Friday, December 23, 2005

My Uncle Billy Was a Real-Life War Hero

My Uncle Billy Was
a Real-Life War Hero

My Uncle William Johnson Hart fought bravely in WWII. He was a rear-gunner on a Boeing Flying Fortress (B-17). He was trained in gunner school in Nevada at what is known as Nellis AFB today. Former actor (and President) Ronald Reagan played a guy like my Unle Billy in a movie (short) called "The Rear Gunner." Billy's plane was shot down over Germany in 1943, the pilot was killed, and young Billy parachuted to safety.

My hero Billy

He landed in a farmer's field and was taken to a local home for questioning. As a child, I remember him telling me that the farmer was kind to him - treated him like a human being. He was sent to Stalag - Luft 3 in 1943 and was held prisoner there for most of WWII. (Stalag 3 was the setting for the Steve McQueen film "The Great Escape".) My mother was ten years old at the time and she used to tell me about the long, long wait and the anguish of her mother (my grandmother) - for nearly four months - not knowing if Billy was dead or alive. One day a letter came. More would follow, but there was usually a four-month lag time. Here is one of the post cards they received, written in February 1944; received (as my grandmother wrote on the card) in June of that same year:

February 20, 1944,
from Stalag Luft 3 Germany

Dear Mom,

I hope by now that you have received some mail from me. Everything is OK here and I'm feeling fine, hope you are all OK too.
Give my love to everybody and if you have some snapshots of the family I hope you will send them to your loving son.


Billy made it back home, but he died too early of heart problems just after he'd turned 50. He never let his years of imprisonment get him down. He always looked at the brighter side of things, and he said his German imprisoners treated him with dignity. Unfortunately, Billy realized part of the reason for his kind treatment by the Nazis was because he was white, Christian, and partly of German descent. Soviet prisoners received far more inhumane treatment, as did Jews and others of ethnicities or religion that were not to the Nazis' political "liking." It was beyond moral understanding that one human could treat another so discriminatingly - and so unjustly. Yet, he and his family were grateful that he was not tortured or killed. It was a paradox of injustice that Billy and his family grappled with for the rest of their lives (to this day, it's made all of us extremely wary of any form of discrimination or prejudice) - and it reinforced Billy's belief in the cause in which he was engaged.

I was not a strong swimmer as a kid. I remember how Billy once jokingly told me that if I fell into deep water, to sink to the bottom, then "run like hell." What a visual. I laugh about it to this day.

It was the saddest day of my childhood, saying goodbye to Uncle Billy. His was the first funeral I'd ever attended, and I loved him - the stories he'd tell - the cocky smile on his handsome face. While he was no superhuman martyr - he missed his family as anyone would - he never had regret for a day he spent in that Stalag because he felt that he was doing it for his brothers-in-arms and his fellow countrymen. He left a spirit in my heart for this country - and its people - that will never die. He left a hole where his bright personality used to be. I miss him to this day.

Munich Review

Munich Review

"We cannot avoid using power, cannot escape the compulsion to aflict the world so let us, cautious in diction and mighty in contradiction, love powerfully."

- Martin Buber

I went to see Munich - it's a powerful film. Steven Spielberg spins a cautionary tale about politics, hatred, longing, vengeance, cold-blooded murder, the great power of the bonds between Jews, a love for one's own immediate family, a reverence for the soul of Judaism, and the human side of the Palestinian and Israeli longing for home and place - all without offending. I think that's the part that requires a touch of genius - to not offend or harm Israel. It is a story about Israeli (Mossad) agents who were sent to Europe to assassinate Palestinian activists after the Munich murders of Israeli athletes by Black September terrorists at the 1972 Olympics. Even though there are reminders that it's not factually sound and that the story has been embellished to help make its point, it is the message that counts.

The message is a cry for peace - and art can be a great tool for convincing the public that hatred begets hatred - that every killing is answered with a killing and the cycle never ends. Reconciliation is abandoned and people hate one another more than they love peace. Children are raised to hate "the other" rather than remembering and respecting the virtue of the values, learned through faith and community traditions, that "the other" is really "us."

We are all brothers and sisters under the skin and beyond all ethnic claims - and land claims.

The troubles go back further than Munich - it's a tale as old as time. Jewish theologian and philosopher Martin Buber was aghast upon learning about the attack on the Arab village of Deir Yassin early in the morning of April 9 1948, west of Jerusalem. Some 100 Palestinians (mainly old men, women and children) were killed when commandos of the Irgun (headed by Menachem Begin) and Lehi guerrilla groups, with the help of a small elite unit from the main Jewish defence organisation, the Haganah, led the attack. Buber called it a called it "a black stain on the honour of the Jewish nation" and "a warning to our people that no practical military needs may ever justify such acts of murder".

In 2002, the Guardian's Ann Karpf wrote:
Deir Yassin is important not only because it launched a cycle of violence and counterviolence (two days later an Arab ambush killed 77 Jewish doctors, nurses and medical students) that has been the pattern ever since, so that we can no longer tell what is a reprisal for what. But also because it has come to symbolise the Palestinian dispossession.
National theology and religious theology are never morally compatible. There will not be a logical spiritual reconciliation for many of the political decisions made by a nation's leaders in matters of national security. I think there is a danger when any nation uses religion or tribalism to justify murder. At the end of Munich, you see a haunting image. It is the New York City skyline, and the World Trade Center towers stand straight and tall. You get an immediate sense of understanding the consequences of politics; hatred; longing; vengeance; cold-blooded murder; the great power of the bonds between people of any one religious group, tribe, or nation; a love for one's own immediate family; a reverence for the soul of religion; and the human side of the Palestinian and Israeli longing for home and place.

Steven Spielberg has said this about his film:
"By experiencing how the implacable resolve of these men to succeed in their mission slowly gave way to troubling doubts about what they were doing, I think we can learn something important about the tragic stand-off we find ourselves in today."

French actor of Amelie fame Mathieu Kassovitz was my favorite in this film. He played an Israeli named Robert, who was a Belgian toy maker turned "explosive expert."

Talking God's Politics with Jim Wallis, John and Elizabeth Edwards

Talking God's Politics with Jim Wallis, Senator John and Elizabeth Edwards
Senator John Edwards and his wife Elizabeth Edwards recently sat down and talked with author Jim Wallis about his book, God's Politics.
Go here to listen to their conversation. (It's the first of a two-part conversation).

You can discuss it here at One America.

Ritter Dismantles Hitchens

Ritter Dismantles Hitchens
A must-read.

Bob Geiger (Yellow Dog Democrat) met Scott Ritter and got to spend a few minutes with him after attending a debate on the Iraq war between him and neoconservative apologist Scrooge Christopher Hitchens Tuesday night, where he "dismantled Hitchens in front of a crowd of perhaps 600 people."

*A tip of the hat to Crooks and Liars


See Scott Ritter's transcribed comments from a November 17, 2005 appearance in Amherst, MA:
"No President is going to allow the national security of the United States of America to be held hostage by the United Nations, and, as distasteful as war is, the President has no choice but to engage in a war with Iran. That’s why we’re going to war, ladies and gentlemen. The President wants it......

This war, ladies and gentlemen, has a good chance of beginning in 2007. What are you going to do, peace movement? What are you going to do? Sit back and go, ‘oh my God, this is too much to think about. I’m going to hit the delete button and pretend that Ritter never spoke.’ Or do what others do? ‘Na, he’s a crazy wild man. Na, I’m not buying into that garbage. We’re just going to move on thinking that Iraq’s bad and they’ll never going on into Iran.’ Study the facts I’ve just put on the table. You will not contradict a single one of them. You cannot contradict a single one of them because they are facts. I’m not making it up. It’s all based on written and spoken statements made by Bush administration officials, past and present.

What are you going to do? Wait for congress to do the right thing? Congress has already sold out. Congress isn’t going to oppose this President. Congress has already bought into the notion of the Iranian threat. What are you going to do? One thing you can do is change congress, and you have a window of opportunity. The 2006 election may well go down in history as one of the most critical elections that this country has ever faced..."

Republicans Turning VA Benefits into Welfare

Republicans Turning VA Benefits into Welfare

Immoral government stretches its ugly fingers into Veteran's Benefits. War Vets should be honored - not just because they're walking around with one arm or half a face or a troubled mind - - but because they proudly and loyally served our nation!

Republicans are trying to turn VA benefits into welfare! With this type of thinking, we will soon be blaming our Vets for their own poverty, along with every other citizen we unjustly blame for being unable to find or afford their boots or their bootstraps, let alone pull themselves up by them!

From an opinion at

....the biggest blow to veterans came when Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ) was removed as Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs. Smith was universally respected as a friend to veterans and a fighter for increased benefits, but strayed from the official Party line one too many times. Not only did he lose the chairmanship, he was removed from the Committee.

Smith has been replaced by Steve Buyer (R-IN). In his first few days as Committee Chair Buyer has managed to offend every veteran's group in the country. At a time when every veteran knows the VA needs more funding, Buyer said,
"I want to modernize the system. I am not a defender of bloated bureaucracies." Buyer then went on to paint a perfectly clear picture of the VA of the future: "Some of the veterans service organizations, they are having this belief that everyone should have open access to the VA system, when in fact I believe that the VA system should follow its core constituency and the intent of Congress when we laid out our priorities, and that was in fact to take care of our disabled and indigent veterans first."
This was NOT an off-the-cuff remark by Rep. Buyer. He was placed in his position by the Republican Party leadership and speaks for the Party who answers to the White House. Buyer speaks the gospel and gets his sermons right from the Top.

The most important part of Buyer's remarks is his deliberate "welfarizing" of the VA healthcare system. By telling us the priority of the VA is to care for "disabled and indigent" veterans first, he minimizes and denigrates the sacrifices made by ALL veterans. The VA was set up to serve ALL veterans including the "disabled and indigent." This careful positioning of the VA healthcare system creates the impression that the VA is a welfare program and veterans are just looking for a "handout." Also, it's easy to talk about the "intent" of a previous Congress when your goal is to undo what they have done. And the remark about "core constituency" is just plain outlandish. The VA serves ALL veterans.

It's no wonder they are reacting this way! According to Asheville's Scrutiny Hooligans, Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi stepped down earlier this month because of a growing scandal surrounding the use of uranium munitions in the Iraq War:
"By the year 2000, there were 325,000 on Permanent Medical Disability. This astounding number of ‘Disabled Vets’ means that a decade later, 56% of those soldiers who served have some form of permanent medical problems!” [My emphasis] The disability rate for the wars of the last century was 5 percent; it was higher, 10 percent, in Viet Nam."