MEMORIAL DAY: THEN AND NOW, THE DAY AFTER – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Time changes everything. It’s a given. Memorial Day is no different and that’s a shame.

When I was a kid, Memorial Day was usually a family affair. It seems as if it was always sunny and warm for the gathering of several generations. I was fascinated by the stories told by the men who’d collectively served in two World Wars and the Korean “Peace Action.” The stories were funny and sad as were the memories of when they served our country.

How many 78-year-old men can still wear the same uniform they wore at age 17?

My maternal Gramps, a Barbados native, served in the Danish Navy during World War One, the war to end all wars.  His stories seemed to be from a distant time that I grasped only in a haze. I’d read about WW1 a bit. Dry accounts in those history books of the ’40s and early ’50s we were given in school. My personal library included books by Erich Maria Remarque who gave bittersweet accounts from the German perspective.

“All Quiet On The Western Front” was the most memorable. I don’t think Gramps or the other elders liked my interest in Remarque’s books. I didn’t understand their attitude. Not then, at least. There was music, including songs like “It’s A Long Way To Tipperary” which elicited smiles. The music blended with the sounds of the parade outside all the open windows. I usually dashed outside for a glimpse.

Those parades included veterans who’d served in the Civil War.  I was always impressed and wondered how old some of those men were who marched with pride and crispness, belying their years. I felt a stirring in my heart. I wanted to be one of those men someday.

In my adolescent and early teen years, family Memorial Day celebrations changed. Some of the men were gone. So were their stories. There was still laughter, fueled by liquor consumed in prodigious amounts by uncles, cousins, and friends.

My father in uniform, World War 2

My Dad, Bill “Tappy” Armstrong, had been an Army Seargent in WW2. He had seen action in the Battle of the Bulge among other places.  He smiled at some of the war stories but never shared anything.   He never shared anything about his personal war experiences until the final year of his life.

Those accounts were harrowing and gave his three grown sons a better understanding of Dad’s quiet demeanor, moodiness. and reluctance to share his feelings. After Dad passed, we found many medals stowed away apparently for more than half a century. It was his legacy of the Greatest Generation.

One of the staples of those family Memorial Day celebrations was watching war movies. Even before cable, the networks and local TV stations ran a marathon of our favorite John Wayne, Errol Flynn, Robert Taylor, Robert Mitchum, and other Hollywood gung ho flicks that raised the roof with laughter from the real-life vets guffawing over the exploits of Hollywood heroes. There was derisive laughter for Wayne and Flynn who single-handedly won the war according to the heavy propaganda scripts.

I thought those guys were real heroes. Hell, I was gonna be a Marine like Duke Wayne’s Sgt. John Stryker in “Sands of Iwo Jima.”  The parades outside now included WW1 Vets. The last of the Civil War heroes had passed. The music of Tommy Dorsey, Vera Lynn, and Glenn Miller permeated the celebrations. I loved their sad, sweet words and music. They would always be part of my musical collection.

My vow to emulate Duke Wayne’s Sgt. John Stryker was fulfilled as I enlisted in the Marine Corps right after high school graduation in 1959. I was a baby faced 17-year-old who needed his parent’s signature to become a gyrene.

Memorial Day 1959 was in my rearview mirror when I signed up. I had clear memories of that family Memorial Day. There were only a few WW1 Vets still around to participate. WW2 uniforms dominated. A fully integrated armed services participation brought big smiles to faces in my family. The music included new interpretations of war tunes offered by Elvis, Connie Francis, Paul Anka, and other fresh faces in the top 40-market.

My Dad cried when he saw me off to basic training at Parris Island where “boots” were turned in fighting gyrenes. It was the proudest day of my life.

I never became the new version of Sgt. John Stryker because my lifelong hearing affliction made it impossible for me to serve, especially as a Marine. Imagine crawling through the jungle, listening for any sign of the enemy. It would have been a catastrophe waiting to happen. I did get to “enjoy” a fair amount of basic training.

I left my mark with many a hard-nosed Drill Instructor frustrated when I laughed as they barked out intimidating orders. I drank homemade hooch (I’ll never give up the brewer), stripped and refitted my M-1 blindfolded, survived a few double-time forced marches, and had my first barroom fight with peckerwood Southern bigots in a nearby Beaufort gin mill.

My platoon mates and I cleared out the place with just a few scratches to show for our brawl. Now, I was officially a Marine!   Our C.O. smiled when he chewed us out for drinking and fighting. His main concern: Did we leave any of those miscreants standing?  Hell, NO!  The C.O. gave us a sharp salute and a night off to soothe our bruises.

A few days later, thanks to my hearing problems, Pvt E-1 Garry Armstrong was mustered out and headed home. in uniform.

My Dad cried again when I arrived home in uniform. Yes, he saluted me.

OO-rah!

This past weekend’s Memorial Day celebrations were lost in the COVID-19 headlines. A sad sign of the times for those who served and still serve our country. I salute all who put their lives on the line and am proud I still have my Marine Corps uniform. It fits better than ever.

I’ve never marched in a Memorial Day Parade. I leave that to those who’ve spent full tours in service and beyond.

Semper Fi!

LITTLE FLAGS IN A COUNTRY THAT’S DYING – Marilyn Armstrong

I don’t know how they will get it done, but I’m sure there will be flags in the Revolutionary War cemetery in the middle of town. It’s directly across from the dam and it is beautiful especially in the autumn.

It is just a hundred or so yards from the river itself. Uphill, so it never floods, even when the rivers rush over their banks. The people who created that cemetery knew about the rivers and flooding. They picked a beautiful spot, but dry and safe for the bones and memories.

An old cemetery, dating back to the early 1700s. It contains traces of many generations of those who lived and died in this town, this valley. Folks who lived along the Blackstone and its many tributaries fished in its lakes and streams. They fought in our wars and are buried here — Revolutionary War soldiers, Civil War veterans as well as those who fought in all the American wars since.

Every Independence Day, Memorial Day, and Veteran’s Day, the cemetery blooms with bouquets and flags. The schools bring the children here, so they will remember too and traditions will be maintained. They bring bouquets of wildflowers or from the back garden. Lilacs and lilies, scarlet poppies … and always a miniature American flag. Even if there’s no special holiday, the cemetery always shows signs of caring, remembering.

Maybe it’s easier to remember here, with such a small population. Is that it? Or it’s just part of the air, the character, the history. Remembering is what we do in the Valley.

The cemetery is one of my favorite places. We’re newcomers after all, only living here 17 years. Our ancestors — Garry’s and mine — come from Sligo, Antigua, Minsk, Bialystok … from tiny villages in Ireland and the West Indies and the shtetls of Eastern Europe.

Valley people have been here longer. Many came from French Canada in the late 19th century to work in the mills. Another large group formed the dominant Dutch population. They built churches, businesses and factories, dairy and truck farms, shops, horse farms, and sawmills. Their names are prominent wherever the rivers run.

Newcomers, like us, aren’t quite as rare these days, and anyway, we’ve lived here 18 years, so we are no longer outsiders. Nonetheless, we have no ancestors in this cemetery.

The valley is the only place I’ve lived where the majority of families have lived in this town or in nearby villages for three, four, five generations.

“We’ve always lived in the Valley,” they say, meaning as long as anyone can remember. If gently prodded, they may recall at some point, long ago, they came from somewhere else … but some can’t remember when or if it’s true.

I point out they must have come from somewhere because unless they are Native American, they came to this place, even if a long time since. They get misty-eyed trying to remember old family stories handed down when they were young. Hard to remember, they tell you. “You know, that was 75 years ago … a long time.”

We nod. It was a long time ago. A year has passed. Little flags and flowers bloom in the cemetery. It’s a nice thing they do. Remembering.

But this is not like any other year. I wonder who remembers the holiday.

ENDINGS – Marilyn Armstrong

Garry had a get-together with a bunch of retired media guys. They meet every few weeks, but for obvious reasons, it hasn’t happened recently. So a while ago, someone came up with the idea of doing a Zoom meeting. Despite that all these men worked on television for many years, most (but not all) had issues making Zoom work.

It’s amazing how quickly we forget things we used to know … and how suddenly we realize we never learned it because it wasn’t what we were doing professionally. For me, computers were my business, so despite what I’ve forgotten, I remember them quickly when reminded.


From The New York Times:

“When will the Covid-19 pandemic end? And how?

According to historians, pandemics typically have two types of endings: the medical, which occurs when the incidence and death rates plummet, and the social, when the epidemic of fear about the disease wanes.

“When people ask, ‘When will this end?,’ they are asking about the social ending,” said Dr. Jeremy Greene, a historian of medicine at Johns Hopkins.

In other words, an end can occur not because a disease has been vanquished but because people grow tired of panic mode and learn to live with a disease. Allan Brandt, a Harvard historian, said something similar was happening with Covid-19: “As we have seen in the debate about opening the economy, many questions about the so-called end are determined not by medical and public health data but by sociopolitical processes.

Endings “are very, very messy,” said Dora Vargha, a historian at the University of Exeter. “Looking back, we have a weak narrative. For whom does the epidemic end, and who gets to say?”

A Sicilian fresco from 1445. In the previous century, the Black Death killed at least a third of Europe’s population. Credit: Werner Forman/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Once everyone started talking, the subject came up. The one about which so many of we retired people have been thinking, but afraid to even ask because it might be a jinx.  What happens to us? We are the most vulnerable and a lot of people in this country think we lived long enough and would be perfectly happy to let us all die off.


What will the world be “when this is over.” That brought up the real question: “Will this ever be over? Can they make a vaccine soon enough (or at all) so that we can think about traveling? Would any of us willingly get back on an airplane? How about a simple local vacation? What is safe? Where is the danger


There was a universal “no” on flying. I used to get sick every time I flew long before the epidemic. All that recycled air. One person sneezes and by the time I got off the flight, I was already sick.

This is pretty disheartening. I always thought as a nation, as a people, we were a lot smarter than we seem. But, maybe all this dumbness is not true stupidity but denial. Many people REALLY REALLY REALLY don’t want to know what’s going on. When they are told the truth, they angrily reject it. The truth is unacceptable. The truth hurts. The truth is ugly.

They are desperately afraid of the new reality in which they are living and for many people, in which they were already living, even before Coronavirus arrived to make it overwhelmingly worse.

Sometimes, when everything is gone, when there’s no money, no work, and virtually no hope, denial is your best weapon. It might be your only weapon.

PRO-LIFERS ARE NOW PRO DEATH – BY ELLIN CURLEY

There are certain hypocrisies and inconsistencies in the Right Wing credo. I have trouble wrapping my head around it. I remember a George Carlin’s joke about the so-called Pro-Life crusade against abortion. Carlin said that their position is that “every life is sacred” as long as it’s still in the womb. Once it’s out, their attitude is “Fuck you! You’re on your own! No government aid or programs to help you thrive or even survive. It’s sink or swim, kid! And if you sink, it’s your own fault!”

I recently saw a Right-Wing sign that blew my mind. It was at one of those protests against the state-mandated shutdowns in place to protect people from contracting the Coronavirus. One issue that the Right has glommed onto is their constitutional ‘right’ to ignore state rules that require them to wear face masks when outside. The scientific rationale behind these requirements is the protection of OTHER people from possible infection from YOU. It is meant to be a selfless act to show support and consideration to others in your community.

The Trumpettes don’t care about others in the community. They claim that these regulations violate their freedom of choice.

The sign that set me off was carried by an unmasked, gun-toting libertarian. It said “My body, my choice”! Isn’t that the slogan of the pro-abortion advocates? It’s their position that women get to choose what happens in their own bodies. What am I missing here? That this freedom doesn’t apply to pregnant women unless the pregnant women are advocating for the right to choose not to wear a face mask to protect others?

There is now an extreme manifestation of the pro-death views of the alleged Pro-Lifers. Trump and his followers are now pressing for the opening up of state economies when the infection and death rate curves have not yet flattened and begun to go down. Which all scientists say is required for any reopening to succeed without unacceptable death rates.

Their stated philosophy is that it’s okay to have many more Coronavirus deaths as long as the economy gets going again. Some have literally said that older people should be willing to die to help the economy recover. Can you imagine thinking that, let alone saying that out loud? What happened to “every life is sacred”?

Carlin was right. The right to life only applies in utero.

Republicans/Trumpers seem to be willing to accept an out-of-control death rate from the virus in order to get the economy out of the recession/depression it is now in. What about MY right to life? I don’t understand how they envision a healthy economy with large numbers of workers out sick and larger numbers of people afraid to go out and continue to shelter at home. But that’s another issue.

Why is it that these people can’t see the total hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty of their positions? Some say the Trumpers are just too mentally challenged (read: stupid). But there are also psychological elements involved in the adoption of their political views. Trump supporters seem to believe that they are the moral ‘right’ and on the side of ‘good.’ Anyone opposing them is evil and morally corrupt. They are so certain of their righteousness they can’t even see the possibility of a legitimate opposing view. They ignore or deny facts that don’t fit in with their mindset.

In addition, they seem to have no problem imposing their will on everyone else and taking other people’s freedoms away. The Pro-Choice (pro-abortion) position has always been that if you want to follow your beliefs and NOT have an abortion, you’re free to abstain. Just don’t interfere with my right to do what I believe is right for me.

Freedom of choice is unacceptable to the Pro-Lifer/Pro Trumper.

We’ve been hearing a lot about the psychological pathology of Donald Trump. His malign narcissism is legendary. No one and nothing else matters but him and what he wants and he can pursue his own interests no matter who or what he destroys in the process.

He has also been labeled a toddler emotionally, with no impulse control or understanding of other people’s needs or of the good of society at large. It’s “Me!, Me!, Me!, Now !, Now!, Now!” all the time. I’ve concluded most of his followers suffer from the same psychopathy. They are incapable of seeing the world from the perspective of a compassionate, cooperative member of society. All they do is have tantrums when they don’t get what they want when they want it. The Toddler-In-Chief presides over a movement made up entirely of other toddlers.

 

It’s scary to think that one-third of our country consists of these psychologically damaged, intellectually. and morally limited people. Nonetheless, we have to move forward assuming this is the case. We need to focus on getting the nonright wing two-thirds of the population voting and engaged in the political process. That is the only way we can keep the infantile, selfish, autocratic. and compassionless minority from continuing to control our political system.

Hopefully, demographics are on our side over time. As the older Trump die-hards die off (and without masks, this isn’t pie in the sky). and the young and the minorities make up more of the population, the pendulum should swing back towards a more equitable, inclusive, open-minded. and socially responsible electoral majority.


At least this fantasy of the future will help get me through the next six months of the Trump Show until the election. And it’s only my optimistic belief that he can’t win reelection that allows me to sleep at all. If he does win in November and the fanatical toddlers continue to rule, I literally don’t know how I’ll get through the next four years. I’ll start by reading “Lord Of The Flies.”

TRUMP IS BEING HOISTED ON HIS OWN PETARD – NAT HELMS

Watching Donald J. Trump get hoisted on his own petard is déjà vu all over again for those of us repelled by former Republican President Richard M. Nixon in the turbulent 1970s. Whoever opined that “where Trump goes, so goes the nation” is even more misinformed than vacuous Donald Trump. Nixon dropped like a lead balloon and the nation moved on with scarcely a ripple. It will happen again when Trump is gone.

History is a laundry list of despots who fell with equal approbation. People as delusional as Trump have always risen in times of discord. Thankfully, the always disagreeable and usually fragmented human race is ultimately too selfish to make room for madmen who threaten their slow, uncertain march to contentment.

Proof of a positive post-Trumpian outcome can be found in the dramatic story of  American political dysfunction when Nixon decided the U.S. Constitution was just another piece of paper to shred.  Nixon’s downfall started at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C, on June 17, 1972, when five burglars in the President’s employ burgled the Democratic National Committee headquarters seeking dirt to hurt the Democrats.

When the failed plot was linked to Nixon many respected pundits declared our nation was teetering on the precipice of doom. It was indeed a dangerous time. America desperately needed a hero and none could be found. The Vietnam War had seen to that. The astronauts were a wonderful distraction, so was Hollywood and television, but even collectively they couldn’t camouflage the rot eating the heart out of Washington, D.C.

American prestige around the world was at an all-time low. America’s vacuous youth were deemed out of control. Angry women from every station in life screeched at men in general for being self-absorbed sexists. Angry black men marched around with guns demanding justice from white men with bigger guns who dared them to try and take it. Native Americans prepared for another Wounded Knee. Hysterics warned a second civil war was looming.  Anarchy competed with racial discord and socialism dueled with capitalism to steal the nation’s soul. Sound familiar?

The naysayers crawling out of the woodwork in 1973 claimed America was doomed. They were certain the fabric of American society had been torn asunder. Political alarmists warned America’s great political experiment had failed.

Behind it all stood unrepentant Richard M. Nixon, the man who would be king. Like Trump, Nixon thought he knew better than our democratic institutions about what was good for the nation. And like Trump, he ended up getting all the blame when he was proven wrong.

When the dust from the scandal finally settled in 1973, his Attorney General John Mitchell, Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs John Ehrlichman, and chief of staff H.R. Haldeman had resigned. Subsequently, during the federal Watergate trials in 1974, all three men were convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, perjury, and other charges. All three were sentenced to between two and a half and eight years in federal prison.

Nixon finally fell because a handful of resolute Republican politicians ultimately broke ranks with their intransigent colleagues, joining Democrats who said America was more important than Richard Milhous Nixon. Whether their stance was politics as usual or the sudden onset of emerging moral stature doesn’t matter.

Until they did so, no one in the Republican Party would admit Nixon was a liar who used his dreadful fabrications to save himself and his cronies.  His mendacity was so egregious that H.R. Haldeman, Nixon’s acid-tongued gatekeeper, reputedly coined the phrase, “That statement is no longer operative” to protect Nixon from himself.

Like Trump, Nixon didn’t utter one lie so big it tore the heavens asunder. His utterances were a constant barrage of half-truths, lies of omission, and petty denunciations of opponents through the mouths of cronies who knew that if Nixon went down so would they.


See the rest of the article on natshouseblog

2020 WON’T BE ANYONE’S FAVORITE YEAR – Marilyn Armstrong

I had a favorite year and it was 51 years ago. Hard to believe because it doesn’t feel like it was that long ago.

Apollo 11

Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in July 1969. I was a new mommy. Home with the baby, I had time to see it. We watched it on CBS. Walter Cronkite wanted to be up there. On the moon. He could barely control his excitement, almost in tears, his voice breaking with emotion. The great Arthur C. Clarke was his guest.

woodstock-1

Woodstock was a month. Friends had tickets and were planning to go. I was busy with the baby and wished them well.

I was young, healthy. I just knew we would change the world. Make the world better. I was still of the opinion the world could be changed. We saw the future brightly and full of hope.

How could we — in a mere three years of The Trump Dump — manage to watch a lifetime of our generation’s effort vanish? I remember crying when Obama was elected and now we have this bombastic idiot tearing down everything we thought we’d accomplished. And I’m crying again at all the good, torn to shreds by one evil guy.

From 2016 until today, we’ve discovered the fragility of our democracy. In the face of a viral plague, watching this madman destroy our clean water and air and ignore the cries of the Earth. Tears apart our relationships with our allies and the rest of the world.

Take me back to a better time and place where I am young enough to hope for great things to come in my lifetime. Will life be better again in another 51 years? Will it be better next year?

BRUTALLY HONEST – Marilyn Armstrong

Medical terminology is designed to take the sting — and sometimes the responsibility — out of troubling problems. PTSD – Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is the latest entry in trying to find a way around admitting war is bad for soldiers and other living things.


A little history

The first army in history to determine that mental collapse was a direct consequence of the stress of war and to regard it as a legitimate medical condition was the Russian Army of 1905 …The Russians’ major contribution was their recognition of the principle of proximity, or forward treatment. … In actuality, less than 20 percent were able to return to the front.

The brutalities of WWI produced large numbers of the psychologically wounded. … This time, they began by attributing the high psychiatric casualties to the new weapons of war; specifically, the large-caliber artillery.

It was believed the impact of the shells produced a concussion that disrupted the physiology of the brain; thus the term “shell shock” came into fashion.

Another diagnosis … was neurasthenia: “The mental troubles are many and marked; on the emotional side, there is sadness, weariness, and pessimism; repugnance to effort, abnormal irritability; defective control of temper, tendency to weep on slight provocation; timidity. On the intellectual side, lessened power of attention, defective memory and will power….” 

At least the early descriptors name the cause — war or battle. Artillery. But those who make war and send others to fight it don’t like taking the blame. Since they are not going to end the war, they try to make its repercussions seem less threatening.

They do this by removing the word “war” from the illnesses it causes. Which of course makes everyone feel better. Not.

By the end of World War I, the United States had hundreds of psychiatrists overseas who were beginning to realize that psychiatric casualties were not suffering from “shell shock.” … Unfortunately, they continued to believe this collapse came about primarily in men who were weak in character.

During WWI, almost 2,000,000 men were sent overseas to fight in Europe. Deaths were put at 116,516, while 204,000 were wounded. During the same period, 159,000 soldiers were out of action for psychiatric problems, with … 70,000 … permanently discharged. 

Then came World War II. Everyone knows the story of General Patton slapping the soldier in the hospital and treating him as a coward. Generals cannot afford to believe that war is bad for soldiers, that it isn’t just a matter of mind over matter. Although Patton is certainly most famous for expressing his feelings on the matter, I doubt he was unique in his opinions. He was just more outspoken than most of the war leaders.

It became clear it was not just the “weak” in character who were breaking down. This is reflected in the subtle change in terminology that took place near the end of World War II when “combat neurosis” began to give way to the term “combat exhaustion.” Author Paul Fussell says that term as well as the term “battle fatigue” suggest “a little rest would be enough to restore to useful duty a soldier who would be more honestly designated as insane.”

Gabriel writes in No More Heroes, a study of madness and psychiatry in war, that contrary to what is in the movies, television, and the military, it is not only the weak and cowardly who break down in battle. In reality, everyone is subject to breaking down in combat. … ” When all is said and done, all normal men are at risk in war.

Vietnam and subsequent wars have kept troops permanently under siege while the medical community has sanitized symptoms. PTSD lacks any obvious link to war and battle. It doesn’t change the problem and has not resulted in better treatment in VA hospitals. Today’s ploy is to not even acknowledge the problem, but instead, ascribe soldiers’ symptoms to “something else.” Anything else to avoid the military accepting responsibility for the care of its victims.

The cost of war exceeds our ability to cope with its fallout. Apparently, no one considers not sending more soldiers into combat might be the best solution. Funny about that.