Look Outside

Copyright © by Len Holman, 6/21/12


  It’s a bright, sunny, warm day here in the upper desert.  The jackrabbits are nosing around trying to find something to eat; the ravens are making a racket, zooming through the air, and it’s so quiet up here, an observer can hear their wings beating the air.  There is little traffic and looking out across the desert from my porch, I see nothing out of place in this small corner of the universe. 

  Except…two days ago, our local paper reported a young Marine was killed in Afghanistan, the 2000th American to die there.  For the record, he was Cpl. Taylor J. Baune, of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, out of the Marine Air Ground Combat Center in 29 Palms, killed in Helmand province.  He had married his high school sweetheart in March, deployed to Afghanistan in May, and was killed in June.  He was 21 years old. 

  Now, 2000 Americans dead in some foreign country doesn’t seem to resonate with very many people outside the families and friends of those in the flag-draped coffins the public never sees.  In fact, the United States has been in a state of war for so long, a whole generation is growing up inside it, but doesn’t FEEL it at all.  We go our way, with few of us participating in what is euphemistically called “the war on terror” or what I prefer to call the “war on the Constitution.” 

  There IS that pesky clause in Section 8 of Article I, which enumerates the powers of Congress: “To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.”  Congress has been duped, stampeded, and cajoled into allowing the Executive to make war all over the globe—either openly, or with Special Ops people, or with drones, or with computer viruses—or all of the above at once, while the American public is busy deciding which smart phone to buy or whether one word Romney or Obama said in one sentence on one day in months and months of campaigning means anything significant. 

  War surrounds us, defines us, has become our reason for being, and not very many of us know or care.  Since the assertion that the North Vietnamese fired on the Maddox and the Turner Joy (reporters were allowed to count the bullet holes), we’ve been, it seems, seeking places we can pound people over the head with American Self-Righteous justice—unless we support a dictator or give money to a military somewhere.  The public hears a lot about the economy, but if it weren’t for selling weapons to other countries, we’d be in REALLY bad shape.  To hear certain commentary, we have undereducated, underfed, underinsured and underhoused people in the land because of unions. Or too many teachers.  Or illegal immigrant who were carried across the border in their mothers’ arms at six months.

  So we are still fighting a war…I say WE, but I’m not.  I’m not collecting cans.  My wife is not doing without hose or sugar .  We are not growing a “victory garden” or thumbing through our ration books.  There are some American flags flying here and there, but no gold stars in windows.  And almost no one feels the war.  We are a country perpetually at war and when you look outside, you just can’t tell. That’s good for politicians and bad for us.  With the economy jittering along like an old car on a bumpy road, no one is paying attention to all the other stuff.  What stuff?  Like whatever happened to that “war bonus?”  You know, all those millions we spent in Iraq.  Now we are (mostly) not in Iraq and I ask:  Where is that money?  Wouldn’t it be nice to take some of it and build something, put some folks back to work so they can buy sofas and food and TVs and put OTHER people to work building that stuff. And those Super PACs are spending quite a bit of money on electing a man who will have minimal impact on Greece or my neighbor’s underwater mortgage.  It’s a celebrity election with lots of money flowing and one speculates about where that money be COULD be spent.  Who could it help? 

  We’ll never know because the money is not for the country, it’s for all those with hands out and pens writing in checkbooks, and the ones who figure they’ll get a nice return on their investment.  Perhaps this would all be different if we shared what a country should share:  a sense of community, of sacrifice for the greater good, of knowing that if one falls, we all fall.  It could be the end of the American Empire, or it could be the beginning of an awareness that, so far, the public has not shown.  We are constantly looking to pick a fight, a pre-emptive fight, and our leaders are secure in the knowledge that very few know or care.  Maybe if Iranian troops come ashore in Long Island…no, probably not.  So look outside and see the beautiful day, the plain and ordinary day—but I wonder: when Cpl. Baune’s very young widow looks outside, what does she see?


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