Thursday, March 20, 2014

Harold Fleener - to die or not to die!

I recently ran into an old school friend while we were in a rehab hospital after knee replacement surgery. I’ll call him Harold Fleener.  Harold and I weren’t close in school but I have had many long conversations with him since we became reacquainted in the hospital.  I’ve kept in touch with him since and have gotten to know him.

Hal was a pretty good athlete – one of those guys who was strong and agile but not particularly gifted; he was pretty good at all sports but never excelled at any.  He played a lot of ball – baseball and basketball mostly and he got into distance running and bicycling. Everything for him had to be an all-out effort because of his limited talent. He learned that the one person who he always had a chance of beating was himself so he started to compete with his best personal performances in running and bicycling.  He worked out with weights and always tried to lift more than he did last time, he lifted more than he should be lifting.  He was about my size and had small bones.  He worked construction for a long time and always worked hard. As a result, Hal just wore out his body. 

He has had rotator cuff surgery on both shoulders and five knee surgeries including replacement of both knees. He is 85 years old and hates being old. His wife is 78.  Hal was blessed with exceptionally good health until about ten years ago.  He always took his health for granted and never spent much effort in thanking the person responsible. He had never taken a prescription pill except for pain resulting from one of his many surgeries. A few years back he discovered he had an atrial fibrillation and due to testing discovered that he had to have triple by-pass surgery. He is having trouble understanding this because he has always kept in good shape through exercise and a healthy diet.  Additionally, he has developed chronic dizziness that the best medicine in the world is unable to diagnose.  He constantly struggles to keep from falling when he is in a standing position.

Hal’s wife, we’ll call her Mary, has also taken some health hits – more than Hal actually.  She has had two strokes and thyroid cancer.  Fortunately, and with the help of God, she is recovering from all of them.  Mary was a beautiful woman when she was younger.  She is still a beauty but of course, time has taken a bit of the glow.  Hal complains to her that he married a beautiful 17year-old girl and wasn’t informed that she was going to turn out to be a 78 year-old woman. Mary is too kind to remind him that he has regressed too, and from a not so handsome start.

I have gotten to be very close to Hal and he confides in me.  AS I stated, we spend a lot of time together. Sometimes he grows very despondent although he and Mary are surrounded, albeit with great distance geographically, by family love and support.  They are LDS as I am so they are very confident of their long range future but Hal sometimes worries about the short term problems.  He combats this by always being able to joke about it. One of his favorite lines when some of his young friends get on his case is to get real close to them and tell them, “Look at me real close! Take a long long hard look! Right now, you young punks are feeling pretty good about life but someday you’re going to look just like me.”

Hal is in some serious pain.  He has arthritic pain in his shoulders from the surgery he had years earlier. He has developed a problem in his right replaced knee.  His lower bone has thinned and the metal knee above it protrudes  over the edge of the lower bone and his tissue hangs up on it.  He first discovered it while asleep.  He woke up screaming in pain and totally confused as to the cause. He had to work himself to the edge of the bed and slowly straighten his leg out.  He had several occasions when this happened, both awake and asleep and it frankly scared him. There isn’t much you can do about a knee replacement that has gone bad.  He has learned how to control it when awake by careful movement of his leg. Folks who don’t have  faith in God may not understand but Harold had a priesthood blessing by his son-in-law and the pain in his knee has been much less intense.  Another thing that bothers Hal is that he is no longer able to work out.  This has put a serious crimp in his life style. 

Because of the pain and his heart problem, he is taking around 30 pills a day.  He tells me he isn’t sure exactly sure how many he takes because he loses count,  or forgets what he is counting,  or Mary will interrupt him. I think he just really doesn’t want to know. He takes pain pills every four hour around the clock. He can’t sleep without ambien!  It’s not all bad, though,  he saves a lot on their entertainment expense.  They have four movies and they watch one a day.  By the time they get back to the first one, they have forgotten what it was about.  It does present a problem, however, when they can’t remember where they put the movies…or how to operate the thing they put the disks in to make the TV play them.

He and Mary are both stricken with hearing problems and conversation becomes a problem.  “What” is frequently answered by “huh,” or vice versa. Mary suggested that they tape a day’s activity and sell it to a TV show. It has to be more entertaining than most of the reality shows they watch.

Some days when we are speaking seriously, Hal tells me that he would like to die tomorrow and get it over with but the thing that worries him most is leaving Mary. He knows that their children love Mary too much to ever let her need anything but Hal feels that no one could love her like he does or take care of her as well as him. Hal and Mary, fortunately, are fairly well off with excellent health care coverage. They have no bills other than day to day living expenses.  Hal worries about how his death will hurt his children and their children and is saddened by knowing that he will not be around to see his grandchildren and great grandchildren develop and take their place in the world.

Hal tells me that it is hard for a younger person to understand what goes on in the mind of an 85 year old man with health problems that could end his life at any time. One of his biggest concerns is getting to the point that he can no longer drive. He has grown up being able to handle anything confronting him. What if this ends while he is still alive. He wonders, when he sees a loved one or a friend who he doesn’t see regularly, if it is the last time he will see them again. He wonders if he will ever meet the new additions  to his family.  He is saddened that the new great grandchildren will never know him (or their wonderful grandmother).  He is saddened to know that if he hasn’t had an impact on the world around him that he never will have. It is what makes an old man want to write about things around him or to plant a palm tree in the front yard. His daughter recently planted one for him and the tree reminds him of her. He is sure that the tree will also remind her if him. 

Hal may well live another ten years. Only God knows.  But Hal does know that he will be reunited with his mother and father and other loved ones and someday, all will be reunited.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Ode to Bernie Cinque - most valuable teacher!

The following essay was written by Shellie Bray, a granddaughter of two of my best school friends, Bill Bray and Anna Mae (Matie) Bray, nee Demmer. Shellie was a sophomre in high school when she wrote this essay about Bernie Cinque who was her teacher in the 5th grade. Bill, Bernie and I played basketball together for years.

Shellie Bray
Period 4
November 13, 1990
Mr. Cinque
"My definition of a good teacher includes: communication with the students, interesting activities, and some sense of humor.  Although I have had many teachers that have fullfilled these qualities, there is one which sticks out the most. He was one person who really inspired me.
Mr. Cinque was my fifth grade teacher at Oleander School. I have to say he was the best teacher I have had so far. The thing that makes me remember him is his sense of communication with his students. The first day I met him, I felt very comfortable with him. I like when I feel closeness with a teacher.  That quality makes it a lot easer to learn. But I do have to admit, if you got on his bad side you were one sorry person.
Another thing that made Mr. Cinque a good teacher was his interesting ideas.  The one thing I hate the most is a boring teacher.  Someone who will never try anything different. The same old routine day after day.  He was different. You never knew what to expect for that day.
The last thing I remember that I liked was his patience and understanding of "class clowns."  I don't like it when the teacher is strictly by the rules. That makes it boring for the students, so I automatically don't want to learn. I understand teachers can only put up with so much, then you have to put your doot down. But some have no sense of humor at all. They don't remember we're still kids. That's what I liked about im. He would joke back with me.
So, in my book, Mr. Cinque would get a 10+ for his teaching.  I not only got an education from him, but also morals about life. I feel he made a big difference in my education."
I am in a family of educators - teachers and administrators. I have a teaching credential and have done some part time instructing. I hesitate to use the word "teaching." To teach, you have to be a teacher. Bernie was a teacher. I view teachers as the most important people in our society.  Bernie was very intelligent and very talented. He would have been successful in any field he chose. He chose teaching because he wanted to make a difference. Shellie is evidence that he did. Three other of the Bray family were Bernie's students and they all laud him. I know other teachers in the Fontana area and they all feel the same way about him. I knew him personnally for a long time and feel a part of the Cinque family. Bernie's mother and father treated me like another son.

Another friend, I believe it was Bill Bray, told me that Bernie frequently sent home a special question that was totally unrelated to the subject being taught and often very esoteric. One such question was, "Who was the most valuable player on the Fontana Blue Jays?" The young student took it home and asked his father, again, I believe it was Bill Bray who also played on our team. Bill told him that, actually, he (meaning himself) really was but if he wanted to pass, he better say that it was Mr. Cinque. Fontana was a small town, for some, close knit. Our group was close knit and remained so for all our lives. Here is a picture of "The Fontana Blue Jays (at that time playing for Fontana Motors):
Kneeling, left to right: Bernie Cinque, Dick Klepper (manager of Fontana Motors), Frank Mosher (owner), Dino Papavero.

Standing left to right, Myron Cinque, Jake Mayab, Brooks Wilson, Roger Williamson, Bill Bray (Shellies, grandfather, Sonny Cinque, John Papavero.

Fontana Blue Jays in action:

Bernie Cinque, going up for rebound, Bill Bray left of Bernie and Brooks Wilson, right of Bernie. Other Blue Jays, Sonny Cinque, extreme left and Marvin Rucker, extreme right. Number 11 for the opponents is LaMar Healy. 

We once voted for the most valuable player and we had six players each with one vote. The most valuable teacher is uncontested.
Bernie Cinque

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Twilight of Our Society?

A new study sponsored by Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilisation could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.

Noting that warnings of 'collapse' are often seen to be fringe or controversial, the study attempts to make sense of compelling historical data showing that "the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history." Cases of severe civilisational disruption due to "precipitous collapse - often lasting centuries - have been quite common."

The research project is based on a new cross-disciplinary 'Human And Nature DYnamical' (HANDY) model, led by applied mathematician Safa Motesharrei of the US National Science Foundation-supported National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, in association with a team of natural and social scientists. The study based on the HANDY model has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed Elsevier journal, Ecological Economics.

It finds that according to the historical record even advanced, complex civilisations are susceptible to collapse, raising questions about the sustainability of modern civilisation:

"The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent."

By investigating the human-nature dynamics of these past cases of collapse, the project identifies the most salient interrelated factors which explain civilisational decline, and which may help determine the risk of collapse today: namely, Population, Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Energy.

These factors can lead to collapse when they converge to generate two crucial social features: "the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity"; and "the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or "Commoners") [poor]" These social phenomena have played "a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse," in all such cases over "the last five thousand years."

Currently, high levels of economic stratification are linked directly to overconsumption of resources, with "Elites" based largely in industrialised countries responsible for both:

"... accumulated surplus is not evenly distributed throughout society, but rather has been controlled by an elite. The mass of the population, while producing the wealth, is only allocated a small portion of it by elites, usually at or just above subsistence levels."

The study challenges those who argue that technology will resolve these challenges by increasing efficiency:

"Technological change can raise the efficiency of resource use, but it also tends to raise both per capita resource consumption and the scale of resource extraction, so that, absent policy effects, the increases in consumption often compensate for the increased efficiency of resource use."

Productivity increases in agriculture and industry over the last two centuries has come from "increased (rather than decreased) resource throughput," despite dramatic efficiency gains over the same period.

Modelling a range of different scenarios, Motesharri and his colleagues conclude that under conditions "closely reflecting the reality of the world today... we find that collapse is difficult to avoid." In the first of these scenarios, civilisation:

".... appears to be on a sustainable path for quite a long time, but even using an optimal depletion rate and starting with a very small number of Elites, the Elites eventually consume too much, resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society. It is important to note that this Type-L collapse is due to an inequality-induced famine that causes a loss of workers, rather than a collapse of Nature."

Another scenario focuses on the role of continued resource exploitation, finding that "with a larger depletion rate, the decline of the Commoners occurs faster, while the Elites are still thriving, but eventually the Commoners collapse completely, followed by the Elites."

In both scenarios, Elite wealth monopolies mean that they are buffered from the most "detrimental effects of the environmental collapse until much later than the Commoners", allowing them to "continue 'business as usual' despite the impending catastrophe." The same mechanism, they argue, could explain how "historical collapses were allowed to occur by elites who appear to be oblivious to the catastrophic trajectory (most clearly apparent in the Roman and Mayan cases)."

Applying this lesson to our contemporary predicament, the study warns that:

"While some members of society might raise the alarm that the system is moving towards an impending collapse and therefore advocate structural changes to society in order to avoid it, Elites and their supporters, who opposed making these changes, could point to the long sustainable trajectory 'so far' in support of doing nothing."

However, the scientists point out that the worst-case scenarios are by no means inevitable, and suggest that appropriate policy and structural changes could avoid collapse, if not pave the way toward a more stable civilisation.

The two key solutions are to reduce economic inequality so as to ensure fairer distribution of resources, and to dramatically reduce resource consumption by relying on less intensive renewable resources and reducing population growth:

"Collapse can be avoided and population can reach equilibrium if the per capita rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion."

Compare this with the prediction of by book, "The Rise and Fall of the American Middle Class," pages 343-347:

"What we are seeing today, with this economic crisis is the fruit of the 30 years of Reagan’s supply side or trickle-down economics. Until, and unless, we reverse it and return the jobs back home through the Alexander Hamilton-like protectionist trade policies, most of us will be standing at the door of the elevator waiting for the driver to return and take us back up to an upper floor with 10% unemployment being the norm.
 “President Grover Cleveland in the 1888 State of the Union address had this to say:
“The gulf between employers and the employed is constantly widening, and classes are rapidly forming, one comprising the very rich and powerful, while in another are found the toiling poor. As we view the achievements of aggregated capital, we discover the existence of trusts, combinations, and monopolies, while the citizen is struggling far in the rear or is trampled to death beneath an iron heel. Corporations, which should be the carefully restrained creatures of the law and the servants of the people, are fast becoming the people’s masters.” 
 This unsustainable condition continued to retrogress until it reached a point in 1929 where the system collapsed from lack of consumers who could afford to buy the products they were making. In 1928, one year before the global economic collapse, the wealthiest .001% of the U.S. population owned 892 times more than 90% of the nation’s citizens. There are many micro theories for the collapse of the economy then but the lack of consumers permeates all of them. As bad as it was then, it’s worse now! Today, the top .001% of the U.S. population owns 976 times more than the entire bottom 90%. This again is not sustainable, and makes for a very volatile economy.
 The recent financial crash was a result of too much money in the hands of too few people who had nothing to spend it on. Their larder was full! Had it not been for help from the government, we well may have had a collapse worse than in 1929. Bailing the banks out, however, did nothing for the average American who was thrown out of work by the collapse of the building industry and the collateral reduction in business activity. The obvious reaction would be a healthy application of Keynesian Economics. Ironically it was resisted by the very ones who survived only because of it; financial aid from government. The decision by the Supreme Court giving corporations all the privileges of being deemed a “person” without any of the responsibilities enabled them to funnel money into the electoral process and determine the outcome of elections.
 We literally, now  have a government at the federal level that is de facto owned by international corporations. With the weakening of our government as a protective entity, we are in real danger of becoming what Marc Bloch describes as a “feudal society” in his book by that name, with government by, for and of the rich. It’s a cold hard fact that there is no such thing as laissez faire. It can’t exist for long. Either you have a government that controls business or business that controls government. A healthy stable economy requires a balance – as we had from the end of WWII until the slow dismantling of New Deal legislation and the rebirth of supply side economics. Capitalism is a harsh appeal to selfishness and unchristian darwinistic survival of the fittest. Its sole redeeming quality is that it has been very effective at producing goods and it will only continue to do this as long as good government prevents it from emasculating itself.
 I won’t be here but our progeny will. We have four children, all adults now, of course, 14 grandchildren and 5 great grandchildren. In addition, our brothers and sisters all have children and grandchildren.  I can’t count the cousins. I am not able to wash my hands of the whole mess that greed and selfishness has made of my country because my genes will still be around…until the end. Every living organism has a life cycle; birth, growth, maturity, degeneration, atrophy and death. The same is true of states/empires. All have fallen and all will. I believe the end of the United States as a great dominating empire is about here. I think my generation’s life cycle runs parallel to the blossoming and impending fall of our nation as an exceptional society.
 There are multiple reasons given by historians for the fall of the Roman Empire: Here are a few that are most applicable to the USA, the most dominant empire since Rome:
  1. Antagonism between the Senate and the Emperor (Legislative, Executive and Judicial)
  1. Decline in Morals
  1. Political Corruption
  1. Fast expansion of the Empire
  1. Constant Wars and Heavy Military Spending
  1. Failing Economy
  1. Unemployment of the Working Classes
  1. Decline in Ethics and Values
 While all of these problems exist in the United States,  the most dangerous ones are the wars and the economy. The other six exacerbate the two primary problems.
 The American people, it seems, are bored with war. Like a reality show that's gone on too long, it ceases to shock, shame or even interest. Recently, when pollsters asked what the most important problems facing the country are, just 3 percent mentioned Afghanistan, the war of choice at that time. Even when combined with Iraq it had not reached double digits for several months. In a CBS poll it did not register at all. A Pew poll the same month found that just 23 percent said they were following the situation closely. And they do not like what they see. Polls show that 60 percent of Americans believed Afghanistan is a lost cause, and roughly half compared it to Vietnam and favored a timetable for withdrawal.
 The war profiteers have done it. With the help of two administrations, including Obama’s, they have converted an act of mass murder into an endless war attracting very little public concern.  The rich folks' kids are not involved, there is no draft, the voters were distracted with an extension of a deficit bulging tax cuts and we are borrowing from a communist nation to pay for it. What's not to like, at least until some future group of voters are forced to pay for it....somehow. And the profits just keep rolling in.
  As Milo Minderbinder, the war profiteer extraordinaire of Heller's Catch 22, said, "In a democracy, the government is the people, Milo explained. "We're the people, aren't we? So we might as well keep the money and eliminate the middleman. Frankly, I'd like to see the government get out of war altogether and leave the whole field to private industry."
 Halliburton Chevron, ExxonMobil, Blackwater and many others, with the swinging door between the Bush White House and the corporate world, has made this a fait accompli! America has become, or maybe I should say has been for some time, the most war-like country in history, only now the corporations are in charge. How has this happened?
 Personally, after serving reluctantly during the Korean War, I was through with war, or hoped and thought I was. I believe most Americans felt the same way. Then along came Viet Nam, a totally political and needless war. I think that, for the most part, our government was honorable in its first. It became more and more political, more and more deadly and more and more needless. It ended tragically and we lost. We were no longer undefeated.
 Again, many of us were through with war and hoped that the USA was too. Wrong again. There are just too many people of power who benefit or think they would benefit by war. I won't go into those people and their reason now but they learned a lot from Viet Nam; to the extent possible, isolate the public from the war. The Neocons made sure the military was all volunteer...avoid the war awareness that democratic participation produces! Avoid public awareness of the true cost in human life and fiscal cost by privatization. Who cares that a private contractor, a mercenary, is killed? Avoid contemporary awareness of the fiscal cost by borrowing. Who cares about the war if we are not taxed and are not required to make ANY sacrifice?
 9/11 provided a fortuitous opportunity for making war. Of course, we made war with the wrong country and with tragic consequences but a profitable war all the same; and that's the important thing to Milo Minderbinder and the Dick Cheneys of the world.
 Now, in addition to fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan, we've become embroiled in still another never ending war; this, while we are occupying South Korea, Iraq, and in a sense, Germany and Japan. We will stay in these countries indefinitely relieving their governments of the expense of a military, and who knows how long we will stay in a shooting war in Afghanistan or how involved we will subsequently be in Libya, particularly now that nobody really cares and of which fewer and fewer will be aware. Make no mistake about it, pulling our troops out of these countries doesn't end our involvement or expense.  They are replaced by private contractors or American trained and financed locals - whose loyalty is questionable.
 The attack on the middle class is more insidious than the attack on the Twin Towers. The plight of the Libyans is truly sad. The plight of 15 million out-of-work Americans and their families is sadder and it is at home, where our military should be.
 What does this portend for our national well-being? Wealth is usually needed to underpin military power, and military power is usually needed to acquire and protect wealth. While worrying about their foes, states playing in the world arena must constantly maintain a delicate internal equilibrium. Armies are required for security, but they cost money. Military superiority by itself is often deceiving, since it may be weakening a state's ability to compete economically and fund future conflicts.
 The combination of the U.S.'s declining rate of industrial growth and its extensive military commitments spells trouble: "Decision-makers in Washington must face the awkward and enduring fact that the sum total of the United States' global interests and obligations is nowadays far larger than the country's power to defend them all simultaneously." Even aside from this dilemma, American dominance is on the wane, not because the nation is growing poorer or weaker but because others are becoming richer and stronger. We can expect both China and Japan to improve their shares of world power; if the European Community can submerge national disputes and agree on common goals, then it too will find its wealth and influence increasing. The Soviet Union possesses a vast military machine and a stagnant economy; uh-oh for the U.S.S.R. India could be an awakening giant.
 It simply has not been given to any one society to remain permanently ahead of all the others.  The threat to the interests of the United States can come from a failure to adjust sensibly to the newer world order.  I see no American  leaders or movements on the horizon that will recognize the fact that a healthy survival depends on our accepting a diminishing status gracefully. But until it is convincingly refuted by other theorists or the years ahead, The rise and fall of the great powers stands as a fascinating response to ancient questions about the life-span of nations.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Dinner at McDonalds

Saturday, Harold Fleener and his wife decided to have brunch out. Their first selection was Denny's. The price is low and mediocracy was guaranteed. Mostly they just wanted a quick meal. They pullled into the parking lot and immediately left. The parking lot was jammed and  the waiting area was jammed. They then decided on Mimi's. The food is a tad better, the ambience was much better but the price is double. They didn't really care; they just wanted a quick meal. They drove about four meals pulled into a parking lot but there were customers backed up into outside seating.

They looked at each other, considered the alternatives; fixing their own breakfast, a frozen dinner or McDonalds - which was in the same complex as Mimi's. They decided to pick something up and take it home. Mostly they just wanted a quick meal. Quality and price takes a pretty good drop from Denny's. Mac was crowded but not too bad. They decided just to eat there rather than letting the food get cold on the way home. Mostly they just wanted to provide something for their digestive mechanism to work on and enough calories to get them through a tough day of watching reruns of Law And Order.

They were greeted by Charlie Quan, the manager, who held the door open for them. Charlie has a MBA from ITT Tech and worked in quality control in a local manufacturing firm in San Bernardino. He made $20 an hour. His company moved their operation to Mexico. Charlie now earns $12 an hour at Mac's. He is 36 years old and is married with two children. His wife is a waitress at a local Mexican food restaurant. She makes $7.50 an hour plus tips. Together they make $36,600 a year, about $8,000 a year below the poverty level. Their car is parked in the employee area. It is a 2005 Toyota with a bumper sticker that reads, "America, love it or leave it."

Michelle Hernandez took their order. Michelle is 22 years old and is attending Cal State San Bernardino. She is a junior and has already accrued $25,000 in student loans. She is majoring in Social Studies and is the unwed mother of a two year old son. She earns $7.50 an hour and works 32 hours a week. She supplements her income by working fill in at a local Starbucks. Fleener tried to put a tip on the bill but Michelle told him he couldn't do it. Charlie told Fleener on the way out that management didn't want the customers to think that their employees were underpaid.

The cook was Ardis Washington. Ardis is married with two toddlers. He earns $8.00 an hour. His wife Jolene works at Pineras and earns  $8.00 an hour. Together, they earn $26,000 a year. Their income is supplemented by food stamps.

Harold and Maude managed to choke the food down. The meal cost $14. We'll have to do this more often Maude says, "The food wasn't bad and mostly we just wanted a quick meal." They drove home in their 2013 Lexus and spent the rest of the day reading books by their favorite muckraker. They didn't spend a lot of time thinking about the folks at McDonalds.

Saturday, February 22, 2014


I just watched the movie, "Sounder," with Cicely Tyson and Paul Winfield made in 1972. The movie was an academy award contender. The setting was somewhere in the South in the 1930's. It was about racism and mistreatment of blacks. In the 30's this was not limited to the south but certainly worse there. The movie is about the hardship of one black family. Hardship was not limited to black people but racism exacerbated the impact on them. The father of the famiily was forced to steal some food to feed his family and was imprisoned. Authorities refused to tell the family anything about the trial or where he was imprisoned. The meat of the story was the futile attempt of the oldest son, in pre or early teens, to locate the father. Of course the brutality of the white society was the highlight and the purpose of the movie. In 1972, the audience was ripe for the theme. 

The story had a happy ending - as happy as possible for this family in those times. The father became useless to authorities when he was crippled in a demolition accident and was released. The story ended when the son, David Lee Morgan marched away to go to school. 

It was an excellent movie. It piqued my memory of those times and my experience in awakening to my own racism when I was a young man. My experience while stationed in the South in 1950-1953, gave me a close up view of the horrible treatment of African Americans - called colored in those days - by otherwise good people. I never felt any guilt because I never took part in it but I should feel guilty because I stood by and watched without acknowledging that it was bad. David Lee Morgan, in real life, could well have beena young man who actually became my friend when I was in the army in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. 

From Pages 161 through 164 of my book, "The Rise and Fall of the American Middle Class:" 

David A Dansby.  Dansby was a young man who was transferred into AT&M from  another regiment of the 82nd. That’s a common situation. What was different about this was, Dansby was a black (colored in those days) soldier. He was the first black member of the 82nd to serve in a theretofore all white unit. On July 26, 1948, President Truman signed Executive Order 9918 which read in part:

“It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin. This policy shall be put into effect as rapidly as possible, having due regard to the time required to effectuate any necessary changes without impairing efficiency or morale.”

It apparently took four years for the 82nd to implement the order. It didn’t seem odd to me because my basic training unit at Fort Ord was integrated. But it was an unpleasant shock to most.  AT&M Platoon was among them. Dansby was quiet, friendly, intelligent and NON-CONFRONTATIONAL. I couldn’t believe how he was treated by my friends, particularly those from the South. Far from giving him some emotional room, the “nigger” jokes ran amok.  Dansby was obviously irritated and hurt but he kept his mouth shut.  I didn’t participate but neither did I do anything to stop it. I could have. I wasn’t afraid of anybody in my platoon but didn’t feel the need to get into fights over Dansby. He was not very big or physically imposing – probably about 5-10 and 170 pounds.

Like Bernard Turner, my black friend in basic, he was funny and personable. Gradually the guys grew to like him and the bad taste jokes pretty much stopped. We grew to respect his feelings. I was probably more his friend than anyone else.  I had a car. I was driving to Fayetteville one day and I saw him waiting for the bus. I stopped and offered him a ride but he politely declined. I coaxed him but to no avail. I guess I knew but insisted on an answer as to why. He feared being seen in Fayetteville getting out of a car driven by a white man. I’m not making this up. In my best bravado, I told him that I wasn’t afraid of those locals. His reply was, “I am.” He took the bus. It piqued my interest and may have been a key to my developing political views. The fundamental and critical fact that became clear to me as I trained, ate, slept, discoursed and joked with Dansby was there was only one thing that was different about him and that was his African features.

My exposure to the  agitation and discomfort caused by Dansby’s assignment to our platoon piqued my interest in how blacks were being treated in the South. The theater in Fayetteville had a balcony and all the coloreds had to sit in the balcony. If the balcony was full and other seats were empty, they remained empty. The manager would rather lose the revenue than permit coloreds to sit with whites. Colored people were not permitted to eat with whites in restaurants and most of the up scale restaurants didn’t serve coloreds at all. There were always two drinking fountains, one for whites and one for coloreds. The white one was always well maintained and the other one always had green water stain and other grime on it.

Colored bus riders had to ride on the  back of the bus. Earlier, before I knew of the law, I got on a bus in Fayetteville. I always sat in back on the bus or streetcar so I routinely went there. The bus driver told me I would have to come up front.  I politely declined, still not aware of what was going on. Then he got a little hostile and told me he wasn’t moving until I came up front. I started to catch on but I was young and wasn’t going to be intimidated. I called back and said, “OK with me, you’re the one on a schedule, not me.” There was a black lady sitting near me and she told me that she was on a schedule and please do what the driver says. So I did. It was kind of fun to me but in retrospect, it wasn’t fun at all.

Dansby was followed by other black soldiers. The next one was a young kid name Lipscomb. Lipscomb was an athlete. He was the 1952 version of a wide receiver. He showed me some of his clippings from high school. Thanks to Dansby he had it easy. He was the youngest one in our platoon and treated pretty well. I believe we ended up with a total of 6 blacks in our company and were finally accepted. The grunts weren’t the problem.

I was reading the bulletin board in front of the Orderly Room for assignments and Sgt. Odum was beside me. Two black troopers walked by on their way to chow.  Sgt. Odum stared at them as they approached and passed by. Then he turned to be, shook his head sadly and said, “If I had ten years more or ten years less, I’d get out of this army today.”  He felt that something he cherished, the 82nd Airborne,  pride and joy of the United States Army, America’s acclaimed Guard of honor, had been fatally weakened by having black soldiers stand in their ranks. Odum was a good man, a hero of WWII,  someone who I looked up to.  I wondered what was going to happen to America when all these soldiers went home.

In May, 1951, Sgt. Cornelius H. Charlton's unit pushed northwards with the Eighth Army. On June 2, near the village of Chipo-ri northeast of Seoul, his platoon encountered heavy resistance while attempting to take Hill 543. Taking command after his platoon leader was wounded, Charlton regrouped his men and led an assault against the hill. Wounded by a grenade, he refused medical attention and continued to lead the charge. He single-handedly attacked and disabled the last remaining enemy gun emplacement, suffering another grenade wound in the process. Sergeant Charlton, a black soldier from New York City,  succumbed to his wounds that day, dying at the age of 21. For his actions during the battle, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

On Christmas night, 1951, Harry T. Moore and his wife were fatally injured at home by a bomb that went off beneath their house. It was the Moores' twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Moore died on the way to the hospital in Sanford, Florida. His wife died from her injuries nine days later.

Moore has been called the first martyr in the Civil Rights Movement. He was the first NAACP official murdered in the civil rights struggle. The murders caused a national and international outcry, with protests registered at the United Nations against violence in the South. The NAACP held a huge rally in New York, where the renowned poet Langston Hughes read a poem written in memory of Moore.

Although the state called in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to help the investigation, it was unable to bring any indictments against the suspects.

There were eleven other bombings against black families in Florida the year that Moore was killed. The risk to activists and any blacks in the South was high and continued to be so. According to a later report from the NAACP's Southern Regional Council in Atlanta, the homes of forty black Southern families were bombed during 1951 and 1952. Some, like Harry Moore, were activists whose work exposed them to danger, but most were either people who had refused to bow to racist convention, or were simply "innocent bystanders, unsuspecting victims of random white terrorism." For example, bombing was prevalent in Birmingham, Alabama in the 1950s, used by independent KKK groups to intimidate middle-class blacks moving into new neighborhoods.

Friday, February 21, 2014

My best friend, Jerry Attrix - whining in the face of death

An up-close and personal view of life’s struggle

I am worried about an old friend. I hear from mutual friends that he is despondent due to aging and health problems. We went to school together and used to play ball together. His name is Gerald Attrix. Everyone calls him Jerry. I went to see him last night and we went to dinner at Applebee’s, his favorite restaurant. I’m not sure of despondency but he was not his usual ebullient self. After dinner and some small talk about the good old days, I asked him what was up. We have always been honest with each other.

He looked at me without speaking for a few seconds, took a sip of his coke, looked down and then straight at me. I could tell that Jerry was going to level with me.

I am having a tough time. It’s the first time in my life that I haven’t been sure that I could handle it. This is what  he told me.

Jerry has a beautiful wife. They have been married for 60 years. They have four grown children, sixteen grandchildren and six great grandchildren. Jerry and Maureen love them all and are loved in return.

Jerry was born during the depression and grew up poor. He managed to get an education and was successful in his professional life. He and Maureen are comfortable financially.

Jerry was very small in his early youth but grew after high school to nearly six feet tall and in his prime weighed about 170 pounds. It is fortunate that he was healthy because he never saw a doctor until he had to have a physical to go to scout camp when he was about 14. Jerry was one of these guys who was agile with good hand eye coordination but was slow and small. He was good at all sports and things that required physical agility and strength. When he was in the army he tested in the top five percent of inductees during the Korean War.  He was good at all sports but excelled in none. If you picked up a group of young men at random – like being drafted into the military, he would be among the best at any sport; football, baseball or basketball. If you picked a group of guys specifically to play any of those sports, he would struggle. He would be marginal. This was a source of disappointment to him but he dealt with it by focusing on basketball and baseball and with maximum effort. He considered himself a good athlete and was considered by most of his peers as a fairly good athlete. Along with other things in his life, he was good enough to instill confidence in his ability to take care of his space. He was forced often to do so. 

He played competitive basketball until he hurt his knee at age 38. Being unable to any longer compete in basketball and baseball (actually fast-pitch softball), he turned to long distance running and bicycle riding for competition. This kept him happy for the next 35 years or so while he kept busy building houses. Other than several knee and shoulder surgeries, he was in excellent health and never had to take a prescription pill except for pain after a surgery. When he was 69 years old he had to have knee replacement surgery. That ended his long distant running and bicycling. He replaced that with weight training and treadmill. He missed the competition but he adapted to his aging. He adapted well. He took what God gave him and he was still totally independent. If something went wrong, he fixed it.

Sometime around 2005, he started getting health hits – one at a time. The first real problem was dizziness. Doctors could not diagnose it and it intensified year by year. He was diagnosed with an atrial fibrillation while being tested for minor foot surgery. For the first time in his life, he had to take prescription medicine on a regular basis. He didn’t like this but he dealt with it. It all went downhill from there. Testing for his heart discovered he had three blocked arteries and he had to have by-pass surgery. Bit by bit, he had to increase his intake of medicine. Finally, he had to have knee replacement surgery of his right knee.  He never fully recovered from it. He has constant pain in his right knee and in his shoulders (rotator cuff surgery).

During the years of going downhill physically, he compensated by activity in the LDS Church. Now, that is severely curtailed by the dizziness, knee problem and constant medical appointments for him and his wife.  His wife Maureen had a stroke during minor brain surgery and another one last year.  She is still recovering from these.

Jerry grew up in a tough town in a tough time and always had to take care of himself. He took great pride in being able to do so. He is no longer able to do it. He has to pay for repairs around the house that he used to do himself or, in some cases, ask help from his neighbors. Fortunately, he has members of his Church and neighbors to help him and Maureen out. He understands that this is all probably normal aging but he is now having more of a problem dealing with it. One of his problems is that it was thrust on him so suddenly and totally.

He and his wife, it seems, takes turns caring for the other one. Fortunately, one has always been up when the other was down.

The bottom line that I got from talking with Jerry is that He is uncertain of the near future or what he wants. Neither he nor his wife can expect to be around a lot longer. On the one hand, the thought of losing his wife depresses him. On the other hand, the thought of abandoning Maureen disturbs him even more. He (and Maureen) is consoled by the fact that there will be a happy ending and that mortal life is but a blink of an eye in eternity. They were sealed in the Temple for eternity and expect to be together after a probable short interlude which will be softened by the love of their family.

Meanwhile, Jerry, being a tough dude, continues to whine in the face of death. Could anyone do more?

Oh yeah, Jerry leaves behind for his posterity three books that are destined for immortality after his death. Books he wrote under the preposterous pseudonym of Brooks W. Wilson.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Korea, the first bad war or the last good war of the 20th century?

The Korean War – the forgotten war.

I haven't forgotten it! Have you? This is how I remember it 64 years later as the anniversary of it's beginning nears. It is not a documentary. It is my impressions as I experienced the war at the time and reflected on it later in my life. Part of this account is based on my memory and part is research I conducted for a book. My memory was stimulated somewhat by reading The Coldest Winter, by David  Halberstam. I recommend it for anyone interested in that brutal and futile war.

I was 16 years old when WWII ended on August 15, 1945.  Like all Americans, I was glad it was over but like a lot of kids my age I had wanted to get involved.  I had wanted to fight for my country, to be, perhaps, a hero.  Just five years later when I was 21, I got a second chance when the North Koreans stormed across the 38th parallel into South Korea on June 25, 1950. The problem was, by this time I didn’t want to get involved.

To some historians, the Korean War was a turning point in our wars. In the context of history, it was to me, another war we could have avoided. I say this having been involved in it and having studied it later. It’s true that after the shooting started, given the conventional wisdom of 1950, our options were limited.

Backdrop for the war
The settlements between the allies at the end of WWII had left a divided Korea.  How this came about would be, and has been, the subject of books – some of which were little more than political propaganda. China had been involved in a civil war transcending the world war and the Communists had swept the nationalists off the Chinese mainland onto the island of Formosa. Korea was divided at the 38th parallel into two countries, North Korea and South Korea. North Korea had a communist government under the control of Russia. South Korea was occupied by the United States who set up what was little more than a puppet government with a capitalist economic system and democratic political system. 

North Korea, officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – DPRK - had a Russian equipped and trained army. The United States was there to defend South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea – ROK.  Although the South Koreans had an army, it was ineffective and the war was destined to become a war between North Korea and the United States. After the North Korean army was defeated and China intervened, it became a war between the US and China.

When the big war ended, the pressure was intense on Truman to cut the size of defense spending but he needed no pressure. He wanted to decrease it. Without citing numbers, the military budget was slashed significantly. Our army, by 1950, was reduced to poorly trained garrison soldiers with a few career officers and NCOs who stayed on after the end of the war. General McArthur was in charge of all forces in the Far East Command. That included Japan and Korea. He took the better officers with him to Japan and never trusted any assignments that came from Washington.

The invasion
On June 25, the trouble that most of us weren’t aware of erupted when the North Koreans crossed the 38th Parallel into S. Korea.  The invasion started  in the early morning hours on the Onjin Peninsula. The North Koreans started shelling Kaesong and the South Korean army panicked and fled south. By 9:30 AM, Kaesung was in North Korean hands. Several US military advisers were taken captive. The South Korean army collapsed at Cholwon and the North Korean tanks raced toward Seoul.

This was totally unexpected but it shouldn’t have been – an early intelligence failure. Kim II Sung was a puppet dictator who had been trained in Russia. He was 100% Korean and his ambition was to rule a united Korean state. Sung had grown up in Korea under a brutal Japanese dictatorship. As a young boy he had fought with the Communist Chinese against Japan in Manchuria. Since the end of the war, the US had befriended Japan so he saw the United States occupation of the southern half of “his” country as just an extension of the Japanese occupation. Although our occupation wasn’t brutal, it was without respect or understanding of their culture. Many South Koreans didn’t like us much more than the North Koreans did and the last thing they wanted to be was like us, which is what we had in mind for them. Add to that, the US opposition to Communist China and support of Chiang, and you have the recipe for war.

Sung did not have a lot of respect for China, certainly not hostility but no real respect. He didn’t need China’s permission to invade. He did need Russia’s, which was not readily forthcoming. All their military equipment was Russian. Finally, intelligence picked up on the fact that Americans were ripe for picking and Russia approved but stayed out of it. China approved too. They were bitter because of the assistance we gave to Chiang and our failure to accept them as a nation. They also saw the threat of a US controlled country sharing a border as very dangerous. Sung was sure of a quick victory and told China they wouldn’t need anything from them.

It turned out that Sung was right. The American army was understaffed, ill-trained, ill-equipped and logistically unprepared. The terrain wasn’t amenable to artillery and the only mortars they had were the small ones, 60 mm, with less range and explosive power than the larger 80 mm, developed at the end of WWII.
The North Koreans had a lot of tanks and without artillery the Americans were helpless against them. NK had new powerful Russian tanks and our small 2.36” rocket launchers were useless against the new tanks, just bouncing off. The US had larger, 3.5” ones, but none in Korea. When I was in basic training in December 1950 through April, 1951, we received the larger ones, rocket launchers and mortars, and learned how to use them. They weren’t available in Korea until the newly trained troops arrived in the early spring and brought better weapons with them.

The NK army advance was virtually unabated until the American army was pushed into a much smaller perimeter at Pusan in the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula. They held there but the fighting was brutal and American losses were unsustainable.

Back in the Unites States
As soon as the conflict began, Truman acted.  He committed US troops in behalf of the United Nations and belatedly obtained their approval. He began mobilization. He called up the active reserves, mostly for training purposes, and activated the draft.

We were getting a lot of news from Korea, all bad. I wasn’t happy about it but, like the rest of America, agonized over it about ten minutes after putting the paper down. Not so for the thousands of reservists who had resumed their civilian lives and were called back to duty after being out just a few years. I did start thinking about it, however, when I got a notice to report for a physical toward the end of the summer. I always hated the word “draft dodger” when someone was called that during the “war.” I mean I hated draft dodgers especially when I felt discriminated against because I was too young to serve, but this was different; it was a police action not a war and I didn’t understand it.

I received my “Greetings from the President of the United States” and was ordered to report for a physical sometime around August.  I wasn’t inducted into the army until December 13, 1950. I can’t speak for all the other young men who were called up but I had moved on with my life since the war ended five years earlier. This was a strange war – never officially called a war but a police action - and I never fully understood it until studying it years later.

On Wednesday, December 13, 1950, I reported to a vacant Mode O Day warehouse in downtown Los Angeles to be officially inducted into the United States Army. It was an emotional day.  I don’t remember exactly what I was thinking. I know for sure that I was unwilling. I was just three years from the poverty I had known growing up and for the first time in my life I had more money in my pocket than most of my friends. I didn’t have a special girlfriend but I had one that I hoped would become special. I wasn’t sure about the war. What was it all about? During the “real” war, guys were treated special when they marched off. When I left, nobody even knew outside my family. I was a democrat but hardly political. I managed to graduate from high school without learning anything except how to read, write and do my sums.

I don’t remember much about the day except there were a lot of draftees, of all shapes, sizes and colors and a few army guys who acted like they didn’t like us. They called us a lot of names, nasty names, and I was convinced they meant it. I had a little problem dealing with it. I know it is all part of the training process but to this day, I don’t see the need for it. After a soldier is trained and assigned to a regular unit, they don’t do it anymore. It had no positive effect on my learning to be a soldier. There were a lot of newspaper people there interviewing recruits and taking pictures. We were told that we were the first group of draftees after the N Korean invasion or the largest or some sort of hallmark element. I was underwhelmed.

We were loaded on a train with a berth; my first time on a train. I haven’t liked trains since. It was an overnight trip from Los Angles to Fort Ord near Monterey, California. When we left the train, we were herded into a formation and marched onto the military base. We were greeted with the Fort Ord band almost like we were special. That didn’t last long. The band marched off and we were again greeted by a bunch of army people who swore at us and acted like they didn’t like us. In a few days they started molding us into soldiers.

Introduction to war
During the 4th week of basic training, our company was assembled in bleachers overlooking an “impact area” about the size of two football fields. A soldier fired into the area with a .45 automatic, then one with a .45 hand held machine gun (called a grease gun), then the carbine, the M1, BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle), light and heavy .30 machine guns, rocket launcher and mortars. Then we heard the flutter of the 105 howitzers overhead and watched them explode in the impact area and finally, the big guns, the 155 howitzers. I was mesmerized and I expect I was typical. Finally, for about five minutes, every weapon the army had at its disposal was fired simultaneously into that small area! It was beyond awesome and fearsome! No living creature could have survived. There, for the first time, I saw up close and personal the brutality of war.  Strangely enough, I didn’t project myself onto that impact area; after all, these were our weapons. Instead I envisioned being on the other end of the assault and killing those in the area. And I still didn’t know what the war was about and why I would want to kill some 21 year old Korean.

I was non-political before I was in the army. I was more likely to get into a shouting argument over who was the best running back in the country than who the president should be. I didn’t fight in the war but that wasn’t my decision and most of the young men who I trained with in basic training did fight in it and more than a few were killed. There is a great deal of literature arguing, with facts and logic, that with some better decisions after the end of WWII, the Korean War may not have even happened.  It’s apparent, at least to me, that nothing is different in the world because it was fought.

While the young men like me were waiting for induction and being trained, the final outcome of the Korean War was being decided. The American troops retrenched at Pusan. The defensive area was smaller and they had gotten some crack replacements from the States and Hawaii. On September 7, after an all-out assault by NK to breach his lines, General Walker, the commander of the Korean forces, on September 7th said “We are not going any further.” His confidence waned two day later when McArthur pulled the 5th Marines, arguably the best fighting men Walker had, out for the Inchon invasion. But they did hold.

The Inchon invasion
On September 15, McArthur landed 70,000 troops, mostly Marines in the harbor of Inchon. Nearly 320 warships including 4 aircraft carriers were involved. It was a spectacular success and turned the war around at that point. There had been a lot of advice against it; saying it was too risky, bad tides, too easily defensed, etc. McArthur would hear no criticism. He claimed that because it was so risky it would totally surprise the N Koreans. As a matter of fact it was a surprise and was not well defended. But it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Chinese intelligence warned NK that it was going to happen and they ignored them.  Sung had no respect for the Chinese. After the landing, McArthur got rid of all those who spoke of the hazards and turned north toward what he believed would be even greater success but ended up, instead, a stinging costly defeat.

The Chinese enter the war
On November 25, 1950, two days after Thanksgiving, as I awaited induction, the Chinese entered the Korean War. Over 300,000 Chinese troops crossed the Yalu and overwhelmed the surprised American and ROK troops. McArthur had predicted the end of the war and unification of Korea by Christmas. The surprise attack wiped out entire units of our military and turned the war around. Thousands of Americans were killed. The success of the Inchon landing which had earlier turned the war around in our favor emboldened McArthur to decide, almost unilaterally, to invade N. Korea and race to the Yalu River. Truman and the Pentagon had reservations and feared escalation of the war. McArthur, however, had become a national hero. Public opinion favored punishing the aggression of the Communists by occupying N. Korea and unifying the country with a democratic, capitalist government. General Douglas McArthur had made the decision to invade N. Korea, a decision that should have been made, or not made, by civilian government. Ironically, other military leaders in Korea opposed the extension of our supply lines into the north into what was primarily wasteland.

While the Chinese attack was a surprise to McArthur’s Tokyo headquarters, it shouldn’t have been and actually wasn’t to the commanders in the field. There was ample evidence that there were Chinese troops south of the Yalu and that China intended to protect its border. A month earlier, Chinese forces had defeated
American and ROK forces in the town of Unsan in N. Korea. In spite of this, McArthur ignored the possibility of Chinese intervention and with a split command continued a two-pronged advance toward the Chosin Reservoir and the Yalu River exposing their flanks to attack. The split command was inexplicable militarily and it was opined by David Halberstam that it was done to provide McArthur with an army that was totally insulated from interference from Washington. The west column was commanded by a Commander approved by the Pentagon and the east column entirely by “McArthur people.” When the American army was routed, the two units were not in contact with each other and neither knew what the other was doing.

The period from early November 1950 to late January 1951 was in many ways the most heartbreaking of the Korean War. During the previous summer the North Korean attack had been a total surprise, and the disastrous retreat to the Pusan Perimeter was painful in the extreme. However, the series of defeats could be explained by the necessarily haphazard and slow reinforcement of the outnumbered U.S. and South Korean forces. Moreover, these defeats were followed by elation as the Inchon landings reversed the situation and the UN forces seemed on the verge not just of victory in South Korea but of total victory, including the liberation of North Korea and the reunification of the peninsula. All these dreams were swept away by the massive intervention of the Chinese Army.There would be no homecoming victory parade by Christmas.’

The initial warning attacks and diplomatic hints by the Chinese were ignored by the overconfident Far Eastern Command under General MacArthur. MacArthur’s failure to comprehend the reality of the situation led the entire United Nations army to near disaster at the Chongchon River and the Chosin Reservoir. I have two personal friends who were trapped with the Marines at the reservoir. They both survived. Only the grit and determination of the individual American soldiers and marines as they fought the three major enemies of cold, fear, and isolation held the UN line together during the retreats from North Korea. Once tied together into a coherent defensive line, under new and dynamic leadership, these same soldiers and marines showed their determination to continue the fight. Hard battles lay ahead, but the period of headlong retreats from an attacking, unsuspected foe, was finally over.

McArthur fired
On April 11, 1951, President Truman issued the following statement to the press:
"With deep regret I have concluded that General of the Army Douglas MacArthur is unable to give his wholehearted support to the policies of the United States Government and of the United Nations in matters pertaining to his official duties. In view of the specific responsibilities imposed upon me by the Constitution of the United States and the added responsibility which has been entrusted to me by the United Nations, I have decided that I must make a change of command in the Far East. I have, therefore, relieved General MacArthur of his commands and have designated Lt. Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway as his successor.

“Full and vigorous debate on matters of national policy is a vital element in the constitutional system of our free democracy. It is fundamental, however, that military commanders must be governed by the policies and directives issued to them in the manner provided by our laws and Constitution. In time of crisis, this consideration is particularly compelling.

“General MacArthur's place in history as one of our greatest commanders is fully established. The Nation owes him a debt of gratitude for the distinguished and exceptional service which he has rendered his country in posts of great responsibility. For that reason I repeat my regret at the necessity for the action I feel compelled to take in his case.”

Truman’s words were euphemistic and reflected the political context of conservatives who used McArthur’s blunder to attempt to blame Truman and “communist appeasement” as the mantra for their next presidential campaign. They were frustrated by having a democrat in the White House for 20 years. This was McArthur’s blunder pure and simple. Blinded by egomania fueled by the success at Inchon, which success was a result more of luck and the incompetence of the North Koreans than McArthur genius, he turned his forces northward across the 38th parallel with his plan to unify Korea.  He had created a cult of sycophancy in his command. Anyone who disagreed with him or suggested danger in the Inchon plan was fired. His intelligence officer never gave him any intelligence that would contradict his hunches. He inexplicably split his command into two columns proceeding up the Peninsula and ignored every complaint that they voiced.

He went too fast, his supply lines were impossibly stretched into nearly impassable country and he continued to ignore intelligence indicating the Chinese were there in excess of 300,000 strong; instead deferring to his own intelligence operation which said what he wanted to hear. As they sped northward, communications between units were poor. The result, anticipated by many of his commanders on the ground, was the most disgraceful defeat in US Military history. He was defeated by an enemy without a leader who had even attended a military academy and who was not supported by artillery or air power. He was led into a trap by a general who outsmarted him.

It was a disgraceful retreat from the Yalu River. In the face of overwhelming numbers and certain defeat, many officers abandoned their men; many of the soldiers quit fighting and just ran. The leadership in Tokyo was frozen and failed to lead, insisting that they retreat down a narrow road with Chinese on either side slaughtering them as they passed. The wounded were left to die and some were crushed by our own tanks as they lay bleeding in their path. The men on the ground, both officers and enlisted men had much stronger criticism of McArthur than Truman did.

The American troops finally held just north of the 38th Parallel, the original border of North and South Korea. This was where the war finally ended.  There was a lot of fighting and a lot of dying after this but it was mostly for bragging rights and for local strategic advantage.  This was where the soldiers that I had been trained with entered the war. Not just the ones that I trained with but thousands from other training bases in the country. There were offenses and counter offenses. They fought and won and lost observation sites which never changed the final positions of the two countries. I was discharged in late 1952 as the peace talks at Pammunjong were taking place. July 27, 1953, two weeks after I had gotten married and forgotten the war, a Peace Treaty was signed and the 38th parallel was reset as the boundary between communist North and anti-communist South. There was a buffer zone established north of the border so we gained a minute area of ground. Nothing had changed except we sent the message that we would fight to resist the “spread of Communism” and we have never, to date, been unprepared for war anywhere  (at the cost of Billions of dollars annually). Cold War tensions continued unabated. Gen. Mark W. Clark said he has "the unenviable distinction of being the first US Army commander to sign an armistice without victory."

Recommended Reading

Friday, January 24, 2014

Corporate profiteering at it's very best!

Milo Minderbinder, was the war profiteer extraordinaire in Joseph Heller's Catch 22, one of the earliest anti-war books after the end of WWII. His mantra was "If it's good for business, it's good for America!" His frenetic profit seeking had stuck his syndicate with a useless shipment of Egyptian cotton. It threatened to bring down his empire. While protesting the war by sitting naked in a tree at a fellow pilots funeral, Yosarian, Heller's protagonist, is approached by Milo to talk to him about the cotton. He gives Yossarian some chocolate-covered cotton and tries to convince him it is really candy. Yossarian, preoccupied with his own plight, tells Milo to ask the government to buy his cotton, and Milo is struck by the intelligence of the idea.

The Wounded Warrior project strikes me as  real life war profiteering that Milo would be proud of. If you haven't seen the poignant commercials on TV you don't have a TV. The project has come under fire by charity watchdog groups. You can find argument pro and and con about the efficiency, or lack of efficiency of this group but that is not the point I am trying to make.

The need for the Wounded Warrior project shouldn't exist. An agency already exists to take care of victims of the war - the Veterans Administration. They could and should take care of these "Wounded Warriors." The problem is, they have been underfunded. Why is it underfunded? It is underfunded because the corporations for whom the wars have been waged have the power to cut the funding.

Not only does it shift the burden of funding from themselves as taxpayers to the consumer which excludes them, it provides just another lucrative way of making money. For example, it has been reported that the CEO earns, or is payed, $200,000 a year and thousands of dollars more are made by the advertising industry. One way or the other, care of war victims, should be by the government. I am hesitant to call them heroes even though they were crippled doing heroic deeds because it is more accurate to refer to them as victims. Victims of the greed and lies of the corporate world which generates obscene profits for oil and war related industries. These young men and women are told they are fighting for our freedom. They are not. Our freedom is not under attack from outside - just from within. They are not over there for me, I want them home building things not over there destroying things.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Oh, the humanity or it's a matter of perspective!

Nothing much happens unless the corporate media tells us it happens. It was bad enough when ownership of the news media was widely dispersed and there were skilled and honest reporters and true investigative reporting but even then the primary goal was selling papers and newspaper owners were more concerned with the spectacular.

On May 6, 1937, the German airship Hindenburg, a passenger-carrying zeppelin (called blimps today) exploded over the Lakehurst Naval Air Station in Lakehurst, New Jersey. It caught fire and 37 people were killed. The tragedy was covered on the radio by Herbert Morrison and in his horror made the now famous remark, "Oh, the humanity." To put the disaster in perspective, nearly 3000 people were killed on 9/11. Oh, the humanity!

Unreported by the press, in 1929, nearly 23,000 Americans ended their own lives. This amounted to approximately 19 persons per 100,000 of population. In 1928, before the crash, 15,600 Americans committed suicide - a rate of 12.1 per 100,000 of population. The great crash increased the suicide by 7400 persons per year. By 1937, improving conditions decreased suicides to 20,640, a decrease of approximately 2360 per year. In 2011, nearly 3100 people in the USA, died of starvation, 11,000 were killed by handguns, and nearly 32,000 were killed in traffic accidents. Oh the humanity! I haven't cited sources here because the figures are easily found on the internet.

Turning to health care, when the government website which was set up pursuant to the ACA to furnish affordable health insurance crashed, thousands of Americans seeking to purchase health insurance were turned away. Oh, the humanity. The news media was all over it.  Citizens who are ready to jump on the Teaparty bandwagon should take a look at the creation of Medicare in 1965 and the "Oh the humanity" alarms that went off then. An inexorable and irreversible march to Marxist socialism opponents screamed. Their standard bearer was none other than the man who destroyed the laws that created the middle class - Ronald Reagan.  In behalf of the American Medical Association he made a recording warning Americans that the new law was part of the liberal Socialist revolution. Today, Medicare is so accepted by both users and providers of health care that it is political suicide for a politicial to try to abolish it. There have been several futile attempts to privatize it or kill it with kindness but it is here to stay.

When Medicare started, there was at least as much resistance or anticipated resistance as there has been to ACA today. From the Washington Post in March 1966:
"Medicare workers in Washington are learning that door-to-door selling is a rugged job," a writer in this newspaper declared 47 years ago.
It was March 3, 1966, after a Washington Post reporter had spent the day trailing Medicare workers who tried to sign seniors up for new program. Some didn't answer the door. Others slammed doors in their faces. One man reportedly stuck his nose out the door to say: "I'm not 65. I'm 57 — just today."
"Sometimes they peek through the windows when they see me coming and they won't answer the door," Medicare worker Jim Anderson told The Post. "They must think I'm selling books or something."
No one expected it to work. Most hoped it wouldn/t or knew nothing about it. I was one of the ignorant ones back in 1966. I was a young police sergeant on the Anaheim Police Department and my five year-old daughter developed cancer. I had insurance. It saved me from bankruptcy but even with the coverage, it left me in debt for many years. Today, Medicare is much better for those of us who are fortunate to have it; and soon the ACA will do the same for millions more. The rollout was a disaster, a disaster that was forseen by experts and should have been avoided by Obama. There has never been anything wrong with the law except many of us, me included, had a problem with the individual mandates. Many of us also had a problem with the seatbelt law too but we routinely fasten our belts before we start our car today and are glad the law, which has saved millions of lives, was passed. Most of will soon be happy that ACA was passed.

While continues to have problems, there is enough progress to assure that it will eventually work. It has been reported that, as of December 2, 2013,  enrollments have quadrupled from the start up date. It has been much smoother with the state operated websites who have smaller data bases. Were it not for the GOteaParty in states with republican controlled government, Obamacare would be up and running. In spite of their opposition, it will happen anyway. It is difficult today to find any news on the progress. As a matter of fact, the websites are not absolutely required for enrollment - they just make it easier. As a matter of fact there are seven alternatives to the websites for enrollment. As enrollments increase, insurance companies will be clamoring to climb aboard. Ironically, the ACA will be one of Obama's primary claims of success. He will be happy for the handle that the opposition hung on it as a derogatory term. He deserves very little credit and, with his support, it could have been a truly landmard law. A government option would have sounded the death knell for health care insurance profits.

The rollout was all you could read about last October and when it is completely in the rear view mirror, the news will be preoccupied with the weather. Oh the humanity! Studies show that more government involvement in the health care industry saves the consumer money.  It will become a nightmare to the GOP who are banking their slim hopes on it in this year's election.  The Teaparty will unlikely be neutered, however, and the 2016 election will lead to at least two more years of GOP stalemate.

The real disaster still looming ahead for Americans is the total government takeover by international corporations. The Oh the humanity cry will take on a much more ominous significance. This one will not just be a matter of perspective. This will, I'm afraid, put the rest of the disasters in American history so far below that we will be looking at this period of time as the good old days. Already, today, corporations control our lives. From the Thom Harmann blog of January 2:
"In our nation, finance has a hold on almost every single part of our lives - from the day we're born, until we take our last breath. Capitalism and the quest for larger profits have taken hold of our healthcare, our education, our homes, our communication, and even our government. Today, most babies are born in for-profit hospitals, and their medical claims are paid by for-profit insurance. As children grow, many go to for-profit charter schools or private schools, and our public education system continues to crumble. Young adults are forced to deal with for-profit lenders to go to college at for-profit universities, and everything from their backpack to their first home will generate a profit for someone on Wall Street.
Throughout our lives, we are forced into paying huge monopolies for access to phones and internet and communication, and all that data is turned over to for-profit corporations who spy on us for our government. Even the vast majority of our elected leaders answer first to corporate lobbyists, and second to the American people. Corporate power has a strangle hold on the entire American existence, and it has turned our entire lives into a profit-making venture.
There is a place for profit in our world, and a reason for corporations, but we must shift the power back to actual people. Without us, corporations would have no production to make their goods, and no customers from which to make a profit. Business should be here to serve American needs, not control us and commercialize everything that we do. We must regain our power by declaring that corporations are not people and money is not speech. Only then can we stop the cycle of putting profit before people."
We are well on the road to corporate feudalism and unlike the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby "Road To" movies of the forties, this one isn't funny.  It had already started before the Citizens United decision but that gave it the momentum that may have the ball rolling downhill too ferociously for anyone to stop it - IF there is anyone left who wants to stop it. Many of us saw hope in the election of Barach Obama but, sadly, he has become part of the problem. I'm not sure that he even is aware of it. It may be that he is just incompetent. As an aside, it is impossible for me to understand how anyone can love Bush and his Project For a New American Century and hate Obama's more intellectual approach of surgical drone strikes. Both killed innocent people and cost a lot of money and both accomplish(ed) nothing more than making more enemies. OBama has cut the cost down from Trillions to merely Billions. Obama's policies have also made Dinesh D'Sousa's nonsensical movie look... well, nonsensical.

Sadly, Obama is continuing the process of privatization. He has brought a lot of troops home from the Middle East but has replaced them with private contractors and a much higher cost. A small company called Protection Strategies Incorporated, for example, pays contractors up to $100,000 a year to monitor surveilance cameras outside military bases, a job that could be handled by a trained private first class for $15,000 a year (estimate). This enables the government to make political points by showing how we have brought the troops home.

Look at the situation today. The oil corporations and the corporations who make money on the oil business have their own security forces free of charge. While the tax payers at the lower end of the food chain are supporting the military, the international corporations are getting tax breaks from the government for oil exploration and avoiding taxes by depositing the money in overseas banks and by moving their headquarters to foreign countries. Our military is 100% volunteer now so there is no political fall out from forced service. Young men, and now young women, are conned into volunteering by corporate propaganda convincing them they are protecting our freedom. It is clear to anyone who actually thinks about it that our freedom is not being threatened by any foreign country. Our freedom is in more danger through erosion resulting from the Patriot Act than from a foreign government or Al Quada.

There are few sports event anymore without some kind of presentation honoring someone returning home or who has been crippled in military operations.  Young men and women see these and are moved by them. They are not aware, indeed they are prevented from being aware, of the fact that after their service and in too many cases after they have received the Purple Heart, the government turns its back on them. Private organizations like the Wounded Warriors are formed to "take care of them." In reality, they are little more than profit making schemes. The corporations whom they have protected tell the folks who can least afford it, "it is your patriotic duty to take care of these people." Let me be the first to say that those courageous young people are not over there for me. I don't want them over there and I don't want them volunteering to go over there.

The war profiteers have done it. With the help of two administration, they have converted an act of mass murder into an endless war attracting very little public concern.  The rich folks' kids are not involved, there is no draft, the voters were distracted with an extension of a deficit bulging tax cut and we are borrowing from a communist nation to pay for it. What's not to like, at least until some future group of voters are forced to pay for it....somehow. And the profits just keep rolling in. As Milo Minderbinder, the war profiteer extraordinaire of Heller's Catch 22,  said, "In a democracy, the government is the people, Milo explained. "We're the people, aren't we? So we might as well keep the money and eliminate the middleman. Frankly, I'k like to see the government get out of war altogether and leave the whole field to private industry."  Actually, today's corporations have exceeded Milo's dreams. Government is still involved but as a pawn and funder of the corporate war. 

Getting back to Obama and the irony of the political right's hatred for him, there has never been a president who faced more irrational and immoral opposition than him.  The Clinton impeachment sat the bar very high but the Teaparty has raised it. They have learned that they can cripple the government by controlling one branch of the government through gerrymandering. With NO government, the big guy can just beat up the little guy and take his lunch money. Another aside, don't be fooled by Obama's low popularity ratings. It's an historic fact that, moderate independents change with a president's policies or performance. Right wingers stick by the republican candidates regardless and the left wingers, like myself, turn on the president who lets them down. Obama has lost support of moderate independents and liberals. He never had the support of the right. Bush just lost support of moderates. The right still love him - and hate Obama even though he is really just an intelligent and articulate version of Bush. One of the mantra's of the Limbaughesque ditto heads is that over the years, the Republican have passed fewer laws than the Democrats. Duhh.  Laws like child labor legislation, civil rights legislation, lend lease before WWII, consumer protection laws, traffic laws, etc.  The list goes on.  Insulated from the real world by the corporate media like Fox News and WSJ, they are not aware of facts that counter their extreme views. 

Meanwhile, time marches on! With support of the corporate media we are inexorably moving toward corporate feudalism and we don't even realize it! Oh the Humanity!