Friday, April 30, 2004

Most strange is this curious Kosmos we spin our tales in . . .

Despite time differences across the date-line and other arbitrary machinations of the mind, the two previous posts were made exactly 12 hours apart with a full day of living in between, 6:57 p.m. April 29th and 6:57 a.m., April 30th -- and I haven't even read yet the Trilogy of Four Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which I bought in Colombo several weeks ago . . .

Most, indeed, weirdly and wildly strange and wonderful . . .
Holy Moly Magoligan !~!~! This is a banner day, even one doused in day glow red – this is the second entry I have made within a 24-hour period. Now that’s more what blogging should be about, eh?

Today I got an email from the VFP listserv apropos of my Mini-Rant concerning the nefarious Child Recruitment activities of the U.S. Government. Rather synchronistic, don’t cha think? Here is a link to an organization trying to Teach Peace in schools, not war, Coalition Against Militarism in Our Schools. What a concept, teaching peace instead of war, eh? Sad to think that many rabid patriots of Bush’s persuasion, tilting to the far right of the political spectrum, would think such an effort treasonous. Here’s an article on the website that discusses what is happening in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

I see in the article that another fellow Vietnam Veteran activist, Ron Kovics, of “born on the 4th of July” fame, is still true to his compassionate convictions, regarding the lessons he learned from his near-fatal and paralyzing experience of war. Sad to say, John Kerry, for political expediency is not. I was appalled, but not too surprised, to read in the NY Times that on “Meet the Press” last Sunday with Tim Russert that he cast his activities with VVAW (Vietnam Veterans Against the War) over thirty years ago in a much different shadow -- I was going to say light, but this most recent flip-flop only casts a darkening shadow on his values, easily discarded for political correctness. He said that his referring to his participation in search and destroy missions, burning villages, firing into free-fire zones, etc. as “atrocities” was inappropriate and “a little bit excessive.” This cemented my deep conviction not to ever vote for him, even though he recruited me join VVAW, when we happened to sit next to each other on a DC to Boston shuttle flight. He is truly the dark flip side of the same Bushcoin, much more heinous, more dangerous than Gore, who at least had some values, though I voted for Nadar in 2000 and probably would again if I were stateside in November. Plus, whereas Bush is a nincompoop, John Kerry is quite competent. In many ways he would be a more effective wolf in liberal sheep skin clothing than Bush for the corporate masters of our fair land less and less of, by or for the people. He would put just enough soothing spin of liberal rhetoric to quell the concerns of the large, madding crowd of U.S. citizenry seriously beginning to question the Iraq War. He would be a patrician Johnson to Bush’s stumbling and bumbling Goldwater. The refrain of the old Peter, Paul and Mary song, “When will we ever learn?” ring hollow and tinsel in nostalgia’s ear . . .

Enuff politicizing. Time to choose to experience another of the multifarious permutations of this moment by moment existence on spaceship Earth , , ,

Last week we had a two-day NP staff retreat at a Guest House way out in the bush without mobile phone or Internet connection. The Guest House was situated on a lake around which partially I ran at sunrise for three mornings experiencing the splendor of early light and a delightful sight of a peacock perched too far away for my telephoto lens and besides I didn't have my camera with me on a huge electric power line:

Twas most marvelous . . .

The lake was partially filled with wonderful, large snow-white lotus blossoms, my all-time favorite flower . . .

A curious Tamil girl-child with proud Momma in awe of, maybe a bit frightened by, the strange man with the strange large-eyed object staring at her . . .

Tiny Punchi trying to hide under a tinier plant while exploring her new turf, infinitely more interesting and accommodating than the place where we found her by the Trincomalee Jetty . . .

This shot shows her delectable Yoda ears . . .

Nuff for this now; gotta save some pictures for the weekend when I learn how to link to other blogs and maybe spiff up and change the template, just for cyber fun . . .

Thursday, April 29, 2004

I've really got to get more precise in this blogjournal -- another 25 days of at times too much distraction caused by living life since I've jacked-in and blogged. Not good. Very disrespectful of myself and those of you, whoever you are out there, especially the 78, more or less, ones that I email a notice of a new posting to. So, maybe instead of putting up another gargantuan load of pics and ramblings from my journal, I'll just wing it, do a mini-synopsis of the past almost month and refreshen my resolve to more diligently, at least more frequently put up a rambling or three complete with photos.

I have also got to learn how to do links here, to honor some of my favorite blogs, and to maybe get the feedback thang going for me.

So, first things first -- what a concept:

Highlights of My Life the Last 25 Days:

1. Survived the 36th anniversary of returning home from my first war.

2. Survived the day-and-a-half day war between the two factions of the LTTE, the North led by a real Col. Kurtz type leader, Prabhakaran who has successfully wage a guerrilla war for the past 20 years, kicking butt against both the Sri Lankan Army and the Indian Peace Keeping Forces, and a faux Col. Kurtz wannabe, Karuna, one of the LTTE most brilliant tacticians and guerrilla war heros. Essentially, Karuna's forces of some 6,000 hardened cadre, including bunches of "child soldiers" just put aside their weapons and melted into the jungle (see item 6.), or in the case of the "child soldiers", about 1500 or so were told to go home.

3. Survived learning to drive on the wrong side of the road, not only a van, so big on the really skinny, very crowded streets, teeming with goats, cows, ox-drawn carts, bunches of people, especially kids, and lots of really crazy, speedy drivers of all kinds of vehicles from push-bikes to huge lorries and buses, but also my first motorcycle drive in 41 years since I got rid of the Honda Roseanne and I bought the last year I was at Xavier. Geez, I wonder what happened to it? Did I give it to Roseanne (my college main squeeze, whose engagement I broke a couple of months before the wedding in the early summer of '65)? Did we sell it? Don't remember. So, yes, I drove a motorcycle again, of course with no helmet, and I loved the feel of the wind on my bald head -- that was a new sensation.

4. Survived riding in the back of the rented NP pickup truck Monday a week ago; last Thursday, having made the decision to go to Colombo to celebrate my birthday on Saturday, April 24th, I was not riding in the back of same pick-up when it went off the road to avoid a head-on colllision with one of the many speeding, very large buses on Sri Lankan's narrow highway -- had I been riding in the back, I would be dead or worse, paralyzed . . .

5. Survived 61st birthday, playing nursebutler, which I gladly and gratefully volunteered to do, to the five teammates who were bruised and battered about, but gracefully were not seriously injured in the accident.

6. Survived the first skirmish of what looks like the start of a guerrilla war taking place between the two LTTE factions -- on Monday, an ambush allegedly by forces loyal to Karuna ambushed and killed 7 Prabhakaran cadre. Karuna has gone underground, apparently still here in Sri Lanka, and announced last week that he would take revenge on all his enemies.

7. Survived my grief and keening anger that the War in Iraq is getting quagmirier and quagmirier, with lots of American servicepersons and way too many Iraqian civilians, women and children included, getting killed or horribly wounded. What kind of a "hearts and minds" tactic is it to snipe at ambulances and to prevent medical supplies from entering the Holy Cities we have beseiged?

Hmmm -- seems lot a lot of surviving going on. Dat's good, can't do much of anything else if you don't survive.

Purty Picture Time:

So, okay. I've taken bunches of pictures the last month, even though I've been hassled some of the time with my camera not working because the cheap Chinese or Indian knock-off batteries sold in Mutur aren't strong enough to power it, only works with SONY, Fuji, Panosonic. Even the Everyready batteries made in India don't work. Just because the camera is Japanese doesn't justify it being snobbish enough not to work except with the most upscale of batteries. Some toy.

Opps, I lied, gotta do a little mini-rant before I put up some purty pictures:

I put "child soldiers" in quotes above because lots of the news here in Sri Lanka of late has been dealt with UNICEF and others, notably the U.S. Ambassador, severely criticizing the LTTE for continuing to recruit young cadre. Now don't me wrong, it is heinous that as a species we make war so glamorous that kids would want to bask in it's nebulous glories. It was most disconcerting the last several weeks when I've been traveling down route A-15 between Trinco and Batti to be confronted by youngsters with T-56s and AK-47s, toting rpg launchers like they were cricket bats, not only boys too young to shave, but short-haired girl cadre, with zits and smaller than the weapons they were girl-handling. Truly awful.

What I want to rant about is the hyprocrisy of the U.S., especially in chastizing the LTTE for child recruitment.

The other day I had a bowl of good ole Kellog's (straight from Australia, not from Battlecreek, Michigan) Cornflakes. The garish notice on the cereal box screamed at me about the delight of finding inside one of four Tony the Tiger Wing Commanders, all of which I could collect and fly in the special glider attack plane. Ah, excuse me, what exactly is this? Child recruitment to the glories and honors of killing for one's country or cause.

And what's the difference between the LTTE espousing the honors and glories of getting a trade to fight for the noble cause of Tamil Eelam and the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines, pitching their Montgomery GI Bill scams to high school students in mandatory sessions in the school auditorium, especially in the urban and rural ghettos. Okay, so blowing oneself up as a Black Tiger is not exactly a trade to build a decent career on, but neither is being your basic grunt ground-pounder. And Junior ROTC in High Schools? They're teaching a lot more deadly pursuits than acquiring camp-out or woodsperson skills as a boy and girl scout. END OF RANT.

NOW!~!~! is it PURTY PICTURE TIME???? Yeah.

Here is the new canine member of the Muthur Team, Punchi, who is bein held by the new human member, Rita, of same team. A couple of weekends ago we found Punchi crouched underneath a bench at the Trinco Ferry. Soraia saw her shining green eyes, woefully peering up at her. Incredible, aren't they? They gave us her name -- Punchi, which is Tamil for Green. We have started getting her her shots. She is very sweet and has huge abandonment issues, but we are showering her with love.

She is being held by Rita, a very dedicated young woman from Portugal, who recently has joined the Muthur Team. She spent the past year with Peace Brigade in Colombia, providing protective accompaniment to a Indian village from the para-military forces, dutifully armed and trained by the U.S. War on Drugs, rather passe these days, though it had a good, long run during the Clinton years between Daddy BushWar 1 and the Insanity Front in Iraq of the Sonnyboy BushWar II, the primary skirmish on the global Neocon perennial War on Terrorism.

Here's the truck after it's rollover. Undaunted, notice the unfurled flag of Nonviolent Peaceforce blowing in the hot breezes of Sri Lankan bush . . .

We were all most graced by Lady Fortune to include all Karmic swirlings in the eddies of the Kosmos that no one was seriously injured.

Here we are on our R&R in Polonnaruwa overlooking the ancient and lovely Tank (lake) built in the 8th Century, Sreeram, Rita, Midori, Angela and Soraia. You can infer that I was, indeed, there behind the lens . . .

This lizard shared the glorious morning with us . . .

Okay, enuff for now -- I'll end with a resolution to blogpost more frequently rather than deluge you readers with infrequent gargantuan posts . . .

Should have some time this weekend up upload some more pics, particularly of some of the scenery including the ancient ruins of Polonnarawa I visited on my birthday, when I was gratefully able to serve as NurseButler to my injured Teamies and cogitations on the state of my Sri Lankan Journey; I also want to learn how to put links up here and maybe start the real interactive part of the blogiverse . . .

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Thirty-six years since I returned home from my first war experience. Seems like most of my life has been focused this time around on the theme of war. Herein follows a long prose poem written six years ago on with an Epilogue written last year, and a brief Epilogue written today . . .

April 4, 1998: Homecoming Anniversary

It's thirty years today since I returned to the U.S. from Vietnam, and I still sometimes mourn just as grievously now, as ever I did, for those who died there, not just the ones who died in battle -- that's almost expected. It's much more difficult to understand the passing of those from stupidity, or dumb accidents, or rotten luck, like the squad of grunts who died when their Chinook helicopter blew up just after lift-off because of being loaded with the wrong fuel. Or the MP at the front gate of the Qui Nhon Depot who was playing around with the girl-san, thinking his .45 was unloaded, and blew his face all over her because a round had been chambered. Or, the two guys in my platoon I had to write letters to their families about, saying how valiant and good men they were, even though they had stupidly killed themselves because they didn't attach the airbrakes to the S&P trailer filled with a couple of tons of plywood, so that when they slammed the brakes of the 5-ton tractor they were riding in, it stopped, but the load of plywood didn't, and they were cut clean in two, very messily. Not to mention, of course, the up to four million Southeast Asians, mostly civilian men, women and children. Thirty years today. Incredible. So far away in time and distance. Yet, mostly always here, just here, sometimes so damn close again, haunting me.

I left Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam very drunk still and hung over, probably blitzed as well from smoking too many Thai Sticks, opium laced joints, early in the morning of April 5, 1968. I don’t remember any of the details of getting up that morning, getting dressed, or getting to departure terminal and onto the chartered Tiger Airlines 707, but I vaguely have a trace memory of taxiing down a long runway in a pink-tinged dawn, seeing palms trees, parked F-4 Phantom jet fighters and the distant jungled and jagged ridge lines flashing by, followed quickly by a whooshing take-off, and seeing far down below the fading demarcation of land into the blue-green sparkle of the South China Sea.

I remember nothing of the transpacific journey. It’s gone, forever, a lost memory, unless some probing microbe reopens those tightly locked memory vaults.

I landed at Fort Lewis, Washington just before dawn on April 4, 1968, having crossed the international date line to gain back the day I lost the year before, living it again. Don't remember much, except it was lightly raining, and I was chilly in my rumpled khaki summer uniform. While eating my "Welcome Home" tough-and-greasy-steak with eggs breakfast, a Captain suggested I change into civvies before going to the Sea-Tac International Airport to book a flight to the D.C., less I be attacked and spurned by my college-aged peers. Incredulously, I followed his advice, changing into casual clothes in the men’s room of the mess hall before I got a taxi to Sea-Tac.

Luckily, I got a seat on a morning flight direct into National--it'll never be Reagan for me--Airport in Washington, D.C., which I was really psyched about. I had never flown into D.C. before, but in a drunken stupor one twilight, visiting my best high school buddy, John Albert, a student at Catholic University, I had gazed at planes landing at National Airport. I got a window seat on the left side, hoping the flight pattern would bring us in on the same approach, following the Potomac River over Georgetown, gliding right, then making that hard left over the Lincoln Memorial and Arlington Cemetery for the final approach into National Airport.

I don't remember much of the flight across country. I probably slept a lot, maybe read some, can't remember what, and drank. Of course, I drank as much as I could, which was a daily occurrence in those days. Mostly I remember being in an almost hallucinatory fog, very dissociated and removed from what was happening. It was difficult for me to truly believe I had survived Vietnam, including the Tet Offensive a couple of months earlier, when much of my reason for having volunteered to go to Vietnam was to die, but that's another story. It was also hard for me to fathom how radically my life had changed. A year ago, so far in time and distance away, it seemed, I had gotten married in Baltimore two days before I flew to ‘Nam, because Kathy, my casual girlfriend, now my mostly unknown wife, was pregnant. I was now "Coming Home" to a fledging family with Kathy and our 5-month-old daughter, Rebecca Cher.

Anyway, at dusk, about 6:00 p.m. D.C. time, the Captain announced that we were making our final approach into National, relating that we would see just what I had hoped we would see. I was so psyched, tears of awe and gratitude bursting forth from my flushed and over-imbibed countenance. With a rumbling thrill in my gut, I peered out the window and was able to detect the darker shadow of the Potomac River among the lengthening shadows of early evening. Shortly, the lights of suburban Virginia and Maryland, on either side, began to pack more tightly together, as steadily descending I could see the buildings and crisscrossed thoroughfares of Georgetown and D.C. merge into view. We made that sharp right bank, with the lights disappearing to become a silken light-fading-to-dark-blue sky with specks of starlight and a half-full moon rising on the far horizon. Then, right on cue, we made a banging-of-the-landing-gear-locking-into-position sharp left turn right over the top of the Lincoln Memorial, and as we leveled out, all of Washington was spread out before me.

There were the Reflecting Pools, the Washington Monument the Smithsonian Buildings, the Mall, the Capitol - - wait a minute, what the hell? I rubbed my eyes, peered out the window again, thought I was hallucinating or dreaming, was much drunker than I thought I was, became very frightened, couldn't believe what I was seeing. Fuck It! I had just left that scene two days almost and 15,000 miles ago! Why was Washington burning? Huge, dark, black, spumes of billowing smoke from, it looked like all of Washington behind the Capitol, burning, burning, burning brightly in angry orange-red yawing sheets of licking flame. I was stunned. Speechless. Dead inside. Numb. Don't mean nothing. Same as it ever was. Just live. Somehow just live, just be, just survive. We landed with a screeching of the tires on tarmac. I finished my drink, impatiently waiting for the plane to taxi to the gate, so I could get the hell out and light a Pall Mall and get another double scotch on the rocks and find out what the fuck was going on.

About 15 minutes later I was sitting, alone, in a bar with my duffel-bag, a lit cigarette and four-fingers of Johnny Walker Black, watching the news of the scenes of the aftermath of Martin Luther King's assassination in Memphis about three hours before I landed in D.C. Much of Washington, like many other ghetto areas in cities across our red, white & blue land, was burning from the keening rage of blacks taking our white-hate out in self-hate upon themselves.

“Welcome Home, Son.”

Yeah, right! Some homecoming. Welcome Home your freakin’ self . . .

April 4, 1998
Islip Hamlet, NY

Epilogue – April 4, 2003

Another five years is past today. 60 years old later this month. My life radically changed, reinventing myself in this desert town. I look out my office window at the Catalina Mountains, as shadows splay changing patterns of browns and reds and green-tinged tans across the wide expanse of blue horizon. There is a hint of sweet citrus blossom in the air. Pigeons and doves fly in swirling patterns amidst the swaying branches of palo verde and mesquite trees, desert Spring new green leafed. The calm air is split by screeching roars of circling F-18s and A-10s landing again and again and again and again at Davis Monthan Air Force Base.

I can’t escape the images of this latest illegal, illicit, immoral war, no different in our post-post-modern age, which flood the media, 24 by 7, a scillion slices of death from reporters, having their 15 seconds or so of sound-bited fame between slick commercials to boost corporate profits and promos for the “war-info-tainment”, the stories carefully spin-doctored and Madison-Ave managed from their video-phoned positions, imbedded – or is it “in bed with” --.military units on the hard and hallowed, shifting and mercurial sands of too much chaotic death and wanton destruction, experienced by those too young made too old too soon, and who shall never forget, like I never forget.

I struggle to gain some composure from a flood of intrusive recollections these images trigger, so different, yet so much the same; they mirror too exactly what lives with me daily in searing memory -- except my memories are from a long time ago, over 35 years in fact, and the names are very different, the recollections of the landscape and people and the horror from the jungle, not the desert. Nevertheless, the operative word is just the same: quagmire, one that we all shall be paying for in innumerable ways for a very long time.

I remember this quote from Thomas Jefferson, one of our founding fathers:
“Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.”

I end this thirty-five year anniversary Epilogue from the Homecoming of my war with a quote from Stan Goff, my latest favorite vet writer, a retired Special Forces Master Sergeant, who performed Special Ops in every armed conflict from Vietnam to Haiti as well as a lot of clandestine duty. He writes in a recent article about our recently concluded “victory” in Iraq, published on Michael Ruppert’s website From the Wilderness probably one of the best descriptions I’ve ever read of PTSD, the long-term aftermath of any war for any warrior:

Corpses have now become a familiar phenomenon for a new generation of US soldiers. Many will return now with their heads filled with corpses and their bodies filled with depleted uranium. They will have their moment of intoxicating adulation in public and the corpses will sneak up on them in private. Then the DU will sneak up on them.

Some people learn to live with corpses. Some learn to relish the freedom of killing and develop a taste for it. Perfect masculinity is sociopathic. A young Marine who had just killed a woman at a checkpoint said, matter of factly, "The chick was in the way." Gangster. Badass.

Others, as the transitory adulation fades, will sense the barrenness of their wounded psyches backlit by the barrenness of a decaying consumer culture, and their alienation will flower into addiction, psychosis, and suicide. And then will we see THEM as pathological.

As another veteran writer, Kurt Vonnegut, who survived the firebombing of Dresden as a POW notes, :And so it goes.” -- endlessly, I might add.

So, what to do, what to wish, what to be:

I choose
To pause

I watch
My breathing
In and out

I choose to forgive
Suspending judgment
Both that from before
As well as this now

I choose
To affirm
All is well
To believe
All is
How it is
For highest good
For everyone

Breathing out
Breathing in

I am
IT All

And so it is as it always was and shall forever be

April 4, 2003
Tucson, AZ
Sri Lankan Epilogue, April 4, 2004:

Another year has rolled around, and I am again in the middle of another country tenuously maintaining the peace after twenty years of a brutal Civil War. Not only has there been vicious guerrilla warfare between the two ethnicities of the Tamil minority under the sole power of the LTTE and the Sinhalese majority government Security Forces, but of late there has flashed openly a protracted internecine conflict between the Northern Leadership of the Tigers in the Wanni under the Supremo Commander Prabhakaran and the Eastern contingent in Batticola and Ampara under war hero Col. Kuruna, who broke with the Northern ranks several week.

The other day, when my teammate, Soraia, and I drove down to Vaalachchenai to visit the Batti team, we saw a Heavy Weapons Platoon, marching in rank with equipment, 120 mm mortars and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, along the very primitive A-15 semi-coastal highway in broad daylight, heading for the Verugal River boundry between the two LTTE forces. It chilled me to see again those young men, and several women, steadfastly marching in self-deluded glory toward a perhaps destiny to get the opportunity to die for their cause.

Just so sad as a species we have yet to fully grasp or respect the utter futility, the absolute stupidity of war . . .

Nevertheless, I am grateful that I am here in Sri Lanka able to serve as a peace warrior, to do what I can here on the ground in Trincomalee near the border between the two opposing guerrilla armies to live nonviolently, to do what I can to work for peace, to be present and willing, if necessary, to provide assistance to those here in Sri Lanka who are serving the needs of the common people who, if war breaks out between the two LTTE factions, will be caught in the crossfire. Always the innocent suffer most . . .

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