Farther Down the Rabbit Hole

I haven’t been consistent with posting to my blog, primarily because I have been depressed about the current state of politics in the States. This morning it occurred to me that our current political situation is a little like going down the rabbit hole in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. We are currently expected to accept “alternative facts” as reality (and some actually do). Nothing is what it appears to be. As one who came of age in the 1960s, I well remember Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit:

The year was 1967. I was in the Army and, although I didn’t know it at the time, would end up in Vietnam before my term of service had ended. As an English major at the University of Illinois, I had naturally read Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 and went in to the military expecting to encounter a degree of insanity. I did indeed find that. One of the Army chaplains responsible for preparing us for the possibility of combat in Vietnam, told us that the Vietnamese were like “wild animals” and that it was OK to kill them because they did not have souls.

This is not to say that my experience in the military was all bad. I met a lot of really good people in the Army, and I learned some valuable skills. Most of the people were just fine, but the system as a whole was (and probably still is) basically insane. I suspect that’s always been the case. The nineteenth century poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote The Charge of the Light Brigade to illustrate the “fog of war.” The light brigade was ordered to “attack the front.” They failed to ask, “Which front,” and attacked the wrong one, where they were caught in a relentless crossfire.

We also have numerous examples of military failures in the States, with one of the most famous being Custer’s Last Stand, also known as “The Battle of the Little Big Horn” or the “Battle of the Greasy Grass,” depending on whether your principal affiliation is with Custer or with the Plains Indians. Custer’s arrogance seems to have been the principal cause of his disastrous last mission. The Korean War was generally a debacle and a good example of a “catch 22.” The war created a political mess, but not having the war would also have resulted in a big mess.

The same is true for Vietnam. The roots of the Vietnam War go back into the nineteenth century, when the militarized Western nations decided that they could control most of Asia and Africa. The French wanted Indo-China and Equatorial Africa. The French weren’t the only ones, of course, but the French thought that they could exploit much of SE Asia, including Cambodia and Vietnam. People who lived in SE Asia, however, objected to being ruled by the French. The United States felt that it had no choice but to protect its interests in SE Asia, which led to our military involvement in Vietnam. For a good overview of that war, see The Vietnam War. I do not know, of course, whether our current bluster and military “adventuring” will lead to another major conflict. We are also in a “chicken and egg” situation when it comes to having our military “fingers” in so many pies. Has our military presence in so many locations resulted in armed resistance, or did local military challenges result in our efforts to control armed resistance?

When it comes to understanding a complex situation, the general rule is, “follow the money.” Most military “adventuring” is based on exploitation for profit. War is expensive. A good example would be the US War in Iraq. The original thinking was that the US could pay for the war using Iraq’s resources. That didn’t turn out to be the case, however. Wars are expensive for a variety of reasons, and while some corporations and those who own stock in them profit, most of us don’t.

In some ways, the history of humanity is the history of war. Over the years, the US has been involved in a lot of them. Currently, we have a lot of troops engaged in one conflict or another. In many ways, war is an “alternative reality.” At this point in out history, for most of us in the States, our familiarity with war is based on movies or video games and an occasional news story shot “on location.” We willingly go down the “rabbit hole” of the alternative reality offered. That reality, however, is far different for those who are actually living it.

The question is, how far down the rabbit hole can we go before we are trapped forever? The Dutch, Portuguese, and, of course, the British all thought that the world was theirs to exploit. Europeans in North America contented themselves with driving the native populations out, putting them on reservations, and claiming the land and the resources.

In 1968 I was stationed at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. When Pete Seeger came to town for a concert. A number of us from Ft. Sam attended, when Pete sang “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” we knew that it was a metaphor for the US involvement in Vietnam.

The metaphors are the same. We are either down the rabbit hole or waist deep in the Big Muddy. It’s about time we extracted ourselves.

Where to Begin

Just when I had essentially become numb to our current political situation, Las Vegas exploded in chaos as a result of a a planned attack of automatic weapons fire. Las Vegas was not the first mass shooting in US history. Here’s a brief (and limited) list: “The Top 10. Mass shootings, of course, are not the only gun deaths in the States. The US holds the world record for gun deaths not related to the carnage of war.

The Second Amendment to the Constitution actually encourages gun ownership, primarily for citizens involved in a well-regulated militia. What the Framers . . . → Read More: Where to Begin

Loose Cannon on Deck

The term, loose cannon, has been around a long time. Cannons used on sailing vessels were large, typically weighing several tons. To avoid damage from the recoil when they were fired, they were mounted on rollers and secured with rope. The cannon jumped backwards when fired. If you have ever fired a weapon, you are familiar with recoil. The cannons get hot when they are used in battle, and each time a cannon is fired, it jumps higher and rolls farther. If the ropes holding the cannon secure were to break, a loose cannon would roll backwards and crush anything—or . . . → Read More: Loose Cannon on Deck

We Will All Go Down Together

Shakespeare’s original use of what has become a common saying, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” was about differences between the families of Vietnam War protests. Even the Charlottsesville, Virginia illustrate just how crazy political life in the States has become.

The hostilities seem to have expanded, with election of Donald Trump seems to be proving my cousin right. One of the recent news stories says that the Vietnam War.

I was one of those caught up in both the Vietnam War protests and the Civil Rights movement. Many of those I . . . → Read More: We Will All Go Down Together

The Fire This Time

With apologies to James Baldwin for appropriating his title: If people could actually “spin in their graves,” my guess is that he would be doing a very rapid rotation at this time, as would, I think, Abraham Lincoln and many others who have done their best to make the United States a better country than it has been in the past. We have taken at least one big step backwards with the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia. I am both angry and sad that “white nationalism” is on the march, and that the Ku Klux Klan is crawling out from . . . → Read More: The Fire This Time

The Faces of Humanity

All major human conflicts are essentially what Jonathan Swift called the war between the “Big Endians” and the “Little Endians” in Gulliver’s Travels. In Swift’s novel, Lilliput and Blefuscu are island nations ruled by emperors. Those from Lilliput broke boiled eggs on the larger end, while those from Blefuscu broke their’s on the smaller end. Swift’s readers at the time would have recognized that his metaphor suggested that the British political parties at the time, the Whigs and Torys, were fighting a war based on minuscule and inconsequential differences. That appears to be a common theme in human history: Most . . . → Read More: The Faces of Humanity

Gaining Perspective

You may know the old saying, the darkest hour is just before dawn. While the saying isn’t literally true, it serves metaphorical purpose. First Light precedes astronomical dawn and provides the first proof that night is coming to an end. “Political night” has descended in the States, leading many to wonder whether “first light” is right around the corner. Many are hopeful. I’m not so sure. I think we (all of us) need to gain some perspective based on history. The history of humanity has been primarily wars and exploitation.

War, of course, is not new. Tribes went . . . → Read More: Gaining Perspective

Dumbfounded, Discouraged, and Dismayed

I haven’t posted anything new in a while. I’ve been too busy reading the political news and wringing my hands. My sense is that the world situation is getting worse. We have, of course, had “dark days” in times past. I’m not sure there has ever been a time the planet was without at least one war going on. Most recently, in the States we experienced the World Wars (I and II), the Korean War, the “conflict” in Vietnam, and whatever is currently going on in the Mid-East. We’ve also had Civil Rights challenges, and various other conflicts and difficulties . . . → Read More: Dumbfounded, Discouraged, and Dismayed

Video or Text-Based Web Pages?

In previous blog entries, I have written about the way different communication channels influence the message received. We have known for a long time that the medium is the message. (See also Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium Is the Massage). One of the principal concepts behind the message inherent in the titles of books (including McLuhan’s) is that communication channels are themselves “messages.” The original discussion about this concept focused on the differences being communicated by print media and television. the movie, Medium Cool, was based on McLuhan’s concept that video was a “cool” medium, one that forced viewers to think . . . → Read More: Video or Text-Based Web Pages?

When the Mode of the Music Changes

You can tell a lot about people based on their musical preferences. I borrow my title from a radical group from the ’60s, the Fugs, and one of their old songs:

It would be pretty hard to know me well without knowing when and where I grew up and how I had been influenced by the music of my youth. I assume that the same is true for everyone. The concept has been most fully explored by Morris Massey, who wrote about the three main periods in a person’s maturation process:

The Imprint Period. From birth . . . → Read More: When the Mode of the Music Changes