Snowball Fight Justice

 

Soon the weather changed and snow covered the Duke University Campus. Snowball fights at Duke could turn dangerous. The snow fell on the campus in January leaving an opportunity to engage in snowball fights. Some fraternity brothers from KA were harassing freshmen and assaulting them with snow balls. 

 
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A huge football player, and future All-American, caught my attention as I had thrown passes to him as a freshman QB practicing with the varsity.  6' 9" tall and two hundred and forty pounds, he was also a vicious defensive end.

 
 

At the fourth floor freshman dorm bathroom with a good view of the quad beneath, I decided to alter the unfair bully-confrontation. From snow that had collected on window sills, I scooped enough to fill half a trashcan and made a pile of baseball-sized snowballs. As the beast attacked a small freshman, and tossed snow down his back, the boy’s books fell in wet mud and snow. My first throw hit the side of the monster’s face and had to sting.

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“I’m coming to get you, you son-of-a-bitch,” he screamed enraged at my assault. He terrified me. Immediately, with just one throw, I had become the target of a dangerous muscular giant. But, he had to run up four floors to find me. He raced to the second floor raging like a wild bull. In seconds, he would appear on my floor. Streaking to my room, farthest from the stairway, luckily on the left, I hid under my bed listening to the damage he did room by room. He threatened mayhem and falsely accused many. I felt pity for those innocent ones caught in his tirade. He swung open my door, but did not notice me huddled under my bed with a blanket over me.

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He slammed the door on his rampage. Every dorm freshmen feared his retaliation. While exposing my classmates to a fierce attack, I had made another narrow escape by using my intelligence, natural athletic ability, courage, and sense of justice that diverted a bully from further harming a helpless freshman. 

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There is a Man on the Roof!

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How Could I have Made So Many Mistakes and Succeed?

(Dan bottom left played second base for Coronado American Legion team at 13 with mostly 15 and16 year-olds)

How could I have made the impulsive decisions that rocked my turbulent youth? What made me change from a fad-loving teenager collecting popular songs, memorizing major league batting averages, and dreaming of becoming a professional baseball player, into a solemn born-again fundamentalist?  That deflected me from my own purpose. I almost claimed conscientious objector status, and then quit Duke N.R.O.T.C. to enter a pre-ministerial program, only to find the more I studied religion the less I wanted to preach it to others.

(Duke University Chapel and courtyard)

My father said he could not afford the steep tuition and said I should try for an appointment to the U. S. Naval Academy despite my lack of interest in the military! Since he and my brother graduated Annapolis I did the craziest thing to afford college, and entered Columbia Prep School in Washington D.C.to study how to score high on entrance exams. After three months I took the exams and was only one of 75 people to receive a presidential appointment from Dwight Eisenhower in the United States! Dad took me to see a patriotic movie about the Battle of Midway that changed the outcome of WWII in the Pacific due to our naval power despite Pearl Harbor that did so much damage that brought determination to build a strong military to protect our freedom.

 

(Midshipmen at the U.S.Naval Academy march into Bancroft Hall)

After entering Annapolis much forced me to realize this journey into a naval career had many negatives from my perspective. During my plebe year an upperclassman in revenge for the way my brother treated him, ran me into the ground with harassment until I developed mononucleosis and was sent to the hospital for five weeks ending my chance to quarterback the plebe football team as my coach and I wanted. Later I had the worst varsity baseball coach ever, who wrongly believed my father "got me into Annapolis" so kept me on the bench after I had a great year leading the plebe team with a .516 batting average. After graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy I wanted to fly airplanes but my eyesight dipped slightly and I could only qualify as a navigator. My plane was called the "Flying Coffin" by aviators because more than 50% were lost in accidents, and mishaps and was an easy target in Vietnam. After three close calls in training both my pilot and I transferred into ships and I navigated 300 marines to Vietnam.

(Dan flew in the RA5C Vigilante and was Carrier Qualified)

Forced to scrutinize my journey, filled with mistakes, nearly killed by a train on a trestle at 10 hitting rocks with a bat; dodging two trains after leading high school football players into a narrow train tunnel in Japan: escaping from two thugs at a beach,  having many confrontations with brutal and malicious bullies at Annapolis and one officer in the navy; surviving the “flying coffin” Mach 2 jet in Florida; I rebounded by earning a Reginald Heber Smith Fellowship for two years as a community civil right lawyer after law school at UC Hastings in San Francisco. Selected as Director of the Farm Worker Project by the ACLU I won my first trial for six picketers accused of disturbing the peace; won many motions and appeals in 17 class actions and other police misconduct cases against growers, prosecutor, a sheriff and the Teamsters. I worked for one of the most effective civil rights organizations battling against some of the most powerful forces in America.

(Dan at his civil rights law office in Encino California)

From a Naval Aviator, to a Navigator of an Amphibious Ship to Vietnam with 300 marines, I eventually resigned, found my purpose and after law school when I went from a legal aid attorney to a staff attorney for the United Farm Workers and then director of the ACLU farm worker project. I had been propelled into a powerful movement that was an answer to a dream. I submerged myself into the cutting edge of civil rights and consumer litigation as a member of a team with all the energy I possessed. Meanwhile, Joan and I raised a family that fulfilled my vision coupled with my quickly learned advocacy skills that enabled me to continue a profession on a path others said would be impossible—it was one few traveled—but I met enough dedicated individuals whose life shined that I knew it was right for me. Recovering from each fiasco and having learned a lesson each time, I began to define a vision of what might occupy the rest of my life: a pursuit of social justice in whatever way I could find appropriate. The pieces fell together through hard work, determination, and a future with a woman who inspired me and calmed my wildness from swirling rapids to a deep river that refreshed and enabled me to continue against all odds.  Once I found a path that consumed me with passion I aimed as high as I could. No matter what confronts the reader, my story demonstrates an ordinary person can survive major conflicts, disappointments, injuries, risk of death, and still flourish.

(Dan and his lovely family in 1990)

Daniel C. Lavery

www.danielclavery.com

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Refuse To Surrender To Fear

Billy Mitchell

(Billy Mitchell played "What a Wonderful World" at the Onion on piano)

Friends, anyone notice how dark internet communications have become as we face ISIS the scourge of humanity, whose cadaverous faces smile awaiting the next calamity they shall visit upon us while we twist in the wind discussing how to deal with ISIS. I sing in a Unitarian Choir that had a black activist, Billy Mitchell, turned jazz pianist from the 60’s speak to us awhile ago. He, with more reasons to be negative than most of us, said: “Rather than see the negative all around me in my community and our world, there are more people now than ever working for a better world,” Then he launched into this song Louis Armstrong sang when Blacks were suffering from segregation, beatings from southern sheriffs, and all seemed so very hopeless:

Louie Armstrong wonderful world

I see trees of green, red roses too

Red Rose

I see them bloom for me and you

And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue and clouds of white

Hiroshima Do Your Peace

The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night

And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky

colors of the rainbow

Are also on the faces of people going by

I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do

But what they’re really saying is I love you.

Hands together avatar for peace

I hear babies crying and watch them grow

They’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know

And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

Yes, I think to myself what a wonderful world.

Louie Armstrong and kids

Terrorism is just one of many dangers in the world, and shouldn’t be allowed to divert our attention from other issues. When President Obama describes climate change as the greatest threat we face, he’s exactly right. Terrorism can’t and won’t destroy our civilization, but global warming could and might. So how to respond to terrorism? Before the atrocities in Paris, the West’s general response involved a mix of policing, precaution, and military action. All involved difficult trade-offs: surveillance versus privacy, protection versus freedom of movement, denying terrorists safe havens versus the costs and dangers of waging war abroad.

Obama wonderful world

Sometimes a terrorist attack slipped through.Paris may have changed that calculus a bit, especially when it comes to Europe’s handling the agonizing issue of refugees. Do you remember all the pronouncements that 9/11 would change everything? Well, it didn’t — and neither will this atrocity. The goal of terrorists is to inspire terror, because that’s all they’re capable of. The most important thing our societies can do in response is to refuse to give in to fear and that is my point in using Louie Armstrong's wonderful song.

wonderful world

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Tourists of Empire

Afghanistan war cartoon By William Astore, retired Air Force Lieutenant, who discusses America’s peculiar brand of global imperialism. He mentions in Afghanistan and elsewhere the U.S. is suffering from Imperial Tourism Syndrome. Published: October 28, 2015 | Authors: William Astore | TomDispatch | Op-Ed

(Photos and cartoons have been inserted from media)

The United States is a peculiar sort of empire.  As a start, Americans have been in what might be called imperial denial since the Spanish-American War of 1898, if not before.  Empire — us?  We denied its existence even while our soldiers were administering “water cures” (aka waterboarding) to recalcitrant Filipinos more than a century ago.  Heck, we even told ourselves we were liberating those same Filipinos, which leads to a second point: the U.S. not only denies its imperial ambitions, but shrouds them in a curiously American brand of Christianized liberation theology.  In it, American troops are never seen as conquerors or oppressors, always as liberators and freedom-bringers, or at least helpers and trainers.  There’s just enough substance to this myth (World War II and the Marshall Plan, for example) to hide uglier imperial realities.

Denying that we’re an empire while cloaking its ugly side in missionary-speak are two enduring aspects of the American brand of imperialism, and there’s a third as well, even if it’s seldom noted.  As the U.S. military garrisons the planet and its special operations forces alone visit more than 140 countries a year, American troops have effectively become the imperial equivalent of globetrotting tourists.  Overloaded with technical gear and gadgets (deadly weapons, intrusive sensors), largely ignorant of foreign cultures, they arrive eager to help and spoiling for action, but never (individually) staying long.  Think of them as the twenty-first-century version of the ugly American of Vietnam-era fame.

Cartoon Afghansistan

The ugliest of Americans these days may no longer be the meddling CIA operative of yesteryear; “he” may not even be human but a “made in America” drone. Think of such drones as especially unwelcome American tourists, cruising the exotic and picturesque backlands of the planet loaded with cameras and weaponry, ready to intervene in deadly ways in matters its operators, possibly thousands of miles away, don’t fully understand.  Like normal flesh-and-blood tourists, the drone “sees” the local terrain, “senses” local activity, “detects” patterns among the inhabitants that appear threatening, and then blasts away.  The drone and its operators, of course, don’t live in the land or grasp the nuances of local life, just as real tourists don’t.  They are literally above it all, detached from it all, and even as they kill, often wrongfully, they’re winging their way back home to safety.

Imperial Tourism Syndrome

Call it Imperial Tourist Syndrome, a bizarre American affliction that creates its own self-sustaining dynamic.  To a local, it might look something like this: U.S. forces come to your country, shoot some stuff up (liberation!), take some selfies, and then, if you’re lucky, leave (at least for a while).  If you’re unlucky, they overstay their “welcome,” surge around a bit and generate chaos until, sooner or later (in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, much, much later), they exit, not always gracefully (witness Saigon 1975 or Iraq 2011).

Drone death protest

And here’s the weirdest thing about this distinctly American version of the imperial: a persistent short-time mentality seems only to feed its opposite, wars that persist without end.  In those wars, many of the country’s heavily armed imperial tourists find themselves sent back again and again for one abbreviated tour of duty after another, until it seems less like an adventure and more like a jail sentence.

The paradox of short-timers prosecuting such long-term wars is irresolvable because, as has been repeatedly demonstrated in the twenty-first century, those wars can’t be won.  Military experts criticize the Obama administration for lacking an overall strategy, whether in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, or elsewhere.  They miss the point.  Imperial tourists don’t have a strategy: they have an itinerary.  If it’s Tuesday, this must be Yemen; if it’s Wednesday, Libya; if it’s Thursday, Iraq.

Drone deaths

In this way, America’s combat tourists keep cycling in and out of foreign hotspots, sometimes on yearly tours, often on much shorter ones.  They are well-armed, as you’d expect in active war zones like Iraq or Afghanistan.  Like regular tourists, however, they carry cameras as well as other sensors and remain alert for exotic photo-shoots to share with their friends or the folks back home.  (Look here, a naked human pyramid in Abu Ghraib Prison!)

As tourists, they’re also alert to the possibility that on this particular imperial safari some exotic people may need shooting.  There’s a quip that’s guaranteed to win knowing chuckles within military circles: “Join the Army, travel to exotic lands, meet interesting people — and kill them.”  Originally an anti-war slogan from the Vietnam era, it’s become somewhat of a joke in a post-9/11 militarized America, one that quickly pales when you consider the magnitude of foreign body counts in these years, made more real (for us, at least) when accompanied by discomforting trophy photos of U.S. troops urinating on enemy corpses or posing with enemy body parts.

Here’s the bedrock reality of Washington’s twenty-first-century conflicts, though: no matter what “strategy” is concocted to fight them, we’ll always remain short-time tourists in long-term wars.

Imperial Tourism: A Surefire Recipe for Defeat Drone shooting missile

It’s all so tragically predictable.  When it’s imperial tourists against foreign “terrorists,” guess who wins?  No knock on American troops.  They have no shortage of can-do spirit.  They fight to win.  But when their imperial vacations (military interventions/invasions) morph into neocolonial staycations (endless exercises in nation-building, troop training, security assistance, and the like), they have already lost, no matter how many “having a great time” letters — or rather glowing progress reports to Congress — are sent to the folks back home.

By definition, tourists, imperial or otherwise, always want to go home in the end.  The enemy, from the beginning, is generally already home.  And no clever tactics, no COIN (or counterinsurgency) handbook, no fancy, high-tech weapons or robotic man-hunters are ever going to change that fundamental reality.

It was a dynamic already obvious five decades ago in Vietnam: a ticket-punching mentality that involved the constant rotation of units and commanders; a process of needless reinvention of the most basic knowledge as units deployed, bugged out, and were then replaced by new units; and the use of all kinds of grim, newfangled weapons and sensors, everything from Agent Orange and napalm to the electronic battlefield and the latest fighter planes and bombers — all for naught.  Under such conditions, even the U.S. superpower lacked staying power, precisely because it never intended to stay.  The “staying” aspect of the Vietnam War was often referred to in the U.S. as a “quagmire.”  For the Vietnamese, of course, their country was no “big muddy” that sucked you down.  It was home.  They had little choice in the matter; they stayed — and fought.

Combine a military with a tourist-like itinerary and a mentality to match, a high command that in its own rotating responsibilities lacks all accountability for mistakes, and a byzantine, top-heavy bureaucracy, and you turn out to have a surefire recipe for defeat.  And once again, in the twenty-first century, whether among the rank and file or at the very top, there’s little continuity or accountability involved in America’s military presence in foreign lands.  Commanders are constantly rotated in and out of war zones.  There’s often a new one every year.  (I count 17 commanders for the International Security Assistance Force for Afghanistan, the U.S.-led military coalition, since December 2001.) U.S. troops may serve multiple overseas tours, yet they are rarely sent back to the same area.  Tours are sequential, not cumulative, and so the learning curve exhibited is flat.

There’s a scene at the beginning of season four of “Homeland” in which ex-CIA chief Saul Berenson is talking with some four-star generals.  He says: “If we’d known in 2001 we were staying in Afghanistan this long, we’d have made some very different choices.  Right?  Instead, our planning cycles rarely looked more than 12 months ahead.  So it hasn’t been a 14-year war we’ve been waging, but a one-year war waged 14 times.”

True enough.  In Afghanistan and Iraq as well, the U.S. has fought sequentially rather than cumulatively.  Not surprisingly, such sequential efforts, no matter how massive and costly, simply haven’t added up.  It’s just one damn tour after another.

But the fictional Saul’s tagline on Afghanistan is more suspect: “I think we’re walking away with the job half done.” For him, as well as for the Washington establishment of this moment, the U.S. needs to stay the course (at least until 2017, according to President Obama’s recent announcement), during which time assumedly we’ll at long last stumble upon the El-Dorado-like long-term strategy in which America actually prevails.

Of course, the option that’s never on Washington’s table is the obvious and logical one: simply to end imperial tourism.  With apologies to Elton John, “sorry” is only the second hardest word for U.S. officials.  The first is “farewell.” 

Bumper Sticker VVAW

A big defeat (Vietnam, 1975) might keep imperial tourism fever in check for a while.  But give us a decade or three and Americans are back at it, humping foreign hills again, hoping against hope that this year’s trip will be better than the previous year’s disaster.

In other words, a sustainable long-term strategy for Afghanistan is precisely what the U.S. government has failed to produce for 14 years!  Why should 2015 or 2017 or 2024 be any different than 2002 or 2009 or indeed any other year of American involvement?

Unarmed Vietnamese Hide from US My Lai Assault

Unarmed Vietnamese Hide from US My Lai Assault

At some level, the U.S. military knows it’s screwed.  That’s why its commanders tinker so much with weapons and training and technology and tactics.  It’s the stuff they can control, the stuff that seems real in a way that foreign peoples aren’t (at least to us).  Let’s face it: past as well as current events suggest that guns and how to use them are what Americans know best.

But foreign lands and peoples?  We can’t control them.  We don’t understand them.  We can’t count on them.  They’re just part of the landscape we’re eternally passing through — sometimes as people to help and places to rebuild, other times as people to kill and places to destroy.  What they aren’t is truly real.  They are the tourist attractions of American war making, sometimes exotic, sometimes deadly, but (for us) strangely lacking in substance.

And that is precisely why we fail.

Vets against Afghan and Iraq wars

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