This Memorial Day, I’m setting aside my Quaker pacifism (briefly), to remember one of the most unique and valiant war veterans I know of.
Yeah, I’m talking about U.S. Army veteran Harriet Tubman.
Besides all her amazing exploits in the antebellum Underground Railroad (working very frequently with purportedly nonviolent Quakers), Tubman was no pacifist. And when the war broke out, she was eager to help the Union forces win it. After working with wounded soldiers, she also served as a scout and a spy behind enemy lines.
But she got her big chance after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation at the beginning of 1863.
In 1988 I wrote a substantial essay laying out my views about abortion, and describing how they had evolved over time. The piece also considered the increasing parallels, both rhetorical and political, between this struggle and the Civil War.
Thirty-plus years later, despite some continuing evolution and updates, much of the piece still seems relevant, not least the potential for civil strife.
(Author’s note from 1998 reprint: Many of the policy issues described in this essay still seem timely more than a decade later. Further, the personal journey it describes was an important part of my life, one not to be denied or concealed. It is also necessary background to the civil war scenarios that will also surface. . . . A much shortened version of the piece was published in The New Republic.)
The difference between Despair And Fear – Is like the One Between the instant of a Wreck And when the Wreck has been –
The Mind is smooth – no Motion Contented as the Eye Upon the Forehead of a Bust – That knows – it cannot see-
Biographers note that Emily Dickinson, who died on this date in 1886, was most productive in the first half of the 1860s. Secluded within the family home in Amherst, Massachusetts (except when tending the flower garden), she turned out hundreds of poems, mostly short, striking, often astonishing — but unnoticed by the outside world; her fame came after her death, which was likely okay with her. Continue reading Emily Dickinson: An Epitaph for Today→
On Monday March 4, I visited the Johnston County NC County Commission.
I’ve been there many times, since 2006. Whenever I spoke, I raised the issue of the Johnston County Airport being home to “torture taxis” through a CIA front company based there, Aero Contractors.(More details here.) I regularly urged them to investigate the company, because involvement in torture is already against U.S. federal law, and international law as well. (They listened, but haven’t acted yet.)
There have been anti-torture protests at this airport since 2005. They continue, even though the “War On Terror” is supposedly over (replaced, of course, by theEndless-String-of-Bloody-“Little”-Mostly-Secret-Wars). One effect of this shift is that the CIA front company is not only still there, it’s grown, and upgraded its security by several levels of paranoia. In the era of endless war, business for Aero Contractors is still good.
Over thirteen years, I’ve been part of many, maybe most of the protests there. So the County Commissioners were doubtless not surprised to see me in their chamber Monday evening. That’s because the Commission has a “free speech” period before they begin work on their formal agenda, when anyone can address them, for several minutes, on whatever is on their minds.
[Above: Chuck Fager speaking to the Johnston County Commission, January 2019.]
Much of what we’ve published in the journal Quaker Theology has been about people, mostly Quakers, past and present. This may be unusual in theological journals, but Quakerism is very much a lived religion, embodied in people, their witness, and their thought.
[The first 32 issues of Quaker Theology are all online here [www.quakertheology.org], available to all in searchable form. The 20th Anniversaryissue, #33, is now ready at Amazon (https://tinyurl.com/y26gmlbj ), and will be on the web soon. ]
Theology is about more than persons, though; it also deals with ideas. And while theological notions are often arcane and tedious, some can be startling, even shocking. At least several times in this effort they have shocked this editor. Many of these shocks came from reading and reviewing books. (It does help if a theologian is something of a book nerd.)
For instance, the most acute critique of the reigning ideology of permanent war that has possessed America’s rulers since at least 2001came to my desk not from a liberal or left-winger, but from their polar opposite, a strict evangelical-fundamentalist and libertarian named Laurence M. Vance.
So we’re hearing some complaints about sniping back & forth between “theists” and “non-theists in some liberal Friends meetings. I have some thoughts on that. Kind of a long read . . . .
Let me work up to them with a story, going back to the turn of the years 1990 into 1991. I was working for the Post Office, as a Mailhander, in the Virginia suburbs of Washington DC. I mainly shuffled bundles and sacks of mail back and forth across the floor of a facility about a quarter of a mile long. It processed several million pieces of mail every day. In those years, I had real calluses on my hands, and a lot fewer pounds around the middle.
I was also surrounded by veterans there, mostly from the Vietnam era, who had preference in Post Office hiring. We weren’t very familiar with the phrase PTSD then, but it was all around me. I felt a lot of solidarity with them, though I didn’t know how to express it. I was an Anti-Vietnam veteran, had protested one way and another all through those years, and bore my own set of scars from it.
November & December at the Post Office were always hectic: Christmas meant a continuing flood of packages, mandatory overtime, and running us off our feet. But the year 1990 brought a big additional burden of stress: the buildup to the First Gulf War, what’s known as Desert Storm, was in full swing.
I’m starting these reflections with a war story, not because I like war stories, but as part of my own grappling with the fact that when I look back over my 76 years, my life as an American and a Quaker has been dominated by war.
Big wars, punctuated by smaller and more secret wars, and then periods of tension and preparations for more war. I’m not sure that many Americans, and Quakers, really take adequate account of that over-arching reality: any American my age and younger has lived in a militarized, war-making country all our lives. And that reality doesn’t appear to be changing much today.
Anyway, I remember when the Gulf War buildup started, in late summer 1990, when the first president George Bush learned that Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait, next door. My memory of Bush is that he was riding in the presidential golf cart, and pulled it to a stop where some news cameras were clustered, and said, “This will not stand. This will not stand.” (Actually, an old video shows him saying that after stepping out of the presidential helicopter. At least I got the words right.)
“It has been fashionable for a while now to place McCain somehow above politics; the “maverick” thing was based on a sparse list of examples. There was the campaign finance law that he championed with Russ Feingold, a law that lies now in ruins because of judges for whom John McCain loyally voted. He campaigned vigorously to give the president a line-item veto until a Supreme Court led by William Rehnquist explained forcefully that such a measure was hilariously unconstitutional. He thoroughly supported Reagan’s adventurism in Central America, was a protege of Henry Kissinger, got snagged in the Keating 5 corruption and became a campaign-finance reformer only after skating on that episode more cleanly than the other four miscreants, one of whom was John Glenn. He was a reliable Republican vote on every nomination and every policy that evidenced the Republican Party’s slow slide into madness and chaos and he was unable and not a talented enough politician to stop it.
In the Ken Burns Vietnam documentary, there’s an episode which is called “Things Fall Apart.” It appears to center on an incident of violence during the January, 1968 Tet Offensive that produced one of the most unforgettable images of the war. This image still produces intense reactions. Indeed, this photo was back on the front pages after that Ken Burns episode.
And I have something to say about that.
Not commentary, exactly, or film criticism. More of a footnote. A real-life footnote. It’s not in Burns’s documentary, and I’ve changed a name or two. But what follows is as true as when I lived it. I’ve called it “The Secret Life of Pizza,”and the connection to Vietnam will be clear enough in short order.
Yet they usually are not prefaced by what I think is the store of ancient Chinese wisdom that explains them all, namely, these quotes from Sun Tzu, in his classic text, The Art of War. (As it’s more than 2000 years old, it’s easy to find The Art of War online, complete & free. Here’s one edition.
I’m told Chinese strategists & planners treat it like the Bible, and I believe it. But good news for interested newcomers: it’s a whole lot shorter than the Western Bible.) Here’s a key quote:
“Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting. . . . In all fighting, the direct method may be used for joining battle, but indirect methods will be needed in order to secure victory. . . .
Now to the New York Times:
“Fears are growing that China is using its overseas spending spree to gain footholds in some of the world’s most strategic places, and perhaps even deliberately luring vulnerable nations into debt traps to increase China’s dominion as the United States’ influence fades in the developing world.
“The Chinese must have been thinking, ‘We can pick things up for cheap here,’” said Khor Yu Leng, a Malaysian political economist who has been researching China’s investments in Southeast Asia. “They’ve got enough patient capital to play the long game, wait for the local boys to overextend and then come in and take all that equity for China.”
NOTE: “The long game.”Such campaigns take awhile, But it sure looks to me like this one is working: bit by bit, billion (yuan) by billion, without “war,” but to the same end. Yet why have I not seen the pundits and the poohbahs taking account of these concepts? Sun Tzu said that such understanding makes a crucial difference:
Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle. . . .
Therefore the skillful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field. With his forces intact he will dispute the mastery of the Empire, and thus, without losing a man, his triumph will be complete.This is the method of attacking by stratagem . . . .”
Back to The Times:
KUANTAN, Malaysia — In the world’s most vital maritime chokepoint, through which much of Asian trade passes, a Chinese power company is investing in a deepwater port large enough to host an aircraft carrier. Another state-owned Chinese company is revamping a harbor along the fiercely contested South China Sea.
Nearby, a rail network mostly financed by a Chinese government bank is being built to speed Chinese goods along a new Silk Road. And a Chinese developer is creating four artificial islands that could become home to nearly three-quarters of a million people and are being heavily marketed to Chinese citizens.
Each of these projects is being built in Malaysia, a Southeast Asian democracy at the heart of China’s effort to gain global influence.
But where Malaysia once led the pack in courting Chinese investment, it is now on the front edge of a new phenomenon: a pushback against Beijing as nations fear becoming overly indebted for projects that are neither viable nor necessary — except in their strategic value to China or use in propping up friendly strongmen. . . .”
NOTE: Malaysia is far away from me, here in North Carolina. So let’s add one more example, closer to home, and down home in initial ambiance:
The Smithfield Packing Company has its main meat processing plant in Tar Heel NC, a hamlet just off Interstate 95 near Fayetteville.
This photo hardly does justice to the ginormous megascale of the operation. The plant covers 973,000 square feet. Inside it approximately 32,000 hogs per day are slaughtered and processed, more than 3-million plus per year. It’s credibly reputed to be the largest hog slaughterhouse in the world.
That’s a heck of a lot of bacon. And it’s owned by a Chinese company, the WH Group, which snapped it up in 2013 for a mere $4-plus billion.
There could be many more examples, inside & outside the U.S.
Now, I admit I’m not an expert on China, or big time strategy, or even Sun Tzu. But I know what I know, and see what I see.
And I see, too many Americans are lost in their social media underbrush, or haggling over a narcissist’s ignorant tweets. Also in the meantime, a longtime pork belly fan like myself is blithely crunching the crispy rashers. And even I hardly ever remember these punch line paragraphs from this old wise guy:
Sun Tzu: Indirect tactics, efficiently applied, are inexhaustible as Heaven and Earth, unending as the flow of rivers and streams; like the sun and moon, they end but to begin anew; like the four seasons, they pass away to return once more.
There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard.
There are not more than five primary colors (blue, yellow, red, white, and black), yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever been seen.
There are not more than five cardinal tastes (sour, acrid, salt, sweet, bitter), yet combinations of them yield more flavors than can ever be tasted.
In battle, there are not more than two methods of attack–the direct and the indirect; yet these two in combination give rise to an endless series of maneuvers.
And when the showdown suddenly comes (either in the Oval Office or at my favorite diner), I figure it will happen like this: “Your bacon, or your Bill of Rights. (Oh, by the way, your grandchildren will now be required to learn Chinese).”
Then, what am I (or they) going to say?
I’d say, “But wait; aren’t we supposed to have a war about this first?”
The reply will come with a condescending smile: “We already did. And you lost.
Here’s your new flag.”