Some “Violence” Thoughts on an Easter Sunday

No violence here.

‘Tis a beautiful Easter Sunday here in SoCal. There is baseball on the boob-tube; Di is in her sunroom speaking with one of her sisters on the phone (sister is in England); we should be in NorCal with friends but Di lost a tooth early Friday morning and we had to cancel; Mist and Smoke are sleeping on the sofa beside me and I’ve had my second cup of coffee — wondering if I should fix another pot or just a K-cup — and trying to decide what to have for brunch.

I’ve read both papers; checked my email and trolled Facebook — and found some things that spawned a conscious thought or two — yeah, I know dangerous.

State-Sanctioned Violence

There were the usual Easter “He is risen” posts and cartoons and one that was a bit different: Judas, with his 30 pieces of silver saying something to the effect that without him today would be nothing but an ordinary Sunday.

This got me to thinking about what the world would be like without Easter. No Christianity? Probably, . . . without the miracle of the Resurrection Jesus becomes just another itinerant preacher wandering the Roman-occupied Middle East. Nothing to distinguish him from others unnoticed and unremarked upon and lost to human memory.

Jesus was a victim of state-sponsored political murder. Local authorities feared his influence, and the lessening of theirs, and convinced the local Roman government to kill him in the interests keeping the peace.

Death Penalty

Hmmm . . . state-sponsored murder. What would life be like if we had never had a death penalty for the commission of crimes — political or otherwise? Not “no punishment” — just no killing of criminals, and those falsely accused and convicted, by the state.

Think about it.

No crucifixion of Jesus.

Nor the drawing and quartering of William Wallace.

No beheading of Olympe de Gouges.

Nor the hanging of Eva Dugan.

No electrocution of William Kemmler.

Nor the gassing of Burton Abbott.

Yes, I know the arguments for the execution of those who murder others, either singly or in larger numbers; I’ve used and believed in them myself.

Could I, as an individual, put a bullet into the back of the head of a murderer? Throw the switch to his electric-chair? Open the trapdoor to hang him? Open the feed of the IV tube containing the drug to stop his (or her) heart? No, I do not believe that I could.

Could you? Would you if you could?

Could you hire someone else to do it? If we allow our criminal justice system to continue executing those convicted of murder, we are indeed hiring the executioner, if only through our votes and the taxes we pay.

Perhaps, just perhaps, state sanctioned violence in the name of justice is not the answer.

Our penchant for violence

On a related note, I wonder where we learn that violence is the answer to our problems.

Where do we first encounter violence by authority to enforce laws, rules, norms?

In adult life? Does your boss beat you when you make an error or lose a customer?

In school? Does your teacher/counselor/vice-principal swat/spank/cane you when you make a mistake or talk back to them?

As a child, did your mother slap you or take a hairbrush to your bottom; did your father spank you or take a belt to your bottom?

Did this teach you respect, as so many Internet memes would have it? Or did it teach you fear? Or did it teach you to sneak around to get away with whatever it was you wanted to get away with?

I’ll bet the real answer is not the answer we rationalize as adults in the here and now.

What did it teach you?

What does it teach someone who is two or three or five or ten years old when an adult in authority slaps/spanks/paddles them, no matter what the child’s offense?

It teaches the child that the answer is violence.


Companionship, not violence.
Companionship

Family History – Vietnam at the End

In 1975 my brother was in Vietnam. A few days ago I found one of my mom’s old photo albums. It is full of pictures of my brother’s family–Tomoko, George, Mari and mom. At the back of the album was a typewritten letter she received from John after he had been evacuated from Saigon. I do not know if she received the letter before or after we knew he was safe:

Sunday 20 [April 20, 1975]

Hi Mom,

It looks as though this will be my last letter from Vietnam. Things are about as tight as they can get and we have orders to pull the plug. Am sure the full-scale evacuation will be under way before this letter reaches you. RVA and VC forces have Saigon surrounded and have been sighted no less than 8 miles from Tan Son Nhut. They have 130mm cannons and artillery pieces which are American made and very accurate up to 17 miles and this is what we are most afraid of besides their SA-7 missiles.

There are however a tremendous contingent of American forces spread throughout the Pacific and SouthEast Asia for our support. Four Aircraft Carriers alone are waiting off Vung Tau. Think Congress would faint if they knew the extent of this military support.

However, our real enemy seems to be the ARVNs. They are trying to keep the mass evacuation as quiet as possible in order to stop panic and to prevent another Da Nang. Intelligence reported 2 weeks ago that the Vietnamese would try and stop and shoot down departing American Planes! The part where most people will have trouble is getting to the pick-up points when the evacuation occurs. Sure would hate to be on the streets then. Don’t have to worry though as will move into Comm Center here on Tan Son Nhut Tomorrow. We will be picked up by helicopter as soon as alll the equipment is destroyed. Expect this to be Wed or so.

Sent my duffle bag full of cloths to Joyce’s yesterday so all I have is my briefcase and flight bag to carry if I can.

Thats about it for awhile mom. Please don’t write any more and will get in touch as soon as I can.

Love John

–Spelling and punctuation copied from John’s original pre-spell/grammar check letter–

He was safely evacuated to a waiting US aircraft carrier on April 25, 1975. As he told the story, on the last helicopter from Tan Son Nhut and as a VC rocket blew up the building as he left it for the helicopter.

Just a Quick Thought

I just did my morning Facebook check before launching into my CWPs and math puzzles.

A friend of mine posted a LIKE to a photo from the “Peaceful Warrior.”

I believe that this is a reflection of why we have so much trouble with violence and war, and why we cannot seem to stop hurting and killing each other.

For Example:

  • Peaceful Warrior
  • Love is the weapon . . .
  • Holy War
  • Love is a Battlefield
  • Onward Christian Soldiers – from followers of a man who preached love and turning the other cheek

Human beings have extensive skills with regard to pattern recognition. We see pictures in clouds and ink blots. We connect dot-to-dot puzzles. We see oases in deserts far from any source of water, and we see bears and crabs wandering the night skies.

I wonder, is the pattern I see in our brains that is reflected in our words real or is it just another mirage?

. . . just a thought . . .

 

Newspapers – A Love-Hate Relationship – 3

The Orange County Register (Newspaper Hate – would like to love)

Well, I guess it was too good to last. For the first time in two weeks on last Saturday, Dec. 6, I received a copy of the Register. Too much of a good thing: didn’t get one Sunday and didn’t get one today. Also, found out a friend of my wife’s who lives just a couple of miles away hasn’t gotten a copy since October.

LA Examiner - Newspaper
LA Examiner

If things continue this way the Register will go the way of the LA Herald-Express and the LA Examiner, for which my father used to work.

LA Times: Three articles (Newspaper Love, well sort of)

1) Fewer pass state bar exam

Ah, breaks my heart, as though we didn’t already have too many lawyers already.

2) Newspaper Editorial: The troubling militarization of local police

Under current programs the US military gives police departments used military equipment. Just what a local police department needs – military equipment.

This might have made sense years ago when military equipment and civilian arms were identical or close to it but today?

What local, or school district, police agency needs grenade launchers? LA Unified, maybe?

Two years ago Burbank got a new armored car and sold its used one to South Pasadena for $1.

Saddleback College police need a mine-resistant armored vehicle?

Wheatland, CA (Pop. 2300) needs five M16 rifles?

Do we really need police departments that look, and maybe act, like occupying armies?

3) Newspaper Op-Ed: The pope’s woman problem

The Catholic Church, and Pope Francis, does not treat women on a par with men, e.g., no female priests.

Does Islam treat women on a par with men?

Does Judaism treat women on a par with men?

How many groups, religious or otherwise, really treat women the same way they treat men?

I’ll give it to you straight folks: it isn’t just “the pope’s woman problem.”

A View of History from a Science Fiction Perspective

History

We call the time before the invention of writing pre-historic—history it seems comes from writing.

Writing was first invented around six millennia ago. It appeared in China, India, Egypt and western Asia. People wrote on (in) clay, wax, wooden slats, parchment, papyrus and, eventually, paper and carved in stone. It spread across the civilized world because it was too convenient, important, to not use. Those who could read and write, or commanded those who could, controlled society.

The ability to count, record, plan and allocate allowed (mandated?) the creation of water empires in the valleys of the Nile, Tigris and Euphrates, Indus and Yellow rivers. No longer was a person’s memory and good will a limiting factor in the matter of logistics.

A great deal of our knowledge, or what we believe, of these early civilizations comes from the writings they left behind. However, this knowledge is skewed. It is knowledge dominated by religion, government and the wealthy. Little is really known about the lives of the ordinary people—ninety plus percent of the populations of these societies. And a lot of what we know of the lives of ordinary people is conjecture based on ruins and what was written about them by the upper classes, who seem to quite often despise those who were neither educated nor wealthy—although their societies would have collapsed without the labor of these “lower” classes.

What would our view of these societies be if we had a written record for them as we have for ourselves over the last two centuries?

History Unwritten

Three of history’s seminal figures: Buddha, Socrates and Jesus left no writings behind. What we know of them, or think we know of them, is based on the writings of others. Everything we “know” about these men was filtered at the very start by views, beliefs, biases and experiences of those who wrote the books. We must also take into account what these men hoped to accomplish with their writings.

Assuming that the followers of Buddha, Socrates and Jesus were good people, interested in accuracy, what were their agendas?

Is the Socrates of Plato accurate? Is the Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John accurate? Did he really exist, at least as the person shown in our current Bible? Remember, there are early books which, for one reason or another, have not been included in the Bible.

Would what we “know” of these men be different if they wrote about themselves and their beliefs? If there were contemporaneous accounts of Jesus and Buddha would they paint a picture of these men different from that portrayed by their followers—written long after their deaths?

History Destroyed

Libraries, and other storehouses of knowledge (and history), have been destroyed by flood, earthquake, fire and war. The Library of Alexandria, housing tens of thousands books, or scrolls, is one such example. Fire from the Roman civil war, from which Caesar emerged as sole ruler of Rome, destroyed parts if not all of it. Aurelian’s taking of the city while suppressing Queen Zenobia of Palmyra may have damaged it. Following the banning of paganism by Theodosius in 391, more damage and destruction. The Muslim conquest in 642 may have been the end.

However much truth there is in these accounts of the Library’s destruction, it no longer exists. What might our view of the ancient world be today if the treasures it housed were available to us?

Science Fiction and Fantasy History

Much of what happens in science-fiction and fantasy occurs in the future. In each of these stories the author has to breath some life into his (or her) world/universe. Asimov’s Foundation Series, Smith’s Lensmen, Herbert’s Dune, Weber’s Honorverse are just a few examples of created worlds whose history is us. It is after our time when these worlds diverge.

If you are interested in alternate history—our history to a certain point and them bam—there is plenty out there. Change one event, use historical trends and characters and see how the world would have turned out. America loses the Revolutionary War, the South defeats the North, aliens invade during World War II. These and many others are out there waiting to be read (and written). They all demand some type of history.

Even if you create your own universe/world from scratch you still have to give it some history to flesh it out. Very few of us can write a story that has no context.

Which brings me to Jack McDevitt. Many of his stories deal with a humanity that has spread to the stars and been there for millennia. His protagonist is Alex Benedict, an antiquarian. As an individual who deals in old and rare artifacts, Alex must deal with history.

Alex Benedict, and his “sidekick,” Chase Kolpath, hunt down various antiques and sell them for large amounts of money, generating a healthy income. There is danger, of course, as they deal in valuables and secrets. There is murder and attempted murder, but there is none of the large-scale violence and wars associated with much of science fiction. These stories are mysteries.

Alex has a copy of Churchhill’s Their Finest Hour and other valuables. Most of what happens involves history that happened after the twenty-first century. In these instances McDevitt must invent the history, the people, the events and the artifacts. But all of this future history must follow logically from our own history or else the reader will lose his ability to suspend his disbelief.

McDevitt’s ability to weave history and today and its trends into a coherent whole along with non-superhuman characters is half the charm of the stories. The other, of course, is a richly detailed future universe with interesting characters faced with a mystery or two and, occasionally, a crisis.

Today as History

In his newest book, Coming Home, Chapter Twenty-Six (Spoiler Alert), McDevitt gives us a glimpse of what Benedict’s universe has of ours and what they make of it.

  • Most poetry has disappeared but Shelly remains,
  • James Thurber’s name remains, but none of his writings,
  • Only six of Shakespeare’s plays are known, among them The Merry Wives of Windsor,
  • Only seven Hollywood films survive, among them Casablanca and Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein,
  • Dracula was apparently a physician,
  • Superman and Batman got their start in the twenty-fourth century.

If this, or something like it is what survives of our society, what will people make of us? How accurate will their perceptions be?

Is this kind of sampling what we have of our ancient world? Is it as accurate?

Did Ramesses defeat the Hittites at Kadesh or was he forced into retreat? Do we just believe Egyptian propaganda or are the claims of Ramesses accurate?

Were the Egyptian pyramids built by thousands of slaves or by thousands of Egyptian farmers during the seasons their land was flooded by the Nile?

Does Plato tell us of the real Socrates or just a Platonic version of him?

What of the stories of Jesus?

Do we believe that Nero and Caligula were monomanically evil because they were or are they victims of bad publicity, books written by political enemies?

 Family History

For most of my forty years of teaching in junior high I taught History. I told my students that it was the most important subject because it was the only one that told them about their family.

Where are we without our families? We are adrift in the world without an anchor. We are orphans among six billion strangers.

History teaches you about your family—the human race. You are related to everyone else whether you realize it or not. Every stranger you meet is a cousin, maybe a cousin a hundred times, or a thousand times removed, but a cousin nonetheless.

Only by realizing this, and acting on it, will we be able secure our future. No new collapse of society, no new Dark Age, no future interpretations of our lives and civilization without sufficient evidence to either praise or damn us.

As Rodgers and Edwards wrote for Sister Sledge: We Are Family. Let us treat each other as family.

History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illumines reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life and brings us tidings of antiquity.
Marcus Tullius Cicero