to the invasion, I heard almost no one in power talk about war in realistic terms. No one talked about the inevitability of American casualties. No one talked about the inevitable impact on families. No one talked about the certainty some veterans would suffer disabilities, brain damage, or PTSD. No one talked about the inevitability of massive civilian casualties, and the immense amount of guilt good soldiers have when they kill civilians. No one talked about friendly fire, prisoner abuse, and other ugly facets of war that I will not speak of here, but all of these things are (and here’s that word again) inevitable in wartime. We basically forgot history and repeated it, which is sacrilege to a historian (even an amateur like me), and man am I sorry for that.

I do want to be clear on one thing: I have no illusions that we live in some “cuddly, fluffy” world where there is no real evil and war is pointless and we should all plant daisies in our gun barrels. No, not at all. War has been and will continue to be necessary in certain situations. But before you go you have to weigh the reasons for the war (including the accuracy of the intelligence), the benefits of the victory, the risk of a defeat, versus the damage it will cause, and THEN make a decision whether war is necessary. With all the unreliable intel and shady connections (not to mention MUCH bigger fish to fry, namely al Qaeda & the Taliban), there is no way that such an analysis, done sanely, would result in “yes, let’s invade Iraq”. But a sane analysis was not done, so we invaded, and the entire country owes you an apology for that.

So why am I the one apologizing? I didn’t sign any declaration of war. I’m just some schmuck with a homemade soapbox. Well, it’s simple: I am a citizen of this country, which happens to be a democracy. According to the law of the land, I have a say in government equal to every other citizen. I am 1/300-millionth responsible for everything that happens in this country. And every other American citizen is equally responsible, and they also need to be accountable for the nation’s failings.

We all like to sit on our fat asses in our Lazy-Boy recliners and piss-and-moan about the government. But you know what? The sh*t that happens here, like the fatally flawed invasion of Iraq, is our fault. We’ve allowed this to happen to our country, through our sloth and our focus on rash consumerism and our willingness to vote for people “we’d like to have a beer with” rather than paying attention, voting soundly, and fighting for what’s right. We can all whine and cry that “we’re all powerless” but you know what? We are powerless because we allow ourselves to be powerless. All we want is Monday Night Football and Wal-Mart and 3-D movies and Starbucks. We don’t want to be involved, we don’t want to take a stand, we don’t want to take our country back. Even with this recent wave of activism from both ends of the political spectrum, how many people are actually involved in movements like the Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street? 1%? I seriously doubt there are 3 million people actively involved in these or other movements intent (rightly or wrongly) on fixing our country. The real 99% just doesn’t give a damn.

Well, I don’t give a damn if they don’t care. If someone’s a citizen of this country, then they are 1/300-millionth responsible for it anyway. And the least they can do for you, the Iraq war veteran, is walk up to you and, as sincerely as they possibly can, say “I’m sorry”.


UPDATE: another good post on this topic: http://themoderatevoice.com/132701/gratitude-wont-pay-the-bill-for-returning-iraq-afghan-war-veterans/

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