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While We Still Have Time

In spite of the grimness of the times in which we live, there is still hope. If you feel, like I do, that the usual discourse about matters of critical concern tends to be superficial, misguided, and false, then you might find some solace and inspiration here. I will try to offer insight and a holistic perspective on events and issues, and hopefully serve as a catalyst for raising the level of dialogue on this planet.

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Location: Madison, Wisconsin, United States

I was born in 1945, shortly before atom bombs were dropped on Japan. I served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971. I earned master's degrees in Economics and Educational Psychology, and certificates in Web Page Design and as a Teacher of English as a Second Language. I followed an Indian guru for eight years, which immersed me in meditative practices and an attitude of reaching a higher level of being. A blog post listing the meditative practices I have pursued can be seen here.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Aiding the "Enemy"

This is me with Casey, the Springer Spaniel we had when I was a kid. He was a biter, but never bit me. I was lucky, because I connected with him as my trusted friendWhen I think about formative experiences in my life, many come to mind. I ran away from home when I was three years old. In Chicago. More likely I just wandered off. I remember being found by a couple of policemen, who bought me ice cream, and took me to see some horses in a pasture. No doubt they were police horses, which are still used extensively in Chicago. It was a great little adventure.

On Christmas Eve when I was five years old I told my older brother and sister that there was no Santa Claus. I had them jumping up and down screaming, enough to make my dad come out from his and my mother's bedroom to see what was going on. My brother and sister were wailing "He said there's no Santa Claus! He said there's no Santa Claus!" My dad turned to me and asked, "Is that true? Did you say there's no Santa Claus?" I answered, "Yes! There isn't any Santa Claus! I saw you bringing boxes into your room. You're wrapping gifts in there!"

He said "Come here," and took me around the corner in our "flat" apartment. Looking steeply down at me, he calmly said "Listen. You're going to go out there and tell them that there's a Santa Claus, or else you get no Christmas, no gifts, and you stay in your room." I looked steeply up at him, and said "Okay," and we went back around the corner, where I told my brother and sister "I was just kidding. There really is a Santa Claus." After that everything was fine, and we all enjoyed Christmas with plenty of gifts, which in those days I think we called presents.

I pulled a number of stunts like that growing up, including getting out of drying dishes because I said I was God, and didn't have to do any work (I was four then). The idea came from hearing my mother tell the story of Jesus teaching the elders.

I wrote about throwing gravel at Douglas MacArthur a couple of months before my sixth birthday in I Love a Parade.

Me at Linoma Beach in 1952. It is called Linoma because it is half way between Lincoln and Omaha on the Platte RiverThere were a number of escapes and near misses growing up. I fell out of a weeping willow tree when I was eight, tumbling head-over-heels from the top of the tree, probably from 25 to 30 feet up, grabbing branches and breaking them on the way down, then landing on my head completely upside-down. I just got up and dusted myself off and walked home. It was one of those things you don't tell anyone about.

One old house we lived in had a barn in the back yard. I fell out of the loft and landed in a barrel. I was lucky again. Mostly it was just my pride that was hurt. The barn was torn down not long after that. I used the bricks from the foundation to make a fort.

I saved a kid from certain drowning when I was about eleven years old. It was a weird situation. I was goofing around near a construction site on a weekend when no one was around. There was a sewer line being built, and a pit around the open sewer was about fifteen feet deep, with loose soil sloping down to the sewer. I was there wandering around by myself, and the other kid was a neighborhood brat whom I tried to avoid. For some reason he tempted fate by climbing down into the pit, and the soil started giving away. He started falling towards the sewer, and I raced down and pulled him out, just in time. Not a word was spoken between us. No thanks, nothing. I went home, wanting to tell someone, but I couldn't. I would have been in trouble for being at the construction site.

I got chased by a bull once when I stepped through a pasture fence. I was chased by a weird guy in the dark when I was twelve. I wrote about this in The Fiend. I was chased by the police on Halloween when I was fourteen. This was something completely due to "bad companionship." A high school friend lived in a different part of town, and shenanigans like throwing firecrackers, eggs and pumpkins, soaping windows, lighting grocery bags filled with dog excrement on fire on people's porches, then ringing the doorbell - all were new experiences for me.

More fun than running from the police was running from and hiding under porches when being chased by a pickup truck full of guys from the local public high school. They were riding around town throwing pumpkins on parked cars. We would come out from hiding and yell obscenities at them, then scamper back between houses, hiding under the handy wooden porches. It was great fun, hearing them running past on the sidewalk, yelling "Where are you, you rotten punks? We'll get you!"

There were many other formative experiences as I was growing up - boy scouts, high school sports, being saved by my swimming teacher when I was drowning during lessons (My first puppy love. She was the chairman [they didn't say chairperson in those days] of the University of Illinois' homecoming committee that fall), and, of course getting into fights.

When I finished college I worked some short-term jobs, biding my time before being drafted, which, with the Vietnam war in full throttle, was a certainty. I worked on highway construction, in a stove factory, and in a putty factory, among other menial jobs. A high school friend wanted to try his luck in California, and asked me if I wanted to drive out there with him. I jumped at the chance, and in February of 1968, in his huge Pontiac Bonneville we headed out. On the way we stopped for a few days in Denver, staying at the Theta Chi house at the University of Denver, where we were welcomed as "brothers." My high school buddy had been in the fraternity in college, but I hadn't. He taught me the secret handshake (It wasn't much of a secret, the "brotherhood" handshake with crossed pinkies, if I remember right) and secret symbols, so I could fake it if needed.

The Hot Dog Show, Pacific Palisades, California. It was on Sunset Boulevard, just above the Pacific Ocean, a ritzy area, with a lot of Hollywood people living thereThe Theta Chi guys in Denver invited us to their ski weekend at a resort in Winter Park, so we drove to that, had some fun on the way in places like Central City, and at the Coors brewery in Golden, then back to Denver. We continued on, heading for Los Angeles. I spent four months in L.A., becoming the assistant manager of a high-end hot dog restaurant in the Pacific Palisades.

Among our many adventures in those four months was being chased out of Tijuana. No need to elaborate. I also read a script with the future Freddy Krueger, Bob Englund. I was terrible until my last line, calling him a nasty name. Brando couldn't have done it better. I didn't get along with Bob England, and my zinger took him out of character. I waited on James Mason at the Hot Dog Show, giving him lukewarm water for his Sanka. He came to the counter with the cup dangling from his little finger, and said, in his stentorian British accent, "Have you got any hot Coffee?" I shriveled like a raisin, offering to heat up some water. He left without leaving a tip.

I went to a concert at "Valley State" to see Big Brother and the Holding Company, featuring Janis Joplin. It was in the college gym, and my seat was in the bleachers at an angle behind the stage. Janis J kept looking at me between songs, because I wasn't applauding. I was kind of mesmerized, just taking it in. Finally, after looking at me like that after about eight songs she threw her castanets on the floor in anger. I didn't mean to be rude, but often have that effect on people. Sorry, Janis, you were great. Taj Mahal was also on the bill, and a band named Sweetwater.

In early June I spent a few days in San Francisco. While touring the UC Berkely Campus we happened upon a free concert being filmed for TV at the Greek Theater. It was a contest, won by the Chambers Brothers. Serendipity. It was a great sendoff, seeing them do "Time Has Come Today."

Then it was back to Illinois, where I enlisted in the Army, days ahead of being drafted.

It was in the Army where I grew into adulthood. I had to get through it without any help, relying on my own devices. I enlisted so that I could get the school I wanted, projector repair. That meant I had to take an extra year, so my enlistment lasted three years. The draft commitment would have been two years.

Me in Heidelberg, summer 1970Those three years seemed to last forever. After projector repair school I was sent to Germany, where there was no authorization for projector repairmen. I was happy, though, because it was better than being sent to Vietnam, and the clerical jobs I worked in gave me a bit of status that shielded me from a lot of the harm that might have come my way.

Still, the three years I spent in the Army were some of the hardest of my life. I was a dissenter, a court jester, a whistleblower, and an instigator. I became an actor and an escape artist as well. I helped guys out of trouble, and showed them how to stand up for themselves against the Army. To me, the things that I showed them, like getting a JAG lawyer, were pretty simple, but to to truck drivers and mechanics who weren't highly literate, it was transcendent.

In one of my many escapes, one Saturday a guy in my unit tried to sell me a bag of marijuana in downtown Heidelberg, and I sensed trouble, easing away from the situation. Again, it was something simple. A stranger approached the guy, wearing a big wooden peace symbol tied to a piece of leather around his neck. He also was wearing a long-hair wig with a head band, a T shirt and vest, and vertically striped bell-bottom pants. He said, "Hey, man, what you got in that bag, man?" It was too obvious. I turned to the friend I was with and said "Let's get out of here." We backed away, and within about fifteen seconds three burly guys came from out of nowhere, tackled the attempted dealer and had him on the ground. We skedaddled across the Karl Theodor Bridge, managing to avoid getting involved in this silly drama any further.

Patton Barracks, Heidelberg, Germany. The 503d Trans Co. is on the right. My room is on the second floor.One of my favorite memories is the time I was accused of a security violation. It was midsummer, 1970, and I was working as an orderly room clerk in the 503d Transportation Company, in Heidelberg. One of my daily duties was to bring the daily outgoing correspondence to the "Special Troops Group" message center, and pick up the incoming distribution. On one occasion the Company Clerk gave me a large manila envelope that was marked "classified," and said "This goes to S-1." S-1 is the military staff designation for personnel.

I dropped the envelope off at the Group Headquarters message center, not giving it a second thought. A few days later I was told that I had committed a security breach, or some such, and that I would likely receive an "Article 15," military vernacular for nonjudicial punishment. If you signed the Article 15 it meant you were accepting the charge and resulting punishment, likely a reduction in rank and a fine. If you refuse to sign, this meant you could be subject to a court martial, and if found guilty would receive a much more severe punishment.

I didn't feel I had done anything wrong, and had a few days to think it over. When the time came to report to the company commander and either accept or refuse the charges, I refused. I told the C.O. that I felt I was being made a scapegoat. I said that I wasn't told specifically to take the envelope to S-1, that the envelope was marked improperly - it should have been marked with a classification like confidential, secret or top secret, that I had no training in how to handle classified material, and that I shouldn't have been carrying the envelope because I didn't have a security clearance.

The Orderly Room of the infamous 503dEach time I told the C.O. one of these things it was like hitting him in the stomach. After I finished he said something like "O.K. Hamilton, you're dismissed. Go back to work." The Article 15 wasn't his idea. It was the Group commander's, Colonel Tjossem ("Joe Sim"). He had to go back to Col. Tjossem and tell him that I refused to sign the Article 15.

I didn't hear anything more about the Article 15 or a court martial. I took a big chance and won, and I was pretty relieved and proud of myself. It was the only time in the Army that I was charged with anything, and I basically outsmarted the Army. It didn't take much, but still it was a victory I savor to this day.

What brought this case to mind was the pending trial of Bradley Manning, a private in the Army who is accused of releasing massive amounts of classified information to Wikileaks. His situation is far more serious, since he could receive the death penalty, but there are a surprising number of similarities.

One similarity is that it is unclear just what the security violation is. As in my case, he is accused of revealing "classified" material. Not confidential, secret, top secret, or the modern equivalent of "NATO Crypto." Just "classified."

It also is not clear what degree of security clearance Manning had, that he would have access to those documents of unknown classification. For example, if his security clearance was only "Secret," were any of the alleged violations beyond his authorization, and how did he have access to such documents? Would the death penalty apply to revealing confidential documents?

One of the charges against Manning is "aiding the enemy." Who, one might ask, is "the" enemy? "The" would imply a single "enemy." Since Bradley Manning was in "Iraq," would the "enemy" be "Iraq?" Specifically, the people of "Iraq?" Or, might the enemy be "Al Qaeda?" Or "Al Qaeda in Iraq?" We don't know, because we haven't been told. We haven't declared war on anyone, so we don't have an official "enemy," except the all-inclusive bugaboo, the "terrorists."

Some might remember that during the tenure of the Bush Criminal Regime that "Republicans" were routinely calling "Democrats" "terrorists" and "unpatriotic" on the floor(s) of the "U.S." Congress. For some curious reason, "terrorism" became a handy tool for politicians to stir the public's hysteria about a largely imagined threat. This handy tool continues to be used, with sporadic grandstand arrests of entrapped dupes. One could almost think that the "911" attacks were internally planned, having become such a useful device for promoting dubious policies, wars and legislation.

So "terrorism" as "the" "enemy" is a pretty meaningless demographic, because the term is used as much or more for propaganda purposes as it is for actual practitioners of terrorism. Who else, then, is the "enemy?" World opinion is one likelihood. Even more likely is the "American" people. Or at least the perceptions and beliefs of the "American" people. The "War on Terror" can't continue if the people don't believe it is worthy of their concern and money. Especially their (our) money. Since 2001 the "War on Terror" has been a gusher of money for the armaments industry, the "security" industry, and for companies like Halliburton and its subsidiary Kellog Brown and Root, suppliers of ancillary support for our invasions and occupations.

Rather than joining in on "leftist" paranoia about this dynamic, I prefer to expand the dynamic. The climate is becoming more chaotic, with an increasing number of tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, blizzards, droughts, heat waves, forest fires, and, most significantly, the melting of the polar ice caps. The oceans are getting warmer and rising. Protective reefs are dying. Due to overfishing, sea life is disappearing. Except, that is, around "Cuba."

Our economy is in deep trouble. We can no longer go around the planet invading people. That is, unless we want to go the way of the "Soviet Union," whose collapse was precipitated by an invasion of, coincidentally, "Afghanistan." our infinite growth system has already reached a point beyond sustainability, and future growth will only make environmental problems worse.

So ginning up hysteria about "terrorism" is now old, solves no problems except how to get more money to profiteers, and we have greatly more pressing problems. This is a great test for the human race. Can we rise above the low, the paranoid, the false, the devious and the avaricious? I think we can, but it remains to be seen if we will.

For an update about Bradley Manning, click here.

 There used to be a great live version of this song on YouTube, but they pulled it. This is the original studio version. They'll probably pull this too.

Most versions of this song have been pulled too. This one's pretty good. I hope it lasts. I don't care much for this version, but the video part is worth looking at.

When I first heard this song I was in the Army. It took some getting used to, but to this day it states the case for peace as well as any song out there.

Here's my favorite Janis Joplin song.

It's 2012. We have a great year ahead. A song of optimism never hurt anyone.

Here's another song of optimism.

This video is pretty cheerful. It's the Pulaski, Wisconsin high school marching band playing "Union Maid" at the Tournament of Roses Parade January 2. Here's a version from Carnegie Hall with Billy Bragg and others

Here's a good headin' to L.A. song.