Tin Soldier

The grilled chicken thighs and fingerling potato salad are just memories now…even the leftovers.  Later in the day ribs and chicken wings were served at the Bennett Fourth of July fest along with Carol Ann’s killer potato salad.  I’m sure there will be lingering side effects to an evening of eating and drinking what I normally don’t eat or drink.  Still, I almost feel sacrilegious not having pulled pork as a side with the ribs.  Anti-American?  No, just trying to cheat the Grim Reaper a few seconds longer.

Despite the enjoyment of seeing friends, some for the first time since the last Fourth, I would prefer a small gathering with my bride and two blind puppy dogs to be my only concession to the celebration of the Fourth of July.  Very sedate until the crazies above us begin to set off M-80s and Cherry Bombs.  Not very patriotic by some people’s standards.  Typical…or rather than typical, maybe it is simply the new normal for me.  I celebrated my own birthday in the same way.

I’m truly not feeling it.  Not feeling it but certainly thinking about it…it being my patriotism.

I am patriotic and wish my country a happy birthday.  I simply don’t believe everything wrapped in a red, white and blue flag is patriotism.  I’m not blindly patriotic…odd perspective for a guy who grew up during the period of “American Exceptionalism” and the indoctrination I now associate with the Cold War Sixties.  “My Country Right or Wrong”, “The only good Commie is a dead Commie”,  “I’d rather be dead than Red.”  I remember my eighth-grade civics class being equal parts academic and propagandistic …maybe more propaganda than substance as I sit pondering.

I watched a recent news program, not fake news if we can still believe the black and white photographs the program featured.  I had certainly seen them before.  Black and white photographs high lighting certain moments in time…in history…my history.  Some were colorized photos but there was something stark and depressing about the ones in black and white.  The photos triggered memories of the old black and white film clips I saw featured during the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.  “And that’s the way it is…” or was.

John Kennedy standing in front of a map trying to explain where Vietnam was, later his son saluting as his father’s body rolled past.  LBJ looking haggard stating he would not run again.  A photograph of a naked Vietnamese child, Phan Thi Kim Phuc, running from a napalm attack.  Major General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner after Tet, bodies laying a ditch outside Mai Lai.  Much different photographs from the ones I saw from World War Two.  Different and as I look back, projecting the loss of a certain innocence I wish I could find again.

Growing up I always believed we were the stalwart protectors of what was right and just.  A courageous country wearing white hats or knights in shiny armor.  We were the virtuous and righteous battling the minions of the devil.  Shining a light on the cockroaches of evil and sending them scurrying from sight. Vietnam and Watergate took my innocence and not in a good way.  Bobbi Jo Bedell did that but I doubt either innocence will be returned to me.

Black and white pictures of Richard Nixon, arms raised with fingers veed in victory…later a finger pointed at the camera, “I am not a crook.”  A color shot in front of Marine One, Nixon’s arms raised with fingers veed despite his disgrace.  Like an alcoholic wanting to recover, I hoped we had reached rock bottom.

I feel I’ve witnessed our decline firsthand.  Like my vision, it has taken place in small increments.  My failing eyesight was gradual until sharp lines became fuzzy and my arms became too short to bring the written word in to focus.  I’m not sure if we can make lenses strong enough to correct the vision of our nation.

Declines of civilizations are usually slow and all civilizations decline.  It is inevitable. Some disappear totally. Most don’t disappear due to a cataclysmic event, but rather, they die rotting from the inside.

A rotting social, economic, political system mated with an ineffective and excessive military brought the Roman and French Empires to an end.  It was gradually at first before running downhill like a runaway freight.  They collapsed under their own excesses and attempting to maintain the status quo.

I’ve been witnessed our rot for fifty years and I wonder if we have reached the point of no return.  I certainly believe our white hats are stained and our armor dented and rusty.  We are more concerned about filling our pockets than being the “shining light upon the hill.”

Some reading this will say “We’re still the best country in the world.”  Maybe, but what are we doing to keep ourselves on our lofty pedestal?  Is it a pedestal that exists only in our minds?

We deny science and accept myth.  We politicize religion and use it as a weapon against our fellow man.  We choose partisan politics over the good of the many and create a bogey man and call it socialism.  We create social outcasts with our hatred and more and more enemies with our bombs.  Our greed is more important than the planet we live on.  As a country, we are living on other people’s money and giving it to people who don’t need it…or deserve it.

My biggest worry is our hatred and greed which seems to drive everything else.  I’m reminded of the old Billy Jack movie from the early Sixties.  Not the movie exactly, the theme, “One Tin Soldier Rides Away” by Caste.

As a battle rages over a perceived treasure, the valley people kill the mountain people, who would have given them their treasure had they just asked.

“Now they stood before the treasure

On the mountain dark and red

Turned the stone and looked beneath it

Peace on earth was all it said.”

 

Others will read this and suggest that maybe I should relocate to another country since I hate America so much.  I don’t hate America, I hate what America has become…if it was ever anything else.  To quote James Baldwin,

“I love America more than any other country in this world,

and, exactly for this reason,

I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

Usually, essays have a closing statement which draws everything together and ties a bright red bow around it.  I can’t do that because the story is still being written and the end hasn’t been reached.  What that ending is, is up to us.  We must find common ground or “There won’t be any trumpets blowing Come the judgment day.”

 

Featured Image:  By The Late Mitchell Warren (Author of “The End of the Magical Kingdom” series) http://subversify.com/2010/10/15/who-is-the-one-tin-soldier/

Video:

Don Miller’s author’s page can be found at http://subversify.com/2010/10/15/who-is-the-one-tin-soldier/

 

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Embracing the Fringe

“Americans are being held hostage and terrorized by the fringes. That’s what’s going on here. It’s not like fifty percent of Americans thinks one thing and fifty percent thinks another thing. No, fifteen percent on each side are effectively controlling the conversation and seventy percent of us don’t hate each other.” -Arthur Brooks, president of the “center-right” American Enterprise Institute

I don’t know where Mr. Brooks got his numbers, or whether the number is dead on seventy, but I agree with the assessment.  There is a very vocal and active group on both sides of the political spectrum, far removed from the center, sowing seeds of division and we are allowing it.  We are embracing the fringe not realizing, it is the fringe…it is not the mainstream, but I fear the mainstream is shrinking because of it.

Any anarchist, white-supremacist, radical, reactionary, religious nut, atheist nut or Russian troll, can sit behind a computer, pound out a meme reflecting the worst-case scenario or out and out lie, and we just pass it along, accepting it is fact.  Any talk show or talk show host can scream at the top of their lungs and do the same.  Why?

One, we are lazy, and I’ve been guilty of assuming the source is on the side of the “angels” instead of assuming they are playing the angles.  After all, it must be correct, it’s on the internet.  It must be true, so and so has a radio program and he/she said it was true.  We are too lazy, or busy, to actually take the time to do research.  I suggest if you are too busy to research you might be spending too much time on social media.

We seem to be into worst case scenarios and conspiracy.  A recently proposed abortion law in Virginia brought out howls and vivid “pictures” of babies being ripped from their mother’s wombs and murdered.  The intent of the proposal was not to give women the last minute, “free out” to motherhood but to give them a choice if their life was endangered or if the baby could not survive.  The proposal has been put down, it is not law, but women in Virginia will not have the choice of saving themselves or saving their child.  A terrible choice at best, but one that has been taken out of the hands of the people who should be making the choice.

We broad stroke everything.  “All Republicans are racist or Nazis.” “All liberals want open borders and abortion on demand.”  “All Christians want to turn the US into a theocracy.”  “Muslims are taking over our country and want to institute Sharia Law.”  “The Trump administration is full of Nazis and everything is ‘fake news’.”  “This radical Representative wants to turn us into a Communist nation.” “The wall, the wall, ad nauseum.”

While there may be kernels of truth espoused by the fringe, it’s not THE truth for most of us in the middle are believing, those on either side of the political center, even most of our elected officials…but I fear the middle is shrinking…fearing the fear.

The hardest untruths to overcome are our own biases.  The extreme fringe plays on our biases.  Propaganda is not new, and it was never our friend.  We live in an age where propaganda assaults us in ways even Hitler and Goebbels couldn’t envision.  Whether it is a liberal or conservative bias in a news source, an active Russian agent, or little Johnny sitting in his momma’s basement trying to be cute, we must learn to recognize when a used car salesman or talk show host is puffing.  We must realize EVERYTHING IS NOT A CONSPIRACY, and every point has two sides and both sides may have valid beliefs.

What I’ve noticed?  Some of the worst offenders are “seasoned” folk like me.  We seem to want to hold on to what is more comfortable…what we are familiar with…even it is wrong.  We are uncomfortable with change or with different.  I understand why I really do.  The problem? The world is changing faster than we can accept and we don’t recognize it anymore.  The world we live in vastly different than the world we grew up in…and it is not going to change back no matter how much we kick, scream and drag our feet.  That doesn’t stop us from “wanting”.  We latch on to rabid headlines or graphic talking points supporting “the way it used to be” or the “way we think it should be.”

Despite a changing world, we don’t have to change our core values, but we must become aware that there are people living in our world trying to destroy us, internally and externally, using our core values against us.  We can also hold on to our core values without assuming everyone who does not share them are “out to get us and need to leave the country.”  They have core values too that may not too different from our own…if we get to know them.  We need to research over a broad plane instead of looking through the wrong end of a telescope.

I am much more assured we will withstand the external assault than I am the internal division.  I am saddened over our apparent hatred.  As we call each other inflammatory names, my heart breaks a little bit every day.  I am not a libtard and you are not deplorable but we can be hateful to each other.  We don’t have to be.  We can find common ground.

Words do carry weight.  Before you throw a verbal stone, at least check your sources.  Do we need to help Boris and Natashia catch “moose and squirrel?”  Do we need to help ourselves destroy each other?  Do we really need another civil war?

Postscript: This post was written prior to the State of the Union Address and will be posted the morning after.  I won’t watch the President’s speech and the Democrat’s response…or Bernie on YouTube. It is easier for me to read the transcript without hearing the emotion.  I fear both sides will be heavy on puffing and light on substance anyway.  I read that the President will call for unity and nonpartisanship. I hope he will follow through and that both sides listen.  I’m sure the fringes will explain everything you and I need to know in the days to come.

The initial quote came from an interview by Politico.  The entire article, ‘Americans are Being Held Hostage and Terrorized by the Fringes’, An exit interview with the American Enterprise Institute’s Arthur Brooks may be accessed at https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/05/13/arthur-brooks-american-enterprise-institute-interview-218364

If you are unfamiliar with the term, “puffing” refers to “extravagant claims made by sellers in order to attract buyers.” It is the exaggeration of the good points of a product, a business, real property, and the prospects for a future rise in value, profits, and growth.  https://definitions.uslegal.com/p/puffing/

Please take an opportunity to peruse Don Miller’s author’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

THE DAY I DIDN’T MEET GEORGE H. W. BUSH

 

I walked in the rain this morning thinking of George H.W. Bush’s death.  My earbuds provided a backdrop I was paying no attention to…until Bob Dylan’s nasal slur entered my ears…” The times they are ah changin’.”  My thought was, “The times they have ended.”

Men like President Bush are dying out and it seems there is no one willing to replace them.  Men who put character and the collective good above personal interest or gain.  A man who believed in compromise rather than partisanship.  Right or wrong.  A man whose legacy was only punctuated by his presidency, a presidency that did not define the man himself.  A man who honorably served his country for over seven decades.  Keyword, “honorably.”  I sure he had his failings but then so do I.

I know, he was a Texas oilman whose family is worth millions and who lived a life of privilege.  Somehow, he, like a certain peanut farmer, managed to rise above their privilege.  They both gave…or give back.  Bush Forty-One and Carter are the last…and maybe the best of their generation of politicians; those who believed service and honor were the most important legacies of man.  They are what politicians should aspire to be and unfortunately don’t.  Their greatest legacies may have occurred after their presidencies.

I almost met then Vice President Bush on a hot summer day as he campaigned in Greenville, South Carolina in the middle-late 1980s.  Almost but not quite.  It is a story I’ve told before but as I walked this morning, it brought a smile to my rain-streaked face and once again muted the music in my ears.

It was a bright late July or early August morning and I drove a tractor pulling gang reels to Sirrine Stadium.  In the Eighties, coaches didn’t have crews paid to keep up a field.  Coaching staffs were the crew.  This day I was my own crew, a crew of one.  Head Coach and Athletic Director or not, this was my day to cut.  Late July is prime grass growing season in upper South Carolina, requiring plenty of water and fertilizer…and cutting.  Lots of cutting as in three days a week.

Hot and humid, wavy heat thermals rose off the black asphalt into a cloudless, silver-blue sky and the milky yellow orb heating it.  As I drove our old tractor to the game field, I imagine my thoughts were on a young woman I was dating…one who became my bride for the past thirty-one years.  My thoughts certainly weren’t on the two men who stopped me at the entry gate.

I didn’t see them at first.  As I stepped off the tractor to unlock the gate, I dropped my keys.  As I stood, they seemed to materialize with the thermals radiating from the tarmac leading to the field.  Two fine specimens of American manhood.  Was I smelling melting asphalt or testosterone?

Despite the ninety plus temperatures and humidity, they dressed in dark suits, white shirts, dark ties, and dark wraparound sunglasses.  Shined black shoes reflected the sun back into my face.  Think Men in Black, except much better looking.

A blond man with a high and tight haircut played Tommy Lee Jones with a youthful and smooth complexion.  Long and lanky, I expected a Texas accent and got it.  His Will Smith counterpart was shorter but made up for it in wideness.  Both had muscles straining the fabric of their suits.  I wondered why they weren’t sweating in the oppressive sun.

“Uh…can I help you?” I stammered.

Tommy Lee didn’t smile but asked, “Who are you?”

“I asked first,” trying to assume a casual air while leaning against the rear tractor wheel.

Tommy Lee pulled his coat aside and displayed a gold and blue shield held in a pocket holder and a black holster on his hip.  Squinting in the glare I saw “US Secret Service” arched across the top and “Special Agent” arched across the bottom.  “Okay, you have my attention.”

“I’m the athletic director at Greenville High School and I’m here to cut the grass.”

“Not today.  This stadium is off limits.  Your principal was supposed to alert you.”  “Yeah, and my principal hates me and would like to see me shot.”

“May I ask why?”

Agent Tommy Lee glanced at Agent Will and simply shook his head.

It turns out Vice President Bush, a jogger, had scheduled a jog and my principal had failed to tell me.

During those days I was not a jogger and pretty much apolitical.  I had a football team to field, grass to cut and a pretty brunette to worry about.  With no more fields or teams to maintain, I became a jogger and more political, especially in the modern political climate.  The pretty brunette said, “I do” and we still are.  One era ends, another continues.

I don’t know if Forty-One actually jogged that hot day in July or not.  I like to think he did and that we traveled over the same ground, he jogging, me driving a tractor in circles, clipping the grass he ran over.  “I cut the grass George HW Bush ran on….”  Do I get a certificate?

I like to think that if there is an afterlife, and I believe there is, he has been reunited with the love of his life, his Barbara.  I’d like to think they are laughing together…maybe ridiculing the present forms of politicians while trying to look out us all from their “thousand points of light.”

Maybe, if I’m lucky enough, I’ll join him someday for a jog.  I wish I could have heard his Texas drawl in person.  Maybe I still can.   Maybe I’ll grow up to be just like him.  Rest in Peace George HW Bush.  I know you weren’t perfect but you were someone to be admired and emulated.  Other politicians…and humans, should take a lesson.

For more of Don Miller’s musings click on the following link,  https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM.