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World War I, and War, generally.

Monday, November 13th, 2017

Saturday, Nov. 11, turned out to be a very significant day for me.

The intention was to be at the Veterans for Peace Bell Ringing at the Minnesota History Center (MHS), and that was accomplished. The same day, the 99th anniversary of the end of WWI, at the same place, was the final day of the excellent “WWI America” exhibit. Later that afternoon, the outstanding film The World Is My Country, about Garry Davis, a WWII bomber pilot who gave up his U.S> citizenship, disgusted by war.

Those who lead wars always portray them as necessary and thus good (our “side”) versus evil (theirs). It is politically useful to have an enemy. War is not nearly as simple as that. It is the young who go to die “for our country”; and who are proclaimed “heroes” when they do…. In this modern age, it has been the innocents who are slaughtered.

The entrance to the WWI exhibit at MHS said it pretty well:

(click any photo to enlarge)

The bare basics of WWI are simple: 1914-18, the good guys won, the bad guys lost. The truth is not nearly so simple. Part of another side of WWI came from my friend, Michael, who sent a long article from the Guardian newspaper expanding on the story of WWI. It is not politically correct from those who have written the official narrative of WWI, but it is very interesting. You can read the long article here.

In the hall outside the WWI Exhibit, Vets for Peace remembered Nov. 11 as Armistice Day; elsewhere in the building was a lecture about aspects of the War. In England, the day is now called Remembrance Day.

The local Vets for Peace especially recognizes the Kellogg-Briand Pact, signed 1928, which was supposed to end war permanently. The Vets for Peace podium had this explanation of Kellogg-Briand:

In “The World Is My Country”, Garry Davis went to war on a B-27 as part of the U.S. Army Air force after Pearl Harbor. In the end, his conscience couldn’t square killing innocent German people from a U.S. bomber over Germany to avenge the loss of his own brother, killed aboard a U.S. Destroyer in the European theater in 1943. At 26, he gave up his U.S. citizenship, and became a stateless citizen of the world.

Davis’ story is riveting and keeps everyones attention, and especially well suited for young people of today. The film is not yet fully released, but watch for it when it is.

Back at the Vets for Peace, at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month, Bellringers rang their bells 11 times to commemorate the end of a terrible war in 1918. This is a long tradition of the local Vets for Peace. I have been to many such remembrances since 2002.

Back in the nearby WWI exhibit down the hall were three displays which particularly spoke to me: the first of the Treaty of Versailles, which helped lead to WWII; and the second which needs no explanation, coming as it did before woman gained the right to vote in the United States.

At the time of the Treaty of Versailles

Both my mother and grandmother contracted the influenza but survived. The hired man on the farm went to war and died.

The most powerful songs I know, about WWI, and the folly of war are “Waltzing Matilda”, and Green Fields of France. Give a listen.

Today, November 11, 2017, Armistice Day (aka Veterans Day)

Saturday, November 11th, 2017

Today, at 11 a.m., on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, Armistice was declared at Compeigne France ending the deadly World War I. In 1928 came the Kellogg-Briand Pact, signed by France, Germany and the United States, to hopefully renounce War. In 1939 the even deadlier https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II began when Nazi Germany invaded Poland. In 1945, WWII ended and the United Nations was born. There has not been a pandemic war for the past 72 years.

Perhaps there is hope for humanity, though wars, its seem, will always be curses on our lives.

Today is the final day of the World War I exhibit at the Minnesota History Museum in St. Paul, and at 10:30 a.m. will be a ceremony conducted by the Veterans for Peace Ch 27 which culminates, at 11 a.m., with ringing the bells of peace. Details here.

At 4 p.m. today, at the St. Anthony Main theatre in Minneapolis, the story of Garry Davis will be told in the film “The World Is My Country”. Garry Davis was a WWII bomber pilot who took ending war seriously. Details below. More about the film here.

(click to enlarge. pdf version is here: World is my Country – 2002)

Dick Bernard, Remembering Vietnam War 1961-75: My Morning Report

Friday, October 13th, 2017

Added Nov. 16, 2017: Here is a three minute clip of personal observations on Vietnam made in St. Paul Sep. 7, 2017.

COMMENTS at end of this post.

My thoughts. If nothing else, listen/watch Jim Northrup talk about Vietnam and War.

The most powerful testimony I’ve ever heard about the reality of Vietnam came from Native American author Jim Northrups remarks at the 2014 Veterans for Peace Memorial Day observance at the MN State Capitol Vietnam Memorial. View here. (Scroll down to “Peacemakers of Minnesota”. The Northrup segment is 20 minutes, at 6:55 – 26:11, and includes two segments. It is verbal and powerfully graphic. Four other Vets for Peace share the remaining 10 minutes.) (Also, see POSTNOTE at end of this blog).

(click to enlarge, double click for more).

Field Office, 1963, Yakima Firing Range Washington

Above is a snapshot I took of my “field office” as Company Clerk of Co. C. 1st Battalion,, 61st Infantry, 5th Infantry Division (Mech), while on maneuvers at Yakima Firing Range, Washington, May, 1963. We were preparing our Infantry Division for someone else’s future duty in Vietnam. As Company Clerk, one of my responsibilities every day was to do a letter perfect “Morning Report” which had multiple copies with a standard format reporting previous days activities, including personnel status (including to my recollection name, rank, serial number, status, such as “leave”, “promotion” or “demotion”…). The only way to deal with errors was to retype the entire report. I probably did 500 of these “Morning Reports” Morning Reports recorded the History of War at the basic level. (More in NOTE ONE, below)

I watched every one of the 17 hours of Burns/Novick’s Vietnam War on PBS, and felt it was outstanding, and as accurate and complete a reflection of the reality as could be summarized in 17 hours.

Our country, unfortunately, has an entire history of War. It is our metaphor for life, in a way. Last year I did a graphic to help me understand our own history:

I was 20 when “the Vietnam era” began in early 1961; 23 when my two years in the Army ended in 1963; about to turn 35 when we lost the war in 1975.

Because I let it be known that I was interested in the PBS series, I have had many conversations, most of which do not see print on these pages. I wrote several times about the series (access here).

A recent e-mail from a good friend seems pertinent: “Also wanted to sincerely thank you for the dedicated and excellent work you have done with the subject of the Vietnam War. With sheepishness I admit that I find myself almost unable to watch/listen to anything about that war. Perhaps I’m the only person in Minnesota who saw not a single minute of Ken Burns’ epic review. For me it is as if the subject is still an open wound, such a tragedy for so many combatants and civilians, for Vietnam as a country, and for our country that has yet to recover from the moral damage.”

As the series ended, I found myself doing a personal timeline “biography” of 1961-75 as the war years related to me. In this simple act of writing down thoughts, some things unremembered came back to mind. Every one in my age range could make such a list, and I’d recommend it. It reveals and is cathartic at the same time.


PERSONAL REFLECTIONS. I would summarize in three categories as follows.
(More in NOTE TWO)
1.4% and 1%





All of those 58,000 names on the Vietnam Wall in Washington were likely first reported on someone’s Morning Report in Vietnam, typed by some Company Clerk, like myself, and checked by the First Sergeant who, in my case, was Fredric M. Strong, (a wonderful man in his late 30s. When I knew him at age 22. he seemed old).

The Morning Reports were finally approved by the Company Commander for transmission up the line to Battalion, etc.

Each Army Infantry Company was more or less 140 GIs with a Commander, usually a young Captain, several Platoon Leaders, usually green-as-grass 2nd Lieutenants; and an assortment of Non-Commissioned officers (NCOs), including Mess Sergeant (food), Supply Sergeant, etc. Other than combat infantrymen, there were some assorted duty assignments for enlisted, as mail clerk. Being 2d Lieutenant was hard enough in a training company; I can imagine what it was like in combat.

We were all of of various talents and temperaments, from different backgrounds and regions, thrown together as “warriors” in training.

It is societies ritual to call all of us “heroes”, “thank you for your service”. In reality, we were mostly just paying some kind of dues (the Draft), or looking for a way to make a living or a life. To call us “heroes” simply justifies a war environment: somebody needed to do the dirty work. Most of the “heroes” were like those listed on Washington DC’s Vietnam Wall: They were killed in action.

The enlisted men, draftees and volunteers, were generally very young. At 22&23 and college graduate , I was rather senior among the soldiers. I had an opportunity to opt for OCS (Officer Candidate School) but passed on the opportunity as it would have required an extension in my service.

We were a “motley crew” in every sense: from many different states, religions, nationalities, ethnicities. A best friend was a native of Hungary, not long before a refugee from the 1957 revolution there; another was native of British Columbia, Canada, etc. Thinking back, it had to be an immense job to manage the differences and the constant change, and this was before time of actual combat….

(Personally, I have never renounced or denied military service. In my opinion, there will always be war and a need for military. Each generation, each country, including our own, breeds its own evil doers. I’d like to see all swords beaten into ploughshares. This will not happen with humanity as it is.)

As I’ve noted in an earlier post, 27 men from my Company ultimately lost their lives in Vietnam, beginning about 1967. These were 27 names on somebodies Morning Report for Co. C, 1st Bn, 61st Inf, 5th Inf Div (Mech)….


It would be nice if all were simple as numbers. Nonetheless, numbers do provide a base for discussion.

In 1970, at the hottest time in the Vietnam War, the U.S. population was about 200,000,000, compared with over 325,000,000 today.

5% – see end of this section.

2% – Back in 2010, my good friend, Rev. Verlyn Smith, was awarded the Hawkinson Award for Peacemaking.

In his remarks that evening, Verlyn, a Lutheran Minister, recalled his time as a campus ministry regional director in the western states. His service there came at the hottest time of the Vietnam War. He had evolved into a peace activist. A comment he made has stuck with me these subsequent years: in his recollection, informed by experience, he estimated that no more than 2% of the students were peace activists. The remainder were just going about living as they saw life at the time – classes, work, etc.

Verlyn didn’t make this as a moral statement; rather a reminder that only a small percentage, then, were actually activists.

3% – In his article critical of the PBS series, “The Tragic Failure of Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War”, writer Christopher Koch, estimates the Peace Movement of the Vietnam War as 6 million (about 3%) of the population. These are only his ideas of reality, but as with Verlyn’s, they are a good basis for conversation.

1.4% and 1% – At the time of Vietnam, it seems that about 1.4% of the population was in the military, not all in Vietnam. A few months ago, when I was at a Marine enlistment ceremony for my grandson, the presider told the recruit that today about 1% are in the U.S. military services. Even in the worst times, a tiny minority serve. They are always the young. We need to be careful about sending our young off to die.

Finally, there are the numbers: “3,000,000/58,000/?” These are the estimates of Vietnamese and American deaths in the Vietnam War. The (?) is those who didn’t actually die in the war, but continue to die from things like Agent Orange and other such effects of being at war, as PTSD, in all its assorted forms. These casualties did not stop in 1975, and don’t stop at national borders.

In my personal history, the one vivid memory from television (the primary source of my information as a civilian) was when the military and Gen. Westmoreland were found guilty in court of falsifying casualty figures. In those years, winning was connoted by how many more enemy were killed than friendly. Always the enemy lost far more than Americans. It didn’t make sense, but it was the only information we had. “Fake news” ultimately had to be called to account. On reflection, I don’t feel any pride at all at killing more than the other side. Then, and I think still, it was the rubric for measuring strength or victory. Killing was nothing more than a number, not somebodies son, grandma or neighbor.

Now, what about that 5%?: Back in February, 2008, I was privileged to be in a living room conversation in St. Paul with Daniel Ellsberg, and members of the Minnesota Eight. In my recounting of the meeting, someone in the circle, perhaps Ellsberg himself, said that you need 5% of the population to really make a viable movement (what I wrote then is here: Daniel Ellsberg 2008001, see p. 2.) Is 5% the accurate number? Probably not. Whatever the case, the Peace Movement never did reach a critical mass for success, even at its strongest point. We carry a lot of baggage….

(The Vietnamese refer to 1961-75 as “the American War”. We were not the only aggressors.)



In composing my personal history of ages 21-35 (1961-75), I recalled something with fresh eyes about the years mid 1966 – August 1969, when I lived in an apartment in Spring Lake Park Minnesota. At the time, a few short miles and about equally distant to the west and to the east, were two major military materiel operations. One was the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant, which made ammunition; the other was variously known locally as FMC (Federal Munitions Corporation/Northern Ordnance).

Both facilities were in the business of military contracts for Army and Navy.

Both were large employers, in my memory, thus providing jobs and income to working people.

So, here in my own city, as everywhere, there was a constant tension between the obvious distinctions between peace and war. This tension was well illustrated in an article printed in my college newspaper, May 24, 1961, at the very beginning of the Vietnam era.

(click to enlarge)

Viking News, Valley City (ND) State Teachers College, May 24, 1961

Another tension happened during the war years, but I wasn’t aware of it until about 2000, when I was cleaning out the house of my brother-in-law, Mike. Mike had had a hard life – didn’t know his father, that sort of thing. He was very intelligent, and he graduated from high school, and in 1969 graduated from the same college as I, Valley City State Teachers College. When he died, in 2007, a letter with instructions for burial self-described him as a “lone wolf”. It was true. He knew himself well.

After college, Mike taught two years in a small town school, and was the teacher assigned as adviser for the school newspaper. As part of that he apparently permitted high school kids to speak their mind about the war, going to Canada, or whatever.

I gathered that it was the kids who wanted to write about this, and he said okay.

This did not sit well with some of the local influentials, and he was let go. He then went into the Army about 1971, which apparently gave him the roots and stability that he sought. He got a top secret clearance, and an assignment to a post in Germany, and was intending to make a career out of the service when someone back home who didn’t like him reported him as unpatriotic and a security risk, investigating him back to college and teaching days before his time in service. The Army set out investigating him.

I found the entire narrative in a long deposition found in his house – the deposition that led to his death as a military man. The questioners zeroed in on every aspect of his college and post college life. A young social studies professor at the college was fingered as teaching what were perceived as anti-war ideas. The professors name was mentioned in the deposition. I won’t repeat it. It was misspelled, and I actually saw the man’s picture in the college annual just weeks ago.

Mike represented a quandary for the military. He was apparently an honorable service man. Mike was given an honorable discharge with a rank of Specialist 5th class – a high rank for a two years soldier. He went home, and spent the rest of his life, chronically mentally ill, a regular client of the VA Medical System from the 1970s forward to the time of his death.

I consider Mike a war casualty. His name doesn’t appear on any wall, just a modest grave in his hometown.

About the same time as I found Mike’s documents, I met another man, Lynn Elling, who showed me a 30 minute film made in 1972, for use in Minnesota public schools, involving an amazing coalition of political and civic leaders. It’s called Man’s Next Giant Leap, and you can access it here. At about 11 minutes a prominent Minnesota Republican politician of the time talks about the economic costs of war. Among others, the film features singer John Denver “Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream”. It is worth the 30 minutes.

In sum, we Americans were at war with ourselves in the time of Vietnam, within our own country.

This continues today, perhaps even worse, though differently than in the Vietnam War. The tension remains.



In the series, much was made of lying by Presidents and high level government officials. They all lied about the war. I was particularly noticing the “why” of their lying: to accept and announce the reality that we were losing in Vietnam would be a very bad political (i.e. winning the next election) problem. To be against the war would be costly at the ballot box. It made no difference, Republican or Democrat. To lie on this issue was deemed essential. In effect, “we, the people” demanded the lies.

Robert McNamara is easily fingered as a bad person, an apologist for the Vietnam war. He came to grips with the problems with the war he was promoting quite early on. But the war privately tormented him. Much later in life, the film “Fog of War”, was his attempt to own his part in the tragedy of Vietnam. Years ago, a friend sent me an article he had written about “Just War”. You can read it here: Just War as seen by Robert McNamara Aug 2003001

In late 2017 we are at a truly dismal point in our own national history, but opportunities exist for change if we agree to do the necessary and very hard work.

About the time the Vietnam War series began, President Trump was throwing words around against North Korea at the United Nations, and is almost casual with his threats of doing bad things to anyone who disagrees with him. Suddenly the nuclear arsenal, always a major problem, is proposed for the first time in many years as a solution, rather than the certain calamity it would unleash.

Congress remains complicit in all of this, because for it to be honest about war is considered a liability (see comments about Presidents lying for electoral advantage). It is similar to lobbying for coal mining because military spending represents jobs and prosperity and always has…. For years, Congress has evaded its constitutional responsibility for war making, choosing to blame the President.

Still, I think the vast majority of our citizens, now, have a yearning for peace to get along with each other. I see this manifested every day.

A wise strategy, I think, is to get into the necessary conversations at the local level, working for cooperation and not competition particular among people with generally similar feelings. These conversations need to be with the unconverted, and presume and value other points of view. Talking only with fellow travelers in ideology is not really worthwhile. We need to truly engage with others to find out areas of common agreement.

I would like to see every young person in this country watch and discuss the entire series. (For me, young would be 50s and lower in particular). These folks need to know and understand the dynamics and consequences of a war society. It is their generation which will be devastated by the next war.

The conversation has to center on the “young”. I am again reminded that I was 21-35 in the Vietnam years, and that began over 50 years ago. Those who were active then were the young, my contemporaries. Today’s young have to make their own future. Elders are no longer in a position to give other than wisdom (which is valuable) but the workers are of another generation, our kids and grandkids ages.

I don’t think the 5% threshold mentioned earlier is at all unattainable. But it won’t come without lots of effort and in lots of ways.

POSTNOTE: The video of Jim Northrup and others is part of a series of ten interviews with Minnesota Peacemakers prepared in May and June of 2014 by Ehtasham Anwar and Suhail Abro, both from Pakistan, who were in the Fulbright program of the Human Rights Center of UofM Law School. I’m very proud I could be involved with them on this major project. The remaining interviews will be at the Global Solutions MN website from time to time over the next weeks and months.


from Frank: Dick: You are doing incredible service through this site. “VIETNAM War” is a
nightmare for most of us who lived through that time. I’ve had some time
with and know the different but equally horrific sufferings of younger men
and women who are/have been terrorized by this Endless War. One that my dad
and his generation of valiant souls thought they had “ended” when The Atomic
Bomb was dropped… on my first birthday … and back then it was also the
Catholic feast of The Transfiguration! Frank

from Christina: Jim Northrups part of the program was very good, very interesting and very sad. Why do we settle things with violence rather than diplomacy? It makes me think of the song, “Where have all the flowers gone? Where have all the young men gone etc. When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?”

From a friend: Sometimes war precedes peace. I don’t favor war just to kill and fight; but I do believe war is needed to stop fighting radicals.

Response from Dick: I don’t know what the writer means by “radicals”. There are “radicals” on all sides, I suppose. Whether small or large, down to interpersonal, wars won by overpowering or humiliating the vanquished simply beget the next war. Somewhat related, Jeff send along an interesting discussion of differences in negotiating differences. You can read it here.

Michael sends along a very interesting commentary on what JFK had planned to do had he ran and won the 1964 election. You can read it here.

More from Michael:

Pre-note from Dick: There ensued an interesting side conversation between Michael and another friend, Ron, relating to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Michael, who is very knowledgeable in such matters, shared the following opinion, which I in turn share with his specific permission. While I do not share his last name, he has a very long history of serious academic and personal involvement and willingness to personally engage in conversation about controversial issues such as this.

Ron started the thread: Thanks for providing that information from Michael about JFK’s plan to get out of Vietnam by the end of 1965. I was unaware of that clear evidence that that was Kennedy’s plan.

Having read that, I now wonder how much that plan of Kennedy to withdraw from Vietnam may have been the reason he was assassinated. Was LBJ himself involved in some way?

Do you (or Michael) have any comments or information about that? Is there any good source of reasoning about that and the details of who actually did the assassination?

In addition Ron asked for Michael’s opinion on 9-11-01


Well that is a big question for which there are many, well documented answers. The big problem is the power of modern propaganda so vividly illustrated by Ron’s questions.

So I will cut through many pertinent but long winded complications to summarize my best opinion on these topics at this time. Also note that I have a longer section on Kennedy’s murder in my old book “On the Causes of War” which references 17 or 18 other books, only one of which supports the official story (“Case Closed” by Posner). That list includes Newman’s “JFK and Vietnam.” The conference at Harvard I was invited to in 1993 gave me personal access to many of the best researchers, including Newman and Dr. Cyril Wecht, former President of the Academy of Forensic Sciences who reviewed many details that showed Kennedy was certainly shot from the front right (aka “grassy knoll”) as well as from behind. So, on John F. Kennedy.

As best I can tell, there were 3 guns, 4 shots, 3 hits and a miss. The Israelis were not involved at all in this one.

The conspirators included rogue elements of the CIA, Pentagon and FBI, with some help from the Mafia with whom CIA was already collaborating on assassination plots against Castro out of CIA’s Miami station. All the best books on that important connection are referenced in mine, including testimony from an Army Ranger who was assigned there at the relevant time. His name is Bradley Earl Ayers, and a much more complete version of his perspective is contained in “The Zenith Secret” second edition. He graduated from Stillwater high school here in MN, and retired to the woods in western Wisconsin so I had some years to debrief him. The FBI’s main role was suppression of evidence, the plan was probably drawn up by Gen. Edward Lansdale at the Pentagon, and the CIA and mob provided shooters and a lot of disinformation. The best movie (as in most accurate, although every book etc. has inaccuracies) was Oliver Stone’s “JFK” based largely on “Crossfire” by Jim Marrs and “On the Trail of the Assassins” by Jim Garrison. One of the reasons was indeed Kennedy’s determination to withdraw from Vietnam, but other important reasons were his attempts at nuclear “detente” with the Soviet Union, and his brother Robert’s crusade against the Mafia which felt betrayed after they had delivered many votes in Chicago to help elect JFK. RFK was also deeply involved in “Operation Mongoose” out of CIA’s Miami Station (a long, complex set of covert attacks against Cuba).

On 9/11, it was certainly an “inside job” as the fall of WTC Building 7 in under seven seconds into its footprint most vividly illustrates. Here the Israeli’s probably were involved, but not as prime movers. They could not have silenced and misdirected air defenses at the Pentagon, nor arranged for suppression of evidence there, but Rumsfeld and Cheney could. The Saudi’s were almost certainly involved as well, and possibly Pakistan although the thread of evidence there is a single wire transfer from Pakistan’s ISI to one of the alleged ring-leaders, Mohammed Atta. The prime motive was probably creation of a rationale for 40 years of intense operations against “Radical Islamic Terrorism” including a doubling of defense and “homeland security” expenditures. My little video from February, 2008, gives a reasonable summary of my official position on that tragedy.

Work here calls urgently. These are summaries, all incomplete. Multinational, highly financed, professional psychological operations are always hideously complex with many blind alleys, red herrings and such. The most powerful part of the suppression of evidence aspect (in addition to providing a “patsy”) is sustained ridicule by major media of anyone who criticizes “the official story” which is also, almost always, a conspiracy theory itself. Just a totally misleading one.

from Lois: A year before, almost to the day, you reported for military service I had departed Valley City for San Francisco and lived there thru the entire war in Vietnam. My life went on, day after day, with little thought to that war. Like your friend, I did not watch the Burns’ documentary although I tuned to PBS during the time it was playing just to see if I could rouse an interest. Not so. Perhaps your comment “War is a waste” was the reason, and I “ignored” it again. I was thankful that those I knew, including my brother, joined the National Guard instead of enlisting in the regular military.

Your personal reflections article prompted me to read up on some history, as I noticed that
missing from you list of wars was the Mexican American War fought 1846-1848. 15,000 lives lost, 1773 died in battle, over 13,000 from wounds/sickness. The reason I noticed it missing from the list is because our government awarded military land grants in 1851 to my 3x great grandfather for the service/loss of his two sons in that war. The land grant was for territory in Iowa which was the reason for another son’s move from New Jersey, and the start of 150 years of my family in IA/MN/ND.
How sad that we bought the Louisiana Purchase territory for expansion, but for dubious reasons fought two wars that gained Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines, and almost the entire Southwest part of our country. Seems that we fought the Revolutionary War to be free of foreign rule under a country seeking expansion, only to expand our own economic interests 50-100 years later through war (in opinion of some historians).

The funeral address give in 1848 for Ira C. Tunison is a good read. You can read it here.

Response from Dick: I will add your comment and link to the post, along with a couple of others, so look back. I assume you’re referring to my single page of data about war casualties. I had just arbitrarily started with the Civil War. No deliberate leaving something out. I was trying to keep on one page one side. I will revise. As for land grants, I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that my French-Canadian ancestor, who got a land grant in Minnesota in about 1853 which was authorized by a land warrant issued in the War of 1812 by a Captain in New York. My settler ancestor was born in 1803 so it certainly wasn’t he who fought in the war; perhaps some relative, and the warrant was passed on. It intrigues me. (There were quite a number of French-Canadians who fought in America’s wars, sometimes as hired surrogates, other times as voluntary enlistments.)

from a friend: The closest that I got to military service is that I registered for the draft, but was downgraded by our local draft board because I was the sole supporter of my parents, my two youngest sisters and my brother. When I went off to college the pilots in training at the Minneapolis Air Base would come up to Fargo and give us rides in the trainers and fighter aircraft. I planned to enlist and go into the Officers Training Program, but when I graduated and did my final physical, my eye sight had deteriorated, so I could not be a pilot, so I headed out to [my career employer]. In my first year there, I received an second [and permanent] draft downgrade.

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


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.

* * * * *

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.

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.

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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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)

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.

Semper Fi*

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

Emblem of United States Marines

(click to enlarge any photos or illustrations)

Monday morning, 8:53 a.m., an odd e-mail from my daughter: “I have very few details and am “on call” today. Spencer is at his MEPS appointment this morning and will, at some point (likely Lester afternoon), swear in. I’ll do my best to keep you posted, but for sure this isn’t a “must attend” if you follow. Keep your phones close and if it works, great…if not, mark your calendars for July 9 which is his ship date!”

July 9 was last month. “MEPS”? “Lester”? We’ve all done rushed e-mails! (More later in this post).

I went on to my morning meeting where six of us were to discuss a film-in-progress about dialogue on how to help promote world peace and justice through suggesting positive changes in the United Nations.

Six people suggesting reforms to a 72 year old institution representing over 190 nations? The idea sounds preposterous, but I’ve been around long enough, and close enough, to know that bottom up ideas can and do make a difference. You just need to be patient, and never expect your name in “lights”. We are a global society, and if there is ever to be peace, it has to begin with all of us in each of our own small and larger ways. Indeed, world society is making positive progress.

Most of our Monday morning group had been at a small dinner the previous evening (below). Joseph Schwartzberg joined us on Saturday; Deb Metke couldn’t.

from left, David Lionel, Ron Glossop, Gail Hughes, Deb Metke, Nancy Dunlavy. Dick Bernard took the photo, and thus is the empty chair.

I stuck around till about 12:30 Monday afternoon, then excused myself.

There was a phone message from my daughter: “Spencer will be sworn in at 2 p.m. at Ft. Snelling. Come if you can.” “Sworn in”? “To what?” He’s just becoming a senior in high school. Once again, what was MEPS?… I called Cathy. “This is all I know. Do you want to come along?” “Sure.”

We were there in time. Seven others had come, on short notice, to be there for Spencer. Spencer was there to be sworn in as a Marine, with a report date of July 9, 2018. Three other young people were sworn in at the same time. MEPS turned out to be the Military Entrance Processing Station. As the blanks were filled in, it wasn’t a great surprise. Spencer, a great kid, has long had an interest in the possibility of military. This was his next step.

I was visibly emotional as he was sworn in. For me the emotion was simply recognizing another passage point for another of my grandkids, growing up. That he was enlisting in the military wasn’t a point of issue for me (a “peacenik”). The person swearing in he and three others, a 22 year veteran, a first class representative of the military, said only one percent of the U.S. population is in the uniformed services. I’d like for there to be no need for these folks. There is.

I’m a veteran myself, from a family full of military veterans, and while I see no good ever coming out of any war, and the young are always those sent off to fight, and die, there is sometimes a need. One can only hope that the current chain of command acts responsibly for Spencer and all of us. (In the entry to MEPS was pictured the Chain of Command as of August 7, 2017.)

August 7, 2017, MEPS, Ft. Snelling MN

Today I’ll be sending Spencer a copy of the orders to report for Army duty that I received back on January 10, 1962. Back then, they bused us to Ft. Carson Colorado. There were 18 of us. We didn’t know, then, that we were going into the Army at the early stages of what came to be known as the Vietnam era. Ten months later was the Cuban Missile Crisis, which I learned about through President Kennedy’s address to the nation on a small television in an Army barracks a few miles from Cheyenne Mountain, a possible ICBM target.

(I looked at the map of military posts in the United States in the reception room, and apparently Ft. Carson is no longer a full-fledged base.)

One can hope that the service will never have to “bulk up” again.

It’s our responsibility to do our part to end war.

Meanwhile, Congratulations, Spencer! And I’d encourage readers to become interested in and possibly involved in my organization, Citizens for Global Solutions MN, whose founders in 1947 were persons who had been deeply affected by WWII, and thought there was a better way than war and killing to solve problems. Some of us were among the ones meeting Monday morning (above).

Spencer, August 7, 2017

POSTNOTE: As Spencer begins his year preparing for active duty, here’s a graphic I gave him within the last couple of years:

(click to enlarge)

And as he signed his enlistment papers, the most difficult current hot spot is the Korean Peninsula, where difficult decisions will hopefully be made very, very carefully. In our democracy, we are the ones who select these decision makers….

Personal adaptation of p. 104 of 7th Edition of the National Geographic Atlas of the World

These are the kinds of things a grandfather thinks about, when his grandson is about to be a member of America’s military.

Congratulations, and all good wishes, Spence.

* – Semper Fidelis

#1280 – Dick Bernard: “Age of Anger, A History of the Present”

Sunday, August 6th, 2017

Some weeks ago a long-time friend told me about the book, “Age of Anger…”, which I briefly introduced in this post on July 21st.

The book was my vacation project this past week. I found it to be highly informative, and highly recommend it for book club discussion, or simply for individual reflection on the nature of human beings, ourselves, our systems, nations…. Marie, the friend who had recommended the book to me, said the book was being passed around among her siblings in various parts of the country.

There are many reviews of the book. Here are some.

The book has a very large “cast of characters”. After reading, I took an informal “census” in the index, and found about 380 characters in all, most of them actors with influence roughly within the 200 years between 1700 and 1900 [See Postnote 3]. Many have immediately recognizable names. Most, like the Italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzio who leads the book, are more obscure, but nonetheless very influential, influencing later tyrants. Most of the key characters are men. The frame seems the philosophical differences between Francois-Marie Aroust (nom de plume Voltaire, 1649-1722) and Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778).

Of the characters, only about 20 are women.

Tim McVeigh is in the spotlight in more recent history. ISIS makes the cut.

Before he is executed for his crime, McVeigh ends up as next door neighbor in a Colorado super-max prison to Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, the architect of the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. After McVeigh’s execution, Yousef says “I have never [known] anyone in my life who has so similar a personality to my own as [McVeigh].” (p. 288) In 2001, Yousef’s uncle “completed what [Yousef] had started: the twin towers’ destruction. [That Uncle, Khalid Sheikh] Mohammed, is now known as the chief architect of the 9/11 attacks….” (p. 285)

The cast of Age of Anger seems to center on characters who came to be of influence in 1700s France, then England, then the U.S., with many other important players, mostly leaders in places like Russia, Germany, India, Turkey. As we know, “countries” are basically personified by larger than life individuals who for good or ill are installed and enabled by their subjects. Our own country, today, is an example.

Reading Age of Anger helped me to fill in blanks in my own knowledge of historical events. “Ressentement” (resentment) is an important and oft repeated word, as is Individualism.

My opinion, typically – perhaps a human trait – we blame somebody, say Hitler, for the resulting disaster that befalls us. But it always comes back down to all of us who, in various ways, enable and indeed encourage the leader behavior which ultimately does us in. This is especially true in societies like our own, where we freely choose our own leaders, by our action (or inaction – non-involvement).

As I read, I kept looking for my favorite commentator on human insanity: George Orwell in his classic, 1984. Near the end of the book came a quote about the “Proles” (ordinary people) on page 325 (see postnote). The Proles of all ages, ourselves, in my thinking, have always been the enablers, the kindling wood and the cannon fodder for the assorted pretenders to greatness, the folks like Napoleon, Hitler and all their similar ilk. We meet the enemy; and it is ourselves.

The end result always, for even the most charismatic ideologues, regardless of ideology, seems constant and universal: defeat, often disaster. It is often the angry, dispossessed and impressionable young who are enlisted to do the dirty work in wars or whatever – look at the composition of our military, of gangs….

The Age of Anger is very well worth your time.

For me, I find myself thinking about how the book challenges me to do what I can to change for the better the tiny portion of the world in which I live. Our America – my America – seems to have had an exceptionally good and exceptionally long run. But the storm clouds, literal and figurative, are gathering.

Where do we fit in all of this.

POSTNOTE: p. 325 of Age of Anger: “So long as they [the Proles] continued to work and breed, their other activities were without importance. Left to themselves, like cattle turned loose upon the plains of Argentina, they had reverted to a style of life that appeared to be natural to them, a sort of ancestral pattern… Heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbours, films, football, beer and above all, gambling filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult.”

In my recollection, Orwell leaves to our imagination the end of his story (published in 1949), which is set in England, but pretty clearly modelled on a totalitarian society.

Then, while technology was improving, no one could really imagine the presence days means of communication and thought and action control of ourselves, unless we take command of our own lives.

Absent our own actions, as individuals, our world will not end well.

Where do you fit in as the solution to our problems?

POSTNOTE 2: After publishing this post I read the Opinion section of today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune. This commentary by firefighter Peter Leschak seems pertinent to the conversation.

POSTNOTE 3: As I read, my own ancestry (French, English, Irish, German) came unexpectedly into more focus. My French-Canadian ancestors, all of them, arrived in what is now Quebec between 1618 and 1757, mostly missing the continental impact of the Enlightenment in France and England. As to the German ancestry, I knew for a long time of the German revulsion towards France, largely due to Napoleons adventure. My great-grandfathers brother, Herman Heinrich Busch, born 1852 in Westphalia, migrated to the U.S. in early 1870s, wrote back to the old country Feb. 14, 1924, about remembrances of his grandmother of Napoleon’s occupation of what is now Germany. He said, in part: “France’s history has always been full of war and revolution for the last three hundred years and Germany was always the oppressed, if they will ever become peaceful.” (p. 279 of Pioneers, The Busch and Berning Families of LaMoure County ND.). I knew Great-Grandfather Busch, first to come across, had migrated to the United States about 1870, the story was, for health reasons and to escape war. He was about 22, and his handwriting and text was extraordinarily fine and literate, though he was a farm kid. Age of Anger identifies 1870 as the formation of the Second Reich by Kaiser Wilhelm II (The First Reich is commonly considered the time of the Holy Roman Empire 800-1806). Part of the early Second Reich involved Germany’s temporary subjugation of France…. One chapter of history ends, and another begins.