Monday, April 07, 2003

A Letter to Grandpa

Way before there was blogging, I was a member of Wild Wolf Women of the Web, and we communicated via a listserv. I still get emails from one of the other former members. In the last one was a link to the following. It's a letter from a fifty-year olf woman to her dead grandfather. I think that it's worth sharing here.

Dear Grandpa,
I have been thinking about you a lot, lately, and so I decided to come by and sit at your grave. I know that you aren't in there; it's just a patch of dirt covering up some bones. But I have been wanting to talk to you, and this seemed as good a place as any. I'm sure that you will recognize me and come near.

I don't know for certain, but I wonder if you keep up on what is happening in this world? If you do, then you know that our country has gone to war.

War is a terrible thing, I don't know anyone who would disagree with that. You saw four wars in your lifetime, and you served in One. We never talked about that. I didn't even know that, until after you were gone.

I suppose it isn't unique at all, that a family might be divided about something so big and awful, yet I am confused by a couple of things. Two of my cousins served in Vietnam. I talked to one who told me, "This war is wrong!" He muttered something about how it is dishonorable, and an affront to his fellow veterans who served in Southeast Asia. He was afraid for the soldiers being exposed to more of our government's toxic chemicals, and about their loss of benefits when they return
I talked to the other cousin, and he said, "This war is necessary. And I am still a marine." (As if it was the explanation.) He muttered something about the protesters who dishonored the Vietnam vets in the 'sixties. It seemed like he was more angry with the ones who are against this war, than he was concerned about the war itself.

I know someone who participated in the demonstrations at Berkeley. She has told me about being tear-gassed and beaten, and chased by police on horseback. Protesting has always been a dangerous business, I suppose. It was in 1776.

I don't think I have much right to judge about Vietnam. I was just a teenager when it finally ended, and except for the horrible images on the evening news, and the "CARE" packages we made for the boys at Christmas, I wasn't very much affected by it. I remember how upset my mother was, when my brother's number was drawn third in the draft lottery. (He joined the National Guard.)

There were no protest demonstrations in our little town, except the secret wordless one, when somebody put a charge of dynamite under the draft board office one night. A lot of people snickered about it, and I don't think the crime was ever solved. Nobody got hurt, and the office never re-opened. Back then, they called it "mischief". Today, we call it "terrorism".

I was glad when the guys came home. I don't remember feeling anything but proud of them for their courage, and sad for the sadness that would never be far from their eyes.

I married two ex-marines who had each been wounded in Vietnam. A lot of the scars didn't show on their skin. Neither of them spoke to me about it much. Nobody wanted to talk about that war. Everyone seemed angry about it. I have read some things since then, and talked to others that were there -- but that isn't the same as being there, I realize. People are comparing that war to this one. I don't see very much similarity.

I got mail from a military wife, the other day. (She did not know I am opposed to this war.) Her post suggested that anyone who protests ought to be beaten until they change their attitudes. (We hear a lot of talk like that, nowadays.)

I wondered if those are the values she is teaching her children? That if someone has a different opinion than your own, you should "continue to punch them in the nose until they come 'round to your point of view"? I think this lady would be appalled if some kid brought a gun to her children's school and started shooting people (this happens from time-to-time, nowadays). And yet by the logic of her letter, the person with the biggest artillery is the true authority. "Might makes right."

I replied that I didn't agree with her opinion, and I thought it inexcusable that someone should advocate violence against other Americans -- their countrymen -- for voicing their opinions.

The lady wrote back to say that it's very hard, with her husband being in the military and "seeing so many people standing against them", while they are fighting to protect our freedom.

I told her that we who are opposed to this war are not by-and-large "opposed to the troops". Most people I know, regardless of their position on the war, do hold our servicemen and women in high regard. (There are women in all branches and occupations of the military, now, Grandpa. I bet that makes your eyes get wide!) We all know our troops are doing what they are trained to do, and what they are instructed to do.

Unlike the conscripts who were drafted and forced to serve in Vietnam, these soldiers are all paid volunteers. I suspect that a lot of these young people signed up after September 11, 2001, amid the wave of patriotism that washed over our country and united us all, then.

I understand that many who are serving now sincerely believe that what this country is doing in Iraq is "justice" --or vengeance -- for that single act of terrorism. What they don't seem to know, and their leaders are not telling them, is that this really has nothing to do with that. It seems to me that idea has been contorted to fit the schemes of our leadership. (We have a president who was not elected by the majority, now, Gramps.)

The soldiers are told that they are fighting to preserve our freedom. (Except, perhaps, our freedom to object to government actions we may believe are wrong, corrupt, or just plain stupid.) I don't know that I want to shatter their illusions. I do remember that about Vietnam: the sense of betrayal the veterans shared. Nobody talks about the insurrections among our troops then. Military secret. Maybe that's it, then? One cousin blames the government, while the other blames the protesters and the press which caused them to lose the respect of the American public?

I wonder if the new soldiers hear the news from home? Do they see that while they're "fighting for our freedom", that self-same thing is being stripped away? (They are building new internment camps, dear Grandpa, to keep dissenters in. Immigrants are being rounded up and detained without warrants. Anyone's vehicle may be searched without just cause. Yesterday, the president signed another bill that will make it acceptable to force people into quarantine. In your life, I'm sure you saw quarantines; malaria, influenza, maybe even the dreaded smallpox that our scientists wiped out, but now manufacture in laboratories to use against whole civilizations. Did anyone in your time ever have to be arrested to keep them isolated?)

People who support this war say that those of us who don't agree are betraying our country and "abusing" our freedom of speech. Not long ago, such accusations were pretty much reserved for hate groups like the KKK. (Most people of my generation have outgrown racism, mysogeny, and homophobia, Grandpa. That "radical", Dr. Martin Luther King, who was "stirring up the coloreds in the South" became a national hero. He changed the face of this nation with his brave speeches, and strong example of passive resistance. He was killed for doing that. Dissent is dangerous. Sometimes, deadly. I know you were a product of your generation, and perhaps held some of those beliefs, too -- You saw the restriction of Native Americans to squalid "reservations", and the "internment" of Japanese Americans -- and yet, I know you were a man of integrity, who never spoke ill of anyone. You were a citizen of both Canada and the United States, you spoke Mexican Spanish and Basque Spanish fluently, and probably some French, because you worked with people from those countries. I never heard you suggest superiority over anyone because of their race or creed. --Not even the Mormons, whose customs you found endlessly amusing.)

We have a new and wondrous "vehicle", now, Grandpa. It's called the Internet. It makes it easy for people all over the world to talk to one another. I have never been overseas, but I have friends in many countries. You won't be surprised to hear this, but a lot of us have discovered that most people, regardless of where they live, or the culture they come from, all want pretty much the same things. They want to be able to feed their families, and to have a few things that make their lives easier.

(I consider myself very fortunate to have been a witness to these changes in our country. You wouldn't imagine this, Grandpa, but your little "chiquita cucenero" is nearly fifty! It is already more than a quarter of a century since you went away. A lot of things have changed. Until about a month ago, I was proud to be a citizen.)

I had a chat with your daughter recently, Grandpa. (She is seventy, now, and a great grandmother.) I was upset, and I was talking about my sense of betrayal that all my life I have been told that my vote counts, and that everyone in this country has a voice in how the people are governed. Her response was a resounding GUFFAW! -- as if to say, "Silly girl! Has it really taken you this long to figure that out?" (That's the way it is here in the West, now, Grandpa. I was away for quite a while, and I didn't realize what was happening. People here have known for a long time that their votes are always overridden by states with more people and more money. You were a man of the earth, and I think you would be amazed to discover that now, people of the earth are not allowed to work their stock and trades, because other people who claim to be the real people of the earth have more power, and more influence ... and they think they know what is best for our land. They always win, Gramps. It's surprising that anyone here even bothers to go to the polls. You wouldn't recognize Nevada, now. Except for in the casino-driven border towns, the only jobs left are for the government. Your heart would break, I know.)

It bothers me a great deal that the decision to invade a country far away was made by a few men in Washington. They ignored the protests of the people, and by our trusted allies. (People here are refusing to buy things made in countries that disagreed with the decision of our leaders. Former friends abroad are refusing to buy American goods. You wouldn't recognize this country, Grandpa. We used to feed the world. Now, we produce almost nothing but "information" and weapons, and withhold food from hungry children in order to punish their governments.)

Grandpa, I don't know what it was that I was hoping to learn from talking with you, today. I keep thinking that it was you who instilled in me this wildly independent way of thinking... although I don't remember any specific conversations. Somewhere, way back in my memory, though, there are words and phrases -- important values I can't quite get a hold on -- and warnings to keep a vigilant watch upon those who govern this nation. Caution to not let McCarthy -- or Hitler -- return to power. (And maybe a conspiracy theory, or two .. and some skills and notions that would be labeled "radical survivalist", in these times.)

And love! Where you were, Grandpa, there was always love, and laughter, and kindness. You loved life, and the wide-open spaces, and people. You loved us -- my mother, whom you took to raise as your own, and those of us who issued from her. You loved fiddle music, whiskey in moderation, and good horses. And you loved freedom. I wonder what you would think about what this world has come to? I don't know whether you can let me know what to do, if there is anything that I can do to stop the world from imploding. I guess that I just felt a need to return to a long-ago time when my world was safe, and one of Grandpa's hugs was all it took to fix anything that was wrong.

Thanks for listening, Grandpa. I love you always.
Your "CC"

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