Archives for posts with tag: Syria

My Grandmother’s Radio

My maternal grandmother’s radio was a fascination of my beginning years in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Out of this mysterious box, which was about as big as I was, came “The Lone Ranger Rides Again” and “The Shadow Knows.” I waited every night with bated breath, as if on a magic carpet, to be swept away on some surprise adventure.

Like some creepy Cyclops, the radio had a single eye. It seemed to follow me no matter what corner in our living room I attempted to hide. My gosh, the eye even turned colors!

We were the beneficiaries of this wonderful entertainment because my grandparents were living with us. One day I asked my Mom why they didn’t have a house of their own. After all, I was always told of their business acumen. They had owned a small shoe store. I got a two-word answer. “The Depression.” It was followed by, “They lost everything.”

I grasped the answer easily. I had the evidence in front of me. My grandparents once had a large house on the south side of Waterbury, Connecticut. Now, they lived in one room of our rented apartment in the working class north end. Economics 101. Easy.

 

What I came to know gradually over decades is that both my grandmother and that radio held some other important historical lessons. For more context let’s zoom ahead to 2006.

I was fortunate to be in Oxford, England for a gathering of science educators from all over the world. My wife and I met a Japanese couple whom we exchanged life stories. We were riveted to the woman’s story from her youth.

Tiffany was kept in an interment camp during WWII. She did not dwell on it but the stories made a lasting impact on me. (Don’t miss the impact of the camps on a crew member of the Starship Enterprise https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LeBKBFAPwNc   ) My mind drifted to my grandmother, an immigrant of Italy.

In the early 1940s, I’m told secret service agents visited our home. They confirmed my grandmother’s immigrant status. The agents then proceeded to solder a section of the radio’s dial that could pull in foreign signals. Apparently they were concerned Mussolini’s fascist diatribes would reach our families ears. I can imagine my grandmother’s horror and dismay. Did she feel responsible for the chaos and invasive action of those agents?

What those agents didn’t know was that my grandmother was apolitical. She once implied that the Kaiser (See previous blog.) was the reason she left Italy. That’s it. I don’t recall another political utterance.

The latest immigrant scapegoats are followers of Islam and Mexicans. Protecting them is one aspect of save-guarding the constitutional rights of all of us.

The husband of that Japanese couple is, besides a botanist and educator, an accomplished plant photographer. We received a wonderful gift from him. It was a picture of a series of flowers.

Every time my eyes glance at that photograph, I also see Tiffany and sense some of the indignities experienced in those camps. I see my grandmother. Then the millions trying to escape the ravages of war and climate change from Africa, Syria, and points eastward, come into view.

Can we call ourselves human beings if we just continue with our daily lives in face of these human and environmental disasters? Do we sit idly by while a sad and dangerous character, who wants to promulgate all these, walks the halls of the White House?

That’s the misogynist who says he doesn’t believe in climate change as if science was a belief and not about data and theories that congeal out of that data. Climatologists don’t believe in anthropogenic climate change. They accept the inferences that flow from data. The burning of fossil fuels is causing rapid climate disturbances.

Yet the President of the United States does not believe in climate change. In the background, I hear Pete Seeger singing, “When will they ever learn.”

There are many marches and demonstrations now in our country. It’s not just what people know, it’s how quickly they will come to know and act on that knowledge. Much to do.

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Generals, billionaires, along with the Alt-Right, are marching into the administration of our country. Smelling the political air, this essay made its way to the surface.

Running With Iron Heels

This past spring I was camping and hiking in the Taconic range with a good friend. We walked and talked while soaking in the beautiful terrain of those green mountains.

Such excursions are important. They transport us physically. They also transport us mentally. The humdrum of everyday life fades as rolling hills and valleys come into view.

We are lucky in Connecticut. Beautiful, green woodlands, rivers, and an ocean surround us. We can choose the company of beautiful, caring people.

What can slip by almost unnoticed is that others are out there. They have a different view of what surrounds us. They see ugly everywhere.

African Americans are shot down, with regularity, in our streets. Some see injustice, others see genetics. Some see the continuance of hundreds of years of oppression and struggle. Others let fear consume them.

Fossil fuel pipelines ram through lands, from New England to Indian sacred spaces. Some see centuries of stealing land, religious violations, environmental degradation, and fight-back. Others see maintaining a lifestyle. More dangerously, the 0.1% sees major profits threatened with protests of the former.

Bombs are dropped an ocean away. People migrate. Some see state terror, a humanitarian disaster, and struggle. Some hear only “terrorists” and seek revenge.

People see, and maybe feel, these differences. The “others” handle them in different ways. A peek into our family’s 20th century histories may elucidate some of this. Let’s try mine.

In 1907, two sets of people made there way from the Apennine mountain range above Naples, Italy, to the USA. One, the Ciarlone’s, had a business orientation. The other, the Iannielli’s, was among the vast peasantry of those times. In relative order, the Scarpitti’s and Summa’s completed each set of the pairings. Children arrived, eight to be exact, from each pairing. Included among those offspring were my parents.

Why did my grandparents leave their homeland? After all, it’s not an easy do. Ever get that uncomfortable feeling when away from the familiarity of home? That sense of place comes into play. No. Not easy.

As a youngster, I asked that question. My maternal grandmother gave me a hint with a wonderful Italian inflection and waving an open hand in the air. It consisted of two words. “The Kaiser!”

That two-word answer and the move across the big pond took a bit of time to grasp in any full way. My experiences on the home front during the U.S. War in Vietnam helped. (For more on those experiences see

https://www.createspace.com/4330714

 

Later I got an assist from famed biologist Stephen Jay Gould. Here’s what I learned.

Before World War I (1914-1918), Vernon L. Kellogg was an entomologist (insects) at Stanford University, California, a pacifist; he became an official in Belgian relief work. In this capacity, he somehow ended up being among the German high command, including the Kaiser. Wilhelm II was the last Emperor (Kaiser) of Germany and King of Prussia (Parts of Germany and much land heading eastward).

Many of the German officers were involved in higher education before the war. They saw the war as a natural outgrowth of human behavior. These officers saw natural selection, a la Charles Darwin and evolution, as dictating violent competition among peoples.

The group of people representing the highest evolutionary stage, in their minds Germans, would prevail. Kellogg was so sufficiently horrified that he abandoned pacifism and supported the war against Germany as the only way, in his considered opinion, to stop them.

What Kellogg stumbled on here is one of the best examples of the perversion of evolutionary theory. It resulted in a crude form of social Darwinism. In other words, war erupts from our DNA.

We now know that redivision of the world for colonial plunder was a driving force for both sides of those wretched trenches. In other words follow the money, or better, the profits. When normal politics could not settle differences, war followed.

History had more to unfold, especially in Germany. In the years following World War I, much of the above crude social Darwinism became incorporated into Nazi ideology with a vengeance. That ideology, mixed with racism, ran amuck with extreme nationalism.

The Nazi Party actually started in the mountains of Germany in the 1920s. They nurtured a crude form of nationalism born of the disaster of WWI, social Darwinism, and with a questing religious fervor. The crash of 1929, unemployment and disgust with “big” government brought them into the cities and looking for a savior. They found Adolf Hitler and bankers willing to solve problems with an iron heel. WWII followed.

 

There is a fundamental difference in the mindset of the groupings of people mentioned at the beginning of this writing. Some hope to peacefully and thoughtfully grabble with war, racism, environmental degradation, and the injustice of it all. Others? They run with iron heels.

Politically, one outlook says let’s protest nonviolently, dialogue, and peacefully negotiate. The others say let’s protest violently, take people off voter roles, and stomp on those fighting injustice with that iron heel, including the use police/military force.

The iron heels, the fascist axis that took state power in Germany, Italy, and Japan in the 1920s and 1930s, were defeated in WWII. Its cost was 60 million lives and many fragmented ones. But hints that the outlook guiding those iron heel states had penetrated the USA were around us. The twin ideological weapons of fascism were at work.

The Soviet Union, an ally and friend during WWII, quickly became labeled an enemy, then later an evil empire. Anyone remotely associated with the recent ally was considered part of the “red menace” and a spy. U.S. State institutions pursued communists with a vengeance as well as others interested in peace and social justice.

Japanese living in the USA, and Japanese Americans, were treated differently from German and Italian immigrants. Internment camps were set up. (Don’t miss this! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LeBKBFAPwNc ) African Americans remained under intense segregation, with lynchings and other violence visited upon them.

 

Let’s go back to bucolic Connecticut. We bathe in the suave of greenness. We need the caressing arms of nature. We need the company of caring people. The point here is that we can’t get lost in it.

We have to engage other outlooks. Some don’t want the iron heel approach to solve problems but don’t see the danger. We need to revisit the 1920s and 1930s, and shake out the causes, and lessons, of WWII.

There is hope all around us. We do have to take the time to see it. I met a welder recently who had drawn healthy lessons from her work experiences. She adamantly opposed Trump.

A fisherman once told me, “they make you not want to care.” This woman went in the opposite direction. She cares. My hiking friend ventured to Ohio to block Trump mania. We have to find bits of caring among our people and help develop a willingness to fight for caring core values.

We are going to need to put that caring into action. Too many times we didn’t do that when the Obama Administration, and also peoples’ movements, made forward-looking decisions e.g. halting the X-L Pipeline. When that same administration brought backward proposals to the table, as they did in Libya, Syria and elsewhere, a confusion and paralysis followed.

Ask yourself, “What do I care about?” Then ask yourself, “How do I show it?” It means getting outside of our comfort zone.

Here’s two ways. Go out and talk to those who did not vote, those who voted for Trump, and those coming of voting age. Use history, especially intertwined with personal stories, in a calm explanatory way. Then gather with like-minded friends and those who are learning.

We need to walk the talk.

P.S. My Grandmother (Scarpitti/Ciarlone) didn’t totally escape the discrimination meted out during WWII. More on that with the next blog.

I received many responses to my interview on Bruce Gagnon’s T.V. show, This Issue. Below are my responses to two of those. Since my responses were written, events have moved on to give hope for a peaceful resolution to the present crisis in Syria. Please feel free to add your thoughts.

1. Because Obama threatened Syria with military action, there was/is a conversation. No threat, no conversation.  The status quo was not acceptable… or would you have rather Basher Assad continue using chemicals on his people. .Nothing is really black or white.  …Obama is a very strategic person. The media may not give him any credit for getting a dialog started but I will.

 

This was one reaction to my interview with Bruce Gagnon on the T.V. show, This Issue. I believe it was well put and representative of some people’s thinking concerning the Obama Administration’s threat to shoot cruise missiles into the sovereign state of Syria. There is much packed into the above statement. Let’s examine it piece by piece.

“Obama is a very strategic person.” There is little doubt in my mind that that is true. Overall it is my humble opinion that he is the best president we have had in the post WWII era. At the same time, his statement and proposed action concerning Syria is wrong and dangerous.

It is not his “strategy”. Gunboat diplomacy has been the approach of those who rule the USA for the past one hundred years. The threats, followed by bombings and/or boots on the ground, has a long history. It has intensified since WWII because the military industrial complex has usurped control of our countries foreign policy.

Here’s the way President Eisenhower put it, as he was finishing up his presidency.

“In the counsels of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the Military Industrial Complex. The potential for the Disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.”

Concerning the status quo and Assad using chemical weapons, I believe this is being very trusting of the same media the viewer  disavowed in the last sentence. UN inspectors have stated that chemical weapons were used. They have not confirmed who used those weapons.

History is rife with examples of contrived events to justify intervention and war. From “Remember the Maine” and the Spanish American War of the 1890s to the Tonkin Gulf incidents at the threshold of the U.S. War in Vietnam, fabrications and outright lies have been used to intervene in the affairs of other countries, quite often violently. Do we really want to trust the people who run this country with this history in mind?

If it is true that Assad is responsible for these heinous attacks, do we want our country solely to be making decisions of war and peace in the world? The French said it best before the U.S. led invasion of Iraq in 2003. “We would have to invade sixty countries to rid the world of every bad guy in power.” International institutions, the U.N in the first place, have to be involved in such decisions along with many other international bodies e.g. Arab League, European Union, African Union.  

I agree with the statement that the media will not give credit to President Obama – on anything. The Republican –Tea Party Right, combined with the incredible concentration of ownership of the media in the hands of very wealthy supporters of the same people, have conspired to bash President Obama at very turn. The media’s trashing of Obamacare is a good example. But we would be mistaken to see the media’s handling of the crisis in Syria as the main reason for gunboat policy failing in this instance.

What really stayed the hand of war was the intervention and outcry of the people. Most poles showed only 9% supported the President and expanding the war in the Mid-East. The organizing both on the ground e.g. there were demonstrations every week in New Haven and elsewhere, and on the Internet, led to an avalanche of protest against gunboat diplomacy. It is the people who started the dialogue and stayed the hand of imperial designs in this instance.

2. One viewer stated that the show, This Issue, and the focus on the U.S. threat to Syria, was negative. This viewer said that a culture of peace must be engendered through positive examples and initiatives. I appreciate and respect this view. However, at this moment in time I do believe it is wrong-headed.

This is one of those times when the danger of war and its expansion are great in the Mid-East. Clearly Iran is the target of ruling circles here in the USA and elsewhere. The moderator, Bruce Gagnon on the T.V. show This Issue, and I pointed out that real danger.

Concerning being positive, both Mr. Gagnon and I pointed out that the people of the country were not accepting the bellicose statements of the Obama Administration. We mentioned that positive development multiple times.  Notice also that we concluded on the very positive development of the Commission on the Future in Connecticut. This group will actually begin plotting the civilian green conversion of the economy in CT from military products. That is both exciting and positive.

Bruce Gagnon also developed the history of the International Association of Machinists (IAM) in pushing civilian green conversion of the economy. It was former president of IAM, William Winpisinger, in particular, that encouraged this positive direction. This was very important to point out as the T.V. channels showing This Issue play in Bath, Maine. It is here in this ship building port that the Aegis Destroyers are made. They carry the cruise missiles being used to threaten the sovereign country of Syria. Bath Iron Works (BIW) is also organized by IAM. So this coming together of the peace, environmental and trade union movements in CT will be a shining example for Bath, the workers there, the community, and the rest of the country. These are very positive developments indeed.

While Obama’s actions and recent statement are the stuff of raw imperialism, we have one of those “educational moments.” We need to expose the machinations of imperialism and the military industrial complex. That isn’t some narrow sloganeering. The T.V. show, This Issue, points out specific moments in history to show that what is happening before our very eyes is not some accident of history. We’ve seen this picture before.

The culture of peace we all desire needs a material base. As long as huge profits flow from these military industrial complexes, that will be difficult. The very Maine senators and congress people we mentioned on the show in Maine end up cheerleaders for huge contracts from the military. They just procured another one for 2.84 million dollars to make more Aegis destroyers. That is why both Bruce Gagnon and I thought people needed to put maximum pressure on these representatives to oppose shooting missiles into Syria.

A transformative movement, involving trade unions, peace, and the environment, is needed to help turn our country away from gunboat diplomacy and war. I have a profound respect for the broad accomplishments of groups around a culture of peace. The ideological work debunking that “war is in our genes” is particularly needed at this moment in time. We need the education, songs, poems, prose, art and other initiatives that continues to flow from the Decade For A Culture Of Peace. We also need the hard political work that will lay a material base for a culture of peace to flower.

Bruce Gagnon of the Global Network interviewed author Len Yannielli about his latest book, Moon Shadow Of War. Much of the discussion centered on the latest threat to world peace, the civil war in Syria, and the proposal by the Obama Administration to use cruise missiles against a sovereign state.

One look around the room revealed the lair of a disciple of doom. There were Titan missiles over here. Nike missiles were over there. Launch pads were everywhere. Yet no Dr. Strange Love was to be found. It was a male teenager’s room of the late 1950s and early 1960s. In fact, it was my bedroom.

Did I understand the death and destruction represented by those plastic models? No. I became interested in science since Captain Video and Tom Corbett and the Space Cadets of T.V. fame. My Mom picked up on my fascination with outer space. She bought me a small reflective telescope. The craters of the moon came into focus. I was hooked.

What I didn’t realize was that the technology of all this brought me in contact with weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). When the local hobby store made WMDs available via plastic model building kits, I immediately transitioned from model cars to missile mania.

I proudly kept those models into my mid-teens. In fact I would take girlfriends to see them. That might be the reason they were one and done dates. In any event, the missiles reclined on my bookcase ready for action. It’s one of the reasons why, when I heard a speaker, Mr. Warhorse for our purposes, get increasingly excited about the paraphernalia of war, I related.

But the relating ended right there. Having been made to study war during the U.S. War in Vietnam, I well knew the destructive and human toll of WMDs and war. Agent orange was used on the Vietnamese countryside to the tune of 20,000,000 gallons. It poisoned the environment and people in an area the size of Massachusetts.

Napalm, produced by DuPont Company, was used to terrorize and kill Vietnamese. Consequences were wide and horrible. These biological and chemical weapons were the WMDs of the period.

As for Mr. Warhorse, the author of a book on World War I veterans, he never even bothered to address the cause of the war. In fact he described battle scenes with enormous casualties with nary a sigh of indignation at those who initiated and ingratiated themselves during this nightmare. That the powers that be were re-dividing the world’s colonies and their resources never pursed his lips. Such is the captive power of the military industrial complex. It goes unquestioned by all too many.

Barbara Kingsolver, in High Tide In Tucson, addressed this topic with another example I could relate to easily. She visited a Titan missile site in Arizona that was made into a museum in the 1990s. In their heyday, these intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) had atomic warheads. Once in motion they traveled 15,000 miles per hour to bring death and destruction anywhere in the world. They encircled Tucson from 1962 to 1984 and other towns in the USA. The nuclear freeze movement, along with other world developments, rendered these giant WMDs obsolete.
Instructive here is the description Kingsolver details of the museum docent explaining the prowess of these giant killing machines and the reaction of the visitors. She wrote,

For years I have wondered how anyone could willingly compete in a hundred-yard dash toward oblivion, and I believe I caught sight of an answer in the Titan museum – in faces that lit up when they discussed targets and suspension systems and megatons. I saw it in the eyes and minds so enraptured with technology that they saw before them an engineering spectacle, not a machine designed for the sole purpose of reducing civilization to rubble.

Back to Mr. Warhorse. The author spoke of WWI and German machine gun bullets so powerful that one could enter and exit three “enemy” soldiers, if properly lined up. People in the audience oohed and aahed. The fascination with the tools of war somehow gets separated from the reality, whether bullets or atomic bombs. Maybe if more people understood there were 6,000 Japanese school children in the direct vicinity of the Hiroshima blast who were vaporized, the oohs and aahs would be replaced by cries of horror and with chants of never again.

Who benefitted from the cold war hysteria concerning the Titan missiles? It was a group of generals e.g. General Motors and General Electric head the list. Others knew where their bread was buttered. Here’s a lesson from my past.

During the U.S. War in Vietnam, I petitioned for the end of the war at a mall in Trumbull Connecticut. Snared by a security guard, I was guided to the owner/manager’s office. As I sat there engaged in a trite discussion of property law, my eye caught part, and I emphasize part, of a large photographic mural.

This mural was so huge it took up an entire wall of the office and could not be gathered within one’s normal field of vision. What was I staring at? A Sikorsky helicopter came into focus. It was the same killing machine being used by the U.S. in Vietnam. They were being made right down the road from the consumer Mecca where I was doing peace work. Clearly the owner/manager of the mall knew where his bread was buttered.

I now live an hour or so, as the crow flies, from the Bath Iron Works. This is where the destroyers are made that carry cruise missiles. These are the same weapons of war that the Obama Administration, and its willing accomplices in the Military Industrial Complex, wants to send slamming into Syria and its people.

Now we are being told it is to send a message to Iran and other “bad actors” and would be “limited” to this with no boots on the ground. We were told similar arguments during the U.S. War in Vietnam. While sending that message, supposedly to the Soviet Union and China, 3 million people were killed in Indochina, the vast majority civilians, as the war spread to Cambodia and Laos. All this in a war that we were told by U.S. Administrations was a “limited” war.

Want proof? Here’s a statement by Clarke M. Clifford just before he became Secretary of Defense in 1968.

“The Vietnam War is a different kind of war and that is one reason why it is difficult, perhaps, for the American people to understand it. We are fighting a limited war. We are not fighting to destroy our enemy. We are fighting to persuade our enemy to withdraw from South Vietnam and to leave it alone. But as far as military victory is concerned, I believe in a great respect we have already attained a type of victory in South Vietnam.”

For those of you who like to check sources, this little gem can be found in Reader’s Digest, March 1968, Vol. 92, P. 55.

Messages out of Washington D.C. are bombarding our people with “limited” conflict arguments. All this while acts of war are being planned in an area where no clear battle lines exist. Such actions are surely to add to the mounting civilian casualties in Syria and beyond.

Join or initiate peace vigils where you live. Call the numbers below and demand no attack on Syria. Let’s wage peace.

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