Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Boy From The South Or I'm Not Going Back

When I was a child the county courthouse and the surrounding blocks of shops were the centers of our community. The courthouse was a huge structure of marble and granite and it was surrounded by giant live oak trees. To gaze on the courthouse and the surrounding grounds was to gaze on a cool and serene scene. To this day I still think of that courthouse as one of the two most beautiful structures our community possessed. The post office, one block over, being the other. They are gone now. Replaced by faceless modern structures, that in my estimate, display no architectural beauty what so ever. As I reflect on this building and the pastoral square that surrounded it there is a great and painful sadness in my soul. The source of that sadness lies in two stark facts. The first is that on the lawn of that majestic structure was a monument to the Confederate South. The second was the two, somewhat inconspicuous, water fountains on the lawn. Inconspicuous with the exception being that one was marked "Colored" and the other marked "White".

As I reflect on the frequent warm summer afternoons walking around the town square and holding my mother's hand, it is amazing to me the innocence and naivete with which I saw these things. I realize now that it was sadly, so very "normal". It was "normal" that the town was divided by a highway. It was "normal" that the people of color lived west of the highway and the "white" people lived to the east. It was "normal" that there was a "colored" shopping area and a "white" shopping area. It was normal that there were "colored" toilets and "white" toilets. It was "normal" that the children of "color" went to the schools west of the highway and the "white" children went to the schools east of the highway. And, it was "normal" that over half of my community was living in abject poverty, unseen in plain sight.

I suppose that it is only natural that I, like many others, often reflect on my childhood with more than a touch of nostalgia. I believe that that is quite normal but, I also believe that we do something else that is quite normal, but not normal. We don't all remember those subtle and not so subtle signs. We don't all remember those signs that said, "Colored Only" and "White Only".  Those signs of deep-seated disrespect, viral hatred, and venomous resentment toward a group of fellow Americans that happened to be of a different skin color.

At the age of 18, I did something that so many members of my family had done since the Revolutionary War. I joined the United States Army. This became one of the defining moments in my life.  I entered an Army where, because of the draft, every ethnic and socioeconomic class living in our country was represented. I must mention here that even with the draft, some of our citizens with means and or influence did avoid the draft.

It is not possible for me to describe the following 28 years in this single blog entry so I will simply attempt to express some of the profound effects it had on my life. My entire worldview was about to change.

On the day that I joined the Army, I began an experience of profound consequence.  An experience where the color of mine and my comrade's skin was the least relevant thing in my life. The military taught every soldier that you take care of your "buddy". Your "buddy" was the most important person in your life. Your life depended on your "buddy" and your "buddies" life depended on you. This relationship, this bond, was forged in the fires of war, and for me, it could never be broken. My comrades and I lived and ate and slept together every hour of every day. We held each other in the cold, we pulled each other from the mud and we check every inch of each others body for leeches and bugs. But most importantly we made sure our buddy lived to go home and we did it in any way we had to regardless of the consequences to our own well-being.

During my career, I served in every condition known to man in both peace and war. I served in blistering deserts and frigid tundras. I served with every variation of humanity that occupies this earth and they all had one thing in common. They were, to a person, human beings just like me. Throughout my life and career, I have met people I liked and people I didn't like and people I "really" didn't like. I met people I loved and people I fell in love with, but I never met a single person where I experienced one of those emotions because of the color of their skin or their religion or their sexual orientation or any other human trait.

I don't want my readers to misunderstand. The military was not a cultural utopia. It was, in fact, a part of the great bureaucratic machine. It was a microcosm of American society at large with all of its many troubles. The difference was that all of these cultures and ethnicities, these people, were forced into a single unit and required to conform and blend for a single purpose. The military implemented surprisingly effective programs to promote equality and equal opportunity and understanding. Soldiers had to become one single unit for the sake of the mission and their own survival. The positive side effect of this merging was tolerance and shared values. An environment where all humans could come together with mutual respect and understanding. It promulgated a multicultural society. 

Since November the 9th I have felt profound sadness and anger. My emotions are raw but not as a result of any political discourse. They are a result of the language and attitude of one individual and the group of people who are following him. It is a result of who we are about to put into the office of the President of the United States and those whom he is choosing to fill positions within his administration. They are a result of what these people represent and the lack of core human values they appear to not possess.

Since the election, I have read many articles and opinion pieces that espouse that we must work with those who will soon be taking the reins of power. Writers across the spectrum are saying that those individuals who voted for the President-Elect have simply expressed their grave concerns for our country. That these people have used their vote to express their concerns about losing their jobs and their culture. And, that we must accept the results of the election and move forward.

I agree with much of this. We have been losing jobs overseas and our culture is changing. It is true that we haven't done enough to reform our immigration policies and to stem the tide of incoming undocumented immigrants. It is true that we haven't done enough to craft trade agreements that are fair and that keep good jobs in this country. I understand all of these things and there are many, many more issues I most probably agree with. I want to tell all the people who have supported the President-Elect, I understand. I really do! I want those same things but, I also want an accepting and just society.

In the beginning of this post, I described for you the community that I grew up in and then I told you of my profound experiences upon leaving that community and entering a world that opened my eyes. Now, I tell you that I am profoundly grateful that I left that community. And this is why.

The community that I left, like many communities across the nation, was not really the nice place we all thought and believe that it was. It was a place that we really don't remember accurately and that we remember with false images. We don't look deeply  at our memories.  We no longer see the signs "Colored" and "White Only". In reality, it was a place of segregation and inequality. A place of happiness on one side and deplorable inexplicable pain on the other. I do not want to go back there in reality or spirit.

My disagreement and the disagreement that I believe millions of Americans have with the incoming administration is this. They appear to be blatantly and admittedly misogynistic, racist, homophobic and demonstrably unqualified to be in the positions they are being placed in. I simply cannot accept such people being in charge of my government. I cannot accept going back. I want to move forward to a nation that is inclusive in every way possible. I won't share my country with hate and the President-Elect and his staff is the personification of that.

Those Are The Sergeant Majors Thoughts On That.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Story Of Two Men Or Why I Don't Hate

Note: I would just like to let anyone who happens on this post to know that it is very painful for me to write about this. It's painful in bad ways and in good ways.

When I was a very small child, I believe it was when I was about five or six years old, we lived in a small house in town. My father was still living with my family and would be around for about three more years. The day of this first event was an unusual day in that my mom was away and my father had remained home with me. This was something that I don't remember having ever occurred before or ever occurring again after that day. At any rate, we were home and my father was in the house while I was outside playing. At the time we had a big collie named Rex and like most collies, Rex was very protective of our home and in particularly we children. It was early morning and I heard the garbage truck approaching and, like most children would, I went to the side of the house where the truck stopped to pick up our trash. In those days the men working on the trucks had to dismount and pick up and carry the cans to the back of the truck to empty them. As the worker approached the yard, as usual Rex ran to the edge of the property and began barking. I ran and grabbed Rex by his collar and told the man, "It's okay mister you can come in, he won't bite".

After the garbage truck drove away my father called me to the back porch. When I came up to him, without a word, he grabbed me by the arm and whipped me. As my father whipped me he said, "Don't you ever call a ni**er, mister again"! (Please excuse my use of that very painful and insulting word, but I feel it is needed here to emphasize exactly what happened to me that day.)

Fast forward fifteen years. After my parents were separated, my mother, my sisters, and I moved next door to my grandparent's which is where this next scene occurs.  I am in the Army and I have just returned from my first tour in Vietnam and after a month of leave, I will be heading back for my second tour.

I had been home just a few days and had met someone whom I, of course, had asked out. Since I didn't have a car and my mother's car was in use I had to borrow my grandfather's car. Long story short we got a little carried away and I didn't arrive back home until around 5:00 am. As I arrived I had planned to quietly roll into the driveway, park the car, sneak the keys back in the house and go to bed pretending nothing had happened. As they say, "plans of mice and men". As I exited the car my grandfather was standing by the front door. I can, with all honesty, say I had never seen, nor ever saw again, my grandfather so angry. I cannot express that strongly enough. I don't remember much of that conversation which I'm sure included a lot of, don't you know how to be responsible etc but there are some words and an expression I will never, ever forget. My grandfather, who wasn't prone to profanity, said, "son, I don't give a tinker's damn about that car, I was worried sick that something had happened to you". His expression was like a blow to my gut. I felt, so very ashamed and irresponsible at that moment and every time I have thought of that moment since. As ridiculous as it seemed to me in that moment I could not believe how much my grandfather loved me and he worried about me all the time. Here I was between two combat tours as an infantryman and a crew chief/gunner in Vietnam and my grandfather worried that I would have an accident and be hurt.

I tell these two stories together because they taught me two very important lessons. My first lesson was from my father, and that lesson was that fathers don't always love their sons and don't always teach them about love and respect. The second lesson was from my grandfather and that was that men do love and do know how to teach other men about love and respect.

Of course, it was not that one incident with my father or my grandfather that made me who I am today. My grandfather and my grandmother and my mother, and even my father in his backward way taught me about what was right and wrong and how to respect everyone regardless of their skin color, gender, sexual orientation or any other differences. They taught me how to be a decent human being with their day to day actions and language and simply by the way they lived their lives.

And of course, just like most of my posts, this has a political point. My grandfather, grandmother, and mother worked very hard at teaching me and my sisters how to be a decent, respectful, honorable human being and citizen. My family is made up of immigrant men and women trying to make a good life for themselves. Some came to this country earlier and some later, my wife being the latest to arrive.  Members of my family, both men, and women, including my grandmother (in WWII) and my daughter (in the war on terror), has fought in every war this country has fought. They shed their blood for both the North and the South but they always shed their blood and sweat for America and Americans. So please, Mr. President-Elect, don't tell me to turn my back on my fellow Americans. Don't tell me to turn my back on immigrants. Don't tell me to turn my back on anyone because of where they come from or the color of their skin or their gender, or sexual orientation. In other words, don't tell me to turn my back on any human being. That is not who we Americans are.

Those Are The Sergeant Majors Thoughts On That.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Impeachment For Our Daughters Sake

I have not posted to my blog for many years. It is not that I have not had something to say but, that I have simply been complacent. With this last election, that is all changing and I once again take up my "pen" to reflect on what is happening and about to happen in our great country.

To say that the election of Donald Trump was a shock to me is an understatement of exponential magnitude. Let me explain this by way of a short story.

When I was about 9 years old my father left our family. He did not look back and he did not, ever again, come forth with any assistance to our family. Of my two older brothers, the eldest joined the military and the next oldest was disabled and, on the advice of our family physician, was sent away to a "home". Yes, it was a time that was that barbaric. So the result of my father and two older brothers departure was that I and my mother, and my four younger sisters were alone. My mother found herself alone with five children and the nearly insurmountable task of providing food, clothing, and shelter for us all. What I think makes this a little more poignant, if not totally depressing, is that my father left while my mother was in the hospital delivering the youngest of my four sisters.

There are a few more details that, I believe, are important in order for one to fully understand the sheer desperation that my mother must have felt. This was all occurring at a time in the late 1950's that was before President Lyndon B. Johnson ushered in of the "Great Society" and the passage of legislation upholding civil rightspublic broadcastingMedicareMedicaid, aid to education, the arts, urban and rural development, public services, and his "War on Poverty". At that time there were simply no programs to help an abandoned woman in my mother's position to survive. When I think back on these times, from and adult perspective, I realize just how difficult women's lives were. If we believe that they are not receiving equal treatment today, during that time we must realize that they were little more than a servant class. This becomes quite evident when we look at the types of jobs that were available to women at this time. Not only did they not receive equal pay but the "good" jobs simply were not available to them for the simple fact that they were women.

So my mother started out with a job making just thirty-two cents an hour as a waitress and eventually working up to being a bartender. I must admit that it was thirty-two cents plus tips. Even today, at 67 years old, when I think back to those times my heart hurts. To compound this difficulty my mother had to work these difficult, menial jobs in the evenings from 4:00 pm to 12:00 pm because those were the hours that a waitress or bartender could make the most money and she needed every penny. That left me, a 9-year-old boy, home alone with four little sisters to watch and feed and bathe and put to bed.

I tell this story today because I think it is important to understand what life was like before the "Great Society" and all the programs that, had they existed, could have made my mother's life more bearable. Could have ensured that the food we had was a little more nutritious. Could have ensured we had a little more medical attention. Could have ensured that there would have been daycare for myself and my sisters. All of those things could have made us a little safer and healthier.

My mother was, and at 92 years old, still is my all-time hero. She worked her fingers to the bone to put food on our table, clothes on our backs, and a roof over our heads and I think she did a good job considering the almost insurmountable obstacles in her way. She lived with misogynists barring her way at every turn. She lived with men making unwanted advances and blocking her way up the promotional chain and denying the good jobs at every turn. But she persevered. She took care of her children and she taught me to respect every human being.

This experience had a profound effect on me. As I grew older and embarked on my career my life experiences left me with a certain perspective that helped me realize that women and minorities and the disabled and those who are a little different had it far, far more difficult navigating life and succeeding than a straight white male in our "American" society. It made me think more carefully and be more sensitive to their plight and it made me want to change myself and help change the dynamic in our society that causes us to be so blind to these things.

Now, in this post and at every other opportunity, I am asking that we all reflect on just what is happening in our country today. We, and by we I mean all Americans, through our actions and lack of actions, have elected a person to be the president of the United States who, by his own admissions, actions, and statements, is a misogynist and racist who has committed sexual assault. And we have also elected a congress whose stated intentions are to roll back or eliminate every program that has moved us toward correcting the injustices of the past and made it possible for those who are most in need to receive the help they need to get ahead and succeed in life. 

I, unequivocally reject Donald Trump's right to occupy the office of the president and I intend to exercise my constitutional right to not accept a person entering the office of the president of the United States who has admittedly committed sexual assault.  I believe that it is congresses responsibility to investigate the actions of the president-elect and move to impeach him if found guilty.

Those are the Sergeant Major's Thoughts on That.