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“Agitated with pain”

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In conversation with my spouse this weekend, I came up with the word for what I have been feeling.

Distraught: “agitated with doubt or mental conflict or pain” (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary).

Mainly the pain part.

Nearly fifty years ago, when I was wearing my Another Mother for Peace medallion to work every day, writing my antiwar letters to periodicals, and sending cheerful chatty letters and care packages to the guys I knew who were in Vietnam, I thought that Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon were the worst mainstream presidential candidates I would ever see. Now I can only wish that the Republicans would once again give us someone as decent and intelligent.

In my worst nightmares or my wildest imaginings, I did not foresee, could not have foreseen, that nearly half a century later a mainstream presidential candidate–the frontrunner!–would feel free to publicly make racist remarks about Mexicans, Muslims, African Americans, that he would speak favorably of identity badges for members of a religious group and of torture as a tool. That a physician candidate, a highly educated surgeon, would spout anti-scientific nonsense. That a candidate who is the son of an immigrant who fled a repressive regime would oppose allowing in refugees fleeing oppression and war.

How have we come to this? My younger self, who thought my generation (at least parts of it) would lead us to a better world for everyone, who thought that by the time I was almost 70 the U.S. would be living up to the best ideals of every generation from the founders forward, simply could not have believed that we would come to this. I could not have accepted that we would have learned nothing, nothing, from history.

I remember that somewhere in the intervening years, a friend, in speaking of Nazi Germany, challenged me: “You think it can’t happen here.”

“No,” I said. “Not it can’t, but it won’t. We have seen, we have learned.”

And so I am distraught.

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Remembering My Lai

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With the U.S. government attempting to put a better spin on the Vietnam War, it’s more important than ever to remember what really happened.

I remember the reactions of ordinary Americans, like my parents, when news of the My Lai massacre started reaching the public. They simply didn’t believe it; American soldiers, the good guys, their sons and brothers and husbands, fighting the dirty Commies, would never do such things.

I thought it was true as soon as I heard about it. It didn’t shock me or even surprise me. All these years later, I have no idea why I had such a clear idea of what war is, of what it does to people. Maybe it was that I had always read so much about so many things. Maybe I simply had a more unblinkered view of human behavior than many people, even those much older than I was. I don’t know.

Most humans, once you convince them someone is the enemy, seem to lose any ability to see that someone as a fellow human, with their own family, friends, home, hopes, desires, fears, needs. And some humans want power, or land, or oil, whatever, so much that they convince themselves that someone is the enemy, in order to justify doing anything they need to do (and even things they need not do) to get what they want. Then they convince others to follow them. Or force others to follow them.

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Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

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