America in the 60s & 70s and America in 2020: For Better or Worse?

(This is a bit of a long one, but it is an interesting topic and, hopefully, worth the read)

The good ‘ole days may not have been as good as we’d like to believe, or were they better? An intriguing question. As I often do, I like to use the words of others with my own to illustrate the commonality of our experiences.

Here’s a quote one of my most influential teachers,

“The past is delusion; the present, elusion; the future, illusion.” Dan Walsh

With the past, we often twist Shakespeare’s words about the evil men do.  Instead of “The evil men do lives on, the good is oft interred with their bones.” We change it to, “Our fondness for the wonderful memories of the past live on, the evil is oft interred in the deepest recesses of our brain.”

In a reaction to a recent piece, https://joebroadmeadowblog.com/2020/06/13/a-eulogy-for-the-police/, Paul Edward Cary, who enjoys debating many of my positions (respectful of our differences and, on the rare occasion, our agreement) argued the United States has declined in moral character over the past 50 or 60 years.

It sparked an idea.

Was America a better place in the 60s and 70s? Are we a nation in decline? I decided to see what I could discover.

While measuring morality is subjective, there are other benchmarks we can use to test the hypothesis. I looked at various historical events and national attributes—health, infant mortality, education, civil rights, Supreme Court cases, and crime.

Supreme Court

Time magazine did a project several years ago seeking opinions from a variety of law professors and legal experts on the most influential—for good or bad—Supreme Court cases.

http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/completelist/0,29569,2036448,00.html

Often the court serves as a catalyst for change in society, righting wrongs embedded within the fabric of American lives. Some would argue these decisions were not always for the better. But here are the most beneficial and the most troubling in the 1960s-70s contrasted with those the court decided in the 2010s.

In the 1960s, several cases sparked major changes and controversies. Fifty or sixty years sounds like a long time ago. But to those of us alive in those years, thinking back, it’s hard to accept such cases were necessary.

Loving v. Virginia (1967), which found restrictions on interracial marriage unconstitutional. 

New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964), which protected freedom of the press in the realm of political reporting and libel. 

Baker v. Carr (1962) and Reynolds v. Sims (1964), which established the one-person, one-vote concept in legislative apportionment.

2015 saw the landmark case of Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 same-sex-marriage ruling.

Perhaps the cases necessary in the 60s and 70s set us on a better, more moral path. The law professors saw them as positive cases. Yet, that they were necessary paints a troubling picture of a segregated and less open society.

On the negative side, many professors were critical of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010). The case removed campaign-spending limits on corporations and unions, and Bush v. Gore (2000), which resulted in George W. Bush’s winning the presidential election.

Of all the cases I looked at, this one from 1973 troubled me. San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez (1973).

“This decision held that inequities in school funding do not violate the Constitution. The court thus said that discrimination against the poor does not violate the Constitution and that education is not a fundamental right. It played a major role in creating the separate and unequal schools that exist today.” (From the Times article)

The controversial decision in Roe v. Wade (1973) appeared on the lists of both the best and worst decisions. Without once again venturing down this rabbit hole, I’ll leave it to you to decide if this contributed to our “moral decay.”

I know my lawyer friends will all pipe in with their own favorites. Still, the very need for the cases decided in the 60s and 70s casts a shadow on the perception of a more fair or moral American society.

As further proof of the importance of court-imposed mandates, one need look no further than our own backyard and the 1970s desegregation of the Boston School system.

The case—Morgan v. Hennigan, 379 F. Supp. 410 (D.C. Mass., June 21, 1974)—decided by U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Garrity, required Boston to bus students to various schools to achieve a racial balance.

That a court, in 1974, had to force a city the size of Boston—a city which prides itself on its contribution to the very founding of this nation—to comply with the findings of Brown V Board of Education, a twenty-year-old refutation of the concept of separate but equal school systems, is astounding. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/boston-bussing-case/

But before we take too much comfort in this decade being better than the past, there is this. In Cleveland, Mississippi, the school district finally stopped contesting a ruling from 1965 regarding the desegregation of its high schools.

The city agreed to desegregate the schools in 2017, having fought against it by various legal maneuverings for fifty-two years. http://www.mshistorynow.mdah.ms.gov/articles/305/the-last-stand-of-massive-resistance-1970

1960s News Stories

BIRMINGHAM, Ala., May 3, 1963 (UPI) – Five firemen stood less than 50 feet away today sweeping methodically with a high-pressure hose and sending hundreds of racial demonstrators tumbling in the street.

The force downs a man as fast as a charging tackle on a football field and is no less damaging.

I was in a corner telephone booth dictating a story as a crowd of chanting, singing, gyrating Negroes surged time and again into the face of a police blockade. Spray hung across the intersection like fog.

When the first powerful blast hit the front line of anti-segregation marchers, they toppled and rolled in the streets, clinging to the curb and to each other.

As the hose swung away, they jeered the firemen, taunting with catcalls. But the ones who didn’t flee at first soon were routed by the full force of spray.

Then the firemen turned their attention to a small group of Negroes on the corner where I was standing.

“Let’s get those people out of there,” an officer shouted.

The firemen swung the hose quickly and the gush of water splattered the seven Negroes on the corner. They fled into a restaurant and the firemen followed, playing their hose in the restaurant for two or three minutes.

“They’re turning the hose on us,” I shouted to another newsman.

Elvin Stanton, of radio station WSGN, jumped into the phone booth with me. We braced for the blast of water which hit the glass wall with a roar.

The water was brown, then a boiling white froth which roared through the cracks in the booth, sloshed under the booth and soaked our feet. Then they turned the hose on an upper ventilating slot and our shoulders were soaked.

I kept yelling that we were reporters, but the torrent kept pounding on the glass booth. Somehow, the glass held until they turned the hose around.

We walked out. As we strode soggily by the firemen, one turned and asked: “Did you get wet?”

SELMA, Ala., March 7, 1965 (UPI) – State troopers and mounted deputies bombarded 600 Negroes with tear gas Sunday when they knelt to pray on a bridge, then attacked them with clubs. Troopers and posse men, under orders from Gov. George C. Wallace to stop the Negro “walk for freedom” to Montgomery, chased the marchers nearly a mile through town, clubbing them as they ran.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower signs the Civil Rights Act of 1960 into law on May 6. The purpose of the law was to close loopholes from the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and dealt primarily with voter disenfranchisement. The act created penalties for anyone who tried to obstruct voter registration and extended the life of the Civil Rights Commission which had been set to expire. It also established federal inspection of local voter registration polls in an effort to counter-act discriminatory laws in the South that worked to disenfranchise voters on a racial basis.

Vietnam

And then we had Vietnam, or more correctly Viet Nam.

While our involvement in Viet Nam began long before the 60s, most Americans wouldn’t have a clue where the country was until 1965.

Here’s one interesting tidbit of history.

June 8, 1956: The first official American fatality in Viet Nam is Air Force Technical Sergeant Richard B. Fitzgibbon, Jr. He was murdered by another American airman as he was talking with local children. His wife lobbied for years, finally succeeding in 1999, to have his name added to the Viet Nam Wall Memorial.

Think about that for a second. The first official American casualty in Viet Nam was murdered by a fellow American.  It gets no stranger than that. Perhaps had we taken that as an omen, we might have decided the avoid the whole thing.

But we didn’t. And when I said it could get no stranger, I was wrong. Fitzgibbon’s son joined the Marine Corps…and was killed in Viet Nam.

Here’s a brief historical timeline of the 60s and 70s and the routes of involvement.

1960 The United States announces 3,500 American soldiers will be sent to Vietnam.

July 1964. Gulf of Tonkin incident. U.S. warships come under fire by North Vietnamese gunboats in two related incidents. There is little doubt the first incident happened. The NV Gunboats were responding to an earlier bombing attack on two North Vietnamese held islands by U.S. and South Vietnamese Naval forces. 

The second incident, which Lyndon Johnson would use to escalate American involvement, is in doubt. Johnson secretly confided to his advisors, “for all I know, the goddamn Navy was shooting at whales out there.”

On March 6, 1965, two battalions of U.S. Marines waded ashore near Danang,

March 16, 1968 The My Lai massacre—known as Son My in Viet Nam—where American soldiers killed nearly all the people—old men, women, and children, including infants—in the village of My Lai. The months-long military campaign known as the Tet Offensive (January 30–September 23) topped Vietnam news.

Amid the carnage of Viet Nam, on July 20, 1969, Americans put a man on the moon.

1973 The Paris Peace Accords, negotiated by the Nixon administration, reached agreement after five years. Nixon secretly orchestrated a delay in the talks during the 1968 Presidential Campaign through back-channel communications with the North Vietnamese government promising better terms. He then took 5 years, at the cost of almost twenty thousand more dead Americans, to settle the war.

1973 All U.S. Combat troops leave Viet Nam. 500 American POWs return from North Viet Nam.

Military advisors remain until 1975

April 1975

The U.S.-backed South Vietnamese government surrendered to the Communists on April 30, ending three decades of war in Vietnam. Hours later, the first Communist tanks rumbled into the capital.

During Viet Nam, anti-war protesters and racial strife tore apart the country.

May 4, 1970, National Guard troops fire on war protesters, killing four, at Kent State University.  Allison Beth Krause, 19, Jeffrey Glenn Miller, 20, Sandra Lee Scheuer, 20, and William Knox Schroeder, 19.

Several National Guardsmen were charged in the killings, but they dismissed the cases.

1971

Attica prison riot

Native Americans forced from Alcatraz after citing an 1868 Treaty allowing them to live on the island

1972

Supreme Court rules against the death penalty

The last man to walk on the moon, Eugene Cernan, aboard Apollo 17 in December 1972, brought an end to the Apollo program.

AIM seizes Wounded Knee, SD
The American Indian Movement (AIM) seized the hamlet for 90 days before surrendering. It was a protest of violations to American Indian treaties over the past centuries.

The 60s and 70s were the decades of hard rock ‘n roll.

Crime and Punishment: Police, Violent Crime, & Prisons

Police

The debate over racial bias in Law Enforcement is the latest controversy to roil the nation. In 2014, the Obama administration passed a law— the Death in Custody Reporting Act—requiring Law Enforcement agencies to track all in-custody deaths and report them to the Justice Department.

The Justice Department has never created the database or received any information from the nation’s law enforcement agencies. We cannot identify a problem if we operate in the dark.

But we can compare the nature of a policing, and the relative dangers associated with being a cop, by tracking the numbers of officers killed in the line of duty.  These numbers take into consideration all manners of death, not just violent encounters.

Officer Killed in the line of duty

19702402010181
19712532011188
19732402012144
19732792013135
19742852014161
19752572015167
19762062016181
19772022017184
19782182018185
19792242019147

One officer killed is too many, but the trend has been declining. In the 1960s and 70s, during the height of racial tensions and anti-war protests, they targeted police officers with snipers and bombs. Yet, over time these incidents have grown less and less frequent. The media hype of today amplifies and distorts the level of violence beyond reality.

Killed by Law Enforcement

1970-1979      No accurate statistics exist

2015-2019     5400 and the average per year is consistent (1000). Still, unarmed Black men are more likely to be killed by the police than white men based on a preliminary analysis of the limited data. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/investigations/police-shootings-database/)

Violent Crime

Homicides

1970-1979      191,690 (9.06 per 100,000 population)

2010-2019     155,034 (4.8 per 100,000 of population. 2019 numbers projected based on average # of homicides of the previous nine years as final numbers from FBI not yet available. Again, there are racial disparities in murder rates, but the overall numbers even among various races are lower.)

Violent crime per 100,000 populations. Rates climbed in the mid-1960s, peaking in 1990-91. They have consistently declined since then.

1970                451

2019               387.2 

Prisons (Number of prisoners)

1970                196,000

2010               1,570,00

Health and Education

MVA Fatalities Rates per 100,000 population

1970    25.67

2018   11.18 (last year data available)

Infant Mortality Rates

The U.S. is far behind other developed nations in infant mortality. Comparable country average (nations with similar levels of development such as Canada, United Kingdom, France, Japan) is 3.4 per 1000 live births

US Infant Mortality Rates per 100,000 population

1970    26

2015   5.8

Literacy Levels

The U.S. is 7th in the world in literacy rates. The ability of most Americans to read sits at about 99%, although there are racial disparities. Educationally, Americans sit in the middle of the world curve in terms of analytical abilities in math, science, and reading.

In the 1970s, the U.S. led the world in education. Clearly, we have failed in the promise of public education.

Defense spending as a % of GDP

1970    7.8%

2018   3.16%

Education vs. Military Budget

1970    Military $79.1 billion   Education $1.0 billion

2020   Military $989 billion ($160 billion increase over 2 years)  Education $64 billion (10% decrease over 2019)

Culture

#1 in Music Billboard Chart

1960 Theme from A Summer Place (Percy Faith)

1970 Bridge Over Troubled Water (Simon & Garfunkel)

2010 Tik Tok (Kesha)

#1 Movie

1960   Swiss Family Robinson

1970    Love Story

2010   Avatar

#1 T.V.

1960   Andy Griffith Show

1970    Marcus Welby, MD

2010   Breaking Bad

In the culture category, while I may be prejudiced here, but the 60s and 70s win this one, hands down.

___________________________________________________________

Can we say the U.S. has suffered a decline, moral or otherwise, over the past 50 or 60 years?

Probably not.

Yet I can make an argument we have become more socially open and accepting. We embrace a more democratic form of social interaction, minimizing the once formidable lines of separation between races, ethnicities, and religions. 

Despite the constant bombardment of “breaking news,” we have become less violent people. By all measures, we have seen a reduction in homicides and other crimes of violence.

The burgeoning prison population and the de-emphasis on education are troubling. The overwhelming number of people are in prison for non-violent crimes. Imprisonment has little to do with crime reduction. It turns people into career criminals doing life on the installment plan.

What drove the reduction in violent crime? Many theories abound.

Some claim the high rates of incarceration take violent offenders off the street. This seems logical, except with a fifty percent recidivism rate, it is only a partial explanation.

Increased community policing efforts is another suggestion.

Reduced opportunity to commit crimes due to the prevalence of home surveillance cameras, cellphone cameras, and other technology such as DNA evidence is a factor. The “graying of America” is another possibility with the average age rising above the mean for those most likely to commit crimes.

Two wild theories relate to reduced violence within society. One, proposed by Rick Nevin, a Virginia economist, claims a correlation between eliminating lead from gasoline and a reduction in violent crime.  In a peer-reviewed study, he makes an interesting case. He even wrote a book on the subject, Lucifer Curves. (https://www.amazon.com/Lucifer-Curves-Legacy-Lead-Poisoning-ebook/dp/B01I3LTR4W)

An even more controversial theory, by University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt, the co-author of Freakonomics, and John Donohue of Yale University, argued that the 1973 Supreme Court Case of Roe v. Wade legalizing abortions was a significant contributor to reduced incidents of violent crime.

Research shows unwanted children had higher incidents of psychiatric problems and propensity to violence. Eighteen years after the decision, when those pregnancies legally aborted would have reached the age of 18, the start of the range of age of most violent offenders, the incidents of violent crime decreased.  Controversial, to say the least. Critics of the theory tend to oppose abortion, so a full analysis is lacking.

These matters are all complex and intimately related. I doubt one explanation can account for the data. Yet, an honest look at comparing and contrasting the America of the mid-20th century and the one we live in today would show a vast overall improvement.

We have not suffered a “moral” decline. We have entered an age where we are overwhelmed with information absent any legitimate controls over the validity or veracity.

Fake news is a real phenomenon, but it is not characterized by just the things we disagree with. If there has been any decline, it is in our undervaluing the benefits of education.

The world becomes a more stable, safer, and fair place when we fundamentally understand our differences. There is no single path to a better America. Yet there is one certain path to our demise and decline, ignorance.

Until we set our minds to creating the best educational system and opportunity for success in the world, we will continue to look to the false memories of the good ‘ole days.

Our success lies in seizing the day, not clinging to the past.                                   

A Eulogy for the Police

Friends, Americans, Countrymen (in a non-gender specific, judgment-less way) lend me your ears.
I come to bury the Police, not to praise them.
The Evil that some cops do lives after them;
The Good by most is oft interred with their bones.
So let it be with the Police.
The noble protesters hath told you the Police were ambitious.
If it were so it was a grievous fault.
And grievously would the protesters have the police answer for it.
 Here, under the leave of the protesters and the rest—For these protesters are honorable people,
so are they all honorable people,
Come I to speak at their defunding and disbanding.
The police were my friends, I once stood among them, they were faithful and just unto the country and their charge.
But the protesters say the Police are ambitious.
And the protesters are honorable people.
The police hath brought many captives off the street
Whose deeds did vex the citizens and the land.
Did this in the Police seem ambitious?
When that the desperate and abandoned hath cried, the Police were there when no others came to help and wiped their tears.
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.
Yet the protesters are honorable people.
You all did see that on their service, we offered them little in appreciation, let them suffer the demons of their work, pilloried them for being human and prone to human frailties.
Yet still they chose to stay, do their duty, and stand on that thin blue line.
Was this ambition?
Yet the protesters say the police are ambitious
And sure, they are honorable people.
I speak not to disprove what the protesters spoke,
But here I am to speak of what I do know.
You all did love them once, not without cause.
What cause withholds you then to abandon them?
O judgment! Thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And people have lost their reason. Bear with me.
My heart is in the coffin there with the police,
As will all of us should these honorable people have their way
And I must pause till reason returns.

Thanks for reading, please share with everyone!

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A Rising Tide

Hope for America

The hope of America lies not in her great history or in the resiliency of her people, but in the ability of our system of government to survive regardless of the level of quality in our leadership. The founding fathers understood this more than anything else; if you rely on just the good nature of most people you will leave a way for those with evil intent to thrive.

America is like a pristine beach; warmed by the sun with a gentle surf changing the shore in subtle but continuous ways.  Men such as Mr. Trump come along and build intricate sand castles that mesmerize those who cannot see their vulnerability.  They become enamored of the spectacle, ignoring the fundamental flaw in the foundation.

When the storm arrives, as it will, such structures last but a moment in the face of the onrushing waves. Yet the shore, with just the millions of grains of sand bound by a common purpose, not only survives but over time erases the remains of the turbulence.

We are now facing the storm of rising mistrust in America by the rest of the world. By the disdain of former allies abandoned by ill-considered policies based on a self-aggrandizing charlatan and his sycophantic minions. By opposing governments feeding the ego of the President to interfere in our elections with his consent. By the constancy of American resolve to bear any burden abandoned in the face of challenges we once welcomed.

The sand castle that is the Trump administration will not withstand the coming storm, a storm of outrage and disgust by the American people who see their country roiled in the minefields of racism, injustice, virtual foreign invasion, and nationalism.  The storm will sweep away the sand castle and the shores of America will bask in the sun of a powerful but considerate, wealthy but generous, and vigilant yet hopeful nation once again.

An American Twelve Year Memory Loss

In 1956, the year I was born, the world was a much different place than it is today. My generation came into a nuclear-armed world where the possibility of global annihilation rested on the shoulders of opposing powers, Democracy and Communism.

wordmapOr so we were told as we learned to duck and cover under our desks in case of nuclear attack. A mere twelve years before, in 1944, the world still faced Hitler, the Final Solution, and raging war. The end of the war still more than a year, and hundreds of thousands of more deaths, away.

There were no cell phones, websites, or Facebook.

Imagine.

Twelve years later, in 1968, America was being torn apart as much as our military forces were tearing apart the country of Vietnam. The ’68 Tet Offensive, live on TV, brought the war into the American living room as the body count climbed. The military defeat of the Viet Cong lost in the outrage over America’s continued spending of the blood of our young men and women for a failed policy.

Twelve more years pass and, by 1980, Americans were held hostage in Iran, and a new President came into office promising to win their release. What first appeared to be the success of a firm and effective policy later turned out to be political subterfuge.

In 1992, a new chapter dawns. A President takes office who would reopen relations with Vietnam and start the healing process for those who fought there, and then go on national television and lie to the American people. An unnecessary and foolish lie.

Another twelve years, 2004, would find America embroiled once again in an endless war, with no clear goals and no end in sight. A President would commit troops to combat and tell the American people to go shopping.

He would go on to declare “mission accomplished.”

Twelve years later, 2016, the troops were still there. Except, of course, for the ones who’d been wounded or killed after the mission was accomplished.

We also had a new President. In the peculiar institution of our electoral process, more people voted against him than for him but he won the Electoral College.  It gives one pause to consider if we should rethink the accreditation of this college.

Nevertheless, he is the President.

Since taking office, he has shut down the government unless Congress meets his demand for money to build a wall most people agree is an ineffective solution to a complex problem.

And so it goes.

It would seem Americans have an attention span of fewer than twelve years. We repeat the same mistakes, or conveniently forget about them

If I am fortunate enough to enjoy the full extent of my life expectancy, I have two or three more twelve-year cycles to go. Let’s hope we get better at it.

Where Everyone Knows Your Name

We are in Harrisville, New Hampshire for a few weeks. My wife is attending a weaving workshop, and I have the entire day to focus on finishing up my next book. (More on that later!)

Harrisville (pop. 961), right outside metropolitan Dublin, New Hampshire and a mere 5 miles from Peterborough, New Hampshire is a step back in time to a different America. An America of long ago not yet overrun by urban development.

Each morning we leave the Harrisville Inn, the B&B where we are staying, and walk about a mile to “downtown” Harrisville. Harrisville is best known for its loom making and weaving design center. The building was once a sawmill and grist mill built back in the late 1700’s.

An old channel flows beneath the building and was once harnessed to power the machinery. Converted to a weaving education center, it teaches and preserves the art of weaving.

A short distance away is the Harrisville General Store/Restaurant/Community and Cultural Center. If you want to find anybody who lives in Harrisville, come here. If they aren’t here for coffee in the morning, they’ll be here for lunch.

It is a place with everything you might need and nothing you might want.  Somehow, they know the difference.

A place where people leave their keys in the car.

A place where they trust their kids to know how to cross the street and expect them to say please and thank you.

A place where they say hi to everyone, using first names when they know them, introducing themselves and asking if they don’t.

A place where the flag goes up each morning at 6 a.m. and down at 6 p.m. If it rains, they do not put it up. A tip of the hat to the old rules of respect. I dare say, people would dive into the road to save the flag from touching the ground.

A place where a chalkboard in the town square reports the latest deaths and births.

A place where an ice cream social is a major event.

A place where people will leave their dog with you, telling you the dog’s name as if introducing a family member, while they run in for a paper.

Neither the dog or their owner thinks this unusual.

0719180842a_HDRMeet Hero, my new friend. We meet for coffee each morning on the front porch of the country store. Not much of a conversationalist, but a great listener.

The local conversations range from how much firewood they have split and stacked for winter to how the corn is coming up to how much of the just ripened berries the bears got last night.

It’s a place where they will tell you great places to fish, but not the best places to fish.

It is not the America of Mayberry, but it is as close as we can get in 2018. I am sure they have all the same concerns of politics and world events.

I am sure they have deep feelings about the way the country is going. They keep that mostly to themselves, preferring to speak at the voting booth.

I am also sure that they are the best example of how real Americans can weather any storm, bear any burden, survive any partisan political upheaval, and still remember what matters.

As I sit there, the Simon & Garfunkel song, “America,” plays in my head.

“…they’ve all come to look for America…”

I think I found it, Paul.

 

A Murderer as Victim:  The American Blame Game

In all the vitriol, anger, and twisted logic in the debate on guns and violence in America, one vital aspect is kicked to the side, ignored and discounted; personal responsibility for one’s actions.

theymademedoitblogIn our single-minded focus on trying to explain why these things happen, and how to prevent them, we gloss over the one common element. Absent unmistakable evidence of mental incapacity–and almost every shooter who survives a mass shooting is judged competent to stand trial—the individual who pulls the trigger is responsible for his or her actions.

The fact is we may never understand why. We may never find a way to prevent it from ever happening again. We may never come to grips with America’s inexplicable fascination with guns.

We may never accept the demise of the balance of power between our early government—the one without a standing army– and an armed citizenry. Our embracing a concept no longer grounded in reality is one of the stumbling blocks to addressing part of the problem.

But that’s not the point of this piece.

The most important thing we can do is insist on personal responsibility for one’s actions. We need to focus on this from the earliest age, so the practice becomes second nature. Instead, we have parents suing school departments when their kids are taken off a sports team or barred from graduation for violating the rules.

“Oh, my poor (son/daughter) didn’t mean to break the rules, everyone else was doing it, it’s not fair they won’t get to play soccer/go to the prom/attend graduation.  I’ll sue.”

A tremendous parental example there.

The dearth of personal responsibility in America is illustrated by our penchant for blaming everyone else but ourselves for our actions. The most startling example of this is from the father of the shooter in the Santa Fe Texas school shooting.

As part of the idiotic media frenzy, which contributes to the problem, the father of the “alleged” killer said,

“My son, to me, is not a criminal, he’s a victim,” he said. “The kid didn’t own guns. I owned guns.”

A victim? The victims are the ten dead, the wounded, and their families left to suffer because of the cowardly act of a self-delusional individual without one shred of human decency or compassion.

The father said,

“Something must have happened now, this last week,” he told the station. “Somebody probably came and hurt him, and since he was a solid boy, I don’t know what could have happened. I can’t say what happened. All I can say is what I suspect as a father.” (https://apnews.com/70ba9b2e83194fbab13bb26819aed045)

The father says his son was bullied. Bullied? When did bullying rise to the level of justifying homicidal provocation?

By this logic, someone being bullied now has cause to take a gun and kill another human.

Very few people are born evil, but we all have the capacity for evil in us. Raising children to be responsible adults is the ultimate purpose of being a parent. When you fail, the darkness within can rise to the surface.

If you don’t instill personal responsibility early, self-control fails and bad things happen. It may not be the only reason these shootings happen, but it is a significant factor.

This infatuation we have with turning everything into a “syndrome,” giving it a name and using it as some terrifying boogieman is disheartening and self-destructive. Bullying has become almost as frightening as a diagnosis of cancer.

I understand there are horror stories of “bullying” that drove some to suicide. That is a tragedy. But adolescent behavior, that often includes “bullying” of others, underscores my point.

The failure of personal responsibility, by the parents and the children engaged in such behavior, is the problem. Part of this is the false courage instilled by the wall of technology. It’s easy to be cruel and demeaning in the comfort of one’s own home when texting or posting on social media. Tweets and emoji and SnapchatInstagramTwittering is a shield to cowards.

It doesn’t negate the responsibility of parents to pay attention. In our 24/7 technologically connected world, the burden is heightened.

One of the most brilliant philosophers who ever lived, my mother, summed it up in six words,

“Life’s not fair, get over it.”

We learned from her that one had to deal with life, not whine and cry, and adjust to it. Blaming others for your own circumstances is the childish way out. As one matures, you come to understand that no one has power over you unless you let them.

By the time you reach high school, one should firmly understand personal responsibility.

I know this may not be politically correct, but the way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them. Homicidal violence is never a solution, but a well-placed punch in the nose, even if you ultimately lose the fight, might go a long way to preventing a minor problem from becoming a bigger one.

I may have lost a few fights growing up, but I got my point across.

In Texas, the only person to blame for what happened is the shooter. I won’t dignify him with using his name. Making killers famous for their actions is part of the problem.

There is also the personal responsibility of the father for leaving the weapons open and unsecured. He may be suffering because of his son’s actions, but he also bears criminal liability for it.

If the law applies, he should be charged. If he had any sense of personal responsibility, he’d plead guilty. My defense attorney friends may differ in this but there is a difference between “not guilty” and “innocent.”

Like it or not he has blood on his hands, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for him to acknowledge it. He needed the guns for personal protection. That was important to him.

When his son turned them into offensive weapons and murdered innocent men, women, and children he hid behind excuses. Wasn’t my son, they made him do it. It begs the question about priorities.

That’s what lack of personal responsibility is, blaming the world for your own choices.

It’s time for that to change.  We can do this without changing one law, limiting any perceived Constitutional right, or infringing on anyone’s liberty.

Acknowledging your own actions, not blaming the rest of the world for your personal failures, would be a good first step.

A Rumor of Greatness: Lessons in America’s Past

If we are to make America great again, shouldn’t there be a point in time we can look to as the standard for this greatness? When did we hit the peak of American greatness? What started the decline?

Don’t we need to know what we seek before we go looking for it?

Here’s a look at post-World War II, when America emerged as the most powerful nation on earth.

In the 1950’s institutional racism was an accepted aspect of life in most of America.  Court decisions such as Brown vs. Board of Education moved the country, kicking and screaming, closer to our professed, but inconsistently applied, philosophy of equality.

The first routes of our involvement in Vietnam began with advisers.

America developed policies of equipping South and Central American police agencies with tactics to counteract communist insurgencies. These amounted to classes in sophisticated methods of torture.

Lessons learned from MKUltra Project (https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/document/cia-rdp91-00901r000500150005-5)

were turned into HOW TO classes for interrogation. We created the Office of Public Safety (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Office_of_Public_Safety) as a cover for this training.

We put a kinder and gentler face on a monster. Unleashing it on others while decrying such tactics as barbaric.

Our fear of a communist takeover in Central and South America drove us from our ideals. Our proclamations of the shining example of American rule of law fell on deaf ears, punctured in the torture chambers of police agencies we trained.

In the 1960’s the US intervened militarily in Vietnam. Our involvement cost millions of lives, supported a totalitarian government, and damaged the military in the eyes of many Americans.

We trained South Vietnamese Intelligence services with new and improved methods of interrogation. Guidelines spelled out in the CIA’s own manual on counterintelligence interrogation called Kubark. (https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB122/CIA%20Kubark%201-60.pdf)

The programs were further documented in the fascinating (and horrifying) book, A Decent Interval, by Frank Snepp. A CIA interrogator who took part in the interrogation of Viet Cong suspects.

We created the Phoenix Program. A controversial program of capturing, interrogating, and killing Viet Cong and NLF suspects.

Meanwhile, at home, the still smoldering embers of racial inequality grew hotter. The war in Vietnam tore America in two. Poverty and racial inequality reignited the fire. American cities burned.

It forced President Johnson from office and led to the election of Richard Nixon with his “secret” plan (sound familiar?) to end the war. A war he also covertly worked against any resolution before his 1968 election. Read Haldeman’s book Inside the Nixon Whitehouse if you don’t believe me on that one. (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01NCYX17R)

In the 1970’s, anger fueled the raging race issues. “Activist” Judges had to order Boston schools desegregated.  Over 100 years had passed since the end of the Civil War and institutional segregation still existed.

And continues to this day (https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2017/03/a-mississippi-school-district-is-finally-getting-desegregated/519573/)

In the 1980’s Reagan (the hero of “small” government) launched the biggest government spending program in history, Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars), reigniting the potential for nuclear confrontation. We also went on the violate our own policies by negotiating with terrorists (Iran-Contra)

In the 1990’s Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, defining Marriage as a union between one man and one woman (and one intern), bowing to the politics of placating those trapped in a whitewashed false past of a more moral America.

We fired a few cruise missiles at some targets in a desert and ignored the Rwandan Genocide.

Nothing occurs in a vacuum. The people who suffered by the duplicitous nature of our foreign intervention in their governments came to despise us. We compounded the very problems we were seeking to prevent.

There were more positives than negatives in these time periods. But we gain nothing from celebrating all the good we’ve done without an honest appraisal of our mistakes.

America wasn’t “great” then and worse now, it was flawed. The lack of a 7-day 24-hour news cycle, controlled by a profit-driven media, made it seem a better time.

Here’s one example, in 1978, the year I joined the Police Department, more than 210 cops were killed that year. The death toll among law enforcement began a slow and steady increase in the 1960s and 1970s, peaking in 1974 with 280 cops killed. One might argue they were casualties of war. The war on drugs.

Here’s an interesting fact, the most dangerous year on record for Police Officers was 1930 when 307 officers were killed. The safest years in the 20th and 21st century, 1943 and 1944, when 87 and 93 officers were killed.

It gives one pause.

Now one officer being killed is unacceptable, but the perception is there is a war on cops. It is a media-driven brainwashing of America which compounds the problem. Are there people out there who hate cops? Of course. Given the chance, they may act on that, but to think things were better “back in the day” is naive.

We look to Europe and see their policies of open immigration as disasters, threatening the stability of those nations. What we forget, while countries like Germany and France well remember, is the irrational fear of a group because of cultural differences leads to a Holocaust.

We fought a long and difficult war to end such horrors, we shouldn’t let those lives go to waste because we’ve papered over the ugliness that still plagues the world.

America can never be defeated by an external enemy. We can only be defeated from within if we forget the principles upon which we are based. It will not be an infiltration of 14th-century flawed fundamentalist philosophies that destroys us. It will happen only if we abandon those principles that guide us.

If we have ignored our principles in the past, we must strive to make sure they guide our future decisions.

America’s greatness is in our future. We must admit to our mistakes, take pride in our accomplishments, and seek ways that preserve our security without sacrificing our freedom.

There is a slogan often used by those who wrap themselves in the flag, Freedom is not Free. There is a truth here, one I suspect they do not see. Freedom requires us to defend it at any cost to protect not just those with whom we agree, but more so with those with whom we differ.

It is by embracing differences America shows true greatness.

Presumptuous Trumpism

From September 7, 1940, until May 10, 1941, England endured a period known as the Blitz. It is a derivative of the German word Blitzkrieg, “Lightning war.”

Germany sent wave upon wave of bombers to bring terror, genuine countrywide terror, to London and all of England.

32,000 people, men, women, and children, died.

87,000 were wounded.

2 million homes were destroyed.

And the Brits survived. (as a side note, we stood by. Sent lots of supplies, but not quite interested in the war, yet.)

From the ashes of that terrible time, the people of England survived.

Julie Andrews, a most gifted voice, sang as merely a child in the shelters as the bombs fell.

Not to minimize the deaths of those in the London Bridge today, but it pales to those who survived the blitz. The Brits understand this. The Brits walked around the police tape on London Bridge as soon as the police allowed them.

They hardly need our President to lecture them about what to do.

I offer this as an apology for the idiocy of our President who misquotes the mayor of London to solidify his own failing agenda.

My favorite quote from our idiot in chief is “‘Do you notice we are not having a gun debate right now? That’s because they used knives and a truck” leaving out the fact that the “terrorist” had no options because guns are difficult to obtain in England.

Our President decided to deride the Mayor of London by taking a quote out of context to reaffirm the President’s idiocy.

Perhaps President Trump might learn something from another Brit he likely admires, Winston Churchill. Mr. Churchill once famously quoted, “Never give up. Never give up. Never give up”

Alas, we have a President who not only is unwilling to face the tough challenges, he is more than willing to let someone else go in our place.

 

 

 

Born in the USA: The Bright Shining Lie of Uninformed Patriotism

Last night we went to the first of six Pawtucket Red Sox games which feature a themed firework display after the game. (I know this may seem like heresy from a Yankee fan, but it is a nice place to watch a game despite the Red Sox aura.)

For the Memorial Day Weekend, the theme was a patriotic one. Commemorating the lives of those who served in the military and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, defending the freedom of this country and others around the world.

There is much for which this country should be proud. We’ve been willing to sacrifice our young men and women for our ideals.  In the words of President John F. Kennedy, we’ve been willing to,

“pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

We survived and thrived because we valued dedication, intelligence, and determination in pursuit of these ideals. We haven’t always been perfect, no nation or people are, but we have always been willing to learn from our mistakes.

I wonder where that brilliance has gone.

One song chosen to accompany the spectacular and inspiring display was the Bruce Springsteen song, “Born in America.”

Odd how an anti-war, anti-military-industrial complex song critical of the way we treat veterans has somehow become a rousing “hurray for America” theme. It strikes me as an indictment of our inability to think things through anymore. Our failure to find solutions to problems. Favoring slogans to rouse emotions over doing the difficult things.

To quote the lines I found most troubling amid the applause and cheers of the crowd,

“Got in a little hometown jam

So they put a rifle in my hand

Sent me off to a foreign land

To go and kill the yellow man”

I couldn’t help but notice the families of many Southeast Asians in the crowd. I wonder what they’d think if they knew the lyrics?

This underscores the rising rampant dangerous nationalism within this country that screams for a “target of opportunity.”  Today’s target is Islam.

But our failing to even bother to understand the meaning of these songs we use as a soundtrack to patriotic displays underscores our failure to understand the nature of warfare today.

In World War I and II we helped defeat a military-supported government seeking to impose themselves on others. One can debate the many reasons behind how these wars started, but the goal was clear.

Today is a different world.  Today is a world of asymmetric warfare requiring asymmetric thinking. We face any enemy of ideas, not divisions and tanks.

We must fight the genesis of these concepts of twisted jihad with intelligence and thoughtful policies, not B-1 stealth bombers and cruise missiles.

Weapons such as these have their purpose, make no doubt about it, but we could double the stockpile of weapons and it would have no effect on the enemy. Calling for the leveling of Mecca or Medina may make for rousing sound bites but would be a wasteful, inhumane, and ineffective policy.

Perhaps we should think about the ideas behind Springsteen’s lyrics.

Wars are started by ambitious politicians but fought by young men and women.

Wars are won and lost by these same politicians. (See Vietnam as an example.)

Our enemies today are enemies of everyone who opposes their ideas. We must bring the world together to fight these insidious twisted 14th-century concepts, not push ourselves into an America first isolationism.

Before entering into both World Wars, we sought to stay out of the “European” problem. That was the world where most people never traveled more than fifty miles from where they were born. Where communications between countries took weeks.

That is not today’s world.

The time of unleashing “Ole’ Blood and Guts” military leaders of Patton, Eisenhower, Marshall, and MacArthur is over. Now, more than ever, we need intelligent policies that utilize the selective application of military power to compliment our once formidable determination.

It is the only way to change the conditions that breed these terrorists.

We have the big stick, we need to remember to walk softly.

I doubt I’ll see it in my lifetime, but I hope for a day when we celebrate the passing of the last veteran. For when that day comes, all the sacrifices of every veteran will be worth it.

Apologies to the Future of America

Hello,

This is America from the early 21st century. If you read this, if there are any of you left to read this, you’ll no doubt be confused by the legacy we left for you.

You may have questions as to just WTF happened to cause a normally sober and rational people to elect “the Donald” to the presidency.

An excellent and unanswerable question.

We can hope the 45th President wasn’t the last.

Arising from the fears of an ignorant elective confused by what is required to serve in the position, he was elected by anger fueled with barroom logic screaming “throw the bums out.”

Fear trumped rationality. Anger replaced discourse and dialog. Nationalism couched as patriotism blinded the reality of a changing world. We wanted to return to the cocoon of an insular America.

We tried to turn back time to an era that was neither better nor great.

Some will argue this missive is premature. We are a mere three weeks into this debacle. But one can use logical deduction to see the future. If he can mangle things this much in 21 days, what will a full year look like?

Supporters see his “take no prisoners, school-yard bully” approach as refreshing. Yet it flies in the face of 300 years of maturing American style of diplomacy and managing domestic affairs.

We elected a maniacal, Machiavellian, misanthrope with delusions of rationality to serve as the leader of the free world.

All I can do is ask your forgiveness and hope you manage to survive to read this.

Washington left us a legacy in words. Lincoln left us the poetry of his Gettysburg Address. John Kennedy’s words inspired us to go to the moon and join the Peace Corps.

Trump tweets trash. 144 characters not worth the effort to push the delete key.

Nero fiddled while Rome burned, we can only hope Trump doesn’t tweet while America does the same.

In the words of the Don Henley song,

We are

Beating plowshares into swords for this tired old man to be elected king

I have nothing to offer up in our best defense but an apology for our wanton disregard of your once bright future. We have no excuse for overseeing the end of the innocence.

So please accept our apologies. If you found a way to right things, we applaud you. If there is no America left to read this, we accept our responsibility for your demise.

Sincerely,

Your apologetic past