Art scholars tell us an impressionistic painting represents a specific instant in time, all the glare, shadow and shimmer of movement, imminent, suggested or apparent in the scene. Beyond that, the best works enable us to anticipate what may occur in the next instant.
There are several vivid images of individual moments in the past, that now, with hindsight, I can say really did stick with me. Not only in their intensity, but as formative turning points associated with the times. Moments, though only moments, can alter our trajectories forever.
I can remember my mother asking my aunt for a safety pin for my diaper. Even as a child, I considered the incident an early memory. I can still picture my aunt’s dingy living room in detail; it must have happened at night or in poor weather. Not to say that it was a particularly formative incident, but just the thought of recalling detail at such a young age does carry a certain poignancy regarding a growing awareness.
It was my senior year of high school. Going up the stairs between classes. Wow, that funny-looking new chick sure has some dark eyebrows, I thought. Kinda cute, too, her hair in that goofy little flip. Doesn’t even cover her ears... Snicker... Within two months, she’d be my girlfriend. My prom. Her prom. Within two years, she’d be my wife. Momma X and I are still together and will celebrate our fiftieth anniversary later this year.
November 20, 1963. I was working as a foreign car salesman, one of my first jobs after overcutting every class (in under a month) at Pierce Business School in center city Philadelphia. Seems the pool halls on South Street had more draw as an education than the school halls. In those days, South Street wasn’t yet the yupped-up scene it became. It was mostly Jewish rag trade warehouses where the salesmen stood out front, barked at you, collared your sorry ass, just itching to fix you up with a new suit. And then there were the African-American pool rooms, some featuring as little as three or four ragged tables and illegal beer sales.
But I’m getting off-track.
“The president’s been shot,” cried the slick Texan used car salesman, my immediate boss. I can still feel the white flash of shock, as I’m sure many do regarding the tragic news on that day. I’d just turned nineteen and would be married the next year. Plenty of new things were happening. I’d just left home and had gone out on my own, working two jobs, days selling cars, nights in a drug store. Life was constantly in flux. But that shock still reverberates, marking a time when my intellectual travels would begin the circuitous paths that have led to where I am now.
Except for a few eccentrics buying them, foreign sports cars had yet to make a big mark here in the states. The owner of the dealership was a known ‘kook’ in Trenton, New Jersey. He drove racecars on the competitive track, had a gorgeous wife who wore black leather chaps and rode a big Triumph motorcycle. Joanna was just a year or two older than I.
They had parties in their Bucks County farmhouse featuring a rare covered bridge on the driveway. Wild parties. They were ‘hipsters’. Free love. Weed. I had sex with an older woman I met through that job.
Seems I’d found a direction in life as well.
But then there are those other moments, moments that not only stand out for their shock and atrocity, but for the direction a nation takes in the aftermath. I didn’t begin my post planning to write about this huge wound in our country, but a small notation in the paper this morning drove the message home yet again. Of course, I’m talking about the wake of 9/11.
The news article talked about an American rock star, James Kotak of the Scorpions who apparently had a few too many, and gave a security guard the proverbial finger at the Dubai airport. He was charged, among other things, for drinking alcohol and insulting Islam.
Now, insulting Islam could cover lots of ground. Sure, the question arises as to why such an asshole would choose to be in such a hate-filled part of the world. It truly eludes me. Why go somewhere people aren't kind to those other than they? Of course, there are cultural differences within certain societies that a visitor should conform to as a matter of courtesy. But in some places, just professing to be who you are, wearing what you may, or not believing in certain fairy tales, is enough to bring negative attention.
The real question is: what are our armed services doing in those parts of the world? Objective (or not) issues that are most important to extremists don’t even even come up on our radar. Something that happened to a village elder five centuries ago is enough to keep people at each other’s throats today. They couldn’t care less about what matters to us.
So why did this happen? How did this happen? Why are we spending the wealth of a nation to engage in wars that will not end ethnic warfare in those parts of the world? The battles in Afghanistan exist on many levels, from a local village’s animosity for the town upstream pissing into their water supply, to the choice of the second Kalif in the seventh century. The Sunni/Shiite dilemma is far more important to any of them than instituting a vague system called democracy.
Of course, I’m doing a lot of generalizing here, implying ‘all’, ‘every’ or ‘any’. It’s not everyone. There are people with common sense among the masses, both here and over there. But that common sense has not the appeal of the stuff of hate— animosity, ethnic superiority—those things that make shit happen. Why is hatred so more seductive than tolerance? Why is it that the powers that be in this country would pump hard-earned resources into such a fray? Retribution because a bunch of nuts with allegiance to no borders attacked us? Fear that if we do nothing, the scary bad guys come back? Why indeed wage a war that distracted from finding the culprits, by overwhelming the once-secular Iraq, a nation that never lifted a finger against us? Instead, the so-called mastermind of the attack stayed safe for years, and Iraq has now reverted to ethnic chaos.
What about the generations of grudges we continue to advance with our tantrums? What about forthcoming retribution? Considering all the internecine warfare in the places we choose to fight, it should be obvious that these people don’t forget.
No, I’m afraid the wars are strictly economic, as is our thirst for oil. But the powers that be want us to believe we wage destruction for higher altruistic goals.
We threaten one nation after another to keep our weapons turning over, needing to use the stores of weaponry, then re-up just to keep the capitalist economy afloat. Can you imagine what would happen if we shut down the Pentagon? We currently spend more on defense than the next eight countries combined. Defense spending accounts for about 20% of ALL federal spending. One dollar for defense, four dollars left for everything else, including healthcare, maintenance of highways and bridges, politics, welfare, real estate, federal wages, federal buildings and everything else that needs funding. Everything else.
But if we quit the war business, resulting unemployed soldiers would overflow our job supply. We’re running a dangerous addiction that’s nearly impossible to kick because of the inertia of the beast within the power-monger’s soul. Or lack of that soul.
Yet we choose to play the game, blindly bolstering elements that come back to bite us, as the mujahedeen already have in Afghanistan, after we supplied them with weapons against the Soviet Union back in the 80’s. Reagan called them “Freedom Fighters”.
At that time, the Soviets were our enemy, so we supplied our future enemies. China became the bad guys. Then The Soviet Union crashed. Now China’s a so-called friend. Russia’s back on the shit list. Iran is getting close to being attacked by somebody. Will we do it now? or wait to rescue Israel, when they commit an atrocity or announce intentions to do so that require their big brother’s intervention? Is this beginning to sound like Orwell?
Of course, we could always use those resources, both labor and financial, doing much-needed upgrades on our crumbling infrastructure. Something akin to Franklin Roosevelt’s Work Products Administration would absorb those military jobs for years, improving every American’s way of life, the results making everybody far safer in the long run than making enemies. But that smells too much like Socialism (read: common sense) to go over in any US election.
We keep pitching bombs into fright zones, always eager to jump into any conflict we see on the whole of the globe. WTF? Was that one moment in 2001 the catalyst that put the wheels in motion? A finishing touch to our country’s economy, along with its sense of right and wrong.
One good moment for you, al Qaeda.