Sunday, January 10, 2016

Reflections on the many Americas


I have not lived everywhere in America. However, I have briefly lived on the West Coast, and in the Midwest and the Southwest, as well as the Deep South, when not residing in my native New Jersey.
The city of Brotherly Love: Philly any old day

Yet, what I have noticed along the way is that there are subtle, and sometimes more than subtle, differences in what people in one part of our country call "American," as opposed to what others in different parts of the nation characterize as "American." The whole view of what is wholesome, sought after and believed in, governmentally speaking, changes with the scenery. There is also the matter of race that has to be dealt with, also regionally, but that would just make this post too darn long.

Suburban New Jersey when everyone is going home
I was raised in the shadow of New York City, across the Raritan Bay in Keansburg, New Jersey. I lived in a diverse environment, wherein Blacks, Hispanics, Asian and people from all over the world settled into to live. Because I lived near New York City, I understood and was frequently exposed to varying opinions and points of view. New York City is nothing if not a global city. New York does not have to go to the world, because the world comes to New York. Rather than list those things that New York is a leader in, it is easier to list those things that are not well known to people in the Greater New York Metropolitan Area; most notably, farming, agricultural life, animal husbandry, growing things or raising things that walk and moo. Sure, like the commercials say, you can find a little bit of everything in Jersey and New York, but those things are not a central preoccupation of the people here.

Rush Hour in the city of Lincoln, Nebraska

When I lived in Killeen, Texas, I was a soldier who lived on a base. So, it is not like I had a chance to really get the flavor of what it was like to live in the Southwest, per se. I know that, where the base I was at (Fort Hood) was diverse, the community was not. While there were many occasions for soldiers and locals to join in common activities, they did not frequently, in my experience. In fact, what I noticed was that Central Texans more or less kept to themselves and tolerated the soldiers. Maybe they ran local stores and sold us things, or rolled their eyes when we came into a bar or restaurant they owned. Still, if there was something I can say I actually felt in the locals was a sense of invasion. The Central Texan lived their lives around us, where we weren't: not at the same place and time. Their lives were agrarian or commercial.
Lovely old New Hope, Pennsylvania

On the West Coast, again I lived on a base: Californians welcomed soldiers. Where I was stationed, though, at Fort Ord, in wine country, soldiers were as welcomed as sunlight. Of course, things were also very expensive there. While perusing the local town  of Carmel, in 1986, I could buy a T-shirt stating I had been to Carmel for $20. I don't know what that is in today's money -- but $20 then was a lot more than $20 today. Things were so expensive, in fact, that it was just easier and less expensive to hang around Ord, which was affectionately termed "the Planet Ord" by its residents. My impression, though, was that people who lived there were very educated and successful, and the local economy probably went the way of the grape industry.
The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina

There was my sojourn to the Mid-West, in the 2010s, which was unsuccessful for my part. It was a sparse place without many people. The economy in Lincoln, Nebraska, while bolstered by the University of Nebraska and several major corporate giants, still seemed to orbit around the business of growing corn, wheat and whatever the heck else they grew out there. I will always remember Nebraska, as I had a reversal of luck there and ended up, for the first time ever in my life, homeless there. It was not a particularly urbane place. The state's capitol city strove to be more than the under-sized college town it was then (and probably still is). Roads were made and entrances were cut into undeveloped lots of real-estate, in the hope that one day something might be developed there. It was a 'primer' of a city, and not actually a city yet. It had hospitals and a small Downtown area, and with every printing of the local newspaper, it gave the new number of residents who moved into the state. The weather is brutal in the winter, and it has led me to wonder why anyone ever settled there in the first place.
A NYC street -- and I wouldn't call it crowded

Then there was the Deep South. Anyone from the crowded East Coast can find it very easy to fall in love with the gentle lifestyle and beautiful weather and scenery of the South. I have been a Floridian, a Georgian and a North Carolinian. And, whenever my professional career is done, I will do what I can to find my way back to the sleepy little towns of the Great Smoky Mountains. In contrast with relatively close Charlotte, the mountain life is still a place where seclusion is possible. Yet, major urban areas like Charlotte; Richmond, in Virginia; Atlanta, in Georgia and so many other places have dramatically changed the nature of the Deep South. The stereotypes I grew up with in the 1960s and '70s just do not hold water anymore. Southerners, in my opinion, are not unlike their Northeastern cousins in many ways. An agrarian economy still exists there, though, and is probably one (of many) factors that make the Southern reality contrasted to those of Northeasterners.

In my life, I have not seen one America, which values and holds dear the same things in the same ways. I have seen many Americas, which elevates some traditions higher than others, and discards others entirely. Yes, geography plays a role: Now, what size the role is can be debated from here to kingdom come. The local economies and who is making things, or growing things, bartering things, banking things all plays a part of the reality each area lives, and the lens through which so many different people see what is commonly called "The United States of America."

The suburban borough of Red Bank, New Jersey

It is too easy to just look at a map and guess the differences in perceptions over people. However, at the same time, I would use a map as one of many ways to inform one about the priorities of others in this country. I am colored by my perceptions of what I have seen in my American sojourn, and my experiences -- like everyone else. I am interested to see the commonalities in our nation, and those things that are uncommon and particular to certain areas of people.

If I were being politically correct, I would say that all of the many differences are part of that '...great mosaic that is America.' I will leave it at that, and maybe be a little politically correct today.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Infantry, Women and the Army

Photos by Jim Purcell
Women in the Infantry: It is a reality of everyday life in uniform.

There is a new initiative from the Department of Defense that women should be included in the ranks of all combat arms components in the United States military. There are supporters of this measure and, of course, detractors as well.

I served a substantial amount of time in the Infantry during my military service and can see where critics of this move can find fault with it. Being a "grunt," a term of affection by infantryman for infantrymen, comes with a rigorous lifestyle, which can include combat with enemy forces when the United States is at war. The Infantry is, by definition, a very hazardous way to make a living in the world.

The Army I served in during the 1980s was a reflection of the society it safeguarded. The Army is always reflective of the country it protects, the people that afford it and the nation that fields it. Would women infantrymen be welcome in the 1980s? No. They would not have been welcome or wanted in Infantry units, I believe. However, that was then.
Soldiers qualify on the M2, .50-caliber machinegun.

The Army today represents a people very different than America under President Reagan, before the Internet or self-driving cars. Things change and, like everything else, the Army changes with it. There was a time when Blacks were disallowed from serving with white soldiers. There was a time when women could not serve in the Army directly (or any other service) but served the cause as part of the Women's Army Corps, which supported Army operations. The first female paratroopers were not allowed to serve until the 1970s.

So this new personnel move by the Armed Forces represents yet another evolution of women in the service, and the military service itself. This change and the realities it will create should not be argued about because it has happened. It will not be undone or the hands of the clock turned back on this one.

Will there be challenges? You bet. There will regrettable incidents and I do not expect the transition will go flawlessly. At times, people may gnash their teeth and say, 'How did this ever happen!?' And then, they will get over it and do whatever needs doing and women will continue to serve in the Infantry.

I have already heard old soldiers grumbling about the prospect of female grunts. The last thing our female warriors should have to contend with is static from those who served in the Infantry back in the day, or civilians whom they protect, or legislators at any level of government anywhere in our great land.

A new day has dawned and, as in the case of every new morning, each of us has the choice to live that new day as a part of the solution or a part of the problem.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Militia Takevover Brings New Set of Issues


In the past few days, a group of armed, white militiamen have occupied a wildlife sanctuary in Oregon with the goal of sparking a Neo-Conservative revolution in the United States, which culminates in the overthrow of the Federal Government, according to published reports.

To some, their actions are being regarded as "patriotic," while others view the group as simply a collective of home-grown terrorists. I side with the latter group, and am concerned about the nature of the nationwide militia phenomenon, their intentions and links to white supremacist ideology, not to mention their access to firearms. It is my opinion, these groups (and I include the Klu Klux Klan in this) have been indulged and allowed to grow by Federal law enforcement, without proper scrutiny or tracking by authorities.

I believe in freedom of speech, as all Americans should. However, the moment "freedom of speech" includes buying firearms being coupled with open talk of sedition and violence it becomes something else. Where there are fierce anti-government sentiments, which apparently is a common denominator in such groups, and firearms there is a precursor for action. And, any group that advocates the forcible overthrow of the American Government must, in all common sense, be laid to rest quickly and decisively in order that their actions may serve as an example to other such groups.

Of course, why these groups were and are allowed to exist, grow and prosper, is beyond me. I would have thought Federal authorities would have been tracking domestic terror groups more efficiently than to allow one to overrun Federal land. There is an excuse the group gives for this, the so-called Bundy Militia, but to my mind I cannot imagine a fit excuse, for any reason, to resort to bearing arms against one's own country.

Currently, there are negotiators trying to avert an armed conflict between the government and the militiamen, yet I am not even sure if that is in the best interest of this situation as, if this is not treason they are doing, I have no idea what else to call it. There should be no leniency with treason or sedition, in my opinion. Historically speaking, treason is the crime that perhaps carries the worst of punishments, deservedly so.

It is my firm belief that we, as the American People, have entered a time wherein we must each choose what side of potential armed Neo-Conservativism revolution we stand on because, as is made clear, there are reactionary elements within that political movement that are not content to abide by the ruling of the ballot box. The span between being an ideological Conservative and a radical Conservative is only a brief commute and, I believe, these people and their aims, goals or ambitions, represent a clear and present danger to the welfare of the American state and government. I admit, I have always believed this, since the early days of the Tea Party Movement rhetoric but now I believe there is sufficient evidence for anyone to see plainly.

There are reflections used by so called "patriot" groups of the American Revolution. These people liken themselves to the Founding Fathers revisited. In fact, these are dangerous, immature and potentially hostile collectives of people that each deserve attention by Federal law enforcement authorities. It is not true anymore, with this recent event, that the fiery words of revolution spoken by these people and their ideological leaders (the Bobby Jindalls, Ted Cruzs and Donald Trumps of the world) are merely high political theater. Things have taken a dark turn and the very fabric of our American society, and all we hold dear, is being threatened not by the Russians or the Chinese but by our neighbors, our friends, our colleagues and even our family, in some cases. Yet, in each would-be revolution, sides must be taken and, not because of my words but by the actions of the Neo-Conservative Movement in the recent past and now, there must be a stand. What will America be? Another Third World backwater where the mob may usurp legitimately elected leadership or will it remain a beacon of freedom, where revolutions are waged not with assault weapons and homemade pyrotechnics but through the vote -- one person, one vote? This question is being debated now, like it or not.

I do not care to cast off the traditions of being a democratic republic, which is what America was crafted to be. I do not want to give in to terror and armed rebellion. I will not countenance being menaced any longer by seditious actors and I certainly will not lend my voice to them by voting for anyone in the Republican Party these anarchists have aligned themselves with.

In each person's life, there comes a time when they must either be bullied into something they would not choose or to stand for what is right. I choose to stand for what is right, to me, and that is the less-than-perfect, but better-than-all-other system of governance in this country. So, I will not be moved by the spectacle of treason or words of crocodile patriotism. On my part, I am of the belief they can go to hell.