Sunday, September 30, 2012

Our Hearts of Darkness

I'm going to do something I have never done before. Today I'll be turning over das RANT to a friend. I've written before on this site about my old chum, Kevin Swanwick. Two lads from Goshen, NY, we've known each other since slightly before the invention of dirt. He was the one my brother Pete and I dragged to merrie olde England when we toured the Abbey Road Studios back in May of 2010. Early this morning, in an insomnia-laden stupor, I was surfing the Facebooksphere when I came upon this piece he wrote on his page. It moved me like nothing I've read in a very long time. I thought you might like to read it. This is powerful stuff, folks. Health food for thought: 
Our Hearts of Darkness
by Kevin Swanwick 
Kevin Swanwick
There are moments in life when the darker side of human nature makes itself known in the everyday and the commonplace. At these times, long held assumptions about human decency can vanish in an instant and leave us with a clear-eyed, but disturbed sense of reality. It is the moment when, with the sharpest vision and presence of mind, there is no doubt that what we have just witnessed is ugly and true at the same time.

While waiting for my delayed flight from Tampa to New York, sitting in the boarding area in my usual heads-down reading posture, I was briefly interrupted as I saw a wheelchair come into my peripheral field of vision. Some rapid-fire, automated memory mechanism wordlessly communicated to me that is was the usual and often- seen senior citizen being helped along to our gate. The mechanism was wrong. As I raised my head I could see that this was a young Marine, sitting ramrod straight in his military-issued wheelchair, legless from the hips and showing the remnants of third degree burns on his deeply scarred arms, the right one badly disfigured. Prominently centered on the back of the chair was the Marine Corps insignia and around it the words “Purple Heart Veteran.”
  
I had just had a long discussion the night before with a business colleague from California about war and US foreign policy and was in a circumspect mood. I had expressed my deep frustration with the lack of awareness of most citizens of the depth of trouble that war brings. We discussed the chronic under reporting of civilian casualties, the rampant illegality excused in the name of “protecting our freedom,” the monstrously large defense budget, the devastating costs to our veterans and their families, the continuing escalation of international conflict and the recent NYU-Stanford Law School collaborative study on the devastating human toll of the current Drone War in Waziristan, Pakistan.

Overcome with emotion, it took me several minutes to compose myself enough to approach and offer this young man a smile and a “thank you.” It was obvious that he was avoiding eye contact with people, including the flight attendant who was speaking to him with kind, gentle words and gestures of assurance. I thought she was an angel.

As we boarded the plane, the first class section was full and all were seated, many gazing at me, the 6-foot tall man standing before the galley. The young Marine was already seated in the coach section. I looked at the Angel and she looked at me. Our eyes locked. In a strong voice I said, “That kid belongs in first class, someone should give up their seat.”

I turned and looked at my fellow citizens seated in front of me and heard the flight attendant second my motion and also state that the young man was only 23 years old. She said, “I know you’d give up yours.”

“Of course.”

I thought, that’ll do it and stood for a moment longer. Everyone either looked away or looked down. I gazed ahead and at the young Marine and could see that he must have heard me. He looked down as well. With everyone in my view looking down, warrior and civilians, I felt my heart begin to race with wales of injustice rising in my gut. Before I could utter a second louder protestation I thought of the young man. This was about him. It was also about respect. Creating a scene would embarrass him I thought and would be an affront to his dignity. He had not asked for a better seat and had lived, seen and experienced things that none of us could even imagine. No burden lay with him. It lay only with my fellow citizens and me. 

I moved on slowly to my seat. I could feel the massive weight of what just happened hanging in the air. Was I the only one feeling it? Could others escape away into their iPhones and newspapers? Did they not at least momentarily reflect? Did no one at all feel compelled enough, even after some moments of uncomfortable soul searching, to simply get up out of his or her seat? Such a simple and utterly modest sacrifice….

As we flew to New York, the flight activities proceeded as typical flights do with safety announcements and basic drink service. The young soldier and his circumstances occupied my mind the entire time. I began to weep. I could think of nothing else. I peered forward looking for the top of his bright blond crew cut. Did someone finally give up their seat? Yes, perhaps I missed it. Someone did the right thing.

As the flight attendants serving the Coach section made their way back to me, I ordered club soda and peanuts. I had been wiping tears away from my eyes and trying not to allow my emotions to overtake me. As my flight attendant, a man of military bearing himself, poured my drink I asked, “did someone finally give their seat to that young man?”

“No, no one.”

“He’s only 23-years old. He was a Minesweeper. Lost part of his arm too.”

I looked up at him and he could see that I had been crying. ‘What the fuck is wrong with people?,” I asked. I hadn’t expected to blurt out vulgarity and for a moment, felt a little embarrassed.

Slowly, he shook his head.

The angel flight attendant who was now serving first class moved back down the aisle toward us. She hurriedly asked the man serving my drink, “do you have any vodka; I need five? They’re all drinking it and I’m out.” He reached below his cart and pulled out five bottles and she took them away.

I do not know what the conscience of another is. I can only speculate. I see so many bumper stickers reading “Support our Troops”, that I have been led to believe, perhaps naively, that most people really care about them and understand the meaning of their sacrifice. Faced with a choice, I opt for the notion that at least some of the folks ordering drinks, were doing so to quell an uneasy feeling that had overcome them. Perhaps they weren’t aware of what was making them uncomfortable and sometime later, it would become apparent. And then, with the full measure of time and distance between themselves and the young Marine they would come to realize that they had made a terrible mistake. 

That something which seemed trivial was actually profound; that the silent young man with the Purple Heart lives a life that is defined by sacrifice. That when given the wonderful opportunity to make the most meager sacrifice for him, to offer him their gratitude, their love, the simple recognition that they were grateful for his service and their own lives of luxury, they did nothing. And that in this awareness, they will grieve for this soldier’s physical loss and emotional suffering and the many more like him and those who have died. And perhaps they will grieve as I am for a country that has lost its way in a culture of self-centeredness and willful ignorance of its own heart and soul.

It is in our best interest to hope for the emergence of the non-selfish parts of our character, in others and in ourselves. At times like this, it is difficult to make such a leap of optimism, but I have to believe that what is good in all of us only needs to be touched by awareness to make it operative in our lives, that our hearts of darkness can become hearts of light.

Kevin Swanwick
Friday, September 28th, 2012
That was a humdinger, Swanwick.
For more reading with regard to my adventures in Swanwickland, please go to the link below:

A splendid time was guaranteed for all and the nice folks at Abbey Road delivered - BIG TIME! Here is a link to Kevin Swanwick's excellent blog, Writing and Thinking:

22 Comments:

At 10:46 AM, Blogger Yellowstone said...

Disgaceful!

"I am an American fighting man. I serve in the forces which guard our country. I am prepared to give my life in its defense!"

This is the first code that a soldier pledges allegiance to when he goes active. You never forget it - it's a lifelong pledge. "My life in its defense!!"

Why none of those a**holes ever served in the military is way beyond me. Perhaps just another bunch of numb soles who have others fight their battles.

It's hard for me to say what I'd do - probably ensure that this guy got 'first class' treatment before all others - regardless of where he was sitting. And make a show of it. Then ask that all stay sitted until he deplanes.

God bless the America I once knew . . .

Those of you (and you know who you are) - thank a guy in uniform, let him go first, do NOT treat him as a second class citizen.

 
At 11:31 AM, Blogger Leslie Parsley said...

As VA Senator Jim Webb said, "Those young Marines that I led [Vietnam] have grown older now. They’ve lived lives of courage, both in combat and after their return, where many of them were derided by their own peers for having served. That was a long time ago. They are not bitter. They know what they did. But in receiving veterans’ benefits, they are not takers. They were givers, in the ultimate sense of that word."

and ... "And not only did they pay. They will not say this, so I will say it for them. They are owed, if nothing else, at least a mention, some word of thanks and respect, when a presidential candidate who is their generational peer makes a speech accepting his party’s nomination to be commander-in-chief. And they are owed much more than that — a guarantee that we will never betray the commitment that we made to them and to their loved ones."

 
At 11:38 AM, Blogger Patricia said...

That was an amazing heartfelt piece.I think all of our veterans deserve first class treatment. I never thought these two wars were right. But, that doesn't mean I don't respect the people who fought in them.

 
At 12:39 PM, Anonymous John said...

...war casualties, like collateral damage are the cost of doing business. Kevin, I’d advise you not to go to San Francisco. You will see enough of these guys to make you cry for years. A wound to the mind of soul may be as debilitating as the loss of a limb. Perhaps it does not even require a wound - maybe the realization that one’s government has made one a killer because of lies. How does this affect a person? Is this the reason that so many veterans are driven to suicide? Are they driven by conscience? Take Bradley Manning, this man should be recognized as a hero to humanity, instead he is being persecuted by ‘his’ government - by ‘our’ government.

We all participate in this injustice. I fall short because I see what goes on yet I am unable to make myself articulate enough or influential enough to show this to other people - or sometimes I am too burnt out to argue what I see as truth, or worse yet - just choose to ignore it. If I admit defeat, I might choose to see my nation as righteous because to look at it in other ways might be too grotesque to stand. It seems some of our fellow citizens are there. How does that impact society? Maybe it allows it to be the way it is.

Our rights as Americans, human rights, are being attacked and defeated. These attacks go beyond our civil rights, it is physical. Even the air, water and food we eat is being threatened by so many things. More often than not, these attacks are driven by corporate interests. The government tells us that it’s enemies hate ‘us’ for ‘our’ freedoms. Are we as a people worthy of the promise of the opportunity to pursue happiness and freedom if we are willing to let it go without a fight?

Promoting intellectual laziness is part of the education policy of our nation. The objective of this policy is primarily to preserve the financial and power structure. One of the main mechanisms is obscuring truth. When truth seers like Bradley Manning step out of line, apparently a lesson in intimidation is the response. Few would trade places with him - but hopefully enough people will see the injustice in this and shout for his release. It kind of makes you wonder what our nation would be if we all pursue and share truth? Could that open the doors to other freedoms?

 
At 5:22 PM, Blogger charles moore said...

Tom, thank you for letting Kevin speak. This is truly a moving story and let us hope that for just once, the god damned anonymous trolls will have the decency not to flood the comment section with smarmy, smart ass irrelevant remarks.

 
At 6:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gee,Charles, what in this post is there to disagree with?

 
At 12:01 AM, Blogger Kevin Swanwick said...

Some additional comment for those of two minds on this. I get it.
There is a distinction between recognizing the Marine's service as a duty, a well-intentioned and honorable duty and the circumstances of that duty as determined by powerful, elite policy makers. I accept Chomsky's thesis that we live in the age of “manufactured consent.” Howard Zinn has written extensively about the fact that citizens do not choose to go to war, government officials do. Citizens need to be coerced and the use of propaganda is always there. This can mean that service members and the public at large are deceived and that wars that are unjustified and illegal can be thoroughly positioned as justified, moral and legal in the public consciousness with full support of media organizations, think tanks and the Council on Foreign Relations. For example, we now know that in May of 1945, William J. Donovan, Director of the OSS had written memoranda to Truman directly communicating Japan's willingness to cease hostilities and surrender. We also now know that Eisenhower strongly objected to the use of an atomic weapon on MORAL grounds and made this clear directly to Truman and that Admiral William Leahy thought and stated that the bomb's use was an act of barbarism as did Undersecretary of the Navy Ralph Bard, who resigned when it became clear that Truman was to go ahead with the bomb. Several military advisers and generals advised Truman that an invasion was unnecessary, as the Japanese were planning their surrender….

Despite all of this Truman dropped the bomb twice killing by conservative estimate, 225,000 civilians. It has also become clear from publicly released documents (see “Atomic Diplomacy,” Gar Alperovitz, latest edition) that a motivating factor in dropping the bomb was intimidation of the Soviet Union. In the minds of most Americans the bomb’s use was justified, since it “saved 1,000,000 soldiers lives” by preempting an invasion. This has become standard history. But the facts I just stated are public record. To this day, virtually none of the public knows them and the media organizations have no interest in pursuing these facts or their meaning to our history. If servicemen and women base their decision to serve on established facts and these facts are untrue but not knowable as untrue, are the service members dishonorable? If the American public STILL doesn't know the facts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, sixty seven years after the fact, how much more misinformed are they about Iraq? Afghanistan? Waziristan? Yemen?....

 
At 12:02 AM, Blogger Kevin Swanwick said...

….With regard to the uncertainty of the warrior’s actions in the field, this uncertainty should not lead to disdain as presumed guilt, nor should the uncertainty color ones decision to treat the subject with respect and compassion. I submit that it is possible to hate war, but love the warrior and to accept that the sacrifice made, was honorably made for "us." In every war there are atrocities, bar none. There are documented cases of our Troops committing them in Iraq and Afghanistan. We must not look away, but we should also not ascribe collective guilt to the many dedicated service members, who have been deceived by the leaders whom they have sworn an oath to serve. On the contrary, we should pay close attention to their needs as they attempt to recover from brain trauma, PTSD and physical wounds. The crime is doubly wrong.

“Liberals” as in the Democratic Party booster variety, need to acknowledge their intellectual dishonesty. The big lie is that Republicans are warmongers and Democrats are not. The public record is there for us if we open our eyes and look and this is the problem. The Net and alternate media is changing the game and I am encouraged.

Wars of aggression are never justified (or legal). But when an Orwellian media/government system creates justification, the truth dies and the information that could awaken the conscience of an erstwhile Marine is not available. But there is light. The story of Pat Tillman reveals that he seems to have figured out that the war he was engaged in was unjustified and he was planning to meet with war-critical intellectuals when he returned from his tour, to try to learn more. He never made it home.

The level of pre-war activism I see with regard to Iran encourages me and I think it is making it more difficult, politically, for a war of aggression against them to take place. It can still happen, but I think now we have a better chance of derailing it if enough Americans stay involved and focused on facts. Progress is slow and painful and war sets it back every time.

 
At 11:11 AM, Blogger Yellowstone said...

Kevin, I empathized with the soldier in your article. None of us under the age of 21 ever doubted the reason to fight for our country. It wasn't until we saw a buddy in a body bag that brought thoughts of the futility; by then it was too late. As we matured we began to see the more sinister and ulterior motives that were at play.

I had hoped that this column would not delve into the snakepit of political partisanship. But . . .

Your comment (which I personally have a problem with):
“Liberals” as in the Democratic Party booster variety, need to acknowledge their intellectual dishonesty. The big lie is that Republicans are warmongers and Democrats are not."

You have to be kidding!

Help me understand how and why we got involved in: 1> a civil war in SE Asia, 2> 12 years chasing down OBL and destroying Afgan's countryside and its people, 3> searching in vain for WMDs only to publicly lynch the country's leader - and destroying a few 10s of thousand innocent bystanders, and now 4> a party that appears ready to rough house Iran for another assumed risk to an ally (who does have many WMDs).

Undoubtedly there ulterior motives. But if you are hell bent on assigning blame to one party versus another - please look more closely.

BTW: Have you 'served'?

Always faithful . . .

 
At 12:03 PM, Blogger Leslie Parsley said...

Yellowstone: are you not overlooking JFK's role in expanding our military presence in Nam and then LBJ's lies and further expansion? And while I understand that it's always easier to start a war than it is to end one, just what the hell are we still doing in Afghanistan? I have to agree with Kevin on the intellectual dishonesty of Democrats. Think of the Congressional Democrats who supported Bush's invasion of Iraq - and then tried to backslide later.

 
At 12:34 PM, Blogger Yellowstone said...

Leslie-

Again without picking parties . .

You were probably not in that trench - but imagine (empathy) - folks falling down around you.

Do you really think that it occurs to you who started this fiasco? Who got you into this nightmare?

That's what was/is going on in that soldier's head.

I guess you have to have been there to understand. That's the same reason those guys in'first' never acknowledged the sacrifice this gut made.

BTW: I did it for $75 every two weeks. I had to stand in line, in unform, and salute.

Empathize - semper fi!

 
At 3:14 PM, Anonymous Ron Baldwin said...

We just could not leave alone a poignant story that had the possibility of reminding us all of the respect we should show those who serves our country at their own peril.

Well the horse is out of the barn and locking the doors is a futile gesture.

Kevin bemoans the use of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and August 9, 1945 resulting in 255,000 Japanese casualties (Kevin’s number). He cites “Wild Bill” Donovan, the head of OSS (which became the CIA) who believed the Japanese were ready to “cease hostilities and surrender.” Read about the frantic efforts by the Japanese military to stop the Emperor’s recorded surrender message to the Japanese people AFTER both nuclear bombs were dropped. The Japanese military almost succeeded.

Does the work “kamikaze” ring a bell? How about the Bataan Death March and the forced labor for military prisoners, who were regarded by the Japanese as having forfeited all right to life by the dishonor of surrender? The rape of Nanking. The suicide Banzai charges with some soldiers carrying nothing but clubs. The Japanese families who jumped to their death on Saipan after almost all the Japanese soldiers were killed.

I am puzzled at how people view with such horror the 225,000 casualties in Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and August 9, 1945 and I agree that was a terrible loss of life. In February 1945 Curtis LeMay was hailed as a hero for devising the strategy of low level night bombing of Japanese cities, the first of which on Tokyo resulted in a ferocious firestorm that killed an estimated 250,000 people in one night. The many firestorms in the next six months did not bring the Japanese any closer to surrender, they merely hardened the resolve of the Japanese people to resist to the last person. Only the thought that one bomb could wipe out a large city brought the Japanese to consider surrender. Little did they know that those two were the only nuclear bombs we had (the first one of three was tested in New Mexico). It would be months before we could have had any more nuclear bombs.

Let’s not forget that Harry Truman did not even know that nuclear bombs existed or even were possible on April 12, 1945 when he became President. Decisions in war, particularly a world war in those distant times, were often made with sketchy information because of communications and intelligence almost primitive compared with today’s technology. In my opinion, those decisions viewed through the technology of those times were remarkably well made.

 
At 8:17 PM, Anonymous John said...

The fact is that we are constantly bombarded by propaganda - and it works. We are all taken in by it at sometimes. I think most people who join the service are doing so for patriotic reasons with honorable intentions. Someone who would put their-self in harms way for their fellow citizens is worthy of respect. However, it may be more than a little disillusioning if there comes a point of realization that war is primarily a richman’s game and more than anything else the fight is to preserve or enhance those richmen’s ways of life.

The foundation for many fortunes is the consumption of energy, particularly fossil fuel and to some extent nuclear. It is obvious that many of the people who enjoy this prosperity are behind much of our foreign policy. There is irony of course is that this is un-sustainable - the proverbial hard rain is gonna fall. I guess the end game is to be standing on the high ground - but I suspect a changing climate will impact the dynasties just as it impacts other families.

The cold-war exemplifies this in that hundreds of thousands of American civilians and servicemen were killed by domestic bomb testing. You hear little about this in the media, but check out:
naav.com
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_experimentation_in_the_United_States
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Downwinders
ratical.org/radiation/KillingOurOwn/KOO1.html
...once you get a notion of just how large a problem this is, the question of what the relationship between that and the epidemic of cancers in our society becomes unavoidable. I doubt a stock portfolio protects you from this risk.

 
At 5:37 PM, Blogger Dave Dubya said...

It's so sad that the wealthy elites have "sacrified" too much already.

This further confirms their attitude towards others is, "I got mine. You're on your own".

 
At 7:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

BLAME BUSH
EAT THE RICH
DESTROY THE BANKS

 
At 7:35 PM, Anonymous Harry from Mass said...

Thanks for the post Kevin.

It has been a long time since a quality post such as yours has appeared on "The Rant".

The presidential debate hasn't even started tonight but Chris "tingle up his leg" Matthews and MSNBC have already declared Obama the winner!

 
At 8:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Got that right, so has Special Ed Schultz.

 
At 8:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obama supporters hearts of darkness.

Business owners Dee and Gene Liboff of Woodland Hills, California, just wanted to show their support for Mitt Romney in the coming election by putting up a handmade sign in front of their home.

Dee and Gene Liboff’s handmade Romney sign has been repeatedly vandalized.
But what they were shown in return is the ugly side of some Obama supporters.

Ever since putting up the sign, the Liboffs, who are members of the San Fernando Valley Patriots, have been engaged in a running war with vandals who have cut, pulled down, torn apart and ripped the sign out of the ground.

Every time it happens, the Liboffs get out the tape and glue and put the sign back up. While doing so, they have been yelled at and cursed.

A passing biker who saw Dee fixing the sign screamed, “You are dead.”

But things took an even darker turn when the sign was vandalized again and the Liboffs found what appeared to be a Molotov cocktail left beside the ruins of the sign, possibly as a warning.

The makeshift bomb, consisting of a jar full of some sort of liquid and a rag stuffed in the jar mouth, prompted the bomb squad and fire department to begin a serious investigation into the targeting of the Liboffs’ sign. Police and fire officials have assured the Liboffs that they have their full support.

All the vandalism and threats have taken a toll on the Liboffs. “It hit me pretty hard this last time physically and emotionally,” Dee said. “This is not the country I believed in and couldn’t wait until I was old enough to vote. We must save our freedom. Socialism and communism are a deep cancer eating up the dreams of our children’s future.”

Dee notes that there are also good people in the neighborhood who have expressed support and sympathy for their troubles as well. So the sign remains.

“I worked on that beat up. battle-scarred banner and it is up again with a warning poster in English and Spanish saying, ‘Smile, you are on camera and this area is being investigated,’” Dee said.


 
At 8:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just watched the 1st debate, looked for the "awkward man". Was surprised to see it was the President.

 
At 6:50 AM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

BREAKING NEWS:

Our friends Dick and Sharon Kyle over at the LA Progressive published Kevin's piece the other day. Very cool!

 
At 6:54 AM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

By the way, in response to Charles Moore's post, anonymous said:

"Gee,Charles, what in this post is there to disagree with?"

Indeed. But what was there to disagree with in my Beatles piece three weeks ago? That didn't stop you from taking that all out of context, did it?

 
At 5:45 PM, Blogger Kevin Swanwick said...

Geez - I hadn't visited Tom's blog and missed all of the additional, spirited commentary!

Briefly:
1. I have not served, but have worked with homeless vets and have visited Vietnam twice and have traveled with US Vets there and met up with Vietnam Vets for Peace (Chuck Scearcy) who are doing great work there.
2. LBJ concocted the Gulf of Tonkin incident, a lie (well documented, accepted and not in dispute by scholars or military historians - sources on this abound in the public record). This was used to send the Marines in Da Nang in 1965 and escalate the war. Johnson and his policy elites were Democrats. This is a primary reference for my referral to the mythology of the GOP being the only party of war. We can now add Obama's illegal Drone War to the mix, which is rife legal problems in both humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions of War, which the US authored and is a signatory to.
3. My primary source for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki moral dilemma is "Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam" by Gar Aplerovitz. This book is the most exhaustive and data-rich work of scholarship on the subject and has been published in several updated editions over the years and new memoranda and documents have been published. Conservative historians have criticized the work at various times and methodically and over several years, Alperovitz has been able to rely on newly released material to support his reportage and thesis regarding the decision making process. The works stands and while it is controversial, it is not so for lack of concise scholarship, but for the nature of the subject, which is indeed troubling. The conservative estimate used in the book (he surveys all of them) is 225,000 civilians.

 

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