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#624 – Dick Bernard: Election 2012 #46 – 4000 days at War in Afghanistan

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Someone has calculated that today, September 19, 2012, is the 4000th day of the beginning of the War in Afghanistan: the day the bombing began, October 7, 2001.

Except for isolated demonstrations, including one this afternoon from 5-6 p.m. at the Lake Street bridge in Minneapolis, there will be little attention paid to this anniversary.

One of the few newspaper articles I have kept for posterity is one from October 8, 2001: Afghanistan Oct 7 2001001

This is a short article, simply describing the results of a poll of Americans at the time about going to War. It is worth reading. If you don’t care to open it: succinctly, 94% of Americans approved of the bombing of Afghanistan for whatever reasons they might have had for the action.

For a politician to be against the war in 2001 would have been almost certain political suicide.

I was one of the 6% who, had I been asked, would have disapproved of the bombing in 2001.

My opinion wasn’t based on being anti-war, then, though it was that singular event that launched my subsequent activist life.

As a military veteran myself, in the Army at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, in a unit that was mobilized for possible action, I was not altruistic.

Very simply, on that dark day in 2001, I could see absolutely no long term good coming out of attacking a country, Afghanistan, whose only ‘sin’ was harboring an isolated bunch of terrorists who were soon to become enshrined in our political conversation as “al Qaeda” (which, to my knowledge, is simply an Arabic term, al-qa’ida: “the base”).

October 8, 2001, was a very lonely time to be against War, I can attest.

Only about one of twenty Americans agreed with me, and most thought there was going to be a long war, and were okay with the idea and (I suppose) thought that we’d “win” something or other.

Not long after, of course, our sights shifted to Iraq, a country which had nothing to do with 9-11-01.

Of course, our futile exercise in supposedly attempting to eliminate evil in the world is succeeding only in slowly destroying ourselves.

“The Base” has to be pleased.

I probably won’t change anybodies mind, but take a bit of time today to consider a few numbers related to that number 4000 (my apologies for any math errors):

2977 – the number of deaths on 9-11-01 (including citizens of over 90 countries, but excluding the 19 hijackers, none of whom were Afghan)
2686 – the number of days of War on President George W. Bush’s watch
1314 – the number of days of War on President Barack Obama’s watch

Nov. 9, 2009 – the approximate date where we’d been at war for 2977 days: one day of war per 9-11-01 casualty.

There is no prospect of ever “winning” the war against terrorism, or Afghanistan, yet we persist in our fantasy for all the assorted reasons we might have. There is no still sane politician who will argue that we must end war now, or ever.

The fault is not the politicians (unless we extend the definition of “politician” to include ourselves, each and every one of us.)

There is no truer example of the truth of Gandhi’s words “we must be the change we wish to see in the world”.

Start where you’re at, as an individual, today, now.

A good place to begin to focus is this Friday, September 21, the International Day of Peace. There are numerous links. Here is the one that is at the top of the google search list.

Personally, I’ll be over in New Richmond WI, witnessing 14 year old Eric Lusardi’s becoming an Eagle Scout (the public ceremony is at 4:00 p.m., New Richmond Community Commons). Part of the ceremony will be dedication of a Peace Site.

Eric exemplifies Gandhi, and I think he’s an exemplary example of youth for our future as a people and a planet.

For some personal inspiration for Peace, visit A Million Copies, here.

#454 – Dick Bernard: My Contribution to the Peace and Justice Community

Saturday, October 15th, 2011

Message to the assorted groups that make up the Peace and Justice community (of which I am a part): this is a time of opportunity to convey your message; but it is long past time to change tactics and strategies. Public attitudes have changed pretty dramatically, but our approach has not. We need to act on this.

Today, I attended the demonstration marking the 10th anniversary of the bombing of Afghanistan in October, 2001. A small contingent of demonstrators on diverse issues got an enthusiastic response from motorists on the very busy Lake Street near the light rail station at Hiawatha. The speakers were the usual. I passed on joining the short walk to South High School for the rally [UPDATE Oct 18: Here’s a three minute segment from the rally at South High].

I was glad I went to the demo. (click on photos to enlarge)

(Attendance at this demonstration might have been smaller than expected due to another Occupy Wall Street demonstration in downtown Minneapolis perhaps four miles away.)

Lake Street, Minneapolis MN October 15, 2011

Today’s demo reminded me of the first demonstration I participated in after 9-11. Quite likely it was on October 15, 2001, one week after we commenced the bombing of Afghanistan, with overwhelming support of the American people Afghanistan Oct 7 2001001. As the article shows, 94% of us were quite okay with this violent response, though within that 94% were many varying attitudes about the how’s or why’s of that bombing.

I was in the 6%.

I simply could not see any long term benefit arising from the bombing. It was a lonely spot to be in at the time. But only one of 20 Americans agreed with me.

Ten years ago I wasn’t directly involved in the peace and justice movement in any way. That October day in 2001 I heard about an early evening vigil on the steps of the Minnesota Capitol and wandered over there. The crowd was roughly the same size as today’s. I don’t recall seeing or hearing anyone I knew. Nor do I remember any of the messages, except for the raucous gaggle across the street who were bomb-the-hell-out-of-’em-get-revenge-now-bunch, brandishing flags like weapons, trying to shout out the speakers on the steps. Their ranks included young children. I was to see a lot of those angry-as-hell folks the next few years.

I came home and got actively involved in the Peace and Justice movement.

These days I’m more involved than ever, but chances are many of those activists across the street from where I took today’s photos think I’m a deserter.

Hardly.

These are insane times. Our worship of war and the war economy, along with greed, is killing us. We desperately need to retool: exactly the opposite of going from a peace to war economy in WWII, but with the same positive results: jobs, jobs, jobs; but fewer of the negative: deaths, deaths, deaths. But we don’t seem to be paying attention. Change is very hard….

But I’m not sure that demonstrations like today’s are a good use of valuable resources in bringing about change: our resources are much better spent in engaging with the public.

Today there were no anti, anti-war folks along that Minneapolis street. There were lots of honking cars.

Any survey worthy of the title today will support the idea that Americans are very tired of war. The October, 2001, attitude is long gone. The worry is about survival in this mean economy.

Standing nearby me today was Barry Riesch, Vietnam vet 1969, and a man I greatly admire. He has made Memorial Day and Armistice (Veterans) Day very special for many years. At the demonstration, I matched his sign with my Veterans for Peace cap – I’m a member of Vets for Peace. The cap which goes with me everywhere in my car.

Barry Riesch, Minneapolis, October 15, 2011

Barry and I know each other, though not well, and he had recently been to demonstrations in Washington DC on the issue of war. He’s been a guest columnist on this blog.

I sensed that he generally agrees with me that the Peace and Justice movements need to get much more involved in true dialogue with those who are searching for ways to become engaged, but are either tired or or not ready to go stand on street corners.

This is a time to personally engage with these uncertain folks who don’t like the status quo but are not ready to get rid of the military or whatever else idealists would want to have happen.

Earlier this summer I attended another demonstration in the rotunda of the state capitol in St. Paul, and made some observations about that group which I feel directly apply to all of us. The blog post is here. The specific comment is this: “I am of the belief that the only effective way for ordinary people – people like myself – to have an impact is one person, one contact at a time. We are so overwhelmed with “information” that there is little left to learn. If we’re going to survive as a society, we need to talk with, even debate, each other, and really listen to other points of view. It isn’t easy – those people standing in a circle yesterday, to have effect, need to turn around and act outwards towards people outside the Capitol rotunda. The only way to do this is to practice honing the skill, be it letters to the editor, standing up in a small or large meeting, giving a presentation, etc….”

As the group marched west on Lake Street yesterday (below photo), I would hope that they are marching into more direct public engagement and true dialogue.

Without such public engagement, there is little hope.

Marching down Lake Street, October 15, 2011

#397 – Dick Bernard: Day 7 of the Minnesota Shutdown; 26 days to D-Day in Washington D.C. “Compromise?”

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

NOTE: This is part of a continuing series which began June 23. Point your cursor at any hi-lited date on the calendar and you will see the title of that days post.

I am a creature of habit. And much of my ‘habit’ involves gathering information, much of that political information.

It was said that Harry Truman, even in retirement, religiously read five newspapers every day. Most of his life was pre-television. I probably don’t come near to matching him in the information end, but I strive to keep up on the various ‘sides’ of issues of the day. It is an exhausting and very confusing task.

That being said, we are in insane times. I hope we survive.

From my personal perspective, two apparently wildly disparate views of the universe jumped out within the last day:

Yesterday, on the internet came a report on the cost of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan released by the Eisenhower Study Groups at Brown University. The Executive Summary is here. The headline says it all: “225,000 Killed, $3.2 – 4 Trillion”.

On the other pole is one letter in today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune which the writer obviously wanted to be public information:

“I don’t care if my government is Democrat or Republican. I don’t care if it’s run by the Independence, Green, Patriot or Freedom parties. I want a government that will serve me with the things that will protect me and my freedom:

1. I want them to govern with as little of my money as they can.

2. I want my government workers to work hard at keeping their jobs, not rely on a union that will keep them no matter how bad a worker they are. They should earn the job.

3. I want the teachers to be the best teachers they can be, without relying on a union boss to keep their jobs for them. They should earn the right to keep the job.

4. I want my government to mind its own business around the world. Let those people be. Let them figure out how to govern themselves. You know — just like we did.

5. Don’t force policy on me that I don’t need. Health care? Ha. Fifty-five million U.S. citizens will not have health coverage. Boo-hoo. They don’t have it now and they get care for free. Nothing will change that.

And, finally: Stand for the flag, salute the flag. Know the national anthem; it won’t hurt you. And, America … do it in English.”

JUDITH SCHNARR, MINNEAPOLIS

I don’t know said Judith Schnarr, but it is pretty obvious that in her view of the world, it’s all about ME, including no Union to protect her interests, which apparently she doesn’t feel need protecting. She’s got her act all together, thank you very much.

The Eisenhower Study Group report, on the other hand, has much more of a WE vision. It matters to us, and to others, what we do….

There’s something else revealed in Ms Schnarr’s commentary: in essence, what’s mine is mine, and I can tell you what you deserve as well. Don’t tell me what to do, but I’ll certainly tell you. She reminds me of that guy in the Red Corvette in the Afton Parade on July 4. The guy with the angry look, and the “Don’t Tread on Me” banners. No kiddies looked for candy from his car, that’s for certain.

There’s just a single letter difference between those two very little words: ME versus WE.

I get the strong impression that this is the battleground between the parties in this state, and in Washington D.C.

How a balance will be found between the two poles is unknown. “Compromise” does not happen when one party or both are stuck firmly in cement.

If the road ahead is “my way or the highway” there’s a long very rough trip ahead, and we spectators are sitting in the bus that will sooner than later break down. By then, it will be too late….

#379 – Dick Bernard: Memorial Day 2011. Confusing Times

Monday, May 30th, 2011

Today I will probably attend a Memorial Day observance sponsored by Veterans for Peace near the Minnesota State Capitol; I’ll wear the Buddy Poppy purchased at Hibbing from a VFW member on May 13, and a Forget-me-not purchased from a Disabled American Veteran here in Woodbury a couple of days ago.

Yesterday I drove over to a Minneapolis Church and put up a display for and answered questions about World Citizen and A Million Copies. The founder of World Citizen, Lynn Elling, still living, was a Navy officer in WWII and again in Korea who witnessed the horrific aftermath of Tarawa Beach and has since devoted his life to seeking enduring peace. He is the subject of A Million Copies, along with Dr. Joe Schwartzberg, distinguished professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota. Joe is a military veteran in the Korean War era.

The ‘center piece’ for that display at the south Minneapolis Church was this photograph of Dad’s brother, my Uncle Frank Bernard, in happier times in Hololulu, before he probably woke up just in time to die on the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941. He is one of a boat-load of members of my own family circles who served this country in the military, including myself.

Some did not return alive.

Frank Bernard of the USS Arizona at Honolulu HI sometime before December 7, 1941

So it goes.

Memorial Day is a day of mixed messages. We honor the fallen, true, but only our own.

In too many ways we seem to still revere War as a solution, when it never has been a solution: one War only begets the next, and worse, War…. Their deaths justify more deaths….

I offer two other websites this day – places to reflect on this business of Memorial Day.

The first is this from the Washington Post, a site with photos of our soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I did a rough count at this site, and it appears that in the year since the last Memorial Day, 132 in U.S. service have died in Iraq; 494 in Afghanistan. There have been 6,013 U.S. military deaths in all, just since 2001. Compared with WWII and Korea and Vietnam, the casualty numbers are small, which makes it easier to diminish our ‘cost of war’.

The deaths are tangible reminders of an endless debate over the need for or wisdom of War. This will be played out millions of times today, whenever somebody has a thought, or reads a paper or listens to radio or watches TV.

I looked at another long-standing website that has labored mightily to keep accurate records of the carnage in Iraq during the past decade: conservatively, over 100,000 Iraqi civilians dead from war – this in a country roughly the size and population of California. War is not one-sided, with only soldiers as victims. It is mostly innocent civilians who die.

The cost of war is far more than just our own cost in lives on the battlefield and, now, over a trillion dollars in national treasure just for Iraq. One of the last e-mails of the day, yesterday, was from a friend who had just attended a funeral of her friends husband “…62, mental illness, cancer, Agent Orange. His Purple Heart was there and other medals. His son [both are Marine vets] told me the Veterans Administration wouldn’t listen to his Dad. Do you know where [the son] could get some help?” Was that man a casualty of war too? There are lots of ‘walking wounded’.

I will follow up on the request. I’ll see what I can do.

We are a nation in love with War: if you’ve been to Washington D.C., or any State Capitol, see the monuments.

Can we act for Peace?

I’d invite you to visit the website for a group of which I am proudly a member, the U.S. Peace Memorial Foundation.

Consider joining.

#373 – Dick Bernard: What to believe?

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

A friend of mine just returned from a trip to Washington DC. He and his wife had last been there in 1978. There was much new to see. They enjoyed the trip.

He mentioned that their tour group visited the World War II Memorial (completed 2004).

A younger member of the tour group, a college student, apparently told the group that President George Bush was responsible for building this monument. It’s one of those things common in conversation: a factoid comes from somewhere, is passed along, and soon casually becomes fact. We don’t have the time or the interest to fact-check everything, much less provide reasonable context.

We chatted a little about the topic, and later in the afternoon I decided to satisfy my own curiosity about the issue. The easily found answer is here. Succinctly, the authorization for the Monument was passed by a Democrat Congress and signed by a Democrat President in early 1993. It takes years to plan such a major project and it happened to begin construction early in the administration of a Republican President.

Forty-eight years, including 28 with five Republican Presidents (Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, George H.W. Bush) passed by without authorizing such a Memorial.

Such facts likely wouldn’t much matter to the student on the tour. The WW II Memorial is George Bush’s accomplishment. And to some degree it is, albeit initiated and made possible by other parties and other presidents and endless numbers of other people.

Such is how political discourse goes in this country: fragments pass for truth.

It happened that my friend was in DC during the week of bin Laden’s death in Pakistan. We haven’t talked about that, and since they were on vacation, and he normally is not much into politics, there probably wasn’t a whole lot of attention paid to the barrage of information and misinformation that flowed during the week. Each constituency, of course, who appears on television or in other media, has a particular and carefully prepared ‘spin’ on what the event meant or means. I haven’t changed my interpretation since I wrote my commentary the day after bin Laden was killed.

The assorted bunches are all busy making virtual ‘billboards’ of their own particular bias: it was torture that got bin Laden; President Obama is a war President; on and on and on. Each takes some fragment of truth as they see it, and busily construct it into their form of whole cloth. If you follow only the iterations of one theory you can easily be convinced, as the college kid at the World War II Memorial quite obviously was, that there is only a single reasonable way of looking at the issue: George Bush built the monument to World War II.

I see no accumulation of evidence that President Obama in any way reveres war, or sees war as the answer to human problems.

We are, unfortunately, a society that does almost revere war – try to find any peace monument in Washington, DC. I’ve been there many times. On the other hand, you can hardly walk a block there without running into some monument to War. They are as ubiquitous as churches in Rome.

We have a national attitude problem about the virtues of war. Paradoxically, as we become ever more sophisticated and dangerous in the business of weaponry, we are ever more vulnerable, and losing capacity for long term success. When one fights war from cave-to-cave, or villa-to-villa, as we did finding bin Laden, all of weaponry’s magic is lost. There are too many villas and caves to cover.

Inevitably, there will come a time when our warriors will be back on horseback, or on foot, defending our village from those in neighboring villages. It is not a joy to contemplate this future for my descendants.

Consider becoming a Founding Member of the U.S. Peace Memorial Foundation – I have been since 2006 – and helped build towards something positive.

Bring an image of peace to the United States Capitol, as well as to your own community.

#244 – Dick Bernard: Making a Disaster into a Catastrophe

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

It’s Saturday evening, September 11, 2010.

A few hours ago, looking for something to watch on TV, I happened across the Weather Channel, which at the time was playing a program about the evacuation of Dunkirk, France, May 27 – June 3, 1940. It was an incredible rescue, thanks to a nine-day break in often treacherous weather on the English Channel. In all, 338,226 English and French soldiers were ferried to England by large boats and small; 40,000 French soldiers were captured by the invading Germans, presumably becoming casualties of WWII.

It was a heroic moment, facilitated by what some would later call a ‘miraculous’ set of weather circumstances. It was a very interesting program.

Dunkirk was almost two years before Pearl Harbor and the entry of the U.S. into World War II.

In those years before sophisticated media, the public learned of events largely after the fact through newspapers, telephone, radio and black and white images later conveyed in film. Winston Churchill became a heroic figure through good decisions, a great deal of luck, and a gift of oratory.

It was a simple time.

I was three weeks old.

As I write, after 9 p.m. CDT, my spouse is watching the History Channel, which is replaying archival tape of 9-11-01.

It is dramatic, with sounds and images as recorded in an age where media had become ubiquitous and instant.

It is not necessary to recite what I hear, and what is being shown on a large screen HD color TV elsewhere in my home. Even up here, it is a riveting film (which I do not plan to go down to watch.) I’ve “been there, done that”.

There were almost 3000 people killed on 9-11, about 2600 in New York City, 263 in four planes (including the 19 hijackers), and 125 at the Pentagon. There were casualties who were citizens of 70 different countries. Of the hijackers, 15 were Saudi Arabian, none were Iraqi. The word ‘al Qaeda’ came into the vocabulary, a phrase which I understand simply means “the base”, and responsibility was fixed on Osama bin Laden, a Saudi, who was harbored by the Taliban government in Afghanistan at the time.

We are now nine years down the road from this disaster, which has in the intervening years become a catastrophe which has captured our country and is destroying us economically and morally (i.e sanctioned torture) as well.

Over 4400 American service people have been killed in Iraq, and several million Iraqis were killed or displaced by the resulting Iraq War. Conservatively, about 100,000 Iraqis have been killed in the conflict since 2003. In some sources, only the “Coalition of the Willing” casualties are noted.

Afghanistan, the initial target of our national need for revenge, was for all intents and purposes abandoned in favor of invading Iraq, and we are now mired in Afghanistan in a conflict which, to be honest, is militarily unwinnable, and politically impossible to leave.

We close 9-11-2010 with conflict raging over an Islamic Center near Ground Zero, and an apparently cancelled burning of Korans in Florida.

We do not seem to learn our lessons well.

We had an opportunity, after 9-11, to choose a different fork in the road of relating to the world.

We chose War, indeed to celebrate War following 9-11. It was a politically popular decision Afghanistan Oct 7 2001001. I have seen pieces of the World Trade Center at the International Peace Garden on the border of North Dakota and Manitoba, and seen in the Peace Chapel there front pages of World Wide newspapers featuring the collapsing World Trade Center in flames from September 12, 2001. Somehow they seem incongruous and out of place, there.

It is not too late to choose peace, but the door is closing fast.

The TV show has ended. I didn’t watch….

Sunday morning, September 12, 2010:

My e-mail inbox has this headline from the New York Times, 4:17 a.m.: “On Sept 11 anniversary, rifts among mourning“.

The “rifts” have absolutely nothing to do with “mourning”. Rather it is like picking at a scab for nine years, not allowing it to heal.

So long as 9-11 is kept as a potent political issue, its dead cannot rest in peace.

We should be ashamed.

#223 – Going to Afghanistan

Monday, August 9th, 2010

Saturday we went to a surprise party for a close relative who’s going to Afghanistan for a one-year Army assignment. The relative, a very fine man, is an engineer in civilian life, and has 23 years in the military, including active duty in the Gulf War, and for a majority of his career, primarily in the Army Reserves. He joined the Army out of high school; the Army gave him a positive direction in life.

Even he does not know exactly where he will be posted, or exactly when he will leave. Or at least he is not free to say so. This is how security works.

His wife and two kids remain behind, and he will be on leave from his job as director of engineering for a city.

Saturday was a family and community day. I’m guessing there were 50 or more who dropped in during the day. It was a low key gathering.

Afghanistan.

It was the bombing of Afghanistan which began October 7, 2001, which brought me out into the peace movement. Nine years ago. I couldn’t see any good coming out of that action, even though the target was the mystery-to-soon-be-named-al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, the terrorists who arguably unleashed 9-11; as well as the Taliban, who had harbored them.

I went to a small anti-bombing protest at the State Capitol at the end of that first week, not knowing anyone. My dominant memory of that event was and remains the angry people across the street who were brandishing U.S. flags almost like weapons and were trying to shout down the speakers for peace. That is where it began for me.

I didn’t know much about Afghanistan except it was a huge country, and it had outlasted numerous encroachments by outsiders, most recently the Russians, and earlier the English.

It was one thing to bomb Afghanistan; quite another thing to control it.

Back then, there was overwhelming support of the action to bomb Afghanistan. It was a public relations bonanza for the warriors in the then-administration. I have kept the newspaper clip Bombing of Afghanistan Oct 7 2001 which described the mood in the country at the time. It is a short article, worth re-reading, particularly in context with today.

Fast forward: after a relatively short engagement in Afghanistan, and with Osama bin Laden still at large, the U.S. focus went towards Iraq, a country not involved in 9-11, and not possessing the purported weapons of mass destruction. Millions of Iraqis were at minimum displaced from their homes; immense numbers killed simply for being Iraqis in Iraq. Iraq was declared a victory (it is easy to make such declarations), and in much more recent times the focus has turned back to Afghanistan.

There was virtually no talk about Afghanistan in that nice home last Saturday afternoon. People know that the military going there are at risk. Most likely also know that the conflict is militarily unwinnable but, at the same time, politically impossible to disengage from. It is a bit like being caught in a live trap. You are alive, but you aren’t free.

The “no talk” rule was in full force and effect on Saturday. It didn’t need to be posted at the door.

We wished our soldier well. He will do a great job at whatever he does. I suspect his parents are very worried, but they aren’t about to show that.

Best we can hope for is that the GI will come home safely.

And that some honorable way can be found out of what will most certainly be a quagmire for our country, long term.

#211 – Dick Bernard: Creating History, “Fact” vs “Story”

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

History: 1) an account of what has happened; narrative; story; tale.
Websters New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, 1979 edition

July 8, about 6 p.m., I arrived at Bismarck ND, where I was to attend a French in America conference. My father was 100% French-Canadian, and I’d just completed a 500 page book on his family’s history, so the conference was a great reason for a trip (and an excellent experience, by the way.)

I was tired, but before I checked into my hotel I wanted to find the site where General Henry Hastings Sibley and troops had reached the Missouri River in the summer of 1863. A long-ago relative, Private Samuel Collette, had been one of the 2800 troops under Sibley’s command. I found the site (General Sibley Campground 3 or 4 miles south of downtown Bismarck at the south end of Washington Street). The next day I was at the ND Capitol grounds, and saw a large pie-shaped monument on the grounds. It turned out to be a map of the last part of the Sibley campaign. The Sibley venture had been, apparently, a very important event in the history of North Dakota, which was to become a state 26 years later. His unit had been in what is now Bismarck July 29-August 1, 1863.

Map of the last portion of the Gen. Henry Hastings Sibley Campaign in 1863

There were some likely facts leading to my interest: I had Samuel Collette’s military records from 1862-63; I now had seen the end-point of the campaign he’d been part of, and knew the many stops in between Minnesota and the Missouri River.

Beyond this, everything was story: the varied interpretations of why Sibley went west, and their meaning etc. etc. Such it is with history: as the above definition suggests, history is simply a collection of stories, perhaps illuminating, perhaps confusing or deliberately distorting.

The family history I had written, which was many years in the making, is many things. But a primary celebration of the history was the recording of stories, particularly of my common folk ancestors: a collective story which included their own recollections, or second or third hand recollections, or documents or written records. I was lucky in that I had a cadre of past and present family members who seemed to have an interest in recording people and events, including through photographs. But my reality is similar to most common families: people lacked literacy, or the time, or the interest, to record things that later generations might find interesting or significant. And every family has pieces of their tale that they’d rather not tell – the hidden and untold story is part of every narrative, without exception. So, for me, the task became assembling a puzzle from assorted scraps of evidence. A very significant portion of those 500 pages were stories recorded by various people over many years. I didn’t call these “facts”; rather they were “stories”. I acknowledged the missing pieces in the book….

On the final afternoon of the conference, I “skipped school” for a couple of hours, just to drive around Bismarck, a city I had last visited 25 years earlier.

Driving down the Main Street of the town, towards the Missouri River bridge, I saw a most unusual sign:

My curiosity was peaked, and I set out to find this Memorial. There was a monument (below) and on two plaques at this Memorial were two very carefully written narratives defining the composers view of the “Global War on Terrorism”. The words on the plaques are reprinted below, and speak for themselves. The Memorial was dedicated September 11, 2009.

Global War on Terrorism Memorial

Were these indelible words representations of “facts”, or were they, simply, some unnamed person’s “story” – a carefully written attempt to fashion a heroic one-sided narrative of a troubling and divisive time in United States history? This “War on a Word” (Terrorism) almost ruined us economically, and severely tarnished our reputation as an ethical society through things like sanctioned use of torture. We lost standing as a part of the world community; and reputation lost is difficult to regain.

Did the permanent recording of heroic victorious words in bronze, in a public space, with a sign showing the way to them, elevate them from “story” into “fact”, more significant than other stories? Or were they, rather, simply an attempt to diminish or eliminate other stories, perhaps even more factual, from the community consciousness?

Earlier, in driving around Bismarck, on individual lawns I saw Peace signs on a couple of lawns. I wonder what their opinion of that Terrorism Memorial might be.

Peace sign in Bismarck ND July 9, 2010

Let the conversation continue.

*****

The Story as told by the plaques at the Global War on Terrorism Memorial:

#1
THE GLOBAL WAR ON TERRORISM
Operation Enduring Freedom
Operation Enduring Freedom began October 7, 2001, in Afghanistan following al-Qaeda’s attack on the United State on September 11, 2001, and has also included operations in the Philippines, Horn of Africa, Trans Sahara, and Kyrgyzstan. In October, 2006, NATO forces, led by the United States and United Kingdom, assumed command of Coalition forces. Afghani Presidential elections were held in October, 2004, and parliamentary elections followed in October, 2005. The enemy continues to resist the elected government of Afghanistan and Coalition efforts to secure freedom and democracy for Afghan citizens.

Operation Iraqi Freedom
Operation Iraqi Freedom began on March 20, 2003, with the liberation of Iraq. Coalition forces from 40 nations participated in military action in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. By mid-April, 2003, Coalition forces began restoring civil services, despite violence aimed at the new Iraqi government and Coalition forces. In 2006 the first democratic elections were held. On June 29, 2009, United States forces withdrew from Baghdad and other cities across Iraq.

“We seek peace, knowing that peace is the climate of freedom” Dwight Eisenhower

#2
Memorial to the Fallen
in the Global War on Terrorism

This Memorial is dedicated to the members of the United States military and Department of Defense civilians who lost their lives in the Global War on Terrorism. It is a place where families, friends and fellow citizens can reflect on the lives of the Fallen and remember their service to our country. It was funded through the generosity of businesses, organizations and individuals throughout North Dakota and across the United States. The memorial is a joint venture between the City of Bismarck and the North Dakota National Guard.

The Battlefield Cross
The Battlefield Cross has been used as a visible reminder of a deceased comrade since the Civil War. The helmet and identification tags signify the Fallen. The inverted weapon with bayonet signals a time for prayer, a break in the action to pay tribute to the Fallen. The combat boots represent the final march of the last battle.

“We will always remember. We will always be proud. We will always be prepared, so we we will always be free.” President Ronald Reagan

#162 – Dick Bernard: Afghanistan

Friday, February 19th, 2010

Last night I made the wise decision to attend an informative talk and ensuing conversation entitled “Afghanistan, Pakistan – and India? The Curse of Bilateralism in American Foreign Policy. Afghanistan in Regional Perspective.”

The speaker, William Davnie, had extensive experience in the U.S. State Department, some of which was in the South Asia area. He, along with informed comment from many in the filled meeting room, contributed to my too-meagre knowledge of South Asia – an area which has been reduced to bad words like Taliban, and ‘they’re all alike’ kinds of descriptors. I won’t even attempt to summarize what I thought I heard last night, since I don’t want to garble someone else’s very coherent message, but my main take-away was to convey the sense that the entire South Asia situation is very complex, and the news media, politicians and military don’t make it any simpler to understand.

In the question period I asked if there was any “Afghanistan for Dummies” books that could be recommended. No recommendation was offered (See last sentence, below.)

It was the bombing of Afghanistan in October, 2001, that prodded me into getting off the couch and into the peace and justice fray. I could see nothing good coming out of that action, which 94% of Americans approved of at the time. I haven’t seen any refutation of my snap judgement of the 2001 situation over the last eight years, but news reports, positioning of advocates, films like “Charley Wilson’s War” and “Kite Runners” haven’t been very enlightening either.

A while back, I attended another briefing on the South Asia area which was officially off the record. That session was a good complement to last nights session.

It was the richness of the group interaction at the meeting last night that helped me better understand the multiple quandaries in the south Asia quagmire.

Yes, Davnie didn’t think President Obama made the right decision in sending more troops into Afghanistan; he seemed aware, though, of the dilemma faced by the President in making this decision.

In the shorthand way that we receive, and even demand, information, “Afghanistan” has, for most of us, a single meaning. Someone, perhaps the speaker, perhaps someone in the audience, said that’s tantamount to saying that “United States” has a single meaning, including during the time when we were systematically eliminating the Native Americans, and holding slaves. It isn’t so simple.

Assorted tensions, alliances, etc between Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and other places were briefly discussed. The interests of the U.S., Russia, China, Iran in the area…the assorted ethnic groups which complicate matters in all of the countries…the long history of the region – all of these came into the conversation.

Particularly interesting note was made of the Pashtun ethnic group which makes up 40% of Afghanistan’s 32 million people. It would be one thing if the Pashtun’s were only in Afghanistan, but 15% of the population of Pakistan are also Pashtun – a significant minority in Pakistan, but nonetheless extremely significant since they number about 25 million of Pakistan’s 170 million people. There are more Pashtun’s in Pakistan than in Afghanistan. Taliban is the radical faction of the Pashtun ethnic group….

Then there’s India next door to Pakistan, with one billion people.

The U.S., of course, has a complicated and controversial role in the region, in large part governed by assorted political considerations. For example, U.S. military versus civilian agents (i.e. diplomats) is hugely disproportionate: 240:1. Even today 20% of State Department slots are unfilled; 20% are below grade. In the field, only 12% of military are in forward kinds of positions, while 68% of State Department employees are forward employees. If the military seems dominant, it is because it is dominant, and it is the American political will that it be so, the speaker suggested, and this has been true throughout our history. Politicians reflect the public.

The job for those of us who disagree with this assessment is to continue to make the case for diplomatic rather than military engagement be the most important.

Before we left the room, Mr. Davnie did recommend one writer that he trusts on the subject: Andrew Bacevich. You might want to look him up.