Monday, November 30, 2009

#174 Veterans Day ... V--the Home Front

We're all veterans. All of us alive today are literally and etymologically "old ones" (Latin root vetus, Fr. cognate vieux) when it comes to war--when it comes to the common-sense-defying serial warfare that America has been waging for the last 60 years. The war-weariness of especially us Vietnam-era, "home-front vets" has been insufferable Then not much more than a decade later we get Grenada, Panama, Iraq; then Yugoslavia, Somalia; then Afghanistan, Iraq again; then Afghanistan again, and now Pakistan--dumped on us. Hey, you VFW's had it easy, fighting from the gut--unphilosophically!--over life and limb, while we were left here state-side having to worry and brood guiltily, obsess morally and politically over whether you guys were getting dead and disabled for a just cause. Give us a break.

But can you imagine such a pollyannish poster above being hung anywhere in America today without invoking peals of derisive laughter? I don't know ... maybe if Lady Victory were sowing poppy-seeds. Yeah, that's the ticket. Plant a back-yard garden so our surplus agriculture can go to feed the lately impoverished Afghan farmer and his drug cartel. In the dark days of WWII, though, Americans were serious about their patriotic support, and homeland sacrifices, for the troops overseas. (The muscular Rosie the Riveter poster, which I'm sure you've seen, captured the spirit best.) Since I was born during that war, I would have (unknowingly) shared with my parents some of the hardships, such as food and gas rationing, associated with the war effort on the home front. Some of that is still with us: like my parents and grandparents before them, I always refer to a little improvised horticultural patch as a Victory Garden.

No, I'm happy to say that the better angels lurking in the heart of the American people have NEVER shown that kind of unequivocal support for war, after what I consider the warning-knell of Korea--so aptly nick-named the Forgotten War, at least until M*A*S*H used it purely as an anti-Vietnam metaphor. Since then, the Electorate has been about evenly split about undertaking a foreign war, and then, very soon after--prompted I believe by some Founding-Father super-ego in us all--we're against it. All it seems to take, thankfully, is a bit of hard-nosed TV coverage--and now the internet--to expose military adventurism gone wrong. A few body-bags and bloody-stumps will do it. Okay, not any more. We have to back-exstrapolate from coffins--recently banned from coverage--and V.A. hospital interviews. The ONE THING that Bush and Obama seemed to have learned from Vietnam: don't let the Free Press get too close to the blood and guts, or the people at home will turn against you. Notwithstanding, I take heart in the fact that the majority of Americans now disapprove of our war in Afghanistan, and that many of those polled mention Vietnam.

My first three sons are too old to serve, and safe, but not my last. Remember, it was inconceivable in the early 60s, when JFK began planting a few U.S. "advisers" here-and-there in Southeast Asia, that 50,000+ Americans would die there. But it happened. He was sowing dragon's teeth. My real concern, though, returning to the starting point of this series, is How much longer must my children and grandchildren be subjected to the mental and moral anguish of America at war? That's no small thing. I'm un-scientifically convinced that us war-babies and baby-boomers would have much healthier psyches if we weren't witness to the ceaseless shock and awe of Vietnam. Wasteland carnage ... destroyed villages ... coffins and body bags ... disfigured and all-but-disgraced VETERANS, many of whom are still with us. Sound familiar? The indelible My Lai Massacre has already been replicated a couple of times in the Middle-East War.

Yet lately I've been hearing oxymoronic noises about "WINNING the war in Afghanistan." Will you have a part in Victory?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

#173 Veterans Day ... IV--Onwards and Backwards into Afghanistan

Yet another uncle of mine, by marriage--I had a bevy of good-looking aunts--was, like his father-in-law (yes) Corporal C.A. Edmunds, a veteran's veteran. Even more so. First of all, no mere Gumpish wound to the buttocks for Uncle Frank: during the Allies' last great squeeze that would stifle Nazi Germany and lead to V.E. Day, an exploding land-mine took off both of the infantryman's legs below the knee. What's more, after his state-side convalescence, the Veterans Administration its-very-self figured to put him on the payroll. Hey, a double-amputee war-vet with great spirit and an ingratiating personality (he had one) = perfect P.R. He worked with the V.A. till retirement, which he and my aunt are still enjoying in Florida, alive and well in their late-eighties. Talk about a survivor.

Uncle Frank got along well with or without his artificial limbs. Without was better. Not as much pain--pain that has never completely gone away. Whenever this particular war-hero uncle (among several on all sides of the family) took off his cumbersome prostheses and his no-heel-or-toe socks, we kids--especially this First Nephew--were allowed to cop a feel. Of his scarred and be-wrinkled stumps. After all, it was a cheap massage. And while we were always squirmifiably embarrassed, he seemed totally un-self-conscious about the whole thing. For me, at that young age, it was nothing less than exhilarating. In touchy-feeling the effects of a just-short-of-deadly land-mine, I was magically transported to the European Theater of the Second World War. Right down into the battleground of exploding meat and gristle. My WWI Grandfather Edmunds would TELL me bed-time stories of his battlefield escapades (literally: he was in a tactical retreat when he got the bullet to the bum)--my WWII Uncle Frank could SHOW. Just as well, because he never talked about it.

Getting around without prosthetic help, my uncle looked exactly like Specialist Andrew Soule', 25, pictured above, R&R-ing along the Salmon River in Idaho. An Afghan war-vet, he was blown up by a land-mine, too. (La plus ca change ... indeed.) It was by way of the Middle-East species of land-mine called an I.E.D. We've talked about them before (esp. DM #131). The device carried out its incendiary ambush beautifully, destroying a truck and effectively deleting at least one enemy soldier. To get Forrest Gump-ish once more, it may not have been the kind of "deactivation" that Specialist Soule' would have desired to mark the end of a military career--his cinematic counterpart, Vietnam-wise, was double-amputee "Lieutenant Dan," who would rather have been killed ... martyred heroically in the CAUSE. "Dulce et decorum est ..." again: Sweet and righteous it is ... to die for one's country. Gary Sinise's character in the movie descended into disillusionment and despair when he didn't. Only a Hollywood denoument would save him.

Problem is ... since WWII there has been no cause. No casus bellum to die for, or sacrifice body-parts over. My grandfather's wounded hind-quarters helped defeat the Kaiser; my uncle's lower-extremities helped pay for victory over the Nazis. Just wars. And these were veterans who were proud, and proudly welcomed home, after righteously defeating the aggressor nations on foreign soil. No such happy homecomings have been in store for American veterans ever since. But, please, nobody tell young Andrew (my second son's name) Soule' that he lost his legs for nothing. (more)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

#172 Veterans Day ... III--the Great Sequel

The Germans, though, were finally forced to throw in the towel at the end of WWII. No wimpy armistice here. Not a stand-off, cease-fire, truce. Rather, abject and unconditional surrender on the part of Nazi Germany; total victory for the allied countries. It was Victory in Europe Day, celebrated everywhere on 8 May 1945. In this famous snapshot, a Georgia sailor-boy, sent into battle by my Granddaddy Edmund's draft board, jubilates the occasion in Times Square. Well ... could of been. He's never been indisputably identified.

Again we got in late; again we won the war for them. And once again we reluctantly fought a perfectly righteous, DEFENSIVE WAR. We hadn't quite yet developed our penchant for belligerent interventionism that has characterized our foreign policy forever after. On the defense, and surviving veterans, were two of my blood-uncles from either side of the family. One of them was the son of that same WWI Cpl. C. A. Edmunds, named Pierce, who served in the second one as a rear-turret gunner. "Tail-Gunner" Pierce. Considering that assignment's casualty-rate, no need to point out how lucky he was to be alive to celebrate Veterans Day later in November of that victorious year. But wait ... it was still officially Armistice Day. Only WWI veterans need apply. And moreover it was still meant to be a sort of Wilsonesque PEACE celebration. But the war in the Pacific hadn't ended yet, really for years to come, as it turned out. Korea, Vietnam, and all that.

For even when it officially was, it wasn't. It seems to me that getting entangled in the "Pacific Rim" in the final stages of WWII--we had to, of course--was our undoing for another 60 years. The wars started to pile up-- interventionist, non-defensive wars carried out, for the most part, on the other side of the planet. And the VETERANS!--they now began to run into the millions. It must have occurred to some folks in Congress that the current "honor-thy-veteran" Armistice Day just wasn't cutting it for those un-dead warriors returning from battles fought apres WWI. So after the Korean War, a bill was passed and signed by President/General Eisenhower on 26 May 1954 extending recognition on Nov. 11th of every year to ALL armed-service veterans of ANY war, or no war at all. But here's the wrinkle: it was still to be called Armistice Day! But this, apparently on second thought, wouldn't quite wash. So on Nov. 8th of that year--in the nick of time--an amended bill was sent and signed, re-naming the federal holiday "Veterans Day." All pretense of any association with peace-making was thus permanently abandoned.

And rightly so. We were by then the policemen of the world, and would remain quick on the trigger for the rest of the century and beyond. Just this little bit of perspective should do it: TOTAL TIME American forces fought in BOTH World Wars = only HALF the time our troops have been fighting in Afghanistan ... so far. The Germans after the "Great War" had it right all along: Volkstrauertag. Mourn your heroic war-dead once a year (our Memorial Day) and be done with it. Veterans? Fugeddaboutit. We're all veterans. Moreover, veterans now could be veterans all over again after the next war ... and the next ... (more)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

#171 Veterans Day ... II--the Great War

My Granddaddy, Corporal C.A. Edmunds avoided the American cemetery at Flanders Fields, though several of his squadron are buried there. It was almost wiped out during one of the final Allied offenses against the Germans. It was in the Battle of Argonne Forest that he was Purple-Hearted in approximately the Forrest Gump area of his lower torso--"only a flesh wound." Not only did he survive the War To End All Wars, he was one of a handful of WWI vets alive when he died just a few months shy of 100. In fact, he became the veteran's veteran: as head of his county's draft-board for many years, during WWII and beyond, he was responsible for manufacturing them.

But who could have predicted that next war? Surely not my grandfather, ready to limp back to his Georgia farmstead. After all the obvious carnage that the new modern mode of warfare could produce--killing and maiming and warping a whole generation ... surely the Great Powers would have learned something from the "Great War." (To see how la plus ca change ... please refer to DM #127-129, the "Dulce et Decorum" series, where WWI France could double for today's Afghanistan.) They did, and didn't.

Germany, for one, never really accepted defeat. They didn't have to, technically. The war ended in an armistice = a cease-fire, a truce, a stand-off, if you will. Not a formal surrender--though the harsh terms imposed on the Germans, treaty-wise at Versailles, would make it appear so. Not surprisingly, what the allies celebrated subsequently and variously as our Armistice Day, Le Jour de l'Armistice in France and Belgium, and Remembrance Day in the British Commonwealth, was NOT and never-ever would be observed as such in Germany. For them, Nov. 11th became a memorial all right, but not for peace. The annual Volkstrauertag (trauer = "mourning") is for their fallen warriors, heroically dead on the losing side. Could just as well be called Valkyrie Day. Point is ... they never gave up. And thus the sequel to The War To End All Wars was less than one generation away.

The American commanders seemed to have a sense of this in the last days--indeed the final moments--of WWI. I alluded to Monty Python in the first paragraph, and here I'm indebted to one of them, Michael Palin, for providing an interesting sidebar on the events of Nov. 11th,"The Last Day of World War One" (BBC-2008). He hosted (and co-wrote/produced) a documentary so-entitled that was re-run on PBS this Veterans Day. According to the TV-doc, the allied officers in the field, especially our own "Black Jack" Pershing and his minions, were out for German blood right up till that "eleventh hour of the eleventh ... etc." Hostilities were officially to end at 11:00 pm, but everybody on both sides KNEW that the railway-car armistice would have already been signed at 5:00 pm on that day (news spread fast betwixt and across the densely populated trenches). So ... would the allied officers give these long-suffering Tommies and Doughboys a break? Not on your Nellie Duff. During the 6-hour interval, in order to punish the aggressor Kaiser-kampfers to the last possible "detail," the allies launched further offenses along the line, gaining meaningless territory, and senselessly losing more lives. The last to die was a Canadian, at one minute to eleven.

Fortunately ... my grandfather, Corporal C. A. Edmunds, A.E.F., was presumably resting comfortably somewhere behind the lines, nursing his backside. (more)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

#170 Veterans Day--Raining on the Parade

Last week, while our non-vet Commander-in-Chief Obama continued to weigh his options vs. the Middle East War, Veterans Day (officially non-apostropheed, as if nobody wants ownership) was celebrated all over our lucratively-militarized state of North Carolina. It rained all over, too. Parades were canceled or marched indoors ... and I'm glad, rhetorically. In order to make a historical point. (There is a sufficiency of war-vets in my family to memorialize, thank you.)

Originally, November 11 was Armistice Day, federally ordained one year after the fact to commemorate the signing of the (lit.) "arms-stand" agreement ending WWI hostilities at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. It's still celebrated as such by our then-allied countries in that "war to end all wars." It didn't. And I'm unaware of any cease-fire pacts being signed lately. No, let Veterans Day stand rather for this country's perennial war-mongering, it's inexhaustible capacity find itself at-war with someone--somewhere and everywhere--serially and seemingly all of the time. In this soon-to-be former decade wherein my young grandchildren took their first steps, they have not known a moment of at-peace.

It wasn't always thus.

I think that in 1919 the world was genuinely optimistic--having seen the apocalyptic havoc that modern warfare can wreak--that we really weren't going to go through that again. After all, President Wilson and the American "dough-boys" had won the "Great War" in Europe in record time once we got into it, and the planet once again seemed "safe for democracy" ... except in the U.S. Senate. Wilson's idea of the League of Nations was well on its way to becoming reality across the old and newly-coined democracies of Europe (and remained so sans U.S. till after the next war), and everybody signed-off our President's famous "Fourteen Points" for achieving a lasting peace ... except the U.S. Senate. That's right, the world's greatest deliberative body misread the League of Nations treaty as Health-Care Reform, defeated it, and paved the way for WWII.

Okay, I suppose the German people must again share the blame for the latter. Really all of it. What's the old saw?--"Get one German together, he broods; get two together, they argue; get three together, they march." Or something like that. And so the first half of the last century was an era of uncalled-for defensive war, on our part. We resisted entry into both world-wars till the Germans sunk our ships in the first one, and the Japanese did it again in the second one. Ah, the good old days. Nobody really wanted to fight the second one, the caught-by-surprise devastation of the first still holding most nations in shock ... except for Germany. Appeasement was the order of the day, until it was too late. Perhaps this was the sinister and ultimately self-defeating lesson learned and carried over to second half of our last century and dribbling over into this one, that has made us--sometimes in collusion with the latter-day League of Nations: the U.N.--so damnably interventionist. Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech sums up our long-distance blood-lust over the last 60 years. Ancient-Germanically though my blood may course, the Blogman has no wish to be a citizen of Berlin. I really do wish JFK had meant, "I'm a jelly-doughnut"--for so the urban legend goes that he misaligned his word with a (for-real) popular confection--but, in context, he didn't.

At 11:01 pm, Nov. !!th 1918, my maternal Granddaddy Cliff, by-then-veteran dough-boy, might have celebrated the Armistice with a jelly doughnut, but not with a Berliner. The young Georgian, Clifford Alonzo Edmunds, Corporal, American Expeditionary Forces, and his squad had already killed enough of them. That fellow on the right above looks a bit as he did, compared with our old photograph, taken at the same time and place. (more)

Friday, November 6, 2009

#169 Hung Up ... on the Cross of Gold

Now here's the proper logo for Blue Cross, Inc.-- rather than the one in last post. Money. Coin of the realm. This is an Italian-Euro commemorative, which more accurately reproduces their countryman's "Vitruvian Man"--Da Vinci's famous anatomical flirtation with Hindu mythology (I must presume). A pretty coin ... silver center with perimeter gold, yet the image is still hauntingly cruciform.

What's stopping Health-Care Reform? To be honest, and to my shame, it's a question that I hadn't thought much until recent political events put it unavoidably on the table. Full disclosure: my kids were raised on Blue Cross (of SC). Employer provided. Never had to think twice about it; everything was covered. But things have changed; consciousness has been raised--especially about the un-covered.

To reduce the thing to its lowest intractable denominator: we must insure the un-insured. And the under-insured. Big-Health won't do it, for axiomatic reasons--they won't make a profit. Not to rehash a whole bunch of posts (but q.v. anyway if you will), short of the ideal, Single-Payer, the only ameliorative strategy at hand is non-profit Public Option, taxpayer supported. We can bail-out the banks and auto companies => we can give succor to the poor and sick ... dammit.

What's stopping Health-Care Reform? A more instrumental question: Why are our representatives in Congress having such difficulty in passing such obviously necessary legislation? Okay, the answer is also obvious at this point. But never has it become so clear just how closely some of our law-makers are tied-up with the "moneyed interests"--to use an old-fashioned term--than in the last few months. Put simply, these people are being PAID-OFF. And they're selling-out for sums tantamount to Graft and Fraud.

Just one example from my July post, "What Shall It Profit a Man ... " (DM #133). At that time the WashPost reported that Max Baucus, Inc., Chairman of the crucial Senate Finance Committee, had since 2003 received over $3 million in cash-money from Big-Med lobbyists--mainly health-care providers and insurance companies, including, of course, Blue Cross, his biggest supporter. They weren't just sending postcards back then. (The ranking Republican, Chuck Grassley, got only $2 million--hey, he's a Republican. An anti-Obama vote is in the bag anyway.) Sure enough and predictably, the Senate Health Care bill was voted out of the Baucus committee WITHOUT the Public Option, four months later.

What shall it profit a man ... ? Indeed.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

#168 Hung Up ... on the Cross of Blue

The official heraldry disturbs, of late. Haven't checked with BC&BS on this (though I'm sure that not a single BlogManFan has any doubts as to where this is ultimately going)--but I assume the logo is meant to invoke DaVinci's famed drawing, "Vitruvian Man" (itself a little weird), in a highly stylized and minimalist way. Too minimal. We don't get to see the hands and feet, where the NAILS have been driven in.

Okay, not in DaVinci either. But what follows are a few things that have pointedly waxed me wroth about the Health Insurance giant over the past several weeks--even as Congress, too, continues to be "hung up" on Health-Care Reform legislation. Could have picked any of the Big-Med offenders, I guess, but Blue Cross of North Carolina is so eminently typical, and seems to have such an inordinately large and particularly malign influence over our local TV channels, and apparently over their advertising budget, as well.

Two weeks ago a Blue Cross P.R. flack got some air-time decrying Reform in any form, especially, of course, what he called the "government-run" option. This is news?! A complete simpleton can understand that it would cut into the profits of a profit-driven outfit. But spokesman Bob Greczyn--a handsome, avuncular, very white man, including hair--couched his opposition in familiar user-(un)friendly terms: "Oh yes, the consumers would ultimately suffer. It would cost billions and billions of dollars and raise OUR taxes by over 68% [?], and we'd have to pass that along. Insurance rates would definitely go up."

Two days ago ... what happened? You guessed it. Blue Cross filed for an 11% rate increase with the NC Insurance Commission. I must have missed the news report that Congress had passed the Public Option.

Was Bob Greczyn back on the tube? Nope. The NC State Employees Association, a quasi-union (we're still in the South, after all), got wind of it--along with some other BC&BS under-the-table shenanigans--and made the news. State workers are for the most part insured (read: monopolized) by Blue Cross--in fact, it insures more people overall (70%) than any other company in North Carolina--and they called a news conference to protest.

But here's what really got their goat: they discovered that, at the same time it was asking for a rate increase, Blue Cross was spending money on postcards sent to its vast roster of insurees, urging them to oppose the Public Option. By phoning up their Congresspersons, or some such. Which amounts to increasing rates to subsidize lobbying, or so it seemed. Outrage ensued. In fact, the State Employees Association announced their own web-site in rebuttal (closest they could get to a picket line) called, defiantly, After the rally, a not-at-all-chastened Blue Cross guy was interviewed, and denied everything, saying in the process--get this--"What's happening in Washington is gonna cost 'em a lot more than a few postcards."

He's right about that ... and so very wrong. Postcards are a pittance compared to the exorbitant prodigality of the Big-Med expense account. Has nothing, not now or ever, to do with Washington. As mentioned in an earlier post (DM #120), a non-profit Public Option would save 20-30% right off the top because it would be NON-PROFIT. A tautology, forcryingoutloud. was quick-on-the-page to point out that "the virtual monopoly of Blue Cross of NC earned $186 million in profits for 2008--and paid their CEO nearly $4 million." They might have added that this in no way includes the "overhead" expenses for lobbying, marketing, and advertising--costs that the Feds wouldn't have to worry about at all. I'm reminded again of the quote by the overmuch-wooed Republican Senator Olympia Snowe (now there's a name) when asked why she couldn't support the Public Option: "Well, the Insurance companies might go out of business; they couldn't compete." She was serious.

And finally, speaking of advertising--Blue Cross occupies the most air-time on local channels than any other business. (This is what really got me started.) It's about equal to car dealerships. During the half-hour segments on our 24-hour news channel where the above stories were aired, for example, you might see two or three 2-minute spots for Blue Cross. Over and over. And targeted at the un-insured--"Those of you out there who need to buy your own insurance," the ad goes. Evidently seventy-percent of the insurance business in North Carolina can never be enough. Ironically, one the pitches in the ad is that "together we can help keep health-care costs down." By spending millions on advertising. Bruxism time.

With apologies to William Jennings Bryan, that's not really a blue cross up there: untold millions of Americans are being crucified on a cross of gold.