Cold Memories and Critical Thinking

The recent cold brought back memories of when I was a young boy growing up in Cumberland. We had a trash barrel in the backyard where, a few times a week, we would burn our trash.

I know this is giving the environmentalists among you nightmares, but it was a different time.

During the cold months, my father and I would stand close to the flames.  He sometimes told me stories of the Korean War, fighting in temperatures of minus 30 degrees.  He hated the cold.

I was thinking about this in light of some recent headlines.

In one headline, state legislatures want to eliminate funding for Advanced Placement History classes, because these classes are critical of America.  According to one of the Oklahoma lawmakers, these classes only teach what is “wrong with America.”

The other headline is from Rudolph Giuliani talking about President Obama.

“I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up, through love of this country.”

Giuliani believes Obama is too critical of past American policies and decisions.

How does this all relate to Cumberland, Rhode Island in the winters of the 60’s you ask?

It matters because our government made decisions, against the evidence, sending my then 18-year-old father to Korea.  These decisions put him, and thousands of other Marines, at the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea in November of 1950, surrounded and outnumbered by the Chinese.

General MacArthur ignored evidence of a sizeable Chinese presence on the border.  He ignored his own intelligence reports that the Chinese might enter the war; in fact, they had already crossed the Yalu River.

The Truman administration ignored a message from the Chinese, delivered by the Indian Ambassador to China, that if the US crossed the 38th parallel, China would respond militarily.

The horrors experienced by my father haunted him his whole life.

I have another memory from those years; my father screaming in the middle of the night, thrashing around on the bed, my mother desperately trying to hold him until the nightmares, reliving the battles, drove him to exhaustion and he fell asleep.

I believe those experiences contributed to my father’s battle with alcoholism and death at the relatively young age of 65.

To argue that we need eliminate classes that educate our future leaders in critical analysis is ludicrous. This country needs more critical thinking, not less.

The decisions in Korea were not an aberration.  In 1965, we did it again, sending American troops into the wrong place, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons despite knowing the impossibility of the mission.

During WWII, we supported Ho Chi Minh against the Japanese yet, twenty years later, we sent our soldiers and Marines to fight him. It cost the lives of almost 60000 Americans, along with millions of Vietnamese. We failed to understand the nature of the conflict.

We did it again in Iraq, ignoring or fabricating intelligence, in pursuit of a doomed policy.

In each case there was evidence against the efficacy of those decisions, we knew it, we ignored it, and we did not learn from it.

Giuliani says President Obama does not love this country because he is often critical of it. Giuliani has it all wrong.  No one demonstrates love of country better than through a willingness to seek the truth, no matter how critical or difficult, in pursuit of improving our future decision-making processes.

I understand sometimes going to war is inevitable.

However, critical analysis shows there are opportunities to avoid them. Perhaps, if critical thinking took center stage rather than blind patriotism or hubris, we might have found such an alternative.

The freedom to criticize government is the foundation of our political system. Freedom of speech is the First Amendment for good reason. The founders recognized the absolute necessity of open and free discourse without fear of governmental intrusion.

Critical analysis of past actions can lead to a better future.  Many of the founding fathers owned slaves.  It took almost 70 years after the creation of the Constitution before we abolished slavery.

“All Men are Created Equal.” When these words first appeared on paper, All Men meant white men.  Black men were not included until the Civil War and women not until much later.

It was critical analysis of the errors of the past that righted those wrongs.

Legislative discussions should not be about reducing funding for advanced courses; it should be for increasing the funding.

Perhaps, with a stronger understanding of all the good this country does, tempered by recognizing our weaknesses and mistakes, future generations will not send young men and women into the nightmares of warfare absent full, and continuous, critical analysis.

Inclination and Declination

I have come to the realization that some aspects of my life are in declination, while a few remain as counterbalancing inclination.

I have, a few years ago, acquiesced to the declination of my once 20/20 vision and began carrying reading glasses. It seemed to have happened over a weekend.

First, 1.25

Then, 1.50

And so the progress, or regress goes.

Since my need for them is almost constant, I spend a great deal of time reading and writing, I find myself now like the sailor in the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  My albatross consisting of glasses around my neck. In some ways, I have become a caricature.

Hearing is another thing in decline.  My wife and daughter, in anticipation of our planned thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, want me to adopt the trail name “Miracle”, as in the hearing aid.  I prefer to think of it as my hearing has become more discerning.  Like the line in the Jimmy Buffett song, “He Went to Paris

“He’s writing his memoirs and losing his hearing,
But he don’t care what most people say.”

My life long quest to avoid planned Doctor’s visits has also failed. My personal philosophy, with the exception of Emergency room visits, was to avoid them.  They always give you bad news.  But again, an aspect has gone into declination and I have joined the club of people who can quote from their Cardiograms and Blood screenings. Now, taking medications instead of embracing blissful ignorance.

To those friends of mine that read these words.  This is not a subtle message that I have received a “Notice of Impending Termination to My Mortality” or, in simpler words, that I am dying.

It is an unsubtle statement. I am.

As are you all.

One day closer to going from being alive for a generation or so, to a name on a granite slab and memory for another generation or so, to an occasional Google© search results.

There are some things that continue on the path of inclination.

My desire to learn, investigate, understand, and discover continues to thrive.

I now take the time to notice things, think about them, write about them, rather than just letting them whoosh by.  There is much in the world to understand.

Some of it comes from my exploration into the basis of the many beliefs that were involuntarily imposed on me.  All done with the best of intentions, but not with the best foundation in fact and reality.  Some benign, some pernicious.  All requiring a more in depth analysis to uncover the truth, and exorcise (pun intended) the fallacies.

I am struck by how things once hardly noticed, are now precious and important. The things formerly deemed so necessary, recognized as frivolous time thieves.

On an almost daily basis I pass by a place, introduced to me a long time ago, called Spooky Mountain.  It is neither Spooky nor a Mountain, but it carries a significance in my life.

Conversations and experiences related to that time, and others, still impact me to this day.

My understanding of these experiences, and the way it may have altered various aspects of my life, continues to grow.

So the struggle between those aspects of life that are rising, and those declining continue. I will continue to see signs of once vibrant aspects of life lose their shine, perhaps with new ones, or an appreciation of the opportunities, to replace them.

I see much ahead to look forward to.  But I no longer look so far ahead as to miss what is right in front of me.

Perhaps in finding balance, neither rising nor falling, we come to understand our existence.

Same Sex Marriage and the Uncivil Arguments by Opponents

From a story in Providence Journal 5/2/2013

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The Rhode Island chapter of the National Organization for Marriage has denounced the General Assembly’s passage of legislation allowing same-sex couples to marry in Rhode Island.

“Redefining marriage into a genderless institution to satisfy the demands of a small but politically powerful group is short-sighted policy that fails to take into account the rights and needs of the generations to come,” said Christopher Plante, regional director of NOM Rhode Island.

“Children deserve to know and be cared for by a mom and dad,” Plante said. “This law will intentionally deny children one or the other. “The full impact may not be seen next week or next year, but our children will be the ones who pay the price for this decision.”

“Without robust legal protections to allow these faithful people and groups to maintain fidelity in the public square to their religious beliefs, we’re likely to see a raft of lawsuits and governmental action such as license revocations, fines and denial of governmental contracts to these faith-based groups and individuals.”

When I read this statement, I was struck by the fact that Mr. Plante has chosen to ignore much of the scientific and social research into what makes a successful family and, therefore, promotes a healthy childhood.

There are millions of individuals, raised in “non-traditional” environments, that have gone on to successful, healthy, and productive lives.  As well as there are millions of individuals, raised in “traditional” environments that have gone on to wreak havoc in the world.

The key is a loving, supportive, involved approach to raising a child, not the presence of both genders.

I have no doubt Mr. Plante would be the first to scream indignantly if the Federal Government interfered with his right to practice his religion.

Yet, he demands the same government intrude on the right of same sex couples to the civil, legal, and moral right to marry.

Marriage, in spite of religious organizations claim to the contrary, has been institutionalized as a civil, non-sectarian, non-denominational, institution with legal and ethical benefits.

All of which I am sure Mr. Plante claims as his rights, but would deny others based on his particular religious bent.

There was a very good reason for the founders of these United States to specifically separate Church and State.

Mr. Plante said,

“Without robust legal protections to allow these faithful people and groups to maintain fidelity in the public square to their religious beliefs, we’re likely to see a raft of lawsuits and governmental action such as license revocations, fines and denial of governmental contracts to these faith-based groups and individuals.”

These words alone should be example enough that this is a battle over keeping Religion in Government, as long as it’s the “right” religion.  I wonder if the opponents would be so vocal if the government began requiring women to be covered in public, escorted by male relatives, and denied the right to drive.  All of which are enforced now by governments in this world.

Therein lies the danger of Governmental enforcement of religious doctrines.

Believe it can’t happen here?  There are those in this country that would welcome it.

No clearer example exists than this battle over defining marriage as Judeo-Christian believers would have it.

Opponents of same sex marriage want confirmation of the validity of their beliefs, and denial of those that hold different views.

This country prohibits polygamy, in spite of its well established holding in many flavors of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Mormonism,  I do not see the major religious groups arguing for eliminating that restriction on religious doctrine.

The basis of marriage under law is contractual.  It has requirements, benefits, obligations, and creates these between two people.

We enforce the law regarding polygamy to protect, primarily, women from subjugation.  No one can deny the moral, ethical, and legal rationale for this.

I do not deny Mr. Plante’s right to hold his beliefs.  The religious sect that he belongs to is perfectly free to deny recognition to Same Sex marriages within the framework of their doctrine.

However, they cannot demand the use of Federal, State, or any other governmental authority to enforce it upon others.

There was a time in this country when we restricted businesses from being open on Sundays. When those laws were rightfully challenged and changed, the same prediction of moral decay was made, and it failed to come true.

One of the concessions opponents to Same Sex marriage offer is to call the union of same sex couples a “Civil Union”.  I would propose an alternative.  Since Mr. Plante and others like him would be relieved by just a change in a name, why don’t they change Marriage under a religious ceremony to Uncivil Union?

It would be closer to the truth of what they seek to prevent.