#21 There but for the lack of courage . . . (1999)

All Rights Reserved © 1999 Thomas W. Day

Today, right here in St. Paul, Minnesota, the local newspapers spewed ". . .the woman, married to a doctor, with two children, is Kathleen Ann Soliah, FBI officials told WCCO-Radio. Her neighbors know her as Sara Jane Olson . . ." The lady was stalked by the nation's internal spooks and arrested, this week, for kidnapping (Patty Hearst) and bank robbery that she supposedly committed twenty five years ago.

Pretty exciting stuff, and a lot less dangerous than chasing down criminals who carry guns or have political connections. Once the FBI finds the scent of a safe target, they almost never give up, unless the target becomes mildly dangerous. In the historic tradition of their cross-dressing founder, the FBI is patting itself on the back for spending a few million of the taxpayers' dollars searching for Ms. Olson-possibly-Soliah for these last twenty-five years. They even think there's some kind of high moral victory in wrenching this woman from her home, husband, and two children.

In the exciting and well-documented (lots of TV) takedown, they used enough manpower and equipment to disable a well armed militia. Of course, they'd never consider actually taking on a militia because, as they say in the Bureau, "those guys have guns."

Here's my real point, though. Even if Olson-possibly-Soliah had committed the crimes for which she's accused, I wouldn't be happy about her arrest. The fact that this effort has gone on this long irritates too many old wounds and revives evil memories of my country's poorest hours.

The warped lenses of the 90's don't give a decent perspective of the actions of the 60's. Our government was hell-bent on destroying a tiny agrarian country, using the excuse that it was "stopping the communist dominos from falling." What was really happening was a lot of cash was transferred, mostly from middle class taxpayers to the filthy rich (and generally filthy). Low-tech industrial executives, military executives, and a few general purpose criminals (like the CIA creeps who imported tons of high powered drugs into this and other countries to finance their murderous little schemes) promoted this dirty little war for their own fun and profit. While this scheme produced nearly two decades of social instability and recession, it made some miserable examples of our ruling class very, very rich and powerful. Our parents, the adults of the time, had their heads buried so far into the sand that you need to know where to dig to find tail-feathers.

During the war years, a lot of kids actually exercised their consciences and did whatever they thought was necessary to stop the war. Some went to jail, willingly, for their beliefs. When they did, the miserable scum who managed the government's "justice system" intentionally tossed them into cells with the most vicious criminals available, not wanting to pass up any opportunity to commit atrocities. A lot more kids (and a very few adults) staged non-violent protests where they were sometimes mercilessly beaten and, then, jailed by the kind of cops that Los Angeles still employs wherever non-whites happen to live. The 1968 Chicago Police Riots (during the Democratic convention) and the Ohio State Student Massacre were fine examples of our police state employees in action. A lot more of us, probably the majority under twenty-five, took every opportunity to disagree with our elders' version of "patriotism" whenever the Vietnam subject came up. Sometimes even stating opposition provided the nutcases with an excuse to commit violence. During this cultural mayhem, the prevailing pro-government population's primary argument was "love it or leave it." There wasn't a lot of middle-ground in those days.

On the fringes of the polarization, a fair number of kids believed that they could change the system by joining it. A lot of those types were immediately sent to the battlefields where their ethics got them killed or maimed (the fatal shots could have been fired from either side). A smaller group of kids believed that "The System," our society, was so corrupt that it had to be destroyed and rebuilt. Soliah was probably one of those kids. It wasn't hard to make a good argument for that proposition, especially after Chicago and Ohio.

Now, you'd think, twenty-five years after history had told the story of our sordid Vietnam-ish escapade, someone would have learned something ethical from history. It appears to be un-bloody likely. Not in this lifetime. The government is still after vengeance on those who practiced what it preached.

I'm not making excuses for an accused kidnapper/bank robber (although it's damn hard to feel sorry for banks and their investors these days or those days). But a country that slithered into a vicious, amoral war like the one we called the Vietnam War has damn little grounds for posturing righteousness.

To make a current reference, we have dramatically greater justification for participating in our current involvement in Yugoslavia's dirty little war. At least a reasonable number of the surrounding countries and the United Nations are on our side. Even with that, the right wing Republican wackos, currently squatting in the House of Misrepresentation, are chanting the exact same anti-war verses and melodies used by the radical left twenty five years ago. It's "dé·jà vu, all over again." If Kosovo is an immoral, no-win situation, Vietnam was totally unjustifiable.

The right-wingers still pretend that the dirty little war from which a Republican president bailed out (chanting "peace with honor" while we abandoned all pretense of an ordered retreat and ran like confused rabbits) was "a different kind of situation." It was, too. The bad guys were our allies during the last real world war and only became our enemies after the French got their butts kicked in a failed attempt to colonize Vietnam. We actually had to fake an "attack" in the Gulf of Tonkin to justify our military presence in Vietnam.

Whatever. It was as righteous as any excuse generated by morally bankrupt corporations living on government handouts who needed a justification to be able to sell machines of war at a dozen times the going rate to a government that couldn't spell "right" if they knew which hand it was.

Back to the present. (I'm easily distracted today.) Olson's neighbors expressed amazement that she was "the perfect soccer mom" all the years they have known her. I'm not amazed, not even a little bit. Today is completely out of context with the mood of the Sixties. Olson was not much different than at least half of her peers, in those days. Her friends were more radical. She made choices that were more unforgivable, by today's (and yesterday's) standards.

Somebody once said, "choose your enemies well, for you will become them." The Sixties radical left missed that point. Worse yet, Pogo's creator wrote "we have met the enemy and he is us." Soliah and her friends became the people they hated. They looked at the weapons our government uses to enforce "order" and preserve the social status of the ruling class and they saw something that wasn't there; an alternative, positive use for violence. It was a mistake that could have been made by a lot more of us in those times.

In context, in those awful days, most of us stood our middle ground out of cowardice. It's not that we didn't burn draft cards, pour blood on military records, or march the streets in protest out of conscience or a belief in the goodness of our country. We didn't go to those places out of cowardice. Lots of us pretended to believe that our government knew something we didn't. We skated by on the mistaken prayer that Uncle Sam knew best. We pretended that "the best and the brightest" directing the activities of the federal government weren't the lazy, brain-dead, arrogant sort of public servants that we ran into every time we had any dealings with the government. Today, a remains of that hope is the nearly universal American belief that all politicians are crooks and all government employees are lazy incompetents. We may never again make the mistake that our government knows what it's doing, even when it does.

The people most responsible for one of the United States' darkest hours made out like bandits. Most of the presidents, and their pet fools, literally got away with genocide, disguised as a "war of containment." Eisenhower, who got the country into the mess, warned the country that the "military-industrial complex" (his term, I believe) would destroy the country if they weren't kept under lock and key. Kennedy, who may have been deciding to get the country out of Vietnam while the getting was possible, paid the price for those who came before and after him. Johnson escaped with nothing more than the reputation of a failed presidency. Nixon received an official pardon and within a few years the goofier members of the U.S. media forgot his screw-ups so completely that they called him a "statesman" in the last years of his life. The various criminals who headed the corporations that profited from the mass murder of rice farmers and peasants were all given golden parachutes and retired to wherever super-rich, amoral monsters hang out.

I knew a lot of young men who went, unwillingly, into the military because they didn't have whatever it took to face down the well armed power of their government. Some of those men, now, suffer sleepless nights reliving the things their government made them do to a people whose major crime was wanting to manage their own destiny. Some of those men pretend what they did was heroic, so they won't have to examine their failure to take the stand they knew was right. Some died. As a nation, we've allowed most of those men to live with their decision as long as they suck it up and keep their doubts to themselves. Even the few who were symbolically prosecuted for wartime atrocities have been, mostly, forgiven.

Vietnam, that vicious enemy of freedom and truth, is now, practically, a most favored nation. The same people who we tried to bomb into molten biological blobs are courting American business investment and cranking out athletic shoes and other junk by the boat load.

It looks like the people who violently protested our national violence are the only people who are unforgiven for their part in that disaster. Maybe it's time to consider closing the door on both sides who made errors in judgment in those dark times.

June 1999

June 1999 note: If you actually managed to read through all of these pages, you clearly need something (like a hobby) to occupy your mind. But thanks for slogging through my work. I truly do appreciate the compliment, however it was intended. This is the end of the original series of Rat's Eye articles. From here until I published the webpage, I simply thought a lot about what I'd expected this column to be and what it turned out to be. I had hoped to produce a written version of Dilbert, in the style of Dave Barry or someone equally clever. I've been told that it more resembled grumpy old man meets technology and doesn't like it much. I can live with that. From here out, the gloves are off and I'm gonna be me. Like my hero, H.L. Menken once wrote, "Writing does for me what giving milk does for a cow." It's not like I have a choice. I have to write somewhere, so this is going to be one of the places. Take good care of your self, gentle reader. There aren't nearly enough of you in the world.

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