I’m Not There, a film by Todd Haynes
Guest reviewer, our friend, John Haas
I’m Not There, a film by Todd Haynes
Guest reviewer, our friend, John Haas
I’m listening to npr, and they’re discussing the foreign policy challenges facing the next president, whoever that may be.
A question arose about Obama’s statement that he’ll talk to regime’s we’re not particularly fond of. And Peter Brooks, of the Heritage Foundation, opines that this would be disastrous. We need, he says, to be very wary of “conferring legitimacy” on “rogue states.”
One has to wonder what planet the Heritage Foundation rents real estate on.
The one where our refusal to “confer legitimacy” on Castro has finally brought him down after–ahem–forty-nine years? Or perhaps they’re living on the planet where our support for Musharraf has worked so wonderfully to stabilize Pakistan? Or is it where Ronald Reagan refused to be fooled by Gorbachev’s so-called reforms, and gave him the cold shoulder?
J. Russell Coffey, the oldest known surviving U.S. veteran of World War I, has died. The retired teacher, one of only three U.S. veterans from the “war to end all wars,” was 109. More than 4.7 million Americans joined the military from 1917-1918.
Mr. Coffey lived a full, rich, and needless to say long life. If he had his druthers–and he doesn’t–none of us do–he’d be remembered as a father, teacher, and community member, not someone who happened to spend a few months in boot camp in the fall of 1918. But those months made him a WWI veteran, and so he gets remembered.
My father (b. 1920) saw Civil War veterans marching in parades when he was a boy. I often tell my students that we distort history when we insist on dividing it up into decades. Those little slices of time exaggerate difference over continuity, and lead us into silly journalistic conceits such as “What will the nineties be like? Will we reject the greed and conformity of the Reagan era, and return to the dissent and commitment of the 1960s?” Perhaps you recall those musings from the tail end of the eighties.
Instead, we should think in terms of generations (not cohorts, such as “boomers” and “millenials”–another ignorant journalistic conceit that precludes understanding and tries to make news where there is none) and lifetimes. When we do so, time collapses. My father speaks with men who have living memories of Gettysburg and Antietam and the Grant administration, and a new writer named Mark Twain everyone was excited about, and who lived when the idea of human beings flying was just science fiction and for whom the very idea of dropping a bomb from 30,000 feet in the air on a city filled with civilians and old folk and infants suckling and children and their pets would be unimaginable, a sign that the society doing so was in the grip of a barbarism so elemental and disturbing as to escape the limits of description. And my father tells me, and I tell my students, and they, in turn, are merely a couple of lifetimes from the Civil War.
Mr. Coffey was 109 years old when he died in December. He was born in 1898, the year of Teddy Roosevelt’s Cuban escapades. Sigmund Freud, Pablo Picasso, and Adolf Hitler were all unknown in the US. People owned horses. Many had their own cows for milk. There was no such organization as the NAACP, the frontier–or should we say the Indian Wars–had ended that decade. The population of the United States was a little more than 76 million people. Coffey would have known dozens, if not hundreds, of people who had seen Abraham Lincoln, heard him speak, shaken his hand.
Let’s speculate. Imagine that, as Mr. Coffey was being born in 1898, another 109 year old American was passing away somewhere. That American would have been born in 1789. The ratification of the Constitution. George Washington becomes the first president of the new nation. The Mexicans in California, the Sioux on the plains, and countless others go about their business and live their entire lives without giving a thought to the restless, aggressive people even now gathering strength to the East. It is the year of a revolution in France. No one speaks of “terror” yet, at least as an “ism.”
1789. Two lifetimes–long ones, granted–ago.
What follows is a guest posting from a friend, Keith Bowden, who teaches English at Laredo Community College, in Laredo, Texas. Bowden not only lives on the border, he’s travelled the entire Rio Grande (by raft and canoe) between Mexico and Texas. You can read about that journey in his book, The Tecate Journals (Mountaineers Press, 2007).
Here Bowden reflects on the oft-heard promises to “seal the border.”
Every time I hear a candidate promise to “seal the border” I cringe.
I used to live in Santiago, Chile during the Pinochet years, which included several states of siege during my tenure there. The police and military presences during these states of siege alarmed me at first, but I got used to them. In one way, I’m glad I did because four years later I moved to Laredo, Texas, on the U.S./Mexico border, where I feel as though I’ve been living in a police state ever since, not much unlike Pinochet’s Chile.
For those of you who don’t live on the border, consider that we have Customs, Immigration, Border Patrol, National Guard, city police, county sheriffs, DEA, school district police, and college & university police. Every time we leave Laredo, we must go through an Immigration checkpoint where our vehicles are subject to inspection and where we are frequently asked to prove our right to be in the U.S.
One would guess that these checkpoints and this tremendous presence of law enforcement in our city would be effective at reducing crime and illegal immigration, but despite the annual increase in Border Patrol agents and budgets of the multiple law enforcement agencies, I see no progress in their fight to “seal the border.” Now the federal government wants to erect a “wall” or “border fence.” Yikes!
Americans should consider two things about “sealing the border”: one, if you don’t want illegal drugs entering our country through our southern border, stop buying them; and, two, if you don’t want Mexicans or other Latin Americans entering our southern border for the purpose of working in the U.S., stop hiring them.
The current housing crisis in our country has done far more to stem the tide of illegal immigration than the Border Patrol, National Guard, and all components of Homeland Security ever has. With the resulting slowdown in construction jobs, the numbers of Mexicans who have attempted to enter the U.S. illegally has fallen sharply.
A couple of years ago I was on the riverbank here in Laredo with another Anglo. We stood and watched as a coyote pushed two inner tubes, each loaded with a woman coming to the U.S. to work, across the Rio Grande. When he and his cargo reached the U.S. side of the river, the women fled on foot up the bank and into the streets of Laredo. I was surprised at how brazen the coyote was. After all, my friend and I could have been law enforcement officers.
But then he did something that I think speaks a lot about the effectiveness of the Border Patrol. Instead of retreating to the Mexican shore with his inner tubes, he got out of the water and came over to talk to us. He asked me in Spanish, “You’re Border Patrol, aren’t you?”
When I insisted I wasn’t, he posed the same question to my friend, who similarly answered no. The coyote wasn’t convinced. He seemed quite certain that we were there to count the number of people he crossed so that he would then have to pay the requisite bribe to a crooked Border Patrol agent or agents.
We never did convince him that we were just two writers looking for a story. Disappointed, he swam back to Mexico with his inner tubes in tow. He seemed frustrated that our presence on the riverbank had made him question the rules of a system that had been making both him and the Border Patrol a lot of money.
The news from the Persian Gulf about the interchange between Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and the US Navy stirred some memories.
If you’re of a certain age, you’ll recall the Tonkin Gulf incident of 1964. US Navy patrols were subjected, we were told, to open aggression on the high seas; ie, North Vietnam’s Navy fired on one destroyer and later supposedly targeted them with torpedoes that missed.
LBJ, heading into an election and challenged by Goldwater for not being tough enough with Communists, struck back, and also received a resolution in Congress giving him a free hand in Vietnam. This became the legal basis of the Vietnam War.
Later it was learned that the torpedoes never happened. And that we weren’t on the high seas, but in waters the North Vietnamese claimed. And that we were there providing intelligence support to the South Vietnamese Navy that was conducting sabotage.
But that only came out later. At the time it seemed to fit a familiar narrative: The US, minding its own business, is suddenly and without provocation attacked by a hostile nation. Why? Because they’re violent. Irrational. Savage. They’re Asian (remember Pearl Harbor?) They’re Communists (remember Korea?)
We seem to always be on the receiving end of these behaviors. It’s deep in our DNA as a nation: Remember all those years, peacefully settling the frontier, and all those crazy Indians who came swooping down tomahawking farmers and their families?
Of course, from the Indian perspective, these settlers were the avant guard of a threatening empire. Unlike the Spanish–who sent in the military to subdue the Indians and then followed with settlers–and unlike the French–who found a way to cooperate with the Indians–the English and then the US sent out settlers. When tensions over land, or game, or whatever finally exploded, we then went out and exterminated them.
On several occasions the US has managed to arrange events to fit this narrative, thus making the people more amenable to whatever war ensued. There was WWI, where American merchants continued to trade with the British and French, leading to submarine warfare from the Germans.
Prior to the War with Mexico, Polk–who had promised to get California and resolve the Texas issue one way or another–sent troops to the “border” (again, on land Mexico claimed as its territory). Mexico, fearing an invasion, sent its own troops. And there, stumbling around, afraid, anxious, hot-headed, the predictable happened: young men with guns sometimes fire them. An American was killed. Polk was outraged at this unprovoked aggression. He had his war.
Now we have three carrier groups–each about 15 vessels–buzzing around in the Persian Gulf. Opportunities for incidents abound. Should be fun.
I’m not a Hillary-hater. I’m not a huge fan, either, but that’s more because I’m just not a big fan of big political ambitions. So, most anyone who desperately yearns to be president worries me. That means any candidate makes me nervous.
But I do worry, not so much about Hillary per se, but about how the nation will react to President Hillary Clinton. Hillary is hated–seriously hated–with a depth, breadth, and ferocity that makes Bill’s negatives pale in comparison. And, while the 1990s may look halcyon from the perspective of a decade later, it wasn’t fun.
Remember the various patriot, militia, and Aryan-supremacy groups? Black helicopters? Jesse Helms? Newt Gingrich? Government shut-down?
The day after Bill’s election, I had a neighbor at my door, handing me a three-dollar bill with Bill’s face on it. “He’s not really president,” she said. “He only won 43% of the vote. You don’t owe him your loyalty.”
If Hillary is elected, the country will go nuts, lurching to the right in a kind of Newtonian reaction. Bush will immediately become less than a memory. The Republicans will gain in Congress in 2010, and the country will be ungovernable. It won’t be Hillary’s fault, but it will happen, just the same.
And we can’t afford that, frankly. The times are too dire.