Memorial Day 2012: A Lesson Not Yet Learned

 

by WALTER BRASCH

Today is Memorial Day, the last day of the three-day weekend. Veterans and community groups will remember those who died in battle and, as they have done for more than a century, will place small flags on graves.

But, for most of America, Memorial Day is a three-day picnic-filled weekend that heralds the start of Summer, just as Labor Day has become a three-day picnic-filled weekend that laments the end of Summer. 

There will be memorial concerts and parades. The media, shoving aside political and celebrity news, will all have stories. Among those who will be the first to patriotically salute those who died in battle are those who enthusiastically pushed for them to go to war.

Each of the extended weekends also provides forums for politicians to stand in front of red-white-and-blue bunting to deliver political speeches they hope will make the voters think they care about veterans and the working class—and if it helps their election or re-election campaigns, so much the better.

The first Memorial Day was May 1, 1865, when hundreds of freed slaves, missionaries, and teachers held a solemn ceremony to honor the Union soldiers who died in a Confederate prison camp in Charleston, S.C. That memorial evolved into Decoration Day and then in 1882 to Memorial Day. The last Monday in May now honors all soldiers killed in all wars.

There haven’t been many years when the U.S. wasn’t engaged in some war. Some were fought for noble purposes, such as the Revolutionary War and World War II; some were fought for ignoble purposes, such as the Mexican-American and Spanish-American wars.

The U.S. is currently engaged in winding down the longest war in our history. The war in Afghanistan had begun with the pretense of a noble purpose—to capture the leaders of al-Qaeda who created 9/11. But, that war was nearly forgotten while the U.S. skip-jumped into Iraq, which had no connection to al-Qaeda, 9/11, or any weapons of mass destruction. It did have a dictator who allowed torture against its dissidents— but so did North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and dozens of other countries that the Bush–Cheney war machine didn’t consider.

No, it was Iraq that became the focus of the White House Warriors. It wasn’t long before the U.S. commitment in Iraq was more than 10 times the personnel and equipment than in Afghanistan. It was a commitment that had left the U.S. vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters, as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita within a month of each other proved. The Bush–Cheney administration had diverted funds from numerous public works projects, including reinforcement of the levees in New Orleans, to increase the U.S. presence in Iraq. By the time Katrina had hit the Gulf Coast in August 2005, National Guard troops and their equipment, including deep water vehicles, were in Iraq.

Also in Iraq was now al-Qaeda, which Saddam Hussein had managed to keep out of his country; and a civil war, as Iraqi political and religious groups fought for control.

Barack Obama, as promised in his campaign, did end the war in Iraq, and reasserted American presence in Afghanistan, sought out and killed Osama bin Laden, and then created a way for complete U.S. withdrawal from combat.

The Bush–Cheney Administration had figured a maximum cost of $100 billion for what they believed would be no more than a two year war. The financial cost of the wars has been almost $4 trillion, according to an investigative study by researchers at Brown University. The $4 trillion includes rampant corruption and no-bid contracts to numerous companies, including Halliburton, Dick Cheney’s home for several years.

But the real cost is not in dollars but in lives. The war is being figured not by names and their lives but by numbers. The war in Afghanistan as of Memorial Day has cost 3,016 American and allied lives. The American wounded, some of whom will have permanent disabilities or may die lingering deaths from those wounds, is now at 15,322. In Iraq, 4,486 Americans died; 32,233 were wounded. There are no accurate estimates of the number of civilian and enemy deaths and wounded, but the numbers are in the hundreds of thousands.

“War represents a failure of diplomacy,” said Tony Benn, one of the most popular politicians, who served in the British parliament for more than 50 years, including several years as leader of various cabinet departments.

In wars throughout the world, there will be more deaths today and tomorrow and the next day and the day after that and every day thereafter. And once a year, Americans will honor the deaths of young men and women sent into battle by intractable politicians, supported by media pundits and a horde of civilians with the wisdom of asphalt who have not learned the lessons of Tony Benn.

[Walter Brasch’s latest book is the critically-acclaimed journalistic novel, Before the First Snow, which looks at the anti-war movement and the cost of war.]

 

Memorial Day 2012: A Lesson Not Yet Learned

 

by WALTER BRASCH

Today is Memorial Day, the last day of the three-day weekend. Veterans and community groups will remember those who died in battle and, as they have done for more than a century, will place small flags on graves.

But, for most of America, Memorial Day is a three-day picnic-filled weekend that heralds the start of Summer, just as Labor Day has become a three-day picnic-filled weekend that laments the end of Summer. 

There will be memorial concerts and parades. The media, shoving aside political and celebrity news, will all have stories. Among those who will be the first to patriotically salute those who died in battle are those who enthusiastically pushed for them to go to war.

Each of the extended weekends also provides forums for politicians to stand in front of red-white-and-blue bunting to deliver political speeches they hope will make the voters think they care about veterans and the working class—and if it helps their election or re-election campaigns, so much the better.

The first Memorial Day was May 1, 1865, when hundreds of freed slaves, missionaries, and teachers held a solemn ceremony to honor the Union soldiers who died in a Confederate prison camp in Charleston, S.C. That memorial evolved into Decoration Day and then in 1882 to Memorial Day. The last Monday in May now honors all soldiers killed in all wars.

There haven’t been many years when the U.S. wasn’t engaged in some war. Some were fought for noble purposes, such as the Revolutionary War and World War II; some were fought for ignoble purposes, such as the Mexican-American and Spanish-American wars.

The U.S. is currently engaged in winding down the longest war in our history. The war in Afghanistan had begun with the pretense of a noble purpose—to capture the leaders of al-Qaeda who created 9/11. But, that war was nearly forgotten while the U.S. skip-jumped into Iraq, which had no connection to al-Qaeda, 9/11, or any weapons of mass destruction. It did have a dictator who allowed torture against its dissidents— but so did North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and dozens of other countries that the Bush–Cheney war machine didn’t consider.

No, it was Iraq that became the focus of the White House Warriors. It wasn’t long before the U.S. commitment in Iraq was more than 10 times the personnel and equipment than in Afghanistan. It was a commitment that had left the U.S. vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters, as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita within a month of each other proved. The Bush–Cheney administration had diverted funds from numerous public works projects, including reinforcement of the levees in New Orleans, to increase the U.S. presence in Iraq. By the time Katrina had hit the Gulf Coast in August 2005, National Guard troops and their equipment, including deep water vehicles, were in Iraq.

Also in Iraq was now al-Qaeda, which Saddam Hussein had managed to keep out of his country; and a civil war, as Iraqi political and religious groups fought for control.

Barack Obama, as promised in his campaign, did end the war in Iraq, and reasserted American presence in Afghanistan, sought out and killed Osama bin Laden, and then created a way for complete U.S. withdrawal from combat.

The Bush–Cheney Administration had figured a maximum cost of $100 billion for what they believed would be no more than a two year war. The financial cost of the wars has been almost $4 trillion, according to an investigative study by researchers at Brown University. The $4 trillion includes rampant corruption and no-bid contracts to numerous companies, including Halliburton, Dick Cheney’s home for several years.

But the real cost is not in dollars but in lives. The war is being figured not by names and their lives but by numbers. The war in Afghanistan as of Memorial Day has cost 3,016 American and allied lives. The American wounded, some of whom will have permanent disabilities or may die lingering deaths from those wounds, is now at 15,322. In Iraq, 4,486 Americans died; 32,233 were wounded. There are no accurate estimates of the number of civilian and enemy deaths and wounded, but the numbers are in the hundreds of thousands.

“War represents a failure of diplomacy,” said Tony Benn, one of the most popular politicians, who served in the British parliament for more than 50 years, including several years as leader of various cabinet departments.

In wars throughout the world, there will be more deaths today and tomorrow and the next day and the day after that and every day thereafter. And once a year, Americans will honor the deaths of young men and women sent into battle by intractable politicians, supported by media pundits and a horde of civilians with the wisdom of asphalt who have not learned the lessons of Tony Benn.

[Walter Brasch’s latest book is the critically-acclaimed journalistic novel, Before the First Snow, which looks at the anti-war movement and the cost of war.]

 

New Book from Dances With Wolves Author

BOOK REVIEW:

 Title: Twelve: The King

 Author: Michael Blake

 Publisher: Perceval Press (Santa Monica, Calif.)

          www.percevalpress.com

 ISBN: 978-09819747-2-9

 Price: $14 softcover

 

          "I encountered an animal whose being was saturated with evidence that the Mystery's spirit was on earth." –MICHAEL BLAKE

           During the mid-1800s, more than two million wild horses freely roamed America's west. But, cattle ranchers—who had already seized land from the Indians and were in a land war with farmers and shepherds—saw horses as competition for unfenced grazing land. Aided by corporate interests and an unconcerned public, ranchers poisoned the water holes, shot the horses, or ran them over cliffs. It was legal.

           During the remainder of the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries, millions would be killed or sent to slaughter houses in Mexico to become dog food—or gourmet meats to be served in the finer European restaurants.

           A national campaign begun in the 1950s by Velma Johnston led Congress and the Nixon Administration in 1971 to give protection to the remaining horses and burros. By then, there were only about 60,000 left in 10 states. Three decades later, under the George W. Bush Administration, the Bureau of Land Management determined that even those wild horses and burros were too many. Congress and the Administration, still influenced by corporate interests, repealed most of the 1971 law. Apparently, the remaining 20,000 horses were taking up too much space and resources from the four million head of cattle. The BLM plan was to round up the "excess horses" and  place them in federal corrals.

           But, where the BLM placed the horses wasn't corrals but concentration camps, according to Michael Blake, author of Dances With Wolves. Blake's latest book, Twelve: The King, is a moving story of his love for wild horses, especially one, a black gelding with the number "1202" branded onto his left flank. Blake describes the first time he saw Twelve:

  

          "When [he] came into full view, everyone eyed his approach; it was as if we had all been tranquilized. He was floating down the pathway, his feet touching the ground as if it were a thick cloud . . . He came into the pen—it seemed as if he levitated in—and for a minute everyone just stared at him. Even the restless children watched him. He was something from another time or place."

 

           For more than two decades, Twelve had been the leader, the protector, of a herd of wild horses. Now, in 1991, he was confined to a small pen on federal land in Palomino Valley, Nevada, about 30 miles north of Reno. "There seemed to be an invisible barrier surrounding him, and none of the other horses, whether alone or in gangs, ever sniffed or touched or whinnied at him," Blake writes, condensing the recollection  of a government worker that once, "the entire population came together and circled their king in a massive surround that lasted several minutes."

           The BLM claimed Twelve was unadoptable because of his age and fiery independence. Blake saw something else. And so he paid $120 to adopt the unadoptable horse, one who wouldn't associate with Blake's domestic horses yet watch over them and be their protector. There was no way Blake would tame Twelve, not in their home near Los Angeles, nor at Wolf House, which became their home near Tucson. But with love and mutual respect, they would be companions for more than 15 years.

           Twelve is the story of that love, that companionship, the story of a writer and a horse, each of whom values not just the spirit of independence but also the land and all that live upon it. There are no flowery phrases, no sentimental dribble, no violent outbursts at mankind and the government, just simple declarative sentences that carry within them the power of love and life. Although it may have seemed that Blake was Twelve's protector, rescuing him from a government concentration camp, the truth is that Twelve, as he was for so many wild horses, was probably Blake's protector, a constant in a life that itself underwent so much turmoil.

           Twelve died Sept. 7, 2005. Michael Blake visits his grave almost every day, "driven not so much by grief as a sense of honor."

           The beauty and quality of production of the Perceval Press book, something not often seen in contemporary book publishing, complements  Blake's words and photos to make Twelve a powerful statement by one of America's best writers about the value of life and the environment.

 —WALTER M. BRASCH

                   

 

 

New Book from Dances With Wolves Author

BOOK REVIEW:

 Title: Twelve: The King

 Author: Michael Blake

 Publisher: Perceval Press (Santa Monica, Calif.)

          www.percevalpress.com

 ISBN: 978-09819747-2-9

 Price: $14 softcover

 

          "I encountered an animal whose being was saturated with evidence that the Mystery's spirit was on earth." –MICHAEL BLAKE

           During the mid-1800s, more than two million wild horses freely roamed America's west. But, cattle ranchers—who had already seized land from the Indians and were in a land war with farmers and shepherds—saw horses as competition for unfenced grazing land. Aided by corporate interests and an unconcerned public, ranchers poisoned the water holes, shot the horses, or ran them over cliffs. It was legal.

           During the remainder of the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries, millions would be killed or sent to slaughter houses in Mexico to become dog food—or gourmet meats to be served in the finer European restaurants.

           A national campaign begun in the 1950s by Velma Johnston led Congress and the Nixon Administration in 1971 to give protection to the remaining horses and burros. By then, there were only about 60,000 left in 10 states. Three decades later, under the George W. Bush Administration, the Bureau of Land Management determined that even those wild horses and burros were too many. Congress and the Administration, still influenced by corporate interests, repealed most of the 1971 law. Apparently, the remaining 20,000 horses were taking up too much space and resources from the four million head of cattle. The BLM plan was to round up the "excess horses" and  place them in federal corrals.

           But, where the BLM placed the horses wasn't corrals but concentration camps, according to Michael Blake, author of Dances With Wolves. Blake's latest book, Twelve: The King, is a moving story of his love for wild horses, especially one, a black gelding with the number "1202" branded onto his left flank. Blake describes the first time he saw Twelve:

  

          "When [he] came into full view, everyone eyed his approach; it was as if we had all been tranquilized. He was floating down the pathway, his feet touching the ground as if it were a thick cloud . . . He came into the pen—it seemed as if he levitated in—and for a minute everyone just stared at him. Even the restless children watched him. He was something from another time or place."

 

           For more than two decades, Twelve had been the leader, the protector, of a herd of wild horses. Now, in 1991, he was confined to a small pen on federal land in Palomino Valley, Nevada, about 30 miles north of Reno. "There seemed to be an invisible barrier surrounding him, and none of the other horses, whether alone or in gangs, ever sniffed or touched or whinnied at him," Blake writes, condensing the recollection  of a government worker that once, "the entire population came together and circled their king in a massive surround that lasted several minutes."

           The BLM claimed Twelve was unadoptable because of his age and fiery independence. Blake saw something else. And so he paid $120 to adopt the unadoptable horse, one who wouldn't associate with Blake's domestic horses yet watch over them and be their protector. There was no way Blake would tame Twelve, not in their home near Los Angeles, nor at Wolf House, which became their home near Tucson. But with love and mutual respect, they would be companions for more than 15 years.

           Twelve is the story of that love, that companionship, the story of a writer and a horse, each of whom values not just the spirit of independence but also the land and all that live upon it. There are no flowery phrases, no sentimental dribble, no violent outbursts at mankind and the government, just simple declarative sentences that carry within them the power of love and life. Although it may have seemed that Blake was Twelve's protector, rescuing him from a government concentration camp, the truth is that Twelve, as he was for so many wild horses, was probably Blake's protector, a constant in a life that itself underwent so much turmoil.

           Twelve died Sept. 7, 2005. Michael Blake visits his grave almost every day, "driven not so much by grief as a sense of honor."

           The beauty and quality of production of the Perceval Press book, something not often seen in contemporary book publishing, complements  Blake's words and photos to make Twelve a powerful statement by one of America's best writers about the value of life and the environment.

 —WALTER M. BRASCH

                   

 

 

New Book from Dances With Wolves Author

BOOK REVIEW:

 Title: Twelve: The King

 Author: Michael Blake

 Publisher: Perceval Press (Santa Monica, Calif.)

          www.percevalpress.com

 ISBN: 978-09819747-2-9

 Price: $14 softcover

 

          "I encountered an animal whose being was saturated with evidence that the Mystery's spirit was on earth." –MICHAEL BLAKE

           During the mid-1800s, more than two million wild horses freely roamed America's west. But, cattle ranchers—who had already seized land from the Indians and were in a land war with farmers and shepherds—saw horses as competition for unfenced grazing land. Aided by corporate interests and an unconcerned public, ranchers poisoned the water holes, shot the horses, or ran them over cliffs. It was legal.

           During the remainder of the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries, millions would be killed or sent to slaughter houses in Mexico to become dog food—or gourmet meats to be served in the finer European restaurants.

           A national campaign begun in the 1950s by Velma Johnston led Congress and the Nixon Administration in 1971 to give protection to the remaining horses and burros. By then, there were only about 60,000 left in 10 states. Three decades later, under the George W. Bush Administration, the Bureau of Land Management determined that even those wild horses and burros were too many. Congress and the Administration, still influenced by corporate interests, repealed most of the 1971 law. Apparently, the remaining 20,000 horses were taking up too much space and resources from the four million head of cattle. The BLM plan was to round up the "excess horses" and  place them in federal corrals.

           But, where the BLM placed the horses wasn't corrals but concentration camps, according to Michael Blake, author of Dances With Wolves. Blake's latest book, Twelve: The King, is a moving story of his love for wild horses, especially one, a black gelding with the number "1202" branded onto his left flank. Blake describes the first time he saw Twelve:

  

          "When [he] came into full view, everyone eyed his approach; it was as if we had all been tranquilized. He was floating down the pathway, his feet touching the ground as if it were a thick cloud . . . He came into the pen—it seemed as if he levitated in—and for a minute everyone just stared at him. Even the restless children watched him. He was something from another time or place."

 

           For more than two decades, Twelve had been the leader, the protector, of a herd of wild horses. Now, in 1991, he was confined to a small pen on federal land in Palomino Valley, Nevada, about 30 miles north of Reno. "There seemed to be an invisible barrier surrounding him, and none of the other horses, whether alone or in gangs, ever sniffed or touched or whinnied at him," Blake writes, condensing the recollection  of a government worker that once, "the entire population came together and circled their king in a massive surround that lasted several minutes."

           The BLM claimed Twelve was unadoptable because of his age and fiery independence. Blake saw something else. And so he paid $120 to adopt the unadoptable horse, one who wouldn't associate with Blake's domestic horses yet watch over them and be their protector. There was no way Blake would tame Twelve, not in their home near Los Angeles, nor at Wolf House, which became their home near Tucson. But with love and mutual respect, they would be companions for more than 15 years.

           Twelve is the story of that love, that companionship, the story of a writer and a horse, each of whom values not just the spirit of independence but also the land and all that live upon it. There are no flowery phrases, no sentimental dribble, no violent outbursts at mankind and the government, just simple declarative sentences that carry within them the power of love and life. Although it may have seemed that Blake was Twelve's protector, rescuing him from a government concentration camp, the truth is that Twelve, as he was for so many wild horses, was probably Blake's protector, a constant in a life that itself underwent so much turmoil.

           Twelve died Sept. 7, 2005. Michael Blake visits his grave almost every day, "driven not so much by grief as a sense of honor."

           The beauty and quality of production of the Perceval Press book, something not often seen in contemporary book publishing, complements  Blake's words and photos to make Twelve a powerful statement by one of America's best writers about the value of life and the environment.

 —WALTER M. BRASCH

                   

 

 

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