Poem: Freedom and Fairness

What do I want? What do you want? How do you want life to be? What will you do? Equality, fairness, and love should guide us. My friend, Karen, asked me to write a poem about freedom. I did. It has a dark shadow, but the shadow has a crack in it, so the light gets in.

We didn’t start the fire refers to the Billy Joel song, Timothy Frances refers to Leary, the beast is the oppressive government, Tom down is to be subservient. In terms of rhythm and rhyme, this thing is all over the place. 

The Freedom Dream is Dead
by Bill Reynolds

What do I want to do?
I wanna be happy.
I want you happy, too.
My dream is a happy world.

Imagine that.

How do we want things to be?
Let’s be fair, and hopefully free.
And just, and true, and honest, and imagine…
For all, equality and rights
With love we can see, for all brothers and sisters.
Life is not fair, but are we?

Imagine!

What is this happiness we pursue?
In all fairness, what can we do?
Freedom? Liberty? Is that all?
Equality? Justice, et al?

Can you imagine?

It’s just a damn dream for too many.
And our dream is dying the fastest of any.
One million paper cuts, delivered with slashes,
All hope is lost, the beast burns us to ashes.

As for my dream? It is dead.
We fought all for naught.
Now I feel a dread.
Selfishness won. It owns us now.

I can’t imagine.

Resistance is failing, the world is darkening.
Evil and greed are the name of the game.
Profit and loss the new moral code.
Money is god, ready for more of the same.
The worst from the beast is yet to be told.

Imagine died too.

We didn’t start the fire, we can’t put it out,
Feel the heat from the rich man’s ire
Burning a hole in my hopes and desire.

Timothy Frances, where are you now?
To destroy this beast, please tell us how.
Or do we Tom down, and let it go on?

My dream may be dead, but I will go on!
Resist, resist, resist, fight for rebirth.
Resist until we have new life on Earth.

Imagine a future, resist to the end.

Look both ways and mind the gaps.
Life has no guarantees, but we can work for fairness.

 

Poem: Dogs of War

This poem refers to crew members (called crew dogs) of B-52 bombers and to their war-time mission of dropping munitions to destroy things and kill people, thus the dogs of war. This is a dark and threatening piece, set in six stanzas of six lines each, with even and odd lines rhyming. Misery and woe are metaphors for the many types of weapons dropped. The shrill is the eerie sound bombs make as they fall. The dog, or beast, refers to the model D, or variant of B-52, which is painted black on the bottom of the airplane. Please question in comment.

We are coming for you.

Dogs of War
by Bill Reynolds

Let us slip from nature’s gravity hold
We war dogs of old, both willing and bold.
Into skies we shall go with misery and woe.
To maim and to kill, who we don’t even know.
Our airman’s life is to die if we will.
Into Death’s realm, we’ll send you the shrill.

We’re lashed to the beast, the marvelous dog,
Behind us we leave the stink and a fog.
The thunderous sound of flying around
We send you a hell, you on the ground.
Wonders of war are set at our feet
Our old friend death, soon you will meet.

A B-52H dropping high-drag bombs and flairs.

Destruction we’ll rain on your cities and towns,
You won’t know we’re there, we don’t make a sound.
Concussion will break you and all that is near,
Along with destruction, we’ll send you the fear.
The black-bottom dogs will come as you sleep
To rip and to tear, into hearts of your sheep.

The countdown will start, as our hearts will race,
But Death we’ll deliver at one horrible pace.
The flashes we’ll see and the fires will rise,
The dogs of war unleased, to your demise.
The horror will come as sure as the sun,
This nightmare relents when war is won.

The Beast

Safe home again with guilt, we shall not feel,
Because of the blow, we were vowed to deal.
To the bar we’ll retire and review the day’s mess,
In laughter and stories, we consider success.
The beast is now resting and finding a tune,
Ready again, the dogs shall return again soon.

The horrors of war are hidden away,
The death and the misery kept well at bay.
From dogs to humans we slowly turn,
To our homes and lives we always return.
Havoc returns with the dogs of war,
Until we can say, no war! No more.

Look both ways, mind the gaps, and fill the world with love and peace.
Lest we…

“…Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war,
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.”
~ Marcus Antonius in Julius Caesar,
Act 3, scene 1, 270–275

 

The Battling Bastards

Poem
We’re the battling bastards of Bataan;
No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam.
No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces,
No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces.
And nobody gives a damn.
Nobody gives a damn.
~ by Frank Hewlett ,1942

One Survivor’s Story

I was fortunate enough to meet Professor Ben Steele on the day before I completed my fourth Bataan Death March Memorial Marathon: 26.2 miles through a portion of the Chihuahua Desert located in Southeast New Mexico. On 26 March 2011, Ben signed my book of the drawings he had made as a prisoner of war (POW), following the fall of Bataan and Corregidor in 1942. I shook Ben’s hand and we talked about his art.

Three Parts of the Story

This is one of three blog posts about our two journeys that converged when I met this heroic Montana cowboy and historic American icon. The first post is about the war, which the US entered immediately following Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. The second attack, which followed within hours of the first, was the invasion of the Philippines by Japanese military forces. It happened about four years prior to my birth, but Ben was there.

Prisoner's of War - Bataan Death March
Prisoner’s of War – Bataan Death March

Next Tuesday, a second post will be about my experiences with the Bataan Memorial Marathon, an annual event that takes place at White Sands Missile Range, near Las Cruces, NM. It’ll cover that part of my experience as a 65-year-old runner, in way over his head, leading up to my meeting with Ben, then age 93.

If you’re a marathoner/runner/endurance walker, or even a wannabe, registration signups for this annual patriotic event close on March 5th. The marathon will be on Sunday, March 19th starting early in the cold of the high desert military post, located just east of the breathtaking Organ Mountains. For the link to the web page and instructions, click here. You need be in good physical condition, but not all are. This thing is a rigorous challenge for the average person, and the “casualty rate” is high. The good news is that 85% of the participants walk it – as I did four times.

One survivor would turn 100 this year.
One survivor would turn 100 this year.

The third post will be about the man I met and his experience. He and others were survivors of the Bataan Death March, and long-term confinement into slave labor. He was a POW survivor, an artist, and a Professor of Art at Eastern Montana College: Benjamin Charles Steele.

The Death March

As we should know, on December 7, 1941, Japanese military forces attacked the USA by dealing a devastating blow to our forces at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Few know that ten hours later, the Japanese attacked the Philippines. The Philippines Campaign (Filipino: Labanan sa Pilipinas), or the Battle of the Philippines, raged from 8 December 1941 to the fall of Bataan on 9 April (105 days), and the following surrender of the island of Corregidor on 8 May 1942.

The Japanese military conquest of the Philippines may have been the worst military defeat in United States history. 23,000 US military personnel, and another 100,000 Filipino soldiers, were killed or captured.

Death March route. Train portion was more nightmare.
Death March route. Train portion was more nightmare.

Bataan is a peninsula on the southwest end of the large Philippine island of Luzon. As the battles raged on, General MacArthur’s forces retreated to Bataan and the small island of Corregidor. Due (in part) to the breakdown of supplies and logistics (in my opinion), the Americans and Filipinos began to lose strength. Following the decision to surrender, the Japanese were overwhelmed with POWs. A torturous and deadly forced march of 65 miles by approximately 75,000 sick, injured, and defeated Filipino and American troops to prison camps ensued. The march took about eight days.

While the exact death toll on the march is uncertain, credible sources report that casualties prior to reaching their destinations were from 5,000 to 18,000 Filipino deaths, and 500 to 650 American deaths. Marchers reported severe physical abuse and wanton killings. The Bataan Death March was later judged by an Allied military commission to be a Japanese war crime.

On January 27, 1944, the U.S. government informed the American public about the march, when it released sworn statements of military officers who had escaped.

My first assignment following Air Force basic training in 1964 was to Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. Over 30 years later, I lived for three years in Albany, Texas. It was not until years later, when I started reading and learning more about the Death March that I learned about Lieutenant Colonel William E. Dyess. Dyess Air Base was named after him, and he was from Albany, Texas (population ~ 2,000).

Dyess was a Death March survivor, and one of the few officers who escaped the Japanese POW camps in the Philippines. Following his return, Colonel Ed Dyess wrote extensively about the March and the prison camps prior to his death in an airplane crash in late 1943.

The drawings you see in the following video are Ben Steele’s. The survivors pictured in wheelchairs are at the starting line of the marathon.

Never Ending Wars

Japan formally signed to surrender on September 2, 1945, ending World War II. After 14 years of war, “nearly three million Japanese were dead, many more wounded or seriously ill, and the country lay in ruins,” most Japanese (not to mention those who had suffered at their hands during the war) saw the end of hostilities as a blessing. The USSR and China suffered the greatest loss of life during WWII – in the tens of millions, mostly civilians, who were killed due to brutal war crimes.

There is no shortage of stories about man’s inhumanity to man, particularly in time of war. The Bataan Death March, and the subsequent treatment of prisoners, was one example. Knowing these realities, meeting those who experienced them, and listening to or reading their stories should serve to teach us the truth of what General Douglas MacArthur said, “In war there is no substitute for victory.”

Life is good and it can be better. But, pay attention.
Look both ways and mind the gaps.
It will not happen again unless we allow it.

Morality Series: Pride

Who or what are you proud of? Do you feel proud of yourself? If so, do you consider it immoral or sin?

Lucifer to Satan
Lucifer to Satan

Pride is an insufficient word for the immoral feeling that is an exaggerated sense of self. Hubris works a little better. Pride is often normal and not bad. As with any of these so called sins, when taken to psychological extremes, pride can become a problem that others often are more aware of than we see in ourselves. Behaviors associated with pride can become annoying, but we expect a proud bow from anyone doing well.

So, here I go again; playing devil’s advocate in the defense of normal human feelings and behavior that many religious people accept as sinfulness of the highest order. What’s even harder to understand is that this one is considered the worst of the worst. This is Lucifer’s sin, if you believe that. This self-opinion allegedly paves the way for all badness (or sin, if you prefer) to follow. In the words of  C. S. Lewis and many other religious writers, its primacy is made clear.

pride-4

Are we to believe that humility, the alleged opposite, prevents us from immoral behavior? I can be most humble and immoral simultaneously. I can lust with humility oozing from my pores, or maybe it’s the other way around. Excuse me while I humbly eat the entire pizza and down a six-pack of beer.

Pride is mostly good, unless you’re Irish-Catholic, in which case you’ll hear, as I did in my youth, who the hell do you think you are? This put-down, shut-down, and buzz-kill phrase is more annoying than piles of pride.

Gay pride, black pride, being proud of self, kids and grands, other family and friends, school pride, pride in state or country, religious pride or pride in non-belief, the overcoming of adversity, pride in relationships, athletic team pride, corporate pride, and the list goes on. What’s wrong, bad, or sinful about any of this? Nothing!

pride-1

My entire life I’ve worked on my humility (minding that gap). One friend made a sarcastically funny plaque for me because I often discussed trying to be humbler. I thought that I’d be a better person if I was humble. Of course, I could be proud of my humility, right?

 

I like this
I like this

I think power often corrupts, and I’m sure that pride plays into that human fault. We should get this pride deal straightened out. Going overboard on my ego is indeed bad for me and for those around me. Fortunately, my family and friends have the chutzpa to point out my faults. I no longer have my dad to ask me, “Who the hell do you think you are?” I can still hear his voice when others remind me that I may be a bit full of myself. It happens, preferably seldom. Maybe pride is not exactly the correct word for me.

What about the other prideful words? Vanity? I pine for my hair and regret the loss of my locks. Conceit? Probably not me. I’ve known none who admit to this, but we easily see it others. Arrogance? I have the tee shirt for this one. I’m guilty. I can be arrogant as hell. Conversely, I admit when I’m wrong. I’ll apologize for any harm done. I don’t apologize for being wrong unless harm was done. I’ve been accused of arrogance for that. To me, I’m being sincere. Otherwise, I’d constantly be apologizing.

How about self-respect, self-esteem, or self-love? What of narcissism? I know that’s not pride, but we agree it’s an abnormal extreme, unless you’re a politician. Dictionary synonyms include pleasure, joy, delight, gratification, fulfillment, and satisfaction. I think I see a pattern here.

Is it possible that Christianity and some other religions are opposed to people finding pleasure in life?

Yours, mine, or theirs – what’s your take on the pride?

Hold your head up and walk tall. Be the person you are – true to yourself.
Be proud when you have reason.
Be happy in life, but look both ways and be mindful of any gaps.

Evil’s Not My Problem

Monotheistic believers have no convincing way to deal with this issue. Because it has been around for a long time, it has been written about, answered, explained, taught, or discussed in groups of one kind or another. But it remains a problem that can only be settled one way—ignore it. Ignorance is bliss.

problem-of-evilOr, you might end up where I did, facilitating a classroom discussion of the topic in the Adult Education program at my Catholic church. Preparation for teaching, and then leading the group discussion, led me to an enlightenment. I was not, at the time, spiritually or religiously challenged by the problem of evil, but I learned a lot.

Most of what I learned involved getting deep into a topic that I’d not seriously considered. As I was reading the Bible, especially the Old Testament, I started coming to terms with my own evolving beliefs and conclusions.

I was a believer (or wannabe) at the time. My biggest aha moment was when I realized that I had no qualms pinning evil on god. And, of course, that led to the uh-oh moment. That’s when I realized that god could not be so good after all. That disconnect was not gunna work for me. “Houston, we have a problem.”

problem-of-evil4

If you’re fuzzy on what the problem of evil is about, click here  to link with a youtube that provides a quick-n-dirty review in ten minutes. Pay attention because that guy talks fast and covers a lot of ground.

I’m intrigued when a priest, deacon, nun, or any religious person says, “I can’t understand why God allowed that to happen.” Pick any natural disaster, which some people do not consider evil, or some other moral evil such as mass murder. We have heard it said.

In the case of Islamic terrorism and other nut cases, evil is even done in the name of god, ostensibly with god’s help, followed by a hefty reward from god. (WTF does anybody want with 72 virgins anyway?). I know there are other kinds of murderers, but everyday that religion is used to justify slaughter around the world.

I know, “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” But, along with most Americans, I consider 9-11 the mass murder of innocents. My point is: there is evil—lots of it, and all kinds of it. If you believe in a god who knows, cares, and can fix it; you should radio Houston Control with your problem.

problem-of-evil3

We mere humans, when not being the perpetrators of some evil, expend energy preparing for and dealing with it in some way. We know it’s coming. So, in that way, it’s logically a problem that is often taken for granted (i.e., shit happens). Even the religious folks mentioned above devote their lives to promoting the goodness of god and fighting evil, albeit usually they focus on moral evil, as defined by them, of course. Other groups do a wonderful job of providing aid to victims, after the fact.

Since there is evil, it must ultimately be permitted by, if not created by, the god one believes exists. Depending on the religion, reconciling this with religious belief takes some doing and may call for a heavy dose of denial. Maybe a little help is in order? Enter the best scape goat ever—Satan. Next best are Adam or Eve. If someone says, “It’s god’s way,” you should be reaching for your bullshit flag because here it comes.i-dont-care4

In some way, religious folks must be working through or around this problem. Last I checked, monotheists aren’t switching to polytheism or finding another way to make it work. Or are they?

Atheists and believers seem to agree; there is evil in abundance. My definition of it is probably broader than many religious folk, but it’s close enough.

Atheists don’t have to determine why evil is permitted. We only need to acknowledge its existence, do what we can to make others aware of it, and prevent it when possible. If not, maybe we can find ways to deal with it when we must, which is more often than I like. I never have to ask why god did, or didn’t, do something. But you have every right to ask me why I don’t do something.problem-of-evil2

There is both good and evil in the world
and too often within us. Look both ways.

Book review: The End of Faith by Sam Harris

The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason by Sam Harris

Disclosure: I like Sam Harris and agree with much of what he says.

End of Faith2The End of Faith has been reviewed extensively since its first publication, but I need to pipe my opinion. With my gradual understanding and knowledge of Sam Harris, this book came to my attention as an eventuality. I’ve read only one other of his books (Islam and The Future of Tolerance), but I intend to read them all. I like his approach and what is, in my opinion, his open mind regarding universal principles which not everyone (atheist or not) shares. Anyone who thinks that all atheists share the same thoughts, opinions, or principles with each other does not understand them. The thesis of this book is no exception.

Many people see the book as his attempt to dissuade people away from their faith, and maybe Sam would agree. Knowing what I have experienced with people of strong religious faith, it will take more than this or any other book. But, for those with serious doubts and deep questions, this is a valuable resource. This is a book written by an atheist who is critical of all religion, especially Islam; at least in terms of the radical elements of that faith. So for anyone emotionally sensitive about the criticism of religion, this may not be the book to read.

Sam begins The End of Faith with a bit of historical fiction based upon fact. He describes a scenario in which a young man boards a bus and explodes a bomb killing many people, including himself. This act of terrorism sets the stage for the remainder of the book.

In several chapters, Sam makes a number of claims which I first thought were outlandish. But after reading his explanations, I came into agreement with him. Two such examples are the problems enabled by western religious moderates and the evil of pacifism.

End of Faith1

The textual material in the paperback version that I read was only 238 pages. That includes an Epilogue and an Afterword. It is not enough. However, these are followed by 64 pages of extensive end notes that provide more details. The bibliography is comprehensive and furnishes the more curious reader ample resources on the topic for more than a year of study. A useful index ends the book.

The copyright page indicates the years 2004 and 2005, so he probably wrote this in the 2002 to 2003 timeframe – a year or two after September 11, 2001. The world has not been static since then. In other places I have heard Sam admit that he has learned much in the dozen or so years that followed publication of this bestseller.

In at least a couple of his podcasts, Sam talks about this book and defends a lot of what he says. But he also explains what he might say differently today, or what different words he might now use to say things and why he would. The two podcasts can be found here and here and are worth the time of the serious reader. In the second, he spends a lot of time talking about presidential candidates and what he thinks of them. He is not a supporter of Donald Trump, but he also sees Clinton as a ‘lesser evil’ vote. Eventually, he gets around to the book.

I enjoyed reading The End of Faith. I’ve never found anyone who writes on such topics with whom I agree 100%. Sam Harris is no exception, but close. For me, this book is informative and educational. As he says, “I know of no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable.” A comment right up my ‘snarkastic’ alley. I selected a couple of quotes from the book that I liked.

“There is no denying that a person’s conception of the afterlife has direct consequences for his view of the world.”

“Religious moderates are, in large part, responsible for the religious conflict in our world, because their beliefs provide the context in which scriptural literalism and religious violence can never be adequately opposed.”

I need to get busy reading because I think Sam Harris is working on a new book. I don’t like it when these guys get ahead of me like this. God knows, I may actually learn something.

End of Faith3

Jekyll and Hyde

 

JJekyll and Hyde (The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde [1886] by Robert Louis Stevenson)

rl stevensonThis classic was written 130 years ago. It is available free on Amazon and you can add an audio version for about a dollar. Even in the book, the age old struggle of people to understand and to deal with the dual nature of mankind is acknowledged.

Several interesting features of the allegory should not be overlooked. First, Dr. Jekyll discovers a potion to separate his dark side, in the person of Mr. Hyde, from his good side. But never, is the good independent of the evil. You can have duality, or proof that it exists through Hyde. But there is no Mr. Wonderful in the story.

Second, the narrator is Mr. Gabriel John Utterson, who only briefly is acknowledged to have a dark side. But he is given every detail to tell the story and in the end, gives us Jekyll’s full explanation and rationale, which is very good, in my opinion. Of the three (or four if you separate Jekyll and Hyde) main characters, only he survives – dark side intact.

1280px-Dr_Jekyll_and_Mr_Hyde_poster_edit1Third, when Dr. Hastie Lanyon is faced with the reality of the dark side, he is so overcome with the news (provided as proof when he witnesses Hyde’s transformation to Jekyll) that evil lurks in the embodiment of all men that he dies. He even says he will die, and why. This is in spite of the fact that Jekyll explains it all to him. Why did Lanyon die? Because he too had a dark side, but he never believed that he did. He never accepted his true and complete nature. Essentially, his own sin of pride killed him.

For those of us who believe that the basic nature of man is good, this may be a troubling allegory, as it was for Lanyon. But it shouldn’t be. We should not have to separate, indeed we cannot, one nature from the other in an effort to prove its existence. I think that the labeling of the dark side as evil is okay, if that is what you decide to do. But I wouldn’t do that. I prefer to accept my nature as it is. I experience little conflict and move forward with my life – it is what it is.

jekyll_and_hyde_illustration_by_dmarsela-d88k7mnI do strongly favor the concept of living in the moment, my own version of Carpe Diem works for me. I did notice that in his final confession, when Jekyll is referring to the nature of Hyde (which is supposed to be Jekyll’s own dark nature), he says “…his circumscription to the moment…” in such a way as to condemn it. Embrace it, Harry. It really is all that we have: right here, right now.