Elephants Never Forget — Part Three

What color is the elephant

Photo by Emma Wurfel on Unsplash

The Brits are no saints, either.

A few years back, as part of a counterterrorism program called PREVENT, British schoolteachers and staff were required to monitor their students for signs of extremist behavior.

Children determined to be “at risk” were shuttled into a “deradicalization course.” Here are some examples of the kids handpicked for the course (thanks to my bud’s at Harper’s Magazine):

— a boy who attempted to check out a book about terrorism that was available in his school library

— a high school boy who gave a presentation on the historical Islamic state in order to show the difference between that concept and ISIS

— an eight-year-old boy who was a fan of Marvel television cartoons and wrote about violence and guns in a homework assignment

— a fourteen-year-old boy who used the word “eco-terrorists” during a classroom discussion about deforestation

— a ten-year-old boy who misspelled “terraced house” as “terrorist house” on a writing assignment

— a four-year-old boy who described to teachers a picture he drew of his father cutting a cucumber

And then Brexit. And then Theresa May. And then…Boris Johnson. I rest my case. If not for The Kinks and John Oliver…I don’t know. I just don’t know.

And, moving back home, as a further aside for a moment… Forget guns. Think about all the people, no matter how innocent, who miraculously end up dead, all of a sudden, in our jails and prisons, a great many of them before they ever go before a jury or have a chance to plea bargain their way into a lighter sentence. Many of them female.

Many of them non-violent “offenders,” not yet convicted of an offense, remember. I don’t have statistics handy, but I do remember one day, a couple of years ago, after four women were “discovered” dead in four separate incidents at four different jails the night before. There is a system at work, here… Has something to do with being denied bail, I think.

When I was growing up, this “incident” occurred in a place called My Lai, a village in Vietnam. We were at war at the time. The government, our government, called it a war, at least. Our government had something of a sense of humor. If you want to call it that. From my perspective, I think they still do. Red, blue, makes no difference.

When the press found out about My Lai, and what happened there, they went what soldiers call “apeshit” about it. Front page headlines, photospreads in big magazines. So, the government made certain of two things.

First, that this one guy, Lieutenant Calley, would be held responsible. This is what the military calls “the goat.”

Second, that it would be made to seem like some kind of one-off incident. Like I said, a wonderful sense of humor.

But this thing, this incident, this massacre of people and the complete destruction of an entire village for no good reason, was not the responsibility of a single individual and was not a “one-off” as it turned out, but simply one in a long and wide series of events guided by organized group-think and by a guy named Westmoreland, a four-star General in charge of the so-called war.

You know, what we call the herd mentality driven by someone deranged.

Even though such things had occasionally occurred in wars previously, our wars and others’ wars, this was something new. Apparently. At least it was thought new for us, for the US military as a whole. Behaving like Cossacks or Mongol hordes or something. We had a sense of group honor about war, or so we were told, and now we were losing it.

And it became worse over time. This disillusion about the illusion of honor.

The disillusion spread out like the vapor of marijuana smoke — very popular in those days, so I’m told — as the disillusioned vets came home, again, around this same period as the unions were dying, infecting every aspect of American life, every level of American society, every Sacred Cow we possessed.

It disrupted families and governments, as if they needed further disruption, schools and police departments, businesses and factories, churches and museums and whatever was left of the unions. Within a decade of My Lai, hardly anything in America resembled itself any longer.

The disillusion was complete.

What do you think happened to empathy within the culture as a result?

That’s why people turned to Ronald Reagan. Mr. Responsibility. Mr. Empathy himself. To take us back to the days before My Lai. He and his supporters blamed all the disruption and disillusion on the beatniks, the hippies, the intellectuals, the media, the liberals. That’s what responsible people do, don’t you know. They point fingers and blame other people.

All in an attempt to stop it. As if he could.

He tried. I guess. Nancy tried. She said “no.” Like some boney old actress believing in astrology saying “no” was going to stop something that originally had started with corrupt leadership on “their” side. He couldn’t. She couldn’t. Nobody could.

It’s been hell ever since. It was like trying to stop the bullet going through the guy’s head in that famous photograph of the man being executed in public in South Vietnam.

That was “our side.” Empathy.

Or trying to take the napalm off that running naked Vietnamese child in that picture everyone has or should have by now seen.

“Our side.” Empathy.

Physically impossible. Morally impossible.

The house, our house, our group empathy, has been burning down ever since.

That’s what napalm does, the perfect bullet.

You can’t stop it shooting. It just keeps flying through our air and passing through everyone’s skull, killing their empathy. Oops. And we keep using it, or selling it to others, and they keep using it. On our behalf. With our blessing. Bless your heart, Dow Chemical, you wonder of modern science and capitalism. You physical metaphor for the shitstorm we’ve been living through ever since.

Don’t forget to invest in Dow, today, those of you seeking to become millionaires in five easy lessons.

One of the happiest days in Donald Trump’s life was spent dancing with the Saudis around a fire with a sword in his hand after agreeing to a weapons deal that made billions for American weapons manufacturers.

Lots of napalm dropped in Yemen. Lots waiting to be dropped in Iran.

You could argue that American weapons manufacturers are also American employers, and they are. They employ lots of accountants. And robots. Don’t fool yourself about the factory workers anymore. Not the workers or any other American in need.

We’ve made significant, measurable efforts toward ending both hunger and poverty, in America and around the world, during the past several decades. That progress slowed, however, since the welfare programs changed by the partnership between the Clinton Democrats and the Gingrich Republicans in the 1990s.

Because of this, among other problems, we find food pantries on or near every military base in the country. Our military personnel and their families are hungry but legally cannot apply for SNAP.

A great victory for empathy.

And why should our military and their families eat well when Republicans, on the record, compare them to “wild animals” publicly. And now, military families and veterans constitute a large portion of the 46 million (and growing) Americans in hunger (including 14 million children and growing) always on the verge of being cut off from health care and other forms of federal aid by Congress.

Because of empathy.

There were a couple of happy days before that “Dancing in Riyadh,” too.

Some time ago, 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles spent in the space of 20 minutes $500 million taxpayer gelt to pockmark an unnecessary acre of Syrian air base, just an itsy-bity piece of landing strip on a relatively insignificant military facility, proving — probably to Russia or Turkey — that we are macho, a boondoggle for the Raytheon Corporation, the missile’s manufacturer.

Because, obviously, that hardware has to be replaced, restocked and repaid for as soon as possible. Earlier, dropping the first MOAB (“mother of all bombs”…don’t you love military jargon?) at a cost of more than $30 million (for ONE bomb) brought General Dynamics to their knees in thanks, but did absolutely nothing to weaken or slow the Taliban in Afghanistan. You can ask any of the thousands of our military personnel still serving there.

All in the name of empathy.

After these magnificent victories Congress passed, and has since continued to pass, more in a string of “we have a long way to go…” bills to serve the needs of our veterans. Effectively doing nothing to solve their problems.

And also trillions of dollars for “the defense industry” in the name of empathy.

We do have a long way to go to serve the interests of all our military families, active and retired. They are part of the larger problem we face, not only being ignored but actively created by a Congress and administration more concerned with the needs of corporations and large taxpayers, almost countable on the hands of about 1000 very wealthy people. Until that imbalance is addressed by a voting public that understands the issues, this is a situation that will never change.

Why do you think so many veterans have turned against the government they once sacrificed their lives for? That they are now fully trained in combat to fight against?

Because the government’s empathy is ours and it has turned them into garbage.

Possessor of Paul Newman eyes. Author of many things straightforward and strange. Some of them appear here. “Women zai shuo ba” as the Mandarin say. Born 2016.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store