Christmas 2013: Thoughts before a Birthday and a Funeral
A directly related post will be published at this blog on Sunday, December 22.
COMMENTS to this post begin below the photographs.
Acknowledging that there are differing views about the very notion of Christmas, and about Christmas letters such as this, I offer a few thoughts today, December 7, 2013.
Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays, and so on.
Seventy two years ago today, my Uncle Frank Bernard died on board the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor. The U. S. entered World War II the next day.
I’ve written often about Frank (just place Frank Bernard in the searchbox at the blog). Here’s one post with many photos of him in Navy days, plus some family history memories.
But today and this season I remember someone else as well.
Yesterday, December 6, 2013, we were driving by Ft. Snelling, and the giant U.S. flag there was flying at half-staff. I wondered why, but not for long. Being honored was Nelson Mandela of South Africa, who had died the previous day at age 95.
Later in the afternoon I happened across a powerful Nelson Mandela/South Africa story, Miracle Rising, on the History Channel. You can watch the two hour program on-line, here. It is a good reminder not only about the rugged road to peace, but also the stark contrast with the alternative path, which is most always the far more deadly path of war.
Uncle Frank was one of the first Americans to die in WWII. By the time WWII was over, two of his cousins, one a soldier from Manitoba, the other a four year old in Manila, died in the midst of combat. In all there were about 50 million casualties worldwide from that single war, over a million of them from the United States, over 400,000 of these deaths from among 16 million Americans who served, as Frank did, in one or the other branch of service.
History always seems to begin at a particular point, selected by the owner of the historical narrative. It might be useful to consider why the Japanese decided to attack the Americans at Pearl Harbor – there is a longer history in play. As there are reasons that Hitler managed to gain enough of a following in Germany to take control and wreak havoc in his dozen years in power. Pearl Harbor didn’t just happen; neither did Hitler.*
There were pre-existing conditions.
This Christmas, 2013, there appears to be an opening for a new way of looking at international relationships, and relationships within our own society. Pope Francis offers a new approach; efforts to find a way to end a long history of animosity between the U.S. and Iran show considerable potential for success if allowed to evolve; a major issue of chemical weapons in Syria seems to have been resolved. Of course, there are bumps in the road everywhere that change is attempted. Change is never easy. But an alternative to war ought to be embraced for our long term good. War only begets the next – and worse – war.
In South Africa, it took more than simply Mandela to bring stability to race relations in a time of change. In 1993, F.W. de Klerk won, along with Nelson Mandela, the Nobel Peace Prize for helping change the direction of South Africa. He needs to be recognized as well. And Desmond Tutu, another giant for peace in South Africa, won the Peace Prize in 1984.
Peace is a process. Let us continue moving forward.
And have a great Holiday season.
* – History is always pre-dated by earlier history. For example, Uncle Frank’s father, my grandfather, was one of the soldiers who went to the Philippines in 1898 to liberate the archipelago from the Spaniards. The Spaniards, by then, had all but surrendered, but the Americans stayed on fighting Filipinos who weren’t pleased with the new occupation by the United States. The Philippines became the U.S. outpost in the Pacific, threatening what Japan considered its sphere of influence. Frank’s uncle Alfred Collette was also in that war, in the same Company, and later came back to Manila about the time of WWI, and became quite successful as a businnessman. It was his daughter, named after my grandmother, who was killed in the liberation of Manila in early 1945.
As for the Germans and Hitler, the humiliation of the Germans by the WWI surrender terms, and the resulting abject poverty of many Germans, made Hitlers ascendancy much more likely.
One war simply begat another.
This years message is 37th in an unintended series that began in December, 1977.
In the 1982 message I included this quotation on Risk, which I believe is from Leo Buscaglia:
(click to enlarge)
in 1982 my personal focus was on the last sentence “only a person who risks is free”; this year, for lots of reasons, I fix on the sentence directly above: “chained by their certitudes they are a slave”….
POSTNOTE TWO, December 9, 2013:
I published this post on Saturday, and made a list of other persons/groups to send it to on Sunday. But Sunday came and went. Something held me back from increasing the circulation of this message about the value of Peace and the inefficacy of War.
But War is a difficult issue to confront; it is so basic to our very meaning as an American, even World, society.
While it kills us in many ways, and is never other than a short-term solution, War seems a preferred option to Peace. Even our vocabulary is war-centered; our national spectacle, professional football, is an orchestrated War celebrating Winners at most any cost. Casualties are a part of the sport.
Mandela preferred the always messy option of Peace (“Reconciliation”, it was called) and while that peace was, and remains, imperfect, it was certainly preferable to the option of indiscriminate killing of enemies within ones own country.
Last night War and Peace came together for me in a most unlikely way.
I was watching CBS TV’s Sixty Minutes – delayed as it usually is by an National Football League game – and both featured segments fit together, for me, like a glove. They are headlined, respectively, “Survivor” and “Mandela”, and they are both worth watching, though it is Survivor that leads to this postnote.
“Survivor” tells the story of one of those celebrated “Seals” whose entire unit was wiped out in 2005 in an engagement with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The sole survivor survived only because of an ordinary Afghani, a villager who chose to save rather than kill or let die the U.S. enemy in his midst. They, the Afghan and the Seal, are, for good reason, good friends today. The Seal lost all of his buddies; the Afghan is targeted by the local Taliban…. The story fit like a glove the “Three Questions” story sent by John B as a comment to this post (see above).
There is an alternative to War, and it is Peace.
Peace will not come through leaders – they are in various ways guided by historical narratives, most all of which emphasize War.
In a real sense we have to be the politicians who are the leaders, recognizing at the same time, the pressures facing them to not change the status quo.
Mandela, for whatever reason, took a big risk – Reconciliation – and we are celebrating that aspect of him this week.
Choose Peace. It is a great choice.
Have a great day.
POSTNOTE: We have been privileged to hear, in person, both Desmond Tutu and F. W. deKlerk. At the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Festival at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, I sat directly behind him and watched his engagement with first graders who were singing at the time. Later Cathy and I were photographed with him.
UPDATE Dec 8, from John B: From LifeTrekCoaching, Provision 837 Three Questions: Three Questions Life Trek
Dec. 8, from Flo H: It wasn’t until this morning that I noted that yesterday was Pearl Harbor Day. I was still focused on Nelson Mandela’s significance in moving S. Africa from apartheid to freedom for all. Wish it also meant that all was now good, but we “invaders” here in the United States still have a long ways to go to treat respectfully, in a spirit of Peace with Justice, the Native Americans who were here before us.
Dec. 8, From Shirley L: I really appreciated your Christmas 2013 blog.
I’m taking the liberty of sending you a copy of the message Cal and I sent out this year.
(click to enlarge)
To completely understand it you have to know that the card itself has on the front a large blue Christmas ornament with the word PEACE across it.
The message printed on the inside is simply Joy to the World.
That didn’t seem sufficient…so I added our message on the left side in the card.
It’s a bit off-beat. But I like to get people thinking! and listening!
Best Christmas wishes to you.
from Florence M, Dec. 9: Thank you very much, Dick. Very thoughtful and informative. I am glad I am on your list.
from Lorna M, Dec 9: Thank you so very much for your message. My wishes to you and yours for a Blessed Christmas and New Year.
All the blessings of Christmas to you.
from Emmett M Dec 8, 2013: A very thought provoking message that brought to mind a couple of other
thoughts for you to ponder.
1) – When I saw 1977 [referred to above], it brought to mind that the Voyager spacecrafts were
launched that year. Voyager II was the first to be launched with an
objective to explore the four outer massive planets. Then came the launch
of Voyager I with the objective of reaching interstellar space. I apologize
if I have already sent you the attachment, which is a write-up that I
prepared for my banker who is fascinated by this stuff.
(click to enlarge)
2) – On the subject of Mandela, I am always put off by the hypocrisy that I
see in the world. Obama commented about his high regard for Mandela for
ending apartheid in South Africa, and yet he is one of the world’s greatest
supporters of Israel with its apartheid. Even Netanyahu, the King of
Apartheid, is going to South Africa for the Mandela services.
And on the subject of Israel, I am amazed by the ignorance of the Americans
when they talk about Palestinian peace talks. If they only took an
objective look at American history they could understand that there will
never be peace for the Palestinians. Think about all the peace treaties
that the invaders of America had with the Native Americans, then consider
how few of those treaties with ever honored by the invaders. The Zionist
movement in Israel is focused on continued expansion. I have a write-up on
what I titled “Churchill’s Ugly Monster”, that I will send you if I can
remember where I put it. You pointed out that wars beget wars, and that is
certainly true in the Middle East. Churchill, the worlds biggest scumbag in
the eyes of Roosevelt, is responsible for all the problems that we see in
the Middle East.
I could go on, but I have a higher objective right now. I give generously
to major relief organizations. But now I’m pondering that old question, “Am
I doing the right thing by fighting starvation?”. This might strike you as
odd, but when I did the right-up on the Voyagers, it dawned on me that by
the time Voyager I passes the next star (a sun like ours), 40,000 years will
have past. By that time we will have gone through another Ice Age and the
survivors will probably again be talking about Global Warming. When that
next Ice Age comes along there will be less habitable lands and there will
be massive human deaths do to starvation, wars for control of limited foods
supplies, and due to pandemics through tightly populated societies. To avoid
this, it is imperative that we get our human population back down to 3 to 4
billion. Putting aside natural disasters, providing relief to massive
populations will only result in increased populations and the deaths of our
descendents. And that is also really true in the case of natural disasters.
If people didn’t live in the areas hit by natural disaster, they would not
Most of the problems in the world are caused by humanity, and what I am
wresting with today is the composing of a letter to the relief entities that
I support. The message is that humans are irresponsible about managing
their population, mostly due to antiquated religious beliefs and cultures.
So the big question is how to delicately pose the subject of population
control, knowing that many of these relief organizations originate in the
religious communities that foster the huge population growth that the world
is experiencing. They don’t seem to understand that we are but specks on
this puny third rock from the sun, and it has no obligation to us. We are
nothing more than a bunch of parasites that are indiscriminately doing
damage to a health earth. If you have any good thought on this subject, I
would appreciate hearing them.
In the interim, Happy Holidays to you and your family.
from Fred J Dec 11, 2013: Really liked your yearly message. After all these years, you are the first person I’ve met who had a relative on the Arizona.
In keeping with the spirit of reconciliation t[hat] permeates your piece, I present three brief vignettes about the war in the Pacific.
About 15 years ago my wife and I met a US navy lieutenant during a flight to Honolulu. She invited us on a personal tour of the Pearl Harbor naval facilities and lunch at the officers club. Also went out to the Arizona Memorial. It was our second visit but just as sobering as the first. The three of us stood there silently looking at the long list of names. A boat with about 20 Japanese tourists pulled up. They walked to the Memorial and also stood in respectful silence looking at the names. We left first. Though we shared no words with the Japanese, it was evident our feelings were identical.
We visited Okinawa a few years back and took an island tour. It was fascinating to me since I had read about the fighting on and around the island since I was a child. There had been a girls school there during the war and its students, ages about 8 to 18, were impressed/volunteered to serve as nurses when the US forces invaded. Most were killed during the fighting. We met one of the few survivors from the school in a small memorial dedicated to those young students. Class photos of all the girls were posted on the wall. As the battle was ending in April 1945, many of those still alive decided to join the soldiers they were with in committing suicide. Through an interpreter the survivor told her story. She had been stunned by artillery blasts and captured. US medics helped her recover. After all she went through, the survivor went on to live a full life and showed no animosity to the nosy American (me) who talked with her.
Japan has constructed a memorial and museum on its southern-most home island of Kyushu dedicated to the Kamikaze pilots of the Second World War. It is located on the one of the airbases used by the Japanese in their suicidal attacks on units of the US navy. Photos of hundreds of pilots line the wall. They are revered for their service even if museum reps we talked with during our visit say they were misguided. In this case it appears—remember we were just there a couple of hours and perhaps our hosts were just trying to be polite—that the Japanese had to go some major reconciliation with their own national leadership and wartime culture.
Had your uncle survived the bombing and the war, I wonder what he would make of all this.
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