September, 2017

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Vietnam, 17 hours, 30 years, and the road ahead.

Friday, September 29th, 2017

Earlier posts on the Vietnam series: Sep 9, Sep 13, Sep 19 , Sep 21

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I watched every hour of the now complete and powerful Ken Burns/Lynn Novick retrospective on the War in Vietnam, 1945-75.

Today begins reflection after a powerful two weeks. What does this all mean to me? To us? How can I personally translate Vietnam into personal action to help us grow, to learn, from this tragedy.

Likely, midweek next week I’ll share my thoughts, such as they will be; and I encourage you to share yours as well, including at this blog space. If you wish your own blog space, just let me know. dick_bernardATmsnDOTcom. All I ask is respectful opinion, and willingness to share your name and your own personal role 1961-75. There is no judgement. We did as we did, then. Vietnam is an indelible part of our national history. We need to own and learn, from the experience.

To begin, among a flood of memories the series brought to the surface for me, below are two: meeting Daniel Ellsberg Feb. 23, 2008; and a totally unexpected visit to the newly dedicated Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC, Nov. 14, 1982.

(click to enlarge)

Then, remembering a powerful afternoon with Daniel Ellsberg and other anti-Vietnam war activists, Feb. 23, 2008: Daniel Ellsberg 2008001 Daniel was here in connection with a powerful program conceived by peace activist Frank Kroncke about the Minnesota 8, of which Mr. Kroncke was part.

Daniel Ellsberg (at right) being recognized for his contribution to peace Feb. 23, 2008, Minneapolis MN.

Here are shared some reflections received in the last days from friends. Doubtless there are thousands of such reflections, and they are just beginning. Thomas Bass, America’s amnesia; Jon Pilger. I have not picked these to pass along; they were forwarded by friends. There is room for lots of points of view in the conversations that are already being generated by this powerful series.

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At a time like this, I feel very, very, very small…what can I do?

It is not a matter of moving on; rather feeling very, very, very small.

There is a great plenty which can be done, one small act at a time.

Just being attentive to the plight of the people of Puerto Rico, a country 4% the size of Minnesota, with 60% of Minnesota’s population, devastated by hurricane. One is tempted to say that we should pay more attention to them, because they are all American citizens. But how about the residents of tiny Barbuda, essentially completely destroyed in an earlier hurricane. How do they fit into my world view? Humans, anywhere, are our brothers and sisters. The globe has no borders.

We don’t need to live within a single event. There are endless opportunities to get constructively involved.

Tuesday, October 3, I plan to join what promises to be a very interesting 4-session course on women who have won the Nobel Peace Prize. Here are details. Course leader, Maureen Reed, MD, has sterling credentials to lead this course. Among other experiences, she served as Executive Director of the Nobel Peace Prize Forum, through which she worked with both the Nobel Institute and its laureates. Consider enrolling, investing, in this class.

My friend, Donna, makes another suggestion: “I wanted to tell you about a group Rich and I have joined called the Interfaith Coalition on Immigration (ICOM). People from many faiths are doing some actions in regards to DACA and immigration. One action is to hold a vigil from 8-9 AM on the 2nd Tuesday of each month at the Whipple Federal Building [at Ft. Snelling – near the airport]. It is there that the immigrant deportation court is housed. Last vigil we had 85 people attend, including both concerned citizens and religious. Our goal is to grow this group so if you know of anyone interested please pass the word. After last vigil some attendees attended a court hearing on someone in deportation. We have done this as well and it truly feels so evil. Many of these deportations tear stable families apart. Anyway I hope you can join us sometime and spread the word. The next vigil is scheduled for October 10, National Immigration Day.”

And on, and on, and on.

Be “on the court” for solutions.

POSTNOTE:
Take time to read this: Don’t Bother. It is long and it is depressing, but it cries out for activism. We live in this country.

The International Criminal Court

Saturday, September 23rd, 2017

Wednesday was the International Day of Peace, set by the United Nations as a permanent day to highlight the cause of peace in our world.

Thursday evening I was privileged to be able to hear about the International Criminal Court (ICC) from two representatives from the Twin Cities NGO, World Without Genocide. Your time will be well spent at their website. It was a very powerful evening.

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Sarah L. S. Erickson, J.D., Benjamin Ferencz Fellow in Human Rights and Law; and Dr. Ellen J. Kennedy, Executive Director of World Without Genocide, September 21, 2017

Below are links provided by World Without Genocide which give much information about the ICC. One of the major problems in coming to understand this court is that the United States is one of countries who have not joined.

Slide at presentation Sep. 21, 2017

These days it is easy for me to drift into “hopeless” mode…and I am not one inclined to pessimism.

In the discussion period I asked the presenters a question, based on my own career experience in negotiations. In essence: at the start, presumably there is a zero point where there was no sense that there would ever be such a thing as an International Criminal Court. There is also a point where there may be seen, however dimly, a point where the ideal of justice through a world of law prevails.

I asked, along that continuum, where are we at this moment in history?

Neither would present a number (such as “20”….) but Dr. Kennedy observed that there has definitely been significant progress, and suggested positive momentum as well. The very existence of an International Criminal Court with 124 subscribing member countries (among about 193 members of the UN) is strong evidence. One of her main points was her suggestion that there are, today, a great number of activists for human rights everywhere in the world. There are several thousand NGOs with consultative status at the United Nations, most whose focus in some way is on some aspect of human rights. There is, in essence, a strong and public infrastructure in visible support of justice and peace.

By consciously inserting historical perspective, by no means is all hopeless.

Take some time to look at the resources below, and get involved. Join the mailing list of World Without Genocide, or some other organization.

For those with an interest, there is abundant information available about ICC. Among the sources, as provided by World Without Genocide:

American NGO Coalition for the ICC
International Criminal Court- Cour Penale Internationale
Ben Ferencz’s website
International NGO Coalition for the ICC
Print and electronic resources – University of Chicago

Ben Ferencz, now 97 years of age, is a particularly significant figure. By circumstance, his very first case as a young lawyer was to successfully try and convict 22 SS (Einsatzgruppen) perpetrators who were responsible for killing over 1,000,000 people in WWII. That is why I hi-lite his website, above. His book, PlanetHood, with Ken Keyes, Jr., remains one of the standards for persons with a passion for peace, and easily available through his website.

A gift, April, 2003. The book is still easily available, only with a different cover.

And upcoming in less than a month, at the same Third Thursday, will be a presentation by another such group, the Advocates for Human Rights on Thu Oct 19, 2017 at Plymouth Congregational Church, Minneapolis, sponsored by Citizens for Global Solutions MN.

POST NOTE:
My question on Thursday evening, referred to above, stimulated further thought, and today (Sep 25) Dr. Ellen Kennedy sent a supplement today, as follows:

“A few more points of optimism:

-The UN has an office on genocide prevention.

-The US State Dept. has – who knows what, as of today, but something akin to that.

-There are BA, MA, and PhD degrees in human rights and in holocaust and genocide education throughout the US.

-Similarly, there are now BA, MA, and PhD degrees in social entrepreneurship, the academic discipline where civil society is studied and promoted.

-The Association of Holocaust Organizations has a membership of more than 900 organizations worldwide, most of which sponsor programs, outreach, and opportunities for broad civic education and engagement.

-There is significant production of scholarship, memoirs, films, exhibits, etc. in the field of genocide history.

-There are memorials to most of the genocides of the 20th century in key locations around the world.

-Universal jurisdiction has been used to prosecute some of the world’s worst perpetrators.

-Laws have changed to make sexual violence a crime against humanity and rape a crime of genocide.

-Most law schools have courses in human rights and humanitarian law.

and more.”

Health Care For Some: Our Contemporary Vietnam

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

We’re in a mad race to another precipice, and once again, “politics”, which is “we, the people”, will be the likely driver.

There is a desperate need to finally kill President Obama’s signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act of 2010. (Sorry: “OBAMACARE”, said with a sneer.) There is no reason, other than repeating a mantra now seven years old, to “repeal obamacare”. The current version apparently will not even be scored by the Congressional Budget Office – it is too rushed. We have to do it NOW.

Long-time Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley probably said it best, very recently: “You know, I could maybe give you ten reasons why this bill shouldn’t be considered,” Grassley told Iowa reporters on a call, according to the Des Moines Register. “But Republicans campaign on this so often that you have a responsibility to carry out what you said in the campaign.” “That’s pretty much as much of a reason as the substance of the bill,” he added. (You can read all of this in a paragraph maybe two-thirds of the way down, here. Read the rest, too.)

This action is much like the latest hurricanes to devastate the Atlantic, only the victims will be in every hamlet in every county in every state and there will be no disaster relief. Many of the victims will be the same people who in large numbers seem to hate “obamacare” because they were told by people with a motive that it, or Obama, was bad.

The beneficiaries of this will be the already filthy rich, who will ultimately get huge tax cuts which they do not need (or in many cases do not even want).

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Politics was similar in the disastrous Vietnam War, too. All along, the leaders knew they were in a losing situation in Vietnam, but the eye always had to be on the next election, and to be against the war was made to be politically dangerous, and over 58,000 were sacrificed in a war that in one sense, one time, or another could be called “the French war”, Truman’s war, Eisenhower’s war, Kennedy’s war, Johnson’s war, Nixon’s war (and which, in Vietnam, is called the “American war”).

Vietnam was our war – the people’s war – period.

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Last night I watched the 4th segment of Vietnam – 1964-67.

I have often said, including here, that the 1960s were a lost decade to me. Being up on the news and well versed on current events was a luxury for me after I got out of the Army in 1963. (That story is here.)

For certain, this wasn’t intended. I couldn’t have anticipated that my new wife, just 20 years old, would have to resign from her job one month after I got out of the Army in 1963 because she was, it turned out, terminally ill with kidney disease that would kill her two years later, leaving me with a year old son and immense medical debts.

The rest of the 1960s I was most concerned about getting my bearings, personally. There were angels: as Marion and Louis Smart, Amelia “Bitsy” Polman, Sue and Dave Irber and others.

But, personally, I walked, in the shoes of those whose daily struggle was not navigating the insurance market. Survival was my daily work.

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“We, the people” need to wise up. WE are the government, and an effective and functioning government is necessary – essential – to the common good. WE must be the ones who act to help those who are least able to help themselves. In this obscenely wealthy nation, no one should have to worry about being fully insured for their health.

Some day, if my kids are lucky, I’ll die with a little bit left over which they can inherit.

They can rest assured, however, that if some of their cohort have greater needs than others, that our little stash of money can easily disappear as we try to help those who cannot help themselves, including their own families.

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I remember a conversation on a street corner in Cebu City, Philippines, in the summer of 1994.

I was with a wealthy man whose wife was a school friend of my cousin Julie. We were staying at their house, as fancy as any you would find anywhere in the states.

This particular moment we were standing at that street corner, and diagonally across was a hospital.

I don’t know how the conversation came up, but the man said: “here in the Philippines, if you have the money you can get as good medical care as anywhere in the world”, including going to the U.S. or Japan. “If you can’t, you die.” I remember the almost matter-of-fact tone….

It was about as succinct and accurate description of where we seem to want to head in the United States: if you can’t afford it, it’s your problem.

It is OUR problem, folks.

Dick Bernard: Reflections on Vietnam (briefly)

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

Last night I watched Part 2 of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s “Vietnam”; the previous night I watched Part 1, and if at all possible I will watch all 10. You can access Parts 1 through 5 at your local Public Broadcasting System station. Twin Cities TPT is here. PBS is here.

Part 2 was of particular significance to me, personally. It covered 1961-63.

In 1961 I graduated from College (December); 1962-63, by happenstance, I was in an Army Infantry Company (app 140 people) being prepared for Vietnam. (Ultimately, 27 from that company were killed in Vietnam 1968-71). My own story is the last of five, told here, a few days ago.

Except for 1961, I didn’t experience 1961-63 like civilians back home, or like “advisors” actually in Vietnam. We were neither. Anybody who has ever been in military service as an enlisted man can recount what military service was like, in training mode, which was, for us, our entire tour. The Cuban Missile Crisis did happen on my “watch”.

What we read about the Cuban Missile Crisis in the barracks at Ft. Carson Colorado October 1963

The dying in Vietnam from our small company came for others, years later. One or more of them probably started out from my barracks, my bunk; all of them one time or another were in our day room, in Company C. Some other Company Clerk recorded their presence or absence each day. Then reality intruded.

I have a great number of thoughts, even now, only after watching two episodes.

Shortly after the last episode I’ll post my thoughts, and those of anyone else who wishes to reflect back about what Vietnam means to them. My teaser: Vietnam is by no means some old war, long behind us. We continue to live within the futility of war as a means of solving problems.

My e-mail: dick_bernardATmsnDOTcom.

Watch, learn, reflect and share. We can learn from this.

Five Citizens Reflect on the Vietnam War

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

Your comments are invited for a follow-up post: dick_bernardATmsnDOTcom. Please include your permission to include in a post.

Following are some thoughts about Vietnam, prior to the beginning of the 17 hour film series on PBS, Sep. 17, 2017 7 and 8:30 p.m. CDT. Here’s the schedule of programs following Sep. 17 (see pages 21 & 25): PBS Vietnam Sep 17001

(click to enlarge all photos)

photo copy of Padre Johnson sketch from 1968, used with permission of the artist.

Re the sketch, above: I’m proud to count the artist as a friend, Padre Johnson. He was a field medic in the Mekong Delta in 1968, among other vocations in life. He sketched the incident, and describes it here: Padre J Viet Combat003.

Padre is one of many Vietnam vets, including conscientious objectors and protestors, I have come to know either in person, or through others. There are many “truths”, and perhaps the best we can do is to acknowledge differences, while working to learn from the past.

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from Jim, Sep 10: Fifty years ago my brother was in Vietnam. During the spring and summer of 1967 he saved lives, both American and Vietnamese. He spoke fluent Vietnamese and had tremendous empathy for the people even the so called enemy soldiers. He was soft spoken, kind and generous and very much a hero. He was honored this year in Washington on June 17th. I included a short summary on the Minnesota History Center’s Vietnam Story Wall: here.

As I said in my writing, I grieve for his loss every single day.

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from Norm, Sep 10: I am looking forward to watching the series as I am sure are many, many other veterans who served in SEA during that war let alone many others as well.

Burns has always done a great job with his previous efforts and I expect that this one will be done well also.

There was a series (TPT) on the VNW [Vietnam War] several years ago that I thought was very good as it included perspectives, experiences, reflections and remembrances from people fighting on both sides and in between, i.e. the Montagnards, the Bru, the Sioux and the Hmong, the latter working with the CIA in the “secret war” in Laos.

The feelings about the VNW were still kind of raw at that time so I was aware of many folks including several veterans that were not comfortable with the series as it included comments and perspectives from the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong, including general Giap. In addition, it showed some of the destruction caused by the B-52’s when they “went north” over Hanoi and Haiphong in the early 70’s coming from Andersen AFB(Guam), Kadena AFB (Okinawa) and Utapao (Thailand) where I had been stationed with the BUFF’s(Big Ugly Flying F…….s)in the late 60’s.

The B-52’s had been involved in the Arc Light operations for many years bombing sites in that theater before going north and encountering SAM missiles in or near North Viet Nam. The BUFFs took heavy unsustainable losses early in the effort to go North as a result of the SAM [Surface to Air Missile] missile defenses around Hanoi and Haiphong as they would initially come in on predictable routes over those two cities.

Several of the crews became residents of the Hanoi Hilton albeit for relative short times compared to Alvarez (seven years) and McCain (five years) as the truce was signed not long after the bombing of the north began and the prisoner exchange began.

Some of the crews who survived being shot down in their B-52’s were rescued by the Jolly Greens (helicopters) and the crews of medics. Several BUFF crewman did not survive either hits on the aircrafts by the SAMs, the subsequent crash and/or their injuries from received from one or the other or both.

One of the BUFFs from Utapao was hit by a SAM when over the north and limped back to its home base before crashing just outside its perimeter as it made its final approach to the runway.

I am definitely looking forward to watching this important series.

I am sure that Burns will feature the unrest within our country related to the VNW as well which is of less interest to me as that has been so well and so often documented so many times already.

I am primarily interested in learning about what other veterans were doing in that theater at the same time that I was there, it, 1967-68 as well as when my brother was there as a helicopter pilot in the early 70-‘s working with the “little people.”

I really don’t care about the impact of the war on the domestic side of the equation for various personal reasons.

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from Larry, Sep 11: My “perspective” on War in Vietnam, with direct link to my story on the “wall”, here. And Aug 31 a radio interview at KFAI.org (here).

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from Susan, Sep 11: My husband, Tom Lucas, served four years in Vietnam. He worked in Supply, so wasn’t in the trenches. But he flew in helicopters from time to time and experienced ammunition fire.

Tom loved the children and visited orphanages often. He knew that often children were sent into areas with bombs attached to their bodies. (You probably know all about that.)

I’m sure he knew of other atrocities but never once mentioned any.

In the 37 years we were married he rarely spoke about his time there, and I never once asked him about it. I knew it was too painful for him to discuss it. Once in a great while he would be in contact with someone who also spent time in Nam and did engage in some conversation with that person. But I was not present. Tom had two photo albums he showed.

He left them laying in the living room after their meeting, and he didn’t care if I looked at them. Shortly after our first child was born I received a call from the government asking about Tom’s possible contact with Agent Orange and whether or not our child suffered any disability. Tom was not in the jungles so wasn’t in contact with Agent Orange.

That’s about all I can remember. He did receive a couple of Commendation letters, but right now I cannot recall what they were for. I know you will sum up the whole Viet Nam experience so I’ll let you add the descriptions of that war. Tom died one day short of his 62nd birthday. He planned to retire at 62. He will be gone 9 years the end of October.

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Dick Bernard, Sep 12: I am a Vietnam era Army veteran, which means I was in the service after Feb. 28, 1961. Truth be told, at the time I entered the Army, Jan. 11, 1962, I had no idea of the future significance of that time in history. A vivid memory from early in my Infantry days is of a long time Platoon Sergeant hoping to get assignment to Vietnam duty because he’d heard Saigon was good duty.

Draft Card. I must have lost the original.

I had volunteered for the Draft. At that time, we were required to register for the Draft and carry Draft cards. There was no patriotic impulse: it was something I thought I’d have to do anyway, and may as well get it out of the way. I had just graduated from college. I could have qualified for Officer Candidate School, but declined as it would have required me to extend the two year tour. I had no thoughts of conscientious objection, or alternative service. My family history has many military veterans.

My service time began at Ft. Carson, Colorado (Colorado Springs area), mid-January, 1962. My memory is that the night before we boarded a bus from Fargo ND to Ft. Carson, my roommate and I went to a movie down the street, Bridge On the River Kwai.

Ft. Carson, then, was primarily a Basic Training base for the Army. Midway through Basic Training the announcement came that an Infantry Division was being re-activated at Ft. Carson, and after we completed basic training we were virtually all transferred into this new 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized). I ended up in Company C, 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry of the 1st Brigade (if memory serves) of the 5th Infantry (Mechanized). I became Company Clerk. My recollection is that there were perhaps 140 or so of us in the Company, which shared a block with Companies A and B, and a headquarters Company.

Our routine was no different than anyone else preparing for combat.

Some years ago I contributed some pictures to a website which still exists, here.

Ft. Carson CO. Best I recall, Co C was at the NE corner of the 4th full block up. This photo is from the south and dates from 1962 or so. The church we attended (all denominations) was at the very end of the base.

Succinctly, we were, at that time, a peacetime unit being prepared for war. But if there was talk about a coming war in Vietnam, I don’t recall it.

I left the Army at the end of my tour, just before the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963.

Co. C continued, and ended up in Vietnam beginning in 1968. By this time, I was back home, with a “row to hoe” – working to raise an infant. My first wife had died in 1965, and our son was 1 1/2. I saw the war develop on the news, but that was all. I had no connection to protests, for no particular reason other than home duties.

In 1967 and 1970 my two brothers entered the Air Force as officers, and the war became much more personal to me.

About the same time, Company C became heavily engaged in combat in Vietnam, though I didn’t know that till years later.

The war ended in April, 1975, thence out of sight out of mind. In mid-November, 1982, I happened to be in Washington D.C. for meetings, and while waiting for my flight out of Washington National learned that the Vietnam Memorial was being dedicated that very weekend. I went there. It was a very powerful and emotional experience. Vietnam Mem DC 1982001

It was not until last week, when I revisited the unit website, that I learned that my Company C, that small group of about 140 men for whom I had done the Morning Reports for nearly two years had, in four years between 1968 and 1971, lost 37 men in Vietnam; in all the casualties of the Battalion which had earlier shared my block at Ft. Carson totaled 145. War was, indeed, hell. I just happened to get lucky.

May my comrades rest in peace, and may we intensify our efforts for peace.

POSTNOTE: I am always conscious of people who I know are veterans, particularly so at this moment in time – that is a benefit of this 17 hour film by Ken Burns.

Yesterday I was at my barber, a retired guy who works out of his home. I’m a long time customer and we’re good friends. He’s a combat Marine vet from Vietnam – assigned as tunnel rat, at times. His brother, another Marine, was killed at 18 in Vietnam about 1968. His name is on the Wall in Washington, and here on the Minnesota Capitol grounds.

Last Thursday at the preview of the film at the PBS station, my brother, John, was with us. He was an Air Force officer, a navigator on C-141 and other transport planes, for a year or more detailed on flights into Vietnam in the early 1970s, at least once drawing heavy ground fire.

The stories go on and on. I had a chance to say my piece on film at the preview, and I said that while I didn’t think war would ever end, we certainly can do a great deal to keep it to a minimum. There are no “winners” in war, only losers. We all lose.

I stay a committed member of Veterans for Peace. I am also a long-time member of the American Legion. VFP is my personal preference. There is no perfect organization, but such groups are important.

9-11-01: An Important and Refreshing Perspective 16 years after 9-11

Monday, September 11th, 2017

Today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune carries an opinion column which I found to be refreshing, and I offer it here without additional comment>

The below photos (click to enlarge) are snapshots I took in late June, 1972, on my first and only visit to New York City. Only one of the Towers had opened at that time.

The article here (Afghanistan Oct 7 2001001 is the single newspaper article I have kept all these years. I was in the 6% minority….

Twin Towers from Statue of Liberty, late June, 1972. (one tower was newly opened, the other nearly completed)

Twin Towers nearing completion late June, 1972 (see construction equipment on top of one of the towers)

The Nobel Peace Prize Forum

Sunday, September 10th, 2017

PRE-NOTE: Yesterdays post now includes details about Ken Burns 17-hour, 10 day film about The Vietnam War. You can check the schedule and get other information here.

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The 2017 Nobel Peace Prize Forum at Augsburg University, Minneapolis, convenes this Friday and Saturday, September 15 and 16. All details are here.

The Peace Prize Forum at Augsburg began in 1989 and has a long history of excellence; it is the only international adjunct of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, which has administered and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize since its beginning in 1904.

The other Nobel Prizes are awarded in Sweden. It has never been clear why Alfred Nobel, whose fortune funded the prizes, reserved the Peace Prize for award by Norway.

John Rash wrote an interesting commentary about this years Peace Prize Forum in Sunday’s Minneapolis Star-Tribune. You can read it here.

I have been actively engaged with the Nobel Peace Prize Forum for quite a number of years. I have never been disappointed. There is a great deal to be learned, both from the sessions themselves, and the other participants. Check it out.

POSTNOTE: For those with an interest, Dr. Maureen Reed, for several years Executive Director of the Peace Prize Forum at Augsburg, will be teaching a four session series, “Of Courage and Controversy: Women and the Nobel Peace Prize“, at the University of Minnesota Oct 3 – Dec 5, 2017. All details, including enrollment information, are accessible here.

Ken Burns “The Vietnam War” film series on PBS September 17-28 ; plus other notes

Saturday, September 9th, 2017

We saw the one-hour Preview of Ken Burns Vietnam Thursday night, September 7.

Twenty four hours later, I attended a rather remarkable event at Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, where a distinguished speaker, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, and a distinguished responder panel talked about “The Past as Prologue: the Reformation and the Future of Christian Dialogue”. In between was eight hours on the road, yesterday, with my brother. Suffice: it was a rich and exhausting 24 hours or so.

And, of course, devastating Hurricanes continue ‘front and center’ on news pages.

1. Ken Burns film on the Vietnam War screens on your local Public Broadcasting Channel, beginning Sunday evening September 17. There will be ten nights of programs, with the final segment on September 28.

I have always had feelings about this topic, as I’m an early Vietnam era Army veteran (1962-63, stateside), and my two air Force brothers served in southeast Asia war during the late 60s and early 70s.

I will write specifically about Vietnam War from my perspective in a few days. (In Vietnam, the conflict is called “The American War”). Whatever its name, the conflict covered a thirty year period, beginning 1945, and ending April 30, 1975, with the fall of Saigon. “There is no single truth in war” is an apt introduction, in my opinion.

I urge everyone, particularly high school age and young adults, to view and discuss this entire series. Our moderator on Thursday said he was six months old when the Vietnam War ended in 1975. He’s 42 now…. Vietnam began over 50 years ago. Burns Vietnam is no abstract war film. It shows the reality of the times; the reality of war.

(click to enlarge)

Here is the PBS magazine, at least the pages which talk about the programming upcoming: PBS Vietnam Sep 17001

Here is the schedule of the ten episodes (each program is shown twice on its evening):
Sun. Sep 17: 7 and 8:30 p.m.
Mon. Sep 18: 7 and 8:30 p.m.
Tue. Sep 19: 7 and 9 p.m.
Wed. Sep 20: 7 and 9 p.m.
Thu. Sep 21: 7 and 8:30 p.m.
Sun. Sep 24: 7 and 8:30 p.m.
Mon. Sep 25: 7 and 9 p.m.
Tue. Sep 26: 7 and 9 p.m.
Wed. Sep 27: 7 and 9 p.m.
Thu. Sep 28: 7 and 9 p.m.

2. 500 Year Anniversary of the Reformation. “The Past as Prologue. The Reformation and the Future of Christian Dialogue”

Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary of World Council of Churches, Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis MN Sep. 8, 2017

In my growing up, as Catholic, I could not have conceived of a gathering such as I attended on Friday night at Basilica of St. Mary, the co-Cathedral of the Diocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.

There were over 70 in attendance, including as speaker the Secretary General of the World Council of Churches, and the Archbishop of the Diocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, Bernard Hebda. Here is the program for the evening: Past as Prologue001

Everyone has their own opinion about religion, relationships between churches over the centuries, and the often less than benign role of religion in war itself, including today. Christianity in substantive ways has been at war within itself.

As noted, twenty-four hours earlier I had been to the preview of Ken Burns “The Vietnam War”. As noted in the above photo, the complexity of the debate about “Truth” in War was stated, and even within the audiences on Thursday and Friday there was likely a long-learned sense of conflict about “who is right”.

How can there be different “truths” about War? Or Christianity and religion generally? Well, there are differences. And pretending there is only a single valid “truth” is not productive, in my opinion.

The Reformation raises the same intense question about “Truth”. For 500 years within Christianity itself, there have been differing interpretations of Truth, often intensely expressed.

I thought the evening to be very stiumulating, and I plan to attend some of the ongoing events, which can be reviewed here: Reformation001

3. The March of the Hurricanes: About two weeks ago I used this space to follow the story of my nephew Sean and family in Houston.

It seems like ancient history, and the recovery is still at its earliest stages in Texas. This becomes a lonely time, when it seems no one is interested in the plight. Harvey is old news, shoved off the news by Irma about to reach Florida, or other crises du jour. And there are new hurricanes in the wings, and, I suppose, Typhoons in the Pacific area. Very soon Florida will be old news.

The immensity of the tragedies is beyond simplification.

On Thursday, the tiny island of Barbuda, a place I had never heard of, was basically destroyed, and its entire population evacuated to nearby Antigua. Barbuda’s website remains frozen in what it was before the hurricane destroyed the tiny country.

Friday, I picked up my brother at his hotel near the Mall of America, and he said that he had been chatting with a couple from Ft. Lauderdale Florida area who, when the prospects of hurricane hitting Florida crossed their screens, called the airport, made reservations for the next plane available. It turned out to be Minneapolis and so they came here for a vacation. At the time, Florida was anticipating the possibility of Category 5 Irma and the Atlantic coastal side. Apparently they could afford the potential disruption at home.

I don’t know if their property will be damaged by the storm, but I was struck by the contrast between the people of Barbuda, traveling in an open tow boat to some refuge on Antigua, and the couple who could take a vacation far ahead from the troubles back home in Florida.

All is so very complicated, and made to sound so simple.

Keep everyone in your prayers and do what you can to support the recovery efforts wherever they are.

Dick Bernard – A look at immigration, past….

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

POSTNOTE: Flo offered this comment on Sep 6: “Stand for your principals, but actively seek to understand. And don’t give up.” My position, too, though it’s mighty hard to understand an opposing position when it conflicts with so much of what I understand to be the truth!”.

Dick: In a way, this mornings Just Above Sunset addresses the the quandary: “The Power to Hurt Others”. And Neal Gabler offers an excellent commentary which relates: “The Conversation We Should Be Having”

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There is a long list of self-imposed crises for Congress to deal with in Washington this month. The most recent is yesterdays bizarre action about the Dream Act (DACA). Atty General Sessions being designated to publicly announce Donald Trumps decision, rather than the President saying so himself, says a great deal about this President-Who-Loves-Publicity.

You can read a more lengthy summary about the pending demise of DACA, etc here.

The United States is a nation of immigrants. We all are rooted elsewhere. One of my grandfathers (Bernard) was an immigrant; four of my eight great-grandparents (Blondeau, Collette, Busch, Berning) immigrated to the U.S. Four of these five were men; the fifth a young girl.

Then there are the great-great grandparents…. We each have our own stories.

Even Native Americans, if one goes back far enough, immigrated to what is now the U.S. They had a very long head start on the rest of us.

Collectively, we have plenty of low marks in our history, subjugation and virtual annihilation of Native Americans, and Slavery for our early history two primary ones. But generally, as a nation, we have tried to improve over time, to learn from our mistakes. We are better than we were.

What is happening now is backsliding, an outrage.

Where is the welcome mat today? Congress has avoided dealing positively with immigration reform for years. What chance is there that the next few months will be any different? Who knows what is in Trumps mind? It’s up to each of us to make that difference. We each have to be that “member of Congress”, rather than somebody else.

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Yesterday’s announcement caused me to dust off a family history I compiled several years ago, including interesting detail about my great-grandmother Clotilde (Blondeau) Collette’s early history in Minnesota, including the citizenship paper for her father, Simon (name recorded there as Blondo – not an uncommon error). (Much of these pages are with deep thanks to cousin John Garney, and friend Jean-Marc Charron.)

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Blondeau, misspelled. This was very common in documents, for varied, reasons, including, very often, illiteracy (Simon was illiterate).

There are eleven pages, here: Blondeau 1850s U.S.001.

Succinctly, Blondeaus arrived in the U.S. somewhere in the early 1850s, in the Minnesota Territory no more than a couple of years later. (Minnesota became a state in 1858. Ellis Island opened in 1892.)

In 1868, in St. Anthony (now Minneapolis), Clotilde married another immigrant, Octave Collette. Here is a tintype taken somewhere around the time of their marriage. These are two of my great grandparents

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Clotilde Blondeau and Octave Collette at St. Anthony MN ca July 1868

WHAT TO DO? JUST AN OBSERVATION, ROOTED IN MANY YEARS OF EXPERIENCE:

These polarized days, when I hear people talking about issues, they’re talking to/with people who agree with them. Their position, of course, is not only correct, but it is the only position articulated; except that the other side is wrong, without need for rationale.

For 27 years I worked in an arena where arguments, regardless of how petty, started with both sides certain that they were right. Of course, two opposites can’t be correct.

The effort was to find resolution, not winning.

Consider the possibility: when you make a mental note of all the reasons your position is “right”, spend an equal amount of time consider the opposing position.

Attorneys, whose business is “winning” and “losing” are well advised to know the oppositions “side” as well, or even better, than their own.

Stand for your principals, but actively seek to understand. And don’t give up.

Beginning a New School Year…and a “Sha Na Na”….

Monday, September 4th, 2017

Thursday I dropped off a small gift for my daughter, Principal of a Middle School in the school district I live in. It was a 2017-18 computer produced calendar from the always popular Education Minnesota booth at the Minnesota State Fair. “Happy New Year” I said. Teacher workshop week was about over, and school begins (in almost all Minnesota school districts) the day after Labor Day. Here’s the Education Minnesota “welcome back” ad for 2017. Here’s more.

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Education Minnesota booth at Minnesota State Fair. Corey Bulman, 2017 Teacher of the Year, was guest in the booth.

(Best as I recall, the photo calendar idea began as an expensive experiment in about 1990, which was the first year digital imaging connected to computer became commercially available (see history of digital imaging here). Back then, the organization was named Minnesota Education Association. It was, as stated, an expensive experiment, but as best I know every year since the photo calendars have become very popular, a tradition for many, and, I suppose, less expensive, too. It is a great connection of educators with the community.)

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In one way or another over 50 million students are beginning their public school year (in Minnesota, this happens tomorrow). Here’s another view of the same data. Another 5 million or more public school employees (teachers, administrators, secretaries, cooks, bus drivers….) enter school with them. In all, that’s about one of five Americans.

All, beginning with school bus drivers, will have (or already have had) the annual nervous night before the first day of school as they arrive at their assigned places of work. Remember your own first days of the school year: new everything, starting a new year.

Of course, many other students attend parochial, or charter, or home school…but by far the largest, always, is the public school whose charter is to serve everyone, never a simple task.

Daughter Joni (referred to in first paragraph) is beginning her 14th year as a school administrator. Time flies. One of her major tasks, in addition to being Principal, is to supervise the completion of a new Middle School, which will replace her 1951 building in 2018. She’s equal to the task.

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I’m biased towards public education. Both parents were career public school teachers. Six Aunts and Uncles were public school teachers, most for a career…. I was involved in public education for 36 years – junior high teacher (9 years) and full-time teacher union representative (27). As mentioned, one daughter is, and has been for many years, a public school teacher or administrator. Nine grandkids are veterans of public schools. Another daughter was a school board member, very active in her local public schools.

Such a huge institution as “public education” is easy to criticize. All you need is a spotlight and a single someone on which to focus criticism, and a microphone to publicize it. With over 50,000,000 potential targets, there is someone there who will be in the negative spotlight.

But look at the totality before embracing the criticism….

Public education is a noble institution whose mission is to take all, and do the best they can given scarce resources: often too large class sizes, infinite varieties of individual differences and dilemmas, from family crises, to differing abilities, and even personality conflicts between human beings (teachers and students and other school employees are human beings too, after all).

Welcome back. Our country is a richer place because of public education.

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As noted, I have been very fortunate to be associated with public education my entire life.

A down side of this, as one ages, is to be witness at endings. Within the last month, I attended three memorials of public school teachers I knew, each unique persons. About seven people I knew were at the most recent reunion of the junior high school at which I taught in the 1960s and early 70s. The most recent death, Jim Peterson, former Fridley teacher, was the teacher I knew the least. His wife preceded him in death by a year, and he was felled quickly by a disease lurking inside him, so he didn’t have much time to say goodbyes.

I wrote the family afterwards that I had been to many memorials, but Jim’s, which he planned himself, was the most memorable, in all sorts of ways which don’t need to be described, except for the final song at the time we processed out of the sanctuary for the church ladies lunch.

The singer, who said she knew Jim as a neighbor and almost like a Dad, said he’d given her two songs to sing at dismissal.

The one I’ll always remember was the last, a delightful rendition of the “Sha na na” song. Not familiar with Sha Na Na? Here’s the YouTube version sung by the composer of the song back in 1969, and here’s the wiki story about Sha na na.

Imagine yourself walking out of church after a memorial service with this send off!

Do you know a teacher or a school employee or a student or one who has been? Wish them well, as this New Year begins.

POSTNOTE: My message to public schools, from “outside the walls”, remains on-line as it has been for many years. Read the message at Rethinking Community here.