Follow by Email

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Who Are Our Heroes?

As part of a discussion about Memorial Day, MSNBC commentator Chris Hayes recently posed the question whether we should call all of our war dead heroes? And the next day he apologized.

The recent Memorial Day Holiday started me thinking about my Dad, a World War II veteran. He dodged bullets in France and Germany to string communications cables to the front lines. My Dad seldom spoke of that war. The last thing he wanted to be called was a hero.

On Sunday Hayes said he was a little uncomfortable calling all our fallen soldiers heroes. Hayes asked the question whether applying words like “hero” to all our dead soldiers might be a way to justify wars. He emphasized he was not trying to diminish the praise our living and dead veterans were entitled to. Hayes’ comments were very moderate. And not at all disrespectful. Listen to his comments if you haven't heard them.

Nonetheless, Hayes caught enough criticism he had to issue an apology.  Even his apology caused outrage.

Asking whether all our dead soldiers are heroes reminds me of the Bogey line, “Yesterday they were just two German couriers. Today they are the honored dead.”

No, I am not calling anyone a Nazi by using Bogey’s quote, even though he refers to two Germans during Hitler’s Third Reich. And granted Bogart starts out in “Casablanca” as the ultimate cynic. But sometimes even cynics hit upon the truth.

I recently finished reading “In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin” by Erick Larson.” Maybe that is why I have the lunacy of the Nazis on my brain. And again, I am not calling anyone but actual Nazis Nazis.

Larson’s heavily-researched book about pre-WW2 Nazi Germany focuses on the initial blindness and naïveté of William E. Dodd, the American ambassador and his daughter Margaret, the Paris Hilton of her day. Margaret enjoyed the Nazi social scene as she flirted and cavorted with Nazis, communists, and it appears anything attractive and witty in pants. There is a possibility that Margaret eventually did a little spying for the Russians. Maybe I owe Paris or Margaret an apology for my glib comparison.

In any event, Papa Dodd thought he could talk sense into Hitler and his cohorts. To his and his daughter’s credit, the glamour of the Nazis eventually lost its gleam. The Ambassador sent out alarms about what was going on in Germany.

But as a reader with 20/20 hindsight I cringe at each apology Dodd and other diplomats made. Certainly for the escalating persecution of the Jews. Also for the restrictions of newspapers that disagreed with the growing wave of nationalism. And for the suppression of dissent and criticism.

WW II often is used as the classic example of the “just war,” the Nazis as the embodiment of evil. Yet how much have we learned about the dangers of nationalism, the importance of free speech and the ability to question if every time someone questions they have to immediately apologize?

Do we need to cast every war a “just war”? Do we need to call every dead soldier a hero? Can we not talk about how much of our terminology is propaganda?

If history teaches us anything about war it should be that not all wars are necessary or just. And that governments use propaganda, sometimes overt and other times subtle, to promote their agendas, including wars.

Propaganda can come in the form of hiding the facts or the body counts, stifling criticism, and using terminology that stirs patriotic feelings. To name just a few examples: we certainly saw that during Vietnam and during the search for WMD in the Gulf War.

There is a thin line between honest patriotism and dangerous nationalism. Our country, no country, is always right. The protection against sliding into blind nationalism is our celebration and use of the right of free speech.

But back to those who should be called heroes. There are many heroes: serving or having served in the armed forces; also in police and fire departments. Forest rangers, teachers and moms and dads can be heroes. The Mom who recently lost both legs covering her children with her body to protect them from the tornado was a hero in most anyone's terminology.

You could call my Dad, like many of the soldiers who survive war, carrying physical or psychological wounds of the horrors of war until he died, heroes. You can call all our military, alive or dead, heroes. But you also should be able to disagree with that term.

Chris Hayes has disrespected no one by questioning who are our heroes. And I intend no disrespect. But maybe, as my Dad might have said, you could say sometimes our war dead are dead, to paraphrase Jacques Brel, “because they couldn’t help it.” We put them into harm’s way. Sometimes when there was another path. My Dad would have called the peacemakers heroes. And so do I.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Seeing Old Friends, As Good As It Gets

The three of us recently spent a long weekend.  Hard to believe.  We have known each other since 1965.  And here we are, no longer even middle-aged; unless you believe 60 is the new 40. 

Forty-seven years ago I shared my deepest thoughts and secrets with these two people.  Teen-aged loves, musical loves: Simon & Garfunkel and the Beatles. Favorite TV show: “Man from Uncle.”  The meaning of life, parents, God and death, and what to wear to the Friday night dance.  Also, how to survive the toughest teachers. And did the nuns who seemed to have all the answers really know what they were talking about. We thought we solved many of those issues. 

This past weekend we dined, drank, toured a museum, shopped and talked. But mostly talked.  To the point I was hoarse by Monday when we parted.  

Still so much to share: favorite music, books, and TV shows. We still watch “Man from Uncle’s” David McCallum, now on “NCIS.”  Trips we are planning with our families. Our children’s’ lives; grandchildren, actual and hoped for. 

We talk about when and how to retire.  What to do once we are retired. How long will be able to travel?  Can we still drive hundreds of miles to visit friends?  And how much energy and inclination do we have to try new things?  

We talk about the deaths of our parents. Of the three of us, only one still has a living parent.  We are now the older generation.  So we still talk about the meaning of life. And did the nuns have some or any of the answers. 

I am the first of our threesome to retire.  I write, blog, take writers’ workshops, paint, and travel.  I also spend more time doing things just for me than I have at any other time since childhood.  Exercise, projects around the house, walking the dog, visiting with friends, new and old. But seeing old friends is as good as it gets. They are my roots.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Old Computers and Older Women


I finally understand why some men choose to replace their old models and move up to a trophy wife. Too much upkeep.

You see, a 60 year old woman is a lot like a ten-year-old computer.  If the hard drive and motherboard do not go out entirely the computer is still so much trouble to update and keep working.  Sometimes it is just easier to get the newer model.

I did not have to face that tough a choice recently.  My pc’s motherboard and the processor had died.  So I sprung for a new pc.  Now I am pretty happy.  Mostly because the computer works with my old software for the most part, the old monitor and also my old ergonomic keyboard.

I also was pleased to find my old printer works just fine. It’s refusal to print was not the result of its temperamental nature in how paper was loaded.  I cannot tell you how many times I loaded and re-loaded paper thinking that was the problem.  Little did I know: the printer is hooked directly to the mother board or the processor. I forget which.

In any event, the old printer now prints faster than a pair of lovey-dove rabbits turn out baby bunnies. Though it is too old for its scanner and what-not to mesh with my new pc.  But who cares? Scanning was a rare chore on which I had to consult the manual.  Easier to send it some other way, even if that meant snail mail. On the other hand, I do wonder if I should get a new printer, one that does everything or plug along with what is workable but sometimes temperamental.

Sort of like the upkeep choices an older woman faces.  There are the essentials: Healthful diet.  Exercise.  Halfway fashionable clothes that are still comfortable on a body taken to sagging at unexpected places. And what about clothes that are clearly cute and trendy. But not designed for the woman in her 60’s.  As they say, just because you can fit into it doesn’t mean you should wear it.

Then there are the more difficult maintenance issues. The graying hair. Whether to color or just condition and let it go natural.  I frankly can’t tell when the colorist at the salon has finished what it is she has done. Even she admits the grays blend in with the blond so there are no “roots.”  On the one hand, the grays are wiry and uncontrollable without a little color treatment.

If you can count, you can tell I have run out of hands.  But I am still left with the question: is it worth sitting in a salon for forty-five minutes and spending more than what you would pay for an iPhone just to get rid of the unrulies? And yes, I have tried so many hair care products to get rid of the unrulies I could have bought an iPad.

Another option is to treat the gray unrulies with a home color product or glaze, or some-such, myself. After reading all the directions, applying the mess to my hair, setting my ancient (by technology standards) iPhone’s timer, and sitting around at home with goop on my head, then realizing my nails need doing too, but there isn’t enough time on the timer to do them at the same time, I wonder if any of it is worth the effort. After all, I still have to fool with my new pc and see if I can re-set the screen resolution so I can read what I am typing. That is, unless I buy a pair of glasses especially for the computer.

Next up on my list: I have purchased a home gel nail care kit.  The new stuff that leaves your nails good to go for at least two weeks. Even if you use your computer, do a little gardening, cooking and stack or wash dishes. Again, not sure if frugality and time justify the end result. But can a mature (I hate that word but is “old” any better?) woman go out in public with nails that look like she works at the zoo?  This project will probably be as good an idea as it would be for me to attempt to repair the motherboard. 

Now that my computer is working, my husband had his laptop repaired. Turns out there was a dust ball inside his laptop.  No big deal right?  Well, when he got it home, not only is the screen resolution not right but the sound no longer plays. And he uses his laptop primarily for reading news and listening to music. So you can guess how happy he is.

I just hope my husband doesn’t decide his wife is as much trouble to maintain as his laptop.