alxindia

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Friday, August 11, 2006

war story




From Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language:

FASCISM: A system of government characterized by rigid one party dictatorship, forcible suppression of opposition, private economic enterprise under centralized governmental control, belligerent nationalism, racism and militarism, etc.



I have to take a moment and relive a moment of my dad's personal history. I am super-grateful that I was given the parents to whom I was born, and from whom I learned many powerful lessons about life, death, and service on this planet.

my father in particular was an extraordinary man; there really aren't enough words and there isn't enough room on this blog to describe him adequately. I'll settle for sharing a small sketch with you, a few charcoal lines, a la Matisse, to convey at least some flavor of what he was like.

first and foremost, he was the most intelligent human being I've ever met, hands down. his mind was really a steel-trap, and his near-photographic memory served him well throughout his life. his chosen profession was that of a surgeon, and he worked tirelessly as a small-town physician, often unpaid for 2 a.m. repair work on insuranceless victims of head-on car crashes and other delightful accidents.

he was a voracious reader, loved music so much it made him weep, and was similarly bonded with nature. (just talking about old-growth forests made him cry.)

politically, he was an incredible activist who supported many noble and just (and therefore doomed! (giggling)) causes. we got thrown out of one small Missouri town because of his opposition to the Vietnam War, his hatred of then President Nixon, and his belief that women had, among other things, the right to a safe and legal abortion.

above all, though, my dad was a pacifist who thought that war was unacceptable, period. forever and amen.

his heroes were men like Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Schweitzer, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

not as fortunate as his brother, who was actually a conscientious objector to World War II, my dad was compelled to enter military service in 1944 (he had just finished medical school and was a trained surgeon) as a captain in the medical corps. he was sent to the European theatre, in what would now be called a MASH unit, a mobile army surgical hospital, a few miles behind the front of Patton's army in the last throes of WWII.

(he used to howl with laughter, in the '70s, watching the television show M*A*S*H -- he thought it was deadly accurate in its portrayal of medical life in a war zone -- and I often thought he must've been something of a Hawkeye Pierce kind of character, in real life, irreverent, unwilling to be in the war, cynical, iconoclastic and mischievous.)

in later years, when my schoolfriends' dads would tell war stories and boast about how they'd gotten shot by Japs on naval boats in the Pacific Theatre of WW II and nearly died -- I was confused by my own father's absolute refusal to speak of ANYTHING he experienced during World War II.

his only comment about war, when pressed, was this: "war is hell, and I hope that none of my children will ever have to experience it."

one day when medals fell out of his wallet, into a parking lot where he accidentally dropped it, he scooped them up and hurriedly put them back in their hiding place, with a fiery glance that commanded, "don't even ASK."

we never asked.

but one story he did share, years later, in the 1980s, was so brilliant on so many levels -- and so utterly relevant today -- that I feel compelled to put it here, now.

I hope you'll pardon my indulgence, talking about my dad and sharing a piece of his flame with you today.

during the Reagan years, my dad was so appalled and disgusted at the way American society was heading -- dumbed-down schools, underpaid schoolteachers, the arms race (and the so-called Cold War), cutbacks for university students' aid, unbelievably stupid militarism like CIA escapades in Central America, the invasion of Grenada and the Iran-Contra scandal -- that he used to yell back at the TV, especially when Reagan was on giving a speech, with words that I won't type here but I'm sure you get the point.

he was furious about what he perceived as an upsurge in American Fascism, and worried that it was largely unchecked because it was a subtle decline -- the average person's lifestyle was getting tougher and economically more challenging, but it wasn't SO bad, so fast, that anyone really protested.

then one day he told me this story from WW II --

"it was the end of the European war, and Roosevelt made a speech, which was broadcast on the radio, a stirring, inspired speech about how Hitler was vanquished, the German army had surrendered, and peace was once again going to dominate the world we knew. Roosevelt talked at great lengths about the repair of Europe, the outline of what would become the Marshall Plan, and the ideals of the world community, now that balance and peace was restored.

like all the GIs and servicemen, of course I heard the speech and what the ideals were.

a young soldier, someone I'd talked a lot with, over the preceding few months, came running up after the speech was finished, his face lit up and enthusiastic, all full of the idealism and the stirring vision that Roosevelt had laid out.

'Doc!' he cried to me, 'didja hear that! Mr. Roosevelt said the war is over and Hitler's defeated! we can all go home and gee, the world is going to repair itself and Europe will be even greater than it ever was, with American help and support! we're finally going to live in peace! isn't it great????!!!' "

and my dad said to me, about this moment, "I looked at his face and saw all the enthusiasm and naivete of youth, and hope, playing out on his features.....

and I replied, 'yes, son, that's wonderful, and I'm very glad indeed that Hitler has been defeated, and this war is over. but let me ask you -- do you really think we've seen the end of Fascism in this world?' "

my dad said, that kid looked kinda confused, his face fell, and he stared at my dad with a bemused expression and mumbled, "well, gee, Doc, I dunno."

in the 1980s, during the height of Reagan's teflon presidency, and the beginning of the end of American democratic process, relying so heavily on an informed and educated (and participatory!) public, and government beginning to invite more and more influence and allegiance with corporate entitities and their insatiable greed for money and power -- my father would tell this story, and then finish it by adding, thoughtfully --

"I often wonder where that guy is, today, and if he remembers that conversation during the war, and what he thinks as he looks around America now."




3 Comments:

  • At 8:01 AM, Blogger Lightbringer said…

    Sadly, I doubt that the young man's repy to your father would be much different today. The American public is woefully uninformed, and chronically lazy about changing that condition. Easily bought and led. I do believe that a slow erosion of things held dear is much more insidious and deadly than outright robbery! And so, inch by almost invisible inch, many things we value are slipping away...

    But Alx, the absolute best tribute to your father is the fact that you are so much like him! :)

     
  • At 11:07 PM, Blogger Alx said…

    my person curiosity is if that guy even remembered that conversation with such a tough character (as my dad was), say, forty years later.

    you're extremely kind, Patty, to mention my similarity to my dad. certainly I inherited his stubborn streak and relentless desire to help other people (even despite their own preferences!!!!!!) -- I'm grateful that he was my role model, though.

    Alx

     
  • At 6:29 PM, Anonymous amy uttermann said…

    Thank you for your tribute to our Father. Wish Anne and Will could do away with their childhood bitterness and recognize the greatness that was our Father. Time is suppose to help one forget the negative and remmber the "good times". I am unsure why they have been unable to forgive his foibles; surely, his tremendous good outweighed his occaisional mis-steps. I remember not seeing him for days because he wouldn't leave the hospital as he had a dangerously injured patient. There were none as dedicated as he;none as careing about humanity nor as derisive in his attitude about te very people he was helping. He could be, as all of us are, totally contradictory. I have yet to meet one with his towering intelligence that could be as compassinate to the masses, even when they were shitting on hm with their petty outlooks. He was, truly, an amazing father and human being.

     

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