We Must Never Forget

Midway

Much of the world was at war in November of 1941, but the United States remained decidedly isolationist. While there were many in the USA who were convinced that such a stance was untenable, the prevailing feeling was that the war in Europe and the Pacific was not our business and so our nation warily watched from afar, feeling protected by the two oceans that seemingly insulated us from harm. On December 7, 1941, all of that changed with the brutal attack on American naval installations at Pearl Harbor. Suddenly we were thrust into a war for which we were far from ready to enter.

The first American forays served to illuminate just how ill prepared we were for the conflict. The Japanese forces outdid us on the seas in quality and number of ships and aircraft. The troops of both Germany and Japan were far better trained than our hastily thrown together soldiers. Our initial battles highlighted all of our deficiencies and many believed that we might be defeated before we even got seriously started.

Six months after Pearl Harbor there appeared to be little hope of stopping Japan’s dominance in the Pacific. Then an American intelligence force believed that they were hearing the heavily redacted and coded plans of the Japanese. The analysts felt certain that Japanese forces were headed for the American airfield at Midway.

If their beliefs were true and the Japanese were victorious there would be no line of defense between Midway and the west coast of the United Sates. Cities and citizens there would be vulnerable to attack, and the old view that the oceans protected our nation from harm would no longer hold. It was a tense moment in history with no assurances that the analysts were right.

With little more than a wing and a prayer the American naval forces surprised the gathering Japanese fleet with attacks that were devastating. Midway was saved, Japanese warships were lost, and the tide in the war turned to genuine hope and belief that the United States would not only hold its own but might even be able to defeat the powerful nation of Japan.

Fittingly a movie about this battle began showing in theaters the weekend before Veterans’ Day. Midway is a stunning view into the raw courage and sacrifice of our troops in a time when our very freedoms were being challenged by powers intent on dominating the world. Our country was in murky waters without the equipment and training of our enemies, and yet through the sheer will of young men who would rather have been home with their families the Japanese were overcome.

The movie is a wonderful historical piece that honors the men and women who endured that dark time of long ago. It reminds us of the horrors of war and the glory of fighting for a worthy cause. It shows how the once “sleeping giant” of the United States came together to join the fight for freedoms across the globe.

We take so much for granted these days, often doing more complaining about what we don’t have than showing appreciation for the wonderful things about our country and our world. While we enjoy our hundreds of television channels, our four dollar cups of coffee, our sports teams and our vacations there are still American troops at the ready to defend our shores at a moment’s notice. They are a volunteer force trained to go into harm’s way wherever they are needed. We don’t always take note of them or truly appreciated what they are doing for the rest of us.

The world is still a very dangerous place in many corners. War is a way of life for some nations. There are children who have grown into adulthood with the specter of violence ever present. Our troops are often sent to try to help. They go to parts of the world so unlike our own and see horrors that will give them nightmares for the rest of their lives. They witness violence and loss as a matter of their jobs. They see things that we are able to ignore. Sadly some of them lose their lives or their health with little fanfare or glory.

We honor our troops and our veterans now and again, but we also tend to forget them in the times in between. We don’t always have a clear understanding of how difficult their tasks can be. When a movie like Midway comes along we get a visual and emotional look at the frightening world of war. It’s something that we must never underestimate or forget. We are safe for now only because we have courageous individuals who do the hard work of protecting our nation. We can never forget how important they are.

It’s Time to Clear the Rubble

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On September 11, 2019 the citizens of the United States once again remembered the events of 9/11. Somehow overcast weather in my city matched the solemn feelings that most of us have on this day each year as we recall where we were and what we saw with vivid clarity. It was an unbelievable, unexplainable moment when it became clear beyond a doubt that so much of who we are and what we believe was vulnerable and under attack.

I usually write and post a blog about this event more appropriately on its actual anniversary, but this year I found myself struggling for words to describe the evolution of my thoughts over the ensuing eighteen years since that day. Instead I simply read the touching feelings of others and felt that visceral punch in the gut that hit me almost two decades ago when we were still a somewhat naive citizenry. On that day we grieved together both for those who had so suddenly and tragically died and for the death of our innocence.

In the aftermath of the tragedy we stood together as a nation in our resolve to show the world that we would not be defeated by evil. We thought that we had the strength to overcome the forces that hoped to divide us, and at the time it seemed as though we would remain united and strong. At first it was our collective grief that kept us together, but over time it was our fear that began to tear us apart. We had different ideas about how to proceed forward and our debates became more and more brutal and personal until our discussions were no longer dialog but instead vicious arguments. Our united front crumbled as surely as the twin towers had done leaving us in a chronic state of war with one another. Instead of building our nation stronger than ever we became our own worst enemies.

In the eighteen years since 9/11 we have taken our political discussions to new lows. It’s been awhile since we showed respect for the offices of our government. There were those who hated George W. Bush and demeaned him in cartoonish ways. There were those who hated Barack Obama and demeaned him in racist ways. Now there are those who hate Donald Trump and demean him to the point of attempting to drive him from office. Our Congress is paralyzed by the infighting and unwillingness to compromise in a bipartisan way that is good for the country. It is now fashionable to destroy those who think differently by ravaging their character and their beliefs. In other words, whether we realize it or not, those men who so viciously attacked our nation on September 11, 2001, have accomplished more than just killing three thousand souls and bringing down two buildings. They have punched a hole into the very heart of democracy, and we have played into the their hands with our unrestrained anger which we now focuses inward rather than at the true source.

We began by restricting freedoms for safety’s sake and then we began pointing fingers here in our own country as though knowing who to blame for the tragedy might somehow make us feel better. Our debates ran the gamut from invoking punishing retribution to demonstrating kindness to our enemies. We were in new territory, not really knowing what to do. So many mistakes were made just as throughout all of history. We were so anxious to resolve our troubles that we let our impatience get the best of us. We were being ruled more by emotions than logic. Our feelings overtook us and led us to lose our focus. Every little thing was steeped in hyperbole that eventually evolved into propaganda.

We felt very lost and confused and when we turned to the media for understanding they only fanned the flames of our divisions. Soundbites became our arguments and dissolved into petty catch phrases that offered no real solutions. The media had a field day with our worries and our feuding, making hay from our fears and driving us further and further apart.

On the morning of the eighteenth anniversary of 9/11 the headlines in most of the major news outlets were not about remembering that horrific event but about clashes with the White House and innuendo about members of Congress and the Supreme Court. Stories of 9/11 were in small print, hidden among headlines about celebrities and sports. This alone told me much about where we find ourselves eighteen years after perhaps the most horrific moment in our country’s history.

It is long past time for all of us to regain our wits and demonstrate the true strength of this country that is found in good people everywhere. We are not the stereotype that some would have us believe we are. Ours is a flawed history just as that of every other country in the world, but it is a story based on an idea of freedom and dignity that we are still attempting to perfect. We must choose to be the people that we want to be rather than a fearful mob focused on degrading the very foundations of our country. We need to insist on a return to logic and calm in our national debates and understand that sometimes we only progress by accepting compromises. We each must be willing to address the needs of a changing world and do so with dignity.

There is great truth in the adage that “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.” It is time that we work together and without rancor. Eighteen years have done great damage to our republic. While we were arguing the rubble in New York City was cleared and magnificent structures were erected in its place. We need to begin the process of doing the same for the government of our country otherwise those terrorists will have won. We can’t allow that if for no other reason than to be certain that those who died did not do so in vain. It’s time to clear the rubble.

Make America Kind Again

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I have always believed that my country is built on kindness for the most part. Certainly there have always been mean, evil and violent people, but in truth they have lived on the fringes of society. To a large extent they have been rightly or wrongly ignored up until recently. There have also been unjust policies in the history of our country, but we have always seemed to eventually rid ourselves of them and attempted to be fair. Lately, however, being fair, calm, kind seems almost out of style. We all too often judge someone who is quiet or willing to hear all sides of an argument and even change as someone who is wimpy or without moral compass. Our admiration tends toward the fighters among us, the more belligerent souls who seemingly take delight in tearing people down and hurling insults at those with whom they disagree. Large numbers of the population of the United States see them as people of great strength and more and more often their ways are being emulated by even our young.

My nature is to be quiet and respectful. I am always willing to listen to all aspects of a particular situation. I am quite flexible and open to changes even of myself. I suppose that I may be viewed as someone who is not particularly strong, but I know when I need to be tough and I have exhibited grit whenever life demanded it from me. For the most part I have tried to never be unkind to even those who have hurt me. Instead I honestly attempt to understand why they felt they needed to be ugly. I generally find that such tortured souls are hurting inside, and their taunts are more often than not a disguise in which they hide their own weaknesses.

The most courageous people that I have ever known whether through personal experience or the study of history have been persons who possess what I see as all of the finest human qualities. They have eschewed boastfulness and attempted to be infinitely fair. They are rarely guilty of deliberately hurting another. Often they are quite humble and unwilling to boast of their own accomplishments. I admire them because I see them as being the very sort of people that we might use more of in today’s divisive and insult ridden environment. I believe that the last thing we need are bullies and loud mouths. It’s time that we search for those who honestly strive to be of service to humanity rather than themselves.

In the final months and weeks of his life Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. grieved over evidence that there were still so many people who believed that his adherence to nonviolence was a weak way to solve problems. He admitted to his own frustrations but held on to his insistence that it would only be through passive resistance that we would ultimately find a way of living together in unity. His focus was on looking to a future about which he often dreamed. He understood he might never see perfection but he still saw a vision of a promised land and it was not marred by divisions and hatefulness.

One of the most telling aspects of John McCain’s character came when he was running for president against Barack Obama. I’ll never forget when a woman accused President Obama of vile things and McCain immediately corrected her, insisting that Obama was a good man and explaining that he only disagreed with Obama on how to get things done. Some saw that as being wishy washy. I saw it as being akin to the courage that he demonstrated when he was a prisoner of war. Senator McCain became a great man in my eyes at that moment and for the rest of his life he did not disappoint me in that regard even though there where times when I did not agree with his political ideas.

I feel the same about Senator Mitt Romney. People attacked him for his willingness to change his stance on certain issues in the light of changing times and new information. Frankly I think that anyone who is so hard headed that he/she will not budge even when data clearly demonstrates wrong thinking is somewhat irrational. I am wary of such people because I have found over and over again that very little in this life is etched in stone. There are exceptions to virtually every rule or argument and being open to ideas is in fact a sign of strength, not weakness.

In our last presidential election I honestly felt that neither candidate sincerely cared more about the people than themselves. The result of that contest has lead us to a low point in our nation’s history, but I fear that if things had been different it may not have been any better. Now we have a room full of candidates vying to see who can be the most audacious and many of them attack the very principals and characteristics of each other that I find the most genuine. They appear to be taking a page from the playbook of boastful loud mouths and that worries me intensely.

I believe that bullies, mass shooters, racists, and other vile individuals are an aberration. They do not represent our country and yet they are getting the center of the stage, and foolish people seeking power accuse the rest of us of being complicit in creating them. There is a media push to make us believe that the ugliness that we see is commonplace and typical of certain groups of people. The truth is that what the vast majority want is to make America kind again. If we manage to do that then it will also be great. Kindness does not mean allegiance to one political party or another. It means looking for good men and women who respect and understand us without rancor for those with whom they disagree. It means looking for humble and flexible people who are courageous enough to admit when they are wrong. Surely there are many such souls in our ranks. Now is the time to find them. Let’s insist on making America kind again.

I Needed This Reminder

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One of the best aspects of being retired is that I now have time to ponder more than I did when work required me to adhere to a strict schedule. I am able to read more and even to indulge in moments of sitting in silence with my thoughts for long stretches of time. I still serve my many grandchildren with my educational expertise whenever they require a bit of guidance or encouragement with their studies. Each summer I read the same books that they are assigned for their pre-advanced placement and advanced placement classes, so that I might help them to analyze and discuss the works when they return to school in August.

One of my grandsons is reading Martin Luther King Jr. I Have A Dream: Writings & Speeches That Changed the World edited by James M. Washington. When my daughter requested that I familiarize myself with the text so that my grandson and I might talk about its implications I was more than eager to delve into the heart of the essays. I have long considered Dr. King to be one of the greatest orators and most influential leaders of the twentieth century and indeed the entirety of history. He is a hero of mine, one of the people I would love to meet when I eventually make it to heaven.

I grew up in the era during which Martin Luther King Jr. did his incredible work. In the year I was born Dr. King was ordained a minister following in the footsteps of both his father and grandfather. He had been a child during the Great Depression, growing up in Atlanta, Georgia when segregation was still very much a fact of life for blacks just as it still was for most of my own youth. In 1954, when the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation was unconstitutional Dr. King was the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Church in Montgomery, Alabama and I was about to head to the first grade.

A year later, in 1955, Rosa Parks famously refused to surrender her seat on a Montgomery bus to a white man, an act for which she was arrested. Her brave action led to a boycott and Martin Luther King Jr. was elected president and voice of the efforts to integrate the buses in Montgomery. By then I was joining droves of Baby Boomer children in second grade classrooms that were still mostly segregated in spite of the earlier Supreme Court ruling. I would overhear rumblings of discussions from my father and grandfather who believed in those days that children should be sent from the room when politics were the subject of conversations. I was a nosy child who would hide behind a wall listening to their voices as they spoke of the coming changes.

In 1957, President Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard to allow nine black children to enter a previously all white school in Little Rock. I did not watch or witness the historic moment on television back then, but I vividly recall the many times that my dad and granddad talked about it when we visited my grandparents’ farm in Arkansas. That year Martin Luther King Jr. was elected as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and  the reach of his crusade for justice widened. I would enter the third grade at the same time that those little children so bravely struck a blow for freedom in Arkansas. I was not totally unaware of the importance of that school year in the struggle to end segregation but I would not be affected by it in the little bubble that was my neighborhood.

The work to break the hold of Jim Crow laws and segregational policies continued throughout my elementary and middle school years. By the time I entered high school the Civil Rights movement was in full force and Dr. King had become one of its most admired voices. The concept of non-violent passive resistance was being used to integrate restaurants and universities and to expand the voting power of black citizens. Just before I entered my second year of high school the famous march on Washington D.C. captured my attention and I listened to Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech with rapt admiration. I was hooked by its message and forevermore there would be no turning back to the ugliness and injustice of segregation for me. I was a devoted disciple of Dr. King and would hang on his every word and action. His influence over me would be enormous.

Just before I entered my senior year of high school President Lyndon Johnson signed the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Sadly the arc of justice was still far from complete. In college I would become more and more passionate about causes of equality and fairness. My generation was literally taking to the streets to protest all signs of legally condoned injustice. The laws of separate but equal were no more, but the seeds of racism still grew like weeds and I was eager to pluck them wherever they grew.

In the spring of 1968, I was planning my wedding when I heard the news that Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. I had been washing dishes when the word came and I remember slumping onto the floor in front of the sink where I sobbed uncontrollably. I was devastated beyond words and wondered how our country would be without the conscience and profound thoughts of this great man. His insights stay with me and guide me for the next fifty years of my life.

I am a seventy year old woman now. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words and influence have been a defining force for me even to this day. Reading his speeches and essays once again has brought me to tears and helped me to consider both the progress and the difficulties that remain in the long fight for justice. We have yet to achieve his dream, and of late we seem even to have slid back into a kind of ugliness that he had hoped to one day eradicate.

If Dr. King were still alive today he would be a very old man. I wonder what he might say about the state of our union. There are certainly things of which to be proud, but the work is not done. Would we be farther along in our progress if we still had his voice of reason and love, or would he be discouraged that we still have remnants of violence and hate? Whatever the case, reading his words has enlivened my own spirit and told me that the road to making his dream a reality is a worthy albeit difficult pathway.

As I write this I am gratified in knowing that my grandson is unfamiliar with concepts of segregation. I love that he innocently sees no color in his friends. The fact that I have to explain the evils that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of indicates to me that we have indeed moved the arc of history ever closer to the ideals of agape which Martin Luther King so eloquently explained as “an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return…when we rise to love on the agape level we love men not because we like them, not because their attitudes and ways appeal to us, but because God loves us. Here we rise to the position of loving the person who does the evil deed while hating the deed that the person does. With this type of love and understanding good will we will be able to stand amid the radiant glow of the new age with dignity and discipline. Yes, the new age is coming”      (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Facing the Challenge of a New Age, 1957)

I needed this reminder!

Free to Pursue the Truth

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The truth is found when men are free to pursue it.” —-Franklin Roosevelt

So we have a football player objecting to all sorts of American flags and many conservatives objecting to him. We have baristas at Starbucks asking law enforcement officials to leave because they are triggering other patrons. This person bothers that person and before long we are removing books from libraries, taking down crosses and monuments, refusing to shop or eat in certain places. How about just calming down and allowing each individual the right to his/her own thoughts, occupations, and choices? As long as nobody is being hurt why do so many of us come unglued? The thought patrol is making it feel dangerous to express ourselves publicly, because even the most benign ideas have the potential of being misunderstood, misinterpreted, and considered offensive. The mere choice of a wrong word may unintentionally cause pandemonium.

The quote that I chose to use at the beginning of this post might be construed to be sexist because it applies the word “men” to all humans. The idea of freedom to pursue the truth in today’s world often involves narrowing the parameters of what and who a person may choose to study. Unlike the days of my youth when I was encouraged to consider multiple points of view including before drawing conclusions, these days it has become risky to admit to actively searching out the merit of diverse ideas. Now there is a kind of closed mindedness requiring each of us to choose a particular side and then eschew all others. It flies in the face of all that I was taught to view as the pathway to wisdom.

I’ve learned over the years that there is rarely perfection in any person, organization, nation. As humans we make mistakes. Judging anyone or any group or any idea with a snapshot of only one moment is a ludicrous act. Instead we have to consider the totality to truly understand the nature, the character of all human pursuits. Each of us grows and evolves and changes over time as do even organizations. It matters less what someone did or said as an adolescent than how that individual eventually chose to live. Few of us would pass muster if the only yardstick for determining our morality were to view a few random moments from our youth. So t0o it often is with people who have spent decades in the public view. Our question should always be how they have changed to become better versions of themselves, not how they once were. The same is true of our country.

What I have always loved the most about being a citizen of the United States is my right to express myself without fear of being incarcerated or ruined. I have always understood that I had to follow certain guidelines with regard to my job because when I spoke, even in the private sector, I was still representing my employer. Nonetheless I always felt comfortable in supporting causes that I believed to be important. Mostly nobody really cared one way or another if I differed with them. Of late, however, it suddenly feels very different. People seem compelled to argue with me and tell me that they are disappointed whenever my views differ from theirs. Complete strangers come unglued by the mere mention of certain hot topics, even when I point out that I am attempting to hear the voices of as many different philosophies as possible before drawing conclusions.

It has become fair game to be close minded. Even in our universities where free thinking was once the norm, we shut down alternative discussions in the name of making everyone feel unsafe. Our debates are no longer ways to display differing ideas, but rather showcases for solidarity. Nobody wants to stray from the party line lest they be derided for abandoning the mutual cause. The result is a kind of stagnation of thought that is preventing solutions to very real problems and causing fear among those who genuinely wish to carry on lively discourse to find the truth.

I become wary whenever I hear the same phrases being mindlessly repeated again and again. I know that I am in the midst of propaganda rather than receiving facts. I have to explore different sources on my own, hoping that there will be people who have been willing to speak rationally about various topics even as they worry that their words may land them in a world of trouble.

We still have liberty in our country, but it does not feel as comfortable as it once did. The thought police are everywhere making it feel a dangerous game to engage in meaningful dialogue. As a nation we are far too busy pontificating rather than asking questions and then really listening to the answers. Sloganeering has become the fashion and in the process it is eroding the very freedoms that the grand experiment begun by the founders of this nation had hoped to achieve. So far we have yet to completely cross the line into tyranny, but our freedoms are threatened from both the far right and the far left. It’s time we demonstrate the courage to protect our precious liberties by letting those who would constrain our thoughts know that we are not so easily intimidated or bribed into submission. We are thinking people who want facts and information, not politicized propaganda.

Our process for selecting leaders has become as silly as a high school popularity contest or a beauty pageant. We don’t need clever soundbites, or demonstrations of insulting behavior. We need concrete ideas that are likely to actually become solutions to looming problems. We also need leaders who will accept our many differences and then use well thought out judgement to work for all the people, not just a small slice of supporters. It’s time for each of us to once again feel free to pursue the truth.