In 1968, I served at the funeral mass for someone who was killed in Vietnam. I knew him fairly well: He was the older brother of a classmate in the Catholic school I attended.
Though people said I was a “smart” kid I couldn’t, for the life of me, understand what my classmate’s brother was doing in a country none of us would have heard of had young men like him not been sent there. I tried to understand the explanations I heard from adults in my family, school and church, and in the media. The word “domino” often came up: supposedly, Vietnam was one. According to that narrative, if the country fell to the Communists, others would follow.
I don’t have the expertise, or the inclination, to debate such a theory. What I am willing to say is that another “domino” phenomenon may be at work today, half a century later. And I must say that I am glad to see the fall of the “tiles” I’m about to describe.
For a millennium after Roman Empire disintegrated, the Roman Catholic Church exercised power that’s hard to imagine today if you’re not living in a theocracy. The monarchs of Europe “reported,” if you will, to the Pope, so a challenge to royal authority was, in essence, an attack on the Church. That is why Henry VIII’s “divorce” from the Church and the French Revolution were such cataclysmic events. Henry, in breaking away from the church and starting his own when the Pope wouldn’t grant him an annulment, effectively declared himself the Pope of England (to this day, the Queen or King is the Head of the Church of England, a.k.a. Anglican Church); when French revolutionaries lopped off the heads of their monarchs and nobles, they were effectively cutting themselves off from ecclesiastical authority, which was intertwined with their class system.
From there, the Church’s influenced weakened, however gradually: France and other countries passed laws that eliminated or limited religion from politics and other public discourse. In a few countries, however, the Church continued to exert its authority. Among those countries were Spain, Ireland and Poland, all of which were known, until recently, for their staunch Catholicism.
One could argue that in Spain, the unhooking of the Church from the nation’s culture and politics began in the late 1970s, after the death of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, who maintained nacionalcatolicismo as part of his dictatorial system. Today, while most Spaniards are at least nominally affiliated with the Church (it doesn’t let go of you easily!), they—especially the young—attend mass at rates on par with their peers in the Netherlands and Norway, which aren’t exactly known as ramparts of religiosity. (But, hey, they’re ahead of the UK, France, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Estonia!)
Ione Belarra is the Spanish Minister of Social Rights and the 2030 Agenda. Three weeks ago, she made her debut in Parliament. She wasted no time in expressing what too many of us have known and borne in silence. “It must be said that the Catholic Church has been and accomplice too many times in this country,” she pronounced. The Church has been “covering up sexual violence against children,” she elaborated. Such a denunciation of the Church would have been unthinkable a generation ago and possibly fatal a generation before that. Where it will lead, I don’t know, but I don’t think Spain will return to being the sort of country that got a special dispensation from the Pope Urban II for its role in the Crusades, or even the one whose “neutrality” in World War II was protected by Franco playing nice with Hitler and Mussolini.
In Ireland and Poland, Catholic domination of culture and politics endured a bit longer, in part because Catholicism served as a touchstone of identity as those countries were subsumed by colonial powers (England in Ireland and Prussia, Germany and the Soviet Union, among others, in Poland) that tried to erase all vestiges of their culture, including their language.
It’s been said that the first crack in the Berlin Wall opened when a shipyard electrician in Gdansk—guided, he claimed, by his Catholic faith—organized a strike that challenged the Communist regime in Poland.
Lech Walesa would later serve as the first President of his newly-independent country. In that post, and in his life afterward, he fought to liberalize the economy and protect human rights—of some humans, that is. While presiding over his country, he signed a law that sharply restricted abortion rights and said, of LGBT people, that he didn’t “wish for this minority,” which he “tolerates and understands” to “impose itself on the majority.” That’s the sort of language you hear from conservatives who don’t want to sound like bigots but who see equality as “special treatment.” Also under his presidency, publicly-funded catechism classes were introduced in the country’s state-run schools.
His expressed views on LGBT rights have moderated, which may reflect another change underway in Polish society, particularly among the young. In the most recent census, 96 percent of Poles were identified as Roman Catholics. While they attend church at higher rates than in other countries such as neighboring Czech Republic (which has one of the world’s lowest church attendance rates), if pressed, many—especially the young—find other things to do with their Sunday mornings and say they were “raised” Catholics but hedge, or give negative answers when asked about their current church affiliation. And, as in other countries, some claim to attend church more often than they actually do.
Activists contend that many people are counted as “Catholic” because they tick the box without thinking or because other people, such as their parents, fill out the forms for them. Now the “Chce sie liczyc” (“I Want To Count”) campaign seeks to encourage Polish people to think about their identity and, if they are so inclined, choose other answers such as “Christian,” “Deist,” or “Atheist.” That previous census counts presented a “very monolithic and homogenous Poland,” in the words of campaign leader Oskar Zyndul. That gave governments since Walesa’s the rationale—however unjustified—for passing and enforcing laws that restrict abortion access, in vitro fertilization, and LGBT rights, in contrast to the wishes of increasing numbers of Poles.
Could Poland join other former Catholic bastions like France, Spain, Belgium and Ireland, which have legalized same-sex marriage and removed most or all restrictions against abortion? If we look at the Irish Republic, such a scenario in Poland may not seem so far-fetched. In 2015, the country James Joyce described as a “sow that eats its young” became the first in the world to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote. (Other countries and US states had mandated marriage equality through executive decrees or votes by legislative chambers.) Three years later, it finally lifted its ban on abortions. That same year, Pope Francis’s visit wasn’t greeted with anything like John Paul’s visit some four decades earlier. And pundits, Catholic and secular alike, talk about the “waning influence” or even “demise” of the Church in Ireland.
Ireland, like Spain and Poland, has been convulsed by revelations of decades, or even centuries, of priests sexually abusing children and all sorts of other horrors in Catholic monasteries, orphanages and hospitals. And the young, with more formal education and access to information and contacts with people who look, speak, dress, eat and worship—or not—differently from themselves—simply have less use for the Church than their parents or grandparents had. Those countries might be the next Catholic “dominoes,” and any attempt to stop their “fall” will be as futile as the efforts—and lives, like that of my classmate’s brother— expended to keep Vietnam from becoming a “domino” in another game.
Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
In response to a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings, the United States is deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the U.S. Central Command region to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force. The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or regular Iranian forces.
Recent reports suggest that the United States is planning to send 120,000 troops to the Middle East, purportedly to be used to stem the existential threat the United States faces from Iran (and Islam). On Monday, Trump said:
Would I do that [send 120,000 troops to the Middle East]? Absolutely. But we have not planned for that. And if we did that, we’d send a hell of a lot more troops than that.
Supposedly, evidence exists that “proves” Iran intends to attack U.S. military bases and interests in the Middle East. As of today, not one shred of this evidence has been provided by the Trump administration. This leads me to believe that no such evidence exists, and what Trump and Bolton want to really do is show everyone that the United States is still the John Holmes of the world. Trump relishes an opportunity to finally play with “his” army men. And Bolton? Well, he has ALWAYS wanted war with the Persia of the Bible. In 2015. Bolton said:
The inescapable conclusion is that Iran will not negotiate away its nuclear program. Nor will sanctions block its building a broad and deep weapons infrastructure. The inconvenient truth is that only military action like Israel’s 1981 attack on Saddam Hussein’s Osirak reactor in Iraq or its 2007 destruction of a Syrian reactor, designed and built by North Korea, can accomplish what is required. Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed.
Let’s not forget that John Bolton was one of the main architects of the immoral war with Iraq. In 2002, Bolton said:
We are confident that Saddam Hussein has hidden weapons of mass destruction and production facilities in Iraq.
We now know that Bolton, along with President George W. Bush, lied to the American people about Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction. I have long supported President Bush and other war-mongers facing war-crime charges over their murderous actions in Iraq. Alas, the military-industrial complex always wins, regardless of whether a Democrat or a Republican sits in the White House. America’s war machine has long provided cover for economic decline and increased unemployment. Bloodshed is good for our economy. Everyone wins when Middle Eastern women and children die from American interventionism and drone strikes. Well, everyone except the people slaughtered by our military might. Hey, as long as we are fighting “them” over there, and not here, it’s all good — right?
I came of age during the Vietnam War. We now know that this war was predicated on a lie — North Vietnam’s attack of American navy vessels in the Gulf of Tonkin. Wikipedia states:
The Gulf of Tonkin incident (Vietnamese: Sự kiện Vịnh Bắc Bộ), also known as the USS Maddox incident, was an international confrontation that led to the United States engaging more directly in the Vietnam War. It involved either one or two separate confrontations involving North Vietnam and the United States in the waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. The original American report blamed North Vietnam for both incidents, but eventually became very controversial with widespread belief that at least one, and possibly both incidents were false, and possibly deliberately so. On August 2, 1964, the destroyer USS Maddox, while performing a signals intelligence patrol as part of DESOTO operations, was pursued by three North Vietnamese Navy torpedo boats of the 135th Torpedo Squadron. Maddox fired three warning shots and the North Vietnamese boats then attacked with torpedoes and machine gun fire. Maddox expended over 280 3-inch (76.2 mm) and 5-inch (127 mm) shells in a sea battle. One U.S. aircraft was damaged, three North Vietnamese torpedo boats were damaged, and four North Vietnamese sailors were killed, with six more wounded. There were no U.S. casualties. Maddox “was unscathed except for a single bullet hole from a Vietnamese machine gun round.”
It was originally claimed by the National Security Agency that a Second Gulf of Tonkin incident occurred on August 4, 1964, as another sea battle, but instead evidence was found of “Tonkin ghosts” (false radar images) and not actual North Vietnamese torpedo boats. In the 2003 documentary The Fog of War, the former United States Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara admitted that the August 2 USS Maddox attack happened with no Defense Department response, but the August 4 Gulf of Tonkin attack never happened In 1995, McNamara met with former Vietnam People’s Army General Võ Nguyên Giáp to ask what happened on August 4, 1964, in the second Gulf of Tonkin Incident. “Absolutely nothing”, Giáp replied. Giáp claimed that the attack had been imaginary.
The outcome of these two incidents was the passage by Congress of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which granted President Lyndon B. Johnson the authority to assist any Southeast Asian country whose government was considered to be jeopardized by “communist aggression”. The resolution served as Johnson’s legal justification for deploying U.S. conventional forces and the commencement of open warfare against North Vietnam.
In 2005, an internal National Security Agency historical study was declassified; it concluded that Maddox had engaged the North Vietnamese Navy on August 2, but that there were no North Vietnamese naval vessels present during the incident of August 4. The report stated, regarding the first incident on August 2:
“at 1500G, Captain Herrick ordered Ogier’s gun crews to open fire if the boats approached within ten thousand yards (9,150 m). At about 1505G, Maddox fired three rounds to warn off the communist [North Vietnamese] boats. This initial action was never reported by the Johnson administration, which insisted that the Vietnamese boats fired first.”
On August 4, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson made a TV announcement to the American people about the supposedly unprovoked attacks by North Vietnam on the United States. We now know, of course, that Johnson (and Robert MacNamara) was lying through his teeth. This mythical event fueled what was to become ten years of bloodshed in Southeast Asia. More than two million soldiers and civilians died, and millions more were wounded.
Call me an old curmudgeon or a military-hating commie, I care not. All I know is this: I have not seen one scintilla of evidence that suggests that Iran poses a threat to the United States. Thus, I have concluded that the current saber-rattling is little more than an attempt by Donald Trump to pump up his “manly” image before the 2020 presidential election; to show the American people that he is willing to kill on their behalf. John Bolton is all too willing to help Trump fulfill his destiny. And who will pay the ultimate price? The American people — soldiers forced to shed their blood in yet another supererogatory war; and civilians in faraway lands who can’t figure out why Jesus-loving Americans hate them so much.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
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Note: I realize this is a long post, but it was impossible for me to address the issue of racism in 1,200 words or less. I hope you will read to the end, and then share your thoughts in the comment section. I would also appreciate you sharing this post on social media.
Donald Trump. What more can be said about the orange-haired toddler currently inhabiting the White House. Fair-minded people see Trump as a narcissistic psychopath whose entire approach to policy and governing can be summed up in one word — winning. In recent weeks, mental health professionals have begun to question the president’s sanity and mental fitness. Could it be that the millions of people who voted for my dick-is-bigger-than-your-dick Trump were duped by a man who is mentally unfit for office? Or is Trump more like Jack Nicholson’s character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest — a man who is artfully manipulating the system for his own good. Looking at the tax overhaul plan released today by Trump, I would suggest the latter. The president is asking Congress to reduce the number of tax rates, while also reducing the rate on the highest tax bracket from thirty-nine percent to thirty-five. Trump also wants Congress to do away with the estate tax, drastically reduce corporate tax rates, and fundamentally change how American corporate profits earned overseas are taxed. The big winners in the president’s plan are millionaires, billionaires, and large corporations. In other words, Trump wins big, to the tune of millions of dollars a year in reduced taxes. And when he dies his vast estate would be passed on to his heirs tax-free. Talk about winning. Trump wins on both sides of the grave.
None of the above surprises me in the least. Trump is the culmination of forty years of Republican attempts to gut the federal government, impoverish the states, and reward wealthy capitalists for their political support. Begun by Saint Ronald Reagan with what George H.W. Bush called voodoo economics, Republican economic policies are now such that there can be no doubt that their end game is the enslavement of the working class and poor and the enrichment of the corporate oligarchs who now rule (and own, bought and paid for with campaign donations) federal and state governments. And these haters of progressive values are not finished. We still have Paul Ryan and his Tea Party cohorts masturbating to a statute of Ayn Rand with Adam’s Smith invisible hand. These despisers of the poor will not rest until all the social progress gained since World War II is returned to the “hell” from whence it came. Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, the Civil Rights Act, the Gun Control Act, Welfare, Food Stamps, Obamacare — gone, gone, gone! In its place is a resurgent wild west where corporations are free to misuse and abuse their employees, pollute waterways, foul the air, and donate millions to politicians who do the bidding of their business overlords (along with a military tasked to protect corporate interests across the globe).
Underneath the anti-human policies mentioned above is a subtle, and, at times, not so subtle, racism. There is no doubt, at least in my mind, that President Trump is a racist. And white supremacists, Steve Bannon of Breitbart fame, David Duke of the KKK, and the white marchers that took to the streets of Charlottesville think so too. White America — eighty-two percent of white Evangelicals vote for Trump — overwhelmingly voted for President Winner. While this in and of itself isn’t proof that Trump is a racist — after all, the overwhelming majority of blacks for voted Barack Obama — the president’s speeches, policies, executive orders, and Tweets — despite the token blacks at his Ain’t I Wonderful pep rallies — reveal that the man is indeed someone who is, at the very least, indifferent to matters of race. While some on the left want to give the president the benefit of the doubt, suggesting that he is a non-politician learning on the job, I am not one such person. Eight months of living in the swirling vortex of a Donald Trump presidency has shown me that the man is a racist.
If I had any doubts about Trump’s racism, events that have transpired over the last week have put an end to them. He is, without a doubt a racist. First, there’s the president’s verbal and Twitter attacks of black NFL and NBA players. My counselor and I were talking about this very matter today, and he asked me if I noticed how Trump artfully moved the reference point of discussion. When Colin Kaepernick took a knee, it was to protest racial injustice and police brutality against people of color. Over the weekend, hundreds of black (and white) NFL athletes refused to stand for the National Anthem. Their reasons for protesting range from racial injustice and police violence against blacks to Trump calling them sons of bitches and demanding team owners fire them. Trump moved the discussion goalpost by changing the point of reference from race to patriotism. The protests had nothing to do with race, according to the president, and everything to do with disrespecting the American flag. Trump did the same thing when he was sharply criticized for his atrocious tone-deaf comments after the white-supremacist-driven carnage in Charlottesville. The protest wasn’t about race. Oh no, the marching whites in Charlottesville were protesting the left’s attack on their Southern way of life, complete with Confederate flags and Civil War monuments. By turning these protests on their head, Trump hopes to avoid being labeled a racist. Sadly, many of his followers have followed right along with him, asserting that neither they nor President Make-America-Great-Again are racist.
Want to see how racist many people in America still are? Just turn to the comment sections on news sites and blogs, or slog through posts and comments by Herr Donald supporters on social media, and you will see George Wallace-worthy — I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever — racism. From support of Trump’s racist immigration policies and his callous indifference to the suffering of non-white Puerto Rico to their defense of his on attack black athletes and whites who oppose his policies, these dog-whistle-hearing sycophants show that we are generations away from living in a post-racial society.
If you doubt these issues are about race, let Steven Colbert of The Late Show fame,The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah, and Nick Wright from ESPN put your doubts to rest.
I am sixty-years old. I grew up in a flag-waving, John Birch Society-supporting, Evangelical home where racism was never far from the surface of day-to-day life. My parents moved to California in the 1960s. It was there that they were exposed to the virulent racism at the heart of American exceptionalism, Christian nationalism, and ideologies trumpeted by Richard Welch, Jr, the founder of the John Birch Society, 1964 Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, and Democratic/Independent candidate George Wallace. I have no doubt that the preaching of their pastor, Tim LaHaye, from the pulpit of Scott Memorial Baptist Church helped to stoke my parents’ rage against blacks, Mexicans, Martin Luther King, Jr, the Black Panthers, the United Nations, Vietnam War protesters, and anyone and everyone who ran afoul of their white sensibilities.
It should not be surprising, then, that their eldest son, picked up on and adopted their beliefs. As a first-grader in the San Diego public school system, I took several of my mother’s books to school, one of which was None Dare Call it Treason by John Stormer. One of the books had graphic photographs of violence perpetrated by Communist Russia. I primarily brought the book to school so I could show my fellow classmates the photos. My teacher quickly confiscated the books and sent them home with me at the end of the day with a note saying the books were to remain at home. I am sure my parents were proud of my preaching of right-wing gospel.
As a young adult, I frequently told racist jokes. While I often had to hide my racist views of blacks in public, in private conversations with fellow white restaurant managers I would lament the laziness of black employees. Even in our foster care provider days when we had a black teen girl living with us, I saw myself as a benevolent white out to help a helpless black girl. I was, without a doubt, the son of Robert and Barbara Gerencser, warriors for all things Christian and white.
My views on race began to change while this black girl lived in our home. In 1983, I started a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church in Somerset, Ohio. Needing local housing, we arranged to rent a farm-house from a retired teacher. The day we called to pick up the keys for the house, this virtuous pillar of all things Christian told us that she was going to rent the house to a family member instead. This, I later learned, was a lie. The truth was that she discovered we had a black foster child living with us, and according to someone who knew her well, she “wasn’t going to have a nigger living in her house.” We moved, instead, to New Lexington, thirteen miles south of Somerset. There we enrolled our foster daughter in the local public school. She was the only student of color in the school. Needless to say, this made her a target of racist rednecks who made her short stay there a living hell. Eventually, our foster daughter was returned to the system in hopes of her being placed in a home located in a more racially diverse area.
During the almost twelve years I pastored Somerset Baptist Church, my understanding of the complexities of race and the systemic problems faced by people of color began to change. I wish I could say that I had a Damascus road experience and the racist blinders over my eyes immediately fell off, but alas I can’t. It took years and years for my racist tendencies to fade into the fabric of racial equality and inclusion. And even to this day, I am not certain that I am blind to skin color. Several weeks ago, I participated in forum discussion on the subject, Does Racism Exist in Northwest Ohio? (You can listen to the podcast here. The podcast is also available on iTunes.) My answer was, yes, and I gave several examples to bolster my point; that underneath the white Christian veneer of rural Ohioans is a latent Obama-hating, affirmative action-hating, racism waiting to be unleashed. Last November, seven out of ten voting locals voted for Donald Trump. Confederate flags were unfurled for all to see. Racism, once buried safely below rural respectability, was legitimized and encouraged to rise to the occasion. The result is there for all to see on social media and on the editorial page of the Defiance Crescent-News.
During the aforementioned forum discussion, I mentioned an example of how Mr. Progressive, Mr. Color Blind Bruce Gerencser still had deeply buried racist tendencies. Several months back, while driving by Galilee Baptist Church on Ottawa Street in Defiance, I remarked, that’s where blacks go to church. True, Galilee is primarily attended by blacks, but when I drove by the next dozen or so churches, why didn’t I say, that’s where whites go to church? This illustration might seem quaint or not worthy of mention in a discussion on racism, but to me, it revealed that I still, to some degree, saw things from a racist perspective. I suspect that I will spend the remaining days of my life continuing to root out deep-seated prejudices towards people of color.
My wife, Polly, grew up in a family where racism was multi-generational, especially on one side of her family. I don’t remember Polly’s parents making strong racist statements, but their view of blacks revealed itself when they negatively talked about “colored” people. Why was skin color germane to the stories? Does it matter whether the wino, homeless man, thief, or murderer was black? Shouldn’t the crime or behavior be the focus of discussion? Yes, that’s how it should have been, but a racial designation was always attached when the perpetrator was a person of color.
Over the years, Polly and I heard family members tell countless jokes and stories about blacks. Sometimes, the stories were about how their white churches, in a paternalistic way, helped out this or that black family or how the white colonialist missionaries they supported were helping poor, ignorant blacks see the truth of the white Jesus gospel. Several discussions revolved around whether missionaries should require new black converts to dress and behave like Western whites. The answer, of course, was yes. Western Christianity was viewed as superior to African and Caribbean norms. Women were expected to wear bras, men ties, and everyone was to sing hymns the way they were sung at First Baptist Church. Black culture was a problem to be eradicated, not embraced, and missionaries were tasked with westernizing — in Jesus’ name, of course — their target groups.
A recent social media dust-up I had with the sixteen-year-old son of Polly’s Fundamentalist preacher cousin made me realize that the racism in her family is multi-generational. In a post titled Christmas, 1957-2014, I talked about the 2010 Christmas gathering for her immediate family. I wrote:
Christmas of 2010 was two years after President Obama was elected to his first term. Polly’s family didn’t vote for him, and through the night they made known their hatred for the man, Democrats and liberals in general. Polly and I, along with many of our children, voted for Obama, so the anti-Obama talk and the subtle racism made for an uncomfortable evening.
Most years, a gag gift is given to someone. This particular year, the gag gift, given to Polly’s uncle, was an Obama commemorative plate one of our nephews had bought on the cheap at Odd Lots. The grandchild of one of Polly’s uncles asked him what the plate was for. He replied, to go poo-poo on, poo-poo being the fundamentalist word for shit. This was the last straw for us
Fast forward to 2017, the grandchild mentioned above is a Fundamentalist Christian teenager, a staunch supporter, as were the three generations before him, of right-wing extremism. Recently, the boy raged against those (blacks) who refuse to stand for the National Anthem during pre-game ceremonies at professional sporting events. The latest protests, which he perceived was dishonoring of the military, the American flag, and the Christian way of life, resulted in him attacking those who refused to stand.
Here’s what the boy posted several weeks back:
Several days ago, he posted a similar screed.
Generally, I treat Facebook as a place to hang out with like-minded family and friends. I avoid political and religious discussions, preferring to look at shared photographs and cat videos. If I happen to inadvertently befriend someone outside of our extended family who is a Trump supporter or a right-wing Christian extremist, I quickly unfriend them. Life is too short for me to spend time wading through rivers of Trumptastic bullshit. Things are, however, a bit more dicey with family members. Polly and I, by far, are more progressive and liberal than many of the people we call family. When it comes to religion, we are the only out-and-out unbelievers in the bunch. While a handful of family members voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and Hillary Clinton in 2016, most of them vote Republican, and having had enough of the Kenyan-born socialist Obama, voted for Donald Trump over Clinton in 2016 (a few voted for Gary Johnson).
Knowing this about our extended family, I avoid political discussions with them, choosing to alternately laugh and cry over the lies and distortions they post on their Facebook walls. For whatever reason, yesterday I decided to respond to the aforementioned comments. Here’s what I said:
My response, predictably, brought out lit Tiki torches, resulting in this reply:
Let me summarize the boy’s argument:
There is no such thing as racism
There is no such thing as white privilege
Whites are the ones being discriminated against
I, foolishly thinking I could make a saint out of Malcom X at a KKK rally, replied:
Needless to say, the shit hit the proverbial fan and it is still, today, spraying across the social media. The boy told me I was ignorant, and the boy’s mother, with whom I have had several skirmishes over her ignorant posts about atheists, sent me a red-hot message, letting me know that my comments were out of line, that I was a bitter old man, and that their family was NOT racist — we know black people! I attempted to respond to her, but, by then, she had blocked me.
I would have asked her, if your family is not racist, where did your son get his abhorrent racist beliefs? Dad? Mom? Grandpa? Church? (I featured the racist comments of one woman who attends the church this boy’s father pastors in a post titled, Christian Fundamentalist Shares the Sweet, Sweet Love of Jesus on Facebook. This boy did not come up with these beliefs in a vacuüm. He was taught these things in word and deed.
Needless to say, this Facebook altercation destroyed what little relationship Polly or I had with this particular family. And that’s fine. Perhaps, one day this boy will have an epiphany about his views on patriotism and race, along with his views on LGBTQ people, same-sex marriage, liberalism, and socialism, and vaguely remember his curmudgeonly old “bitter” atheist cousin once removed and his attempts to show him a better way. For now, he remain a textbook example of how racism and bigotry can affect multiple generations of people — even those who, with infectious smiles, say, Jesus loves you, and he has a wonderful plan for your life.
For those of you who are still talking to your uber-patriotic, flag-waving Republican/Evangelical/Conservative/Right-Wing/Tea-Party friends and family, how have they responded to Donald Trump’s racist comments and protests by black NFL players? Please share your pithy thoughts in the comment section. If you are a supporter of dotard Donald Trump, don’t bother. I’m all Trumped out.
Opening debate remarks by David Swanson at the University of Pennsylvania on September 21, 2017, on the following proposition: “Are America’s wars in Syria and Afghanistan just and necessary or have we lost our way in the use of military force, including drone weaponry, in conducting US foreign policy?”
Wow, I’ve already gotten more applause than Trump got for his whole speech at the UN.
U.S. wars and bombings in Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and the Philippines, and threats to North Korea are unjust, unnecessary, immoral, illegal, extremely costly in several ways, and counterproductive on their own terms.
The idea of a just war comes down to us over some 1600 years from people whose worldview we share in almost no other way. Just war criteria come in three types: non-empirical, impossible, and amoral.
The Non-Empirical Criteria: A just war is supposed to have the right intention, a just cause, and proportionality. But these are devices of rhetoric. When your government says bombing a building where ISIS stashes money justifies killing up to 50 people, there’s no agreed upon, empirical means to reply No, only 49, or only 6, or up to 4,097 people can be justly killed. Identifying a government’s intention is far from simple, and attaching a just cause like ending slavery to a war doesn’t make that cause inherent to that war. Slavery can be ended in many ways, while no war has ever been fought for a single reason. If Myanmar had more oil we’d be hearing about genocide prevention as a just cause for invading, and no doubt worsening, the crisis.
The Impossible Criteria: A just war is supposed to be a last resort, have a reasonable prospect of success, keep noncombatants immune from attack, respect enemy soldiers as human beings, and treat prisoners of war as noncombatants. None of these things are even possible. To call something a “last resort” is in reality merely to claim it is the best idea you have, not the only idea you have. There are always other ideas that anyone can think of. Every time we urgently need to bomb Iran or we’re all going to die, and we don’t, and we don’t, the urgency of the next demand to bomb Iran loses a bit of its shine and the infinite options of other things to do become a little easier to see. If war really were the only idea you had, you wouldn’t be debating ethics, you’d be running for Congress.
What about respecting a person while trying to kill her or him? There are lots of ways to respect a person, but none of them can exist simultaneously with trying to kill that person. Remember that Just War theory began with people who believed killing someone was doing them a favor. Noncombatants are the majority of casualties in modern wars, so they cannot be kept safe, but they are not locked in cages, so prisoners cannot be treated like noncombatants while imprisoned.
The Amoral Criteria: Just wars are supposed to be publicly declared and waged by legitimate and competent authorities. These are not moral concerns. Even in a world where we had legitimate and competent authorities, they wouldn’t make a war any more or less just.
Now, we can examine any number of specific wars, and with most of them in a matter of minutes arrive at the conclusion that, well, this war isn’t just but some other war could be. The Afghan government was willing to turn Osama bin Laden over to a third country to be put on trial. The U.S. preferred a war. Most people in Afghanistan not only hadn’t had anything to do with 9/11 but still haven’t heard of it to this day. If planning 9/11 in Afghanistan was grounds for 16 years of destroying Afghanistan, why not even a little bombing of Europe? Why no bombing of Florida? Or of that hotel in Maryland near the NSA? There’s a popular myth that the UN authorized attacking Afghanistan. It didn’t. After 16 years of killing and torturing and destroying, Afghanistan is poorer and more violent, and the United States more hated.
Syria was on a list of governments to be overthrown by the U.S. for many years, and the U.S. working on that for the past decade. ISIS came out of the U.S.-led war on Iraq, which (along with wars on Yemen and Syria, and with many parties to blame) has to rank high on a list of crimes this century. ISIS allowed the U.S. to escalate its role in Syria, but on both sides of the same war. We’ve had Pentagon trained and armed troops fighting those trained and armed by the CIA. We’ve read in the New York Times that the Israeli government prefers neither side win. We’ve watched the U.S. reject numerous peace efforts over the years, preferring war. And beyond killing, injury, destruction, starvation, and disease epidemics what is there to show for it?
North Korea was willing to make agreements and abide by them 20 years ago, and, contrary to some U.S. reporting, is open to negotiations now. The people of South Korea are eager for the United States to agree to talks. One man burned himself to death on Tuesday in opposition to more U.S. weapons in South Korea. But the U.S. government has declared diplomacy impossible in order to threaten its preferred “last resort.” Trump told the UN on Tuesday that if North Korea misbehaved, “We will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea” — not just war but the total destruction of 25 million people. John McCain’s preferred word is “extermination.” Within 60 seconds, Trump went on to demand action against Iran on the grounds that Iran supposedly openly threatens mass murder.
Some wars won’t fit into these opening remarks. I’d like to be permitted at least 5 whole minutes on Rwanda, 10 on the American Revolution or Civil War, and 30 on World War II, which — in fairness — you have probably all consumed thousands of hours of propaganda on. Or, even better for us all, I could shut up and you could just read my books.
But once you’ve agreed that a lot of the wars are not just, once you know enough about how wars are carefully started and peace avoided at great effort so that you can laugh or perhaps cry at Ken Burns’ claim that what the Vietnamese call the American War was begun in “good faith,” it becomes harder to claim that any of the other wars are just, even the ones you start out thinking of that way. Here’s why.
War is an institution, the biggest, most costly one around. The U.S. puts about $1 trillion a year into war, roughly equal to the rest of the world combined — and most of the rest of the world is U.S. allies and weapons customers that the U.S. actively lobbies to spend more. Tens of billions could end starvation, the lack of clean water, or various diseases globally. Just the amount that Congress has just increased military spending this week could solve such global crises AND, as a bonus, make college free in the United States. Hundreds of billions could give us a fighting chance against climate change if redirected. The top way in which war kills is by diverting resources. War (and I use the term as shorthand for war and war preparations, with the latter being the most costly in many ways) is the biggest destroyer of the natural environment, the biggest cause of militarized police and eroded rights, a major generator of bigotry and justification for authoritarian and secret government. And with war spending come all the unjust wars.
So a just war, to justify the existence of the institution of war, would have to outweigh the damage of the diversion of resources away from good works, the further financial costs of lost opportunities, the trillions of dollars in property destruction resulting from wars, the unjustness of the unjust wars, the risk of nuclear apocalypse, the environmental damage, the governmental damage, and the societal damage of war culture. No war can be that just, certainly not wars fought by the war giant of the world. The United States could start a reverse arms race quite easily. By steps we could move toward a world in which people found it easier to recognize the meaning of nonviolent successes. The meaning of those successes is this: you do not need war to defend yourself. You can use the tools of nonviolent resistance, noncooperation, moral and economic and diplomatic and judicial and communication powers.
But the belief that you do need war, and that attacking oil-rich countries has something to do with protecting people goes a long way toward endangering you instead. Gallup polling finds the U.S. government believed by majorities around the world to be the top threat to peace on earth. For another country, let’s say Canada, to generate anti-Canadian terrorist networks on a U.S. scale, it would have to bomb and kill and occupy a lot of people. But once it did, the payoff would be huge, because it could point to those enemies of Canada as justification for more and bigger weapons and campaigns to generate yet more enemies, and so on. Those enemies would be real, and their actions really immoral, but keeping the vicious cycle spinning at a proper speed would depend on exaggerating their threat dramatically.
If the U.S. were to join international treaties, engage in disarmament, provide aid on a fraction of the scale at which it provides war making, and pursue diplomatic paths toward peace, the world would not be paradise tomorrow, but our speed toward the edge of the approaching cliff would slow considerably.
One of the many significant ways in which war hurts us is by hurting the rule of law. It is a carefully kept secret, but the world banned all war in 1928 in a treaty that was used to prosecute the losers of World War II and which is still on the books. The Kellogg-Briand Pact, as recently documented by Scott Shapiro and Oona Hathaway, transformed the world. War was legal in 1927. Both sides of a war were legal. Atrocities committed during wars were almost always legal. The conquest of territory was legal. Burning and looting and pillaging were legal. War was, in fact, not just legal; it was itself understood to be law enforcement. War could be used to attempt to right any perceived injustice. The seizing of other nations as colonies was legal. The motivation for colonies to try to free themselves was weak because they were likely to be seized by some other nation if they broke free from their current oppressor. The vast majority of conquests since 1928 have been undone based on 1928 boundaries. New smaller nations unafraid of conquest have multiplied. The UN Charter of 1945 re-legalized war if it was labeled defensive or UN-authorized. Current U.S. wars are not UN-authorized, and if any wars are not defensive then wars on impoverished small countries halfway around the globe must be in that category.
But, since 1945, war has generally been considered illegal unless the United States does it. Since World War II, during what many U.S. academics call an unprecedented golden age of peace, the United States military has killed some 20 million people, overthrown at least 36 governments, interfered in at least 82 foreign elections, attempted to assassinate over 50 foreign leaders, and dropped bombs on people in over 30 countries. With U.S. troops in 175 nations according to U.S. sports announcers, the U.S. president went to the UN on Tuesday and demanded respect for sovereign nations, blamed the UN for not achieving peace, threatened war in violation of the UN Charter, and mocked the UN for putting Saudi Arabia on its human rights council while clearly quite proud of the U.S. role in helping Saudi Arabia kill huge numbers of people in Yemen. Last year a debate moderator asked U.S. presidential candidates if they’d be willing to kill hundreds and thousands of innocent children as part of their basic duties. Other countries don’t ask that question and would be demonized if they did. So, we have a problem of double-standards, exactly what Robert Jackson claimed at Nuremberg would not be so.
No Congress or president has any power to make any war legal. A single nuclear bomb could kill us all through its climate impact, completely regardless of whether Congress authorizes it. U.S. wars violate the Peace Pact of 1928, the UN Charter, and the U.S. Constitution. A vague Authorization to Use Military Force also violates the Constitution. Yet when members of the House this year tried to vote un repealing an AUMF, the so-called leadership did not allow a vote. When the Senate held such a vote, just over a third of the Senate voted to repeal, and most of them because they wanted to create a new AUMF instead.
I haven’t said a lot about drones, because I think the essential problem of sanctioning murder is not a problem of technology. But what drones, and other technologies do, is make murder easier, easier to do in secret, easier to do quickly, easier to do in more locations. The pretense of President Obama and of military-backed propaganda films like Eye in the Sky that drones are only used to kill those who cannot be captured, those who are guilty of some kind of crime, those who are immediate threats to the US of A, those who can be killed with no risk of killing anyone else in the process — that’s all a demonstrable pack of lies. Most people targeted are not even identified by name, none of them have been charged with a crime, in no known case could they demonstrably not be captured, in many cases they could simply have been arrested quite easily, innocents have been slaughtered by the thousands, even Hollywood could not concoct a fictional immediate threat to the United States, and the drone wars are the height of counterproductive blowback creation. One does not hear Obama praising his successful drone war on Yemen very much these days.
But if we’re not going to pick men, women, and children on Tuesdays to murder with missiles from drones then what should we do instead?
NOT pick men, women, and children on Tuesdays to murder with missiles from drones.
Also, join and support international conventions on human rights, children’s rights, weapons bans, the new treaty banning the possession of nukes (only one nation that has nukes voted to start that treaty process, but you wouldn’t believe me if I named it), join the International Criminal Court, stop selling weapons to future enemies, stop selling weapons to dictatorships, stop giving weapons away, stop buying weapons that have no defensive purpose, transition to a more prosperous peaceful economy.
Examples of more peaceful approaches can be found everywhere, including in Pennsylvania. A friend of mine, John Reuwer, points to Pennsylvania as a model for others. Why? Because from 1683 to 1755 Pennsylvania’s European settlers had no major wars with the native nations, in stark contrasts with other British colonies. Pennsylvania had slavery, it had capital and other horrific punishments, it had individual violence. But it chose not to use war, not to take land without what was supposed to be just compensation, and not to push alcohol on the native people in the way that opium was later pushed on China and guns and planes are now pushed on nasty despots. In 1710, the Tuscaroras from North Carolina sent messengers to Pennsylvania asking for permission to settle there. All the money that would have been used for militias, forts, and armaments was available, for better or worse, to build Philadelphia (remember what its name means) and develop the colony. The colony had 4,000 people within 3 years, and by 1776 Philadelphia surpassed Boston and New York in size. So while the superpowers of the day were battling for control of the continent, one group of people rejected the idea that war is necessary, and prospered more rapidly than any of their neighbors who insisted it was.
Now, after 230 years of almost uninterrupted war making, and the establishment of the most expensive and widespread military ever seen, Trump tells the UN that the U.S. Constitution deserves credit for the creation of peace. Maybe if they’d let the Quakers write the thing that would have actually been true.
Last Friday — on a day when Christian minds were focused on the death of Jesus — my thoughts were turned towards spending time with my family, watching cars drive around a quarter-mile dirt track at speeds nearing one hundred miles per hour.
It was opening night at Limaland Motorsports Park. Featuring three classes of cars — 360 sprints, modified, and street stocks – Limaland is owned and operated by the University of Northwest Ohio — a private university known for its motor sports training program. Limaland is a well-run facility, with modern spectator stands, clean restrooms, and concessions that are both tasty and affordable.
As is our custom, we stopped at Kewpee Hamburgers on Allentown Road for dinner. Kewpee is throwback to the days before McDonald’s took over America. Featuring square hamburgers, chocolate malts, French fries, and soft drinks at affordable prices, Kewpee, on this Friday night, had lines out both doors, and the drive-thru was backed up on to the road. Such lines at many fast food restaurants would have meant long wait times, but the Kewpee staff, dressed in white clothing from head to toe, made quick work of the backup and we received our food in quickly.
Polly, my wife, was off work — a paid holiday in honor of an executed criminal — so she, along with Bethany, three of my sons, one son’s girlfriend, four grandchildren, and my best friend David Echler, gathered at Kewpee before heading to the race track. The inside seating was packed, so we decide to sit at the outdoor seating towards the back of the restaurant property.
It was a beautiful night for racing. The sun was shining through the clouds, and the temperature at race time was in the seventies. We sat where we usually sit, part way up the stands, halfway between the fourth corner and the flag stand. There is always a risk of being pelted with dirt clods thrown off sprint car tires powering off turn four, but this is where Gerencsers sit, dirt clods be damned. Sure enough, several of us were hit with hurtling clods of dirt. No one, fortunately, was hurt.
The track was too wet for a 7:30 PM start time. It took track maintenance personnel twenty or so minutes to get the race surface ready for racing. Finally, the announcer said, Iet’s go racing! Before the first race (Modified Dash for Cash, four cars race five laps, $100 to the winner), everyone was asked to stand for the invocation and the playing of the Star Spangled Banner. Men were asked to removed their hats. As is my custom, I refused to remove my hat as the announcer read a lame prayer to a mythical deity. After the prayer, I removed my hat, placed it over my heart, as I stood for the playing of America’s national anthem. I noticed my oldest son did the same.
The first race of the year is filled with promise for race teams. With newly painted cars and new or freshened motors, this will be the year, race teams tell themselves. Sadly, for many teams, their hopes and dreams quickly went up in smoke due to motor or other equipment troubles, and more than a few drivers found themselves needing the services of tow trucks to remove their broken speed machines from the track. This is racing.
As I sat there with my family enjoying the night’s events, my eyes noticed the sun setting in the west. Another day, I said to myself. I wonder if today will be the last day of life for me and those I love. Going to the race was supposed to take my mind off the cares of this world, but try as I might, I can’t help but think of the war of words going on between the two child rulers, Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. Trading threats of mutual nuclear destruction, these men, by the time the racing program concluded, could have set in motion the end of the world. Stupid little boys, unzipping their pants to prove who has the bigger dick. Once red buttons are pushed, dick size won’t matter. We will all be dead, victims of American hubris and arrogance and North Korean insanity.
I looked at Polly, my best friend, my sons, one son’s girlfriend, and four of my grandchildren . . . will this be the last time I will ever see them? Am I being too cynical? Am I worrying when there is no reason to do so? Should I just kick back and enjoy life? You know, don’t worry, be happy. Doing so is probably the best course of action. What can I do about what is going on in Washington? I am a powerless member of the Proletariat. Politicians promise the world to gain my vote, and once elected, these whores for corporate America forget their promises, choosing instead to enacts laws that benefit the Inner Party (see Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell). Every two, four, and six years new promises are made, and working class Americans such as myself dutifully return to the polls and vote for the “lesser of two evils.” We vote because people supposedly smarter than we tell us, EVERY VOTE matters, but deep down we doubt whether this is true.
The 2016 Presidential election was, in some ways, the Proletariat rising up in a great swell of ignorance to elect a man who promised to be different from the oligarchy that rules America. Donald Trump, now the forty-fifth president of the United States, has quickly cast aside his promises to working class Americans, choosing instead to fill his cabinet and federal jobs with family, friends, and shills for Wall Street. Political war is looming, and it remains to been seen if President Trump will avoid impeachment before being voted out of office in 2020. Not that this will matter if war-mongering Evangelicals and hawks get their way.
Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, along with numerous congressional Republicans and a few congressional Democrats, see violence as the answer for everything that hampers our pursuit of the mythical (and harmful) American Dream. Wrongly thinking that the American military cannot be defeated — forgetting the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam War, and our multiple wars in the Middle East — these bloody-handed politicians ignore the poor, collapsing infrastructures, declining wages, and out-of-control health care costs, all so they can spend over a trillion dollars for defense and national security — more than China, Russia, Britain, France, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany combined. Thirty-four percent of all military spending worldwide is attributed to the United States. Yet, according to President Trump and his minions, the military needs MORE money so it can rebuild itself after eight years of decimation under President Barack Obama. Trump has asked Congress to increase military spending by almost $60 billion, while at the same time drastically reducing funding for vital social programs, along with crippling the EPA, Department of Energy, and Department of Education — to name just a few.
Several weeks ago, President Trump released his proposed federal budget. For those of us who value social progress — along with clean air, water, and environmental protection — the budget released by President Trump and his sycophants is no less than a declaration of war on the working class and poor. Even worse, the Ayn Rand/Paul Ryan/Koch Brothers/Tea Party wing of the Republican Party doesn’t think the President made enough cuts. By tanking President Trump’s destruction of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), these white-sheet Libertarians let it be known that they will not rest until their corporate masters have absolute control and working Americans are reduced to numbers on a spreadsheet — means of production meant to enrich their overlords.
Try as I might to just enjoy the race, I can’t. As an atheist and a humanist, I know that this life is the only one I have, and that once I am dead I will never see my loved ones again. I deeply love my family and friends, and I want them to have a happy and prosperous future. I want my grandchildren to have their own children without fear of being obliterated by violence, war, or terrorist attacks. I want them to have good jobs, nice homes, and all the trappings of the American way of life. I want them to be socially and environmentally conscious, believing that the whole world is their brother. Most of all, I want them to remember their father and grandfather as a man who wasn’t afraid to speak his mind on the important issues of the day.
I have no idea if my words make a difference. There are days when I wonder if our world is engaged in a struggle that will ultimately lead to our extermination and I might as well turn on the TV, grab a bag of chocolates and a bottle of wine, and spend my nights mindlessly watching M*A*S*H reruns. It would be easy for me to think that the Borg of Star Trek fame have taken our world captive — You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.
The sun finally set and my mind returned to the race track. The heat and feature races were exciting, well worth the $12 price of admission. After pulling into our driveway, I told my friend David, hey, we will have to do this again. He replied, sounds good. And then, as he walked away, I said, that is if Donald Trump doesn’t get us nuked.