Intervention in Syria

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Many people seem to be condemning President Obama because he’s hesitant about intervening in Syria. There was an op-ed in the local paper by a Syrian woman who now lives in the USA. She wants our country to intervene, and that’s understandable. Bashar al Assad is not a good leader by any standard, and she has friends and family there. I sympathize with her, but still don’t think it’s a good idea.
And to me, that’s the bottom line. As clumsy as Obama may have been, he hasn’t involved us in an Asian war, and I believe he ought to think long and hard before he does.
His predecessor didn’t hesitate, but once we were in two wars he didn’t know how to get us out of them. We lost a lot of respect in the Middle East because of those wars and how we mis-managed them. Do we really need to do that again?
The lady mentioned above said that the rebels were pledged to create a pluralistic society. Pledges, unfortunately, can be broken. There are a lot of hatreds in the Middle East that go back a long way. Can we be so confident that we can heal them? And through war?
A commentator on NPR said that most of the rebels are main-stream Sunnis. Sunnis, he said, don’t care for Alawites (a Muslim sect) anyway, and especially because Assad is one, and so are his closest supporters. They also don’t care much for Christians or Kurds, also large minorities in Syria. So how convinced can we be that whatever regime follows Assad’s will be any better?
Several decades ago Idi Amin got a lot of publicity for the atrocities he committed in Uganda. Eventually he was forced out, and was given asylum, I think in Saudi Arabia. And if I remember correctly, he died there.
What DIDN’T get a lot of publicity (which I happened to learn only much later) was that his successor committed atrocities just as bad. Regime change is no gurantee of improvement.
The criticism of Obama is that he’s appeared to be waffling on the issue. Certainly he could have handled it better, but the alternative presented in the pieces I read is to not only bomb Syrian government troops and supplies, but to send in infantry.
I agree that its in our interest to discourage chemical warfare, but is this the best way to do it? If someone need intervene militarily, need it be the United States? Are we not yet hated enough in the Middle East?
And are there no other alternatives? That’s the other question. Perhaps Putin’s initiative to induce the Syrians to voluntarily give up these weapons isn’t adequate, but it’s not violent either. If someone does want a violent solution, a friend suggested assassinating Assad. That’s not a solution I’m entirely easy with either, but it has the virtue of not directly causing any further civilian casualties, as war does. Assad is the one responsible; let him pay.
Meanwhile, we have our own house to put in order, and I don’t think we gain much respect from the world by telling others how to manage their countries. We can spend a lot of money that way, and make several corporations rich when they supply our soldiers, but how much do we actually gain? Can we say that Iraq and Afghanistan are better for our intervention? I don’t think we can, if we’re honest.
A lot of our soldiers are certainly not better off. We may not have had a great many killed, but many have been maimed, physically and psychologically. How does THAT benefit our country?
And how has it benefited the citizens of Afghanistan and Iraq? In Afghanistan the Taliban is still around, and the supposedly legitimate government we installed isn’t clearly superior to them. We can’t force the Afghans to have good government.
Nor can we force the Iraqis. Now that Saddam Hussein is no longer preventing it (nor are we) the Sunnis and Shiites seem to be warring against each other. We may not consider that a good idea, but how do we convince them?
And if we thought Iraq was connected with the 9/11 attacks (there has never been evidence of that), surely they’ve paid for that with over 100,000 civilians dead, against something over 3,000 in the Twin Towers complex.
So the question is what would ANYBODY gain if we invaded Syria? I believe that neither we nor the Syrians would gain anything useful. Many more Syrians would die, and so would US troops.
I don’t know if anything or anyone can stop the Syrian civil war. That’s unfortunate. but I also don’t think our country ought to try, at least militarily. I don’t think we’d benefit, and more important, I don’t think the Syrians would either.

Honor’s Voice

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I have tardily become interested in the American Civil War. I always found American history courses boring when I was in what is now called middle school. Like I wasn’t connected to it, or something. Later on I started paying more attention to politics, and began to realize that current politics is still very connected to what happened then.
I read a two volume history of the politics leading up to the Civil War, which was pretty complicated, but interesting too. One thing I took away from that was that the two parts of the country fought without either really knowing why. Each accused the other of aggression, everyone knew it had something to do with slavery, but it was still such a gigantic event that it could be interpreted in many ways. Some thought Abraham Lincoln a tyrant then, and some still do. One interpretation I’ve read of why Lincoln started the war, rather than let the South break away, is that he believed in the Union, and thought no state should be allowed to break away from it. Perhaps a mystical sort of idea, and it caused a lot of blood to be spilled, but the tensions had been building up since the American Revolution, if not longer. War would have happened anyway, I think. The obvious causes of war are often not the real ones.
Recently I read a biography of Robert E. Lee, who I think had some qualities in common with Lincoln. He too never descended into hatred and bitterness, and did his duty as he saw it. He got some enjoyment out of it too, being able to reach his potential as a soldier, but he wasn’t joyful all the time.
So one of my questions was, how did Abraham lincoln come to be so important that his election as President became the tipping point that began the war? Was the reason for his behavior as simple as belief in the Union? Did other factors enter in? In the North at least, Lincoln is seen as a sort of secular saint. Was this true?
Douglas L. Wilson, in Honor’s Voice, telling of Lincoln’s life from 1831, when he was 22, to 1842, depicts him as a person with some good qualities, but hardly a saint. He had been born in Kentucky, moved with his parents to Indiana when young, where his mother had died when he was just a boy, then left his father to move to Illinois. He was ambitious, and his father wasn’t very sympathetic, so he left his father behind.
His ambition wasn’t clearly defined at that time. He wanted to achieve distinction, but doesn’t seem to have been sure how to do so. He probably entered politics relatively young because that seemed to be a way to achieve something.
He found he had some talent for that line of work. He was a good speaker, able to sway people, and began learning how to organize politically and pass legislation. He did some pretty questionable things, though. One of these was writing anonymous articles about politicians, and one of these led him almost into a duel.
He had written about a politician who was an Irish immigrant, and was trying to rise in the world, as Lincoln also was. He couldn’t allow Lincoln or anyone else to say nasty things about him, because it would detract from his honor. Lincoln apologized, saying he hadn’t intended to make personal attacks, and his friends with the Irish politicians friends decided that was good enough to prevent the duel. It may seem that this was Lincoln’s way of getting out of the situation, but he seems to have recognized that he and the politician were much alike, and that his behavior had been unjust. This made him consider what behavior he thought honorable, and whether he wished to be honorable himself. He decided he did.
One of Lincoln’s deep qualities was compassion. He tried to help both animals and people, and didn’t want to cause pain to anyone, though that was impossible to completely avoid.
So when he became interested in Mary Todd, leading her to believe that they were engaged, though he may not have felt that way, and then backing out of the relationship because he had met someone he found more attractive, he became conscience-stricken because he had deeply hurt Mary Todd. He told his best friend that he had lost the best aspect of his personality, and couldn’t trust himself to do anything important until he had regained it. He regained it by marrying Mary Todd, realizing that in some respects they didn’t really suit each other, but feeling that this was something he had to do. In so doing he became a stronger man for having refused to fall into hatred and resentment, and having resolved to suffer in order to avoid another person suffering because of his actions.
Mary Todd wasn’t the easiest person to live with. Her family had been wealthy, so she’d probably been somewhat spoiled. She also had a temper, and could say cutting things. When she was feeling upset she also liked to spend money, in which she and Lincoln were very different. He was willing for his distinction to include wealth, especially to support his family, but he seems not to have been much concerned about it otherwise. He never made much money before he married, though he had studied law and practiced it a little. He had been too busy with political activities, but once he married money-making became more important.
I know little about his life between 1842 and the beginning of the Civil War, and not a great deal more about his life during the war. I do intend to find out more, though. Great men tend to be somewhat inscrutable: what they do can lend itself to a variety of interpretations. For that reason there have been a tremendous number of biographies of Lincoln, as also about Adolph Hitler. Their actions on the world stage were so large as to fascinate, and often to defy understanding.
In the last chapter of the book Wilson asks how the more mature Lincoln, after his marriage, differed from the younger man. Some of the differences he saw were that Lincoln became more grave and self-absorbed. He continued to enjoy joking and telling stories, but didn’t seem as carefree–understandably enough, since he’d become a husband and father and had more responsibility than before.
Wilson says that he also had greater resolve than before. He had regained his moral compass, and knew that he could make a decision and stick to it. Not that his decisions were easy, but Wilson quotes his wife Mary as saying that when he got a certain expression on his face there was no use arguing further with him. His resolution was one of his essential qualities as President during the Civil War, when he was subject to tremendous pressure from all sides. He was able to steer a course without capitulating to any pressures.
Perhaps the most important thing his marriage had brought him was suffering. He had decided to suffer through a marriage that didn’t entirely suit him, which I suspect enhanced the compassion he already possessed. And that helped prevent him from descending into bitterness and hatred, as so many others in the country did during and after the war.
We’ll never know how he would have handled Reconstruction during his second term. One author thinks he would have done much of what was done anyway, that he intended to be severe enough to prevent the power structure in the South from retaining power after the war. Much the same people did retain power, and the attitudes of the South changed little for over a century.
But had Lincoln been leading the country, dare we think that things might have turned out better? Had he demonstrated his lack of malice and his charity, might not both North and South have noticed, and at least some tried to follow his example? Unfortunately, that’s something we’ll never know.

Fear

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Specters haunt us. There are gigantic shadows that cut off light. Shadows like freedom, slavery, race, religion, politics. They’re real things, but assume meanings frightening and personal to us that make inner and outer world dark and menacing places. Do we meet them gracefully, or do we meet them with fear? Many of us react with fear, striking out at perceived threats. Sometimes with violence too.
Homosexuality is one such threat. In Minnesota, in the very district that Michele Bachman represents, some nine teenagers committed suicide because of bullying within two years or less. They were bullied because they were perceived as gay, whether they were or not. The parents of the bullies didn’t stop them. Perhaps they even approved. Why, exactly?
Homosexuality is something that has been condemned in many human cultures, but not in all. When I was entering my teens I hardly knew what sexuality was, let alone the variety of mani-festations it took. But I saw even then that the very word was sinister with connotation, even if I didn’t understand what those connotations were. I felt some fear of it then, and that fear never entirely went away, but I was able to reason through it, and experience taught me that it was no particular threat to me. It seems to remain a threat to many, though. People organize against it, write and speak diatribes against it, and sometimes even kill those they suspect or know to practice it. But homosexuality isn’t alone among spectral threats.
Communism has been a similar word, and the reality of Communism, as practiced in a number of nations around the world has justified the fear. But not entirely. The image of Communism also absorbs other fears. Therefore civil rights get denounced as being Communist-inspired, notwithstanding that our forefathers rebelled against Great Britain in the name of civil rights, though that wasn’t the name they used.
Labor unions have also been been denounced as Communist, as if working-class people ought to have no rights. Socialized medicine is another, and never mind that it provides healthcare to all citizens and, in countries of comparable development to ours, frequently provides services more cheaply and efficiently than here. To call it socialism is to call it evil, since socialism and communism are related. Never mind, again, that the National Football League practices a form of socialism, in that each team receives equal revenues, which most use to be more competitive, something supposed to be prohibited by socialism.
As there are evil specters, so are there specters that we’re supposed to unquestioningly accept as good. Christianity is supposed to be unqualifiedly good, and many still grieve for the end of public prayer in schools. Of course these same people would never stand for Islamic public prayer in our schools, since Islam is supposed to be an evil religion. The two specters are opposed, though they grew from the same root. Both have done good, both have committed horrible crimes. We expect God to see us as good, and anyone we consider our enemies to be evil. But God, if the concept of him (or her) means anything, has a wider and deeper perspective than we do. OUR personal God (our concept of him) is not the same as the reality, which few of us ever experience. In some people’s concepts of God, I’m probably going to Hell. In my concept, God considers us all his children, even (and perhaps especially) those who have gone grievously wrong.
Capitalism is another specter, which many wish us to believe is unqualifiedly good. Communism arose as the opponent of Capitalism, its devil-figure, as Capitalism is the devil-figure of Communism. Capitalism is usually conflated with Democracy, to promise equality. So does Communism. Neither deliver. Power is always the property of an elite class, whether it’s the leadership cadre of the Communist party or the relatively closed society of the very rich. But where Capitalism rules, it’s treason to question it; the opposite true in last century’s Communism.
Recently there was a supposed Million Man Muslim march here in the USA. I don’t know what it was supposed to be about, but very few showed up for it. I happened on a page where people were writing about it, and found a letter, passed on by someone other than the writer, supposedly by an ex-Marine, who said Obama’s reelection had destroyed the America of Norman Rockwell, and it would require fanaticism to get it back.
That’s the voice of fear, the voice that believes the propaganda about “subversives” who seek to destroy America and all the good it’s done. Who HATE America even. It’s the voice of someone who identifies with a particular picture of America, and is unwilling to look at the whole picture.
What is wrong with the picture Norman Rockwell drew? I don’t think it’s a BAD picture. It’s illustrations of human nature, done by someone who loves people, and loves to laugh at both their harmless foolishness and their amusing pretensions. Is there anything wrong with that? Well, I don’t remember him portraying anyone but white people, and America takes in a lot more than just them. Rockwell chose not to paint horrifyingly serious subjects (at least that I’ve seen), in favor of a world that is secure and confident. He had a right to his choice, but it’s an incomplete picture, and the rest of that picture haunts us.
Will we be able to recover the world his pictures showed through fanaticism? This past century should be enough to answer that question: No, fanaticism only succeeds through conquest, and Rockwell’s pictures are of people living ordinary lives in a world where the most serious fears are of embarrass-ment, as when a boy summons up the courage to ask a girl out. Rockwell doesn’t depict the foundations of the world he portrays: the struggles by radicals for political liberty, the struggles of slaves to be free, the killing and deportation of Indians so we Europeans could have their land. His pictures aren’t even triumphant, because they show no consciousness of the struggle for conquest and control.
Rockwell’s pictures look like heaven, and we know we’re not living there. How ironic to think that the time he lived through was at least as tumultuous as our present time: two World Wars, the Great Depression, and the Civil Rights Movement.
After reading the above, I took a moment to look Rockwell up in Wikipedia, and found that my picture of him wasn’t entirely correct. One of his pictures shows a tiny black girl surrounded by four big white men on her way to integrate an elementary school. They are seen from the view of the audience, and the wall behind them has NIGGER written on it, and a tomato lies on the sidewalk beside them, evidently thrown by someone. Interestingly enough, Rockwell ended his long association with the Saturday Evening Post because they wouldn’t allow him to address political subjects. That was in 1959, and he lived almost twenty more years.
And suppose Rockwell had painted the audience who watched the black girl going to school. What would they have looked like? I suspect much like a painting by one of the Dutch masters (perhaps Breughel) who painted a view of the crowd surrounding Jesus’ crucifiction, angry and hysterical. An explosion of violence indicting those who exploded, for cruelty and abuse towards even the least of these.
That doesn’t seem to be within the purview of the man yearning for Norman Rockwell’s America. Something must be missing in his life, something he can’t seem to find in the present, that he seeks in the idealized past.
Irony again: Rockwell was treated for awhile by the famous psychiatrist Eric Ericsson, who reportedly told him that he didn’t live in the world he painted. Apparently something was missing in his life too.
Maybe many, even most of us do the same. Look for some ideal in the imagined past or imagined future, strive for that, and sometimes denounce anyone who doesn’t share our vision.
The man has already picked out the villains who, in his view, are destroying the country, and all the things that white Christian men have done here. Having closed his mind and called for no cooperation with the forces he thinks evil, he wouldn’t be able to understand that the world Rockwell painted had at least part of its foundation in genocide, robbery and slavery. This country was never only about white people. They were the ones who had the power, and some the things they did were good, with hopeful implications for all. But they also chose who to include and who to exclude. The American Dream was always a powerful one, but many wanted to reserve it for themselves, believing that somehow they’d be the losers if it applied to everybody.
There’s always been fear in this country, as you can tell by the crimes committed in its name. Wars against the Indians, between the states, slavery, segregation, all had their roots in fear. Later on Communism and Islam became specters too, useful for political control.
And the fear only seemed to grow after World War II, when wealth was more evenly shared in this country than ever before, while American secretly became an international predator, to preserve our unprecedented lifestyle, and make America fat. Fat people have more to lose than people genuinely hungry, and more unreal fers living in a usually comfortable world that sometimes seems surrounded by absolutely evil barbarians.
They have plenty of people telling them who to hate, and they obey. The world they can touch is much smaller than the world they hear about on the news, which is much further removed, and which can exercise blind power over their lives. The fight they’re told about is about which elite will have control. Each elite idealistic and good, in its own eyes, and darkest evil in the eyes of those who disagree.
It comes down to whose propaganda you believe.
There are certainly things to fear, in a rational way, but a lot of leaders don’t want their followers rational. Those too rational will make their own decisions, and won’t be stampeded.
I think many of us, perhaps most, know this subliminally, but it’s too threatening to admit. We fear fanatics, but fear not to be fanatics ourselves. We fear to cooperate with what we consider evil, and then fear to cooperate at all with anyone different from us. If all men are brothers, would you want them to marry your sister? Brotherhood then becomes sinister, though we ARE all brothers and sisters: not only all human beings, but all living things, connected by the web we now call the biosphere, which determines that if we don’t all cooperate according to nature’s law, we will not survive.
That leaves us some latitude, but not a lot of time to become wise, if we would avoid the consequences of breaking nature’s laws. Hatred may best be seen as a luxury we can no longer afford, if we intend to survive.

A Lack of Imagination

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The world is full of hatred, as it always has been, but it’s also filled with more effective and sophisticated weapons than before, a bad combination. That means there’s also plenty of violence.
I don’t have enough insight about other countries, but I think the difference in hatred there is mostly due to local details. I doubt the quality differs much. I also think hatred is usually caused by fear, and that fear is often caused by a failure of imagination. We can never know exactly how others feel, but if we know their backgrounds we can make fairly obvious guesses as to how we’d feel if we experienced their suffering.
We whites, for instance, might try to imagine how we’d feel if we were regularly stopped by the police, only because we were white. The guilty flee when no one pursueth, but if you’re black or Latino, it might make sense to flee when you see a policeman, since you may get treated badly whether the policeman has probable cause or not.
Black men used to get lynched when any white accused them of raping a white woman, or just looking at her funny. Recently some young black men killed an elderly white man just because he was white. That’s no less despicable, of course, but historically the shoe has usually been on the other foot. And the horror of black men raping a white woman, I recently realized, is really the horror of white men raping black women, and a desperate desire to avoid the consequences of that. The differing shades of black Americans testifies that such rape often happened in the past, but little was said about it since white men could protect themselves and black men couldn’t.
Blacks also have higher rates of diabetes and hypertension (leading to strokes and heart attacks) than whites. Part of that is probably diet. I’ve theorized for a long time, though, that at least part of it has to do with the humiliation blacks have had to swallow without being allowed to say or do anything about it.
Blacks have been called inferior a long time, but many have proven this untrue in every generation. Michael Savage, the conservative talkshow host, when I used to listen to him, was still angry some 30-35 years after having lost a job because of Affirmative Action. He lacked the sophistication and imagination to to realize that affirmative action had existed before the 1970s. It was called segregation, and guaranteed that few blacks would get good jobs no matter how qualified they were.
Lack of imagination also plays a role in hatred of homosexuality, as we’ve seen recently in the Roanoke, VA Times, where several people have written to denounce it in recent months.
Since hatred is based on fear, what is it people are so afraid of? That they might be tempted to indulge in homosexual acts? I’ve had gay friends most of my life, but have never been interested in performing such acts myself, and I suspect that’s true of most heterosexuals.
There are also the statements of many gay people that they felt different from most people as far back as they can remember, leading me to believe that for most people orientation is not a choice. For those for whom it is, a good number have historically had children the old-fashioned way, and not just through sperm donation or adoption. I don’t know if such children have more conflicts than other people. Plenty of people have unhappy childhoods without homosexuality being invovled.
It seems that some people just reflexively hate anyone unlike them, whether that has to do with skin color, sexuality, religious belief or nationality (some of the most common group hatreds).
The solution to these problems, though not an easy one, is what Jesus proposed: Love your neighbors as yourself, and Love your enemies. To love either you have to begin by understanding them, and yourself too: First, why do you hate them? If they’re actively persecuting you, that’s easy to understand, but if you or your representatives are doing the persecuting, or if the situation is ambiguous, you may have to dig deeper, and that can be unpleasant.
Culture can also be a cause of friction. Black Africans and Native Americans had very different cultures from the whites they encountered, and many whites were quick to assume their own customs were God’s will, and those of other cultures Satanic.
I recall reading that the well-known philosopher John Wayne said it was perfectly okay to take our land from the Indians because they weren’t doing anything with it. I suspect if I took John Wayne’s property because I disapproved of how he used it, Communist would be the least of the names he’d call me.
And then there’s the mutual fear and distrust between men and women, to which women are generally more vulnerable because they’re usually smaller and not as physically strong as men. And they have what most men want: their sexuality. Many men resent that power, which some women, maybe even most, are quite willing to use. That resentment can turn deadly, whether you’re talking abuse or murder. Some women abuse men, but less often physically. Women can nag, be contemptuous or manipulative, sometimes triggering physical violence, sometimes not.
Some people dislike the politics of an individual or group playing victim. That’s a place to be careful, since some really ARE victims, while some merely use that as a manipulative device. Accurate analysis becomes more difficult when ideology takes advantage of differences in pursuit of political power. And those who feel victimized by politics are likely to return the compliment. Often the reason for they feel victimized is not only because they feel disrespected, but also for reasons of power. They feel they don’t have enough, or that their power is being taken away.
Then we have to ask how much power does anyone deserve to have over others? Some powerful people feel obligated to help protect those less powerful, but many don’t. And many resent the idea that they should. That’s one of the roots of the popularity of the ideas of Ayn Rand: the “producers” shouldn’t have to feel concern about anyone else. Not the public who consume their unhealthy products, or who have to live with their unsafe methods of extracting petroleum or metals, or who have to pay when the “producers” lose their bets and get bailed out by the government. Nor need they concern themselves about their workers, whom they don’t pay enough to live on, let alone the children of their workers who consequently remain trapped in poverty.
It’s very convenient not to have to care, and being a predator seems like it might be quite an exciting life. But some of that excitement may come when the predator is slowing down, and beginning to be destroyed by other younger, smarter and quicker predators. That might be exciting, but I suspect the experience of being an actual victim might be somewhat less than pleasant. But when profit is the only ethic, the life of a predator will continue to be popular.
And it’s both easy and convenient to blame the poor (most of who are dark-skinned anyway, and therefore inferior) for not wanting to work, even though businesses have been removing jobs from communities across the country for generations for fear of having to pay their workers too much. The mantra of the self-made millionaire or billionaire is, “If I can do it, anyone can.” Really? Perhaps they give themselves too little credit, or perhaps they simply don’t want to help anyone but themselves. A friend told me that every really successful person he’d met had told him they’d been lucky.
Naturally everyone would like to be lucky, and to arrange that they continue to be lucky. Although competition is a holy word to those capitalistically inclined, John Kenneth Galbraith remarked that capitalists have spent a great deal of time and effort in ELIMINATING competition. That indicates that competition is an abstract thing that few really practice or believe in. They want to compete successfully, but want no one to be successful competing against THEM. It’s a buzzword, meant to elicit a particular response.
The opposite buzzword to competition, the free market and capitalism is socialism. If the previous are “holy” buzzwords, the latter is Satanic, in much current political-speak. Few seem to notice that the National Football League has made quite a good thing out of socialism. Revenues are shared equally between teams, which enables weak teams to become strong relatively quickly. The opposite is true in baseball, where each team receives a certain amount from the TV contracts applying to the whole league, but are free to arrange their own local TV contracts and other revenue streams. This arrangement favors the teams in big cities like New York and Los Angeles, at the expense of smaller markets like Milwaukee, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, etc. The latter two teams happen to be competitive this year, but it’s been a long time since they last were. It’s true that the Chicago teams aren’t that good, but even with the population advantage good management is necessary, and the wealthiest teams have no monopoly on that.
So when politicians try to get people upset about “socialized” medicine, they have no intention of having them compare that model with the model of the NFL. Healthcare isn’t as sexy as football, but it’s something all of us have to be concerned about. A German friend told me about 40 years ago that the reason for socialized medicine was that those countries offering it thought it was to their advantage that their citizens be healthy. Is our country trying to say the opposite?
It would seem so. Many statistics put us in a poor light in healthcare, compared with other industrialized nations. Many treatments are far more expensive, and many have not had, and continue not to have, access. One reason for this is that insurance companies make more money insuring healthy people who don’t get sick often. “Obamacare” tries to rectify that by forbidding insurance companies from rejecting patients for pre-existing conditions. Three or four years ago conservatives called Obama’s health plan “death panels”, deciding who would live and die. No one wants government to arbitrarily kill people, but apparently it’s all right for the private sector to do so. The advantage “Obamacare” is trying to achieve is to enroll most if not all the country’s population. Doing that would bring health costs down through enabling the government, in administering the plan, to have real muscle in negotiating with healthcare providers and suppliers, like pharmaceutical companies. Mitt Romney tacitly admitted that last year when he visited Israel and commented on how much better their healthcare system was than ours. Israel has a single-payer system, anathema to the American healthcare industry.
That’s a good example of a group of people, an industry in this case, putting their good ahead of the good of the country as a whole.
Last night I found an entry on Facebook about a Million Man Muslim march to which few showed up. Among the comments was a letter from an ex-Marine, as I recall, saying that Obama’s winning the last election signaled the end of America as our forefather’s intended it, and that people would have to become fanatics to get the America back they wanted. He blamed white guilt and political correctness for this. I responded by asking if whites had nothing to feel guilty about. Our forefathers did some wonderful things, but also some that were less than wonderful: our genocidal policy towards the Indians, for example, and our practice of slavery. I went back tonight, hoping to find any responses, but couldn’t find the same page again.
I wouldn’t expect the reactions to be positive. These seemed to be people who couldn’t see any other point of view but their own.
All of us get caught up in our own points of view, but having the imagination to see how others see things I think quite necessary. We live in a world of a great many people different from us in a variety of ways: color, religion, political beliefs, socioeconomic status. We can see these people as evil, and there are plenty of people encouraging us to do just that. But what’s the outcome of condemning masses of people as evil? We got several previews of that in the last century, and before that. During the last century the events happened on a bigger scale, though. Millions of people slaughtered because of their race, religion or political beliefs. That seems to be the ordinary human behavior when we’re sufficiently scared, and there are plenty of people willing to scare us for reasons of power and money.
At its best, this country stands against that kind of behavior, but we’re not always at our best. Democracy is a wonderful ideal, but there are always forces opposing it. I don’t think a pure democracy can exist as things are now, and as we are. A pure democracy would be everyone participating in government, but not everyone has the time, let alone the interest. So politicians become professional, and often arrange things to suit themselves, rather than in the best interest of ALL their constituents. They tend to listen to the constituents with the most money, since those can hire people to represent them, and can reward the politicians who do what they want. Ordinary citizens can’t do that.
We can organize, call our representatives and sign petitions, but enough money can often overcome such efforts. So it’s not like we’re living in a dictatorship, though some like to say we already are, and the possibility is always there. We still do have the freedom to address our governments, local, state and federal, though they may not listen. There always are some who want to take those freedoms away, and some who want those freedoms for themselves, but not for others, but our situation isn’t hopeless. It may get much worse before it can get better, but we still have the choice to do what we think is right in whatever arena we choose to act.
And that will take imagination, as well as determination.

Orson Scott Card’s Ender Series

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Orswon Scatt Card’s first sold science fiction story was the basis for what continues to be his best-known novel, Ender’s Game. , published almost 30 years ago, even though he’s been a very good and prolific writer since.
In an introduction written several years later Card says that most people who read the novel either loved or hated it. I’m one of the ones who loved it. Those who didn’t hated the way he portrayed young children. Card said he thought this portrayal was the truest aspect of the book, but others might find that debateable.
The background of the novel is an alien race threatening human survival. To meet this threat the world has united, more or less, under something fairly close to a universal authority, however unwillingly. The military, expecting an alien invasion (there have been two previous ones), recruit children to be trained as soldiers, starting as early as age six, or so. This is the basic premise of the novel, and while such a threat might lead to that, it’s also debateable. But our culture tends to protect children (with certain gruesome exceptions) more than others, so maybe this premise is more believable than those of some other novels.
Card has found this theme fruitful. He followed the initial novel with stories about what Ender did after the war with the aliens, then started another series with a novel set at the same time but from a different perspective. That series continues with what happens on earth after the war.
One important theme in the initial novel and its parallel, Ender’s Shadow, is bullying. Ender and Bean (protagonist of the parallel novel) handle this in different ways.
Ender is first seen in his family home being bullied by his older brother, who is a borderline sociopath. As the story opens he has been wearing a monitor so the military authority can follow him in his daily activities and determine if he’s suitable for military training. When they remove the monitor students from his school try to bully him. He fights their leader, knocks him down and kicks him several times. Military officers appear shortly after. They want to know why he kicked the boy he had already beaten. Ender says that he didn’t want to win this battle, but prevent himself from being bullied again. This is the answer they want to hear, and they take him from his family into the military and training in an artificial earth satellite. Soldiers may sometimes be called on to take provocation without response, but that’s not the dominant characteristic desirable in that field. In war winning is demanded, not losing gracefully, and rarely refusing to fight.
Bean is first seen living on the streets of Rotterdam at the age of four. He’s hungry, and sees a group of children led by a 9 year old girl, and suggests a better way to get into the free kitchen that feeds children in particular.
Life on the street is dangerous because of predators, and the most dangerous are the older children, often in their teens, who can easily bully the young ones. Bean suggests to the girl leading the group that they need their own bully to protect their place in line. He points out one such older boy, the children attack him and put him on the ground, and threaten to kill him if he doesn’t help them. The boy does, calling them his family, and starts a new fashion. Suddenly the bullies have no status without a family to protect.
But Achille, the boy Bean and the others choose, is more than just a bully. He can’t stand for anyone to see him humiliated, and eventually kills anyone who does. He kills the girl who was the former leader, and wants to kill Bean, but Bean escapes him. A nun takes him under wing, and because he’s extremely intelligent he too goes to the satellite for military training.
This training is partly academic, but the central part of the training is a game in free-fall in which one team must defeat another, and capture the other team’s goal. Ender turns out to be especially good at this, causing a lot of jealousy. As he gets better and better, the military authority changes the game, forcing him and his team to pay more and more games, some of them with handicaps. Ender becomes exhausted trying to keep up, as does his team.
In his anger, he humiliates the captain of another team, who is enraged, and comes after Ender with his friends. He’s honorable enough to fight Ender alone, and Ender kills him, as he had the previous bully on earth. Ender is then send to Command school, several years early. We find out afterwards that the commanders in control of the training center had foreseen the attack, but elected not to intervene. Ender had to know that if he failed no one would save him.
In the Command school he is tutored, learns how to maneuver spaceships by computer and set to playing computer simulations of battles. He wins all of them, but the tension is tremendous, and both he and his team are pushing exhaustion.
They overcome their exhaustion for one last baqttle, in which they’re heavily outnumbered, but win by getting close enough to the planet the enemy fleets are trying to protect and destroying it with a horrifying new weapon.
At this point they discover that what they thought had been computer simulations were actual battle sagainst the alien race, which is now utterly destroyed. The race is one of intelligent insects, organized like ants, with a queen directing all individuals, and perceiving everything that the individuals perceive. But when the queen dies, so do all her subordinates.
Ender and most of his team are exhausted after the last battle, and after it the various nations of earth begin maneuvering to gain power and to grab these young genius commanders to command THEIR armies. resuming the game of aggression against other countries. Some try to take over the Command school, but are rebuffed.
Ender stays there, unwilling to return to earth to be constantly in danger of being kidnapped and forced to lead armies. He’s had enough of killing. He has won his victories because his empathy enabled him to know what the enemy would try next. Without that empathy and intuition he would never have won; with it, victory almost destroys him. He realizes that the aliens had no idea that humans were intelligent beings. Being telepathic, they had no other way to communicate, so were unable to negotiate with humans. Humans, feeling their survival was at stake, destroyed them.
Ender has been taken from his family at a very early age he misses only his older sister, who always loved him and tried to defend him from his older brother. She comes to him at the Command school, and both of them ride the first ship of immigrants to one of the worlds now left empty by the aliens.
When they arrive there Ender goes exploring, and finds a landscape familiar to him. But how could he find anything familiar on an alien world he has been on less than a year? The alien race was telepathic, and they had been trying to understand him. While he was unable to talk with them telepathically, they were able to pick up things from his mind. The scene is from a video game he had often played. When he explores the scene more closely he finds a group of eggs of the aliens. No adults are left, but if Ender can put the eggs in a place where they can survive he will no longer be guilty of genocide. He takes the eggs and waits his chance.
Bean has no family. He remembers being in a facility of some sort with a lot of other very young children, becoming aware that they were all being killed, and hiding in a toilet tank to survive. He manages to survive on the street until rescued by the nun who arranges for him to enter the military school. There he’s successful and becomes one of Ender’s friends.
Both Bean and Ender are individuals, but Ender is the more alone because he’s the one who has to be in command, and the responsibility is crushing. He was born in a fairly normal family, but that was taken away from him. In that sense, Bean is more alone, but doesn’t experience the loneliness of supreme command. And at the end of the novel he’s reunited with the family he actually came from, that he didn’t know he had. Ender is reunited with his sister, rather than the rest of his family.
At the beginning of the next series, which tells what Ender did after the war, and after humans have begun spreading through the galaxy and settling planets, Card says in his introduction that in science fiction most heroes are adolescent rather than adult. By this he means that the hero comes to save people, but doesn’t belong to their community, and usually leaves once the action is over. Perhaps the hero is usually greater than any other member of the community, and can’t find understanding or companionship in the community he (usually not she) saves.
Perhaps that’s a reflection of our general desire for a hero to save us not only from the evil of others, but from ourselves. A reflection, if true, of our general social immaturity. It doesn’t matter the system of government: the most successful government is one headed by a charismatic leader. That’s the one people love to follow, and most charismatic people are delighted to take leadership, but often without concern for the actual good of their followers.
Some are reluctant, though, in real life as much as in fiction. Not that their reluctance is necessarily based on good reasons either. Humans are often reluctant to do anything they don’t feel like doing, and making difficult decisions, especially if you have any scruples, is often not much fun. Thus it’s easier for Congress to deadlock than to produce real solutions to serious problems. While their country’s situation grows worse they can look like, but not actually be, leaders, and in the meanwhile enjoy their perks.
Ender is tempted at least twice to forget the war and quit being a soldier-in-training. Much is demanded, and little return is given. But he eventually sees that he really IS his species only hope of defense against the alien race, which threatens everything he loves. In the end that picture proves not to be entirely accurate either, but no one is able to get all information before acting. All information is never available before the fact, and there’s never enough time to consider everything.
Card says in his introduction to Speaker of the Dead that he wanted to show the importance of family, and a family in the process of transforming. In the novel Ender, in only 20 years of traveling between the stars has, because of the difference between time when traveling at nearly the speed of light and time on the surface of a planet, removed himself several thousand years from the alien invasion, though to himself he seems only about 35 years old. He has visited many planets, and has taken on a new role, one conditioned by his own experience, and the incomprehension by all but a few of what his actual role had been, and what he’d tried to do.
He has contributed to this misunderstanding himself. Within a few years of the end of the war he had written a book considering the war from the point of view of the alien race that had attacked humanity. He had been a hero for having destroyed that threat, but his book is so powerful that people (and especially those who hadn’t been alive during the war) now think he committed the worst genocide in human history. He doesn’t entirely disagree, and wants to make things right in any way he can.
So he conceives of a new way to commemorate death, unlike the usual sort of funeral. Instead of calling the dead person wonderful in every respect, he researches his or her life to find out just who this person was, just what he or she tried to do, how he or she succeeded or failed, and what he or she would want to be remembered for. Card thinks this a good idea worth practicing, and I can’t disagree.
In this novel another intelligent alien race is involved. They’ve been very cautiously studied for several decades, and very little about them has been learned. And they’ve murdered two of the people studying them in a very gruesome way for no obvious reason. Humans have learned enough not to attack an alien race, even under such a provocation, but these are beings obviously as intelligent as human beings, though not on the same technological level. When no one even asks them why they did what they did, they are reduced to the status of children at best.
What they did turns out not to have been intentional murder, but an attempt to honor the people they unintentionally murdered, based on their very different life-cycle and mode of reproduction.
A very troubled girl has become close to the first of the murder victims, and when he dies it’s because of information that she had turned up. She therefore buries the information as deeply as possible to prevent anyone else she loves from dying. Unfortunately, the second murdered person is also someone she loves.
This burial of the truth and the pain it has caused has had a deleterious effect on her husband and children. Her husband dies, and she and her children are further stricken and isolated. Ender comes to their world to discover exactly what’s been going on, which no one has had the courage to discover, and speaks about the woman’s dead husband.
He had been a doomed man because of disease, and had married the woman because she had been the only person to defend him when he was being bullied by other children. But because of his disease, theirs had not been a true marriage, and none of the children were actually his. He had become a drunk, had beaten his wife, but rarely or never his children, and had stayed in a marriage he could have escaped. Despite his imperfections, he had behaved, in some respects, heroically. Ender’s speech about him goes a great distance towards healing his family, and also leads to the resolution of the problem with the aliens.
This aspect of the novel reminds me of the remark of another writer: the truth will set you free, but only after all falsehood is destroyed, a process so agonizing for most of us that we can’t do it by ourselves, and are rarely willing to do it at all.
There’s a great deal of moral weight behind Card’s words. He’s a religious man, a Mormon, and that obviously informs his work. I can’t claim to agree with him in everything, though I usually agree with most of what he says in his novels. Outside his novels we disagree politically, though. Mormons are very conservative, and he looks at things much more from the conservative point of view than I do, though apparently conservatives often don’t like his work.
I was brought up a Quaker, a group in some ways conservative, but not so conservative in others. Card supported the war in Iraq (but I think now concedes it was a mistake), while I did not. He also seems to have less use for President Obama than I do (though I don’t consider Obama perfect either), but these are fairly superficial differences.
I think it would be fair to say that Card wants to entertain, knowing, for one thing, that his writing will accomplish little if no one wants to read it, but he also has things to say that he wants people to hear. Perhaps it would be fair to say that he has to sugar-coat what he says a bit to get people to hear. It would probably be more accurate to say that he’s trying to tell us stories about how we really are (as far as he can see), which many people will find at least superficially interesting, rather than pushing some political or religious agenda which has more to do with power politics than the truth of human life. I think it might also be fair to say that Card does have an agenda, but that it’s a very human agenda. His power is to get people to listen, and it turns out he has interesting and important things to say. His agenda is to say those things as well as he can, rather than order people to agree and follow him.

Hit List

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I haven’t followed the literature on the assassination of John F. Kennedy very closely, but like most people I never thought the findings of the Warren Commission very believable. A lot of people have investigated the assassination and the events around it since then, and their findings don’t make the lone gunman theory any more digestible.
Richard Belzer and David Wayne’s Hit List concentrate on the number of witnesses with salient information who have died since, and it’s a mathematically impossible number. Many, if not most of the deaths have been violent, many coming shortly before the persons were scheduled to testify about the matter. The chances against so many people dying so conveniently assure that there was a conspiracy.
The first death was of Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit, killed at almost the same time as Kennedy, supposedly by Oswald. Belzer and Wayne cite evidence that Oswald and Tippit were in different parts of the city at the time. Tippit, they say, was part of an elite squad of the Dallas police department that cooperated with members of the American intelligence community to try to prevent the assassination from happening. That in itself is interesting.
The next killing was of Oswald himself, by Jack Ruby, in the middle of the Dallas police department without anyone even trying to stop him. In itself, pretty strange.
Ruby later asked the Warren Commission to move him from Dallas to some facility in Washington DC, because he said he wasn’t safe in Texas. The Commission declined, and Ruby died less than two years later, saying he had been injected with cancer cells. That part wouldn’t sound so likely, but Belzer and Wayne found that the CIA has been working on a fast-acting cancer virus with which they hoped to assassinate Fidel Castro. Dr.Mary Sherman had been one of the people working on this, and she was found in her apartment with one of her arms burned almost completely off. This, the authors say, was probably an accident rather than a murder, though Sherman’s work for the CIA could have been highly sensitive. Few things available at that time could have caused that kind of severe burning; one that was, was a linear particle accelerator, which she’d been using in research.
These were by no means all. A number of anti-Castro Cubans died, as did people from intelligence agencies, including six FBI agents in six months, plus a number of people from the Mafia.
This tends to confirm the thesis that I think is now generally accepted: the conspiracy included anti-Castro Cubans involved in trying to assassinate Castro, intelligence operatives and the Mafia. The effort to kill Castro had begun right at the top in this country, with Robert Kennedy. Intelligence people would have been involved in this effort too, and the Mafia were also brought in.
The authors say that this explains why Robert Kennedy didn’t do strenuous investigating after the murder: he knew the operation he’d helped set up was involved, and couldn’t afford to let that information out.
This, the authors say, was one of the reasons Robert Kennedy ran for president in 1968: he by then wanted to bring the information out, which may have been the reason he was killed.
So just why WAS John F. Kennedy killed? His father, Joseph Kennedy, had been a bootlegger, and thus involved with the Mafia. It’s by no means a new story that he asked the mob to fix the vote in Chicago that gave JFK the presidency. If in fact the mob did so, they were greatly disappointed when Robert Kennedy went after the Mafia, and Jimmy Hoffa (also notoriously connected) in particular.
Hoffa also seems to have been pushing for the killing. He and Robert Kennedy loathed each other. Kennedy had hurt Hoffa, so Hoffa wanted to hurt Kennedy, though he seems not to have been the only one. Carlos Marcello, the Mafia boss of New Orleans (where much of the plotting for the killing seems to have taken place) was deported by the Kennedys, though he managed to return to the country, so he had no particular love for them either. The authors suggest that Hoffa was killed because he was going to testify about the case in an effort to get back his presidency of the Teamsters Union. For similar reasons, Sam Giancana, Frank Roselli and the supposed best hitman in the country, who may have participated, were all killed.
But the person with perhaps the most to gain from the killing, as has been alleged before, was vice-president Lyndon Johnson. He had been made vice-president to bring in the Southern vote, but didn’t get along with the Kennedys, and the feelings were mutual. On top of that, Johnson had problems. He had been tied to corruption issues that could have cost him his political life. After the assassination, these all went away.
At least something of Johnson’s corrupt practices have been known a long time. The authors add that he was the one who approved the motorcade route in Dallas, which went into unsafe areas, against the advice of the Secret Service. Johnson also changed the formation of Secret Service personnel around the Kennedy limousine, also making the president less safe. So Johnson had motive and opportunity, whether he was actually involved or not.
That’s by no means all that’s been uncovered. Ruby and Oswald knew each other, and were frequently seen together. They also knew people like Guy Bannister and David Ferrie, who were both killed when New Orleans DA Jim Garrison wanted them to be witnesses in his inquiry.
The authors also say that Kennedy’s head was operated on post-mortem, but before the autopsy was done. If true, why would someone do that? Perhaps to obscure the bullet wounds, to make their trajectories less certain? That would have obscured evidence that there was more than one gunman, if that was the case.
Dorothy Kilgallen was a famous columnist at the time, and planned to break the story in a big way. She died first, found in a bed she never used, in clothes her friends said she would never wear to bed, and after an autopsy, with three different kinds of barbituarites in her system. She could have gotten them in her apartment; apparently her husband used them, though she was more known to be a drinker. But the quantities of each drug were very small: just enough to kill her when alcohol was added. If she had been suicidal, wouldn’t she have taken a lot more than that? She had given a copy of her notes on the case to a friend, who died THE NEXT DAY. Both sets of notes diappeared.
Irv Kupcinet was a famous columnist in Chicago, and was connected to the Mafia there. He asked one of them about Ruby, who was also connected to Chicago. Shortly after that his daughter was murdered, and he never inquired about the subject again.
Oswald’s landlady wasn’t murdered, but was harassed, probably because she said Oswald had gone to his room around the time that the murders were about to take place, and that there was a police car outside her house. Though she didn’t die violently, harassment may have contributed to her death. Someone didn’t want anyone to know what she said she’d witnessed.
A man said that Oswald was going to be killed the next day and that Frank Sinatra’s son was going to be kidnapped as a distraction from the assassination. Shortly after those things happened he was murdered.
A woman was beaten and put in the hospital, after having overheard things she wasn’t supposed to. She told the nursing staff, “This is when it’s supposed to happen,” and immediately afterward came news of Kennedy’s shooting.
Another woman who’d heard too much was found dead on property belonging to H.L. Hunt’s security chief. Hunt is someone frequently linked with the assassination (though I gather no one has proof) and his security chief had worked in the CIA.
Whether or not John F. Kennedy was involved in the plot to assassinate Castro, Robert Kennedy apparently was. Someone commented that whoever had killed JFK had used the plan evolved to kill Castro. It may have been that Kennedy found out about the plans for Castro, and was going to stop them. Another suggestion is that he had found out about elements of the CIA involved in the drug trade in Southeast Asia, and planned to put a stop to that. All these motives may have been involved, or maybe just some of them. In any case, a lot of people seemed to know about it, so it wasn’t a well-kept secret–until later.
Jim Reeves was a famous country singer who frequently landed his plane at military bases. He died in a plane crash, apparently after having recognized Oswald from a picture (he was famous for remembering people’s faces).
Francis Gary Powers, the famous pilot of the U2 that was shot down, also died in a plane crash, surprising for a pilot of his skills. Of course he too had been involved with the CIA.
If Lyndon Johnson was one of the principals in constructing the plot, his life is quite ironic, since he also got the Civil Rights Act passed. He may have thought this would give him black voters as allies, but Martin Luther King criticized him for the Vietnam war.
One of my friends told me he’d met someone who claimed to have known James Earl Ray, King’s supposed killer, and that Ray, though a criminal, was a nonviolent one, and clumsy. Even if he’d been inclined, he couldn’t have pulled the killing off. Ray’s lawyer claimed to have met with a member of a military assassination squad that was in Memphis that day, and was set to kill King, but beaten to it by someone else. The lawyer thought it was someone hired by the Mafia, and also thought he’d found the man. But who authorized the military to kill King, if the story is true? Lyndon Johnson was still President then, and Belzer and Wayne say that Johnson’s enforcer (who they say had been involved with several murders) was killed not long after Johnson took office.
Whether the motive the authors suggest for the murder of Robert Kennedy makes sense or not (I don’t know if he’d have been more willing to take responsibility for plots to kill Castro 5 or more years later or not), they do comment that Sirhan Sirhan couldn’t have done it, since he was never in the right position to fire the shots that killed him. Lots of strange things were going on in this country at the time. Have very many of them stopped going on?
After Lyndon Johnson decided not to run for President again, he retired to his ranch in Texas, and told his workers that he wanted it to be the biggest and best in the country. He died within a couple of years after that. That particular story, when I read it, seemed rather pathetic. Johnson’s fuel had been power, and power had been taken away from him. He couldn’t adjust to that.
Maybe he was as big a villain as the authors say, but the Civil Rights Act seems to say he had some decent impulses. It makes you wonder if we’ll ever know much more of the story than has seemed to emerge 50 years later, and it also makes you wonder about what the people who orchestrated the plot thought they were doing, and just why. If Johnson was the villain, I don’t think he greatly enjoyed what he got out of it. Maybe other, more shadowy figures enjoyed their gains more, at least for awhile.
The CIA continued to be powerful. J. Edgar Hoover, whom Belzer and Wayne say may have been murdered too, continued in power at the FBI. (The authors think that if Hoover was murdered it may not have been because of the assassination, but because Nixon didn’t want him around anymore). Some say that covert actions against Cuba continued for a long time after: sabotage of various kinds, to such an extent that it’s surprising Castro’s regime survived. The Mafia continued to be powerful, though its power began diminishing in the 1970s and 80s.
The one thing all these groups had in common was that they were covert, doing illegal things against the ideals of democracy. It became an open secret that heroin was coming to the USA from Southeast Asia. That the CIA and FBi had misused their powers. That the CIA had been complicit in overthrowing governments around the world that ours didn’t approve of. And there were more secrets that didn’t become open. The authors quote a hitman who said no one would believe how many assassinations happened, especially on the operating table. I doubt he was talking just about people with knowledge of Kennedy’s assassination.
So I think we can generalize that the assassination was the product of forces hostile to the very idea of democracy. They didn’t mind the country LOOKING like a democracy, but didn’t want it to actually be one. It was the “forces of reaction”, as Communists might put it, striking back at the Civil Rights movement that began as a way to change the status of black Americans, but then morphed into feminism, gay rights and other offspring movements. The same divide continues today. Conservatives often think of the 1960s as ruinous for the country, while others think of it as the time people tried to get America to live up to its ideals.
That’s how Jim Garrison, the District Attorney of New Orleans in the 1960s saw it, after having seen at least one of the Nazi death camps two decades before. He saw this country drifting into fascism in the name of anti-fascism. Belzer and Wayne see it coming the the name of National Security.